Part 9 — Dr. Michael Behe, Audience Q&A

ES:
We have a short amount of time for questions from the audience. Not a whole lot of time I'm afraid, but a little bit of time. Um, this gentleman over here in the corner. Speak very loudly please.

AM3:
You gentlemen have been discussing the details of, of intricate biology. I'm asking a question about the giant things in the universe. How does a believer in intelligent design explain the questionable intelligence behind a design which periodically [unintelligible] the Earth with apparent random [unintelligible] thereby destroying much of what has been created [unintelligible] [laughter].

MB:
Is that for me?

ES:
I, I think it's up for grabs.

MB:
Well, uh, that, that's an excellent question. I, I don't know. Uh, you know, it's certainly I think that in the Universe there is not only design, there is natural law and there is randomness and, and so on. And... uh, I, so perhaps, you know, this is part of the design and, and it doesn't looks so good to us, uh, but maybe it's just the, um, outplaying of natural or something. But what I, I don't think you can say is that, [clears throat] the earth has been struck in the past with meteors, therefore, the bacterial flagellum was produced by Darwinian evolution. [laughter] I do not, I do not think that follows.

ES:
Another question. Um, it is hard to see here. Um, this man in the front.

AM4:
Uh... You mentioned, ah, you mentioned the word, the big word, the big G word, "God" as the designer, you, you've enlightened [unintelligible]. Uh, as, as designing, a criteria of design. In contrast, um, to uh, to gravity, I find, ah, design, [unintelligible] clearly to be falsified, that is, while you have the [unintelligible] equipped, you'll find out whether you [unintelligible] or not. [unintelligible] I was wondering, [unintelligible] criteria aside, how would you falsify, uh, the, the [unintelligible] theory of designer [unintelligible]

ES:
And to whom are you addressing the question?

AM4:
Ah, Dr. Behe.

MB:
Thanks very much. Uh, actually I think a strong point of Int-, uh, design, kind of counter intuitively to many people, is that it's easily falsified. Ken has been trying to falsify it. He has a number of examples that he likes. He thinks that if his examples are correct, it would be falsified. A number of other scientists who are no fans of intelligent design have pointed to experiments in the literature and said that this falsifies some of the claims of irreducib-, well, irreducible complexity and so on. Uh, if a scientist went into the laboratory and grew a bacterial culture for a long time, say you know, tens of thousands of generations, and saw that some new irreducibly complex system was produced, then my claims would be gone. It's, it's straight forwardly falsifiable, uh, if we can show that, uh, irreducibly complex systems can be observed arising in the laboratory, uh, then there is no need to say that it required intelligence, to, to do, to do that. Kind of as a side thing, let's flip the tables and say how could we falsify the claim that Darwinian processes produced the bacterial flagellum. Suppose you went into the lab and grew a bug for a long time and, uh, asked yourself, did it produce something like a flagellum. And it turns out it didn't. Uh, would Darwinists think that their theory had been falsified? I doubt it. They would say that, there wasn't enough time, you started with the wrong bacterial species, and, and a lot of other, uh, reasons. Now those may or may not be valid, but the point is that Intelligent Design is pretty straightforwardly falsifiable in my view, but Darwinian evolution is not.

ES:
Ken?

KM:
I'll, I'll respond to that very quickly. The uh, first point is the idea of an intelligent designer is inherently non-falsifiable, since it's an agency acting outside of nature and we only falsify things by natural causes. When Mike says I've been trying to falsify Intelligent Design, here's what he really means. He says, that we know Intelligent design, eh, eh, there's evidence for design and that evidence is on the basis of the existence of irreducibly complex systems whose parts could not have been formed by Darwinian natural selection, because they are in themselves useless. That is the argument that I have attacked, and I think I have falsified it and other people have falsified as well. Dr. Behe for example quoted a retired biochemistry professor, a gentleman whom I actually know, Frank Harold, from the University of Colorado Medical Center, as saying we don't have any examples of the evolution of complex biochemical systems. And that was taken as authority. But Mike should know, that two years before Harold published his book, I listed a series of examples of, of papers showing the evolution of complex biochemical systems. I can cite two of them that describe the evolution of the components of the Krebs cycle which is complex biochemical and real, I can cite another one that talks about the evolution by quote, "a step by step Darwinian process" of the genetic code and the coding machinery of the cell, and lastly Shelly Copley in the year 2000 published a paper describing the evolution in the last 65 years of a new biochemical pathway, a biochemical pathway that detoxifies the pesticide pentachlorophenol which was first synthesized in 1935. So there are papers in the literature, despite what Dr. Behe said, and these papers falsify his claims.

MB:
...Can I just briefly mention, well, Ken and I disagree on this and please go to our web sites for, for details. The question I have is, it's not just me that says it, did you think, did you think that Dr. Harold didn't read these papers or didn't read your book or something? What does, what's, what's with him?

KM:
Well, I don't have, I don't have such a strong opinion of myself to say for sure that Frank Harold read my book. But I do think that he's making a generalization, which is that most complex biochemical systems have not been explained by Darwinian natural selection. That generalization is correct. Remember I said "most", but the point is to falsify your contention, you only need one. And I wouldn't be at all surprised, given the thousands of papers in the literat-, papers in the literature, and Frank Harold's own particular research interests, that he might have missed these four or five that I cited.

MB:
And Stewart Kauffman did too I guess.

KM:
No Stewart Kauffman has comer out very strongly as saying that when he talks about natural selection, he's talking about fully naturalistic mechanisms, that promote the development of the, of the uh, structures and the biochemical pathways that you folks attribute to design. And Kauffman has actually published a, I thought it was a rather pointed press release in response to the Discovery Institute's citing him as a scientist who cites non-Darwinian mechanisms, saying, "wait a minute you guys. The mechanisms I'm talking about are fully uh, containable within the Darwinian understanding". Then he says they don't relate directly to natural selection.

WD:
Just wanted to say something. With regard to Natural Selection, um... Natural Selection is a trial and error mechanism, and it turns out that there are different contexts in which we, we see evolution and where natural selection just doesn't do the job. Uh, where Intelligent Design really comes from is not looking at evolution in this mechanistic way, but thinking of it in terms of technological evolution. What you find within the technological context, it turns out that there was some Russian patent engineers that had nothing better to do with their time than to look at, this is in the former Soviet Union, look at columns of technological evolution, see how patents evolved. Now what they found is that there are two types of problems. There were routine problems, which you could solve by just tinkering with existing systems, and that's basically, from our perspective, Mike's and mine, that's what natural selection does. But there are also the invented problems where you need sudden insight, an intuitive leap, to try to make sense out of them, to solve the problem, to get a new fundamental structure, and that's what we're seeing with systems like the bacterial flagellum. They are types of systems that are intrinsic, inherently beyond the scope of mechanisms like Ken Miller points to. And we have the, there are past cases where you have theories of transformation where the resources you give yourself to try to account for the transformation are inadequate. Alchemy is a failed science. You cannot transform lead into gold given the limited resources that the alchemists had. And that's what I'm saying, that those resources that the Darwinists have given him or herself are inadequate. Now that's a legitimate question, you know, we may be wrong, but that's a question that should be put on the table, and there are, if you look at technological evolution, there different types of problems; some problems which are not amenable to, to trial and error and the sorts of natural selection mechanisms.

KM:
Um, just to try to connect these two things here, um could you tell, I mean, do you, is it true that you agree that, that the bacterial flagellum is a case of irreducible complexity is a case of specified complexity?

WD:
In chapter 5 of my newest book, No Free Lunch, I lay out some techniques for assessing probabilities for systems like that, and the sorts of probabilities I'm calculating are indicating that indeed the bacterial flagellum is a system that exhibits specified complexity.

KM:
Okay, so, yes for that one. [laughter] Is it the case now, you've made a distinction between, um, actual complex specified information, actual design, and apparent, can you tell the difference, looking at this, whether it is actual or apparent.

WD:
Well, the, the whole point with appearance, what I was talking about in my, in my paper today, is that specified complexity, what you're trying to do is get at, you're trying to figure out relevant mechanisms that we know, our best science, do they account for what we're, what we're seeing. And according to those mechanisms, the probabilities end up being extremely low. Now we may have missed some mechanism. There may be some mechanism that's operating in a way we don't know. Now this is where the design critic would say, "Well it's just an argument from ignorance." We on the other hand tend to want to say, "No, you've exhausted the resources of, of these, of these, material mechanisms." Now how can we do that if it's just, you know well, there's always a possible mechanism out there. Well I think one of the things which gives traction to design is when you start looking at systems like systems of polymers where you've got, where the geometry of these systems is telling us, look, as far as the physical laws are concerned, there's total interchangeability. So, what is it that's singling out certain, uh, collections of polymers that have a certain function. That, that's where I think we, we get, where it's not just an argument from ignorance. There's good reason to think that in fact these systems are beyond the limits of material mechanisms.