Peer Review of Behe’s Irreducible Complexity

A press release from Medical News Today, which is located in the UK, talks about the December Issue Of The Quarterly Review Of Biology. It gives descriptions of several articles in that issue, including one labeled “The Incoherence of Irreducible Complexity.” The press release says, with bold font added by us:

Advocates of intelligent design creationism often tout the concept of irreducible complexity (IC) as a withering critique of Darwinian evolution. But Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, and Johan Braeckman, (Ghent University, Belgium) argue that IC as defined by its most vocal proponent, Michael Behe, is a conveniently vague concept.

Most of you know about Michael Behe, but in case you’re new here, he’s a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, and the author of “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution,” which makes him the lord high guru of the cult of irreducible complexity. His colleagues at Lehigh — from which he’s never been Expelled! — are so impressed by his brilliance that they have publicly disassociated themselves from him by issuing this statement: Department Position on Evolution and “Intelligent Design”. To read about Behe’s disastrous testimony in the Dover litigation, see: Kitzmiller v. Dover: Michael Behe’s Testimony.

After seeing that press release, we went to the website of the Quarterly Review of Biology and found the abstract for Irreducible Incoherence and Intelligent Design: A Look into the Conceptual Toolbox of a Pseudoscience, by Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, and Johan Braeckman.

You’ll need a subscription to see the full article, but here’s what the abstract says, with bold font added by us:

The concept of Irreducible Complexity (IC) has played a pivotal role in the resurgence of the creationist movement over the past two decades. Evolutionary biologists and philosophers have unambiguously rejected the purported demonstration of “intelligent design” in nature, but there have been several, apparently contradictory, lines of criticism. We argue that this is in fact due to Michael Behe’s own incoherent definition and use of IC.

In addition to his other distinctions, Behe is a “senior fellow” at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists). What effect will this have on them?

Your Curmudgeon confidently predicts that the Discoveroids will soon post something at their blog crowing that Behe’s work on intelligent design has been cited in a peer-reviewed journal. They’re very good at quoting a few choice phrases out of context.

Let’s read on from the abstract:

This paper offers an analysis of several equivocations inherent in the concept of Irreducible Complexity and discusses the way in which advocates of the Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) have conveniently turned IC into a moving target.

Moving target? Sure. Whenever one of the Discoveroids’ allegedly non-evolvable structures is shown to be very evolvable, they just drop it and move on to another. We’ve all seen this behavior on the playground: “You can’t catch me. Nya, nya, nyaaaaaah!

The abstract ends with this:

An analysis of these rhetorical strategies helps us to understand why IC has gained such prominence in the IDC movement, and why, despite its complete lack of scientific merits, it has even convinced some knowledgeable persons of the impending demise of evolutionary theory.

Okay, Discoveroids — this is the breakthrough you’ve been hoping for. You’ve wedged your way into the big leagues now. Go ahead and make the most of it.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “Peer Review of Behe’s Irreducible Complexity

  1. They’re very good at quoting a few choice phrases out of context.”

    And don’t forget the elisions! Here’s my guesses at their quotemines:
    ‘Scientists admit that “[the] concept of Irreducible Complexity (IC) has played a pivotal role…over the past two decades.”‘

    ‘The new paper even: “offers an analysis of …why…it has even convinced some knowledgeable persons of the impending demise of evolutionary theory.”‘

  2. It’s quite a good article. Thanks for the link, SC.

    The authors say that because of Behe’s ambiguous definition of IC in Darwin’s Black Box, there are two interpretations: a “weak” version, which simply says that an IC system is one that requires all of its parts for its current function; and a “strong” version, which claims that none of the parts can have any function in any context unless they are all present. The weak version is harmless to evolution, due to indirect evolutionary pathways. It’s the strong version that would be insurmountable by natural selection, if something like that were ever found.

    The problem is that when critics argue against the strong version, Behe retreats to the weak definition, and claims that they are misrepresenting his ideas and making up their own definition for IC. But at the same time, he and all the other ID’ers pretend that IC has all the bite of the strong version.

    They also describe how that moving target strategy continues when scientists start addressing individual examples. A plausible pathway or two are presented, and they call that speculation and demand evidence of the true pathway. A likely precursor to one part is found, and they demand the rest of the puzzle pieces. It all culminates in Behe’s ridiculous demand at Dover for a “step-by-step, mutation by mutation analysis”, just for a start. And as you mentioned, when all is lost, they just drop that particular IC system and find a new one.

    Well-reasoned, well-written paper. I especially liked the turn of phrase referring to IC as a “conceptual chimera”.

  3. Those without a subscription can find a copy of the article here:

  4. Thanks for the link, John.

  5. Thank you SC for finding this, and thanks John for finding an open link to the article. I will be forwarding this on!

  6. Gabriel Hanna

    Right, first they say it’s IMPOSSIBLE for such and such to evolve. Then, when a possibility is demonstrated, they demand proof that this possibility ACTUALLY HAPPENED, which really is moving the goalposts a long way.

  7. Gabriel Hanna says:

    Then, when a possibility is demonstrated, they demand proof that this possibility ACTUALLY HAPPENED, which really is moving the goalposts a long way.

    Yes, but it’s fair, considering how specific they have been regarding the activities of the magic designer.

  8. GreatGungHolio

    It would be fantastic if the ID crowd presented their idiotic fantasies within a distinguished lecture hall and the academics stood up en mass at the end to shout “Your an effin IDIOT, now eff off!!!”

    It would certainly be appropriate and scientifically provable – give them an IQ test before they are allowed to speak – although they would simply cry that their beliefs were being ‘offended’.

  9. Great, I think it would be much better if they presented their fantasies in a distinguished lecture hall and 2 people showed up ( 2 = allowing for spouses and relatives).

  10. I predict that the Discoveroids will ignore the main points and pounce on the use of the use of the phrase ” intelligent design creationism.” If so, I encourage everyone to remind them that all they need to do is devote a significant part of their efforts to refuting what they call “creationism” (they usually mean YEC). Until then, their complaint is baseless, and only serves to fool the public (as if they have any other goal).

  11. GreatGungHolio

    It is brain-numbingly easy to disprove ID.

    If the big beardy cloud man was so smart to have created everything then the scientists only need to prove that ONE element of ONE creature is not irreducible complex.

    Given that this has been carried out on many creatures (bacteria) and many elements (such as an eye) I wonder why people don’t projectile vomit on creationists as a matter of principal?

  12. Gary Sellars

    greatgungholio said “It is brain-numbingly easy to disprove ID.”

    Since it’s soooooooo easy, please make just a little effort and do a thorough job, please.

    It’s always delightful to find people so smart. Remember, please by thorough and precise.

    Thank you,


  13. techreseller

    Is it just me or does someone else understand what Gary Sellars is trying to say above?