Friday, July 20, 2007

Some more of Oolon Colluphid's greatest mistakes

I want to continue my look at “Why there almost certainly is no God” from “The God Delusion” (TGD) by Richard Dawkins by considering his reaction to Intelligent Design (ID).

He identifies some creationist groups as arguing alongside proponents of Intelligent Design. I have no doubt that there are some creationists who are seeking a “cheap tuxedo” in which they can dress up their opinions, in the hope that they will have more credibility. The arguments that he presents from the Watchtower booklet, “Life – how did it get here?” are examples of this. However, the fact that he is able to show the limitations of their argument doesn't mean that he has substantially dented ID – because what they are saying never really reflected ID in any case. It was no more than creationism in a cheap tuxedo – but that doesn't mean that all of ID is no more than creationism in a cheap tuxedo.

However, the fact that his argument is likely to fail to engage with real ID becomes apparent pretty quickly. The argument that Dawkins offers from p.148-151 is pretty much the same as it that offered in “The Blind Watchmaker” - 51% of an eye is more useful than 50% of an eye; a rudimentary wing feature may in some circumstances be better than nothing. In actual fact, Michael Behe addresses this whole approach in ten pages of chapter 2 of “Darwin's Black Box”. The whole debate between creationists and darwinists misses the point, Behe points out. At the biochemical level, we are not interested in a percentage of an eye. We can't think of biological systems evolving as a coherent whole. They typically represent the carefully regulated expression of dozens of proteins. Irreducible complexity is about the relationship between these proteins, and the suggestion that there is no selective advantage for the appearance of individual components of such a biochemical system, which would serve no function until the system was largely present.

Dawkins, in TGD, argues that proponents of ID are suggesting that eyes and wings are examples of irreducibly complex systems. But this is simply not the case. Creationists, incorrectly understanding what IC is about, might do that. But Behe wasn't interested in macroscropic biological structures, and whether they could come about in small steps, but the biochemical systems that provide the basis for them. Dawkins directs much of his attention in this section, then, to addressing a misinterpretation of the whole Irreducible Complexity argument. In fact, with only one page of the section of the chapter headed “Irreducible Complexity” to go, Dawkins adds:
The fact that so many people have been dead wrong over these obvious cases should serve to warn us of other examples that are less obvious, such as the cellular and biochemical cases now being toutet by those creationists who shelter under the politically expedient euphemism of “intelligent design theorists”(p.150).
So under the heading of Irreducible Complexity, no attempt has been made at all to respond to Behe's argument about Irreducible Complexity – simply the assertion that since there are flaws in the arguments that Behe has already rejected, it is likely that there are flaws in his as well.

To give credit where it is due, Dawkins then adds:
Maybe there is something out there in nature that really does preclude, by its genuinely irreducible complexity, the smooth gradient of Mount Improbable. The creationists are right that, if genuinely irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin's theory. Darwin himself said as much. (p.151)
Of course, if something can be shown to be evolutionarily impossible, Dawkins currently believes that this will also knock design theory on its head, so he's not too fazed by this possibility. Whether he would be more concerned when he sees the weakness of his “Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit” remains to be seen.

Next - Dawkins does engage with Behe - kind of ....