Only Make Believe

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET

Let us just imagine, for a moment, that the intelligent design people were right (they're not, they're not, but just suppose, ok?), and that the flagellum of some bacteria couldn't have evolved. Picture yourself like a detective interviewing a burglar caught red-handed at the scene of a crime, who anyway keeps saying "I didn't do it". You wait patiently, knowing that before too long he has to agree that yes he did do it. OK -- you are being patient. You say to the flagellum man -- ok, ok, I believe you, that must have been designed (yet it does evolve, you think, fingers crossed behind your back) not evolved, now what?

You see these people have been picking away at the dozens of organs in all the 1.8 million or so species in the world for a long time now. They thought the human eye was too complex to have evolved, forgetting that Darwin himself had shown this not to be true 150 years ago. And so they get down to the bacterial flagellum. All of the other organs in all the other species are apparently ok as the outcomes of evolutionary processes, all except this one organ in one particular group of species.

Now if I was a creation scientist (which god forbid) I think I would be tempted to say, at this point, if I was a swearing man and not a saint, WTF? Is this the best god can do -- a FLAGELLUM? And why bother? If evolution has worked perfectly well to produce all the other features of all the other species on the planet, why on Earth would god even bother to stick his oar in (so to speak) to give this particular species a hand with getting a flagellum designed?

Are these bacteria particularly god-fearing creatures? Did they go to bacterial church every Sunday and pray for a flagellum which just couldn't get evolved? And as a creation scientist, do you deduce from the presence of one designed organ that all organs in all species were therefore designed even though there are perfectly good evolutionary explanations for their presence? Or do you, returning for a moment to rational thought, conclude that, yes indeed, as evolutionists have found, the flagellum does have a perfectly rational evolutionary pathway too?

I know, I know, Darwin himself said "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down ", but he was wrong, really, wasn't he? What he was saying was this -- given that so little biology (or physiology, or anatomy, or biochemistry, or ecology) is known in 1859, given that so few species have been described at all, let alone in detail, and given that huge areas of the world are virtually unexplored, it would be premature to think that in 1859 I am providing the last word on evolution. It is quite possible, he may well have thought, that somewhere in the Amazon basin, for example, are hundreds of species which give clear evidence of having been designed, not evolved, and if that happens then we will need to do some rethinking. What he was emphatically not saying was, if, in 150 years time, after tens of thousands of biologists have studied hundreds of thousands of species in great detail from all parts of the planet, and some fundamentalist religious person says ah ha, I think this organ in this species couldn't have evolved, we toss the whole thing in and admit that god did it all.

Conversely, since only one example is purported to exist, it might be incumbent on the creationists to suspect that THEY might have got this wrong. Or do they really believe in an imaginary being who would go to the trouble of allowing evolution to bring into being everything we see today except the bacterial flagellum?

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