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A Response to Ken Miller & Judge Jones’s Straw Tests of Irreducible Complexity for the Bacterial Flagellum

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Do Car Engines Run on Lugnuts? A Response to Ken Miller & Judge Jones’s Straw Tests of Irreducible Complexity for the Bacterial Flagellum

by Casey Luskin

Abstract: In Kitzmiller v. Dover, Judge John E. Jones ruled harshly against the scientific validity of intelligent design. Judge Jones ruled that the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum, as argued by intelligent design proponents during the trial, was refuted by the testimony of the plaintiffs’ expert biology witness, Dr. Kenneth Miller. Dr. Miller misconstrued design theorist Michael Behe’s definition of irreducible complexity by presenting and subsequently refuting only a straw-characterization of the argument. Accordingly, Miller claimed that irreducible complexity is refuted if a separate function can be found for any sub-system of an irreducibly complex system, outside of the entire irreducible complex system, suggesting the sub-system might have been co-opted into the final system through the evolutionary process of exaptation. However, Miller’s characterization ignores the fact that irreducible complexity is defined by testing the ability of the final system to evolve in a step-by-step fashion in which function may not exist at each step. Only by reverse-engineering a system to test for function at each transitional stage can one determine if a system has “reducible complexity” or “irreducible complexity.” The ability to find function for some sub-part, such as the injection function of the Type III secretory System (which only contains approximately ¼ of the genes of bacterial flagellum), does not negate the irreducible complexity of the final system. Moreover, Miller ignored the fact that any evolutionary explanation of a system must account for much more than simply the availability of the parts. In the final analysis, Miller’s testimony did not actually refute irreducible complexity, leaving readers of the Kitzmiller ruling with the unfortunate perception that the evolutionary origin of the bacterial flagellum has been solved.

Bill, As I stated on another thread which I feel needs repeating: An automobile is not a IC system. An automobile, a full tank of gas, and a driver who knows where he's goin' is. Zero Zero
If the system ceases to have any function when a part is removed, that implies that the entirety of the system came to be as a functional whole, something that is vanishingly unlikely to occur as a result of the small, accidental, undirected incremental efforts of RM+NS. This strongly implies that a designing intelligence, with foreknowledge of the totality of parts necessary to the functional whole, was involved in its 'coming into being'. tinabrewer
I am not sure if it is fair to say that Miller is making a straw man argument if there isn't even wide agreement or clarity regarding the definition of irreducible complexity, as pointed out by jaredl. From what I could tell, Casey Luskin uses at least two different definitions in that article. The first definition used by Casey Luskin, provided by Behe, is: "A single system composed of several well-matched interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning." This is the same apparent definition being used at the end of the article when pointing out that the bacterial flagellum is inferred to be IC based on the experiments by Minnich. But, if IC is defined as such, IC is certainly evolvable by Darwinian evolution and not evidence for ID per se. This is shown by the case of evolution from 1 component performing function A, to two subcomponents performing function a' and a'', that together perform function A. Remove one component, one no longer has function A. Then, in other parts of the article, he seems to make use of a probabilistic definition, saying: "Dembski effectively combines some of Menuge's criteria in order to develop the probability of constructing a an irreducible complex object." And, in Behe's own words, IC has been defined as: "An irreducibly complex evolutionary pathway is one that contains one or more unselected steps (that is, one or more necessary-but-unselected mutations). The degree of irreducible complexity is the number of unselected steps in the pathway" In the end, I don't think it is fair to accuse Miller of using a straw man argument when it is so hard to determine what IC is. Is something IC if it is unevolvable ? Or, is something IC if it has a low probability of evolving ? Or, is it a system that, when one part is removed, it ceases to perform any function ? If it is the latter, what does that have to do with ID ? bdelloid
As an aside, why doesn't Behe adopt the strengthened definition of IC from NFL? jaredl

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