The evolution of straw men

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on the Intelligent Design/ Creationism/Evolution/Neo-Darwinism controversy. I’m currently reading Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box, one of the key ID texts, and supplementing my reading (to keep that “fair and balanced” viewpoint) with anti-Behe articles on the web, of which there are many. I’m trying to avoid the plethora of “it has to be true because of my presuppositions” material, but finding that very hard on both sides. As I am not a biologist (I hated biology, by the way) or biochemist, I am for the most part stuck reading the material directed to the masses.

One of the problems with this, or nearly every political or religious debate, is that rarely do people actually address the points the others are making. I hate this. I hate it first because it offends my intelligence, and I hate it second because so many people are tricked by this approach (which is why it’s used in nearly every political or religious debate). Rather, everyone likes to debate what is known as straw men, which are mischaracterized or imaginary positions of others that can easily be defeated (often by other illogical – such as ad hominem arguments, which are misdirected attacks against the person rather than his position – arguments).

So far I am finding that Michael Behe, who is not a Creationist in the strict sense, but who is a non-Darwinian evolutionist, really attempts to deal with the issues, including the failed logic of both neo-Darwinists even others who would support ID. He, in fact, accepts the notion of a common ancestor and accepts natural selection in certain areas. It is very interesting that much of the anti-ID response makes the same logical errors that Behe points out in the first place.

If you’re not aware of Behe, he is the most notable proponent of what he calls “irreducible complexity,” a concept that is nearly always mischaracterized; at least I never really knew what his position was until I read his book. To summarize (probably inaccurately in my simplistic understanding) irreducible complexity, essentially Behe argues that there are some “bottom line” systems in life-forms for which natural selection cannot provide an adequate explanation. Basically, these systems require fully functioning elements in order to work; if one of the integral elements was any less developed, the system couldn’t work. Thus, natural selection or a gradual evolution of the system is not indicated. This, in his mind, supports the possibility that there is an element of design in these systems. Furthermore, he argues a very important point: evidence of an evolutionary mechanism does not rule out that there is an element of design in the evolutionary process.

The arguments I’ve found so far in opposition to Behe attempt to discredit his theories by disputing non-essential points or portraying him as someone who is arguing based on his presupposition that God exists. This is extremely interesting, in that one of the criticisms of Darwinism is that it is built on the presupposition of naturalism – a topic for another time. Another critique tried to dismiss irreducible complexity as a “rehash” of William Paley’s “flawed” watchmaker analogy; which, by the way, Behe himself says is flawed, and offers a different take on the argument.

Creationism and religion in the context of the evolution debate are strawmen, as are mischaracterized positions such as the over- simplification of irreducible complexity as “being too complicated to have evolved.” I’m still looking for someone to really deal with the issues.

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5 Responses to The evolution of straw men

  1. The Mileage is re-opening the cafe, according to my Dad. Perhaps it will be a Starbucks. 🙂

    Stenger is on my Wishlist, but then The God Delusion is still there as well. I am waiting for paperback on both of them.

  2. me says:

    I do understand that the 2 examples you mention appear to have been overturned, however I’d like to see Behe’s response – again, I’m having to rely on the experts. Other examples, however, are still issues and the article I linked to above states that one of Behe’s examples is actually more complex and more of an issue than Behe says it is.

    Behe’s follow-up argument, however, is still true: even if the mechanism for the origins (not just the post-origin evolution) is know, that doesn’t rule out that there isn’t an element of design involved.

    I was paging through a couple of the most recent anti-ID books at Borders yesterday, including Stenger, and found that an over-simplified and mis-characterized version irreducible complexity argument is still being used so it can be dismissed out of hand. Unfortunately, Stenger’s entire book seems to be based on flawed (I would almost use the word deceptive) logic.

    Enjoy Hallock! Perhaps some day we can plan to meet at the Mileage for coffee (term used loosely…).

  3. The important flaw to recognize in Irreducible Complexity is that it argues some very important functions can’t have evolved because in order to function properly they must have been complete when they first appeared.

    Two of his strongest examples are blood clotting and bacterial flagella. The evoltionary pathway of blood clotting and bacterial flagella have been shown.

    and flagella:

    I’ll be in Hallock this week, but will have my laptop with me so I can continue to monitor your posts.


  4. Earl M. says:

    I never really bought into the theoretical theatrics, but I will say this: Real evolution is not a continuous process, but one that is cyclical, as is most any other phenomena.
    You are aware that there are periodic reversals of geomagnetic fields. To do this flux strength must plunge to near zero. Of course this creates problems. Along with field colapse, you have atmospheric collapse, not total, but enough to cause widespread destruction and exposure to all the rays otherwise blocked from getting in. My belief is that this makes for a free-for-all orgy of mutation.The good news is that geomagnetics is not uniform. The conditions that stopped the wolley mamoths of siberia in their tracks, were not worldwide. Now, what happens in a partial colapse of flux, is far more common, but just as paradigm shifting. You just don’t need a complete reversal to turn your world upside down. The flux has been dropping for years, and we have not really been monitoring it all that long. The magnetic pole wanders around a lot too, and we don’t really understand this either.We are living in a period of change, and most of us are blind to the potentials, as well as the problems that may arise, if another period of evolution kicks in. If you are interested in learning how to ride the wave, let me know, and I will continue the discussion.

  5. me says:

    Ah, shortly after I published this, I came across this article critiquing Behe’s book. It appears to be a non-biased critique (though I found the link on an anti-Behe page) by another biochemist.

    He has a number of issues with how Behe presented some things, but doesn’t completely dismiss the issue; in fact, he does agree with Behe on 1 or 2 examples. A big dispute with Behe is Behe’s claim that no one does any research on the biochemical evolution; however, he seems to confuse the issue of ongoing evolution with origins.

    He also doesn’t understand the religious side of things, which I can’t fault him for. For example, he asks, “… why not say that God also uses evolution? Why limit God to using only “non natural” methods?” Of course, Behe is not limiting God to using non natural methods, which is why Behe can believe in God and still believe in evolution and common ancestry. But, it’s an interesting article nonetheless. Make sure you read through to his updated information at the bottom of the page. I’ll possibly discuss some of those issues in a day or 2.

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