Vanity thought #1397. Bad karma for science

Continuing yesterday’s topic about irreducible complexity, let me try and organize it into a narrative.

In 1996 Michael Behe writes a book advocating intelligent design but what he really argues is irreducible complexity. If irreducible complexity exists then intelligent design is the most obvious answer but there could be others, no one has thought it through yet. Intelligent design brings into picture theological questions which modern science is not prepared to discuss as it would go against everything they’ve believed in so far.

Maybe that jump to intelligent design and, therefore, the creator, is not fully justified and maybe it’s even unscientific in one way or another – the accepted rules of science might very well exclude this possibility, but this really isn’t the question, the question is whether irreducible complexity is a real thing or not. Irreducible complexity doesn’t require any theological and non-scientific explanations, just a straightforward answer – can these apparently irreducible systems evolve through random mutations or not?

This challenge is obvious to everyone and nearly everyone tried to answer it but human nature took over the scientists and screwed it up very badly. Reviewers of the book spent inordinate amount of time and space arguing against theological implications of intelligent design using highly emotive language like “ignorant” and “silly” while delegating the answer to the only question they really needed to answer to one weak paragraph somewhere at the end.

No one in the scientific community had guts to admit that the answers weren’t there, they just pretended that they were, obscuring their failure to find them with misleading demagoguery. Irreducible complexity immediately became a hot topic but no one was able to publish a proper scientific paper in peer reviewed journals refuting it, they just resolved to arguing about mousetraps on personal blogs.

Some of the criticism was on topic, sure, but it was weak and Behe dealt with it swiftly and decisively, AND submitted his rebuttals to scientific journals. I’m not a scientist, of course, but Behe’s arguments were very very simple. The most prominent scientist on blog clotting, for example, simply misread the abstract of the paper he quoted in his support because the wording was not very clear. Another wrote a ten page article but dedicated only one paragraph to the problem itself and simply painted it over by saying “gene duplication” several times as if inability of gene duplication to produce irreducibly complex systems wasn’t Behe’s main objection but a solution. A third produced a working theory but it required three neutral evolutionary steps to occur and spread before mice would get an advantage at the fourth, and it doesn’t compute mathematically, as each such step would occur only once in ten billion generations, never mind all three in a row, none of them favoring the mutated mice in any way.

The editors were enthusiastic at first and proposed formats and acceptable topics for the submission only to sheepishly retreat several months later on directives by unnamed senior advisors. In their explanations they cited incompatibility of intelligent design, which naturally follows from irreducible complexity, with their unequivocal Darwinian stance, actual science be damned.

Then came the Dover trial which was about teaching intelligent design in schools. Behe was asked to testify and prove that his was a proper scientific theory. In the end the judge, who had no scientific background and was promoted from a liquor board, read the judgment that repeated paper written by evolution lawyers practically word for word. The judge was then given all kinds of honors and lionized by all the right people. Why would anyone trust lawyers to decide on what is and what isn’t science is incomprehensible and the whole thing smacks of medieval inquisition protecting church’s turf from uncomfortable questions by people like Galileo.

Then came a TV documentary about the trial and I think it sealed the image of intelligent design in public consciousness for good. Documentary used a reenactment of the Dover trial with actors reading transcripts and there were interviews with relevant people explaining various aspects of the narrative. Was that documentary faithful to the truth?

It gave Behe a chance to explain what irreducible complexity in the design of bacterial flagellum is, it then showed one of the scientists quoted by Behe in the original book denying he had any support for intelligent design and explaining how poison injecting flagellum could be the missing evolutionary step. In the paper quoted by Behe there was not a word about evolution, though, but rather an observation that “the flagellum resembles a machine designed by a human”. Ten years later he sang a different tune. Then the documentary showed testimony by another scientist about intelligent design and the flagellum but they omitted his impression from reading all the latest papers on the topic that poison pump flagellum is not the pre-cursor of rotor motor flagellum, which would have completely undermined documentary’s narrative.

Then there came a moment during the trial when the plaintiff lawyer dumped a huge stack books on Behe’s desk and asked why Behe wasn’t satisfied with their evidence for evolution. Behe’s inability to answer somehow excites the atheists but the documentary itself immediately cuts to the explanation that it was a purely a lawyers trick, as if Behe would have really started explaining what he thinks of each and every book when he didn’t even get a chance to read their titles. There was no indication that these books even addressed the issue as claimed by the lawyer.

I understand the list was compiled by Behe’s nemesis, the same person who wrote a ten page essay on nothing of relevance, and during the trial they both argued against each other. This time the scientist exploited the differences between Behe’s original work and a textbook on intelligent design in question. By refuting broad arguments in the textbook he apparently refuted Behe’s too, but actually he did not as Behe explicitly excluded cases brought up by his critic, and this was explained in the courtroom but no one listened or no one understood the nuances of extrinsic and intrinsic pathways in land and sea based vertebrae, it was a case of smoke and mirrors on the part of science. Given this history one can seriously doubt that the alleged list of “evidence” was even on topic.

With courtroom win the fate of intelligent design was sealed, and with it all questions about irreducible complexity, which to this day remain unanswered. There’s no shortage of outspoken critics, however, but they all repeat the same bullet points and refer to the same old arguments that have no basis in reality.

Ironically, it looks almost exactly like atheists frustrations with arguing against Christians – a lot of words, a lot of books, but no empirical evidence for God’s existence, and all atheists can do is to catch Christians committing one logical fallacy after another. We have it all here, too. Personal attacks, misdirection, empty promises, rhetoric and demagoguery, anything but actual scientific research, plus the outdated peer review system that acts as Catholic inquisition but for the other side.

Personally, I’m not even sure intelligent design and irreducible complexity are “real” from out POV. We don’t know how Lord Brahmā went about creation and whether he was really sitting down and putting all those proteins together by hand. It could be argued that he wasn’t an independent actor/creator and the material nature could have assembled all those wonderful things with or without Lord Brahmā’s participation. Perhaps it was all encoded in the sound of Oṁ that started the universe and it wasn’t Lord Brahmā who imparted “intelligence” into the creation. As a founder of our sampradāya we appreciate the spiritual knowledge he passed down to us better than his material work anyway.

Regardless of our position on the intelligent design, science here collected plenty of bad karma by going against its proclaimed and prescribed duties and sooner or later there will be a payback, it will lose the authority, and the whole thing would crumble down.

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