“Irreducible complexity” and an unanswerable question 97

We cannot understand how sane, adult, educated, intelligent people can believe in the supernatural.

It’s astonishing to us that such an astute observer of the political scene, so witty a commentator as Ann Coulter can believe in creationism – the belief that the universe was created by a supernatural being: “God”.

Some creationists say that the supernatural being created the earth with the fossil remains in it of creatures who were never actually alive; bones that seem to prove the earth is much older than creationists absolutely know for sure it is; and which may also seem to prove that evolutionary changes have happened over time. They seem to, but they don’t, the creationists say. They were put there by God in the form they have now – as a sort of joke he wanted to play on archaeologists? Creationists don’t put it that way; they don’t ascribe a sense of humor to their God.

In fact there are many versions of creationism, some of them acknowledging that a certain amount of evolution does occur, but denying that human beings evolved from older species. All versions of creationism are equally apodictic. They who demand absolute proofs for every claim that evolutionists make, declare without any proofs at all that God made everything; designed and created the universe out of nothing.

The nearest they come to offering the sort of evidence that science recognizes is by “disproving” evolutionary explanations. They argue: “If some phenomena cannot be incontrovertibly explained by evolutionary theory, it proves they were designed by a superhuman intelligence.”

They believe they have found such phenomena. Not easily, though. Evolution is such a good explanation for Things Being As They Are that, to find anything which challenges its explanations, creationists have probed deep into the structures of life through powerful microscopes. And one of the “gotcha” things they found under the glass was a thread on certain cells, including bacteria such as Ecoli, that enables them to swim. It is called the flagellum.

The flagellum has a complex structure that has set creationists gloating in triumph. There is no way, they say, that the flagellum could have evolved from simpler structures because without every single one of its parts being present and operating exactly how they do, it couldn’t work at all.

In a recent column, Ann Coulter waves the flagellum (so to speak) in the faces of evolutionists. It proves, she believes, that evolution is not true. Its discovery is a supreme achievement of “advances in science” which have, she says, “completely discredited Darwin’s theory of evolution”.

She claims there is now a “mountain of scientific evidence disproving this mystery religion from the Victorian age”. And from the mountain she has plucked “one small slice” – the flagellum.

It is a mathematical impossibility … that all 30 to 40 parts of the cell’s flagellum … could all arise at once by random mutation. … Nor would each of the 30 to 40 parts individually make an organism more fit to survive and reproduce, which, you will recall, is the lynchpin of the whole contraption.

The authority she cites for these assertions is a religious scientist [now there’s an oxymoron for you] named Michael Behe who “proved” them to be the case.

In fact, Michael Behe’s proofs have been disproved, the claims made for the “irreducible complexity” of the flagellum shown to be fallacious. (You can find the counter-arguments for this special case here, and for this and many other anti-evolution claims here.)

We quote a short summary of the refutations of Michael Behe’s “proof”:

Based on similarity in structure and partial similarity in amino acid sequence, it is generally accepted among scientists that the eukaryotic flagellum and cilium have evolved from the cytoskeleton, while the eubacterial flagellum has evolved either from the type III secretion system or from a more ancient secretion system from which the type III secretion system has evolved as well. The archaeal flagellum has probably evolved from the type IV pili. …

In his 1996 book Darwin’s Black Box, intelligent design proponent Michael Behe, under funding from the Templeton Foundation [which exists to promote religion over science – JB] cited the bacterial flagellum as an example of an irreducibly complex structure that could not have evolved through naturalistic means. Behe argued that the flagellum becomes useless if any one of its constituent parts is removed, and therefore could not have arisen through numerous, successive, slight modifications. This claim has been strongly challenged by the work of Zvonimir Dogic. His team reported constructing active hairlike structures containing only two proteins that reproduce the beating functionality of flagella, proving that the flagellar complexity is in fact reducible. Behe’s argument is weakened by the observation that the proteins used by Dogic are all present in every eukaryotic cell in the centriole, and could easily have evolved into a flagellum through numerous, successive, slight modifications. … Exaptation explains how systems with multiple parts can evolve through natural means.

So no – evolution is not proved to be wrong by the flagellum, or by anything else, and “most scientists” do not consider it disproved as Ann Coulter claims they do.

Now let’s briefly examine her alternative belief. In doing so, we step away from science. Science is concerned only with the natural. Anything to do with the supernatural has nothing whatsoever to do with science. “Is there a god?” is not a scientific question.

Let’s posit a Creator. Let’s imagine him designing and making the flagellum – out of nothing, remember.

Let’s translate his God language into English and catch his thoughts as he goes about his creating.

“Now I’m going to fit these bacteria with this complex structure by which they’ll propel themselves into the bloodstream of animals and human beings and make them sick and kill them.”

The question, Ann, is WHY?

A Creator, one who designed and deliberately made the universe – whether exactly as it is at this moment or long ago set upon a course of development through many ages – is a Purposer. Those who believe in him hold that he created a universe not accidentally but on purpose.

What is the purpose of the universe?

Religion absolutely requires an answer to that question. But the believers never answer it. They cannot. It has no answer.