Intelligent Design

Selective hyperskepticism: A response to Professor Moran

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Are ID advocates guilty of selective hyperskepticism?

Professor Larry Moran evidently thinks we are. In a recent post, he writes:

Let’s take the formation of bacterial flagella as a good illustration of how they use selective hyperskepticism. They begin with the unshakeable assumption that gods exist, that that they must have created life. They then find an example of something complex where the exact evolutionary pathway hasn’t been worked out and declare that the gods made it. They refuse to answer any questions about how, when, where, and why and they refuse to present any evidence that gods did it.

When evolutionary biologists present some evidence that bacterial flagella could have arisen by evolution the creationists turn into selective hyperskepticists by demanding a detailed blow-by-blow account of the historical process complete with reams of scientific evidence. Of course, they would never think of applying these same criteria to their own worldview.

A few quick points in response:

1. Although many Intelligent Design advocates (including myself) believe in God, Intelligent Design does not specify the identity of the Designer (or designers). From a purely scientific standpoint, there is currently no way to answer this question.

2. Intelligent Design does not “begin with the unshakeable assumption that gods exist,” as Professor Moran alleges. We don’t even begin with the assumption that a Designer exists; rather, it is something we attempt to argue for, on the basis of probabilities. Professor Moran should know us better than that.

3. Intelligent Design advocates do not demand a “detailed blow-by-blow account of the historical process” by which bacterial flagella originated. All we ask for is a semi-plausible calculation showing that the probability of bacterial flagella originating in our cosmos by known natural processes probably exceeds 10^(-150). Heck, I’d be happy with a calculation showing that for just one of the proteins in the bacterial flagellum. I can understand why Professor Moran might balk at calculating the odds of life originating by natural processes, but one protein? We’re talking about a single molecule here. Why be so coy, Professor?

4. If Professor Moran wants to see some good arguments for the claim that bacteria flagella could not have arisen by evolutionary processes, I would invite him to read Jonathan McLatchie’s 2012 monograph, The Bacterial Flagellum: A Motorized Nanomachine. Allow me to quote a few key excerpts:

The most common response to the claim that the bacterial flagellum manifests irreducible complexity has been to point to the type III secretion system (T3SS), a needle-like syringe used by certain bacteria (e.g. the archetype for this system Yersinia pestis) to inject toxins into organisms, as a possible evolutionary predecessor. There are a number of problems, however, with this hypothesis. For one thing, it sidesteps the need to also explain the components of the type III export machinery (including FlhA, FlhB, FliR, FliQ, FliP, FliI etc.), at least most of which are essential for its function. Indeed, one study “examined the effect of loss-of-function mutations in each of the type III secretion-associated genes encoded within SPI-1 on the assembly of the needle complex,” finding that all six of the Type III secretion system components homologous to those listed above are required for the system’s function (Sukhan et al., 2001)…

Even in the event that it was somehow feasible to evolve the flagellar export apparatus and basal body by evolution, there is the problem of producing the filament. Leaving aside the fact that the flagellar filament is assembled with the assistance of an essential capping protein encoded by FliD, the exported flagellin monomers need to stick both to each other and to the export machinery’s outer components (so that they are not lost from the cell into the surrounding medium). The specific and co-ordinated mutations required to facilitate such an innovation are likely to be well beyond the reach of a Darwinian process.

The motor itself exhibits irreducible complexity, and is dependent on the critical proteins FliG, MotA, MotB and FliM. Remove any one of those proteins and the motor will completely cease to function. Inducing mutations in FliG, for example, yields “a non-motile, or Mot-, phenotype, in which flagella are assembled but do not rotate,” (Lloyd and Blair, 1997). A study that conducted a “deletion analysis of the FliM flagellar switch protein of Salmonella typhimurium” found that “deletions at the N-terminus produced a counterclockwise switch bias, deletions in the central region of the protein produced poorly motile or nonflagellate cells, and deletions near the C-terminus produced only nonflagellate cells,” (Toker et al.,1996).

Many more examples could be given. But the bottom line is this: The bacterial flagellum
exhibits remarkable design, and irreducible complexity at every tie. When so much of the assembly process and functional operation of the flagellum appears to resist explanation in evolutionary terms, perhaps it is time to lay aside such a paradigm and begin the search for alternatives.

There’s more. Jonathan McLatchie has also written a follow-up article titled, Two of the World’s Leading Experts on Bacterial Flagellar Assembly Take on Michael Behe (Evolution News and Views, March 8, 2013), in which he responds to claims by Kelly Hughes and David Blair of the University of Utah, two of the world’s leading experts on bacterial flagellar assembly, that the bacterial flagellum is not irreducibly complex. Hughes and Blair make these claims in their recent book, Microbes and Evolution: The World that Darwin Never Saw. Here are some of the highlights from McLatchie’s response:

…[Hughes and Blair] proceed to show that sub-components within the flagellar structure are homologous to other bacterial organelles. For example, they correctly point out that the stator proteins MotA and MotB are homologs of ExbB and ExbD, which form part of the TonB-dependent active transport system and which serve to energize transport of vitamin B12, and iron-chelating compounds called siderophores, across the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria. ExbB/D and MotA/B are also known to be homologous to TolQ/R, which play an important role in the maintenance of outer membrane stability.

…Is a demonstration of molecular homology of flagellar components to proteins found in other cellular organelles really an adequate defeater to the argument from irreducible complexity? I’m not convinced. Homology does nothing to demonstrate that the necessary transitions are evolutionarily feasible (Gauger and Axe, 2011), and it has been shown that the process of gene duplication and recruitment, as a source of evolutionary novelty, is extremely limited (Axe, 2010).

The central challenge posed by irreducible complexity is that functional utility is separated by discontinuous leaps in complexity, which cannot be scaled by a blind search. It is the need for multiple, coordinated changes that delivers a substantive challenge to neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. This challenge stands regardless of whether sub-components within the flagellar apparatus can serve functions in other organelles…

Moreover, there are a number of flagellar components that are presently not known to have homologs in non-flagellar systems. Examples include the rod cap FlgJ, the L and P ring proteins FlgH and FlgI, the MS ring-rod junction protein FliE, the filament capping protein FliD, and the anti-sigma factor FlgM. A number of these components form part of irreducibly complex subsystems of the flagellum.

Hughes and Blair further argue that flagellar protein export can be accomplished by only a subset of the ten proteins once thought to be indispensable (FliF, FliG, FliM, FliN, FliO, FliP, FliQ, FliR, FlhA, and FlhB). According to Hughes and Blair, the export apparatus’s “functional core” is comprised of just FliP, FliQ, FliR and FlhA. I would be interested in seeing the literature that Hughes and Blair are drawing on at this point (no citation is offered). My own reading would certainly indicate that all of the above proteins are indispensable for flagellar protein export, with the exception of FliO (which is missing in some systems — see Barker et al., 2010). In the case of FliF, flagellar assembly requires “a short stretch of amino acids at the immediate C terminus” (Grünenfelder et al., 2003). Mutant studies on FliG, FliM and FliN (which are present in 26, 34 and over 100 copies respectively in E. coli and Salmonella) demonstrate that they are also essential for flagellar assembly (Brown et al., 2007, Paul et al., 2006, Tang and Blair, 1995).

To conclude, the claim of Hughes and Blair to have refuted Behe on the bacterial flagellum is unfounded. Although there are sub-components of the flagellum that are indeed dispensable for assembly and motility, there are numerous subsystems within the flagellum that require multiple coordinated mutations. The flagellar motor is not the kind of structure that one can at all readily envision being produced in Darwinian step-wise fashion.

I might mention that some of these proteins are pretty big, with a length of over 250 amino acids (see here.

Professor Moran might also want to have a look at Jonathan McLatchie’s recent post, The Flagellar Filament Cap: “One of the Most Dynamic Movements in Protein Structures”.

I have yet to see a response to any of these papers by Jonathan McLatchie from Professor Moran. I’m still waiting.

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UNRELATED POSTSCRIPT:

In a recent post, Professor Moran queried my claims about endemic violence in the secular paradise of Denmark, on the basis that he never saw any during a one-week stay there. He should open his eyes a little. If he did, he would discover that (secular) violence against women is rampant there (and also in other Nordic countries), as is domestic violence against immigrant women, religiously motivated gang violence (see also here and here) and rampant gangsterism – not to mention a high and rising rate of burglaries, for reasons that remain elusive. Some paradise!

25 Replies to “Selective hyperskepticism: A response to Professor Moran

  1. 1
    Andre says:

    Dr Torley

    If I’ve learnt one thing it is that Prof Moran and his band of merry men really don’t give a hoot about truth…..

  2. 2
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT: Another well-grounded contribution — as usual. This one brings out that LM is indulging in a turnabout accusation rather than actually adequately warranting his claim. That may be persuasive for those wanting a talking point to come back with that would faze a layman, but it is not the approach of the serious. I am particularly appalled by the strawmannish substitution of “complexity” for IRREDUCIBLE, functionally constrained complexity, that requires a core of well matched, multiple, properly arranged and coupled parts to achieve function, leading to implausibility of incrementalist direct Darwinist solutions, and implausibility for exapt and rearrange jury-rig on junkyard parts or the like approaches. You need a lot of in-common standards for “pull it from the junkyard” to work. Maybe we have forgotten how much fast, serious engineering went into saving the Apollo 13 crew when that Oxygen tank blew? Likewise, just seeing a comparable entity neither accounts for its origin nor how it can be adapted. Postponing the issue one level does not solve it. KF

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Forgive a direct response on distasteful aspects of the subject, VJT.

    I was forced to comment as below, in response to outing and disrespect tactics used in Prof Moran’s opening words:

    Prof Moran. As you know or should know I have long publicly asked that my name — much less my full name — not be used in discussions online for spam and security reasons; reasons that are patently obvious in an era of identity theft, spamming and the like; I will just note the outing and blacklisting agenda that are implicit. Perhaps, thirdly, you are also unaware that to use someone’s name like that is exceptionally rude. I ask you to change the way you have spoken of me. Next, You will find a significant response here at UD, and may find the comment at no 2 useful. I write just once for record. Good day. KF

    The continued disrespect, name-calling, outing, black-listing and the like speak sad volumes.

    I trust that Prof Moran and ilk will pause, think afresh and do better.

    KF

    PS: When a fallacy has been long since identified, though not specifically named, it is appropriate to give it a proper descriptive title. Years ago, I recognised the GENERAL significance of Harvard Law Professor and founder of modern anglophone theory of evidence Simon Greenleaf’s observation on “the error of the Skeptic”:

    [26] . . . It should be observed that the subject of inquiry [i.e. evidence relating to the credibility of the New Testament accounts] is a matter of fact, and not of abstract mathematical proof. The latter alone is susceptible of that high degree of proof, usually termed demonstration, which excludes the possibility of error [–> he wrote nigh on 100 years before Godel] . . . In the ordinary affairs of life we do not require nor expect demonstrative evidence, because it is inconsistent with the nature of matters of fact, and to insist on its production would be unreasonable and absurd . . . The error of the skeptic consists in pretending or supposing that there is a difference in the nature of things to be proved; and in demanding demonstrative evidence concerning things which are not susceptible of any other than moral evidence alone, and of which the utmost that can be said is, that there is no reasonable doubt about their truth . . . .

    [27] . . . . In proceeding to weigh the evidence of any proposition of fact, the previous question to be determined is, when may it be said to be proved? The answer to this question is furnished by another rule of municipal law, which may be thus stated:

    A proposition of fact is proved, when its truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence.

    By competent evidence, is meant such as the nature of the thing to be proved requires; and by satisfactory evidence, is meant that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond any reasonable doubt. . . . . If, therefore, the subject is a problem in mathematics, its truth is to be shown by the certainty of demonstrative evidence. But if it is a question of fact in human affairs, nothing more than moral evidence can be required, for this is the best evidence which, from the nature of the case, is attainable. Now as the facts, stated in Scripture History, are not of the former kind, but are cognizable by the senses, they may be said to be proved when they are established by that kind and degree of evidence which, as we have just observed, would, in the affairs of human life, satisfy the mind and conscience of a common man. [Testimony of the Evangelists, Sections 26, 27.]

    The abuse of names and attaching of dismissive contempt-laced tags are not appropriate responses to such a point and reveal a breakdown of reasonableness.

    I invite the serious onlooker to read the actual post I made here, which will show HeKS’ definition that I liked (after giving a link to my extended discussion), and cited Greenleaf in his treatise on Evidence [which still has serious force] then gave a set of live cases: the elevatorgate scandal that is forcing new atheists to discuss hyperskepticism, the infamous Lewontin example, the case of the board of the US National Science Teachers Association, and a cuerrent one here at UD.

    It is fair comment forme to note that Prof Moran has resorted to strawman caricatures, ad homenem abusive and well poisoning.

    Surely, he can do better than that.

  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:

    Pardon some tiredness-distraction typos just now. ad hominem.

  5. 5
    tintinnid says:

    K:

    Surely, he can do better than that.

    The best approach would be to lead by example. Until that happens, why should Larry, who is not afraid to use his real name (as you and I are) give UD the respect that it thinks it deserves?

  6. 6
    Joe says:

    If there were evidence that unguided evolution could produce flagella why isn’t it in peer-review? I would be happy to see someone model differential accumulations of genetic accidents, errors and mistakes producing flagella, yet no one has been able to do that.

  7. 7
    Joe says:

    tintinnid:

    The best approach would be to lead by example.

    And yet evolutionists do not. Why is that?

  8. 8
    tintinnid says:

    Intelligent Design advocates do not demand a “detailed blow-by-blow account of the historical process” by which bacterial flagella originated.

    I’m glad to hear that.

    There are a number of problems, however, with this hypothesis [the proposition that type III secretion system may be a precursor to the flagellum]. For one thing, it sidesteps the need to also explain the components of the type III export machinery (including FlhA, FlhB, FliR, FliQ, FliP, FliI etc.), at least most of which are essential for its function.

    Oh, wait. That sounds like a demand for a detailed blow-by-blow account to me. But maybe I am wrong.

  9. 9
    Joe says:

    That is far from a blow-by-blow account. You are wrong.

  10. 10
    tintinnid says:

    Tintinnid said:

    Intelligent Design advocates do not demand a “detailed blow-by-blow account of the historical process” by which bacterial flagella originated.

    Joe responded:

    And yet evolutionists do not. Why is that?

    Joe G., thank you for making me laugh on a day where we are experiencing terrorism in my city. The only thing that would make me laugh more is if Louis had said this.

  11. 11
    Joe says:

    tintinnid- evolutionism is the mainstream paradigm. That means it is up to evolutionists to lead by example, duh. ID just has to rise to the level of the current paradigm.

  12. 12
    Moose Dr says:

    Larry Moran, “They begin with the unshakeable assumption that gods exist”

    This is where his logic completely breaks down. He begins with the unshakable assumption that gods don’t exist.

  13. 13
    kairosfocus says:

    TT: My name never was kept secret, all I ever asked once I found a spamming problem was refraining from using my personal name. The abbreviation KF is tied to the fuller form GEM of TKI which is in fact my consultancy personality. Beyond that, if you do not know how rudely arrogant it is to publicly call someone by full name in a context of attempted scorning and mocking, without permission, you have a serious problem. Indeed, where I come from you just do not use someone’s middle name without permission or excellent formal context. This, remember is in a context of mafioso style threats against wife and minor children and reckless remarks that target utterly uninvolved family. In short, your behaviour is ill informed and enabling of what you don’t even want to know about. Please think again. KF

    PS: In case you think that use of a nom de plume is cowardice etc to be treated with contempt, you need to take a lesson from history on the pivotal role played by such in important developments. For instance, Junius for Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, and the authors of the Federalist papers, etc etc.

  14. 14
    kairosfocus says:

    PPS: The persistent abusiveness of ever so many evolutionary materialism advocates with even a little power is a warning-sign of what they would do with greater power. I for one would not send my son, say, to study under professors who act like what we have so often seen. And to think, such are often supported based on the compulsory taxation of the public, speaks volumes.

  15. 15
    Moose Dr says:

    “When evolutionary biologists present some evidence that bacterial flagella could have arisen by evolution the creationists turn into selective hyperskepticists by demanding a detailed blow-by-blow account of the historical process complete with reams of scientific evidence. Of course, they would never think of applying these same criteria to their own worldview.”

    This is bass ackwards logic. Neo-Darwinan evolution requires a step-by-step process. It is therefore logical that a step-by-step process is the sought after evidence. ID requires some sort of “jump”. It therefore goes that a step-by-step process is not what is looked for, in fact finding a step-by-step process would provide evidence against the design hypothesis. We, therefore, argue that step-by-step is not possible, and do so without furnishing such a step-by-step. We can’t because step-by-step is impossible. Please, Dr. Moran, prove me wrong. Falsify my position with a realistic step-by-step process.

  16. 16
    tintinnid says:

    K, you really must get over yourself. I am not condoning Moran’s actions. But if you fail to understand that both you and I are cowards for not using our real names then you are just deluding yourself. The only time I would ever out someone using a pen name would be if they are being abusive and insulting (eg, Louis Mapou). If you insult and belittle someone behind some fictitious name, you deserve to be appropriately identified. Barry is often guilty of this behaviour, but at least he does it behind his own name.

    I am not suggesting that you are guilty of such behaviour, but I am confused why you are criticizing me.

  17. 17
    kairosfocus says:

    TT: Kindly look at what you have said upthread. KF

  18. 18
    Joe says:

    I found it very telling that tintinnid doesn’t think that the scientists who subscribe to the leading paradigm don’t have to lead by example.

  19. 19
    tintinnid says:

    TT: Kindly look at what you have said upthread. KF

    I did. What’s your point?

    Joe: I found it very telling that tintinnid doesn’t think that the scientists who subscribe to the leading paradigm don’t have to lead by example.

    What does the leading paradigm have to do with anything? Are you suggesting that ID shouldn’t behave in a civil fashion because it is not accepted by many? Everybody should behave in a civil fashion. I don’t defend Moran. I think that using terms like IDiot says more about the person using the term than it does about ID.

  20. 20
    Joe says:

    tintinnid:

    What does the leading paradigm have to do with anything?

    Leading by example- the leading paradogm and all of its adherents need to set the tone, ie lead by example. It’s as if you are just a dullard

    Are you suggesting that ID shouldn’t behave in a civil fashion because it is not accepted by many?

    Umm ID does not behave at all.

    But when IDists are prodded, poked and lied about you cannot blame the few of us who decide to strike back,

  21. 21
    tintinnid says:

    But when IDists are prodded, poked and lied about you cannot blame the few of us who decide to strike back,

    If they strike back with civil and rational discourse, of course I can’t blame them. If they strike back with rudeness and name calling, yes I can.

    I am not saying that I have not been prodded into poor behaviour at times, but that does not excuse it. I just find it strange that an atheist like myself would have to explain this to a theist (maybe I am jumping to a conclusion labelling you a theist, and I apologize if this is the case).

  22. 22
    Mung says:

    Larry Moran:

    Of course, they would never think of applying these same criteria to their own worldview.

    So?

    Larry whines because we’re not buying in to his materialism.

    Philosophically inept much, Dr. Moran?

  23. 23
    rich says:

    Mung. Hola!

    Talk us through a vision of science without materialism. I foresee problems..

  24. 24
    Mung says:

    rich:

    Talk us through a vision of science without materialism. I foresee problems..

    I refuse to waste my time with someone who are so blatantly ignorant.

  25. 25
    Mung says:

    Materialism must be true, or we could not do science.

    Science wasn’t even possible until the philosophy of materialism was adopted by all the scientists!

    rich:

    Talk us through a vision of science without materialism.

    Talk us through a vision of science that takes materialism seriously. I foresee problems..

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