Monday, February 12, 2007

A Fundamentally Flawed Analysis: Part 2

This is the second of a series of blogs on a book review by James Robert Brown entitled 'Fundamentally Mistaken.' The review is of a book authored by Michael Shermer titled 'Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design.' This appeared in the linked review:

Behe's most famous example, the flagellum of a bacterium (the little tail that propels the cell), could not have come about by any Darwinian process, he claims, because every part is needed in its current form; alter any bit and the whole collapses like a house of cards.

There are problems galore with this and other such arguments for the existence of an intelligent designer. First, even if no Darwinian process that can explain the flagellum is known at present, it does not follow that no such process exists.


But that is exactly what needs to be scientifically determined rather than assumed. Since no empirically verified pathways exist the causal issue is an open question. In response to Behe proposals have been made. One scenario invokes the type 3 secretory system as having been an ancestral precursor system to the flagellum motor. Don't assume anything either way. Rather leave the matter open to interpretations drawn from further testing. Test results can confirm or negate competing hypotheses so it is premature to claim that there are problems galore with Behe's irreducible complexity concept. IC is not negated through conceptual pathways either. Arguments are not the means by which this issue should be settled. More from Brown's review:

This "god of the gaps" reasoning is a sham.

Brown jumps from an empirically unsettled matter to a knee jerk cliche without a pause. The God of the gaps phrase is an example of ParaSpinning Behe. The one flinging the phrase is asserting that a) a gap in knowledge exists, that when filled, will show how unknown pathways explain x; in this case the flagellum and b) that skeptics are needlessly invoking God as the cause because of a lack of understanding.

To the extent that we are unable to depict a pathway with reasonable specificity a gap exists. Existing evidence explains how we fix causality. Brown and Shermer believe that selected genetic changes alone explain the evolution of the flagellum. Incidental to this is a concurrent, but rarely enunciated belief, that the selection process itself reveals nothing suggesting purposeful or intelligent influence on the course of events. Unfortunately for them the details of the process are obscured and may never be clearly delineated so as to verify the claim. Also problematic is the insistence on the need for geologic time frames which effectively rules out many empirical approaches. What remains is the identification of homologous genes and their proteins and a presumption that the selection paradigm is sufficient to take it from there.

The sufficiency of a selection based explanation is called into question by irreducible complexity. It is not an all out assault on selection but rather insists that molecular homology arguments lack the required rigor. Historically, countering design hinged on the integrity of selection based arguments. Paley's argument was rational and only countered by showing theoretical pathways driven by selection. IDists remind us that purpose and intelligence remain rational alternative explanations when selection falls short or, as Gene and Krauze at Telic Thoughts have suggested, when the selection concept itself reveals a telic quality.

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