Rich Lenski takes down Michael Behe and his ID creationism: Part IV

Did bacteria without flagella acquire flagella or did those bacteria always have flagella?

That is a question the ID community needs to answer.

I’m reading just fine, the problem is your muddied thinking, or perhaps you’re bad at expressing yourself.

I gave Lenski credit.

What does that have to do with anything? You wrote that “you you have a mountain to climb whereas all Behe has to do is simply to keep throwing rocks. Your job is much harder.” and I pointed out the double standard at work here.

But here is what you lack. The lambda virus is the prototype of the mutated lambda virus. Lenski demonstrated that.

There really isn’t such a thing as a prototype. There was a wild-type lambda virus that was the ancestor of the now extant lambda virus, and the ancestor of the lambda virus used in the lenski experiment.

So what is the prototype of this?

Do you mean ancestor?

Is your science able to extrapolate backwards and demonstrate from where this functioning machine may have arisen?

So you want a hypothesis for the origin of the flagellum based on molecular biology and evolutionary theory, right? Yes in fact it is.

Is yours? Give me an equally detailed hypothesis for the origin of the flagellum by IDcreationism please. Show me the key predictions of the ID model for the flagellum’s origin, and the experiments done that test any aspects of this flagellum-origin-by-design model.


Precisely. Some in the ID community seem to make the error that things that are not well determined in evolutionary biology are not also problems for ID theories. If one is trying to prove a negative, like ‘a flagellum could not evolve’, they need to have an understanding of what existed immediately prior to that structure’s origin. That’s why, if you want to do any meaningful analysis, you’ll work with systems for which we have the most information about before and after conditions. Because any signals degrade over time, the best test systems will most often be systems that have most recently emerged.

Also, for every claim that “X hasn’t be explained in detailed steps by evolution”, there is the complementary problem that “X hasn’t be explained by design in any detail”. This is particularly difficult for ID as there aren’t many ideas that have generated a positive theory of design.

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Yes. Thanks. I do not think in biological terms.

Are you bluffing? Are we supposed to take that seriously? The ‘ancestor’ for ID is the intelligent designer. IDers don’t need to explain stages.

Why wouldn’t they need to explain their theory?

You seem to have an extreme double standard. You expect excruciating detail for evolutionary pathways, but expect absolutely zero detail for how features like the flagellum emerged in the intelligent design model. Why?


No. Not bluffing. The opposite of ‘known’ is ‘unknown’, not ‘an intelligent designer’. Any number of ID theorists have long recognized the need for a theory of design that makes positive statements or predictions about the state of world. I’ll admit it’s not easy going but it is necessary to explain the patterns of life beyond “Poof! Go figure!” if you’re concerned about theory building or truly trying to make sense of the world.

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Somebody. Anybody. Is this true? Have ID’ers actually chained themselves to the mandates claimed here by these two individuals?

Just as much as anybody else has. If you expect this amount of detail from the evolution model then you should expect the same from the ID model.

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Ask Walter ReMine. Or Paul Nelson. They and others know that as a scientific enterprise, it’s not enough to claim ‘evolution didn’t happen’. You’ve got to build a theoretic base to explain what you do see, and the patterns of life.

To be sure, people have different objectives in these discussions. Some are genuinely interested in learning how things work or how things happened, you know, those who are scientifically or intellectually curious. They’d like to understand the root explanations for the patterns they see and learn how it all comes together. This is science.

And then there are others for whom it suffices to justify a world view. They aren’t curious per se; it’s just sufficient that their beliefs about specific events aren’t compromised with potentially contradictory conclusions. And really, little further is of interest beyond that. Not the whys, hows, or wherefores of patterns in the world. Sure, a designer could ‘poof’ something into being at any time, but they are content with not knowing the details. For such, it’s enough to simply provide a justification of existing beliefs. And for certain, this latter category is definitely populated by people with opposite opinions in the creation/evolution debate. That is more of an apologetic approach, I suppose.

Two thought experiments:

  1. Charles Darwin never lived, and the Origin of Species (1859) was never published. Now, plan a four-year biology curriculum for college students.

  2. Tomorrow morning, we all wake up, and every scientist on Earth – even the hard cases, such as Jerry Coyne (grudgingly) – not only acknowledge intelligent design as a live possibility, but think it’s actually the best explanation for what we see. How would biology look as a science?

Tearing down the other guy’s theory may be a first step towards building a new theory, but it’s hardly sufficient. Here’s a hypothetical I often tell my MA students at Biola:

My wife and I buy an old rundown bungalow to have the lot for a new house. We hire a contractor who tells us he will build us a beautiful new place. Four weeks later, I show up at the job site, and find the contractor and his crew sitting in their trucks, drinking coffee.

The bungalow is gone, and the lot is perfectly clear and level.

“Where’s my house?” I ask the contractor. “I don’t even see the outline of a foundation.”

He looks miffed and tells me that he got rid of the bungalow – what else could I possibly want?


Wow, this is a really insightful scientific answer.

Interesting point. One of the clear take aways I got from Behe’s book is that Darwins theory has tremendous explanatory power. When Behe framed the theory(explaining some diversity to the species/genus level) it looked a lot stronger in my eyes especially with experimental support for speciation.

Once you shed the ideology it looks like pretty solid science.

My take? Mike Behe is trying to be a better evolutionary biologist than the rest of the field.

I know that sounds counterintuitive at best, but really downright crazy (see, e.g., the current pile of negative reviews of his new book). But I spent a lot of time with Mike recently, just a few weeks ago. He said that evolution surely happens – indeed, there is no stopping it from happening – but what it produces is not what Darwin, or his intellectual offspring, believe.

I think he is right, and hope to post a short blog series at ENV soon about my trip to the Galapagos Islands last week, where I saw Mike’s thesis in action. Flightless cormorants: revelatory.

Hi Paul - my 2 cents worth on your first thought experiment:

The curriculum would be very similar to the one(s) being taught today, probably including what would be called the modern evolutionary synthesis. Possibly the body of thought was originally known as Wallacism, or after some other pioneer in the field, but that doesn’t really matter, because it was an idea whose time had come . Don’t forget that it was Wallace’s imminent announcement of his work that spurred Darwin to propose the joint announcement in 1858. The concurrent work of Mendel, and ongoing output from Fisher, Wright and Haldane to name a small handful, would have brought the field up-to-date quickly, sans Darwin.
I wonder what they would have named the place in Northern Australia?


I agree. Evolution was not so tightly linked to Darwin so as to fail if he didn’t bring it forward. For several decades, his mechanism was dismissed because it didn’t seem consistent with genetics (as it was understood back then).

There is just so much evidence for evolution that eventually, in science, it would have come forward. Without Darwin, perhaps the history might have been different. Maybe voices like Asa Gray and Wallace would have been the main proponent. Perhaps it would have transcended being so tightly associated with atheism. That might have been a good thing.


By ignoring 99% of the scientific evidence which contradict his ideas? By making an end run around proper peer review / scientific vetting and publishing easily refuted propaganda in popular press books instead of the primary scientific literature? By trying to cram his religious beliefs into every tiny gap in evolutionary biology he can find?

Yeah, he’s a revolutionary alright. Kinda like Rosie Ruiz was a revolutionary for her approach to winning the Boston marathon. :slightly_smiling_face:


Let me try again.

The point of thought experiment #1 was to encourage design advocates NOT to see their main role as attacking evolutionary theory. So imagining that “Charles Darwin never lived and the Origin was never published” is intended (as an exercise) to transfer the responsibility to design advocates for conveying a systematic body of biological knowledge, not from the stance of “Boo Darwin, boo evolution!” but rather “Here’s what we think is true about the living world.”

One can become addicted to trashing someone else’s theory. But that is not the primary responsibility of a working scientist.

About Wallace. If he were alive today, he’d be classified as a design proponent. Darwin was much annoyed by Wallace’s dissent about the sufficiency of natural causes to explain what we see.


So there’s your answer, @r_speir.

Why are you saying this here at PS when it’s virtually every last science author at the DI and EN who needs to hear it? Not just hear it but put it into practice? Physician heal thyself.