Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kenneth Miller's Scientific Dodges

I am not a scientist so I would never claim to even approach the level of professional scientific expertise that Kenneth Miller has attained. But the beauty of critiquing a scientific argument based on a faulty philosophical foundation is that you don't have to be an expert.

You just have to pay attention.

The misrepresentations and slippery reasoning Mr. Miller offers in his book, Only A Theory, are amazing to behold. The fact that he works them into such a compelling narrative is a testament to his skill as a writer and propagandist -- but when the philosophical flaws are exposed, the science he's selling gets too expensive to buy. Just a couple of examples ...

The Mousetrap Fallacy

Arguing against Michael Behe's analogy of the irreducible complexity of a mousetrap, Miller insists that the mousetrap is not irreducibly complex because parts of the contraption can be used perfectly well for other purposes. In order demonstrate this, Miller (or someone he knows) apparently walks around with the catch of the mousetrap acting as a tie clasp. He also tells the story of using the spring and lever of the mousetrap as a spitball launcher when he was a kid in grade school. Mockery is apparently his shtick.

Miller's humor is intended to promote the idea of co-option, the Darwinian notion that parts of some biochemical systems that are functional for some other reason can be co-opted into forming more complex systems and thus increase the survivability of the organism. As he puts it, "Function may change but in nature a changed function can still be favored by natural selection" (p. 57).

He also attempts to refute Behe's famous flagellar motor example by showing that the Type Two Secretory System (TTSS), a poison pump that bacteria use to kill other cells, is amazingly similar to a subset of the flagellar motor. The TTSS has "about 10 of the 30 or so proteins in the flagellum and functions perfectly well" (p. 59).

Both of these examples fail in three ways. First, they fail to explain where Miller's tie clasp -- or the TTSS -- came from in the first place. Just because these systems can be combined with other components to create a more complex system, it does not follow that they were not designed in the first place. A tie clasp, a spitball launcher and a TTSS are still systems that were designed for a purpose.

Second, Miller assumes the parts that make up the less complex components of the system are not themselves complex. The TTSS (which at best accounts for less than one-third of the proteins in the flagellar motor) and every other part of the flagellar motor are made up of, well, proteins! Proteins are complex components themselves -- components that are manufactured using a DNA blueprint that contains an incomprehensible amount of complex-specified information. Miller can't get his spitball launcher without the parts that make it up, yet he conveniently ignores this fact and pretends that the TTSS, or his spitball launcher, were always there, just hanging around waiting to be co-opted.

Miller evades the obvious fact that he must first explain the emergence of DNA and the information-rich language that wrote the blueprints and assembled the proteins in the first place ... yet that is the question ID asks. Where did an incomprehensible amount of information like this originate?

And please note: This is not an argument from ignorance, i.e. "We can't figure it out so we'll just say the designer did it." No, this is an argument by inference to the best explanation. The only way we see information-rich systems like this originate is by the work of intelligent agent causation. Miller sees the same thing and marvels at the ingenuity of natural selection because, as discussed in the last post, his naturalistic presuppositions force him to do so. He has no other choice. Once again, his presuppositions determine his answers. ID has no such limitation.

Third, Miller gives absolutely no explanation for how the co-opted parts combine to form more complex systems. He wants us to believe that random events combine the parts and natural selection keeps the ones it likes. This is akin to suggesting that if we separate all the parts of a mousetrap, throw them in the dryer in your laundry room and turn it on, eventually we will end up with a mousetrap. Is this a reasonable expectation?

You decide.

Attacking A Straw Man -- and Still Losing

Miller uses evidence of horse evolution to characterize the views of his ID opponents as being ridiculously naive. He offers fossil evidence of different horse species that have existed throughout time and shows that they are obviously related, then goes on to accuse ID proponents of saying that:
" ... the ancestor-descendant relationships so apparent to paleontologists are just an illusion. In fact, the evolutionary tree leading to modern horses isn't a tree at all, but just a collection of individual species directly created by the designer, each without any relationship to the other."
Now, I would not deny that there may be some creationists out there who say such a thing. But if there are, they are on the extreme fringe of those who claim to take science seriously. It is never a good idea to use the extreme views of some minority sect of your opponent's camp as a straw man to argue against his case. Good debaters always take on their opponents strongest argument. Those who have no case are forced to resort to tactics like Miller uses here. Whatever the case, I have never heard any mainstream ID proponent say such a thing.

There is a double irony in Miller's accusation. First, the relationship between members of the same species and their ability to adapt to their environment can just as easily be explained by the work of an insightful designer. Adaptability is the hallmark of a designed system. If a human-designed system broke or stopped working any time it was impeded or faced adversity we certainly wouldn't consider its designer competent. Good designers design systems that are adaptable.

Second, Miller's example consists of different kinds of horses -- but they are all still classified as being in the horse family. There is no paleontological evidence that horses evolved into something else. And this is one of the claims of ID -- that so-called micro-evolution is perfectly compatible with designed systems. Indeed we should expect it.

I'm not sure what Miller hoped to gain with the horse example. I do know that co-option is a favorite hypothesis of the Darwinists. I just happen to think that for a scientist like Miller to use arguments like these to prove his case can only mean that he doesn't have much of a scientific case at all.

And when you don't have a scientific case, you have to resort to challenging the motives of your opponent. Predictably, that's where Miller goes next ... so we will go with him.

1 comment:

  1. The "horse series?" That long-ago discredited thing? That's the best ammo he's got?


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