The Confusion of Kenneth Miller
- From: Seanpit <seanpitnospam@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Thu, 28 Jun 2007 19:11:13 -0700
On Jun 25, 2:03 pm, Giant Sloth <nospamm...@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
I've always been amazed at the time and effort Dr.Pitman puts into
the creationist cause. Lately I noticed a section of his website
devoted to Ken Miller. How he rips Miller's arguments to shreds!
Well, its just that Ken Miller so happens to be an excellent foil.
Why not ask him why he keeps arguing that higher-level functional
systems, like the flagellar motility system, are "reducible" when the
*motility* function, in particular, is clearly not "reducible" beyond
a fairly significant structural threshold limitation? I'm just amazed
that he can argue, with a straight face, that the maintenance of
subsystem functions, like the TTSS system, means that the overall
flagellar *motility* system is therefore reducible. As far as I can
tell, this is like arguing that the motility function of a car is
reducible - - because the lights and CD player still work when the
drive shaft or wheels are removed.
Anyone who actually approaches this problem with a candid mind can see
that this is a not-so-cleaver misdirect. I'm truly amazed that this
argument seems to have flown in Miller's lectures as well as it
apparently has. For me, this particular argument of Miller, though
quite critical and fundamental to the problem, is ill conceived. It
makes no sense to me at all.
As with my car, a certain minimum structural threshold is indeed
required for the *motility* function of the flagellum to be realized
to any useful advantage. This is a fact regardless of what other
subsystem functions might still work if the structural threshold
limitation for the motility function where crossed. By definition
then, the motility function of the bacterial flagellum is most
certainly "irreducibly complex" since it won't work at all, not even a
little bit, if its fairly high structural threshold isn't precisely in
If Miller's argument had been along the lines of, "Well, irreducible
complexity exists, but its existence doesn't pose a problem for
evolution because of the existence of functional subsystems." - - that
would have been a better approach. But, as his argument currently
stands, Miller starts off being wrong before his argument really gets
Ultimately, Miller's argument fails completely because of the problem
of linking up the various subsystem functions to form an new united
novel system of function - like flagellar motility where no such
motility existed before. Many like Miller think that as long as one
can find homology to all the subparts of a system within other
systems, that their assembly after this point is easily explained via
the thoughtless processes of random mutation and function-based
selection. What Miller evidently doesn't realize is that a relatively
large number of non-beneficial mutations need to occur to cross over
from any one of the proposed functionally beneficial steppingstones to
the next along the supposed pathway. Many dozens of mutational
changes would be required for most of the linkup steps to be
successfully achieved. That might not sound like a big deal. Yet, a
non-beneficial gap of just 30 or 40 specific residue changes would
require trillions of years for a bacterial colony the size of all the
bacteria on Earth to cross. Good luck with those odds!
Yet, Miller doesn't get into such details. He evidently thinks
presenting evidence of a few working subsystems solves the problem.
That notion is so far from the truth. What amazes me is that so many
people fall for this without any real thought or consideration of what
Miller is really suggesting or the real problems his notions pose when
it comes to real life. It just doesn't work; not on paper or in the
laboratory or even in all of nature in an observable way. It only
works in Miller's imagination. He simply imagines his way across the
gaps. Yet, when it comes to the real world, not a single step in the
proposed evolutionary sequence of a function as complex as flagellar
motility has ever been shown to evolve in real time - not a single
step. If it where so simple to get pre-existing functional systems to
join together to produce a novel system of function, beyond the
1,000aa threshold, then why has it never been observed? - not once?
Oh sure, Miller has lots of examples of evolution in action, such as
2,4-DNT, lactase, and nylonase, among many others. What no one seems
to consider is that all of these examples are based on the independent
action of protein-based systems that require no more than a few
hundred fairly specified amino acid residues. None of these systems
require specificity beyond 1000aa residues where each individual
residue must be specifically oriented relative to all the other
residues for the function in question to actually work.
It is much like the English language system. It is very easy to get
from cat to hat to bad to bid to did to dig to dog - where each
character mutation produces a new meaningful sequence (beneficial or
not in context) from the perspective of an English-speaking person.
It's all very easy and simple at this level because the ratio of
meaningful vs. meaningless is about 1:18 - a very high ratio providing
very good odds of success for random mutations (even for a very small
population). The problem is that the ratio drops exponentially with
each increase in the minimum sequence requirements. The ratio for a 7-
character minimum is about 1 in 250,000. This dramatic drop in ratio
starts to isolate potentially beneficial sequences like islands on a
vast ocean of non-beneficial sequences. Sure, the potentially
beneficial sequences remain somewhat clustered for a while. However,
very quickly, at higher and higher levels, they become remotely
isolated on the vastness of the expanding ocean. Getting from one to
any other higher-level island via a random swim or a random jump
becomes an effort in futility this side of trillions upon trillions of
years - even for huge populations. This is despite the fact that all
sequences with large minimum size and specificity requirements have
potentially functional subsequence sections with different unique
potentially beneficial independent functions.
Exactly the same thing happens for biosystems. Greater minimum
structural threshold requirements, as are seen in systems like
flagellar motility, end up separating such systems in the vastness of
non-beneficial sequence space from all other potentially beneficial
systems of lesser, equal, or greater structural threshold
requirements. This is what makes it easy to remove parts of the
larger system while still maintaining the function of the smaller
subsystem, but essentially impossible to go the other way and produce
the larger system starting from a collection of independently
functional subsystems. It is basically the same reason why Humpty
Dumpty couldn't be put back together again - even though the broken
parts of him might still have had independent utility ( i.e., His
parts could have perhaps been used for organ donation to save the
lives of other Humpty Dumpty's - but perhaps that's a little much for
a children's story?).
In any case, I'd be very interested to hear what Ken Miller would say
in response to some of these questions.
I pointed it out to Dr. Miller who was also impressed:
...wow.... am I flattered!
I'm delighted that I seem to have caused them so much trouble
that they need to "take care" of me in such a special way.
Later this week, my review of Michael Behe's new book
will be published in NATURE. I suspect that they will then
have even more things to say about me.
I'm sure. I too am flattered that several who frequent this forum
have devoted a fair degree of space on their own websites to "take
care" of me. In any case, my essay on Ken Miller's arguments is not
intended to be personal. I'm sure he is a fine gentleman. The fact
is though, he has spent a great deal of time on this issue presenting
ideas that, for me at least, don't seem to make good scientific
sense. I'm genuinely curious as to what his or anyone elses answers
to my questions might be? - serious answers. So far, the closest that
I've seen anyone come in an attempt to seriously consider and answer
these questions is the essay on flagellar evolution by Matzke. But not
even this essay really dealt with the problem of expanding non-
beneficial gaps. The steps were simply assumed to be small enough
without any real details or statistical analysis of the actual likely
gap sizes that do exist between the various steppingstones in the
proposed evolutionary pathway.
No doubt, although the book has been reviewed plenty already. But Dr.
Miller usually states his case so well!
Yes, especially for those who hear what they want to hear without
critically thinking about what Miller is actually saying - - and not
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