The totally complex mousetrap

Advocates of "Intellegent Design"-movement are taking on the principles of science in the U.S. Political – "scientific" – socio-cultural. And with frightening success. Part 2

Creationists have long been considered unsatisfactory to serious researchers. While relatively much attention has been paid in the past to the political winds that have blown representatives of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement into the decision-making centers of educational policy. Little discussion, on the other hand, took place with regard to the scientific framework on which the adherents of the ID theory pride themselves. The main reason was that scientists were not willing to give ID supporters a stage for their pseudo-scientific statements. Perhaps a mistake that is now paying off, as the ID movement continues to gain ground in the U.S. Besides political influence (US President Bush backs the doctrine of the "Intelligent Design"), the movement is now also celebrating alleged successes in the scientific field.

Cambrian explosion

Rough trenches are not only found in small Gallic villages; they also divide disputants of different opinion couleurs. Thus, for a long time, there was a rift between old-style creationists on the one hand and the recognized research community on the other. But as usual these days, things are getting murkier.

With the advent of the ID movement in 1991, a new trench was dug. Within the academic world. Expression of this is u. a. The fact that an ID article appeared for the first time in a peer-reviewed journal earlier this month. Usually an indication of at least minimal scientific rigor.

The article by Stephen Meyer was published in the "Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington" published; a journal which, however, does not exactly belong to the top publishing class of scientific journals. In the index of the "Institute for Scientific Information" it is ranked 2678 out of 3110 of all journals covered.

Meyer’s article The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories deals with the well-known question, how it came to the formation of extremely complex organism blueprints. In particular, those that evolved during the Cambrian epoch within geologically short time scales of 20-50 million years, e.g. B. the Hallucigenia described by the biologist Conway Morris "Halluzigenia" from the Burgess Shale of the Rocky Mountains.

The totally complex mousetrap

Halluzigenia from the Burgess Shales. Image: University of Southern California

The conclusions Meyer derives in his article from the bizarre structures of the Cambrian explosion are due to the fact that he is a member of the ID-oriented "Discovery Institute" in Seattle is not difficult to guess: The explanatory possibilities of the theory of evolution are unsuitable to explain the origin of such complex organization. A much more conclusive explanation for the origin of complex construction plans is offered by Intelligent Design (ID).

From watchmakers and other constructors

Doesn’t this sound somehow familiar to us? Yes right. In the 18. century someone had the same idea. The original "design argument" comes from William Paley and has apparently hardly lost its popularity. In his attempt of a teleological (gr. telos: goal, purpose) proof of God, Paley first deduces the existence of a watchmaker on the basis of a watch that he accidentally finds on the ground during a walk. Because of the finely tuned construction of the clock one could hardly ame that the clock is a natural part of the environment.

Paley assigned a similar order and meaningfulness to the whole nature, which requires the existence of a higher watchmaker, who must be much more powerful than a human watchmaker. Ergo only God came into question for it. The skeptical analysis (1777) of Paley’s natural theology by the Scottish philosopher David Hume is still regarded as a refutation of the design argument, even though there have been repeated attempts to bend the critique to its proper shape.

Paley’s watchmaker is a so-called empirical analogy argument, in which from a given object (the watch) with the property x (looks somehow complex) to another object (nature) with the subjectively same property of structure and order is inferred. One was designed (by watchmaker), ergo the other is also designed (by God).

The totally complex mousetrap

Order, sense, complexity constructed by a watchmaker

Scatterbrained, childish or quarrelsome?

But to what extent is it permissible to equate a watch with the whole of nature?? As an argument Paley uses the two "objects" inherent complexity. However, we do not need the property "Complexity", to recognize clocks as constructs, we know from experience that clocks are artifacts. Since artifacts can also be simple (e.g. B. shards), it seems that the general property of "complexity" for artifacts does not seem to be correct and the analogy amption is therefore not admissible. Let us not exclaim at the sight of an artifact: "Ui how complex, that must be a clock", but rather: "Aha, clock."

If we admit the analogy amption nevertheless, some unpleasant consequences arise on closer inspection, which are only rarely mentioned by design supporters. David Hume provides some examples. Thus all designers known to us are morally ambivalent beings. So why always a "good-natured" planner? Why has e. B. an omnipotent and benevolent designer have such "nasty" organisms like AIDS viruses and parasites?

From a higher perspective, the world is anything but perfectly. Keeping the analogy from the designer, the question arises: On what kind of planner lets a "faulty" World well loved? To a child head of constructor who with his toy "World" some mischief, to a senile designer who no longer knows what he is doing, or even to several designers who could not come to an agreement? And where is the senior designer who designed the designer?

If one ames such, the conclusion by analogy leads towards infinity. However, if one ames a "unconstructed" constructor as source, one can neither refer to the empirical conclusion by analogy nor to scientific methodology, which must always be a posteriori. One must rather appeal to the a priori insight that a mental order, in contrast to all material order, explains itself from itself. Thus, the design argument is only plausible if it incorporates a priori knowledge. But since it presupposes what it set out to prove, the design argument as proof of God is considered to have failed since Hume.

Is the old Paley still alive?

However, the ID-movement of today does not care much about that; at least in the USA no rooster is wired for Hume’s reasoning anymore. So catchwords like complexity, order and structure are used again today in arguments like "signal detection", similar to the design argument of that time. The intellectual representatives of the movement, however, make every effort to prevent this digging up of old hats or. watches (including watchmakers) do not become too obvious. After all, they use "modern" modern branches of science and methods like molecular biology and probability theory.

These new, old theses are brought to the people by an immense group of book authors, many of whom are not only reawakened Christians, but are also involved in the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute, a think tank based in Seattle, which among others. a. projects in science and religion. The Center’s members and advisors, including law professor emeritus Philip Johnson, biologist Jonathan Wells, and the philosopher Stephen Meyer mentioned earlier, have published an astonishing number of books and essays proclaiming the obvious failures of Darwinism and extolling the virtues of the design alternative.

But while Johnson, Meyer and Wells are strongly in the light of publicity, they are rather propagandists. The masterminds of the championed hypotheses, the biochemist Michael Behe and the mathematician William Demski, need to be estimated.

Miracle work cell

If the existence of a composite organ could not be proved by numerous successive small changes, my theory had to collapse.

Charles Darwin

It is precisely this proof that Michael Behe. Biochemistry professor at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania for several years to lead. Behe is the best known of a small group of scientists who propound ID theories. And his arguments are well known in the American public. His book "Darwin’s Black Box" from 1996 was a bestseller.

Not surprisingly, Behe supports his doubts about the theory of evolution with arguments from biochemistry and begins his chain of arguments with the statement that every biologist can give explanations about, for example, the origin of the eye. However, explanations of this kind start without exception with cells, whose own evolutionary origin remains basically in the dark. If this amption was justified at a time when cells did not appear to be quantitatively more complex than the visible gross structures of an eye, the biochemical analysis of the inner workings of cells has produced startling new results: Each individual cell in itself already contains a multitude of extraordinarily complex structures. Hundreds of microscopic marvels, each performing a specific task. At this point, Behe sums up, it suddenly became clear to him that the Darwinian theory of explanation, according to which an eye could be composed of any cell type, was fundamentally incorrect. Instead, 90 percent of the expected result is already predetermined by the respective cells and their composition.

Totally complex mousetrap

Behe’s main thesis is therefore that individual cells do not have gradual but natural or intrinsic complexity. Cells contain structures that "irreducible" are complex. If one removes a single part of a complex structure, this structure can no longer perform its function.

A simple example used by Behe to illustrate this is: A mousetrap. Mousetraps consist of a wooden board, a spring, a retaining shackle, a metal striking shackle, and a codend holder. If one of these parts is missing, the trap is useless and the mouse remains alive. Behe postulates that the geibel of a bacterium, for example, is constructed analogously. This flagellum is a small propeller by means of whose movement the bacterium moves forward in the aquatic world. The flagellum consists of about 30 different proteins, all precisely arranged. If only one of them was removed, the flagellum was no longer able to move.

The totally complex mousetrap

Schematic representation of the flagella of a bacterium. Image: University of Ottawa

In his book "Darwin’s Black Bock" Behe continues to argue that the irreducible complexity of Darwinism contains unexplainable gaps. How, therefore, could a gradual process of evolution produce a "construction" like a flagellum that needs all the different parts of its blueprint to function?? Scientists, Behe continued, had to face the fact that many biological systems are not conceivable on the basis of selection and mutation. In fact, irreducibly complex cells evolved in the same way as irreducibly complex mousetraps – they were designed.

In his book, Behe further speculates that the designer has designed and realized the first cell in each case and thus fundamentally solved the problem of irreducible complexity. Subsequently, the evolution may have taken place in a more or less conventional sense.

Irreducible complexity

However, as biologists point out, there are several ways in which irreducibly complex systems could have evolved in the course of evolution. For example, refined structures, designed to perform a particular function, may then have performed a completely different, irreducibly complex function.

Thus, the 30 proteins of the flagellum could have been present in bacteria long before bacteria formed flagella. They could have fulfilled other tasks within the cell and only later been involved in the formation of a flagellum. And indeed, there is evidence that various proteins of the flagellum formerly played a role in a kind of molecular pump that has been discovered in the membranes of bacterial cells. However, this kind of indirect route to irreducible complexity does not take into account the fact that individual parts initially perform one function, but in the course of evolution take on a different one. And he excludes in principle the possibility that complex structures could have formed from time immemorial by selection of one and the same biological function.

But biologists have shown that the direct way to irreducible complexity is also possible. Suppose that a part is only added to a system to improve its performance; this part would not be indispensable for the function at that time. However, through the action of continued evolution, a part that was previously only advantageous may become indispensable over time.

Evolutionary lottery

Design theorists have already had to make some concessions to their critics. For example, Behe admitted that he had not meant that irreducibly complex systems could not by definition evolve gradually. "I agree that my arguments against Darwinism cannot be summed up into a logical proof," Behe said", said Behe, although he is convinced that the Darwinian path to irreducible complexity is highly improbable.

Behe and his followers now emphasize that irreducibly complex systems evolve in principle, but biologists have not been able to reconstruct them in detail convincingly. But what pays as a sufficiently detailed report is entirely subjective. Biologists actually already know a lot about the evolution of biochemical systems, irreducibly complex or not. Thus, gene duplication has also been identified as a crucial mechanism of evolution.

The totally complex mousetrap

Pseudomonas aeruginosa in a scanning microscope

An example of the interaction of different processes within this topic is given by microbiologist Michael Sadowsky from the University of Minnesota.

Rapid evolutionary processes are what make microbes unbeatable tools in the elimination of toxic substances. For example, the weed killer atrazine, or toluenes such as TNT, were produced in the laboratory and never existed before on earth. A few decades after their introduction, bacteria, whose ancestors have been on earth for about 3.5 billion years, have developed enzymes that are able to break down toxic substances. Their secret? They can take up gene duplicates from other bacteria and the uptake can change the function of the genes.

Sadowsky explains the process for the bacterium Pseudomonas. The four genes that the bacterium needs to break down atrazine are distributed randomly in the genome, indicating that these genes were once added to the genome. Furthermore, each of these genes is framed by so-called. transposons, pieces of mobile DNA that often indicate genetic rearrangements.

In addition, there are other ways for bacteria to use the evolutionary "evolutionary valve" the evolutionary valve, if necessary. For instance, another tactic is to increase the mutation rate in "hard times". Some bacterial plasmids carry a capped, storanfall DNA replication enzyme called DNA polymerase V that is activated during stressful times. More mutations mean more tickets in the genetic lottery, thereby increasing the chances of a "happy bacterium" with a useful new variant of an old enzyme.

Aliens with brains

The second leading theorist of new creationism, William Demski, a mathematician, philosopher, and theologian, holds a professorship in basic scientific research at Baptist Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Like Behe, Demski has long lent his intellectual talents to the service of the "Center for Science and Culture", a division of the conservative Christian Discovery Institute in Seattle. Demski publishes one book after the other at breathtaking speed, the titles of which include. a. "The Design Interference", "Intelligent Design", "No Free Lunch" or "The Design Revolution" read.

In his book "The Design Interference" Demski directs the film "Contact", based on a story by Carl Sagan of the same name, as an example of complex structures that were not created by chance but were intelligently designed. "How does it", Demski asks himself, "that the astronomers in the story, on the basis of a sequence of signals they receive from outer space, conclude that there is extraterrestrial intelligent life??"

In the story, after years of receiving insignificant random signals, scientist Ellie Arroway discovers a pattern of tones and pauses that matches a sequence of all prime numbers between 2 and 101. "There are within the laws of physics", according to Demski "no reason why radio wave signals should build on each other." The occurrence of a sequence therefore seems anything but compelling. However, if it is a short, i.e. h. non-complex sequence, the probability that this has arisen by chance is high. Finally, the sequence in the movie is not only complex (i.e. long), but also shows an independently given pattern or even a specification. Not blob any sequence of numbers was received from space, but a mathematically significant one – a sequence of prime numbers.

The totally complex mousetrap

Messages from outer space reach Jodie Foster in Robert Zemeckis’ film "Contact"

"Nothing comes from nothing" or the "No Free Lunch Theorems"

Demski thus argues that specified complexity, expressed mathematically, provides an unmistakable signature of intelligence. Entities like a sequence of prime numbers never arise in the world without the action of intelligence. If an organism shows specified complexity, we can conclude that it must be the work of an intelligent planner.

Demski’s second main thesis is that certain mathematical results cast doubt on the theory of evolution at a fundamental conceptual level. In 2002, he focused on the No Free Lunch (NFL) theorems developed in the late 1990s by physicists David Wolpert and William Macready. These theorems refer to the efficiency of different search algorithms. In his book "No Free Lunch" Demski gives several examples of his theory.

For example, he lets the reader visualize the search for elevated terrain in an unknown, hilly area. We are on the way to Fub and stumble through a moonless night. Within two hours the given goal, the highest elevation of this terrain, is to be reached. How to act cleverly now? A good search algorithm has been whispered to us: "Go uphill in the direction that is steepest. If no uphill is near, take a few steps to the right and try again." This algorithm will make sure that we are basically moving upwards. Another search algorithm; e.g. B. the "blind search algorithm", had another suggestion: "Run in any random direction. So you will cross different landings and land sometimes on top and sometimes on the bottom."

Roughly speaking, the NFL theorems prove that if we average all possible terrain shapes, no search algorithm is better than another at achieving the given goal. In some landforms we were led to elevated terrain by steady upward movement in the allotted time, in other landforms by random movement in an arbitrary direction. On the average, no one possibility is more effective than another.

Who finds, must not necessarily have searched

Demski compares Darwinism with a search algorithm. Let us now imagine a population which, for the purpose of solving a certain problem (e.g. B. (the Darwinian algorithm of random mutation plus natural selection). According to Demski, however, the NFL doctrines state that the Darwinian algorithm is in principle no more suitable than any other conceivable algorithm for addressing and solving the problem (here disease resistance). From this it follows that Darwinism basically does not lead to better results than a bread-stupid chance, without any ordering force, like natural selection. Just as we do not expect random changes to have led to the emergence of precision machines, neither should we attribute such abilities to Darwinism.

Finally, Demski argues that the NFL theorems demonstrate that there can be only one plausible source for the design we find in organisms: Intelligence.

Specified Complexity

Demski’s theses may have sounded so convincing to some of his American contemporaries that the saying of the "new Isaac Newton of information theory" made the rounds. Critics, however, are of the opinion that Demski is on the wrong track. Organisms do not try to reach any independent pattern; evolution has no goal and the history of life does not try to reach somewhere.

If the formation of a complex structure leads to more offspring being brought into the world; good. Then the evolutionary formation of eyes is favored. If, however, the destruction of complex structures leads to this result: also good. The eyes are formed back. Species such as fish and shellfish, which have retreated into the complete darkness of caves where eyes are both unnecessary and too much effort, therefore often have degenerated eyes Probably no intelligent designer would think of constructing completely useless eyes. Regardless of the discussion about design and machines, organisms do not strive to realize a designer’s blueprint. They strive (if you can call it striving at all) only to multiply what the stuff holds.

Another problem with Demski’s arguments concerns the NFL theorems. Recent work has shown that these theorems are not applicable to the case of co-evolution, when two or more species evolve in dependence on each other. And it is usually the keyboard of co-evolution that is played in nature.

Organisms hardly waste their time adapting to rocks. They are continually challenged by a seemingly endless horde of viruses, parasites, predators and prey. A theorem that is not applicable to these co-evolutionary everyday situations is a theorem whose relevance in biology, kindly expressed, is unclear. So Demski also had to take a ruffle shortly from David Wolpert, one of the developers of the NFL theorems, who rejected Demski’s application of his theorems as totally impractical. Demski then hit a tactical snag. Had he still emphasized in 2002 that "The NFL theorems have forever destroyed the hopes of Darwinists that specified complexity could be achieved by evolutionary algorithms", it now sounds quite different. Of course, he never claimed that the NFL theorems provided direct counterarguments to Darwinism.

The Evangelical Ghost Train: Freud, Marx, Darwin

People who have dealt with the ID movement for a long time or had to deal with it are already used to such changes of mind. However, the fact that the theses of Demski and Behe do not seem to be compatible even at a second glance is striking. If Demski is of the opinion that Darwinism can not produce anything interesting, Behe postulates: provided that there is one cell of origin, evolution can create everything from a roundworm to a walrus.

Although ID proponents such as Jonathan Wells like to blow the whistle on occasional bickering among evolutionary biologists, they fail to see the beam in their own eye, i.e., the gross differences of opinion within their own ranks. In the end, it is difficult to see ID as a unified movement. Auber in the political sense.

Sigmund Freud. Image: Library of Congress

In 1999, a document from the Discovery Institute was published anonymously on the Internet. This so called. Wedge document describes not only the long-term goals of the Institute, but also the strategies to achieve them. The document begins with the idea that all human beings are created in the image of God. "One of the foundations upon which Western civilization was built."

It also laments the disastrous legacy of Darwin, Marx, and Freud; supposedly the father of the materialistic worldview, which eventually infected virtually every area of culture. The mission of the scientific wing of the Discovery Institute is described as follows: overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacy. It seems that the Institute sets its goals somewhat higher than to be satisfied with the reconstruction of a bacterial primer.

The declared goal according to the Keil strategy is therefore to achieve the renewal of American culture by anchoring the main institutions of society, especially the educational institutions, in the evangelical religion. This is what the adherents are trying to achieve, as the name Keil-strategy already states, not by reconciling religion and science, but by splitting.

Fighting Naturalism

At some point, creationists realized that the success of naturalism stood in the way of embracing a fundamentalist embrace of religion. Therefore, ID adherents engaged in a two-front war against modern natural science and theistic evolution, since the embrace of theistic evolution also largely recognizes naturalism.

Due to this conception, ID proponents see theistic evolution as the grosser enemy, since its adherents cannot even be branded as atheists. In contrast to their predecessors, however, the new creationists realized that the natural sciences could achieve gross successes on the basis of this very naturalism, which clearly improved the living conditions of mankind. Since natural scientists are held in high esteem for this reason, the goal of ID advocates is to disassociate the natural sciences from naturalism and to recognize the results of the natural sciences, while naturalistically oriented natural scientists, however, are denigrated as godless.

So was Darwin a godless darky and the source of all ubel of the western civilization?? Let us let him himself with a quotation from his book "On the Origin of Species" answer:

There is truly something sublime about the catch that the Creator breathed into the germ of all life that surrounds us only a few or even a single form, and that, while our earth moves in circles according to the laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning an infinite number of the most beautiful and wonderful forms arose and still persist."


Darwin, C. Neumann, C. W. (2004): The origin of the species by natural breeding choice. Nikol publishing house, Hamburg. Pennock, R. T. (2001): Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives. The MIT Press, Cambridge. Mooney, Chris (2005): The Republican War on science. Basic Book Publishers, New York.

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