Michael Behe and the Centre for Intelligent Design

Last week, some of the student humanists and the skeptics went to Glasgow Caledonian University to see Michael Behe, the Intelligent Design proponent from the Discovery Institute, who was speaking fot the Centre for Intelligent Design.

It was the same old crap.

That could be the totality of this review, but there are a couple of issues that come out of the talk which I’ll discuss here. He went through the usual stuff about how we recognise things as designed, using the difference between a mountain and Mount Rushmore as an example. I didn’t have much of a problem with this section because he continually referred to ‘the appearance of design’ rather than the fact that something is designed.

Then he went onto the mousetrap claptrap and his baby, Irreducible Complexity in the bacterial flagellum. It’s complete rubbish and purely by coincidence, QualiaSoup has just released an excellent video which includes a section on that very topic, starting at 4.20:

So as you can see, systems can evolve even if they seem irreducibly complex because parts of the system can have different functions, parts that were previously necessary can be lost, and parts themselves can be changed.

It was mentioned in the (very short) question section that parts of a system can have different functions, and Behe’s reply was basically “yes, but look at the definition of Irreducible Complexity that I gave at the start, it says objects are Irreducibly Complex if removal of one part means it cannot carry out that specific function.” That’s fine if he wants to define it that way, but he can’t simultaneously define it that way and claim that Irreducibly Complex systems are a significant obstacle to the evolution of those systems. In order to claim that, he must come up with a system which is truly Irreducibly Complex, in the sense that it couldn’t have evolved through the gradual addition, removal and change of parts and functions. If he has any examples of that, he hasn’t been showing them.

After he’d explained a feature of organisms which he considered a blow to evolution, he then went back to the fact that organisms appear designed. He then said that concluding they are designed is an inductive argument, and then looked up a dictionary definition of inductive reasoning which said that’s the kind of reasoning used in science, and concluded that therefore Intelligent Design is a scientific hypothesis. If I’d had time for a question I would have asked whether he could see the leap in logic he’s using here. Let’s take a look at it again.

Inductive reasoning is used in science.
Concluding things are designed from their appearance is an example of inductive reasoning.
Therefore that conclusion is scientific.

Using the same logic, I could make the argument that:

Bands played at Woodstock.
U2 is a band.
Therefore U2 played at Woodstock.

I would have pointed out that although inductive reasoning is used in science, there are other things that make a hypothesis scientific, just as there are other things that define bands that played at Woodstock. So for example, how would Behe use the Intelligent Design hypothesis to make specific predictions? What evidence should people look for if they want to disprove his hypothesis? I suspect he wouldn’t have had an answer.

The last part of the talk was phenomenally ignorant. He just boldly asserted that his findings are consistent with findings in other fields such as the fine-tuning of the universe.

There is also an issue with universities hosting speakers such as Michael Behe. Yes, there is a free speech argument to be made, but free speech does not imply that you must give a platform to anyone who wants to speak. You’re free to say what you like but that doesn’t mean I can’t kick you out if you come and say it in my living room. You could say that having both Intelligent Design advocates and evolutionary scientists speak is a form of balance, but the difference is that evolutionary science has gone through peer review and is established, and then it is put into books and taught at universities. Behe and his colleagues can’t get through the peer review process, so they try to bypass it by going straight to writing books and getting talks at universities. I think it’s pretty clear that hosting these kinds of speakers at prestigious locations such as universities gives an air of credibility to a movement that doesn’t deserve it.

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4 Responses to Michael Behe and the Centre for Intelligent Design

  1. Unfortunately the Quarterly Review of Biology will publish the following in its December issue:

    Experimental Evolution, Loss-of-Function Mutations, and “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution”
    Michael J. Behe

    and

    Irreducible Incoherence and Intelligent Design: A Look into the Conceptual Toolbox of a Pseudoscience
    Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, and Johan Braeckman

    To what extent the former will be offset by the latter is uncertain. What I am certain of is that Behe will mercilessly exploit his publication…

    Robert

  2. […] The Not-Quite-So-Friendly Humanist also attended  – Michael Behe and the Centre for Intelligent Design Bookmark […]

  3. Wilmore says:

    You’re very selective in how you apply rigour.

    As for QualiaSoup’s video……well who or whatever QualiaSoup is….

    “Inductive reasoning is used in science.
    Concluding things are designed from their appearance is an example of inductive reasoning.
    Therefore that conclusion is scientific.”

    A very brief ncidental moment from two or so hours, and almost puerile to focus on it in your characteristically whiny manner.

    How about this. You shrug off you overly politicised take on this issue and re-examine Darwin.

    Then ask yourself beyond micro evolutionary adaptations does Darwin’s work stand up to scrutiny

    • grammarking says:

      Would you mind commenting on the content of what I’ve said, or what QualiaSoup said? Or pointing out how I’m being selective?

      Evolutionary biology has moved on since Darwin. A lot more work has been done since then. In fact, speciation (the difference between micro- and macro-evolution) has been observed. Look up ring species such as Ensatina.

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