Behe’s Critics Fail to Understand Analogies and Design Detection

Whenever biochemist Michael Behe’s argument for design from “irreducibly complex” molecular machines appears, there is a Darwinist waiting in the wings with a devastating critique (or so he thinks).
Take as an example the following passage from biologist Craig M. Story. He recently reviewed Fazale Rana’s new book The Cell’s Design for Christianity Today (see “Same Song, Second Verse“). In his review, he critiques Behe’s argument, because according to Dr. Story, Rana merely regurgitates Behe.

Rana, like Behe before him, may be commended for providing a layman’s description of a number of astonishingly intricate cellular processes. But his portraits of cellular workings will fail to convince most mainstream scientists for the same reason that Behe’s book has been roundly dismissed: The analogy between manmade machines and cells is a poor one at best. Cellular components, although machine-like in some respects, do not behave like manmade machines. They self-assemble and self-manufacture, and they are able to transform available energy sources such as light to fuel metabolic activity.

Now what’s wrong with this reply? Didn’t we all learn from Hume that arguments from analogy are inherently weak?

Well, not really. What we were supposed to learn from Hume is that analogical arguments are only as strong as the analogy (and keep in mind that ALL analogies have differences, otherwise they would not be analogies). How anyone who has seen a bacterial flagellum could think there is not a strong resemblance to an outboard motor in both appearance and function is, I admit, beyond me.
Even if irreducibly complex systems are disanalogous to human-made machines, we must ask in what respect they are disanalogous. According to Story, “Cellular components, although machine-like in some respects, do not behave like manmade machines. They self-assemble and self-manufacture, and they are able to transform available energy sources such as light to fuel metabolic activity. The cell can also replicate itself and copies of its parts, given energy and simple raw materials.”
But what does this show? Only that while cellular components are similar in many ways, they are also different in that…cells are actually much MORE complex than human-made machines! And therefore, it is likely that the process by which the cells originated is at least as complex as the process by which human-made machines appear (which we know involves intelligent design). What, after all, would we conclude if we stumbled upon a factory where machines not only worked with amazing efficiency but, before wearing out, actually reproduced themselves with astounding accuracy and converted energy from their environment into usable fuel so that they never needed electricity or gas?
In sum, if Rana is indeed making an argument from analogy, I think he escapes Story’s criticism unscathed.
What is worse for Dr. Story is that Behe does NOT make an argument from analogy, anyway. The arguments proffered by both Behe and other design theorists like Dembski and Meyer focus on the properties humanly designed objects and biological objects actually share, not properties that have some analogous resemblance.
For instance, these theorists often point to what is at the heart of all biological life, namely DNA. They then point out that this biological information has the SAME semantic properties that human written or spoken language has. They are not making an analogy at all. Rather, at the very heart of life, we have found a property that in every other situation we KNOW is designed. The same goes for the organizational properties and the functions displayed by a host of irreducibly complex molecular machines. These properties and functions are ones held in common with human-made machines. They are not mere analogous properties.
So, perhaps Story is right in at least one respect. The “mainstream scientists” he has in mind may, sadly, not be convinced by Behe’s argument. But if that is so, one can only suspect that that is because they, like Story, while understanding a great deal of biology fail to understand the design argument.

Logan Paul Gage

Logan Paul Gage is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Dr. Gage received his B.A. in history, philosophy, and American studies from Whitworth College (2004) and his M.A. (2011) and Ph.D. (2014) in philosophy from Baylor University. His dissertation, written under the supervision of Trent Dougherty, was a defense of the phenomenal conception of evidence and conservative principles in epistemology.



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