The theory of Intelligent Design is a legitimate scientific theory about the complexity of the atom. The attempts by some religious groups to hijack it to deny evolutionary science is an insult to human intelligence and dignity.
In 2005 those starey - eyed madmen of the creationist movement got themselves in a right old lather about the e.coli bacillus and how it was proof of ID - intelligent design. Having questioned the concept of Intelligent Design many times previously, a couple of weeks ago I was directed to an article on a website dedicated to making the case that the Bible is the answer to everything. Which is truly ID - Incredible Dumbness.
The article, purportedly by a scientifically literate person was just a mish mash of gross assumptions, pseudo - science and flawed logic. It was easy to see how it would appeal to the gullible and those determined to make a case for God's involvement in everything, it used emotive language, over - simplified the complex scientific concepts and complicated simple principles. In fact, and rather appropriately considering the main theme of the essay was a bug that causes stomach upsets, it was pure arse - dribble.
Finding the writer's original information source was quite easy, he had used a High School biology tutorial posted on the website of a British academic institution. So we are starting from a fairly low level but the information presented for Intelligent Design fans quickly goes downhill from there.
From information on the academic website, it is an unarguable fact that the e.coli bacillus is a single cell life - form, a blob of protoplasm so small it is invisible to the naked eye. But on the Ain't God Brilliant website, it is presented as a cool little dude whizzing around the swamp of your gut at high speed because it has motors and a propeller which is attached by u-joints to the main organism. An Evinrude bacillus? Obviously there is an advanced engineering industry in e.coli land.
The language, you see, is designed to deceive. Yes, nature does have motors, you have neuromotors in your brain to send messages to muscles telling them to move, as do all higher life forms. The motors in a bacteria are much simpler though, after all a one cell creature can hardly have brain CELLS can it? When reading scientific documents as when reading The Bible, the key is context. What the e.coli has is molecules which react to certain stimuli by vibrating. Molecules are the smallest units into which a compound can be divided without degrading it into its constituent atoms. An irreducible particle? Molecules are not static as one might imagine, the atoms vibrate and rotate around each other. In the case of e.coli, motors is a convenient way to describe the clusters of molecules in which the flagella are embedded, but they are not motors like you would find in your car or vacuum cleaner. In my business, computers, we talk of memory but computers do not have memory in the way humans or even cats do, it could properly be said that a filing cabinet has memory similar to that of a computer as neither has any conception that information is stored in it.
If we examine what the "scientific" writer calls the e.coli's propeller it looks quite different to how he would wish us to imagine it. He states that the flagella is a long whip like protrusion that rotates at 100,000 RPM. There is only one branch of biology I am in any way familiar with, human reproduction, so I checked this with James Collins, a research biologist of my acquaintance. "About 10,000 to 15,000 rpm would be more accurate" he said, "still very fast but not unusually so - but the e.coli flagella are not long and whip like, that's salmonella which has a similar effect on humans but operates in the stomach rather than the intestine. E.coli flagella are only short stubs. Many academics use the propeller analogy but in a loose sense of the word. Flagella, being locked at one end do not truly rotate. They would have to be mounted in bearings for that. And the u - joint, where did that come from, General Motors? The flagella are tiny spikes of protein which form a tougher gel than the gel of the bacterium's body. To move the organism they twist together in a little bunch and then untwist creating a tiny vortex in the liquid. Biologically they quite resemble the spikes on a virus and like a virus the flagella are not really alive. Viruses are not life forms, they cannot operate outside living cells, but may become dormant. Once inside however the virus preys upon vulnerable components of the cell. The HIV virus destroys the human immune system by changing certain types of white blood cell.
In the case of e.coli flagella, they are formed when a number of proteins come together. This is cited as the irreducible complexity argument. "What are the chances that of all the types of protein in the universe this particular mix all come together in the e.coli cell without some intelligent agency designing it that way, goes the litany. Well the chances are very good actually as all the proteins that make up the flagella are secreted by the cell itself. Once formed into spikes they fix themselves into the body of the living cell and when hungry messages are being brought by the hormones or chemical transceivers to excite the surrounding molecules the flagella twist. If they all manage to twist in the same direction at once a vortex is created and the bacterium moves forward, if they get out of sync the numerous vortices act against each other and the organism just spins round in circles. There is no intelligence involved. As for irreducible complexity, it is not even irreducible tinyness we are looking at. The flagella are strings of molecules; molecules are made from atoms and even atoms have component particles. Now if you want complexity look at how atoms behave."
I summarised that from the conversation, which went on for half an hour, James had told me all I needed to know but his information was cross checked with other sources.
The spikes of protein that form the e.coli flagella are not held by u-joints but rather hook themselves into the softer gel, making a depression in its surface. The chemical hooks, plus suction, enable the flagella to move in any direction while remaining anchored. It is important to remember the flagella are not alive, so there is no intelligence involved. They are moved by the action of the main cell. So no propellers, no u-joints, no design. Its just chance.
Now James did warn me, "remember when you fixed my computer Ian, you described the problem in simple terms. Well I have done the same for you. A trained scientist would rip you apart if you wrote this up for an examination."
OK, I'm prepared for that, I have never claimed to be a trained biologist.
A number of tiny, hair like protrusions in the central cavity of a single cell creature are enough to convince the "scientifically literate" writer that someone was kind enough to give this little bugger a "propeller" to help it get around. It requires more than faith to make such a leap of logic.
But of course the Intelligent Design article fails to explain the limitations of a single cell life-form because it has promoted e.coli up the evolutionary scale. It is now a multi cell creature. Perhaps it was an act of God that upgraded it.
The logic just gets sillier, so much so that there are no rational arguments put forward at all. The best way I can conclude this to utterly demolish the idea of Intelligent Design is to say this: if an intelligent being had carefully designed the universe and all within it, would the mammalian digestive tract not be so well designed that it would have no need of organisms like e.coli to make it work properly? Remember, the bacillus is normally benign and only becomes harmful if it gets into places where it should not be. So come on ID merchants, tell us Is your Great Scientist so incompetent he could not design a proper digestive system?
The relationship between the many bacteria that live in the human body and their hosts is one of mutual benefit. The complex multi - cellular organism and the single cell bacillus came together quite by chance, prospered together and have stayed together and survived where millions of other species, or experiments have failed and been discarded. And that is evolution.
This article does not prove that God doesn't exist of course, it is impossible to prove a negative. What it does prove, what it set out to prove is that you should never believe all you are told by those who presume to speak on God's behalf. Question everything, there are more con-men running round waving Bibles than are languishing in all the world's jails.