Science & Faith
10/6/13 at 12:03 AM 202 Comments

Design Vindicated: More Irreducible Complexity Discovered in the Assembly of Flagellar Motors

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One indication of a robust scientific research program is its predictive and explanatory success as it is tested over significant periods of time. I'm happy to report that over a decade since prominent ID theorists have pointed out the irreducible complexity of molecular machines such as the flagellum, a recent study has unwittingly bolstered the case for ID in regard to the origin of the outboard bacterial rotary motor called the flagellum. Back in 1996 Michael Behe offered the flagellum as one of many examples of "The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution" (irreducible complexity) in his book Darwin's Black Box. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) bolster's Behe's thesis despite the (likely) Darwinian preference of its authors.

Bacterial flagellum: A rotary motor that propels a bacterium through water (only a small portion of the long whip that turns to generate motion is depicted here)

A recent ENV post provides insightfully commentary on the new PNAS article. It begins:

If a structure is irreducibly complex, the assembly instructions are often even more irreducibly complex. Case in point: the bacterial flagellum.

When mainstream science journals corroborate claims we've made in support of the theory of intelligent design, we like to point it out. It shows that the case for ID grows stronger, not weaker, with time. Eleven years ago in the Illustra film Unlocking the Mystery of Life, Scott Minnich said that the assembly instructions for building a flagellum are even more irreducibly complex than the outboard-motor-like structure itself. He was right; a new paper in PNAS, with dazzling illustrations, opens Darwin's black box a little more, showing the amazing sequential assembly of this icon of ID.

The 12 authors from 5 American universities don't seem to have much use for evolutionary theory. They never mention it. Instead, they call the flagellum a "sophisticated self-assembling molecular machine" and, twice, "an intricate molecular machine."

The organism they studied is the multi-flagellated spirochete that causes Lyme disease -- but that's a side issue for philosophers or theologians, not for intelligent design. ID looks for products that imply intelligent causes, not for the reasons they exist. Read more.

Because my readers will likely wish to discuss this side issue, here are some more thoughts about it that expand what the author wrote above. Scientists operating within the domain of science are incapable of addressing the moral and other wider purposes of suffering and disease in the natural world. But humans are capable of reasoning in other fields of thought, especially in philosophy and theology, in which the moral and theological dimensions of the existence of horrible diseases and extreme suffering can be discussed.

As I pointed out in my blog Reasons for Christian Belief: The Best Resources, there are many reasons to be a follower of Jesus that are based on historical and philosophical investigation. The evidence for the historical reliability of the Bible, including especially the historicity of Jesus' resurrection, strongly supports the rationality of accepting the Bible as God's revelation to humans. Natural evil, including the multi-flagellated spirochete that causes Lyme disease, make sense in light of biblical revelation as part of a world that is well designed to be appropriate for our fallen sinful condition. It constantly reminds us that only God can (and will) bring about the ultimate healing of the cosmos when he creates the new cosmos ("a new heaven and a new earth" Rev. 21:1) described in Revelation 21.

It bears repeating that nothing I've said in the last paragraph can be established through the scientific inquiry (whether from an intelligent design perspective, or otherwise). But it is rational to believe such things. Research in academic fields outside of science offer impressive support. Now, back to the scientific issues at hand.

The PNAS paper of interest today, which is about "the sequential assembly of bacterial flagella" (this is part of its title), has an abstract that includes this:

In this study, we genetically trapped intermediates in flagellar assembly and determined the 3D structures of the intermediates to 4-nm resolution by cryoelectron tomography. We provide structural evidence that secretion of rod substrates triggers remodeling of the central channel in the flagellar secretion apparatus from a closed to an open conformation. This open channel then serves as both a gateway and a template for flagellar rod assembly. The individual proteins assemble sequentially to form a modular rod. The hook cap initiates hook assembly on completion of the rod, and the filament cap facilitates filament assembly after formation of the mature hook. (Emphasis added.)

Read the rest of the ENV commentary on this PNAS article to unpack the significance of this "design" language (despite whatever views or hostility that the authors may hold regarding intelligent design).

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