Ken Miller's <i>Only a Theory</i> Misquotes Michael Behe on Irreducible Complexity of the Blood Clotting Cascade - Evolution News & Views

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Ken Miller's Only a Theory Misquotes Michael Behe on Irreducible Complexity of the Blood Clotting Cascade

Recently, I posted responses to some errors in Kenneth Miller's book Only a Theory and promised to end the series with a look at Dr. Miller's treatment of the irreducible complexity of the blood clotting cascade. (For those prior posts, see here and here.) Discussing Ken Miller's treatment of the blood clotting cascade in Only a Theory first requires a little backstory. Last December 2008 and early January 2009, I published a series of 3 posts that responded to Ken Miller's arguments, during the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, about irreducible complexity and the blood clotting cascade (BCC). (For the posts, see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.) Those posts showed that in his Dover trial testimony, Dr. Miller misrepresented Michael Behe's arguments regarding irreducible complexity and the BCC. Ken Miller's recent book, Only a Theory, does much the same. But before we get into that, let's review Miller's mistake at the Dover trial.

Miller's Basic Mistake
The blood clotting cascade in humans and most other vertebrates has two possible biochemical initiation pathways: the intrinsic pathway and the extrinsic pathway. This is shown in the rough schematic diagram below:

During the Dover trial, Miller alleged that in Darwin's Black Box, Michael Behe argued that all three prongs of this diagram -- the intrinsic pathway, the extrinsic pathway, and everything after the "fork" -- comprise an irreducibly complex system. (A more comprehensive diagram of the blood clotting cascade can be seen here.) Because some vertebrates have blood clotting cascades that lack some of the elements before the fork, particularly some elements in the intrinsic pathway, Miller claimed that Behe's arguments for irreducible complexity were refuted. Miller's primary error is that in Darwin's Black Box, Behe never claims that the extrinsic and intrinsic pathways are part of the irreducibly complex core of the system. Thus, Miller tests for irreducible complexity in components that Behe never claimed were irreducibly complex.

Miller Repeats the Error in Only a Theory by Misquoting Behe
In Only a Theory, Miller makes exactly the same error. After showing a diagram of the BCC that includes all three prongs -- including the intrinsic and extrinsic initiation pathways -- Miller asserts that, "Intelligent design argues that the pathway cannot work until all of these factors are in place..." (p. 32) On the next page, Miller claims that Behe "unequivocally" argues that "each and every part of the system has to be present simultaneously for blood to clot" (Miller's words, p. 33). Then on pages 33-34, Miller quotes Behe (or perhaps better put, misquotes Behe) to try justify his point. The precise reproduction of Miller's quotation of Behe is shown below (Miller's citations notes, found on page 225 of his book, are also shown below):

Since each step necessarily requires several parts, not only is the entire blood-clotting cascade irreducibly complex, but so is each step in the pathway.13

...In the absence of any of the components, blood does not clot, and the system fails.14

13. Behe, Darwin's Black Box, 87.

14. Ibid., 86.

(Kenneth R. Miller, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul, pp. 33-34, 225 (Viking, 2008).)

If you think it seems a bit odd that Miller places a quote from page 87 of Darwin's Black Box directly before a quote from page 86, then you're on to something. As will be shown below, Ken Miller has just egregiously quoted Michael Behe out of context.

Finally, on page 62 of Only a Theory, Miller purports to paraphrase the above quotes from Behe, writing: "As Michael Behe has written, the entire system has to be in place for clotting to work properly, and in the absence of any of the components blood does not clot and the system fails." Miller then claims that Behe has been refuted because "The genome of the fugu, or puffer fish, lacks three of the clotting factors -- and its blood clots just fine." (p 63) Of course, as seen below, those three factors are all from the intrinsic pathway, which Behe never claims in Darwin's Black Box are part of the irreducibly complex core of the blood clotting cascade.

Elaborating on Miller's Misquote of Behe
To repeat, the problem with Miller's arguments in Only a Theory is the same as the problem with Miller's testimony at the Dover trial: The three factors Miller refers to from the puffer fish are factors XI, XII, and XIIa -- all from the intrinsic pathway. But in Darwin's Black Box Michael Behe did not claim that the intrinsic and extrinsic pathways were part of an irreducibly complex system. Specifically, Behe stated that his argument for irreducible complexity in the BCC pertained only to components "beyond the fork," after the intrinsic and extrinsic initiation pathways of the blood-clotting cascade converge, and did not apply to components "before the fork" (i.e. such as the intrinsic and extrinsic pathways). Behe made this very clear at the Dover trial, and but he first made it clear in Darwin's Black Box:

Leaving aside the system before the fork in the pathway, where some details are less well known, the blood-clotting system fits the definition of irreducible complexity. That is, it is a single system composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system effectively to cease functioning. The function of the blood clotting cascade is to form a solid barrier at the right time and place that is able to stop blood flow out of an injured vessel. The components of the system (beyond the fork in the pathway) are fibrinogen, prothrombin, Stuart factor, and proaccelerin. Just as none of the parts of the Foghorn system is used for anything except controlling the fall of the telephone pole, so none of the cascade proteins are used for anything except controlling the formation of a blood clot. Yet in the absence of any one of the components, blood does not clot, and the system fails.

(Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, p. 86 (Free Press, 1996), emphases added.)
Miller, somehow, ignores all of this and claims that Behe said that the intrinsic pathway is irreducibly complex. But let's more closely assess the two quotes from Michael Behe that Ken Miller uses (see above) to determine if Miller's characterization of Behe is accurate. We'll start with the quote from page 87 of Darwin's Black Box.

Miller's quote of Behe from page 87:
Miller quotes Behe on page 87 of Darwin's Black Box stating: "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." By this point in his chapter on blood clotting, Behe was now discussing a hypothetical scenario that would insert new proteins into the cascade, for Behe had already moved past expounding upon exactly which components of the BCC are irreducibly complex. Leaving that point aside, the question is, what does Behe mean by the "system"? The context makes Behe's meaning clear:

Behe is only discussing the components of the system "beyond the fork" and not those "before the fork" because Behe had defined the term "blood-clotting system" as NOT including the components "before the fork." Thus, Behe wrote:

"Leaving aside the system before the fork in the pathway, where some details are less well known, the blood-clotting system fits the definition of irreducible complexity." (Darwin's Black Box, p. 86)
We'll call this the "Miller-refuting quote."

Miller has to ignore the Miller-refuting quote -- which Miller never mentions in Only a Theory -- in order to make his misrepresentation-based case. There is no indication anywhere that Behe intended to change the scope of the term "blood-clotting system" anywhere in the rest of that section to include the intrinsic and extrinsic pathways. Indeed, Miller's page 87 quote from Behe is merely discussing hypothetical scenarios that ONLY deal with adding or deleting cascade components after the fork.

All of this was plain to me when I read Behe's chapter on blood-clotting, and it should be plain to anyone who reads Darwin's Black Box without prejudice: The phrase "entire blood-clotting system" only pertains to the "entire" segment "beyond the fork." To imply that the quote Miller cites from page 87 applies to components before the fork misrepresents Behe's manifest meaning.

Miller's quote of Behe from page 86:
Now let's look at Miller's quote of Behe from page 86 of Darwin's Black Box, which Miller gives as follows: "...In the absence of any of the components, blood does not clot, and the system fails."

As noted, this quote is from page 86, yet in Only a Theory, Miller oddly places this quote directly after a later quote from Behe on page 87. Why? Whatever his reasons, the effect is to badly distort Behe's argument.

As we saw in the Miller-refuting quote above, this page 86 quote from Behe actually comes earlier in the book, from a different section with a very different context, and it is indeed the concluding statement for the paragraph where Behe makes the important Miller-refuting quote: "Leaving aside the system before the fork in the pathway, where some details are less well known, the blood-clotting system fits the definition of irreducible complexity."

Hopefully by now the egregiousness of Miller's treatment of Behe is clear. Miller picked sentences out of context from Darwin's Black Box and rearranged them -- placing an earlier quote after a later quote -- in order to create a string of quotes that make it appear as if Behe says that extrinsic pathway, intrinsic pathway, and components beyond the fork of the blood clotting cascade all comprise an irreducibly complex system. Moreover, Miller completely ignored the Miller-refuting quote -- which his page 86 quote is really supposed to be attached to -- that clarifies Behe's argument so that you know that his argument for irreducible complexity of the BCC does not include the extrinsic or intrinsic pathways.

What does Michael Behe Have to Say About All of This?
There's no one better to explain Behe's intended meaning than Michael Behe himself. So if you've read this twice, and you're a finding it hard to follow, then consider this: Michael Behe agrees with me, as he indicates in the following posting on his Amazon.com blog, written in response to Professor Miller:

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.

Final Comments on Miller's Response to My 2008 Blog Posts
After my 3 posts at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 responding to Ken Miller's arguments about irreducible complexity and the blood clotting cascade, Dr. Miller wrote a response to my December 2008 posts, misquoting many of the same passages from Behe discussed above, claiming that I misread Behe and that in Darwin's Black Box, Behe actually argued that the irreducibly complex components of the BCC included all three prongs of the system -- the intrinsic pathway, the extrinsic pathway, and everything after the fork. Miller thus wrote in response: "Unlike Mr. Luskin, I read Behe's whole book -- including the parts before and after page 86" and then suggested, "Casey, if you really want to defend Michael Behe, a good place to start would be by reading him."

Those weren't exactly the kindest words coming from my friend Dr. Miller, but regardless, Darwin's Black Box was the book that first introduced me to ID when I read it for the first time in 1997. I've consulted it many times over the years since then. A careful and fair read of Darwin's Black Box shows that when Miller wrote, "I took Michael Behe at his word," that Miller's self-praise is undeserved, for whether intentionally or unintentionally, it seems clear that he took Michael Behe dramatically out of context.

Further responses to Dr. Miller's response to me on Behe and blood clotting will be made in a couple of forthcoming posts.