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Dembski and the flagellum

In Darwin’s Black Box, Behe takes evolutionary biology to task for failing to explain the evolution of biochemical pathways within the cell. From this he developed the idea of “irreducible complexity” – that there are systems that are too complex to have arisen by (known) evolutionary processes. From there, he makes the jump to an “intelligent designer“…in other words, failure to come up with an evolutionary explanation is proof of God. Of the the central “icons” of intelligent design is the bacterial flagellum. Despite the fact that far more is known about the evolution of the flagellum than was known a decade ago (when Behe wrote his book), ID proponents still cling to it as a pillar of their anti-evolutionary arguments. In his talk at OU on Monday, one of Dembski‘s main criticisms of “Darwinian evolution” was the fact that it failed to provide a “complete, fully articulated path” of evolution for “molecular nano-machines”.

During the question section, several people took Dembski to task over the idea that ID isn’t science, since it’s impossible to falsify. Dembksi danced around the question a little, holding up the bacterial flagellum as a place where ID could be proven wrong. Eventually the questioner managed to pin him down with something along the lines of “would you be convinced that ID was wrong if the flagellum example was disproven?”, to which Dembski seems to have agreed (I believe it was there that Dembski said something to the effect that, if that were the case he’d be looking for another line of work).

It was against this backdrop that Dr. Philip Klebba offered to explain the evolution of the bacterial flagellum to Dembski in four, reducibly complex steps. At that point I was ready for Dembski to hold good to his earlier promise and give up on intelligent design, but no such luck. He now upped the ante, demanding that he be supplied with “every step” and “every mutation” along the way.

While I had heard that sort of ridiculous request from creationists before, it was the first time I heard it from a major ID proponent. While ID spends a lot of time claiming that the scientific community are unreasonable in their acceptance of evolutionary theory, Dembksi made it very clear at that point that he was setting the bar unreasonably high. Every mutation? We are in an Age of Discovery in the world of genomics and proteonomics. Dembski’s demand requires a level of knowledge which is well beyond current levels of understanding. Dembski talked a lot about the lack of progress since the publication of DBB, but the truth is that there will always be a limited pool of resources for things like this. Despite the fact that our knowledge of cellular subsystems have progressed by leaps and bounds over the last decade, there are still far too many interesting questions out there.

In real scientific endeavours, when you propose a hypothesis, there’s an onus on you to take a shot at either finding supporting evidence, or taking a shot at falsifying the idea. Since falsification of ID as a whole is impossible, and since finding evidence for the tinkering of a “designer” is probably impossible, why hasn’t the ID movement spent the last decade trying testing their flagellar hypothesis?

Most probably: because ID is a “ground clearing operation”.

Update: Wow. Febble at IIDB

Anyone else notice that the flagellum’s gone from the masthead of UD?

When did that happen?

Wow. Maybe Dr. Klebba’s point really did hit home.

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7 Responses

  1. Ian,

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think Dembski’s point was as much that he required that information, as it was he wanted *some kind of evidence*, rather than just a seemingly plausible story. Anyone can tell a story explaining their belief, but a story is not proof.

  2. And remember the kid on the right side mic? He asked ‘How many steps do you want?’ and we laughed ‘N+1!’?

    ID Creationism isnt falsifiable because the goalposts are never stationary.

  3. An oddity: when Klebba came up to the mike and started layin’ down the law, Dembski asked him if he was one of the 180 or so OU faculty who had some petition deriding Dembski.

    Klebba said he hadn’t signed it, but what was Dembski’s motivation to ask that? What could he have done if Klebba said yes?

  4. Yeah what was up with that?

    “WERE YOU ONE OF THE 180 PROFESSORS THAT SIGNED THIS????”

    I forgot about that!! ROFL!

  5. I remember Dembski saying that, but I didn’t recall that it was Klebba he said it to. I seem to remember that whomever he said that to (presumably Klebba) started with something polite, a “thank you for your talk” kind of comment, and that Dembski was going to say “If you signed the petition, I don’t want your thanks”. That was what I was expecting, though since it was never said, I have no idea where it was going. But it did surprise me when Dembski said that.

  6. For what it’s worth, the flagellum is back on the UD masthead.

  7. This doesnt help me!!! :[

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