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Nasty E-mails from Kansas Darwinists and the Bacterial Flagellum

Casey Luskin

Discovery Institute gets a lot of nasty e-mail from name-calling Darwinists. But since the launch of, the amount of nasty e-mailage has gone up about five-fold–something I barely thought possible (this resembles the post-Dover barrage of Darwinist hate-mail). In the past couple weeks I’ve had e-mails from Kansas tell me things like “Patton knew how to handle you fascist bastards,” “Your agenda is clear — secular schools cannot be tolerated, just as your spiritual leader Adolf Hitler said,” and “Religously speaking — GO TO HELL!” (all direct quotes from e-mails I’ve recently received from Kansas). Very interesting!

In any case, I have no ill-will whatsoever towards these people, but one recent less-inflammatory but nonetheless name-calling e-mail came from a Kansas Darwinist named Dr. Robert Bowden. (To be clear, Dr. Bowden was not the sender of the above-quoted e-mails.) Dr. Bowden is adjunct faculty in plant pathology at Kansas State University, and a signer of the anti-KS science standards position paper from Kansas Citizens for Science. Last year Dr. Bowden was quoted in an Associated Press article engaging in ad hominem attacks against the various scientists who participated in the Kansas Science Standard hearings:

“They’re creationists first and scientists second,” Robert Bowden, a plant pathologist at Kansas State University, said after Friday’s hearing.

(Associated Press, “Critics say creationism is true agenda,” May 7, 2005, as found at

A couple of days ago, Dr. Bowden wrote us recently to state to us that we are “anti-intellectual”:

Your article on testability is wrong because Behe’s Irreducible Complexity concept is not a necessary prediction of ID. If IRC of the flagellum were soundly rejected, it would not convince most IDers. You would move the goal posts to another supposedly better IRC system. Or maybe you would abandon IRC altogether. But if IRC were to fall, it still would not disprove ID. Behe admitted he could accept common descent it in his book. ID can accommodate any and all things, including macroevolution.

THAT is what is meant by ID not being testable. You admit as much in your own words, “The flagellum might still be designed, but Behe’s means of detecting such design would have been falsified.” Therefore your title is wrong too. Intelligent Design is not empirically testable.

By the way, a possible Darwinian pathway for the bacterial flagellum HAS been described. How much money are you spending trying to flesh it out? If you were real scientists, that is what you would be doing.

My only question is whether you are consciously or unconsciously being anti-intellectual?

Dr. Robert Bowden

Manhattan, Kansas

We get called names like “anti-intellectual” all the time. But at least this name-calling Darwinist refreshingly also posed a legitimate question that deserves a response.

When responding to these kinds of e-mails, I recommend taking an intellectually and morally high-road approach: (1) be nice (i.e. see the Google motto); (2) acknowledge their good points and try to address them in a friendly manner; and (3) generally ignore the name-calling and don’t name-call back. (More advice like this to come in the next couple weeks). In any case, here’s my reply to Dr. Bowden’s e-mail:

Dear Dr. Bowden,

Greetings and thanks for your e-mail. I appreciate your thoughtful question but unfortunately I believe you may have some misunderstandings about intelligent design (ID). Please allow me to do my best to explain.

Science can infer intelligent design for the origin of a biological structure using irreducible complexity based upon the observation that intelligent agents are in our experience the sole producer of irreducibly complex systems. Thus when we find irreducibly complex systems, we are justified in inferring design. This is explained by Stephen Meyer and Scott Minnich:

“In all irreducibly complex systems in which the cause of the system is known by experience or observation, intelligent design or engineering played a role the origin of the system. Given that neither standard neo-Darwinism, nor co-option has adequately accounted for the origin of these machines, or the appearance of design that they manifest, one might now consider the design hypothesis as the best explanation for the origin of irreducibly complex systems in living organisms. That we have encountered systems that tax our own capacities as design engineers, justifiably lead us to question whether these systems are the product of undirected, un-purposed, chance and necessity. Indeed, in any other context we would immediately recognize such systems as the product of very intelligent engineering. Although some may argue this is a merely an argument from ignorance, we regard it as an inference to the best explanation [21, 22], given what we know about the powers of intelligent as opposed to strictly natural or material causes.”

(Scott A. Minnich and Stephen C. Meyer, “Genetic analysis of coordinate flagellar and type III regulatory circuits in pathogenic bacteria,” Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Design & Nature, Rhodes Greece, edited by M.W. Collins and C.A. Brebbia (WIT Press, 2004).)

Thus, if irreducible complexity is refuted for a particular system, then that might simply imply that system is not best explained by intelligent design. The fact that some systems are not best explained by design does not imply that therefore no systems are best explained by design. Like any explanantory cause in historical sciences, intelligent design is to be applied on a case-by-case basis. In some cases evolutionary mechanisms might be the best explanation. In other cases, intelligent design. The point is that intelligent design is assessed on a case-by-case basis–there is no “moving of the goal posts,” as you speak, by simply moving to another system.

Also, the fact that irreducible complexity is falsifiable implies that one method of detecting design has been falsified. There are other possible ways to detect design, such as searching for high levels of specified complexity. That’s probably what was meant in the URL you cited. But intelligent design is ultimately falsifiable. The ultimate falsifier of intelligent design for a given system would be to find that a biological structure has no function whatsoever.

As noted, intelligent design is inferred based upon our understanding of what intelligent agents do when they act, and trying to find objects in nature which match patterns reliable known to come from intelligent agents. But we know from observations that intelligent agents make things for a reason. So if something has truly no function, then we can rule out design for the origin of that non-functionality. For example, if supposed “junk-DNA” is really non-functional, then we can rule out the possibility that it arrived at that non-functional state via design. Intelligent design is falsifiable (and therefore testable).

Finally, you made various inappropriate namecalling attacks against Discovery Institute based upon the incorrect assertion that Discovery Institute is not funding laboratory research.

In fact Discovery Institute does fund such research. Moreover, the very paper cited above by Minnich and Meyer is proof that ID proponents are doing experimental work on the evolvability of the flagellum, something you incorrectly asserted (in order to again call names) is not happening. The laboratory research reported in that paper implies that the type three secretory system is woefully insufficient to account for the evolution of the flagellum. In fact the experimental work reported in that paper indicate that the type three secretory system could not have been an evolutionary precursor to the flagellum.

If you would like more information, I recommend reading the paper. It’s available freely online from Discovery’s website at:

Finally, you asserted “a possible Darwinian pathway for the bacterial flagellum HAS been described.” I’m always interested in learning about new scientific discoveries that can challenge intelligent design, because falsification and testing is a major way that scientific knowledge progresses. Thus I’d like to know more and request that you please provide the reference for that claim. I’d love to check it out and verify if what you are saying is accurate, but it is difficult to do so without any sort of reference.

Thanks and I hope that clarifies.


Casey Luskin

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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