Esteemed renaissance man and all around zetetic thinker extraordinaire Michael Behe, the mind behind the One True Theory of Life, the driving force behind his own embarrassment in Dover District and known around the world as the man who confused machinery with bacteria, has been getting a little airtime lately.
Behe is perhaps most famous for his adherence to and evangelism of his pet theory, Irreducible Complexity, which asserts that some biochemical structures are too complex to be adequately explained by known evolutionary mechanisms and are therefore more probably the result of intelligent design.
An example still used by our resident genius despite the hypothesis in question being thrown out of a court case and ruled as unscientific, is that of the bacterial flagellum, a cute little bundle of proteins and what-not that patterns in the shape of a motor. See it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flagellum
Now the idea being put forth is that this animal is too complex, so complex in fact that it must have been created by an intelligent agency, in this case Behe’s personal God of Middle Eastern myth, Yahweh. How he links the two propositions is something of a Cirque du Soleil of mental gymnastics, and can be viewed solely for the wonderful insights it provides into the mind of an ideologue.
Why is it that Behe insists that the bacterium is a motor, or a mechanism? Why does he call it “irreducibly complex”?
Saying the flagellum is a motor is simply using language to confuse the issue. It also betrays the fact that creationists know there is an obvious distinction between what is made, and what grows or patterns on its own.
What they are saying in essence is that motors are created, and therefore if we find something that patterns in a similar way to a motor then there must therefore have been a creative agent behind it.
But the very fact that this specific example is invoked shows that there is an obvious quality of growth and evolution to life that can only be questioned, even fallacious, when the pattern of life and mechanism are extremely similar.
Why not use the example of an elephant? Or a tree? Simply because it is so obvious that these patterns require no outside agency and are going on all by themselves, adapting, evolving and patterning without supernatural or mystical interference.
The notion of irreducible complexity performs the same function as the notion of god, that of a termination to the infinite regress of the “why” question.
We ask of our experiences and our observations, “why is it so?”, and we search for these answers in a variety of different ways, however it seems inherent in the question that there is no fundamental “why”, and that many answers often paint a deeper and more accurate picture of what is than one ever could.
If we ask why the bacterium is patterning as it is, we may say it is due to the reproductive action of earlier members of the species. We may say it is due to the presence of a habitable environment, or perhaps that it is due to the existence of the cosmos itself.
All of these answers seem true in some sense, but none explain the totality of the fact of this organism, this pattern, and it’s existence.
So, if one is inclined to enjoy an easy answer, if one is not searching for truth or understanding but rather comfort and certainty, one says that the bacterium is “irreducibly complex”, which is actually to say “this is simply too complex to think about, therefore it must have been god.”
If we acknowledge that we cannot explain the pattern in its totality, in the complete sense of what it is to explain, then we recognize that to search for one answer is simply to choose the answer one finds most appealing. If we are here with intent to understand, then this search must be relinquished, and we must look to the problem not to answer it, but simply to understand.