Prague sabbath of intelligent designers and mousetraps
Stanislav Mihulka Imagine a common mousetrap. A piece of wood, spring, a couple of wire, bait – and a mouse walking by can count the last seconds of its life. Would you believe that there are people who claim that all living creatures are in reality such mousetraps? Precisely these people met in prague last weekend. They are the supporters of the Intelligent Designer (or the theory of Intelligent Design), religiously oriented opponents of evolutionary thinking. The wave of neo-conservatism in the US brought on the surface besides other strange things these contemporary upgraded kreationists who had started to claim they were not creationists at all. The creationists believe in creation of the wowrld strictly according to the Bible. The Bible to them presents a realistic description of the events, the evolution does not exist at all, of course. The Designers do not go so far and feel satisfied with saying that there is an evolution but it is not able to create anything new, it only changes and remakes the existing things. Something special, mysterious is necessary for creation of new things. Evolution – they say – is not blind Now what do the mousetraps have to do with this idea? For the Designers the mousetrap is a most persuasive yet simple example of the so-called irreducibly complex structure. What is it? They keep speaking about these irreducibly complex structures, yet – as with other religiously oriented opponents of the evolution – it is not quite clear what it should be. The ongoing debates seem to clarify that it should be practically anything composed of several parts necessary for the function of the item. The mousetrap – says an Intelligent Designer supporter – can work only when all the pieces are present – the piece of wood, spring, deadly wire and bait. For them, such a moustrap is way too complex to have developed on it own. The same is true about the nature. Things that cannot be simplified by taking away some parts without losing the normal function are, according to the designers, irreducibly complex. From this they reason that no such thing could have originated spontaneously by a blind evolution from a simpler form to a more complex, therefore an Intelligent Designer must have created them. God is the Designer The supporters of this idea do not openly say who or what is the Designer but the God of the radical American Protestants is clearly visible among the lines. What should be such a irreducibly complex structure in the nature? The Designers keep repeating only several examples – the enzymatic mechanism of blood clotting, the eye, the ATP synthase and the bacterial flagellum. All of these examples were discredited several times as nonsense. Yet the ID supporters keep using them as the main proofs of their theological theories.
In simple words, the scientists have quite a clear idea howw the blood clotting mechanism in vertebrates developed by simple steps, what was the evolution of the eye like, they know how the bacterial flagella originated and it is rather obvious that the ATP Synthase is a huge and complicated enyzme that developed piece by piece from simpler enzymes called helikases. It can be clearly seen in all of these things and in the whole nature. History is definitely engraved in all living creatures. Even though people may often not think so, the nature is the opposite of perfection. Organisms seem to be „home-made“, which might point either to an evolutionary history, or a designer belonging to a mental institution. We know of imperfect eyes also When we speak about the irreducible complexity, the point is that the biologists know not only those complex and seemingly „perfect“ organs or molecules known to the public too, but also some much less perfect eyes or enzymes which in effect show the way of slow evolution. We know many types of eyes, some better, some worse, some hopeless. But even a hopeless eye capable only of distinguishing between light and darkness is better than no eye at all. An imperfect blood with reactions that can stop bleeding only in part, is incomparably better than blood with no clotting function at all. When the Intelligent Designer fans argue that they cannot imagine how the blood clotting mechanism, the eye, the ATP Synthase or the bacterial flagellum could have originated, they present a case for a psychiatrist, not a biologist. And since these ideas keep spreading, they should receive an official diagnosis description with the appropriate number. In popular literature it could be called – after the best known supporter of the Intelligent Designer and author of the book Darwin´s Black Box, Michael Behe – Behe´s Dementia or a stubborn unability to imagine something that is quite imaginable. Evolution of the mousetrap Well, not even the abovementioned mousetrap is not irreducibly complex. First of all, I am sure it did not develop in such a way that some smart designer sat down, thought deeply and invented the piece of wood, spring, wire and bait and put them together in a flash of creation. The technician who created the best known form of mousetrap most probably used parts that were originally made for a different purpose and put them together on the basis of his previous experience and knowledge. Suprisingly, the evolution works precisely the same way. It is very easy to find on the web some really detailed descriptions of different way of how the evolution of the mousetraps might have had looked had they been a product of a biological evolution. In other words, how can a seemingly irreducible mousetrap be reduced by taking away of individual parts into a simpler system while the function still remains. An interested reader will be delighted (in contrast with the creationists´ websites) by the joking easiness, humor and detailed animations. A little sample of one of the possible ways of development: step one: the mousetrap consists of only one part – a piece of wood – which is placed above a mouse hole. Here it waits for the unlucky mouse hiding inside. Well, this kind of mousetrap might hardly ever work but even that is better than never. And this is the kind of mousetrap somehow better than others – that the evolution would chose for the next theoretical generations. Religious background is good for the designers The intelligents designers prosper in the bizzare religious background of the USA. They are fairly aggressive, know how to manipulate the public and practice not a scientific form of
dialogue but a political or religious propaganda. This leaves scientists used to rational arguments in a disadvantage. Fairly often they induce lawsuits which seem kind of funny for us in the Czech Republic that ought to decide whether the idea of an Intelligent Designer is scientific or not. By the way, it is not since it does not use the scientific methodology, but let us wait for the court´s judgment. The American scientists and teachers are persecuted in a quite unpleasant way and the evolution is a good fuel for heated discussions. In our atheistic part of the world the designers make only for a unique exotic oddity so we can look at them with a tolerance. The Author is a biologist, teaches at a university (sorry, couldn´t read which from the copy)