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Excerpt: A Reply to Michael Ruse

Michael Behe
Photo: Michael Behe speaking at the 2020 Dallas Conference on Science & Faith, by Chris Morgan.

Editor’s note: We are delighted to celebrate the publication of the new book A Mousetrap for Darwin: Michael J. Behe Answers His Critics. What follows is an excerpt: “A Reply to Michael Ruse,” Research News & Opportunity in Science and Theology (July/August 2002).

Authors’ note: This article appeared in a discussion of intelligent design published in Research News & Opportunity in Science and Theology (now discontinued). Other contributors included Karl Giberson, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott, William Dembski, Robert Pennock, and Jonathan Wells. Philosopher Ruse unwisely stepped out of his area of expertise to weigh in on a scientific dispute between Russell Doolittle and myself.

If nothing else, Michael Ruse has chutzpah.

Let me tell a little story about blood clotting, Russell Doolittle, and Michael Ruse. In 1996, in Darwin’s Black Box, I argued (“notoriously”) that the blood clotting cascade is irreducibly complex (that is, if a part is removed the cascade doesn’t work), and so is a problem for Darwinian evolution and is better explained by intelligent design. However, Russell Doolittle — professor of biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, member of the National Academy of Sciences, and lifelong student of the blood clotting system — disagreed. Writing in 1997 in Boston Review, a publication of MIT, Doolittle pointed to a then-recent report which, he claimed, showed that several parts of the clotting system — plasminogen and fibrinogen — could be “knocked out” of mice without ill effect. (Fibrinogen is the fabric of the clot. Plasminogen removes clots once healing is complete.) According to Professor Doolittle, if one component is removed, the mice are in bad shape, but if two components are removed, the mice were normal.1 While that would be an interesting result, it’s incorrect. Doolittle misread the report.

The authors of the paper wrote in their abstract that “Mice deficient in plasminogen and fibrinogen are phenotypically indistinguishable from fibrinogen-deficient mice.”2 In other words, mice lacking both components have all the problems that mice lacking just fibrinogen have. Those problems include failure to clot, hemorrhage, and death of females during pregnancy. The mice are very far from “normal.” They are decidedly not promising evolutionary intermediates.

Why ID Is Scorned?

A year later, apparently unaware of Doolittle’s mistake, Ruse instructed the readers of Free Inquiry on why intelligent design proponents are scorned.

For example, Behe is a real scientist, but this case for the impossibility of a small-step natural origin of biological complexity has been trampled upon contemptuously by the scientists working in the field. They think his grasp of the pertinent science is weak and his knowledge of the literature curiously (although conveniently) outdated. For example, far from the evolution of clotting being a mystery, the past three decades of work by Russell Doolittle and others has thrown significant light on the ways in which clotting came into being. More than this, it can be shown that the clotting mechanism does not have to be a one-step phenomenon with everything already in place and functioning. One step in the cascade involves fibrinogen, required for clotting, and another, plaminogen [sic], required for clearing clots away.3

And Ruse went on to quote the passage from Doolittle I quoted above. Ruse was so impressed with Doolittle’s work that he even copied his typo/misspelling, “plaminogen.” Let me state clearly what this means. Ruse is a prominent academic Darwinian philosopher. Yet he apparently didn’t even bother to look up and understand the original paper on the hemorrhaging mice before deciding Doolittle was right and I was contemptibly wrong. To this day he takes sides in a scientific dispute he shows no signs of understanding.

Why Ruse Is Confident

But perchance Ruse is so confident because “the rest of the scientific community agrees” with Doolittle (how does Ruse know this?) that I’m “simply not up to date.” Well, maybe many scientists do agree with Doolittle. But those who do are as wrong as he was. In my travels I’ve had quite a few scientists sneeringly throw his erroneous Boston Review argument at me. Just recently Neil S. Greenspan, a professor of pathology at Case Western Reserve University, wrote in The Scientist, “The Design advocates also ignore the accumulating examples of the reducibility of biological systems. As Russell Doolittle has noted in commenting on the writings of one ID advocate…”4 and Greenspan goes on to approvingly cite Doolittle’s mistaken argument in Boston Review.

Then with innocent irony Greenspan continues, “These results cast doubt on the claim by proponents of ID that they know which systems exhibit irreducible complexity and which do not.” But since the results of the hemorrhaging-mice study were precisely the opposite of what Doolittle along with Ruse, Greenspan, and other copycats thought, the shoe is on the other foot. The Doolittle incident shows that Darwinists in fact don’t know how natural selection could assemble complex biochemical systems. Worse, it shows that they either cannot or will not recognize problems for their theory.

I’ll bet a philosopher like Ruse could think of some other reasons why a lot of the scientific community is up in arms over intelligent design besides spurious claims that we “fail to understand the workings of evolution.”

Notes

  1. Russell F. Doolittle, “A Delicate Balance,” Boston Review (February/March 1997): 28-29.
  2. Thomas H. Bugge et al., “Loss of Fibrinogen Rescues Mice from the Pleiotropic Effects of Plasminogen Deficiency,” Cell 87, no. 4 (November 15, 1996): 709-719.
  3. Michael Ruse, “Answering the Creationists: Where They Go Wrong and What They’re Afraid of,” Free Inquiry 18, no. 2 (Spring 1998): 28.
  4. Neil Greenspan, “Not-So-Intelligent Design,” The Scientist (March 3, 2002).