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ID and evolution: Where "Purposeful arrangement of parts" collide

By Pim van Meurs

Posted October 26, 2005

In the following exchange, Behe seems to be uncertain as to what intelligent design really does. When asked about exaptation, he answers that exaptation is consistent with intelligent design (but what isn't...). He then claims that intelligent design 'only focuses on the mechanism of how such a thing would happen'.

Q. But it is certainly, exaptation -- for example, a bird wing developing from some kind of feathered structure on a dinosaur that didn't necessarily allow flight, that's what evolutionary biologists propose, and they call it exaptation?

A. That's entirely possible, and that's consistent with intelligent design, because intelligent design only focuses on the mechanism of how such a thing would happen. So the critical point for my argument is, how such things could develop by random mutation and natural selection.

Q. And again, intelligent design doesn't describe how it happened?

A. That's correct, only to say that intelligence was involved somewhere in the process.

Things get more interesting when Behe repeats a claim he seems to have used almost as often as the reference to the Big Bang namely

A. Yes, it's improbable.

Q. Okay. And you haven't -- and based on that, you conclude that intelligent design is a much more probable explanation?

A. Not just based on that, based on the purposeful arrangement of parts.

"Based on the purposeful arrangement of parts". Now think about this for a moment, the use of the term purpose is used to conflate with function. Otherwise the argument would be "we recognize design because of the design of the parts". Now we have reached a problem for intelligent design, namely that by using the term 'purposeful' instead of the more appropriate term 'function' they cannot exclude natural processes as having caused this function to arise. In other words, intelligent design is based on a simple appeal to ignorance.

Let's look at this more carefully so that the confused ID proponent may also appreciate the problem. Behe argues that known natural pathways are improbable to explain 'X', since 'X' has functioning parts, one can infer 'design'. But the statement says nothing about the 'designer' and thus any process which can cause the appearance of teleology, such as for instance evolutionary processes, needs to be considered. Since Intelligent Design does not propose any explanation, pathways or mechanisms (although ID proponents seem to contradict themselves occasionally), intelligent design cannot even compete with the 'we don't know' explanation. In fact, lacking any positive, independent evidence, there is no reason to conclude that an intelligent designer was involved.

This is important since many ID proponents seem to be confused about this, even though Dembski and other IDers have stated, often almost as a side note, that inferring design does not mean inferring a designer. As Welsey Elsberry has so aptly observed in the early years of ID, intelligent design's design inference cannot exclude a fully natural designer.

Why is this important? Very simple: We know of various 'purposeful arangement of parts' which evolved, thus the conclusion is simple: due to the obvious risk of false positives (although Dembski denies sometimes that such false positives exist and accepts false positives at other times), the ID design inference cannot compete with 'we don't know' since it is an appeal to ignorance.

That we have examples of purposeful arrangements by intelligent designers is of no help since we have examples of purposeful arrangements by evolutionary processes. Or alternatively, while ID proponents may argue that evolutionary processes known so far, are unlikely to explain a particular purposeful arrangement of parts, it cannot compete even with this hypothesis as it lacks any measure of probability. In other words, even though the probability of a particular purposeful arrangement of parts via evolutionary mechanisms may be small, the probability of such a system having arisen via an intelligent designer may be even smaller. And since ID refuses, for obvious reasons, to limit its designer or provide means, motives, opportunity, it fails to provide a scientifically relevant alternative.

And that my friends, is the reason why intelligent design is scientifically vacuous, flawed and misguided. That intelligent design is forced to defend its claims in court, under oath, seems quite helpful in establishing how vacuous ID scientifically really is. And the Discovery Institute seems to realize this as it is quick to ask the judge to not rule on the issue of intelligent design and science, since ID can be 'useful' for scientific discussions. Of course, so can any other creationist argument be argued to be useful for scientific discussion. In order to establish if ID is scientifically relevant, and thus has a secular purpose, it is essential that the courts rule on the issue of intelligent design and science.

Given the quality of the testimony of intelligent design proponents, I am not surprised that the Discovery Institute must be very worried.

Further in the testimony, Behe testifies as to what the concept of irreducible complexity really is. When confronted with a statement Behe supposedly made in a newspaper about the flagellum and the Type III Secretory System, he confirmed that even if the Type III Secretory System were ancestral to the flagellum, the flagellum would still be irreducibly complex (and thus 'designed').

Q. Okay. And then you go on to say that you still think -- well, I'll leave that. Your argument is that, even if the type III secretory system is a pre-cursor to the bacterial flagellum, is a subset, the bacterial flagellum is still irreducibly complex because that subset does not function as a flagellum?

A. That's correct, yes.

Q. And, therefore, the bacterial flagellum must have been intelligently designed?

A. Well, again, the argument is that, there is -- that when you see a purposeful arrangement of parts, that bespeaks design, so, yes.

The discussion then continues about 'slow design' where Behe paints himeself even more in a corner. The plaintiffs' lawyer is doing an incredible job in showing how Behe's claims are just an 'empty box'.
Behe, under cross, admits to the following

Q. Good. In slow design, same thing. At some point, we had a subset of the proteins, and eventually, we got to the whole thing?

A. That's right. The crucial question -- the only question is the mechanism.

But intelligent design has NO mechanisms to offer, so once again it seems that ID remains scientifically vacuous.

Q. Okay. So in the case of evolution, there is mechanism that's been proposed, natural selection?

A. Yes.

Q. And you've agreed that natural selection certainly is a phenomena that operates in the natural world?

A. That is correct.

So Behe has now admitted that so far the only issue is of 'mechanism(s)', in other words, 'slow design' or 'evolutionary design' differ only in mechanism(s) involved. And evolution has identified plausible mechanisms.

Behe is now confronted with a major problem, how to make a case of design. Predictably he returns to 'purposeful arrangement of parts' but the lawyer does not let him off that easily and forces him to admit some remarkable ignorance and tautology.

Q. Then we've got slow design, and there we have no mechanism at all, no description of a mechanism?

A. We have no description of a mechanism. We do infer design though from the purposeful arrangement of parts.

Q. Now yesterday, I asked you some questions about the designer's abilities. And you said, all we know about its abilities is that it was capable of making whatever we have determined is design. That's the only statement we can make about the designer's abilities?

A. Yes.

Q. And in terms of the designer's -- as a scientific statement?

A. That's correct.

Q. And the only thing we know scientifically about the designer's motives or desires or needs is that, according to your argument, the only thing we would know scientifically about that is that it must have wanted to make what we have concluded as design?

A. Yes, that's right.

Q. In fact, the only way we can make the statement scientifically that a designer exists is that it made whatever we conclude was design?

A. Yes, that's right.

Can we say circular reasoning...

Behe tries to move the goalposts but the lawyer is quick to point out Behe's previous testimony

And as my work with David Snoke shows, that even getting small changes in pre-existing proteins, that is parts, is no easy task. So the question --

Q. Unless you have a whole ton of soil?

A. I'm sorry?

Q. Unless you have a whole ton of soil?

A. So that's actually an excellent question. Did those parts themselves also have to be designed? And I think right now, the question is open.

Behe is then asked about whether or not intelligent design, in this case for the flagellum has been tested. Since Behe proposed a way to test 'scientifically' if the flagellum could evolve, and since such a test was never performed we now are treated to the following amusing exchange

Q. Okay. So you can't claim that the proposition that the bacterial flagellum was intelligently designed is a well-tested proposition?

A. Yes, you can, I'm afraid. It's well-tested from the inductive argument. We can, from our inductive understanding of whenever we see something that has a large number of parts, which interacts to fulfill some function, when we see a purposeful arrangement of parts, we have always found that to be design. And so, an inductive argument relies on the validity of the previous instances of what you're inducing. So I would say that, that is tested.

It's 'well tested' from the inductive argument although it has not really been tested and the test proposed by Behe has never been performed.

Scientifically vacuous...

And before taking a recess for break, Behe makes the following statement about ID which accentuates the vacuity.

Q. And before we leave the blood clotting system, can you just remind the Court the mechanism by which intelligent design creates the blood clotting system?

A. Well, as I mentioned before, intelligent design does not say, a mechanism, but what it does say is, one important factor in the production of systems, and that is that, at some point in the pathway, intelligence was involved.


A discussion of this essay is found on the Panda's Thumb blog, thread 1602 of October 24 http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/10/in_the_followin.html.