Quiz on Irreducible Complexity and Intelligent Design

For this assignment, visit the “Talk.Origins” website linked to the BIOL 471 homepage. Talk.Origins is a site devoted to the evolution/creation controversy, and provides information or links to both sides of the argument (although it takes a scientific view itself), so a visitor can obtain unedited information directly from the sources (both scientific and creationist), overviews of various evolution topics, discussion sites and other interesting information. To begin this exercise, you need to link to the page on Michael Behe and his concept of irreducible complexity. Behe is author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. The site provides links to other sites having to do with the topic of Intelligent Design and indications of design (irreducible complexity) in nature.

You can also watch or listen to a podcast of an NIH lecture presented by Kenneth Miller entitled, "God, Darwin and Design." Miller is a cell biologist from Brown University who was one of the expert witnesses who testified at the recent trial in Pennsylvania concerning the teaching of intelligent design in high school biology courses. He provides a frequently entertaining view of the entire issue in this podcast.

1. According to Behe, what is irreducible complexity?

2. Give an example of an irreducibly complex BIOCHEMICAL system, according to Behe, who is a biochemist. What makes this system irreducibly complex, according to Behe? What do you think of this argument?

3. The bacterial flagellum is constantly used as an example of an irreducibly complex structure. Behe argues that the flagellum is made up of countless molecules that have no function unless they are fit together in a specific and intricately designed structure. Therefore, there is no way for the structure to be built stepwise from simpler structures. What's wrong with this argument? See also the recent Nature Reviews Microbiology paper on the evolution of the bacterial flagellum (Pallen and Matzke, 2006, vol 4, 784-790).  Also, if you have time, look at the blog entry at The Panda'sThumb website of one of the authors (N. Matzke), who discusses how creationists misrepresented his work on their websites.

4. The argument that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics is an old one in the creation-science literature. What is the argument and what's wrong with the logic behind it?

5. Jonathan Wells, whose impressive advanced degrees in biology were obtained for the stated purpose of discrediting Darwinism, argues that evolutionary processes such as selection and mutation can cause change (certainly an important admission from a representative of a group that frequently denies this), but that “Darwin’s theory cannot account for all features of living things." He argues that BIG changes, such as the development of new anatomical features in new species, cannot be accounted for by these processes. As a biologist, do you find this argument convincing? Find out about creationists Jonathan Wells and William Demski and see if you can tell what motivates them. Are they motivated by the pursuit of scientific truth (or as close an approximation as we can achieve given the tools of science), or something quite different?