Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Because I Feel Like Spreading A Meme... and Ranting

To the left, you should see Propeller Head Michael Behe, of the Church of the Butt Propeller, currently wearing his ceremonial white robe. For those of you just tuning in, Michael Behe is one of the leading figures in the Intelligent Design movement, known for bringing up the non-issue of "Irreducible Complexity," which he claims cannot evolve. He usually cites the flagellum as an IC structure, making a bad machinery analogies, such as comparing it to Mazda engines.

One of the inherent problems with Intelligent Design is that it's an argument from ignorance or lack of imagination. Just because we may not know how something works, doesn't mean it's magic.

Another favorite bad analogy of Behe's is the mousetrap, considered "Irreducibly Complex" because it won't operate if any part is removed. Though this might seem like a problem for evolution, it really isn't: There are many different ways to make irreducibly complex structures.

Reduction of Function: Build up a new, helpful trait B that complements an existing trait A. Once B is commonplace, A could wind up being diminished until it can't function without B. An improvement becomes a necessity.

Loss of Scaffolding: Build traits up, and then take down the original supporting traits.

Duplication Mutations: Make a copy of an existing trait, and then change one or both into components of an irreducibly complex function.

There are probably plenty more mechanisms I haven't read, remembered, or dreamed up yet.

It's not that difficult to conceptualize. Ryan (Where are you?) was able to "evolve" an irreducibly complex song that way, just as I did with my AC, Longbow. Behe's imagination must be broke. But even if we fixed it, I doubt he'd listen... Yeah, listening is one of the talents ID proponents aren't known for.

Another big problem with Intelligent Design: It doesn't make predictions.

Evolution can take a look at a series of fossils and make educated guesses about what sorts of fossils we can expect to find later. Evolution can make predictions about the outcome of a simulation. Evolution's history also syncs up well with the history of geology, astronomy, and cosmology.

Intelligent Design can't do anything like that, because they have no hypotheses about the designer's abilities or basic nature. Where's the divine toolbox it used to make the flagellum? Without knowing anything about the designer, you can't make predictions about its actions.

If we knew what the (hypothetical) purpose of the universe was, we might also be able to make predictions from that. But, alas, we don't know, and people like me see plenty of reason to doubt the existence of such a purpose.

As nutty as they get, I have more respect (less disrespect?) for astrologers than I do for IDers. Astrologers are usually in the business of making predictions. They're wrong, but at least they can give science something to measure.

A third problem with ID: It's unfalsifiable. Any evidence we gather can be interpreted as supporting ID, and any seeming flaws in the design can be ignored by essentially making the designer say "I meant to do that [for reasons you can't comprehend]!"

A fourth problem with ID: It often involves a false dilemma: Even if evolution fails to explain something, it doesn't mean that ID is the explanation. Even if evolution were outright falsified tomorrow, ID wouldn't become any more credible. A theory has to stand on its own, and ID can't do that.

A fifth problem with ID: It's unproductive. We can't use ID to do anything. We can use evolutionary programs to "design" stuff for us. Evolution also gives us some promising insights into disease, psychology, and other fields. I've never seen ID do that.

Hopefully, that demonstrates all the problems the Church of the Butt Propeller is facing. So, remember, even though ID cloaks itself in a shell of sciency-sounding words and ideas, it's not science, or even logical.

Disclaimer: For the theists who choose remain quiet about their beliefs until they can properly test them, or openly acknowledge their unfalsifiability (and recognize that it's a fault): You're okay by me, and don't deserve to be associated with the ID blowhards. Just keep trying to think of ways to test your belief. Who knows? You might just find something useful or at least interesting while your evil twins are busy (in the Whitehouse) doing nothing (in the lab).

Disclaimer Part Two: Lots of comics I shamelessly direct-linked to are from the Perry Bible Fellowship. (Warning: Many aren't work safe.)

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