Monday, November 28, 2005

An Engineer's Look At Biological Design

This is pretty good. Darwinian evolution only seems compelling if you ignore an awful lot of nitty-gritty details. It makes me wonder whether Darwinists are even qualified to pontificate about the designs of biology. They aren't engineers, after all.

Related to the above article are these thoughts from Bill Dembski (extracted from an interesting and much longer article):

On October 11, 2003, the Talk Reason website posted an article by Nicholas Matzke titled "Evolution in (Brownian) Space: A Model for the Origin of the Bacterial Flagellum" ( Talk Reason advertises itself as a website that "presents a collection of articles which aim to defend genuine science from numerous attempts by the new crop of creationists to replace it with theistic pseudo-science under various disguises and names." The most obvious target here is intelligent design. Indeed, Matzke's article attempts to rebut one of the main challenges that intelligent design has raised against Darwinian evolution, namely, how to explain the emergence of irreducibly complex biochemical machines like the bacterial flagellum.


So has Matzke in fact filled in the gaps that intelligent design claims are insurmountable for the Darwinian selection mechanism?


To see that Matzke's proposed evolutionary model for the origin of the bacterial flagellum is deeply flawed, I want to grant Matzke most of the actual biology he cites and focus instead on the logic by which he arrives at his conclusions. Matzke, as is evident from his Internet postings as well as from the article under consideration here, has a tendency to overwhelm with citations to the biological literature. Indeed, one of my colleagues in the ID community refers to him as a "PubMed junkie." Yet when it comes to putting arguments in his own words and rigorously following through a train of thought, Matzke is decidedly less in his element. Let's therefore focus on the logic and structure of his argument.

For starters, let's do some simple bookkeeping. My print-out of Matzke's essay weighs in at 58 pages single-spaced. Of these, 13 pages are devoted to references. Another 14 pages are devoted to figures. That leaves 32 pages for his actual argument. Of these, 3 pages are devoted to concluding remarks reviewing and plugging his model for the origin of the bacterial flagellum. In addition, the first 10 pages of the essay are stage-setting, describing past research that attempts to get a handle on the flagellum and its origin. Thus only 20 pages of the article are in fact devoted to Matzke's actual model for the origin of the bacterial flagellum.

Why are these page numbers significant? They are significant as a reality check. The bacterial flagellum is a marvel of nano-engineering. As Matzke himself admits, thousands of research articles have been written about it, many of them trying simply to discover the role and function of its various components. Howard Berg describes the bacterial flagellum as "the most efficient machine in the universe." If a biotech engineering firm were required to draw up blueprints and design specifications for the construction of the bacterial flagellum, it would require thousands of pages (especially if the individual proteins that go into the construction of the flagellum had to be fully specified in terms of their structures, functions, and properties). And yet, somehow, with the Darwinian mechanism in hand, all that design work can be passed over. A "detailed, testable, step-by-step" engineering approach to the construction of the bacterial flagellum would require thousands of pages, and yet a "detailed, testable, step-by-step" Darwinian approach to the construction of the bacterial flagellum requires only 20 pages. On its face, there's something funny going on here.

[lots more good stuff follows]

Well, obviously, the writings of Dembski and the engineer's post referenced above may be dismissed out of hand. They are obviously the ravings of biblical fundamentalists who are trying to establish a theocracy. And we have separation of church and state in this country.

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