12 January 2009
Michael J Behe
Brown University Professor Kenneth Miller has gotten into a little tiffwith Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin over what I said/meant about the blood clotting cascade in Darwin’s Black Box. This is the first of two posts commenting on that.
In Chapter 4 of Darwin’s Black Box I first described the clotting cascade and then, in a section called “Similarities and Differences”, analyzed it in terms of irreducible complexity. Near the beginning of that part I had written, “Leaving aside the system before the fork in the pathway, where details are less well known, the blood clotting system fits the definition of irreducible complexity… The components of the system (beyond the fork in the pathway) are fibrinogen, prothrombin, Stuart factor, and proaccelerin.” Casey Luskin concludes that from that point on I was focusing my argument on the system beyond the fork in the pathway, containing those components I named. That is a reasonable conclusion because, well, because that’s what I said I was doing, and Mr. Luskin can comprehend the English language.
Apparently Prof. Miller can’t. He breathlessly reports that one page after I had qualified my argument I wrote “Since each step necessarily requires several parts, not only is the entire blood-clotting system irreducibly complex, but so is each step in the pathway” and Miller asserts that meant I had inexplicably switched back to considering the whole cascade, including the initial steps. It seems not to have occurred to Miller that that sentence should be read in the context of the previous page, so he focuses on the components before the fork, the better to construct a strawman to knock down. In fact, in that section containing the second quote (“Since each step…”) I was arguing about the difficulty of inserting a new step into the middle of a generic, pre-existing cascade (“One could imagine a blood clotting system that was somewhat simpler than the real one—where, say, Stuart factor, after activation by the rest of the cascade, directly cuts fibrinogen to form fibrin, bypassing thrombin”), and likened it to inserting a lock in a ship canal. It could be done if an intelligent agent were directing it, but it would be really difficult to do by chance/selection. All that seems to have passed Miller by.
In philosophy there is something called the “principle of charitable reading.” In a nutshell it means that one should construe an author’s argument in the best way possible, so that the argument is engaged in its strongest form. Unfortunately, in my experience Miller does the opposite — call it the “principle of malicious reading.” He ignores (or doesn’t comprehend) context, ignores (or doesn’t comprehend) the distinctions an author makes, and construes the argument in the worst way possible. (See my previous posts on July 11-12, 2007 about Miller’s tendentious review ofThe Edge of Evolution.)
Good salesmanship. Bad scholarship.