Joined: Jan. 2003
I wish to propose an analogy that may be helpful in understanding the evolution of irreducible complexity.
Honeybee hives contain a queen, as many as 10,000 workers, and some drones (male bees). The queen depends on the workers for all her needs -- food, shelter, protection, etc., while the workers depend on the queen to replenish their numbers. Queens cannot exist without workers, and workers cannot exist without queens. Thus, irreducible complexity.
This total dependency extends to the founding of new hives. Workers do all the work of founding; they scout for hive locations and then go to whichever one attracts the most interest. And then they do all the work of construction in that location.
Compare solitary bees, in which a female does all the tasks that honeybee queens and workers do, though with much simpler nests.
Which makes it seem difficult to picture how honeybee societies could have been a result of evolution by natural selection, or at least that's what an entomological counterpart of Michael Behe would say.
But fortunately, the diversity of life offers examples with a very plausible intermediate state: bumblebees. A bumblebee queen overwinters in isolation and founds a hive in the coming spring, constructing it and bringing food to her offspring in the fashion of a solitary bee. But her offspring become workers who help her with the next generations over the year.
Thus, the evolution of honeybees can be broken up into two steps:
1. Some of a female's daughters staying home and helping to raise that female's other offspring, thus the evolution of the queen/worker distinction.
2. A queen recruiting some workers to help found a hive, thus giving that queen "instant" workers at that new hive. This makes it unnecessary for a queen to do anything but lay eggs all day.
Michael Behe's work, it seems to me, focuses on the molecular equivalent of honeybees; the challenge for understanding the origin of these features is to find the molecular equivalent of bumblebees, or at least work out some plausible scenario for their occurrence. And biologist Kenneth R. Miller has attempted to do exactly that, finding plausible bumblebees for the bacterial flagellum's honeybee.
I think that he'd have a bit more respect if he simply decided that the origin of what he discusses is a mystery. he could have been like Robert Shapiro, who has criticized various origin-of-life scenarios in detail without claiming that that means that the Earth had been "seeded" with its first organisms.