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Does anyone remember Richard Dawkins in the New York Times mocking Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution?

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By referencing human dog breeding? I do. Well … Here. It was appalling, the way Manhattan sophisticates so easily swallowed something that was so obviously untrue. First, Dawkins demanded that we not pay any attention to the fact that dog breeding is a form of design:

Don’t evade the point by protesting that dog breeding is a form of intelligent design. It is (kind of), …

Yes, it is. Maybe not good design, as we shall see in a moment, but design. So where does that leave his argument for randomness? Well, he endeared himself to the sophisticates by a rhetorical flourish:

From Newfies to Yorkies, from Weimaraners to water spaniels, from Dalmatians to dachshunds, as I incredulously close this book I seem to hear mocking barks and deep, baying howls of derision from 500 breeds of dogs — every one descended from a timber wolf within a time frame so short as to seem, by geological standards, instantaneous.

I would not dignify the sophisticates by asking what Dawkins preciously avoids asking: To what effect is all this sudden, swift change? I will just note that, apart from sophisticates being laid off by the hundreds, the New York Times is now largely in the hands of a Mexican billionaire. Let’s just say, that guy won’t have much to prove; he sure couldn’t run it worse. If we want facts, not sophistication: Re dog breeding, most human innovations in recent years (as everyone always really knew) have inflicted misery:

The German Shepherd Dog is also a breed that is routinely mentioned when people talk about ruined breeds; maybe because they used to be awesome. In Dogs of All Nations, the GSD is described as a medium-sized dog (25 kg /55 lb), this is a far cry from the angulated, barrel-chested, sloping back, ataxic, 85-pounders (38 kg) we are used to seeing in the conformation ring. There was a time when the GSD could clear a 2.5 meter (8.5 ft) wall; that time is long gone. More.

Cats may be luckier. Area resident felines Tom, Dick, and Harry, admitted non-sophisticats, claim that it is not possible to induce such hideous deformities in a cat, so no one should try. 😉

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23 Replies to “Does anyone remember Richard Dawkins in the New York Times mocking Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution?

  1. 1
    rvb8 says:

    The ‘randomness’ you speak of is perhaps ‘natural selection’. In the breeding of domestic animals Darwin realised that this NS was replaced by human selection. That is if a cow produced more milk, a sheep wool, a pidgeon speed, then humans would select that trait for further propogation. This is also true in dogs of course, we select for cuteness, aggression, intelligence etc etc.

    So in nature NS is also a non-random force (the weak, sick and old are always selected against), it is the very antithesis of random, as we can usually judge who in the heard will not live to breed. It is of course slower than human selection but still incredibly powerful.

    If the NY Times explained this, then well done the NY Times.

  2. 2
    Timaeus says:

    rvb8:

    But of course, in the breeding of domestic animals, intelligent designers do not create new body plans (where “new” means the fundamental structural difference between an octopus and a lizard, not the mere differences in elongation and compression between one kind of dog and another); they merely play on variations of existing body plan. And if we can’t create a new body plan with concerted intelligent intervention, why should we infer that natural selection, with no ability to intervene intelligently at all (natural selection can only veto bad changes, not initiate any good changes) can do so? What is needed for serious macroevolutionary change is a truly creative force, and natural selection isn’t that.

    P.S. What breeds is a “herd” not a “heard.”

  3. 3

    Oh that’s nothing.

    Remember this bit from MarkCC’s review?

    “Now, when you realize that each person infected with Malaria has *billions* of malaria cells in their bodies, and that number starts to *not* look so scary anymore: *billions* of cells reproducing daily in *millions* of individuals, which has been going on for decades of chloroquine use, and you start to realize that that’s not such a big number after all.”

    Besides Mark not showing what the new “not so big number” is, Behe actually pointed out on multiple occasions in the book (pages 53 and 148, among others) that there are 10^12 malaria cells in one infected person and that there have been roughly 10^40 living cells that have ever existed.

    I’m not sure how far we can take Behe’s arguments, but I would be one of the first to say critics have criticized them for the wrong reasons.

  4. 4
    Mark Frank says:

    This is news? Reprinting an argument from 2007.

    Re dog breeding, most human innovations in recent years (as everyone always really knew) have inflicted misery:

    Remember that success in biology is not measured in terms of being faster, cleverer, happier or more beautiful. It is measured in surviving and producing offspring. By that measure the modern German Shepherd, and indeed the Pekinese, have trounced their ancestors and wolves. In evolutionary terms they have adapted better to the change in environment – which is man.

  5. 5
    Timaeus says:

    Mark:

    By “success in biology” I take you mean, not passing biology exams, but evolutionary success. 🙂

    I don’t see the utility in your reply. Yes, these artificial dogs can survive in the human environment. But if man withdrew his hand, and these dogs were left to compete with wolves, foxes, and other dog relatives in the wild, most of them would soon be extinct. Perhaps the husky would survive, in the north. Poodles, corgis, etc. would all be done for.

    It’s also questionable to speak of “evolutionary terms” in relation to domestic animals; by “evolution” most biologists have in mind unguided processes that have nothing to do with human intervention. Yes, animals can adapt to a human environment (raccoons living in attics, etc.), but conscious breeding of animals for human-desired traits is not what evolutionary theory is about. So the development of dog breeds, while it illustrates “variation under domestication” (as Darwin put it), does not illustrate evolution in the wild — and it is evolution in the wild that had to produce radically new body plans etc.; no human beings were around to help with that.

  6. 6
    Zachriel says:

    News: So where does what leave his argument for randomness?

    Right where it always was.

    Selection is not random, whether artificial or natural. What is random are novel variations, meaning random with respect to selection. Humans may have selected from the available traits in canines, but the variations that led to poodles were not in the original wolf breed. When a novel variation occurred, if they were attractive or useful to humans, they bred them forward.

  7. 7
    Petrushka says:

    It is mind boggling that this same confusion recurs over and over. Maybe another thread on weasel would help. 😉

  8. 8
    Mark Frank says:

    Timaeus #5

    I don’t see the utility in your reply. Yes, these artificial dogs can survive in the human environment. But if man withdrew his hand, and these dogs were left to compete with wolves, foxes, and other dog relatives in the wild, most of them would soon be extinct. Perhaps the husky would survive, in the north. Poodles, corgis, etc. would all be done for.

    And if the environment changed to one with a deadly virus that attacked wolves and not dogs – then dogs would do better. The point is man is just another environment for wolves and dogs and it happens to be the one that exists.

    It’s also questionable to speak of “evolutionary terms” in relation to domestic animals; by “evolution” most biologists have in mind unguided processes that have nothing to do with human intervention. Yes, animals can adapt to a human environment (raccoons living in attics, etc.), but conscious breeding of animals for human-desired traits is not what evolutionary theory is about. So the development of dog breeds, while it illustrates “variation under domestication” (as Darwin put it), does not illustrate evolution in the wild — and it is evolution in the wild that had to produce radically new body plans etc.; no human beings were around to help with that.

    If you consider man to be part of nature then man selecting for traits is just part of natural selection. When biologists talk of unguided evolution they mean the variation is unguided. Whether the selection is guided depends on the environment but it makes no difference to the principle – it illustrates what selective pressure can do on unguided variation.

  9. 9
    Petrushka says:

    When biologists talk of unguided evolution they mean the variation is unguided. Whether the selection is guided depends on the environment but it makes no difference to the principle – it illustrates what selective pressure can do on unguided variation.

    This was explained in the first chapter of “Origin” and is still the current understanding of how evolution works. The rest is details.

  10. 10
    drc466 says:

    Clearly time for a summary of how genetic code can change for evolutionists again:
    1) Breeding: Expressed variability of existing genetic code: No new information generated: Creation, Evolution, ID.
    2) Natural Selection: Elimination of existing genetic code variations: Information removed from gene pool: Creation, Evolution, ID.
    3) Genetic Mutation: Introduction of new genetic material: new information may/may not be generated: Creation, Evolution, ID.
    …3a) Guided/Unguided Limited Mutation: mutation is either neutral or degenerative: no new information is generated: Creation, Evolution, ID.
    …3b) Unguided Unlimited Mutation: genetic mutation is unlimited and directionless: new information can be generated: Evolution Only.
    …3c) Guided Unlimited Mutation: genetic mutation is unlimited but directed by intelligent agency: new information can be generated: Creation, Evolution, ID.

    Dawkins (and every frickin’ evolutionist I’ve ever run into) conflates 1 and 2 and 3, and says that people who don’t believe in 3b are fools, because 1.

    Seriously. If you are too clueless to understand that 1 doesn’t have anything to do with 3b, there’s really no use arguing with you. It’s like saying you can obviously build a spaceship from whatever is laying around, since you can build 5 different toys from a box of Legos.

  11. 11
    Zachriel says:

    drc466: 1 doesn’t have anything to do with 3b

    Breeding is not sufficient to account for the transition from wolves to domestic dogs. While humans selected for desirable traits, novel traits occurred naturally over time.

  12. 12
    anthropic says:

    Breeding plus novel traits somehow did not transform canines into something other than canines. In fact, we never observe fruit flies turning into something other than fruit flies, no matter how many mutations we induce. Same thing with bacteria.

    Yet we are supposed to believe unguided Darwinian processes accomplished incredible feats of transformation in the past, including the creation of entire phyla in a geological eyeblink.

    Aesop’s fables have nothing on these fairy-tales.

  13. 13
    rvb8 says:

    The New Zealand bat (a native) is a strange creature. It is currently in a process you could poorly describe as, reverse evolution. You see when it first flew to, or more likely was blown to NZ, there were no mammals on these islands. The bats were the first mammals, there were no snakes or large ground predators, only birds and insects. When this massive change in the bats environment (lack of ground predators) took place these bats began the strange procedure of reverting to the bat’s original shrew like ancestors. These creatures roost during the day, fly out at night, and then hit the forest floor scurrying about as shrews do. Their habits, and more importantly body plan are re-evolving to their new environment.

    Sadly humans, and other introduced mammals are decimating these creatures. The new, new environment with many dogs, cats, pigs, rats, possums, and humans is a change they are incapable of adapting to fast enough. Still, evolution in action:)

    P.S Thanks Timaeus, ‘herd’ not ‘heard’, doh!

  14. 14
    Timaeus says:

    Mark Frank:

    Agreed; a virus might wipe out wolves and not dogs. So dogs would be more “fit” to survive that particular challenge. And it might even be the case that what made them more fit was years of selective breeding by humans. I’m not contesting this. I’m not denying that human activity might produce new varieties of animals which would then be acted upon by natural selection and do better than some wild animals.

    As for whether or not man is part of nature, I would say both yes and no. Insofar as man eats, breathes, excretes, etc. he is part of the cycles of nature. But the symphonies of Mozart are not part of nature, nor are the equations of Einstein, nor are the designs of engineers, nor are the aesthetic decisions that cause people to create new breeds of poodles or pigeons. Man is both immersed in nature and transcendent of it.

    The products of man’s genetic engineering (new crops, horse breeds, etc.) are organic beings which interact with the rest of nature and therefore obviously can be affected by selection and all other natural processes. But the genetic engineering itself — the theory behind it, the scientific apparatus which carries it out, and the aesthetic, ethical, religious or other motivations behind it — is not “natural” in the sense of happening spontaneously due to laws of chemistry, physics, geology, etc. It is the product not of physical laws but of the human mind.

    Of course, if you hold to materialistic, reductionist metaphysics you will say that human mind and all its products are just inevitable products of natural laws; but that is metaphysical dogma, not natural science. Such claims go far beyond what natural science is capable of demonstrating. And I doubt very much that you believe that Einstein and Mozart, or for that matter Mendel or Darwin, were driven to think and create what they did by the imperatives of natural selection.

    The question remains how major new body plans were created. What we know of dog breeding does not explain that. I think Dawkins’s critique of Behe, based on the likening of relatively minor man-made dog variations to major structural changes brought about by unconscious natural processes, is just silly.

  15. 15
    Zachriel says:

    anthropic: Breeding plus novel traits somehow did not transform canines into something other than canines.

    The example in the original post was wolves to domestic dogs, which is sufficient to establish that it takes a novel source of variation, and that this source of variation is natural.

  16. 16
    drc466 says:

    Zachriel,

    drc466

    Dawkins (and every frickin’ evolutionist I’ve ever run into) conflates 1 and 2 and 3, and says that people who don’t believe in 3b are fools, because 1.

    Zachriel

    Breeding is not sufficient to account for the transition from wolves to domestic dogs. While humans selected for desirable traits, novel traits occurred naturally over time.

    Thank you for so ably illustrating my point. As far as we know, and more importantly can prove, all wolves and dogs share a common ancestor, and all expressed variations of dog breeds are the result of Mendelian genetics – recombinations of existing genetic material already present in that (recent) shared ancestor. As pointed out by News at the end of the OP, there is also the degenerative factor of 3a – there is a ratcheting effect to breeding as the genetic code breaks down, and as recombination eliminates some of the original code. You can’t breed your way back to the original genetic code.
    Dawkins assertion (and yours) that “Breeding is not sufficient to account for the transition from wolves to domestic dogs” (umm – you are aware that modern dogs didn’t come from modern wolves, any more than modern dogs all came from chihuahuas, right?), and “novel traits occurred naturally over time” is a hypothesis lacking empirical support – which is why Behe performed the experimentation in Edge Of Evolution, to determine whether random changes in genetic code could generate those novel traits. Dawkins assumes what he can’t prove (dog breeds are more than just the result of Mendelian recombination of original genetic code), and what Behe showed, in a lab, doesn’t happen, and tries to use it to ridicule Behe. Dawkins’ assertions that dog breeds and wolves somehow disprove Behe are ridiculous on the face, and deserve to be called out for ridicule.

  17. 17
    Barry Arrington says:

    T @ 14:

    And I doubt very much that you believe that Einstein and Mozart, or for that matter Mendel or Darwin, were driven to think and create what they did by the imperatives of natural selection.

    Why of course he does. For a monist, there is no alternative. He must absolutely disagree with your assertion that man transcends nature for the same reason he would have to disagree with you if you said a man can lift himself by his own bootstraps.

  18. 18
    Zachriel says:

    Zachriel: Breeding is not sufficient to account for the transition from wolves to domestic dogs. While humans selected for desirable traits, novel traits occurred naturally over time.

    drc466: Thank you for so ably illustrating my point.

    Only if you ignore what we wrote.

    drc466: As far as we know, and more importantly can prove, all wolves and dogs share a common ancestor,

    We can show that dogs and wolves share a common ancestor, including morphological and molecular data.

    drc466: umm – you are aware that modern dogs didn’t come from modern wolves, any more than modern dogs all came from chihuahuas, right?

    The common ancestor probably went extinct. See Freedman et al., Genome Sequencing Highlights the Dynamic Early History of Dogs, PLOS Genetics 2014.

    drc466: and all expressed variations of dog breeds are the result of Mendelian genetics – recombinations of existing genetic material already present in that (recent) shared ancestor.

    That is incorrect. Much of dog evolution can be traced to changes in genetic regulatory networks, changes to expression of neurohormones, while other traits can be traced to specific mutations. This is not Mendelian genetics.

    A related experiment involved the domestication of foxes. See Trut, Oskina & Kharlamova, Animal evolution during domestication: the domesticated fox as a model, Bioessays 2009.

  19. 19
    drc466 says:

    Zachriel,

    So – you agree with me on the first two points regarding common ancestry, and only disagree with me on the third because you ignored what I wrote:
    “…there is also the degenerative factor of 3a…”.

    Stunted growth, deformed muzzles, excess skin, etc. can hardly be pointed to as “novel variations”* disproving Behe’s thesis – you continue to conflate 3b evolution (unproven) with 1 and 3a (empirically demonstrated). The point stands.

    *By the way – I’m perfectly well aware that, to an evolutionist, there is no difference between 3a and 3b. To them, albinoism and sickle-cell anemia constitute proof that a bat can evolve from a flight-less rodent. Evolutionists honestly believe you can get to the moon by digging a deep enough hole.

  20. 20
    Zachriel says:

    drc466: Stunted growth, deformed muzzles, excess skin, etc. can hardly be pointed to as “novel variations”

    Of course they’re novel variations, and often of great interest to breeders.

    drc466: there is also the degenerative factor of 3a

    Most of the changes from wolves to dogs are not degenerative but regulatory, such as behavioral neoteny, and various morphologies including those selected for human utility, e.g. the dachshund (meaning badger dog).

    drc466: To them, albinoism and sickle-cell anemia constitute proof that a bat can evolve from a flight-less rodent.

    Well, no. The latter requires additional evidence, such as general support for common descent. However, albinism is an instance of a mutation with the selection coefficient tied to geography, while sickle-cell anemia is an instance of balancing selection.

  21. 21
    drc466 says:

    Zachriel,

    And, here we come to the end of any possible productive discussion. I would assert that the dachshund is an excellent example of not novel, and degenerative, and that Chondrodysplasia is hole-digging, not flying. You would not.

    3a != 3b.

  22. 22
    Petrushka says:

    drc466, Are you trying to make some point with your link?

  23. 23
    Zachriel says:

    drc466: And, here we come to the end of any possible productive discussion. I would assert that the dachshund is an excellent example of not novel, and degenerative, and that Chondrodysplasia is hole-digging, not flying.

    The abstract doesn’t seem to support your claim, saying retrogenes are a common source of novel sequences. They also point out that the Fgf4 retrogene was recently acquired.

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