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Behe Critic on Bacterial Flagellum: No Intelligence Required Because “Natural forces work ‘like magic'”

John G. West

Over at BioLogos, biologist Kathryn Applegate has offered what has to be one of the more creative alternatives to the intelligent design of the bacterial flagellum: Magic. I’m not kidding. Applegate readily concedes biochemist Michael Behe‘s point that the flagellum “looks and functions just like the outboard motor, a machine designed by intelligent human engineers. So conspicuous is the resemblance that it seems perfectly logical to infer a Designer for the flagellum.” But, wait, she says: “The bacterial flagellum may look like an outboard motor, but there is at least one profound difference: the flagellum assembles spontaneously, without the help of any conscious agent.” (emphasis added) 

Acknowledging that “the self-assembly of such a complex machine almost defies the imagination,” Dr. Applegate assures her readers that this is not really a problem because “Natural forces work ‘like magic.” Presto, chango, something appears!

Now Dr. Applegate admits that in our common experience things don’t just magically self-assemble without any guiding intelligence. “We’ve all put together toys, furniture, or appliances; even the simplest designs require conscious coordination of materials, tools, and assembly instructions (and even then there’s no guarantee that we get it right!).” However, Dr. Applegate assures us that with nature things are different. “It is tempting to think the spontaneous formation of so complex a machine is ‘guided,’ whether by a Mind or some ‘life force’ but we know that the bacterial flagellum, like countless other machines in the cell, assembles and functions automatically according to known natural laws. No intelligence required.” (emphasis added)

One wonders whether Dr. Applegate draws the same conclusion every time she opens a spreadsheet program and discovers that it “magically” adds and subtracts sums—no intelligence required. Or when her word processing program “magically” checks the grammar and spelling of her blog posts—no intelligence required. One further wonders whether Dr. Applegate has ever visited a modern assembly line, where robotic equipment “magically” assembles any number of amazing products—no intelligence required.

Of course, intelligence is required for each of these actions; the intelligence simply happens to be pre-programmed into the computer operations and assembly instructions. Similarly, the so-called magical assembly of the bacterial flagellum requires massive amounts of genetic information encoded in DNA, and as Stephen Meyer has persuasively argued in Signature in the Cell, that information cannot be accounted for simply as the product of a blind physical law. It requires intelligence.

In the words of C.S. Lewis’s admirable Prof. Kirke, “Logic! Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?”

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.