Sam asks about Behe and IC

This conversation could swallow up the rest of my life. I despair at how difficult it is. It is way beyond my capabilities to complete or maybe even to meaningfully add to.
There is so much potential for equivocation on terms.
To begin, the word science is defined and redefined ad nauseam to suit one’s own advantage.
In trying to avoid doing this myself, I’ve asked myself, “Can science ever be wrong?” My answer is a fairly settled, ‘No!’
Well, how could that be? By distinguishing science from scientists. Scientists are sometimes (or maybe, often) wrong. If science is nothing but observation and the exercises one undertakes to make specific observations, how could that ever be wrong? One can make a poor observation, but observation itself cannot be wrong. I guess that maybe the trump expression would be that, if there are flaws in pronouncements having to do with ‘science’ the fault always lies with the human. The scientist.
I’ve pondered what might be the grandest failure of the ‘scientific community’ that I can think of. When I speak of grandest, I am saying that the failure was absolutely immense in consequence with no justification. The cause of the failure involved elementary scientific understanding and there was in no way an oversight. It was blatant bad faith. Nothing currently stands out for me as a greater failure of this ‘scientific community’ than what took place to lead to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. The Challenger exploded under the watch of the most prestigious scientific organization in the world. And how difficult was the science that was manipulated or bastardized to bring this about? Going back to my definition of science as being observation – the pertinent observation was that a rubber o-rings becomes more rigid as temperature decreases. That is grade school stuff.
Now, an important thing to ask oneself, is how willing is one to accept what science has to say. In the case of the Challenger disaster, the engineers were very motivated to disregard the science in this case, in light of schedule pressures to launch. So they (‘scientists’) launched against the advice of some of other ‘scientists’, not because of unclear observation (‘science’), but for entirely different reasons. I’d plead with anyone to watch this as a primer to it.
A suggestion that I have is that it would be commendable and helpful all round in the pursuit of truth, if both sides in debate (of any kind and any situation actually) would not only steelman our opposition’s position but assist them in articulating the best version of what even they, the opponent is pointing towards.
The concept of this came up in a discussion between Tim Keller and Jonathan Haidt here, .
It is difficult for me to believe that if Joshua and Michael Behe sat down for an hour by themselves and employed this method of listening to their opponent that they would end up with much to disagree about. Don’t they after all have the same evidence before them? Equivocation is the key to maintaining disagreement. Bishop Ryle must have been trying to expose this same observation when stating, “the absence of accurate definitions is the very life of religious controversy”. The cat of 9 tails depends on equivocation too.
Premise A: No cat has 8 tails.
Premise B: One cat has 1 more tail than no cat.
Conclusion: One cat has 9 tails.
Joshua, that you say what you have about the comparison of apparent design in both Mt. Everest and Mt. Rushmore it is evident that you are talking about different aspects of design. Certainly, Joshua, you don’t think that Michael would deny and be unable to affirm what you have said here, “Majestic, dangerous, and looming beauty. Mount Everest calls us all into worship.” Try, however, to get, Richard Dawkins, to see your point. No one, including Dawkins, denies the human design of Mount Rushmore. No Christian denies God’s design of Mount Everest, nor his design of Mount Rushmore before the sculpture, nor even of his (God’s) design (sovereignty and providence) in the sculpture itself.
I feel like I am kind of spinning my wheels here. I am a retired carpenter and not a scholar nor a writer. It is painful work for me to produce even this.
I am nevertheless convinced Joshua, that private conversation between you and Michael on any disagreement, could be worked out to the degree that when either of you makes statements about what you observe, you’d agree.
I think Behe contributed a very worthwhile short chapter to a book entitled, “Darwinism Defeated?: The Johnson-Lamoureux Debate on Biological Origins”. I think he presented his case well. As you say Joshua, Behe writes well. I’d be happy to scan the chapter and send it to you.
I think that I will leave this for now and see if you have any comments. Thanks for your consideration.
Best regards, Sam


Well, I’ve had many conversations with Mike.

We do agree on quite a bit. For example, be both agree that humans and chimpanzees share common ancestors, and that there is no evidence in biochemistry for God’s guidance of human evolution.

However, we disagree about his IC argument. I suspect he will go to the grave without acknowledging any issues with IC. I’m okay with this reality. Are you?

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Welcome, Sam: great, thoughtful and interesting first post.

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Sam, I agree with you here, and you’re selling yourself short; this was written well.

If I could guess at their views about biology - I would guess @swamidass sees design and beauty through ordered randomness. I would guess Behe sees design in order itself because it could not come about through randomness. I would guess Dawkins would deny any order or design all together and say it’s all random, unless he was looking at something humans created.

If I’m guessing right, each of the 3 see the process and the product of the process in different ways, and that is why they wouldn’t agree.

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Am I okay with Mike and you disagreeing on IC (irreducible complexity)? I guess that is an interesting question. I’d say that “No, I am not.”
How do I explain?
Coincidentally, I just listened to a podcast this morning called ‘Ask Pastor John’. It was a special episode dealing with the topic of critical race theory. The coincidental part of this is that in his response he interacts with an episode of the ‘Unbelievable’ podcast in which 2 guests are discussing this topic of critical race theory. So I found that ‘providential’ that as I discuss this with you (whom I first encountered the other day on ‘Unbelievable’) I am now helped in framing my response to you with another reference to ‘Unbelievable’.
The incidental tidbit I picked up this morning from Piper’s podcast was from this bit, (I quote Piper here),

They both have written and spoken about critical race theory. Both are articulate. Both are winsome. I found myself really liking and appreciating these two Christian brothers. Even when they were emphasizing very different perspectives on critical race theory.
And I put it that way intentionally — “emphasizing very different perspectives.” I don’t say, “even when they were disagreeing . . .”
Because I couldn’t put my finger on any specific disagreement about the rightness or the wrongness of critical race theory in its specific assertions. What mainly emerged in this conversation, and was so helpful, was a clarification of the relational dynamics at work in these kinds of conversations.

The line that struck me as helpful in responding to you is that I am not sure I even know what you guys disagree on about IC.
And here I must lament the slipperiness or plasticity of language. These qualities certainly tend to obscure rather than elucidate.
The topic of IC at the molecular level is pretty much out of range for me.
But I note that many atheists, seemingly seeing a need to take Behe out totally, couldn’t even see the truth of IC at the analogy level. They tried to blow up the concept entirely. Kenneth Miller even got in on the act. Here is a paragraph where Behe defends the mousetrap analogy. It is taken from, (A Mousetrap Defended: Behe responds to Critics)

“In order to communicate the concept to a general audience, I used a mousetrap as an example of an irreducibly complex system in everyday life. The mousetrap I pictured in my book had a number of parts that all had to work together to catch mice. The usefulness of the mousetrap example was that it captured the essence of the problem I saw for gradualistic evolution at a level that could be understood by people who were unfamiliar with the fine points of protein structure and function—that is, nearly everyone. For that same reason, defenders of Darwinism have assailed it. Although it may seem silly to argue over a mousetrap, it is actually critical to allowing people who are not professional scientists to understand the issues involved. In this article I defend the mousetrap as an example of irreducible complexity that can’t be put together by a series of small, undirected steps.”
-Michael Behe

So, you have asked me if I am ok with – one or two things – I’m not sure which, one or two. I guess I’ll assume both.

  1. that you and Mike disagree about his IC argument. And,
  2. that you suspect he will go to the grave without acknowledging any issues with IC

Regarding 1) I don’t know what you disagree about. And here is where the impression (slipperiness) of language comes in. Do you agree with the analogy of the mousetrap? If you desire to obfuscate, language will certainly provide the latitude to do so. (As it appears Miller and Professor John McDonald do in the linked article above.) Let me try my hand at similar obfuscation. For those familiar with the IC claim for the mousetrap, I will refute it by saying that you can remove all of the parts attached to the wooden base, throw them away and use the wooden base alone to eliminate mice. How would that ever work? It appears to me that all it takes is my imagination and a listener’s gullibility. My imagination suggests that a wooden platform would, on the admittedly rare occasion, provide a stumbling block to a mouse fleeing a pursing cat, to give the cat just the slimmest advantage it needs to capture a mouse that would have otherwise escaped. Do we really need to play these games to deny that Behe has a point? That for a mutation to contribute to the survival of the fittest it needs to offer an advantage. If the mutation is just a part of a required multipart system, the organism possessing the mutation alone has no advantage. So in answer to 1) no I am not ok with it. You either have factual points to make to him that he denies or vice versa. Either way, facts are facts. I won’t pretend to be the arbiter. You are in a better position to be so. I suggest that you are either obfuscating as I believe Miller and McDonald do, or Mike is. Either way, I am not OK with it. Do you see that you are talking in circles with Mike in your disagreement? I don’t know. I just don’t see how people disagree upon facts. What am I holding in my hand? You guess a coffee mug. Mike, guesses an apple. I show you that it is a fork. Do either of you now disagree with me.
Now to 2). I find it hard to believe you have not overstated your case. Are you suggesting that in all of the dialog with both friend and foe that has taken place in the nearly 25 years since the publication of ‘Darwin’s Black Box’, that Mike hasn’t refined his ideas on IC at all? I assume that Mike will have refined his ideas, which would, to use your phrase, be the acknowledgment that there were issues with IC as originally conceived by him. I am pretty sure that both you and Mike see the scientific endeavor as one that is assisted by the insights of many players. I am somewhat bewildered, not so much by what you guys disagree about, (on that count I am totally ignorant. It will be way over my head.) but by how you could disagree. Can I put it this way:
All that exists are facts. Non-facts don’t exist. If I ask you to guess what number I have chosen between 1 and 10, you may choose 7. It is a fact that 7 is possibly the answer. It is a fact that it is unlikely the answer. It is a fact that the chance of 7 being the correct answer is not 1/86. It is a fact that the chance of 7 being the correct answer is 1/10. It is also a fact that you have opinions. I am sure that if you are like me in this regard, some of your opinions align with facts (a fact in itself), and alas, I am quite sure that some of them don’t align with facts(and if true it is also a fact). So to sum up the last few sentences, if all that exists are facts, and both you and Mike are content not to overstate your case, what is there to disagree on? Why can you not make statements to one another that are seen by the other as facts, and if just opinion, stated in such a way to support the likelihood of your opinion?
So, of course, IC at the molecular level is far beyond my understanding.
Do you agree with Mike on the notion that some things at a macro level (like mousetraps) can be IC? At this level of things (mousetrap level), I am certainly convinced that IC is true or sensible way to state things. Trying to offer further support to the notion of a mousetrap being an IC device, I think that someone selling mousetraps that were unassembled (like IKEA furniture), wouldn’t honestly be able to say that it was a mousetrap. They would need to say that it was an unassembled mousetrap. Part of IC is that it is assembled. It may even be argued that it needs to be set or ‘armed’. Anything less than an assembled and ‘armed’ mousetrap is of no danger to the mouse.
In closing this response, I’d like to point out that the faith tradition of Behe (Roman Catholic) is, I believe, much more amenable to Darwinian evolution than Evangelical Protestant Christians. I don’t see that Behe had any reason to pursue the path that he has these last ~25 years apart from the scientific evidence he was coming upon. And as I understand it, the whole point of “The Edge of Evolution” was to grant the idea that only random materialistic forces were at play and see how often ‘evolution’ happened. Do I recall correctly, that in examining HIV and the e-coli involving something I think Behe called 2 point mutations – non-random evolution basically didn’t happen?
I guess I will leave it at this as a response to your question, “I’m okay with this reality. Are you?”

The problem with the mousetrap analogy is much simpler than that: mousetraps are not made of proteins. Their parts are not moving around one another in solution with a range of kinds of bonding and electrostatic attraction. The process of constructing and improving a mousetrap is utterly unlike the process of development and improvement of some feature of a living thing, and the thing that does not map is the key to the analogy.

Analogical reasoning is inherently attractive, and inherently dangerous.


Much simpler than what?

Do you think that anyone, Behe included would disagree with anything you have said here?

I don’t understand this.

I think you have totally missed the point of the analogy. It is pretty clear what Behe intended the analogy to illustrate. How is the analogy ineffective in doing what Behe intended it to do (see quote below) because, as you say it’s “parts are not moving around one another in solution with a range of kinds of bonding and electrostatic attraction.”

The hypothesis he doesn’t bother to test is that things that are IC can’t evolve. He just assumes that. Do you?


The mousetrap is a good analogy for the existence of IC structures in biology, but it is a false analogy for how they arise.

No. I read Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” when I had just completed my undergraduate program in biochemistry. All it took for me to realize the flaws in his argument was basic biochemistry and genetics. At the time, I knew Behe was right about the existence of irreducibly complex biological systems, but I also knew his claim that they couldn’t evolve was bogus and not supported by evidence. I knew this because of Sphingobium chlorophenolis which evolved an irreducibly complex biotransformative pathway for pentachlorophenol.

The wooden base of a mousetrap would be an extremely poor stumbling block to a rat or mice (certainly the ones in my house), but it would be a fairly good insect dissection board.

I do. There exists some too in biology. What matters is whether they can evolve and the answer is yes.

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I don’t agree that "it is a false analogy for how they arise."
Rather it is not an analogy for how “IC structures in biology”.
The analogy simply shows that you need the entire assembled mousetrap to be effective. Anything less than this is of no use in catching mice. The mousetrap analogy says nothing about whether the mousetrap was assembled in some sterile lab at an Ivy League university or in some sweatshop in the third world. None of the “how it arose” is addressed in the analogy. The only point is that you need it all in its entirety.
Why do you demand more from the analogy that was intended?

To take any real, rock-solid, meaning from **“that things that are IC can’t evolve”**you need to be clear on what it means to ‘evolve’.
Have you read Behe? If so, please interact with what he actually claims. If evolve means change, then certainly Behe acknowledges that things change. He would acknowledge that things change in materialistic (bio-chemical) ways. I think that he is asking what drives the change or brings it about and that random (undirected) mutation doesn’t have the ability to do this.
You point out that Behe “doesn’t bother to test is that things that are IC can’t evolve”. How do you prove a negative? Isn’t Behe, rather, asking the scientific community to demonstrate that IC can be built through random (undirected) mutation? And has this community not been silent in doing this?

The problem is Behe intended the analogy to push the 100% false idea evolution can’t produce IC structures, therefore his Designer God did it.

Behe first started pushing his “IC disproves evolution” nonsense more than two decades ago. When he first started biologists took a look and discovered IC features can’t evolve by direct evolutionary steps but it’s pretty easy for them to evolve by indirect steps such as exapation (change of function) and genetic scaffolding. Numerous example in the real world were identified. Behe himself dropped the IC argument for a few years until he realized he could still make money from the TrueBelievers by continuing to shill for the idea.

Behe still pushing IC as an “evolution killer” is one of many reasons he has almost zero respect among the rest of the life sciences community.


@dga471 I believe that @sam was the person who asked the original question. He should probably be left on the main page.

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I believe you mischaracterize Dawkins’s position. There is no way he would deny the existence of order, and he does not view evolution as entirely random. Perhaps you mean to say he would view the order of the universe as arising without guidance by a god or other intelligent agent.

Otherwise, I would say that Dawkins and Joshua generally agree on the scientific evidence. Joshua is further persuaded of the existence of the Christian god on the basis of what he sees as compelling evidence for the resurrection of Jesus among other factors, and therefore seeks to reconcile what he sees as scientific truth and the truth of Christianity.

Dawkins, OTOH, sees no reason to believe in the Christian or any other god, so has no reason to incorporate that into his view of science or anything else.

Behe simply denies or does not understand the scientific data. Many of his differences form the other two are the result of this denial and/or incomprehension.

These are not three equally defensible positions.


That is incorrect. Behe asserts he has demonstrated that certain biological features cannot have arisen thru unguided evolution.

That is a positive assertion that he has failed to support and, moreover, which has been refuted.

He often tries to cover up for this failure with the response you repeat here: That unless evolutionists can show the detailed historical steps in the evolution of a particular example he has arbitrarily chosen, he is correct by default.

It should be obvious that this position is indefensible.



I’m pointing out that he elides his actual hypothesis, merely assuming that it is correct.

His understanding of how things change biochemically (no hyphen) is not supported by reality.

I think that he is pulling the wool over your eyes and likely his own as well.

First off, science isn’t about proof, so you are engaging in a straw man fallacy. One TESTS a negative hypothesis.

Second, one tests a negative hypothesis with exhaustive empirical work, work that Behe quit doing 25 years ago in favor of writing books aimed at laypeople.

Here’s an analogous case: Prusiner advanced the prion hypothesis in 1982–with data, unlike Behe. Few believed him at the beginning.

The hypothesis is basically that prions contain no nucleic acids–a negative. Prusiner and his colleagues basically did everything his critics suggested; some of the best of them transgenic experiments done in the lab of a colleague of mine.

Prusiner won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1997, 15 years later.

Behe does nothing empirical at all, but he has a lab and could get $ from the DI. See the contrast?

That would be beyond absurd, because evolution isn’t simply random mutation.

The community has not been silent at all. It’s Behe’s responsibility to test his own hypothesis, just as it was Prusiner’s to test his.


Then it seems you did not understand the part of Behe’s quote that says:

The usefulness of the mousetrap example was that it captured the essence of the problem I saw for gradualistic evolution at a level that could be understood by people who were unfamiliar with the fine points of protein structure and function—that is, nearly everyone

What Behe claims is that evolution cannot make IC structures and uses a mousetrap which bears no structural and chemical resemblance to actual biological systems like proteins to illustrate this supposed problem. That’s a false analogy.

Be rest assured that Behe goes beyond what you think he is claiming.

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This is not Behe’s claim. If you listen to his discussion carefully with @swamidass at Texas and M you will understand his claim.

Behe’s claims evolve.

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