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Part 8 — Dr. Michael Behe, Dr. Robert Pennock Q&A

ES:
Thank you. Now there will be five minutes of questions by Rob Pennock for Michael Behe.

RP:
Can I use one of your slides Ken? Do you have a definition of uh, irreducible complexity up there in one of them?

KM:
yeah. [long pause]

Slide: The reason why the evolution of biochemical complexity cannot be explained in principle is irreducible complexity. "An irreducibly complex system is one that requires several closely-matched parts in order to function and where the removal of one of the components effectively causes the system to cease functioning."
(Quotation from Behe)

RP:
I, I didn't have much success earlier on. I, I really want to be an ID theorist, and I wanted to know how to do it. [laughter] Um, and I couldn't quite get too many straight answers from Professor Dembski, but I'm going to try once again now, uh, with the question of irreducible complexity. This is actually relevant, let me just connect it to the previous point. For Professor Dembski's specified complexity and, um, his uh, his explanatory filter he cites irreducible complexity as a specific instance, a case of specified complexity. But this is important because it links the two talks. Um, if, um, the explanatory filter is as perfect as we've heard, um, we should be able to have a test case here to see if it works. If we can find a case where irreducible, irreducible complexity fails, then it seems as though we have immediately a case of specified complexity failing. So your judgment on whether irreducible complexity stood or failed actually pertains also as well to the previous talk.

ES:
The question please.

RP:
Here is the question then: How can we really tell? I mean the thing that's gone on here is a back and forth about is this something that counts or is this something that doesn't count? Um, does this specific system fit or does this specific system not fit? And you're both disagreeing about what does and what doesn't... Let me just ask, if this would count for you as, um, a sufficient identification of such a system. Okay? I'm going to try and give you your strongest position and let me just see if you agree with this. If we could find a case where, um, we perform a bunch of knock out experiments... we identify something, whether it's the flagellum or some protein system, and we're asking what are the parts that count? Okay? Does this part count or not? Would you be satisfied if we performed a series of knockout experiments and just said, here's... here are all the components such that if we knock these things out and every one of them gets knocked out, that we'll just call the irreducibly complex system? So, notice in the cheese, in the mousetrap case, you don't include the cheese. Right, someone might have thought, you need to have the cheese, but no, you don't include the cheese in yours. So there are a bunch of things... we'll call them redundancies, right?... So, would you be satisfied if we just left those out and said, "knockout experiments will tell us what counts as the system"?

MB:
Well, I would say it's a good place to start, but, uh, I would reserve judgment. I'd like to see exactly what the proteins are doing.

RP:
So if we have a case, I mean, 'cause I would have thought you would have been happy with this. I want, I want to get something you'll be happy with. Because I want to be happy with this too. I want to know because I've never been convinced that your examples are fulfilling your own definition, okay. So I wanna find out, if, I, I have all of these parts here, the ten parts, okay, and, I knock out two of them, they don't actually wind up losing function... function's still there. You'd say, "Well those really weren't part of the minimal system." Okay, you want to find a minimal system, okay. So if I knock this one out, uh, then it fails. I knock this one out, all the other ones, if I knock out, those fail, then we'd have to say, "that's a minimal system". That's an irreducibly complex system.

MB:
Well, uh, again...

RP:
Just by knockout experiments?

MB:
I know you're a philosophy professor so I'm, I'm sure you like distinctions. Um, I think that's a good place to start, but in order to understand the system, you have to know what's going on, what's working on what, what's doing what to whom. And without a further description of the system, I'm smelling a trap that you're, you're trying to get me into.

RP:
A mousetrap perhaps? [laughter]

MB:
A mousetrap, yes.

RP:
All, All I. This is, this is the problem then. It looked as though you had a definition here where all we had to do was see, right, "in order to function, removal of one of the components, effectively causes the system to stop functioning". I'm going to grant you a single function. I'm not even at this point going to talk about different functions. I just want to know, how do I know that I have one. Okay. It seems to me as though, if I perform a knockout experiment and say, "here, I'll just define it" I'm gonna give you your definition. Why wouldn't that satisfy you?

MB:
Well, it uh, because...

RP:
I've done everything you wanted.

MB:
If, if, if you read in, in my book I say that in order to uh, decide if something is irreducibly complex, you have to see what the parts of the system are. How they interact...

RP:
How do we tell?

MB:
... and see... well, we do it by chemical investigations.

RP:
Knockout experiments?

MB:
That's one way.

RP:
So that'll work? That's a sufficient way?

MB:
I keep saying, you, you keep not hearing. That's one way, but you have, you have to know more.

ES:
Well, we're not going to hear anymore because we've just sort of blown all of our time. [laughter]

RP:
I was really hoping I'd be able to become one tonight, but I'm afraid I'm, I'm not yet able to become...

MB:
Um, Somehow I don't believe you. [laughter/applause]