Logan Gage (DI) analogizes DNA with our evolved, undesigned, natural languages

On the DI’s weblog, Logan Gage quotes a Dr. Story (from Christianity Today), then proceeds to rapidly get matters quite wrong:

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? 

….  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. Behe’s Critics Fail to Understand Analogies and Design Detection

Actually, while Dr. Story is right enough in what he does mention, there are much better reasons not to accept Behe’s “arguments,” such as the fact that Behe manages to explain nothing about the lack of “common authorship,” after lines have diverged, of the various vertebrate wings, and of the two adaptive immune systems.  But the poor analogy of life’s machinery with designed machinery is certainly not a negligible argument, particularly because of the self-assembly that does not exist in human-made productions (one could argue that we now have harnessed self-assembly somewhat.  That it is nothing like life’s self-assembly is certain, however).

Moving to Gage’s response, I have never once understood the claim that there is a strong resemblance of the bacterial flagellum to an outboard motor.  The latter is made of metal, and is a heat engine (except for electrics, which also fail to work like a flagellum does).  The former’s materials are constrained by evolution, as is its chemical fuel.  And the parts do not look much the same at all, except in the rather misleading very mechanistic-looking illustrations that IDists are fond of using (there is nothing misleading about the figure to which he linked in normal science instruction, but it is misleading where one is claiming a strong resemblance between outboard motors and flagella).  Aside from rotary motion, I know of nothing closely or moderately analogous between an outboard motor and a flagellum, and that rotary motion is produced in a very different manner, while also propelling a very different sort of rotor.

Here, at figure 2, is an actual photomicrograph of a bacterial flagellum. It is somewhat machine-looking, all right (it is considered to be a machine, by today’s definition), but it looks far less like one of our mechanisms than the illustration to which Gage linked.

Gage moves on to the fact that self-assembly is disanalogous, but claims analogy all the same, because reproduction of bacteria means that their machinery is “MORE complex” than our own. Which suggests that he is playing fast and loose with words and definitions.  See for yourself:

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.  Behe’s Critics Fail to Understand Analogies and Design Detection

Gage is apparently confused by Behe’s “complexity argument,” thereby being unable to notice that reproduction is hardly analogous with our non-reproductive machines, and indeed, reproducing robots and factories of our design are expected to have to reproduce very differently from how bacteria do.

Paley also made this argument, that reproduction of his example, the watch, would imply even greater intelligence behind it.  Which might be reasonable for Paley, because he did not recognize the reproduction is exactly what evolution needs, and, one might argue, even “predicts.”  Moreover, the reproductive methods of both eukaryotes (often with eukaryotic flagella getting the sperm to the egg) and of prokaryotes only make sense in evolutionary context, for IDists have never come up with a “design explanation” for the existence of sex and of bacterial conjugation.  The fact is that clades distribute according to clonal (with conjugation) patterns, and to sexual patterns, quite as one would expect from evolutionary predictions, and do not exhibit intervention by any “designer.”

Gage failed to support the analogy, and to show that reproduction is anything but a source of evidence that evolution occurred without any reason to suppose that any intelligence intervened.

Gage again:

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.  Ibid.

Actually, Behe rests almost all of his “arguments” on faulty analogies, although he does base his “irreducibly complex argument” on faulty assumptions–these assumptions being both the “purpose” for which he never provides evidence, and the silly notion that complexity sans the design characteristic of rationality is evidence of intelligent intervention.

I wrote the post linked here before the present one, so that I could refer back to it.  Behe’s acceptance of the molecular clock as a viable possibility, and the evidence of common descent–which likewise depends upon non-intervention by a designer–demonstrate that Behe is not resting his “argument” upon similarities with human designs, he is trying to claim that non-teleological evolutionary expectations are the result of a designer.  It was Paley who argued that life really was made like an architect or artificer would produce, while Behe refuses all tests of design, mainly because he has no evidence for design.

Those who worry about “interference” should relax.  The purposeful design of life to any degree is easily compatible with the idea that, after its initiation, the universe unfolded exclusively by the intended playing out of laws.  Michael Behe  The Edge of Evolution, 232

This is Behe with his get-out-of-jail-free card.  In the end, his ID predicts absolutely nothing (though in other places he claims otherwise), including intervention (which contrasts with his interventionist view of the “Cambrian Explosion” in DBB).  This is completely contrary to what Gage said above, although it is also completely contrary to most of what Behe wrote in his books as well.  Yet in this place, he is (if he understands the implications of this statement) pointedly denying the “shared properties” of human and biological entities, for clearly, shared properties would require intervention by a designer that made objects akin to our own.

This was Gage’s supporting “argument” for the idea that Behe is discussing “shared properties” of human-made and biological entities:

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.  Behe’s Critics Fail to Understand Analogies and Design Detection

I do not recall Behe making such an argument, although I would not be surprised if he has done so.  But there are two large problems for such an argument:  The first is that human languages also were not “designed,” with semantic structure apparently evolving at least part of the way prior to language, and evolving since humans began to truly speak.  It is begging the question to assume that human language was somehow “designed” apart from evolution, when all of the evidence indicates that, like nucleic codes, human language evolved.  The second problem pales by comparison, but of course the semantic structure of DNA is not that of a “natural language” at all.

I suppose that Gage is trying to claim that because human language (which he assumes, against the evidence, was “designed” or some such thing) has semantics, and the genetic code can be understood to have semantics, that the two have the same properties.  Since the DNA code, and what is encoded by it, is not like a “natural language” used by humanity, it is the same old argument by “analogy” that is presented by Gage–at least as weak as all of the other “analogies.” 

And, as I stated above, if we actually follow the analogy we’ll end by recognizing that human language semantics evolved without guidance (save our own evolving guidance), and so did DNA with its “semantics”.  So they can have that analogy, if they want to have it, and we will understand that DNA must have evolved, instead of being intelligently designed.

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