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Dover Trial: Plaintiffs’ Counsel Implies Voet and Voet Biology Textbook is Unconstitutional

Casey Luskin

Harrisburg, PA-Microbiologist Scott Minnich testified Thursday at the Dover trial. Most of the afternoon was taken up by direct examination. Minnich pounded home the point that microbiological machines such as the bacterial flagellum resemble human-designed machines. In particular, Minnich testified that the bacterial flagellum has a similar design structure to that of a rotary engine. Minnich quoted from a paper by David J. DeRosier which observes that “More so than other motors, the flagellum resembles a machine designed by a human.”

Whether you are an ID proponent or not, there is no denying that these microbiological machines bear an eerily purposeful arrangement of parts we typically find in human-designed machines. There’s also no denying Minnich’s data, which shows that mutagenized flagella do not function properly. He claimed that mutagenesis (i.e. knockout) experiments on all the genes in the flagellum show that it is rendered nonfunctional. This tends to indicate that, with respect to its genes, it is irreducibly complex.

Just after 4 pm, the direct examination ended, letting the plaintiffs have their first shot at cross-examination. I then sat in the courtroom watching the plaintiffs’ counsel Stephen G. Harvey begin the cross-examination of Minnich.

You’d think that the ACLU / NCSE-assisted-plaintiffs were just itching to get their best shots in against a living, breathing, pro-ID biologist. I observed NCSE staff members busily taking notes in the courtroom and handing scribbles to the counsel for the plaintiffs. I was ready for something really good this afternoon. Are you ready for it? Here was their best opening shot:

The Opening Return Fire Against Scott Minnich
One of the first questions Harvey asked Minnich was “who coined the term irreducible complexity?” Minnich said that to the best of his knowledge, it was Michael Behe, but noted that he might not have an exhaustive knowledge of the etymology of the term.

Then Harvey showed Minnich a paper from a creationist journal called “Creation Research Society Quarterly” (“CRSQ”). Harvey then proceeded to point out similarities between the paper’s characterization of the flagellum and Minnich’s characterization in his talk. Harvey showed a diagram of the flagellum and compared it to Minnich’s:

– Both showed an S-ring.
– Both showed an axle
– Both showed a drive shaft
– Both showed a filament
– And there were various other similarities.

To which Minnich replied “Well, I didn’t take this diagram from a creationist text, I took it from Voet and Voet.” (paraphrased)

Voet and Voet of course is a widely used secular textbook in biochemistry. So, if the plaintiffs’ insinuations have any constitutional meaning then the implication that if a creationist document says something, and then you say the same thing, then what you have said is therefore religious and unconstitutional. Teachers who use Voet and Voet should watch out for the ACLU — you might be next! (Of course, you’ll probably be spared by the ACLU’s highly selective advocacy.)

All Harvey actually showed is that when ID proponents make their arguments, they use empirical data, and that when they compare biomolecular machines to human-designed machines, they do so in a manner which is consistent with the mainstream microbiological literature. He also showed that the only argument he had against Minnich was to use the genetic fallacy (i.e. attack the origin of the claim, not the claim itself). This is a typical Darwinist tactic.

The Real Origin of the term “Irreducible Complexity”
Minnich probably answered truthfully when he stated that he thought Behe had probably coined the term “irreducible complexity,” and also when he acknowledged that he isn’t exhaustively familiar with the etymology of the term. I’d like to fill in some obscure information that Minnich apparently wasn’t aware of.

The term “irreducible complexity” has its origin neither in Behe nor in any creationist source. My understanding is that the first usage of the term “irreducible complexity” comes from a 1986 Cambridge University Press book entitled “Templets and the explanation of complex patterns” by theoretical biologist Michael J. Katz.

In Katz’s book, “irreducible complexity” occurs as an index entry, and is explained in the text as follows:

“In the natural world, there are many pattern-assembly systems for which there is no simple explanation. There are useful scientific explanations for these complex systems, but the final patterns that they produce are so heterogeneous that they cannot effectively be reduced to smaller or less intricate predecessor components. As I will argue in Chapters 7 and 8, these patterns are, in a fundamental sense, irreducibly complex…” (pp. 26-27)

As explained in Discovery’s Bibliography of Peer Reviewed Papers which Challenge Evolution, Katz uses the term “irreducibly complex” in more or less the same manner as Behe:

In context, it is abundantly clear that by “irreducible complexity,” Katz refers essentially to the same phenomena as does Behe. “For some natural phenomena,” he writes, “there simply is no reduction to smaller predecessors. In these cases, the companion rule to ‘order stems from order’ is that ‘complexity stems from complexity'” (p. 90).

“…the unique characteristics of organisms are pattern characteristics. The first of these fundamental pattern characteristics is complexity. Cells and organisms are quite complex by all pattern criteria. They are built of heterogeneous elements arranged in heterogeneous configurations, and they do not self-assemble. One cannot stir together the parts of a cell or of an organism and spontaneously assemble a neuron or a walrus: to create a cell or an organisms one needs a preexisting cell or a preexisting organism, with its attendant complex templets. A fundamental characteristic of the biological realm is that organisms are complex patterns, and, for its creation, life requires extensive, and essentially maximal, templets.” (p. 83)

“Today’s organisms are fabricated from preexisting templets — the templets of the genome and the remainder of the ovum [egg] — and these templets are, in turn, derived from other, parent organisms. The astronomical time scale of evolution, however, adds a dilemma to this chain-of-templets explanation: the evolutionary biologist presumes that once upon a time organisms appeared when there were no preexisting organisms. But, if all organisms must be templeted, then what were the primordial inanimate templets, and whence came those templets?” (pp. 65-66)

“Self-assembly does not fully explain the organisms that we know; contemporary organisms are quite complex, they have a special and an intricate organization that would not occur spontaneously by chance. The ‘universal laws’ governing the assembly of biological materials are insufficient to explain our companion organisms: one cannot stir together the appropriate raw materials and self-assemble a mouse. Complex organisms need further situational constraints and, specifically, they must come from preexisting organisms. This means that organisms — at least contemporary organisms — must be largely templeted.” (p. 65)

I concede that the plaintiffs may do better tomorrow. But so far, the cross-examination of Minnich was utterly unimpressive. All the plaintiffs have proven is that mainstream biologist have said many of the same things that Minnich testified to. After 150 years of research, apparently the initial argument that the Darwinist contingency can muster against the design of biological machines is based upon the genetic fallacy.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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