Nick Matzke posted Entry 3170 on June 5, 2007 12:02 AM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/3160

Well, my own personal copy of Michael Behe’s new book The Edge of Evolution arrived via amazon.com today, so I suppose it is fair game. I have linked to a few early blog comments (see more from ERV), and Michael Ruse has a short newspaper comment out today. And several other reviews are coming out in the near future in Science, Discover, etc. None of them positive at all, but it’s amazing how much attention someone can get by sacrificing scientific rigour and inserting divine intervention instead.

I don’t have a full review of the book and I won’t for a bit since I am working on other things. But I want to get dibs on one peripheral but particularly shocking and egregious error that Behe makes in The Edge of Evolution. The error is simple but it points to what I have become convinced is the true core of the mishmash known as “intelligent design”: sloppiness and wishful thinking.

Most of The Edge of Evolution is engaged in trying to prove that protein-protein binding sites can’t evolve without intelligent guidance, using humans vs. malaria and humans vs. HIV as his primary examples. (Yes, at the end, on p. 237, Behe writes, “Here’s something to ponder long and hard: Malaria was intentionally designed. The molecular machinery with which the parasite invades red blood cells is an exquisitely purposeful arrangement of parts.” Well, at least he’s consistent. More on this in future posts I imagine.). Behe mostly doesn’t even address the criticisms of his previous arguments, doesn’t update his case, acknowledge previous errors, etc. He doesn’t explain why anyone should take him seriously when he claimed in Darwin’s Black Box that scientists had “no answers” on the evolutionary origin of the immune system and was then shown up in court and in print via a massive amount of research published in top journals that showed he was wrong (see PT and NCSE and especially Nature Immunology).

However, Behe does devote one chapter, chapter 5, to an update of one of his examples from Darwin’s Black Box. Chapter 5, “What Darwinism Can’t Do,” (pp. 84-102) is devoted to the eukaryotic flagellum/cilium. (Because this apparently still confuses many, please note that the eukaryotic cilium or flagellum is entirely different from the bacterial flagellum, which is entirely different from the archaeal flagellum. They are no more similar than insect wings and bird wings. See here for a summary of the differences.)

In chapter 5, Behe reviews the cilium as known from a standard lab organism, the single-celled green alga Chlamydomonas, aka Chlammy to her friends. Starting on page 87, Behe introduces a new twist to the cilium argument, which is that since the mid-1990s scientists have discovered some fascinating new details about how cilia are assembled in the cell. Essentially, a multiprotein system known as intraflagellar transport, or IFT, attaches to the cilium axonome (the 9+2 structure made of microtubules, which are made of tubulin), grabs the necessary protein subunits (like tubulin) from inside the cell, and “walks” them along the axoneme of the cilium out to the tip, where the subunits are deposited. The IFT complex then “walks” back to the bottom of the cilium to pick up more subunits.

It is more complex than this, of course…it is much easier to just look at a diagram to get a sense of what is going on. For example, from an online textbook on the lab nematode C. elegans:

(full resolution)

You can see that kinesin motor proteins walk the cargo out to the tip, and dynein motor proteins, which were handily brought along for the ride, walk the leftovers back. You can even see some spiffy videos on Joel Rosenbaum’s website at Yale.

Now, this is pretty cool stuff, and Behe plays it for all it’s worth. First, Behe points out all kinds of genetic diseases that occur in humans that are due to cilia malfunction, some of which are due to defects in IFT proteins. Clearly, not only is the cilium irreducibly complex, so is the IFT complex that assembles it! Behe entitles this section “IRREDUCIBLE COMPLEXITY SQUARED!” Watch out, evolution!

Behe goes for the jugular on p. 94:

IFT exponetially increases the difficulty of explaining the irreducibly complex cilium. It is clear from careful experimental work with all ciliated cells that have been examined, from alga to mice, that a functioning cilium requires a working IFT.12 The problem of the origin of the cilium is now intimately connected to the problem of the origin of IFT. Before its discovery we could be forgiven for overlooking the problem of how a cilium was built. Biologists could vaguely wave off the problem, knowing that some proteins fold by themselves and associate in the cell without help. Just as a century ago Haeckel thought it would be easy for life to originate, a few decades ago one could have been excused for thinking it was probably easy to put a cilium together; the piece could probably just glom together on their own. But now that the elegant complexity of IFT has been uncovered, we can ignore the question no longer.

[…endnote 12 is on p. 285, and is quoted at the bottom of this post in footnote 1 for completeness]

In the next paragraph Behe briefly dismisses a recent paper on the evolutionary origin of cilium in endnote 13 (Jekely and Arendt (2006), “Evolution of intraflagellar transport from coated vesicles and autogenous origin of the eukaryotic cilium.” Bioessays 28:191-198) and pretends that other work doesn’t exist. [See note 2] And never mind the minor point that dynein (for example) has cytoplasmic versions with diverse transport functions in the cell apart from intraflagellar transport, including involvement in mitosis, and the fact that dynein itself is the primary motor protein of cilial motility, and that dynein has widespread homologs in eukaryotes and prokaryotes. I mean, really, who could possibly care about discussing data that would be fundamental to any thorough discussion of the origins of the cilium?

But the problems I mention above are details. Expecting Behe to deal seriously with homology data is like expecting young-earth creationists to deal with 11,000 continuous years of tree rings: totally ridiculous. But I haven’t even gotten to the big problems yet.

The huge problem with Behe’s invocation of intraflagellar transport in his “IRREDUCIBLE COMPLEXITY SQUARED” section of chapter 5 is that he is completely wrong when he says that intraflagellar transport is universally required for cilium construction! Anyone can see this by reading this 2004 paper by Briggs et al. in Current Biology, which they cleverly entitled “More than one way to build a flagellum,” presumably so that people would find out that there is…wait for it…more than one way to build a flagellum.

It turns out that when you look at a number of recently-sequenced genomes, a pattern emerges: organisms with cilia have IFT genes, and organisms without cilia don’t. So far this is Behe’s expected pattern. However, as with most things in biology, there is an exception to the rule. Check out Figure 1 of Briggs et al.:

You will note that the third column in the Apicomplexans section shows that one of the parasitic apicomplexans completely lacks the IFT genes…yet makes a cilium anyway! This reminds me of something another critic of Behe once said, in a different context:

Contrary to claims about irreducible complexity, the entire ensemble of proteins is not needed. Music and harmony can arise from a smaller orchestra.

(Note: fans of Behe’s reply to Doolittle should read the PT post “Clotted rot for rotten clots”)

Apparently what is going on is that this particular apicomplexan assembles its cilia in the cytoplasm, and therefore has ditched the elaborate IFT complex that would otherwise be needed to transport building materials out to the far-removed end of the cilium. Not only does this one parasitic protozoan get away with this trick, apparently it also happens with Drosophila sperm. Behe would have known all this if he had only carefully read the Jekely and Arendt (2006) cilium evolution paper that he dismissed with a hand wave. As they write on page 193,

The [IFT] complex is only lacking from species that have secondarily lost their cilia, as Dictyostelium, yeasts and flowering plants, or from species with cilia that do not rely on IFT (in the parasite Plasmodium cilia assemble in the cytoplasm(48)). Cytoplasmic assembly of cilia is a derived feature that has independently evolved in Drosophila sperm.(49)

Now, Jekely and Arendt (2006) note just before this that “IFT is ancestrally and almost universally associated with cilia,” so apparently the last common ancestor of modern cilia had an IFT complex (and Jekely and Arendt base their paper on comparing IFT to homologous intracellular transport systems in eukaryotic cells). But it really doesn’t help the “irreducible complexity” argument much if Behe’s favorite system, the eukaryotic cilium, and the extra-favorite “irreducible complexity squared” system, intraflagellar transport, on which he bases a whole chapter, is in fact entirely reducible.

Surely, someone – Behe himself, or one of the “peer-reviewers” that the IDers will probably allege the book had, should have caught this. But if they had, Behe would have had to completely scrap chapter 5. In real peer-review, that’s the shakes, but in creationism/ID-land this sort of thing is unfortunately par for the course. In creationism/ID, one guy’s personal knowledge about a topic, usually a personal knowledge based at most on textbooks and not a thorough survey of the literature, is regularly taken to be the sum total of biological knowledge, and via this processes a whole bogus folk-creationist biology is built up about field after field. For example with fossils, thousands of creationists/IDers think there are no transitional fossils based on a few bogus misquotes of Stephen Jay Gould about punctuated equilibria, which they almost universally mistakenly think was about something other than small transitions between closely-related species; or bacterial flagella (see here – no IDer has yet acknowledged this mistake, which they are still perpetuating in print). This gets me back to my original point: a great deal of creationism/ID boils down to sloppy claims made on insufficient information, plus wishful thinking that blocks the impulse to double-check one’s claims against previous research. Once you become alerted to this feature of ID you will see it everywhere.

Oh, I almost forgot the best part: Which apicomplexan critter is it that builds cilia despite Behe’s declaration that “a functioning cilium requires a working IFT”? Why, it’s Plasmodium falciparum, aka malaria, aka Behe’s own biggest running example used throughout The Edge of Evolution. Yes, it’s the very critter about which Behe wrote on page 237,

“Here’s something to ponder long and hard: Malaria was intentionally designed. The molecular machinery with which the parasite invades red blood cells is an exquisitely purposeful arrangement of parts.”

But not, apparently, the parts which Behe thought were required for cilium construction. If there is an Intelligent Designer up there, I suspect He’s having a bit of a chuckle right now.

Footnotes

Note 1. Behe’s endnote 12 for chapter 5:

12. Berriman and coworkers write of trypanosomes: “The proteins of the flagellar axoneme appeared to be extremely well conserved. With the exception of tektin, there are homologs in the three genomes for all previously identified structure components as well as a full complement of flagellar motoros and both complex A and complex B of the intraflagellar transport system…. Thus, the 9+2 axoneme, which arose very early in eukaryotic evolution, appears to be constructed around a core set of proteins that are conserved in organisms possessing flagella and cilia” (Berriman, M., et al. 2005. The genome of the African trypanosome Trypanosoma brucei. Science 309: 416-22).

Note 2. Work like:

* David R. Mitchell (2004). “Speculations on the evolution of 9+2 organelles and the role of central pair microtubules.” Biology of the Cell. 96, 691–696.

* David R. Mitchell (2006). “The Evolution of Eukaryotic Cilia and Flagella as Motile and Sensory Organelles.” In: Origins and Evolution of Eukaryotic Endomembranes and Cytoskeleton, edited by Gáspár Jékely.

* Thomas Cavalier-Smith (1987). “The Origin of Eukaryote and Archaebacterial Cells.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 503, 17-54.

For Cavalier-Smith (1987), I particularly like Figure 5 and the caption on pp. 38-39. Although it needs an update since it is 20 years old, it still provides a good big-picture view of how cilium evolution is just a piece of the evolutionary origin of mitosis. Download jpgs of part 1, part 2, part 3.

You’ve never heard of this paper from the ID guys? Not surprising, they’ve never cited it. Cavalier-Smith pointed this out way back in his 1997 review of Darwin’s Black Box in TREE (see Cavalier-Smith, 1997, “The Blind Biochemist,” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 12(4), 162-163, April 1997), and I’ve never seen any IDer acknowledge the oversight. Stumbling on this review while looking up this other book review is literally what got me into this whole ID thing in the first place. I had originally thought, “Hmm, Behe might have a point about the lack of literature on the evolution of complex systems.” Then I read Cavalier-Smith’s review and realized I’d been snookered. The rest is history.

Note 3. This doesn’t go with anything, but for the record, Mike Gene, perhaps the ID guru who is most respected for usually having a clue about the biology he is talking about unlike virtually all of the rest of them, made the same mistake Behe made about IFT. See Mike Gene’s “ASSEMBLING THE EUKARYOTIC FLAGELLUM: Another example of IC?” and “THE NEGLECTED FLAGELLUM.”

Note 4. This is also not referenced in the main text, but the wikipedia intraflagellar tranport page also contains the “always required” mistake.

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Comment #182241

Posted by PvM on June 5, 2007 1:06 AM (e)

Well done

Comment #182242

Posted by Tara on June 5, 2007 1:08 AM (e)

Oh, man. That is classic….

Comment #182255

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on June 5, 2007 2:09 AM (e)

Forgot to add…the asterisks in the Briggs et al. Figure 1 indicate incomplete genome sequences as of 2004. Thus they put “nf” (not found) for those genomes where they couldn’t find a protein. Only complete genomes could get an unambiguous negative (“-“, minus sign).

Comment #182319

Posted by Frank J on June 5, 2007 5:27 AM (e)

Nick Matzke wrote:

The error is simple but it points to what I have become convinced is the true core of the mishmash known as “intelligent design”: sloppiness and wishful thinking.

Specifically, sloppiness and wishful thinking that ID authors know that the target audience will either not notice, or make excuses for.

Eleven years after “Darwin’s Black Box,” most fans rave about it with no mention whatever of the many devastating critiques that they certainly have noticed along the way. The biggest irony is that these are the same people who whine about “equal time.”

Comment #182321

Posted by Joel on June 5, 2007 5:40 AM (e)

Another excellent fisking of Behe!

Comment #182329

Posted by Blake Stacey, OM on June 5, 2007 6:23 AM (e)

Edit: “something other [than] small transitions between closely-related species”

This post has been duly added to the ever-growing list.

Comment #182343

Posted by TomS on June 5, 2007 7:14 AM (e)

Re your Note 4, some anonymous person has updated Wikipedia to say “most” not “all”.

Comment #182348

Posted by wamba on June 5, 2007 7:27 AM (e)

And several other reviews are coming out in the near future in Science, Discover, etc.

Makes me wonder why science-related journals and magazines have gotten into the business of reviewing books of religious apologetics.

Comment #182352

Posted by raven on June 5, 2007 8:20 AM (e)

wamba:
Makes me wonder why science-related journals and magazines have gotten into the business of reviewing books of religious apologetics.

Not very perceptive are you? It is obvious and has been for a decade or two.

The creos stated goal is to overthrow science and the US government and head on back to the dark ages. Like all lunatic fringe ideologies, lies, misinformtion and propaganda are staples of the fake christian reality denying movement.

As scientists, it is to be hoped and expected that someone will point out the lies and misinformation. We owe a big thanks to Nick Matzke and others for doing so.

Besides which, in the highly unlikely event that the reality deniers succeed, the next step will be a traditional witch hunt for biologists, astronomers, geologists, and MDs. Being burnt at the stake or hung could ruin one’s whole career.

Reread your wedge document if you have forgotten what you were doing.

Comment #182353

Posted by Frank J on June 5, 2007 8:27 AM (e)

wamba wrote:

Makes me wonder why science-related journals and magazines have gotten into the business of reviewing books of religious apologetics.

Er, because they misrepresent science. And unlike, say, flat-earthers, IDers have fooled even many readers of sciece-related journals.

Comment #182361

Posted by David Stanton on June 5, 2007 8:54 AM (e)

Raven wrote:

“As scientists, it is to be hoped and expected that someone will point out the lies and misinformation. We owe a big thanks to Nick Matzke and others for doing so.”

Absolutely agree. It would be nice to just ignore this nonsense, but look where that has gotten us. I appreciate the careful manner in which Nick presents his case. In fact, I would call this the “best Behe takedown ever” (all due respect to ERV).

If Behe actually had any real point to make he would publish in scientific journals. Oh course we have one example of what happens when he tries that. No wonder he doesn’t want to do it. I guess you can hope to get away without doing a literature search if you just publish popular books, but of course someone might notice anyway.

Comment #182370

Posted by minimalist on June 5, 2007 9:34 AM (e)

Nick Matzke wrote:

Oh, I almost forgot the best part: Which apicomplexan critter is it that builds cilia despite Behe’s declaration that “a functioning cilium requires a working IFT”? Why, it’s Plasmodium falciparum, aka malaria, aka Behe’s own biggest running example used throughout The Edge of Evolution.

Oh. Man. That. Is. HILARIOUS!

Well spotted, Nick, well spotted indeed. What could Behe have been thinking? Was he really so delusional, or so dead-set on seeing only the parts he could cherry-pick, that he didn’t notice? Or was he hoping that the ID camp followers would never bother to read further, or look at rebuttals?

This so perfectly encapsulates Behe’s utter incompetence, delusion, or dishonesty, that I hope everyone hammers it home in every forum possible, wherever Behe is mentioned. It’s brief, to the point, and easily confirmed. Creationists will ignore it, of course, but it’ll just further demonstrate how much of a joke ID is to everyone else.

Comment #182374

Posted by Pete Dunkelberg on June 5, 2007 9:40 AM (e)

Extreeeeme case of Morton’s Demon.

Comment #182376

Posted by Larry Gilman on June 5, 2007 9:42 AM (e)

Matzke wrote:

… Behe writes, “Here’s something to ponder long and hard: Malaria was intentionally designed. The molecular machinery with which the parasite invades red blood cells is an exquisitely purposeful arrangement of parts.” Well, at least he’s consistent.

I don’t have Behe’s new book, but what he’s almost certainly implying is that malaria is Satanically designed—that it is a bioweapon created by a supernatural enemy. This is yet another reason why the argument from “bad” design (i.e., the argument that design that’s “bad” by human standards disproves ID) is a weak reed, even though one form of it has given this excellent website its name: Creationists can always attribute harmless natural oddities like the panda’s thumb to divine whimsey, not-so-harmless phenomena to prehistoric sabotage by demonic forces. And so they do. The idea of demonic sabotage of the natural order has, as far as I know, been little or not at all taken up by mainstream Christian theologians—it smacks of Manicheism and has no scriptural basis. But the IDers, whose theology is as twisted as their pseudoscience, are forced by their assumptions to cross the line.

The deep craziness of the inevitably resulting worldview needs no emphasis on this forum.

Larry

Comment #182379

Posted by harold on June 5, 2007 9:45 AM (e)

I want to thank Behe, too, for shooting himself in the foot so often and so extremely.

It helps that in addition to being a crackpot, he’s a bad salesman.

That malaria comment is unreal. His focus on the likes of bacteria and malaria parasites implies a “God directly designed pathogenic microorganisms to punish sinners by killing people at random” mentality. There is little other way to interpret the comment.

You can peddle snake oil about human origins to some degree. Telling someone “you are so special and magical that you must have been ‘designed’” has a certain appeal.

The argument that “Even though silly scientists say the bacterial flagellum evolved, what really happened is that The Designer pinned it on so that bacteria could really stick it to those saps who were unlucky enough to eat the spinach salad” has a lot less appeal.

Comment #182380

Posted by harold on June 5, 2007 9:46 AM (e)

I want to thank Behe, too, for shooting himself in the foot so often and so extremely.

It helps that in addition to being a crackpot, he’s a bad salesman.

That malaria comment is unreal. His focus on the likes of bacteria and malaria parasites implies a “God directly designed pathogenic microorganisms to punish sinners by killing people at random” mentality. There is little other way to interpret the comment.

You can peddle snake oil about human origins to some degree. Telling someone “you are so special and magical that you must have been ‘designed’” has a certain appeal.

The argument that “Even though silly scientists say the bacterial flagellum evolved, what really happened is that The Designer pinned it on so that bacteria could really stick it to those saps who were unlucky enough to eat the spinach salad” has a lot less appeal.

Comment #182384

Posted by Tm G on June 5, 2007 10:08 AM (e)

Unfortunately, people like Nick must waste time on this nonsense so we will all be informed of the particulars of what we know intuitively is BS. Unfortunately, the vast majority of our voting constituency WANTS to believe mountebanks like Behe and they WANT to have justification to re-inject religion into schools - Behe and his ilk know this, so let us not delude ourselves - Behe knows exactly what he is doing - he knows he is not writing something which can withstand scientific scrutiny - he knows that his work will be subject to withering and irrefutable criticism.

HE DOESN’T CARE. He is not writing for us. He is writing for ONE purpose - to delude voters and gullible public officials and to give them what they want - a credible-sounding bit of non-answer which is just good enough for them, with a loud collective voice, to shout down dissent from their views. This, my scientific colleagues, is proaganda - pure and simple. It is being implemented by a masterful prpaganda machine and it is acieving the dual purpose of feeding the popular belief WHILE also keeping good scientists occupied responding in arcane venues rather than churning out more great works like COSMOS which really fired the public’s imagination about science a generation ago.
Nick, you are an insightful, eloquent and frank writer and, much as I love your exposes, I would like to see the NSCE focus on disseminating some real entertaining, readable science. Instead, the DI has our side on the defensive - they are calling the shots because they continue to publish distortions which we then must react to rather than pushing forward with good original work of our own. Science in the public view is now no longer telling the public about the world - scientists are now in the unenviable position of telling the world what it has been told by the DI, and what the world wants to believe, is not true. We, somehow, have been backed into a corner. THAT is the triumph of the DI as I see it. They don’t need to be correct. They only need to put us in the defender’s position - and they know it. That is why Behe is willing to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged scientists - this latest book is the sacrificial lamb to keep us busy while adding more christian soldiers to the march.
Tom

Comment #182389

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 5, 2007 10:37 AM (e)

Very good fisking.

And I can see why his assumptions are taken as if they were reasonable, since they fall on their own “logic”. But I can’t let him get away with his attempts to make ID’s apologetic attempts to write the ground rules to favor themselves without commenting on the typical egregious dishonesty.

It turns out that when you look at a number of recently-sequenced genomes, a pattern emerges: organisms with cilia have IFT genes, and organisms without cilia don’t. So far this is Behe’s expected pattern.

Yes, this is his “expected pattern,” and he laughably fails with his prime example. But this is not, as we all know, any expected pattern from an intervening Creator. In fact (and this is one reason I’m writing now), exceptions and differences without any consistent phylogenetic pattern would be expected from a real creative power. I’m saying, “Watch out, they might start claiming this to be the ‘fatal flaw’ in the homologies that ‘supposedly support’ Darwinism“. Of course it’s not anything like that, it’s the sort of exception expected from normal evolutionary adaptations to varying circumstances, not a mix-up of “bacterial flagella”, “eukaryotic cilia”, and unknown other possibilities that a creator might very well come up with, and which evolution tends not to effect once it has a complex “machine” (scare quotes only because of IDiot word games) adequate to handle many purposes.

And since they have nothing except a constant whine about evolution, Behe’s “expected pattern” may very well change to, “well, we expect a designer to have a pattern, but to change it where circumstances warrant,” because, of course, they have no predictions other than those that try to make what we see into “design predictions” (thus complexity (with various modifiers of dubious meaning) becomes the mark of “design”, when it has never been diagnostic of design on its own).

This is why I think we ought to press them for inherent predictions of ID at every turn, for otherwise they’ll just turn to claiming this as the mark of “design” once they have learned something. Dembski more or less gave the game away on ARN, when he crowed about putting his stuff onto ARN to get the “Darwinists” to trim away the shit (sorry, but what else am I to call it?) that doesn’t stick to the wall. Behe’s not going to care for long that he’s been shown to be an ignorant sap once again (he’s bound to be somewhat inured to it now), he’ll just change his “expectations” and claim victory like they always do.

Behe wrote:

Here’s something to ponder long and hard: Malaria was intentionally designed. The molecular machinery with which the parasite invades red blood cells is an exquisitely purposeful arrangement of parts.

And so with this. Sure, it’s hard to even parse such a stupid statement, and it’s “consistent” all right in claiming that “complexity” itself indicates “design”.

But let’s discuss it anyhow. What is purposeful about the relationship of malaria, mosquitos, and humans (and other animals)? Bring in Dembski’s favorite little SETI analogy. We see a complex (rationally designed, a factor that he never manages to mention) machine which exists for an apparent purpose, and we conclude design. We don’t look at organisms (or machines) in competition for resources (or even as isolated specimens) and conclude purpose or design, for the whole is without both aspects. Indeed, we can conclude that humans have a purpose in warding off both mosquitos and malaria, however we cannot suppose that malaria and mosquitos have a purpose (except in the broadest, and unusual, senses). At least the honest theists who believe in the devil can come up with a kind of “purpose” in mosquitos and malaria, even if Satan’s work in producing both strains credibility if we model Satan upon our own tendencies.

It’s hard to accept human purpose for malaria’s existence, and of course Behe really wants to claim that humans do have purpose because of the Creator’s purpose (one could make the case, but it would be long). It might be easier to suppose that humans exist for P. falciparum’s purposes, except that then it’s hard to understand why humans are able to evolve sickle cells and other defenses which seriously reduce malaria’s scope for living, let alone to have the intelligence to utilize quinine (and chloroquine) and artemensin to hold malaria at bay for some time. Are we to suppose that this is to improve malaria in some unfathomable manner?

The fact of the matter is that all of these questions end up pointing to only one thing, the classic theist cop-out, an “inscrutable God”. We are not able to discern purpose in malaria’s existence, and he knows this. The trouble is that we can’t discern purpose in human existence (I didn’t say in human lives, life, and individual existence—it’s only “human existence” (in a certain, should be obvious, meaning) where I’m denying it), either, and Behe et al. want to claim that irreducible complexity somehow confers it. Of course he has to make P. falciparum into a “purposeful” arrangement of parts (come on now, O’Leary, you know life is not just machines like Behe claims. You said so) if he’s going to maintain the fiction that his “science” indicates the same for humans. He just hasn’t founded any of his crucial assumptions at all.

Yes I know, this is all too obvious, but it has to be said to keep them from getting away with their tiresome claims. We can’t let Behe hone his “predictions” so intricately so that they will at last “succeed”, without pointing out that none of his predictions inhere in his “theory” at all, no matter how often we have to point this out.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

Comment #182391

Posted by raven on June 5, 2007 10:52 AM (e)

Matzke wrote:

… Behe writes, “Here’s something to ponder long and hard: Malaria was intentionally designed. The molecular machinery with which the parasite invades red blood cells is an exquisitely purposeful arrangement of parts.” Well, at least he’s consistent.

A lot of things wrong with Behe’s statement.
1. Who is this intentional designer? There are thousands of candidates and answers. Zeus et al. Odin et al., Vishnu, Cthulhu, Allah, space aliens. Of course, we know their answer would be Jehova. But the actual evidence that it is Jehova rather than someone(s) else is the same as the actual evidence that malaria was intentionally designed. Zero.

2. This is just the old argument from incredulity/ignorance. “I can’t see how my foot evolved so god exists.” Obvious and old logical fallacy.

3. Bad example. Malaria is one of the top 3 single agent killers worldwide. It hits young children especially hard. In endemic areas, you get it and get over it, or get it and die. Is this clown really implying that god wants to randomly kill off a few million kids per year for some reason?

Comment #182396

Posted by raven on June 5, 2007 11:16 AM (e)

Tm G:

THAT is the triumph of the DI as I see it. They don’t need to be correct. They only need to put us in the defender’s position - and they know it.

It’s not quite that bad. The only way the creos can sell their pack of lies is to…..lie. Lie a lot and repeat those lies and make up new ones.

In the very long run, truth always wins out. They are and will make their religion, fake-fundie christianity look like primitive snake oil. I’m sure they’ve heard of the commandment, thou shalt not lie. Obviously, they don’t care.

Besides which, irreducible complexity is an old logical fallacy and it is sterile. Behe can recycle it forever with endless examples (HIV, TB, tapeworms, trichinosis, etc.) but it doesn’t lead anywhere scientificly.

Much rather sell the truth and add to it. While Behe is babbling on about intentionally, intelligently designed microbial killers, many of us are trying to understand them, treat them, cure them, and get rid of them forever. Smallpox is gone, polio is going, and what has the DI contributed to the world besides paying a bunch of quacks and conmen to make up lies?

Comment #182397

Posted by jasonmitchell on June 5, 2007 11:17 AM (e)

re Comment #182376 Satan designed parasites

It is also possible (although I am NOT accusing Behe of this as I don’t have enough information) that his comment is based in (or to justify) bigotry
(is he pandering to a segment of his target audience? or does HE hold these beliefs? )
- Malaria is DEVINELY designed to punish the “wicked” lesser races (in Africa - where malaria kills many not everyone is a xian)

Similar arguments were used to JUSTIFY BIGOTRY against Africans (they are the “Sons of Cain”) or JUSTFY BIGOTRY against homosexuals (AIDS is GODS PUNISHMENT)

this is a particularly dangerous belief, and the foundation/support of some hate groups’ philosophies (KKK) - correlation between fundies/hate groups/bigotry/global warming denial/lower education levels/evolution denial/republican “base” all adds up to some pretty scary stuff

Comment #182451

Posted by Larry A on June 5, 2007 1:11 PM (e)

I’ve been reading this blog since the Dover trial and have never commented before. But this is just too much. Can someone explain to me how Behe and his cohorts can wake up in the morning and look at himself in the mirror. He seems to be a smart man that must know that he is lying through his teeth. The only people in history that I can think of that can lie like he does with a straight face are evil and/or seriously sick. You know people like Hitler and other obvious sickos.

Comment #182458

Posted by Gary Hurd on June 5, 2007 1:42 PM (e)

So if malaria is designed, who (should that be Who?) designed it? And, since the sickel cell trait provided some protection to malaria, who designed that? And since there are three known variants of sickel cell, where they designed by a team, or a committee? Maybe subcontractors?

Great job Nick! Nail his ass to the wall.

Comment #182459

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on June 5, 2007 1:43 PM (e)

Come now, don’t get carried away. Remember Godwin’s Law.

Comment #182467

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson, OM on June 5, 2007 2:59 PM (e)

Nick Matzke wrote:

which they cleverly entitled “More than one way to build a flagellum,” presumably so that people would find out that there is…wait for it…more than one way to build a flagellum.

What I like most about Nick’s posts is the awesome ninja/army style approach to his subject. First a swift disemboweling of the main target, then severing the head to make sure. No need to kick the body afterwards.

Very well done.

Nick Matzke wrote:

this particular apicomplexan assembles its cilia in the cytoplasm, and therefore has ditched the elaborate IFT complex that would otherwise be needed to transport building materials out to the far-removed end of the cilium

Which construction method humans would prefer btw, assemble centrally and push into place. Whatever happened with ‘intelligent’ in design?

Michael Behe wrote:

“irreducible complexity squared”

Unfortunately, 0*0 is still zero.

Wait, maybe we can help Behe by looking at ‘IC’ cubed, squared, …:
1. n = 0: 0 = 0.
2. n: Assume 0^(n-1) = 0. 0^n = 0 * 0^(n-1) = 0 * 0 = 0. (So we didn’t even need the assumption.)
=> 0^n = 0, all n.

Hmm. No, won’t work, Behe will only plead for special creation: 0^N = 0 + something extra, for N sufficiently different from n.

Comment #182469

Posted by Dyticas on June 5, 2007 3:04 PM (e)

When Behe looks in the mirror he sees a book author and ID celebrity, which must look better to him than an underacheiving biochemist. He may not be evil, but his manipulation of facts for vanity and profit are beneath contempt. I would rather be an underachieving biochemist with some regard for the truth. As I am.

Comment #182470

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson, OM on June 5, 2007 3:08 PM (e)

Uups. As everyone can see there is a glaring error in my proof by induction. I got lost in all the 0’s:

1. n = 1: 0 = 0.

There, that will do it.

Comment #182482

Posted by Fred on June 5, 2007 4:00 PM (e)

Great post; I can’t wait until Behe is on the stand again (in Virginia, maybe?) and has all this pointed out to him with his response on the record.

Comment #182490

Posted by steve s on June 5, 2007 4:28 PM (e)

I hope the phrase “…wait for it…” is on the way out.

Comment #182503

Posted by David B. Benson on June 5, 2007 5:43 PM (e)

raven — It was Her Noodliness, the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

Comment #182567

Posted by Aagcobb on June 5, 2007 10:50 PM (e)

Dyticas: “I would rather be an underachieving biochemist with some regard for the truth. As I am.”

But think what you could be. With the very small effort of recycling bad arguments creationists have made for decades, you could write a bestseller which would fly off the shelves of christian bookstores nationwide, appear on national television and bask in the glow of praise from Bill O’Reilly and Pat Robertson, Go on a national speaking tour of fundamentalist churches and get your wallet stuffed with love offerings, and sell audiotapes and DVDs out the whazoo! Telling people what they want to hear is a VERY lucrative business.

Comment #182638

Posted by Paul Burnett on June 7, 2007 10:03 PM (e)

Larry Gilman commented: “…what (Behe’s) almost certainly implying is that malaria is Satanically designed……it smacks of Manicheism and has no scriptural basis. But the IDers, whose theology is as twisted as their pseudoscience, are forced by their assumptions to cross the line.” (Sorry for the long quote, which I don’t know how to put in a box.)

Larry’ right. For those who care to go to the effort, fighting creationists by citing examples of their heresy (Manichaean and others) may be valid. Creationists sometimes cite an almost Zoroastrian duality of a good god opposed by a bad god, which is essentially the Manichaean heresy (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manichaeism). Some creationist writings cite a “creator god” who can be seen as separate from the primary Judeo-Christian-Islamic god, who got his start in the godding business as a storm god. (Solomon’s Temple actually had a separate room reserved for YHWH to appear in in his aspect of a thundercloud.)

Intelligent design, with its public silence on creationism’s god, sometimes refers to more than one intelligent designer, and of course cannot answer the question of who or what designed the intelligent designer. Pointing out that this looks a lot like heresy might be a good way to drive a wedge (heh heh) between the IDers and the creationists.

Comment #182650

Posted by anomalous4 on June 7, 2007 11:39 PM (e)

Corey Powell did a pretty good job of shredding Behe’s latest piece of ¢®@p for the lay audience in Discover magazine this month, too. YA-A-A-A-A-A-AAAY!!!!!

Comment #182680

Posted by TomS on June 8, 2007 7:44 AM (e)

Regarding the comments by Paul Burnett and others on the theology of ID.

Langdon Gilkey, in his testimony in the Arkansas creationism trial, brought up the question of Gnosticism’s relationship to creationism.

What I find interesting is to draw the distinction between a “designer” and a “creator”. Design is operating within the limits of pre-existing material, redoing it so that it comes into agreement with the desires of the designer. This point was mentioned by Kant:

Thus the proof could at most establish a highest architect of the word, who would always be limited by the suitability of the material in which he works, but not a creator of the world, to whose idea everything is subject, which is far from sufficient for the great aim that one has in view, namely that of proving an all-sufficient original being.

Critique of Pure Reason A626/B654, tr. P. Guyer & A.W. Wood, Cambridge U. Press, 1998 (boldface as in this translation)

BTW, Paul, using the tag “blockquote” is what you are looking for to put something in a box.

Comment #182683

Posted by David Stanton on June 8, 2007 8:02 AM (e)

Don’t know if anyone has mentioned this yet, but Talkorigins also has a post of the month that calls Behe’s argument silly. Enjoy.

Comment #182686

Posted by Mark Farmer on June 8, 2007 8:59 AM (e)

Nick that was truly terrific. As one who works on the origins of protists and flagella I can authoritatively say that this dressing down of Behe is complete and accurate in every way.

It reminds me of the famous quote from Tom Cavalier-Smith’s original review of “Darwin’s Black Box” that you referenced. Cavalier-Smith wrote:

“[Behe] states that

‘if a theory claims to be able to explain some phenomenon but does not even generate an attempt at an explanation it should be banished’ and ‘without details, discussion is doomed to be unscientific and fruitless’.

If he had applied these strictures to his panacea of ‘intelligent design’ we would have been spared this worthless book.”

Well said, both Tom and Nick!

Comment #182817

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on June 9, 2007 10:29 PM (e)

Behe claims new insights into malaria, attained by the use of ID theory. Good - we could save thousands of lives by better understanding of this organism.

As an “ethical” “scientist”, doesn’t he owe it to humanity and his god to do everything he can to follow up on this breakthrough?

Mere blog commenters may opine that providing Behe with a malaria lab would affect the fight against disease only slightly less than bulldozing an existing lab, but shouldn’t Behe be giving this his best shot regardless of such heckling from the rabble?

If he’s right, he could be the next Walter Reed or Jonas Salk. Or, he could be known as the man who found the key to malaria - and walked away leaving a later generation to stumble across it.

Should Behe have, ahem, other priorities, this presents an opportunity (arguably an obligation) for his colleagues at the Diss Institute to pursue malaria research with all available resources.

To do less implies a heartlessness which might not merit invocations of the almighty Godwin, but would still occupy a point in genocide space. Unless, of course, ID’s own partisans don’t take Behe’s analysis very seriously themselves. Their inaction implicitly concedes that ID has nothing to contribute medically, and belongs only in the crowded dimensions of quackspace.

Glen D wants “predictions”, but he’s burdened with low expectations. The human race needs medical breakthroughs - if Behe & friends can deliver, the world will cheer as they pick up their Nobels. (It might be, ah, premature to bring them to the attention of the Committees quite yet, thanks for asking…)

If ID proponents assert they have a better model for a major affliction of humankind, but fail to develop it, they should be challenged for this ethical lapse at every public venue, and twice on Sundays.

Comment #183137

Posted by zilch on June 14, 2007 10:30 AM (e)

“Is this clown really implying that god wants to randomly kill off a few million kids per year for some reason?”

Not randomly, raven. These are the kids He loves most of all, and He has thus gathered them to Himself so they won’t have to suffer on Earth.

It’s non-falsifiable all the way down.

Comment #184917

Posted by Henry J on June 27, 2007 6:45 PM (e)

I thought it was turtles all the way down…

Comment #187806

Posted by Jonadab The Drunk on July 14, 2007 7:59 AM (e)

I just started reading Darwin’s Black Box and its great to know the criticism before I continue. It would be right to point out new discoveries, but one can hardly account for malice on Behe’s part for pointing out the existing evidence at the time of publication. Maybe I’m just really really ridiculously good looking but didn’t Nick start out promising to solve the Irreducibly Complex design of the cilium, and end up disproving that “a functioning cilium requires a working IFT”.

I’m not trying to convince anyone but how could an organism benefit from becoming conscious of its own inevitable death? Taking into account that the fear of death permeates through most psychological disorders, and dominates ones lifestyle although proving vain despite which one is chosen? Also taking into account that every beast known to man is governed by instinct and whose mental capabilities are limited to its basic functions, while it is said that with whatever information you take to the grave, the human mind is capable of storing 10 Billion times that amount, despite living a meager 70 years of age.

There are other things like how in the vision of Ezekiel Jehovah is surrounded by a rainbow, and since scripture says that there is no darkness is relation to him at all, it would indicate that he knows what the spectrum of light is.

Also I notice critics exposing the malice behind IDers arguments. But what about Piltdown man which is hard evidence toward wishful thinking on the part of Evolutionist.

Just a friendly IDer reminder, and yes I do have time to kill its Saturday…

“This is what Jehovah has said, the King of Israel and the Repurchaser of him, Jehovah of armies, ‘I am the first and I am the last, and besides me there is no God. And who is there like me? Let him call out, that he may tell it and present it to me. From when I appointed the people of long ago, both the things coming and the things that will enter in let them tell on their part. Do not be in dread, you people, and do not become stupefied. Have I not from that time on caused you individually to hear and told it out? And you are my witnesses. Does there exist a God besides me? No, there is no Rock. I have recognized none.’” Isaiah 44:6-8

Comment #187819

Posted by Science Avenger on July 14, 2007 10:07 AM (e)

Jonadab said:

…how could an organism benefit from becoming conscious of its own inevitable death?

It makes planning more efficient, and gives one a sense of urgency. Knowing you are going to die one day means that if you desire to have children, for example, better to act sooner than to procrastinate.

It is also plausible that knowledge of one’s death is a negative side effect of the more positive attribute of consciousness. Just because a trait persists doesn’t make it evolutionarily advantageous.

Also taking into account that every beast known to man is governed by instinct and whose mental capabilities are limited to its basic functions…

Whereever did you get this idea? Chimps, dolphins, octopi, and other animals have demonstrated tool-making and problem-solving abilities similar to our own. The differences are of degree, not kind.

Also I notice critics exposing the malice behind IDers arguments. But what about Piltdown man which is hard evidence toward wishful thinking on the part of Evolutionist.

Piltdown man was rejected by science once the evidence of its fraudulent nature came to light. Contrast this to creationists/IDers, who continue to promote discredited arguments in spite of contrary evidence.

Just a friendly IDer reminder, and yes I do have time to kill its Saturday…

No problem, debunking creationist nonsense is a good way to get through a hangover.

Comment #190847

Posted by dora on July 28, 2007 5:46 PM (e)

even the wart adds something to the body

Trackback: Behe pwned again

Posted by Aetiology on June 5, 2007 1:52 PM

Behe's "The Edge of Evolution" is officially on the shelves now, and already it's DOA.

Trackback: Beating on Behe

Posted by Stranger Fruit on June 5, 2007 7:12 PM

Behe's latest piece of dreck (The Edge of Evolution) has appeared and it has already recieved quite the beatdown from Michael Ruse, Mark Chu-Carroll, PZ Myers, and Nick Matzke, with Nick's post being fairly damning regarding Behe's "ability" to do...