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Monday, January 23, 2006 CE

Dissecting Intelligent Design Number 1: "The mousetrap"



Some time ago, in one of the comments to my post "We are apes", someone said the following: "...there is science to support creationism, take the time to look into it." Well, I decided to look into what many believers in ID call science.

First of all, I have to say that I am not a biochemist. I am a humble physician with some knowledge of biochemistry (because physicians have to know the basics of it). When I read the arguments of Michael Behe, a biochemist, I was surprised by the nature of the arguments he showed and by how easily they can be dealt with.

Behe, compares a complex biochemical pathway as a mousetrap. He starts by saying that a biochemical pathway is made of several sequential steps that lead the conversion of a substance numer1 into substance number 2. The biochemical pathway would not work if any of the steps is missing. So far everything is correct. He adds that a mousetrap is like a biochemical pathway because if any of its parts is missing, it would not work. Again, so far, everything is right. However, Behe jumps to the conclusion that it is impossible for all biochemical steps to have appeared at the same time in order to achieve the purpose of converting one substance into the second one. He calls this "irreductible complexity". The mousetrap could not have been created step by step because each of its parts (te wooden base, the spring, the metal hammer, etc) does not have a purpose of its own. He treats the whole biochemical pathway, as a complex structure that cannot be further reduced. Since it is too complex, it must have been designed.

The first thing that surprised me was the teleology of the argument. According to Behe, for things to happen, the have to have a purpose. The non-teleologist approach would say that "things happen, then a purpose is found for them". The nature of the biochemical reactions is probably closer to not having a purpose. That was the philosophical aspect, the aspect that makes Behe's argument a belief. The second surprising issue, specially in a biochemist's argument, is the fact that he is implying that the steps in the biochemical pathway will only lead to substance 2. The different steps are used by other pathways to produce different substances, just like the wooden base of the mousetrap can serve as a paperweight, the spring as part of a scale and the hammer as a paperclip. Evolution produces complex biochemical machines by copying, modifying, and combining proteins previously used for other functions or that still perform those other functions in slightly different environments.

I understand how people who have the will to believe in a superior being, will get impressed by the arguments from a PhD in biochemistry. However, I believe that it is the duty of the scientists to educate the community and to separate science from belief.

9 Comments:

Blogger Foilwoman said...

Yeesh. It's complicated, so it couldn't just happen? Happens all the time with weather systems, land formations (after volcanos), and animal social groups, but hey. But I more and more believe that people see the proof that proves the truth that affirms their world view.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

It is true, people end up believing what they want to believe.

12:49 AM  
Blogger Mignon Chang said...

I think I've heard a senior member tell me that God is so amazing that he would not wish us to find evidence of him. That... sounded extremely foolish at the time. What is the difference between being a profound fanatic and a profound atheist? Passion or lack thereof? Is being an atheist a belief? We can twist all things around and call it an argument... but can we call it logic? Put passion into the equation, put the '6th sense', which may or may not be denied by logic considered the amount and validity of evidence, and all the orders therefore aligned are changed. Is human passion valid?

1:50 AM  
Blogger Puma said...

To me it comes down to simply one concept really:

Religion, or belief, is a path towards a higher understanding of who we are as human beings and what in heck we are doing here on this beautiful earth. Science is simply one of the tools I can use on that path.

These Intelligent Design/Creationist folks (you know they are really the same thing) get all twisted up trying to assert that science is somehow in opposition to religion - which any thinking person can see it is not. Some people may be opposed to religion, but science? That is like saying gravity is in opposition to religion. Ridiculous.

Science is a wondrous tool, and allows us to begin to undertand natural mechanisms and reveal new mysteries continuously. Why would one want to suppress such a search for truths? The reason why is demonstrated in the myriad dogmatic responses of those who would have us pit science against (their) religion. Science is only threatening to one's beliefs, if one cannot bear to admit they do not already possess the full truth themselves. That is the heart of the matter: they are afraid to admit that they, and their God, and their religion, and their Bible, in the end do not really know anything at all - which to my mind, shows a profound misunderstanding of what Faith is all about: the holding in one's heart the certainty of there being a God, of there being a force of Love and Good in the world, in the daunting face of daily insecurity and doubt.

So perhaps it is about power: wishing to hold onto this false sense of safety and safety-in-numbers, for if the multitude begins to think for themselves, investigate and learn for themselves, the priests and preachers lose their hold.

And God forbid that should happen :)

2:30 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Mignon Chang:

To compare athism and religion as specular images is useful only if you are looking for mutual respect. However, from a philosophical perspective, religion (belief) cannot be compared with atheism because atheism is not non-belief. It is just a description of nature, which is consequence of what our senses objectively perceive, and which, naturally, does not include supernatural beings. No "belief in nothing" or "non-belief" is necessary.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Sarah: Thanks for your brilliant comment. I am always amazed at the coherence of your ideas and at the way you put them into words.

8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marco,

There is science that backs up "intelligent design". It is physics. Zukav wrote a book titled "The Dancing Wu Li Masters". It recounts the history of physics and the experiments used to get to the latest thinking about "existence". In the book it explains that physicists now think that "existence" is explained by one of 3 theories:
1. Superluminal connections (ex. ESP)
2. Superdeterminism (AKA intelligent design)
3. Many worlds theory

I really think it is worth reading.

Q

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marco,

Another ooops by me. The book is "Master Wu Li Dancers".

Q

4:17 PM  
Blogger Greg Laden said...

I'm sure you are essentially correct in your argument, and a similar argument has been made before in evolutionists writing on the subject. The board has a function as a doorstop, the bale has a function as a tie clasp, the spring has many different functions, etc. etc.

Beyond that it is also worth noting that there are many many different things that function pretty much the same as mouse traps. In other words, energy is stored in a spring of some kind and there is a trigger for release of that energy. Doors that pop open with energy stored when they were closed (like your CD drive on certain laptop computers); trigger mechanisms in firearms; zillions of different dohinkeys built into machines used in electronics and telecommunications systems. Prior to moving electronic technologies onto silicon logic circuits, this was a standard kind of switch.

So the difficulty of believing that a tie clasp, a door stopper, etc. (the pre-existing parts and relationships between parts) could organize into a mouse trap is easily alleviated by knowing that all it has to do is occur once (once in a million years, with untold numbers of opportunities for it to happen over many millions of years) then the organized version ... the generalized spring thingie ... can get used in many other systems.

It is a very powerful act of faith that is needed to overcome the reasoning that underlies Natural Selection.

Or powerful delusion. No big difference, really...

11:27 AM  

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