Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Behe responds to Kitzmiller decision

Behe's got a bee in his bonnet over the Kitzmiller vs. Dover ruling. The judge's 139-page ruling was one of the most damming pieces of prose that has ever been written against the intelligent design movement (for me this was because it was written by somebody outside the controversy and with no scientific credentials at all). Behe's own testimony served up quite an embarassment for him. So I guess he's decided to come back and try to save face.

Behe begins by contrasting an un-defined "restricted sociological view of science" (which is what he is apparently equating with mainstream science) with this view:

"On the other hand, like myself most of the public takes a broader view: “science” is an unrestricted search for the truth about nature based on reasoning from physical evidence. By those lights, intelligent design is indeed science." [emphasis added]

Really? I'm glad to see that Professor Behe has finally decided to stop focusing on the supernatural. I guess this means intelligent design isn't science or that there is a physical god out there that we can poke a stick at?

I'd be tempted to think of this as just a slip-up, but I'm more tempted to think that it's really a fabrication of his own nebulous and downright absurd definition of science, which we all know includes astrology as science:

Q[Eric Rothschild] Under that same definition astrology is a scientific theory under your definition, correct?

A [Behe] Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences. There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that -- which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other -- many other theories as well.


My theory of sedimentary deposition points to the thousands of layers of sediment as evidence that giant men with shovels were throwing dirt around thousands of years ago. It is a completely secular theory and makes no reference to any gods or supernatural factors. It is, quite simply, nonsense. But it sure as hell points to some physical evidence for support.

Science isn't about making up nonsense and then pointing to a bunch of selected observations that might, if all other things are ignored, support your pet theory. I'm sorry but "pointing to" is not a valid method of scientific inference. It is, in fact, a recipe for self-deception.

Next Behe tries to hoodwink us with a nifty bait-and-switch. Watch it happen when ID is interposed with the Big Bang:

ID It does [not violate the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation]. The Court’s opinion ignores, both here and elsewhere, the distinction between an implication of a theory and the theory itself. As I testified, when it was first proposed the Big Bang theory struck many scientists as pointing to a supernatural cause. Yet it clearly is a scientific theory, because it is based entirely on physical data and logical inferences. The same is true of intelligent design.
The 'theory' of ID is no theory at all. There is no framework of causative explanation from which we can deduce testable hypotheses. We just say 'Goddidit' and get on with it. The whole theory says that a supernatural being went to work either creating all things or tinkering with things along the way. That's all it says. That's all it's got to say. It's not an implication of the theory, it's the bloody rotten meat and overboiled potatoes.

I certainly do not exclude [the possibility that a precursor to the bacterial flagellum functioned not as a rotary motor, but in some other way, for example as a secretory system] merely by definition. In fact in Darwin’s Black Box I specifically considered those kinds of cases. However, I classified those as indirect routes. Indirect routes, I argued, were quite implausible...

..University of Rochester evolutionary biologist H. Alan Orr agrees

Well, if he agrees, then it must mean that implausibility=impossibility. Of course, that's just logical after all, isn't it? I wouldn't even agree with Orr that it's implausible (provided Behe even has that quote in context). Orr himself is using an analogy to a car, which is a false analogy -- cars and cells are nothing alike. Secondly, Behe assumes that a structure that is co-opted for a new function must be taken out of its old role. However, try a gene duplication or two.

Again, repeatedly, the Court’s opinion ignores the distinction between an implication of a theory and the theory itself. If I think it is implausible that the cause of the Big Bang was natural, as I do, that does not make the Big Bang Theory a religious one, because the theory is based on physical, observable data and logical inferences. The same is true for ID.
Again, if you don't think the Big Bang could have a natural cause, then you still haven't even started a case. What if I were to argue against the germ theory of disease because I don't think that an organism can be so small that it can be measured on the micron scale? What the hell is a micron? I can't imagine an organism that is microns long! I guess that means they don't exist. We should infer the next best explanation for illness, then: curses!.

The Court’s reasoning in section E-4 is premised on: a cramped view of science; the conflation of intelligent design with creationism; an incapacity to distinguish the implications of a theory from the theory itself; a failure to differentiate evolution from Darwinism; and strawman arguments against ID.

What Behe appears to be confusing with a straw man is the fact that we can 'undress' the scientifi air of his canard and treat it for what it is. To help him out, here is what a straw man is: "a characterization of an argument that unfairly creates a much weaker case and is then attacked".

Unfortunately, the case for intelligent design is the inductive statement a property known as 'irreducible complexity' can be (and has been) uncovered. Irriducible complexity points that some structures can't have parts removed or else they stop working. Therefore, we can't 'ratchet' our way up to them from a primordial beginning because the intermediates are non-functional. When a person claims to have discovered such a system, they are claiming that they know: 1) there are no other possible uses for the subcomponents of that system; 2) there are no other possible organizations for an organism that could, in turn, employ a simpler version of a system; 3) they have shown that the components of that system are and have always been entirely unique in the realm of biological diversity and those very components have had to come up from scratch.

What this amounts to saying is that if I start with a naïve and downright dishonest conception of evolutionary theory, I can show that some things cannot be produced by the evolutionary processes that I characterize. Who's talking about straw men? The entire ID movement is based on a straw man! Namely, this is the idea that complex, integrated systems can evolve through the assembly of simpler, un-related functional systems. Of course, Behe has dismissed these as 'implausible' for reasons that are unspecified, or at least seem to make further presumptions about the necessary course of evolution.

The reality is that most complex biological systems, from Behe's butt propellor to the development of an entire animal, most of the components can be shown to be 're-used' parts. So, it doesn't matter how 'implausible' Behe thinks this phenomenon is, the diversity of organisms clearly shows that it's how they're made.

And away we go again with PZ's favourite analogies to machines:

the cell is run by amazingly complex, functional machinery that in any other context would immediately be recognized as designed

Let's parse this little nugget of un-thinking, shall we?

He loves his 'machinery' analogy. So long as he calls thing machines and we accept, by definition, that machines are objects of intelligent design, then our cellular machines must also be designed, no? Eh? Eh? Eh? It's a good argument, eh?

What the hell does it mean to say "in any other context [this] would be immediately recognized as designed"? What are the other contexts? What this is basically saying is: if the cell were not the cell we recognize it as today, it would be recognized as a designed object. Since I wish to call it a machine and I wish to liken its parts to a machine and make it something it is not, I can fabricate a fantasy that the cell is an object built by a ghost and then try to foist this on the public (and particularly young people) as science.

Luckily for Behe, he can always claim some degree of internal consistency in his arguments. Afterall, he never cited logic as a criterion in his 'definition' of science.

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