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Saturday, January 3, 2009
A Fish on Dry Land

As a spokesperson for the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, Casey Luskin is charged with the task of convincing the public that there are serious debates amongst scientists concerning the scientific validity of evolution and that Intelligent Design (ID) offers an viable scientific alternative. Since there are no such debates, Luskin's job requires him to constantly swim upstream against an ever-rising deluge of scientific data.

Recently, Luskin has taken it upon himself to devote a significant amount of time (and bandwidth) to rehashing one of the landmark events in the history of the anti-evolution movement, the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial of 2005. Continually putting the focus on the ID movement's embarassing Kitzmiller defeat seems like unnecessary self flagellation, but it is apparently all that Luskin has to talk about since the concept of "Intelligent Design" has been put on ice following Kitzmiller.

In a recent three-part series (1, 2, 3), Luskin tackled Kenneth R. Miller's Kitzmiller testimony, claiming that Miller misrepresented Michael Behe's arguments about the irreducible complexity of the blood-clotting cascade by using "smoke and mirrors."

In what essentially boils down to a game of bait-and-switch, Luskin argued that the blood-clotting cascade is still irreducibly complex because it contains an "irreducible core" of parts. In Part 1 of his series, Luskin used the analogy of a bicycle to explain the "irreducible core" concept:

I like to explain the "irreducible core" using the analogy of a bicycle: A bicycle has an irreducible core that requires a frame, two wheels, a motor mechanism (like legs on pedals), and a steering mechanism (like handle-bars attached to the front wheel). A bicycle also has a seat, but obviously you can ride a bike without a seat (though it wouldn't be very fun). So, while the seat sure helps a lot, it is not part of the irreducible core of a bike. Same could be said for light deflectors, etc. So the fact that a bike has a couple dispensable parts doesn't mean that there isn't an irreducible core to a bike.

Luskin revisited his analogy in Part 2:

Bicycles have two wheels. Unicycles, having only one wheel, are missing an obvious component found on bicycles. Does this imply that you can remove one wheel from a bicycle and it will still function? Of course not. Try removing a wheel from a bike and you'll quickly see that it requires two wheels to function. The fact that a unicycle lacks certain components of a bicycle does not mean that the bicycle is therefore not irreducibly complex.

As you can probably guess, Luskin's bicycle analogy was like chum in the water for critics of ID. Carl Zimmer was the first to pick up the scent. As you can clearly see in the picture on the right, it turns out that one-wheeled bicycles can and do still function (for a better demonstration, see this movie).

Interestingly, bicycles with one wheel have been co-opted for other functions, as seen in the "Bikamper" by Topeak:

Clearly, Luskin's bicycle analogy was a total flop, but what about the rest of his arguments?

Well, Ken Miller has now responded with his own 3-part series of guest-posts on Carl Zimmer's blog, The Loom.

In Part 1, Miller responded directly to Luskin's "smoke and mirrors" charge:

I wasn't blowing any "smoke" when I characterized Behe's views as pertaining to the entire clotting pathway in both books. What I was actually doing, unlike Luskin, was taking Behe's claims in their totality. Behe really did argue that the whole system is irreducibly complex, and that it would be impossible for evolution to add so much as a single step to it. That's why I testified to the effect those missing clotting factors in the pufferfish were a fatal blow to Behe's argument.

With Part 2, Miller demonstrated that Luskin does not even understand the basic logic of the irreducible complexity argument:

Like just about everything that comes out of the Discovery Institute, Luskin's idea of evidence isn't intended to advance scientific understanding - it's only designed to score debating points. Unfortunately, it doesn't do that, either. What Mr. Luskin clearly does not understand is that irreducible complexity is really an argument about how a system came to be, not whether it contains dispensable parts.

Part 3 of the series should be posted tomorrow. I'll update this post when it becomes available. is now available (update, 01/04/09).

Casey Luskin is formally trained as a lawyer, and it obvious that he is capable of constructing detailed arguments. However, when it comes to discussions of biological evolution, he has consistently revealed himself to be a fish out of water. His arguments keep getting filleted, gutted, scaled, skinned, and de-boned by supporters of REAL science.

To me, Luskin's efforts to argue against evolution resemble a fish that is stranded on dry land, gasping for air as it frantically flops in pursuit of an elusive puddle. Unfortunately for Luskin, the available puddles seem to be quickly drying up. And yet, this stranded fish continues to flop.

I guess Casey's lucky that Seattle gets a lot of rain.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

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