Stephen G. Saupe - Biology Department, College of St. Benedict/St. John's University, Collegeville, MN 56321; (320) 363-2782;

Gink & Go Discuss Intelligent Design

Setting:  Gink & Go have just returned to their room from a lecture about intelligent design.

Gink:   What did you think of that lecture we just heard by Michael Behe on intelligent design?  Great stuff, eh?
Go:   Well, I thought it was big-time bogus.
Gink:   Come on, you can’t believe that garbage the evolutionists are telling us.  
Go:   Oh my, you were really smitten by Behe’s argument that what he calls “irreducibly complex systems” couldn’t have developed by evolution because they only function if each of their parts is in place. 
Gink:   That’s right monkey man!  There’s no way that something as complex as blood clotting or a bacterial flagellum, or even a mousetrap, could have evolved by gradual modifications.  And if these systems didn’t evolve, they must have been designed.
Go:   You mean created by an intelligent designer, like God?
Gink:   Duh ape-boy. Those structures are so irreducibly complex that they are clear proof of an intelligent designer.
Go:   I certainly understand why the opponents of evolution have taken this new approach – because it could be a falsifying case for evolution.  Even Darwin himself said that, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."
Gink:   Behe argues that "an irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly by numerous, successive, slight modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional...Since natural selection can only choose systems that are already working, then if a biological system cannot be produced gradually it would have to arise as an integrated unit, in one fell swoop, for natural selection to have anything to act on."
Go:   Ok, let’s test this idea.  Let’s start with the mousetrap.  Did you see Saupe’s tie clip this morning in class? 
Gink:   What, that guy never wears a tie!
Go:   Today he was.  And his tie clip was a mousetrap.  He had removed the catch from the trap and used the bail to hold his tie in place.
Gink:   So, big deal.  What does that prove?
Go:   Saupe’s point was that the mousetrap was still functional even though it didn’t include all of its parts.  The mousetrap could easily have evolved through successive changes, each of which had a function, though perhaps different from the final function.  To convert a tie clip to a mousetrap just required the evolution of a catch mechanism.
Gink:   Yeah, yeah.  Maybe so.  But let’s get real.  There’s no way a bacterial flagellum could have evolved in a gradual, stepwise fashion.  Check out this diagram.
Go:   Nice.  But like the mousetrap, this is a terrible example of intelligent design and irreducible complexity. 
Gink:   What??? Just look at that flagellum.  It is made up of at least 30 proteins and they all must be present in the proper configuration in order for the flagellum to function.  There’s not a chance it could develop gradually, in a piece-meal fashion.
Go:   Sorry to lash this idea, too, but don’t you remember our discussion of the TTSS complex in bacteria like Yersinia, which is the one that caused Black Death.  Check out the picture below.
Gink:   Sure I know what it is – every once in awhile I actually learn something from Saupe.  The TTSS complex is a group of proteins in the bacterial membrane that is responsible for injecting toxins into other cells.
Go:   Brilliant.  And guess what?  The same proteins that are in the TTSS complex make up the base for the flagellum.
Gink:   So the flagellum can be reduced and the individual parts are still functional?
Go:   That’s exactly right.  And the same is true for blood clotting and all of the other examples that Behe cited.
Gink:   Gulp.  I guess you’re right, we’ve falsified Behe’s idea of irreducible complexity and intelligent design.
Go:   Yup.  But that’s alright.  Remember, we haven’t denied the existence of a creator.  Evolution could be the creator’s mode of doing business.
Gink:   OK.  You win.  But you’re forgetting the best evidence against intelligent designer.
Go:   Oh?  What’s that?
Gink:   If there was an intelligent designer at work, then I would have thought the designer would have done a better job with Saupe – he’s a real piece of work.


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Last updated: September 07, 2006   
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