This is a case of "shifting the goal posts,"
much as we saw in the chapter on fossils. The fact
that we do not fully understand everything is not a
problem for science. An inquiry-based textbook
would not hold these lacunae in our knowledge out
as problems, it would hold them out as exciting
opportunities for students to explore.
In other words,
even assuming the presence of all the necessary
genes and protein parts, the only way co-option can
explain the origin of one irreducibly complex
system (the bacterial motor) is by assuming the
pre-existence of another irreducibly complex system
(the system of protein machines that reads and
processes genetic information). Critics of
co-option say this is rather like explaining the
origin of machines by saying that a machine that
makes machines makes them.
, p. 122
Actually, it is like responding to a
question about where heavy elements come from and
being told that they are produced from reactions
between lighter elements inside of suns.
Explore Evolution's "critics of
co-option" are doing the equivalent of demanding to
know where suns come from before they will accept
that nuclear fusion can occur. When
three-year-olds ask "why?" until their parents
can't (or decide not to) answer, it is cute. It is
less cute when grown men attempt the same game.
As shown above, the flagellum is not
actually irreducibly complex — it could have been
assembled through a stepwise evolutionary process.
Research into the evolution of protein synthesis is
an ongoing area of research, and progress is indeed
being made. If there were a model for that
process, the authors of Explore
Evolution would undoubtedly inquire about
areas where our knowledge was less complete, and
present those blank spots as if they were evidence
that no knowledge of those subjects was even
possible. In doing so, they follow their
intellectual godfather, Philip Johnson, who once
wondered "why the scientists won't admit that there
are mysteries beyond our comprehension," and that
phenomena like the origins of protein synthesis,
the bacterial flagellum, or the origins of complex
multicellular organisms might be among those
mysteries (Philip Johnson, 1990. "Evolution as
Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism,"
First Things 6:15-22, reprinted in
Robert Pennock, ed. 2001. Intelligent Design
Creationism and its Critics, The MIT Press,
Cambridge, MA, ch. 2).
Scientists do not work by that process.
Scientists employ a process for asking questions
and testing the answers to those questions which is
comfortable with uncertainty and does not require
that the currently unknown be branded as eternally
unknowable. As discussed elsewhere (for instance,
Chapter 3), areas once presented as insurmountable
problems for evolutionary theory are now
well-understood examples of evolution at work. The
model of science that the authors endorse here (and
elsewhere) is hopeless — and hopelessly wrong.
The idea of inquiry-based learning is to
encourage scientific exploration. By getting
students to propose their own experiments to test
the hypotheses they develop about the world around
them, they learn not just the facts of science
(e.g., how protein synthesis works), but the
process scientists employ (e.g., how scientists
test hypotheses about the evolution of protein
synthesis). The approach Explore
Evolution adopts does not describe that
scientific process, and in passages like this, it
actively discourages students from those scientific
pursuits. This inquiry-averse approach to science
is inaccurate and inappropriate.