Intelligent Design

The Greatest Spin on Earth

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Is Dawkins pulling the wool over our eyes?

Dawkins:
“Lenski and a different set of colleagues investigated this phenomenon [bigger cells] by taking two of the [E. coli] tribes, called Ara+1 and Ara-1, which seemed, over 20,000 generations, to have followed the same evolutionary trajectory, and looking at their DNA. The astonishing result they found was that 59 genes had changed their level of expression in both tribes and all 59 had changes in the same direction. Were it not for natural selection, such independent parallelism, in all 59 genes independently, would completely beggar belief. The odds against it happening by chance are stupefyingly large. This is exactly the kind of thing creationists say cannot happen, because they think it is too improbably to have happened by chance. Yet it actually happened. And the explanation, of course, is that it did not happen by chance, but because gradual, step-by-step, cumulative natural selection favoured the same – literally the same – beneficial changes in both lines independently.” The Greatest Show on Earth pp. 124-125

Behe:
“Another change was in a regulatory gene called spoT which affected en masse how fifty-nine other genes worked, either increasing or decreasing their activity. One likely explanation for the net good effect of this very blunt mutation it that it turned off the energetically costly genes that make the bacterial flagellum, saving the cell some energy.” The Edge of Evolution p. 142

30 Replies to “The Greatest Spin on Earth

  1. 1
    tragic mishap says:

    LOL! Behe refuted Dawkins before he even heard Dawkins argument. That’s pitiful man.

  2. 2
    ellazimm says:

    Are you accusing Dawkins of misrepresenting the research in a book he KNEW was going to sell many, many copies regarding a famous, published, much discussed research project? That a man who has spent his entire academic career looking at EXACTLY this kind of research got it wrong? (YES I AM. idnet)

    That of all the people scrutenising this research only Dr Behe got it right? (NO. WE ONLY KNOW DAWKINS GOT IT WRONG. idnet)

    And Dawkins is talking about it happening in TWO lines, independently.

  3. 3
    Mark Frank says:

    I think this is the relevant paper. If this is the right paper (there may of course be some revision somewhere) it looks like the truth is somewhere between the two. The SpoT mutation accounted for some but probably not all of the change in expression in the Ara-1 population.

    Of the 59 genes that showed
    significant changes in both evolved clones, 12 were also altered
    significantly … by the spoT mutation…. In 11 of
    these 12, the change was in the same direction as in the evolved
    clones ….

    The SpoT gene was not mutated in the Ara +1 population and the authors conjecture that some other mutation was having a similar effect although they could not identify it.

    I do think Dawkins has oversimplified these results. The changes in expression of the 59 were genes were clearly not independent. (DAWKINS STATES THAT THEY WERE. THAT IS HIS PRECISE POINT. idnet)It is a pity – because the paper still illustrates his point – multiple convergent changes under natural selection.

  4. 4
    Jehu says:

    Dawkins argument is also a strawman. If each of the 59 genes is under selective pressure and if each of the genes can improve fitness with a single mutation, then what is so improbable that all 59 genes would show a change after 20,000 generations? What creationist or intelligent design advocate is making that argument?

  5. 5
    William J. Murray says:

    The real question is, how does Dawkins know what is responsible for the supposed convergent result? It sounds to me that he is simply assuming NS is responsible.

  6. 6
    Mark Frank says:

    Re #5

    “The real question is, how does Dawkins know what is responsible for the supposed convergent result? It sounds to me that he is simply assuming NS is responsible.”

    I haven’t read Dawkins’ book so I don’t what else he writes. However, there is considerable evidence in the paper that these changes were due to natural selection in the sense they gradually accumulated with a corresponding gradual increase in fitness. I know one is not allowed to conjecture on the ways of the designer but if the changes were designed you have to wonder why the designer chose one method with Ara+1 and a different one with Ara-1 starting with the same population under the same conditions and achieving an almost identical outcome.

    idnet has added a bold comment into my comment #3.

    I do think Dawkins has oversimplified these results. The changes in expression of the 59 were genes were clearly not independent. (DAWKINS STATES THAT THEY WERE. THAT IS HIS PRECISE POINT. idnet)

    Yes. It is an open question as to how many of the 59 genes mutated independently. It is also not true that the spoT gene affected all 59 other genes – which was precisely Behe’s point. So they were both wrong. The lesson should be – read the original paper.

  7. 7
    Joseph says:

    So natural selection is so powerful tat bacteria evolve into bacteria!!!!

    Wow, that makes me all shivery and stuff…

  8. 8
    Joseph says:

    Oops it would also help Dawkins if he referenced the Creationist claim that this is supposed to refute.

    Otherwise people may think that he just made it up.

    An atheistic butthead with an agenda wouldn’t do something like that, would he?

  9. 9
    tragic mishap says:

    Mark Frank,

    Darwinists who so often complain about ID being only a negative argument are so quick to assume that any argument against Darwinian evolution is also an argument for design. You probably shouldn’t.

  10. 10
    tragic mishap says:

    Btw, thanks for posting the paper, Mark. At first glance it looks like they catalogued several different mutations in spoT that caused the same affect. The ID hypothesis would then be that it’s highly improbably these changes caused an increase in function. Instead, those mutations probably broke spoT in some way, which caused the regulatory system to undergo the changes it did.

  11. 11
    tragic mishap says:

    Sorry for the spelling errors.

  12. 12
    Khan says:

    If you want to say that Dawkins oversimplified (and it seems from the quotation that he did), then you also have to say that Behe oversimplified. In no way does that paper say that a single mutation caused all 59 gene expression changes.

  13. 13
    tragic mishap says:

    K, so Behe was correct about reduced expression of the flagellum genes. The same mutations in spoT also reduce concentrations of ppGpp, which in turn might increase transcription of tRNA and rRNA, causing a general growth increase. Interestingly, if spoT affects the amount of tRNA and ribosomes in the cell, it would amplify any other positive changes in expression.

    spoT showed different mutations in populations which showed the same gene expression profiles, and in some of those populations spoT was not mutated. In other words, spoT broke in 8 of 12 populations, and in the other populations a number of other genes probably controlled by spoT broke. Meaning that having mutations in spoT is an easier way to get these advantages, but not the only way. In other words, spoT can break which screws up the regulatory network, or other regulatory genes could break, or the genes themselves could break.

    The really significant thing is that nowhere in the paper did they identify a single mutation that was exactly the same. For instance,

    “Seven other evolved populations also had acquired point mutations in
    spoT, causing amino acid replacements in all cases, although no two mutations were identical.”

    and

    “In striking contrast to these cases of parallelism in candidate genes, sequencing 500 bp in each of 36 randomly chosen gene regions in clones from all 12 populations
    found only 10 mutations in total, all of them in a few lines that
    had evolved defects in DNA repair, and no case in which even
    two populations had mutations in the same gene.”

    All this is consistent with an ID viewpoint. If these mutations gave rise to any new functions, they would likely be the same point mutations in each population. Breaking a gene is easy because there’s so many different ways to do it. If it’s a regulatory gene, then the gene expression profiles will look the same even though it was caused by different point mutations. Furthermore some of these mutations were identified as having deleterious effects on DNA repair genes. But no new function, no new working genes. Ho hum.

  14. 14
    Mark Frank says:

    #12

    so Behe was correct about reduced expression of the flagellum genes.

    But do you agree was wrong to write:

    “Another change was in a regulatory gene called spoT which affected en masse how fifty-nine other genes worked”

    This is far from obvious from the paper. It could be as few as 12 other genes.

  15. 15
    Reg says:

    @idnet (#2) (NO. WE ONLY KNOW DAWKINS GOT IT WRONG. idnet)

    No. We only know that Behe and Dawkins differ in their explanation. It is possible for either (or both) of them to be wrong.

  16. 16
    tragic mishap says:

    Yes I agree. It was not obvious. It’s also not obvious that Behe was wrong.

  17. 17
    tragic mishap says:

    Btw, it’s a really nice paper. Very good work. I had never heard of the suicide plasma method with the sugar selection before. Definitely like that. They controlled very well for possible unknown mutations in their cloning methods.

  18. 18
    tragic mishap says:

    The claim that this shows convergent evolution can only be sustained on the phenotypic level. Convergent evolution was not observed at the genetic level.

    In any case, Behe at least is not obviously wrong. Dawkins is.

  19. 19
    Jehu says:

    I checked Behe’s book and he cites to multiple papers rather than just the one we found on PNAS. I don’t if the other papers clarify more.

  20. 20
    ellazimm says:

    I can’t wait to see what y’all make of the next development which Dawkins talks about starting on page 126 of my (English) edition of The Greatest Show on Earth. No way I’m hand entering three or four pages of text but . . . well, I await your views. I’m happy to wait ’til someone else takes the time to digitize it. 🙂 But it is very, very, very interesting.

  21. 21
    tragic mishap says:

    Is it just me or don’t you ever have anything substantial to add to the conversation?

  22. 22
    ellazimm says:

    Tragic: have you read the next few pages of Dawkins’ book? He continues the discussion of Lenski’s research and brings up even more interesting results. Let me know what you think.

  23. 23
    tragic mishap says:

    No I haven’t read the book. I’d appreciate it if you would summarize. For instance, like I read the paper Mark posted and related some actual information from it. If what you say excites my interest, I may read it. Otherwise, please don’t waste my time.

  24. 24
    Cabal says:

    The lesson should be – read the original paper.

    A bad idea, what would happen to the debate? Let’s face it, much of the ID or creationism debate rely on lay people with strong convictions.

    Scientific papers mostly are way over the head of non-scientists.

    I know, I often try to read scientific papers and I find them very convincing but that’s all, I wouldn’t know if it was all fiction.

    Although I often find that what they say isn’t quite what the critics say..

    That’s why proponents of ID or creationism are so important in facilitating debate by making research results available to the general public in non-scientific language.

  25. 25
    Heinrich says:

    The claim that this shows convergent evolution can only be sustained on the phenotypic level. Convergent evolution was not observed at the genetic level.

    True. This is what we would expect from an evolutionary perspective: selection acts on the phenotype, and that is what converges. But if mutations are random, and there are multiple paths to the same phenotype, then we might expect to see several of these paths being taken.

    A naïve ID argument would suggest that a designer would use the same path in all cases, so that we would expect to see the same genetic changes. I am curious to know how one could argue that the observed pattern could come about through a designer. (I accept that ID accepts that evolution might account for these results, I’m just interested to know if there is a design explanation – to explore the edge of ID, if you will)

  26. 26
    lars says:

    “This is exactly the kind of thing creationists say cannot happen, because they think it is too improbabl[e] to have happened by chance.”

    Yes, Dawkins is pulling the wool over his readers’ eyes. Regardless of whether the 59 genes changed level of expression independently, he sets up his opponents (“creationists”) as not believing in natural selection, then knocks them down with this evidence. … when in fact, even creationists (to say nothing of ID proponents) believe that natural selection occurs. I’m not aware of a prominent one who denies this. Dawkins recently complained, “It would be so nice if those who oppose evolution would take a tiny bit of trouble to learn the merest rudiments of what it is that they are opposing.” Would that he took his own advice.

    To my knowledge, those who oppose “evolution” (whom Dawkins calls ‘history deniers’) only deny that natural selection acting on random mutation has the power to come up with complex new functions.

    [OT: there is some weird stuff going on with the comment editor. When I put ‘history deniers’ in double quotes, in the preview the whole comment cuts off before ‘complained’).

  27. 27
    Joseph says:

    Cabal,

    Evolutionists rely on ignorance.

    It is due to that ignorance that the theory flourishes.

  28. 28
    tragic mishap says:

    Heinrich:

    Nobody’s making a design argument for the evolution that Lenski is reporting. The issue is that Dawkins said this paper shows E. coli breaking probability barriers that ID talks about. Well, the fact is it’s highly unlikely that any probability barriers were broken. A lot of genes were though.

    An ID point of view would be simply that the designer gave genomes bumpers just like on a car. In a crash, the bumper gets busted up but saves the occupants from being killed. In the bugs under low glucose conditions, some cellular mechanisms get busted up but the cells survive. ID would also say that crashing is a different sort of process than the process that built the car in the first place. Crashing can never ever result in anything but a mangled car that already existed.

  29. 29
    Barb says:

    Richard Dawkins: “Strident? Me?”

    http://www.independent.co.uk/a.....96244.html

  30. 30
    Heinrich says:

    An ID point of view would be simply that the designer gave genomes bumpers just like on a car. In a crash, the bumper gets busted up but saves the occupants from being killed. In the bugs under low glucose conditions, some cellular mechanisms get busted up but the cells survive. ID would also say that crashing is a different sort of process than the process that built the car in the first place. Crashing can never ever result in anything but a mangled car that already existed.

    in the paper Mark Frank links to, there is no evidence of genes being “busted”: they are still being expressed, but at a lower level. From a quick skim, they present no evidence about the function of the genes.

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