Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Here is my review of intelligent design theorist Mike Behe’s The Edge of Evolution and the controversy surrounding it …


Behe’s Edge of Evolution: A turning point in the evolution vs. intelligent design controversy

Before dealing with Edge of Evolution, which I see as a turning point in the debate between Darwinism and intelligent design, permit me to briefly sketch the cultural landscape in which it has just appeared:

… , two factors have protected Darwin as he approaches his 200th birthday – his friends and his enemies.

2. The Edge of Evolution: What exactly does Behe say about Darwinism?

In Darwin’s Black Box, Behe was concerned to show that some elegant structures in life are beyond the reach of random mutation and natural selection (= Darwinism). In The Edge of Evolution , he seeks to draw up “reasonable, general guidelines” to determine where the edge of evolution is, “to decide with some precision beyond what point Darwinian explanations are unlikely to be adequate, not just for some particular structures but for general features of life.” (8)

[ … ]

He studies in detail a number of cases where Darwinian evolution is known to have occurred. That is, the exact mechanisms of the changes that took place in the malaria parasite, E. coli, and HIV have been identified, and the change appears to have been caused by natural selection acting on random mutations. The vast numbers and the swiftness with which these microorganisms reproduce enable a rate of evolution that is equivalent to millions of years of evolutionary time for larger organisms. Thus, an estimate of the limits of Darwinian change is possible.

3. The response to Edge of Evolution Dogs, Dover, Darwinists, and Deals

Dawkins is never short of adoring fans, and evidently the delight is mutual. … Dawkins revels in his contempt for Behe (a working scientist, not a don like himself) and then distracts his readers by pointing, with self-indulgent glee, to the large variety in the shapes and sizes of domestic dogs, as “proving” Behe wrong. Come to think of it, how could Behe be so dense as not to have noticed the dogs in the park?

But Dawkins is evading the issue, of course. Dog breeding emphasizes some available canine traits at the expense of others. The dog need not evolve a new post-canine trait. That is precisely what Dawkins, famously, claims that Darwinism can do. And Behe, controversially, shows that, in the very situations where Darwinism can actually be tested, Darwinism does that too rarely to merit the role it is given.

Ted Davis owes a read of the Edge of Evolution and a call to Michael Behe to discuss just what Behe thinks he is before he pronounces on his theology and philosophy of science and the meaning of the Edge of Evolution. How can Ted Davis say something is a "very thoughtful commentary" by Nick Matzke about Behe if he has not read the book and actually talked with Behe. By the way Ted Davis refers to Nick Matzke as his good friend. jerry
In Wikipedia it is called MSTN. Perhaps a dyslexic reporter.
Likely, since the abstract from the paper also refers to "MSTN". On randomness: personally, and I'm sure some would disagree, that randomness has more to do with the source of the mutation. Two examples. If the mutation is caused by internal functions then that isn't random. Although it's possible in certain cases a randomizer function may be used it's still the purposeful randomization of variables. But if the mutation is caused by a breakdown in error correction I'd call that random myself. Patrick
Great point, Matthew. I've long had the same problem with the word "random". If you didn't mean random you wouldn't have said random (same with the 'junk' in 'junk DNA'). I'm no historian and I'm sure there are historical data points to counter this claim, but my sense is that "random" has always been used to a metaphysical purpose. Before we even knew about the genetic basis for variation it was insisted that variation appeared random to man in his state of ignorance, that evolution was not teleological, and that natural selection was culling from among both positive and negative, random-with-respect-to-fitness variability. You might be right that it is losing lustre because of religious resistance, but I would guess more likely that it is falling out of favour for empirical reasons. Statistical investigation just does not seem to support any use of the word when it comes to mutation and its purported results. This is why you get Dawkins emphatically insisting 'evolution is not random, it is anything but random, etc'. I think you see the "random doesn't mean random" arguments now because the dogmatists dug themselves a hole using the word metaphysically, only to find that the word doesn't stand up scientifically. Charlie
Just to elaborate a little further. Science always use well-defined technical meaning of technical word. The word "random" is such a technical word with technical meaning. If theist evolutionists, and people like Matzke, do not really mean true randomness, they should stop using the words "random mutation" - just "mutation" or "unknown mutation" will do. Then at least we can move on and test whether evolutionary significant mutation is random or non-random. Rather than assuming without evidence that it is random mutation. MatthewTan
There is literature bluffing. But more commonly, esp. in the theist evolutionists circle, there is what I would call word bluffing. I mean meaning-of word bluffing. They keep telling us that evolution occurs by random mutation (and natural selection). But when they see Christians unwillingly to accept true randomness, they bluff their way by telling us that randomness does not really mean true randomness. You will read something like this in ASA forum - phenomenon that appears random to men is not really random for God. What nonesense! If it is not random to God, then it is not random, and stop using the word. We are reading this kind of meaning-of-word bluffing, this time coming from Nick Matzke posted on ASA by Ted Davis.
So anyway, "The Edge of Evolution" is just another variant on lame old creationism in my view. Behe's real problem is not that he has a well-thought-out scientific objection to evolution, it's that he views "randomness" as a metaphysical problem for his worldview. He thinks if "randomness" is "real" then God, or at least cosmic purposefulness or a caring God, can't exist. But instead of attacking the metaphysics of Monod or someone who actually did advocate this metaphysical view of randomness (science in general does not -- "random" in science is just a statistical statement of uncertainty, nothing more), Behe tries to solve a metaphysical problem by attacking mundane evolutionary theory's concept of "random mutation." If he thought about it, he would realize that the real randomness-lovers in science are the atmospheric scientists, who invoke statistical "random processes" every chance they get in models of precipitation, wind, etc. But no, it's evolution-bashing that is the tradition in the U.S. Cheers! Nick
jehu i strongly suggest you read genesis 1 again to refresh your memory on the order of biblical creation before you accuse me of agreeing with it http://www.bartleby.com/108/01/1.html#S1 briefly: seed bearing plants and fruit bearing trees on dry land come first (day 3) next comes sun, moon, and stars (day 4) next comes sea creatures (including whales) and birds (day 5) then land animals including humans(day 6) what's wrong with that picture? DaveScot
For me the key point of Behe's new book is that Darwinism asks us to believe that the bat and the hump back whale evolved from the same common ancestor in fewer reproductive events than malaria has in a single year. A small shrew like animal learned to fly and became a bat and learned to swim and became a whale in less time than malaria developed CQR? You have to be on crack to believe that. Jehu
DaveScot, I disagree. The only thing the Bible says about it is that animals reporduce afer their own kind. Creationists do not consider "kind" to be the same as species. Biblical creationism requires a bottleneck at the flood and then rapid diversification. The only way to get that is to have pre-existing alleles that can be rapidly sorted by the environment into different species. If you look at the list of extant species, there are something like over a hundred species of shrew, 39 species of deer and so on. From a creationist view point these would all be the same "kind." Jehu
jehu creationist perhaps but not biblical - designed is roughly synonymous with created - biblical creation is a lot more narrow - unjustifiably narrow imo DaveScot
Does the comparison between wolf and dog mitochondrial DNA establish that the dog population has had mutations since diverging from the wolf? wolves have mitochondrial variations from other wolves - such a comparison is meaningless as you'd have to have dna from a single ancestral wolf known to be the mother of all dogs - since wolves and dogs can all crossbreed there probably is no single she wolf that is the mother of all dogs and you're sure as heck not going to get a sample of her long dead dna DaveScot
whisper sorry about formatting - i broke my wrist and using the shift key one handed is a hassle double muscling occurs in many if not all mammals - it's caused by a rare version of myostatin with 2 or more base pairs missing from the higher frequency version - this is simply an allele with a low frequency - animals heterozygous for it have slightly more muscle mass and homozygous individuals have 20-60% more not every animal in a species has all the alleles of every other member except in very exceptional circumstances where all individuals except a single pair were wiped out in the recent past - in no recorded case afaik was it found that this rare allele arose de novo - if an offspring had it and both parents were tested at least one them had a copy of it - the heritable nature of double muscling was known for a long time - only ten years ago was the responsible gene identified this is how alleles work - frequency in a population rises and falls depending on luck and/or survival value - in some environments its going to be beneficial to have more muscle and less fat and in others not - since a single copy adds only slightly more muscle its easy to remain in some small percentage of the population with just one copy and even more rarely homozygous - but if the environment changes to give higher selection value to more muscle the allele frequency increases, more heterozygotes are born and thence more homozygotes - the classic example is darwin's finch - bigger beaks became predominnt when needed and when not needed smaller beaks became the rule again calling this a mutant gene is misleading - for all anyone knows it might have been the predominant version some time or even most of the time in the past and the muscularly challenged =weak= individuals would then be called the "mutants" - mutant in this loose use of the word simply means rare and that in a nutshell is hoe dog breeding works - artficial selection and artificial reproductive isolation increases the frequency of the desired allele until all of line is homozygous for it and the line then breeds true for the trait - if no new species is formed then the homozygous line will revert as soon as cross breeding with the prior line happens - it's my belief that if you cross all the true breeding dog varieties back together you'll end up with a wolf DaveScot
“Also, it’s MSTN and not MTSN.” UPI had the following: “National Human Genome Research Institute team led by Elaine Ostrander reported a mutation in a gene that codes for a muscle protein known as myostatin can increase muscle mass and enhance racing performance in whippets. Like humans, dogs have two copies of every gene -- one inherited from their mother and the other from their father. Ostrander and colleagues found whippets with one mutated copy of the myostatin, or MTSN, gene and one normal copy are more muscled than normal and are among the breed's fastest racers. Ostrander said the study is the first to link athletic performance with a MTSN mutation.” UPI In Wikipedia it is called MSTN. Perhaps a dyslexic reporter. A few questions. 1) Is the MSTN mutation random with reference to the desired trait? 2) Does the comparison between wolf and dog mitochondrial DNA establish that the dog population has had mutations since diverging from the wolf? 3) Are any traits of the modern dog associated with these mutations? whisper_in_wind
whisper_in_wind, Read: https://uncommondescent.com/darwinism/jerry-coyne-responds-to-behe/#comment-127176 Also, it's MSTN and not MTSN. Patrick
And what of the MTSN mutation in Whippets? whisper_in_wind
different dog types aren’t mutations - they’re all recessive traits already in the genome - artificial selection makes them dominant generally far faster than natural selection
Funny thing is, creationist often use dog breeds as exhibit A in their argument that organisms were created with a variety of traits in order to help them adapt to changes in the enviroment. When you point to the rapid sorting of genetic traits in canines, you are actually making a creationist argument. Jehu
different dog types aren't mutations - they're all recessive traits already in the genome - artificial selection makes them dominant generally far faster than natural selection notably 20,000 years of artificial selection did not create a new species separate from wolves nor did it create a single new trait not characteristic of canidae - try breeding a retractible claw in a dog but don't bank on success coming in less than millions of years DaveScot
whisper in the wind, the mutations that produce the different dog types are the outcome of restricting the breeding of bitches to approved sires (non-random) and then protecting the offspring from life outside a human community (no natural selection). In any event, I don't need evidence for anything at this point. It is the Darwinists who need to respond to the figures cited in Edge of Evolution for the observed rate of evolution by known Darwinian means. That means no intelligent design by humans in selecting the mutations and no avoidance of natural selection in protecting and bulding on the outcome. When you read the book, you will see what I mean. O'Leary
“Dog breeding is NOT random. Contra Dawkins that matters very much indeed.” O'Leary Dawkins does not claim that dog breeding is random, sinse artificial selection is a non-random process just as natural selection is a non-random process. What he is saying is that the mutations, such as the one that produces the very small dog such as the terrier is random with reference to the desired trait. Do you have any evidence that the mutations that produce the different dog types were non-random? whisper_in_wind
Larry Fafarman, Thank you for the examples. I should have looked at Wikipedia before my comment. However one could also say that many of the examples are conjectures. While the Panda's thumb may be an appropriate example, what the Panda's Thumb really does it allow one to speculate as far as the mind can wander and then proclaim it as proven theory. jerry
I hope all commenters and viewers on this thread get and read Behe's "Edge of Evolution." That's because I think it has focused the debate in a way that most discussions do not. He is not claiming that Darwinian evolution cannot occur. He gives examples of situations where it did occur. The reason we know it did occur is that we know EXACTLY what happened at the biochemical level: Natural selection acted on a random mutation to enable a life form to acquire a new trait. Behe then asks, given the number of generations that have passed (again, a known/knowable quantity), how much change has this process driven? The answer is, very little. Both Dawkins (dogs) and Matzke (exaptation) are evading the issue. Dog breeding is NOT random. Contra Dawkins that matters very much indeed. The human is inducing changes in the dog that the dog's genome accommodates but does not encourage. Nature has not independently rewarded these changes. Behe, by contrast, is talking about new traits, developed by Darwinian evolution, that are known to confer a benefit in terms of survival of the fittest (resistance, for example). Similarly, we do not know the complete sequence of biochemical steps by which the panda's "thumb" took shape. Matzke INFERS Darwinian evolution as the cause. These people are anxious to avoid confronting the difference between the amount of change over time that Darwinian evolution has been observed to cause when the events can be monitored and the amount of change over time that they need it to cause. You will find Edge of Evolution a very interesting read. O'Leary
jerry said (comment #9) Has anyone ever seen or demonstrated an exaption? Or are Exaptations or co-options just processes that one pulls out of one’s rear end when there is no logical way for something to happen? The Panda's thumb is an example of exaptation -- that is why the Panda's Thumb blog was named for it. Also, "The Panda's Thumb" is the title of the second volume of collected essays by Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould -- see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Panda%27s_Thumb:_More_Reflections_in_Natural_History The Panda thumb, which is used in grasping the bamboo stalks that pandas eat, is not a true thumb but appears to be adapted from a bone -- the sesamoid bone -- that was originally used to strengthen a tendon. See -- http://www.athro.com/evo/pthumb.html The Wikipedia article on exaptation claims that bird feathers are an exaptation -- that their original purpose was temperature control and that they later were used for flight. Wikipedia also claims that land animal limbs are an exaptation of fish fins -- the fish fins might serve for stability and steering whereas the land animal limbs serve for propulsion. See --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exaptation Also, the Wikipedia article gives a pseudo-example of exaptation -- A multi-stage example involves human hands, which evolved to facilitate tool use and which are an exaptation of primate hands that were used for grasping tree branches. However, both human hands and non-human primate hands are designed for grasping. Many examples of exaptation involve drastic changes in the form or function of the exapted feature. An example is the difference between fins and land-animal limbs. Another example is the claim that reptile jawbones evolved into mammalian middle-ear bones. Even in the case of the Panda's thumb, the initial and final forms are different -- the Panda's thumb is different from the sesamoid bone that was supposedly its precursor. If exaptation is to be an explanation for irreducibly complex systems, then often several different exaptations must simultaneously appear in their final forms even though those final forms often have no use outside the system. Larry Fafarman
What's the problem? If cooption and/or exaption don't work, they can always invoke, one at a time, metaption, paraption, prooption, telaption, postaption, etc. I appreciate darwinists'creativity. Arguments evolve in their heads at a rate which seems to humiliate the malaria plasmodium or the HIV virus. One of the objections I read in the ASA blog is, more or less, that Behe's arguments only demonstrate the difficulty for humans to become resistant to chloroquine! But I don't understand why they are so generously giving their cumulative attention to one person, Behe, and to one idea, ID, that in their opinion have nothing to do with science. Perhaps scientific research and speculation, somehow, leaves them with a lot of free time... gpuccio
Has anyone ever seen or demonstrated an exaption? Or are Exaptations or co-options just processes that one pulls out of one's rear end when there is no logical way for something to happen? Shouldn't they be called on the myth of exaptations every time it is invoked? jerry
Here is part of Matzke's argument: In real life, evolution would most commonly evolve one binding site for one function, then the complex would sit around doing its function for awhile, and then occasionally another protein would evolve binding for some other function, or for improving the current function. It's called exaptation -- change of function in evolution -- and it has been absolutely fundamental in evolutionary theory ever since Darwin. Here's where Matzke's argument about exaption is a non-sequitor. Behe's argument is that it takes 10^20 cells (=organisms) to come up with a CCC. So, let's say an emu wants to fly. And to do that it needs a sped-up metabolism. And, for that sped-up metabolism, 2 PTP-binding sites have to develop. Now, let's say there are a million emus in the middle of Australia that maintain their population size; and, let's say the average age of an emu is six years. That means that, effectively, around 166,000 emus are born each year. We'll round it up to 200,000. To get one new PTP-binding site, it would take [(10^20 needed emus to be born)/2 x 10^5 emus born/yr] years, or, 5 x 10^14 years. The age of the universe? 1.35 x 10^10 years. Now, let's assume that this new PTP-binding site spreads instantaenously throughout the emu population. Then how long will it take for the second PTP-binding site to develop in this population of one million emus? That's right: 5 x 10^14 years, for a total of 10^29 years for both binding sites to "evolve". Maybe Matzke should deal with these numbers before he starts handwaving about "Exaption"!!! PaV
One of the ASA commenters, David Opderbeck, who is lawyer and posted here a few months ago has questioned the co-option argument. He has a neat analogy where co-option is like someone saying a mouse trap will self assemble but one of the components is on Mars and not near the other parts but this does not seem to get in the way of those using the co-option argument. This is exactly what Miller and others have done. Maybe we should call this the "Mars argument." Opderbeck also pointed out the literature bluffing of Miller which he says is often a strategy in legal trials. Hey how about the Dover Trial. He says it can work against you if the lawyers are alert to what is going on and then refutes the claims. This was not done at Dover but should have been done if the lawyers had been alert. jerry
Behe clearly refuted Miller and Coyne. I know that Dawkins' review doesn't deserve a response, but since the author is THE GREAT DAWKINS and it was published in NYT, Behe should teach Dawkins a lesson. As for the discussion at ASA, it appears that Nick Matzke has written a review and will publish it in Trends in Ecology & Evolution (see here) One remarkable thing about it is that it contradicts the claims by JAM that the CQR needs only one mutation. Matzke is saying that it's, in fact, more complicated than two mutations. And also he's relying on exaptation as a counter-argument. IDist
I would give it less than 10 years before ASA begins drifting toward ID, and claiming it supported the concept all along, and that it just opposed the "politics" of ID. Apollos
The people at ASA are starting to comment on Behe's book even though most have not read it. It is interesting to see what their comments are just based on what some reviewers are saying. Here is the site http://www.calvin.edu/archive/asa/200707/ One commenter assumes co-option can explain almost everything for IC systems and thus Behe was completely refuted in DBB. It will be interesting to see what they resort to in order to refute Behe. Maybe Miller, Coyne, Ruse and Dawkins should have waited till ASA makes their pronouncements. One commenter talks about the literature bluffing by Miller. jerry
Check out the link SG references. I predicted that literature bluffing would be a main tactic in attempting to refute Behe. Miller offers a prime example. GilDodgen
At his blog on Amazon, Behe has just posted a response to Ken Miller's unfavorable review of EoE in Nature. I laughed out loud when I read... "It is perhaps not too surprising that both Miller and Coyne make that mistake [misunderstanding statistical data], because in general Darwinists are not used to constraining their speculations with quantitative data." (I think there may be a misprint in the Amazon post. I think "one in 10^20" might have been meant instead of "one in 1020".) Link SG sagebrush gardener

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