Dawkins displays his formidable command of the English language in Inferior Design, a review of Michael Behe’s book, The Edge of Evolution. Of all the anti-Behe reviews I’ve read, this was the most convincing, at least on rhetorical grounds, but certainly not on evidential nor scientific grounds.
Dawkins is a master of rhetoric. Only he could take a clear example of intelligently designed evolution (dog breeding) and offer it as a convincing “proof” of Darwinian evolution. He writes:
YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d take a wild species, say a wolf that hunts caribou by long pursuit, and apply selection experimentally to see if you could breed, say, a dogged little wolf that chivies rabbits underground: letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s call it a Jack Russell terrier. Or how about an adorable, fluffy pet wolf called, for the sake of argument, a Pekingese? Or a heavyset, thick-coated wolf, strong enough to carry a cask of brandy, that thrives in Alpine passes and might be named after one of them, the St. Bernard?
But this is misleading. In fact, for varieties of dogs to emerge, there has to be a relative absence, not presence of natural selection. The kind of selection in play in Dawkins example is intelligently designed, it is not natural whatsoever. Deliberate dog breeding is an example of intelligently designed selection, not natural selection. But Dawkins masterfully conceals this inconvenient fact and leads the reader into thinking natural selection works like an intelligent designer, when in reality it does not.
Dawkins is surely familiar with the consequences of The Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection by Fisher. The theorem implies that traits under extreme pressure from selection cannot be very variable. They can only be variable if natural selection is weak or non-existent.
This is easy to see. If selection is strongly favors dark colored individuals of a species, eventually most if not all of the individuals will be dark colored. Any future mutations that don’t yield dark colored individuals will be weeded out by selection. Natural selection is the enemy of diversity. Selection is the enemy of innovation. Not the friend of it.
To patch up this annoying fact, Darwinists make desperate appeals to gimmicks like time varying, randomly walking fitness landscapes (where selection chooses one thing one day, and other thing another day). But appeals to randomly walking fitness landscapes are appeals to randomness, not direction toward a design, exactly the opposite of what Darwinists advertise natural selection to be doing.
The importance of the lack of selection was reinforced in a peer-reviewed paper in Journal of Theoretical Biology. The author, Mae Wan Ho, was a signatory of the Discovery Institute’s Dissent from Darwin list. In Beyond neo-Darwinism. She writes:
the natural selection of random mutationsÃ¢â‚¬â€is insufficient to account for evolution. The role of natural selection is itself limited: it cannot adequately explain the diversity of populations or of species; nor can it account for the origin of new species or for major evolutionary change. The evidence suggests … that a relative lack of natural selection may be the prerequisite for major evolutionary advance.
And another signatory of the Discovery Institute’s Dissent from Darwin list, Stanley Salthe, pointed out:
The internal contradiction in its [DarwinismÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s] major theoretical cornerstone Ã¢â‚¬â€ FisherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fundamental theorem. As mentioned above, FisherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s theorem has it that population variance in fitness is exchanged over the generations for population fitness increase Ã¢â‚¬â€ that is, for adaptedness. A corollary would be that traits having been subjected to heavy selection pressures, because of their importance in the lives of the organisms, should be less variable than less important traits. ….note that when asked which traits are most likely to be able to evolve, evolutionary biologists, again citing FisherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s theorem, will reply, Ã¢â‚¬Å“those that have more variability in fitnessÃ¢â‚¬Â. That is to say, traits that have been most important in the lives of organisms up to this moment will be least likely to be able to evolve further!
So FisherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s theorem is Ã¢â‚¬Å“schizoidÃ¢â‚¬Â when one compares its postures facing the future or the past.
and the very example that Dawkins offers as “proof” of natural selection’s efficacy in the wild is refuted by recent scientific discoveries:
The domestication of dogs caused a dramatic change in their way of life compared with that of their ancestor, the gray wolf.
a major consequence of domestication in dogs was a general relaxation of selective constraint [weakening of Natural Selection] on their mitochondrial genome. If this change also affected other parts of the dog genome, it could have facilitated the generation of novel functional genetic diversity.
Relaxation of selective constraint on dog mitochondrial DNA following domestication
Not to mention, recent papers suggest there is a disturbing absence of natural selection to evolution in the wild today. See: The Strength of Natural Selection in the Wild by David Berlinski.
Finally, consider the evolution of flight: an arm evolving into a wing. The arm must go through several stages of being a bad arm first before becoming a good wing. Thus, clearly, selection would be a rather nasty barrier to the development of an arm into a wing. Behe faintly alluded to such inconvenient facts on page 112. Dawkins chooses to not even address them for obvious reasons.
But where Dawkins lacks in substance, he more than makes up for it in form. Dawkins cunningly avoided dealing squarely with the facts, and rather chose to resort to veiled ad hominems and arguments from authority. For Dawkins, this only makes sense because, as one of Dawkins loyal cohorts in Canada, Larry Moran, aptly said, “it’s going to be a challenge to refute Behe’s main claims”.
HT: BertVan at ARN for the Ho and Saunders paper