Prof. Behe's debate with Prof. Moran

I’m criticizing both sides. So I think I am being fair here :smile:. That specific debate needed a third voice. I think some people at ID know this, which is why they do not want to engage with me. I’m making a far stronger argument than Moran, because I am not making unsupportable claims at the end. That cuts both ways, against both ID and New Atheism. We really should take a more humble view of science in the end. It can tell us some things, but it can’t tell us everything.

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Completely agree. As with the “Edge of Evolution” discussed by Behe, there is also the “Edge of Scientific Methodology” that we should all be aware of.


I think I found all of Moran’s posts, the last two came over a year after their initial debate.


Okay then @Bilbo, here is my description fo the problem. This is only one of many problems, but this is the key one that runs through all of Behe’s work.

So, @Bilbo in Behe’s arguments in these articles, what definitions of IC is he using? If you can identify those in his statements clearly, you’ll start to see for yourself the error in his argument. His argument depends on these equivocations.

Also, do you understand this critique of Moran? Because of this statement, I cannot agree with him either. The choice is not between Behe vs. Moran, because we also have to consider a third voice, on that both @T_aquaticus and I are offering. The false choice, also, is part of how the argument works. Both are offering a false choice, and in that both are wrong.

In the second reference we find this quote, which sums it up nicely:

Moran describes the non-Darwinian pathway that Behe seems to ignore. This is why attacking “Darwinian evolution” is so misguided. What Behe is attacking is a theory that scientists abandoned long ago, and Behe also fails to address the theory of evolution as it exists today.

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7 posts were split to a new topic: Would Behe Affirm Special Creation of Adam?

Hi TA, I think Behe responded to your argument in his post addressing the discussion in the combox at Moran’s blog. I suspect Moran never read that response. I suspect you haven’t read it, either:

@Bilbo, this is where @Art’s observation becomes important. This is how Behe dismisses Moran’s points in the article linked:

So, too, with chloroquine resistance in Plasmodium falciparum . The best current statistical estimate of the frequency of de novo resistance is Nicholas White’s value of 1 in 1020 parasites. That number is now essentially fixed — no pathway to resistance will be found that is substantially more probable than that. Although with more data the value may be refined up or down by even as much as one or two orders of magnitude (to between 1 in 10^18-10^20), it’s not going very far on a log scale. Not nearly far enough to lift the shadow from Darwinism.

That summary of Whites paper is inaccurate. The really probability is far higher. This is where Behe stakes his ground and it is based on a misreading of a single paper.

Now let’s stop distracting and get back to where we left off. This discussion has nothing to do with IC1. It is an argument for IC2. Why did you abandon the IC1 argument?

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Dr. Swamidass, no, I never abandoned the IC1 argument, which is that IC systems cannot evolved directly from simpler systems which do the exact same function, since by definition there are no simpler systems that do the exact function.

If IC systems can evolve from other systems that have a different function then what is the point of this argument?


That is the hypothesis we are testing @Bilbo, it is not the definition of IC1. Remember it?

The hypothesis that Behe puts forward is that IC1 system’s cannot evolve. You can’t restate the hypothesis as evidence that the hypothesis is true.

Where in this definition is homology (similarity) between different flagellum considered? Why would that matter in determining if a system is IC1?

Actually, that is not what the definition states. Do you see how they are not equivalent?

Let us say I have a movement mechanism (M1) that takes 20 proteins, minimum to work, as far as I can tell. We would delete proteins to determine the fewest necessary, and it is 20 in this case.

Let us say I have another movement mechanism (M2) that takes 2 proteins, minimum to work, the exact same function: movement. We would delete proteins here to determine the fewest necessary, and it is 2 in this case.

What is the IC1 of M1? Is it 20 or 2? What is the IC1 of M2? Is it 20 or 2?

Can you expand on this?

EDIT: This link helped Sandwalk: Revisiting Michael Behe's challenge and revealing a closed mind

This is pretty important, and @art keeps pointing to it.

As you can see here, Moran produces a large amount of evidence that counter’s Behe’s claims, and then Behe dismisses it based on this single number:

Except his 10^20 is based on misreading White’s paper. It is also only a single source, not validated, where Moran has a vast literature he is drawing upon, and demonstrates several places where Behe’s evidential claims are false. Behe just comes back to this saying that he must be right because of 10^20, except this was a misreading of the quote he is using.


I also repeat, though, that the Moran argument is about IC2, not IC1. @Bilbo doesn’t seem to realize this yet…I wonder why not?

This is why I argue for not using Behe’s framing as a shorthand, which avoids explicitly stating a hypothesis. You just caught Bilbo (not necessarily intentionally) doing the same thing. I’m still not convinced that Bilbo has grasped this.

The problem is not merely that Behe doesn’t test his hypotheses, but that he is very sloppy in identifying things that meet one of his IC definitions.

He doesn’t want to?

Another thing that’s a problem is the assumption that there’s constant selection for chloroquine resistance, when in fact there isn’t, because no one is feeding chloroquine to mosquitoes.

It’s also worth mentioning that White’s paper is just a review, not a primary paper, and Behe really doesn’t go deeper than quote-mining it. It shows a shallowness of scholarship that’s not acceptable when one is arguing that the consensus is wrong.

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I agree with most of this, Joshua. I am glad that you concede the high improbability of IC2. What your concession means is that Behe’s argument regarding the target he focuses on most of the time is not “bad science.” I wish more biologists would be as explicit about the legitimacy of his narrower argument as you have been here. (Though I see that at one point above, Larry Moran also grants that in the narrower sense of “Darwinian” Behe uses, Behe is right.)

Regarding IC3 and IC4, I think that Behe is so focused on discussing IC2 that he tends to deal with the others only obliquely and incompletely, which leads to confusion regarding what he actually thinks about them. I’d certainly like to see more of his detailed thinking regarding the powers of “extra-Darwinian” evolutionary mechanisms. I hope he will talk more about this in future writings.

But note, aquaticus, that in your first paragraph you talked exclusively about “natural processes”, whereas in this paragraph you drop the language of “natural processes” and shift to “random mutations and selection” which are only part of, not all of, “natural processes.”

What you say is true – for Behe, if RM + NS could produce the features he discusses, that would disprove intelligent design. But the way you contextualize that admission here (and elsewhere) is misleading, because he doesn’t generalize (at least not explicitly) to “natural causes”. It may be that his argument implies an extension to natural causes. It may be that in some statements he implicitly steps over the line into what Joshua calls IC3 and IC4. If so, I think he can there be faulted for lack or clarity of consistency in his expressions. But I think that fact that, though he has had ten thousand opportunities since 1996 to say (in agreement with a good number of his ID allies) that “natural causes” can’t produce significant evolutionary change, he has almost always avoided saying so, indicates something significant.

Compare his wording in his books with many statements made early on by Phil Johnson and Bill Dembski, where “natural” was treated as just automatically implying “without design” and “design” was just automatically treated as implying “supernatural intervention”. Behe doesn’t sound the same as those guys. And his endorsement of Denton’s position as a legitimate one within ID fits in with his cautiousness of language. I am not saying his position is without problems, but unless one is willing to accuse him of deliberately concealing a firmly supernaturalist view and thus deliberately misleading his readers, one has to explain his avoidance of expressions such as “evolution cannot have happened by natural causes” in some other way.

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You are missing the point @eddie. It is bad science, because IC2 is a STRAWMAN of modern evolutionary science that rules out non-Darwinian processes from the get go. This echoes what Moran wrote:

So there is no concession to Behe. @eddie, this is another reason why his argument totally fails.


Joshua, we aren’t disagreeing over science here, but over the meaning of certain sentences written in the English language – sentences written by you, by Behe, and by Moran.

Yes, there is. The concessions are in the very words that you boldfaced. Moran is conceding that Behe’s argument against pure, classical neo-Darwinism is not in itself bad science, but is valid. Moran’s disagreement with Behe is over the fact that Behe leaves out other mechanisms of evolution.

And here your have said the same thing. “As a biologist”, that is as a scientist, you confirm that neo-Darwinian mechanisms as Behe describes them would not be adequate to produce the IC structures he is talking about. You then go on to say, however, that those neo-Darwinian mechanisms are not the whole picture in evolution. So if there is “bad science” in Behe, it’s neither in his characterization of the old neo-Darwinism nor in the inference he draws from it, but in his failure to consider anything other than neo-Darwinian mechanisms.

This is an important distinction to make, because Dawkins, Ken Miller, Nick Matzke and others think that Behe is wrong even about straight neo-Darwinian evolution. I have never seen them make the admission that you and Moran and have made here regarding what you call “IC2.” I was praising you and Moran for giving Behe some credit for brains, even though you disagree with his overall position. Those others don’t give Behe any credit for brains at all. That’s the difference between a polemicist and a more careful scientist. A polemicist can’t bring himself to grant even limited rationality and knowledge to his opponent. Polemicists contribute more fuel to culture-war flames, whereas more careful scientists make distinctions that allow for partial agreement, and this lowers the argumentative temperature – which I thought was one of the aims of PS.


No, that is not the case. The so-called “concession” is pointing on the de facto straw-man absurdity of the argument. IC2 does not matter as much as IC3 and IC4.

Who would argue against mainstream physics by arguing that Newtonian physics can’t explain blackholes? Of course Newtonian physics can’t explain black holes. That is why @physicists moved on from a it a long time ago. What exactly would this argument accomplish, other than display the ignorance of the arguer?

I wonder if we are facing the same thing in this argument.

Well thanks, I think. I can’t speak for them but I imagine it is one of two things;

  1. They know that evolutionary science is not just Darwinian, but are just putting up with it to talk about other things. This might be acceptable except is creates an immense amount of confusion to accept Behe’s private language about evolutionary science.

  2. The do not know much about non-Darwinian evolution and in fact are arguing from a poor understanding of evolution.

I’m not sure which one it is.

That is the aims, but the issue here @eddie is that Behe is not actually acknowledging the problem with his argument. Nor has he even shown that Darwinism can’t produce these things. So he hasn’t even made the case against Darwinism yet.