Michael Ruse is Just Confused!

Michael J. Behe
Research News & Opportunities
July 1, 2002
Print ArticleThis article appeared in a discussion on the topic of intelligent design published in the July/August, 2002 issue of Research News & Opportunity In Science And Theology. Other contributoring thinkers included Karl Giberson, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott, William Dembski, Robert Pennock, and Jonathan Wells.

If nothing else, Michael Ruse has chutzpah. Let me tell a little story about blood clotting, Russell Doolittle and Michael Ruse. In 1996 in Darwin’s Black Box, I argued (“notoriously”) that the blood-clotting cascade is irreducibly complex (that is, if a part is removed the cascade doesn’t work) and so, is a problem for Darwinian evolution and is better explained by intelligent design.

However, Russell Doolittle — professor of biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, member of the National Academy of Sciences, and lifelong student of the blood-clotting system — disagreed. Writing in 1997 in Boston Review, a publication of MIT, Doolittle pointed to a then-recent report which, he claimed, showed that several parts of the clotting system — plasminogen and fibrinogen — could be “knocked out” of mice without ill effect. (Fibrinogen is the fabric of the clot. Plasminogen removes clots once healing is complete.) He wrote:

“Recently the gene for plaminogen [sic] was knocked out of mice, and, predictably, those mice had thrombotic complications because fibrin clots could not be cleared away. Not long after that, the same workers knocked out the gene for fibrinogen in another line of mice. Again, predictably, these mice were ailing, although, in this case, hemorrhage was the problem. And what do you think happened when these two lines of mice were crossed? For all practical purposes, the mice lacking both genes were normal! Contrary to claims about irreducible complexity, the entire ensemble of proteins is not needed. Music and harmony can arise from a smaller orchestra.”

So, said Doolittle, if one component is removed, the mice are in bad shape, but if two components are removed, the mice are normal. While that would be an interesting result, it is incorrect. Doolittle misread the report.

The authors of the paper wrote in their abstract, “Mice deficient in plasminogen and fibrinogen are phenotypically indistinguishable from fibrinogen-deficient mice.” In other words, mice lacking both components have all the problems that mice lacking just fibrinogen have. Those problems include failure to clot, hemorrhage and death of females during pregnancy. The mice are very far from “normal.” They are decidedly not promising evolutionary intermediates.

Now, what can we conclude from Doolittle’s mistake? At the very least, it shows that he does not know how clotting evolved in a Darwinian fashion. If he did, he would have simply told the readers or pointed to papers where the information could be found. Instead, he cited a paper on hemorrhaging mice. And since Professor Doolittle is the world’s expert on the evolution of blood clotting, the incident shows that nobody else knows, either.

That includes Ruse. A year later, apparently unaware of Doolittle’s mistake, Ruse instructed the readers of Free Inquiry on why intelligent design proponents are scorned:

“For example, Behe is a real scientist, but this case for the impossibility of a small-step natural origin of biological complexity has been trampled upon contemptuously by the scientists working in the field. They think his grasp of the pertinent science is weak and his knowledge of the literature curiously (although conveniently) outdated.

“For example, far from the evolution of clotting being a mystery, the past three decades of work by Russell Doolittle and others has thrown significant light on the ways in which clotting came into being. More than this, it can be shown that the clotting mechanism does not have to be a one-step phenomenon with everything already in place and functioning. One step in the cascade involves fibrinogen, required for clotting, and another, plaminogen [sic], required for clearing clots away.”

And Ruse went on to quote the passage from Doolittle I quoted above. Ruse was so impressed with Doolittle’s work that he even copied his typo-misspelling, “plaminogen.” Let me state clearly what this means.

Ruse is a prominent academic Darwinian philosopher. Yet, he apparently did not even bother to look up and understand the original paper on the hemorrhaging mice before deciding Doolittle was right and I was contemptibly wrong! To this day he takes sides in a scientific dispute he shows no signs of understanding.

But perchance Ruse is so confident because “the rest of the scientific community agrees” with Doolittle (how does Ruse know that?) that I am “simply not up-to-date.” Ho, ho. Well, maybe many scientists do agree with Doolittle. But those who do are as wrong as he was.

In my travels, I have had quite a few scientists sneeringly throw his erroneous Boston Review argument at me. Recently, Neil S. Greenspan, a professor of pathology at Case Western Reserve University, wrote in The Scientist , “The Design advocates also ignore the accumulating examples of the reducibility of biological systems. As Russell Doolittle has noted, in commenting on the writings of one ID advocate.” Greenspan goes on to approvingly cite Doolittle’s mistaken argument in Boston Review.

Then with innocent irony, Greenspan continues, “These results cast doubt on the claim by proponents of ID that they know which systems exhibit irreducible complexity and which do not.” But since the results of the hemorrhaging-mice study were precisely the opposite of what Doolittle, Ruse, Greenspan and other copycats thought, the shoe is on the other foot. The Doolittle incident shows that Darwinists in fact do not know how natural selection could assemble complex biochemical systems. Worse, it shows that they either cannot or will not recognize problems for their theory.

I’ll bet a philosopher like Ruse could think of some other reasons why a lot of the scientific community is up in arms over intelligent design besides spurious claims that we “fail to understand the workings of evolution.”

Michael J. Behe, the author of Darwin’s Black Box, is a professor in the department of biological sciences at Lehigh University.