17 November, 2010

Michael Behe lecture

Intelligent design proponent Michael Behe is giving a talk in London on Monday 22nd November as part of his tour of the UK. From the ad:

200 bones. 600 muscles. Millions of nerves. Billions of cells. Trillions of organisms all working together to make one body - you. But how? An accident of evolution?

Book now for the 'Darwin or Design?' tour featuring US scientist Prof. Michael Behe and hear why he claims to have discovered evidence that life is really designed - findings that have rocked the scientific world.

The 'Darwin or Design?' national tour starts Sat 20th November. See and hear the scientific case for Intelligent Design from its leading voice - Prof Michael Behe.

Ask your questions live from the floor - engage personally with Mike Behe.

I'll be there. I would like to hear his comments on the following:

1) Behe claims that intelligent design is falsifiable, in that if someone can show how an 'irreducibly complex' system evolved in a stepwise fashion, then intelligent design would be proved incorrect. But this seems unlikely to me. If someone showed how the flagellum evolved step-by-step, Behe could simply say 'OK, the flagellum wasn't intelligently designed, but the immune system was'. In other words, he can always move around and point to another supposedly irreducibly complex system to support his argument. I think this refutes the notion that intelligent design is falsifiable.

2) If we base our knowledge of design on human design, as ID proponents do, then we must base our knowledge of intelligent designers on humans. So if ID is true, this means that intelligent designers (humans) are themselves designed by a intelligent designer. But crucially this 'earlier' intelligent designer is subject to the same criteria and so must also have been designed. This inevitably leads to an infinite regress of designers and a continual begging of the same question. I expand on this point here.

3) Behe claims that a system is irreducibly complex by the following:

By irreducible complexity I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning

The problem is that this isn't evidence of intelligent design. It is actually predicted to happen by evolutionary theory. These ‘irreducibly complex’ systems CAN evolve through step-by-step neo-Darwinian evolution. Herman Muller described the process back in 1918. For example, take a relatively complex system that performs a function. Next, gradually make that system more efficient and sophisticated by step-by-step addition of new “parts”. Then, remove some of the earlier redundant “parts” (as happens in evolution) thus increasing efficiency. You now have a more complex system than the previous one, however, if you were to artificially remove a “part” of this new system, it would cease to function. As you should be able to see, this does not mean that it couldn’t have evolved.

Here is an analogy...

Imagine a river with three stepping stones forming a rudimentary bridge. The stones constitute a system with a function. If you add a long piece of wood across all three stones it is now a slightly more complex system, still with the same function. The middle stone can now be removed without loss of function, and this newer (slightly) more complex system is more efficient in that you can walk across it rather than hopping from stone to stone. If you now remove any of the other parts of this system, ie the wood or the two outer stones, it will lose its function, and thus the bridge can be termed irreducibly complex. However, it came about in a step-by-step fashion (which includes removal of redundant parts) without loss of function.


Edit 01/12/10

I was unable to attend the talk but PaulJ has provided a report.


Psiloiordinary said...

Look forward to hearing your report on him.

We have been covered this here;


We even suggested some questions for him - perhaps you can print some and distribute them?


Good luck,


rhiggs said...


Thanks for the links. I'll read up on your questions before his talk. My guess is we'll only be allowed one question each (I don't intend to stick around afterwards - work in the morning) so I'll have to pick one carefully.

RBH said...

I too look forward to your report. Thanks for going through it on our behalf!

PaulJ said...

"I'll be there."

Me too, though I'm not really sure what to expect.

rhiggs said...

Unfortunately it looks like I won't be able to attend this now. I injured my unintelligently designed back over the weekend. PaulJ will hopefully report on it.

PaulJ said...

Somewhat delayed, my report on the evening is now available.