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Ken Miller and the Evolution of the Immune System: “Not Good Enough”?

Casey Luskin

Download the Complete “Truth or Dare” with Dr. Ken Miller Lecture Guide

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Links to our 7-Part Series Responding to Ken Miller:

Part 1: Science and Religion: Is Evolution “Random and Undirected”?
Part 2: Misrepresenting the Definition of Intelligent Design
Part 3: Confusing Evidence for Common Ancestry With Evidence for Darwinian Evolution
Part 4: The Name-Dropping Approach to Transitional Fossils
Part 5: Spinning Tales About the Bacterial Flagellum
Part 6: Misrepresenting Michael Behe’s Arguments for Irreducible Complexity of the Blood Clotting Cascade
Part 7 (This Article): Ken Miller and the Evolution of the Immune System: “Not Good Enough”?

Brown University biologist Ken Miller often attacks ID proponent Michael Behe, and in doing so usually misrepresents his arguments, just as he has done when talking about the origin of the immune system.

In Only a Theory, Miller claims that when the plaintiffs’ attorneys at the Dover trial did a literature-dump bluff on Behe during cross-examination–placing before him over 50 papers and nearly a dozen books purportedly explaining the evolution of the immune system–that Behe said that they were “not ‘good enough.'” Miller even goes so far as to characterize Behe’s response as follows: “Even when presented with every opportunity to make their case, the defenders of design resorted to little more than saying ‘It’s not good enough for me’ in the face of overwhelming evidence for evolution.”41 What did Behe really say?

If by overwhelming evidence for “evolution,” Miller meant neo-Darwinian evolution, where random mutation and natural selection are the driving force generating biological complexity in an adaptive, step-by-step fashion, then Behe is on quite firm ground in doubting Miller’s assertion of “overwhelming” evidence for the evolution of the immune system. Behe knew this, and thus stated during his cross examination about the immune system: “In many of [the papers] they’re not actually discussing mutation. They’re discussing similarities and sequences between parts of the immune system in vertebrates and some elements of transposons.”42

The plaintiffs’ attorney wouldn’t give up. In another exchange Behe was asked “Now, these articles rebut your assertion that scientific literature has no answers on the origin of the vertebrate immune system?” and he replied:

A. No, they certainly do not. My answer, or my argument is that the literature has no detailed rigorous explanations for how complex biochemical systems could arise by a random mutation and natural selection and these articles do not address that.

Q. So these are not good enough?

A. They’re wonderful articles. They’re very interesting. They simply just don’t address the question that I pose.43

The relentless plaintiffs’ attorney then pestered Behe again with nearly the same question “Is that your position today that these articles aren’t good enough, you need to see a step-by-step description?” and Behe clearly replied, “These articles are excellent articles I assume. However, they do not address the question that I am posing. So it’s not that they aren’t good enough.

It’s simply that they are addressed to a different subject.”44

The plaintiffs’ attorney continued pressing Behe, and later Behe again emphasized this point: “Most of them have evolution or related words in the title, so I can confirm that, but what I strongly doubt is that any of these address the question in a rigorous detailed fashion of how the immune system or irreducibly complex components of it could have arisen by random mutation and natural selection.”45

Does Behe say, as Miller characterizes it, “It’s not good enough for me,” or in Judge Jones’ words, the papers are “not ‘good enough'”? Not at all, because Behe actually says: “These articles are excellent articles I assume. However, they do not address the question that I am posing. So it’s not that they aren’t good enough. It’s simply that they are addressed to a different subject.”

In other words, Behe said precisely the opposite of what Miller claims Behe said. Of course Miller copied the error from Judge Jones, who copied the error from the ACLU’s “Findings of Facts and Conclusions of Law” brief,46 but unfortunately this false account of Behe’s testimony continues to be perpetuated by Miller in his books and lectures about Dover.

More important than all of this is the fact that Behe’s response to these papers was right on target: the papers dumped on Behe during cross-examination made for a nice display of courtroom theatrics, but they did not establish a step-by-step Darwinian explanation of the origin of the immune system. Instead, the papers made comparisons of DNA sequences–a type of evidence that doesn’t refute irreducible complexity, making the same mistake discussed earlier in, “Confusing Evidence for Common Ancestry with Evidence for Darwinian Evolution.”

I. Truth or Dare: What did Michael Behe really say in response to the plaintiffs’ literature dump bluff purporting to show scientific papers that explained the evolution of the immune system? Did Behe really say the papers are “not good enough”? What do these papers actually show about the evolution of the immune system? Do they offer rigorous step-by-step explanations of how the immune system evolved, or do they make sequence comparisons between genes involved in the immune system and genes elsewhere in biology?

References Cited:
[41.] Only a Theory, p. 74 (2008).
[42.] Day 12 PM testimony, p. 12.
[43.] Day 12 PM testimony, p. 16.
[44.] Day 12 PM testimony, pp. 18-19, emphasis added.
[45.] Day 12 PM testimony, pp. 20-21.
[46.] See “A Comparison of Judge Jones’ Opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover with Plaintiffs’ Proposed ‘Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law’


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.



Immune SystemKen MillerMichael Behe