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This site is named for the famous statement of US Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver from Missouri : "I`m from Missouri -- you'll have to show me." This site is dedicated to skepticism of official dogma in all subjects. Just-so stories are not accepted here. This is a site where controversial subjects such as evolution theory and the Holocaust may be freely debated.

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My biggest motivation for creating my own blogs was to avoid the arbitrary censorship practiced by other blogs and various other Internet forums. Censorship will be avoided in my blogs -- there will be no deletion of comments, no closing of comment threads, no holding up of comments for moderation, and no commenter registration hassles. Comments containing nothing but insults and/or ad hominem attacks are discouraged. My non-response to a particular comment should not be interpreted as agreement, approval, or inability to answer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Jerry Coyne's review of "The Edge of Evolution" in New Republic

Michael Behe's new book, "The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism", is about intelligent design. Intelligent design is not one of my favorite subjects, but I feel compelled to comment on this book because it has created such a big stir -- it was released only about two weeks ago and there are already dozens of articles about it. One of the more prominent and widely discussed articles about the book is a review of the book by Darwinist Jerry Coyne in the New Republic magazine. Not surprisingly, the Uncommon Descent blog has several articles that are critical of Coyne's review, but it was surprising that Darwinist blogger Jason Rosenhouse wrote an article that is highly critical of Coyne's review. I have not read any of the book myself -- this article here is strictly a review of Coyne's book review.

The article begins by discussing the anti-ID disclaimer statement signed by Michael Behe's Lehigh University colleagues. Coyne says,
.
To my knowledge, such a statement is unique. Biology departments do not customarily assert publicly that they support a theory known for more than a century to be true.

No, the statement is not unique. Faculty members at three Iowa universities signed anti-ID statements. Unlike the Lehigh university statement, the Iowa statements did not expressly target an individual faculty member, but one of the authors of the Iowa State University statement said that it targeted an ISU faculty member, Guillermo Gonzalez. The ISU statement was signed by 124 ISU faculty members.

. . . this disclaimer is perfectly understandable. For in this department resides Michael Behe--that rara avis, a genuine biologist who is also an advocate of "intelligent design." And Lehigh University does not wish to lose prospective students who bridle at the thought of studying miracles in their science courses.

The numbers of applicants and the SAT score averages of admitted students have actually increased at Lehigh University in recent years.

More damaging than the scientific criticisms of Behe's work was the review that he got in 2005 from Judge John E. Jones III. After an ID textbook called Of Pandas and People was proposed for biology classes at a high school in Dover, Pennsylvania, a group of local parents brought suit against the Dover Area School District and some of its members . . . . The case of Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District et al., dubbed by some "the Scopes trial of our century," included luminaries from both the scientific camp and the ID camp battling it out in front of Judge Jones. With his scientific credentials, Behe was the key witness for the defense.

Jones's 139-page verdict for the plaintiffs was eloquent, strong, and unequivocal, especially coming from a churchgoing Republican.

There we go again with that "churchgoing Republican" crap. That means nothing -- Jones might have been bending over backwards to try to show that his background did not bias him against evolution and in favor of ID. This "churchgoing Republican" bent over so far backwards that he said in a Dickinson College commencement speech that organized religions are not "true" religions.

The coup de grace to the already badly discredited Kitzmiller opinion was delivered by the Discovery Institute's revelation that the opinion's touted ID-as-science section was ghostwritten by the ACLU. Judge Jones copied the ID-as-science section virtually entirely from the plaintiffs’ opening post-trial brief while ignoring the defendants’ opening post-trial brief and the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ answering post-trial briefs. There is no evidence that Judge Jones did any independent thinking here. There is no evidence that Jones even read any of the post-trial briefs other than the one that he copied from. The unsupported argument that the reason why he ignored the defendants’ arguments was that he thought they were weak is no excuse because if he thought those arguments were weak then he would have had all the more reason to present them in order to refute them. The Darwinists can praise the Kitzmiller opinion until they are blue in the face but it won't persuade any judge that it is a good opinion.

Also, Darwinist Jason Rosenhouse wrote,

So what does he (i.e., Coyne) do with the space that might have been dedicated to, you know, presenting some facts useful for assessing Behe's arguments? He presents an argument from authority. And which authority did he find to make it clear the flagellum is the product of evolution?

Indeed, the whole problem of the evolution of cilia was argued before Judge Jones in Harrisburg, who ruled that there was no convincing evidence that evolution could not have produced this structure, making legal doctrine from something biologists already knew.

Are you kidding me? In a paragraph meant to impress people with the idea that Behe is snowing nonscientists with a wealth of technical detail, Coyne uses as a counterargument that we managed to convince a Judge that the flagellum evolved? This is embarrassing.

Actually, as noted above, Judge Jones didn't even show that the ACLU "convinced" him of anything -- he just blindly copied the ACLU's ideas.

Coyne then writes,
What has Behe now found to resurrect his campaign for ID? It's rather pathetic, really. Basically, he now admits that almost the entire edifice of evolutionary theory is true: evolution, natural selection, common ancestry. His one novel claim is that the genetic variation that fuels natural selection--mutation--is produced not by random changes in DNA, as evolutionists maintain, but by an Intelligent Designer.

I am certainly not an expert on Behe's ideas, but I have not heard any claims that Behe ever rejected any of the claims of Darwinism except the claim that evolution is driven mainly by random mutation.

Evolution by selection, then, is a combination of two steps: a "random" (or indifferent) step -- mutation -- that generates a panoply of genetic variants, both good and bad (in our example, a variety of new coat colors); and then a deterministic step -- natural selection -- that orders this variation, keeping the good and winnowing the bad . . . . Creationists equate the chance that evolution could produce a complex organism to the infinitesimal chance that a hurricane could sweep through a junkyard and randomly assemble the junk into a Boeing 747. But this analogy is specious. Evolution is manifestly not a chance process because of the order produced by natural selection -- order that can, over vast periods of time, result in complex organisms looking as if they were designed to fit their environment.

Natural selection cannot produce order by itself. Before there can be a complex organism for natural selection to act upon, that complex organism must first be produced.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria is rampant, a mutation has arisen in the gene producing hemoglobin that helps ward off malaria. The striking thing about this mutation, known as the sickle-cell mutation, is that it somehow reduces the chances of contracting malaria when its carriers have one copy of the gene (like most organisms, we have two copies of every gene, one on each of our two sets of chromosomes), but it causes sickle-cell anemia when the carriers have two copies . . . .

. . . .According to Behe, malaria shows that random mutation is insufficient to explain biological complexity. He disparages the defensive sickle-cell mutation and similar mutations, saying that they "are quintessentially hurtful mutations because they diminish the functioning of the human body" (does successfully resisting malaria really diminish the function of our body?) and that they are "not in the process of joining to build a complex, interactive biochemical system."

Behe is wrong here. Sickle-cell anemia is a very bad adaptation for its victims but is a good adaptation for its carriers because it gives them resistance to malaria. From just the standpoint of Darwinism, what counts here is not survival of individuals but survival of the species. And even the sickle-cell anemia victims may survive long enough to reproduce -- Wikipedia says that older studies show that victims live to an average age of 40-50 years. As Coyne says, "This example shows that natural selection does not necessarily produce absolute perfection."

Coyne wrote,

Behe buttresses his conclusion by describing how the AIDS virus evolved to outwit not only the strategies of the human immune system but also powerful anti-viral drugs. Again he sees little evolution of complexity: "HIV has killed millions of people, fended off the human immune system, and become resistant to whatever drug humanity could throw at it. Yet through all that, there have been no significant basic biochemical changes in the virus at all" . . .

. . . Evolutionary theory predicts only that parasites will adapt, not how they will adapt. In fact, both the malaria parasite and the HIV virus have undergone sufficient "biochemical change" to make them almost completely adapted to withstand both human drugs and the immune system.
(emphasis in original)

Most creationists and other critics of Darwinism accept microevolution because microevolution is an observed fact, but Behe here appears to even be attacking microevolution. And Coyne's statement "Evolutionary theory predicts only that parasites will adapt, not how they will adapt" is wrong. For example, malaria has not adapted to the resistance that sickle-cell anemia gives to its carriers and victims (even if such an adaptation were possible, maybe it would not significantly increase the rate of transmission -- I don't know). And species that fail to adapt often become extinct.

IDers never produce their own "scientific" explanation of life. They just carp about evolution.

That is a trite Darwinist argument. Why can't a theory be criticized without introducing a complete alternative theory at the same time? When Thomas Edison was charged with not making any progress in his efforts to create a practical electric light, he replied, "I've made lots of progress -- I now know lots of things that don't work." And what good are the mechanisms of Darwinism if those mechanisms are unproven and implausible?

Proteins represent strings of building blocks -- amino acids -- and the cooperation between some proteins requires that sets of amino acids in one protein interact rather precisely with sets in another. Such precise protein-protein interactions, says Behe, could not have been formed by "numerous, successive, slight steps," because such Darwinian evolution would be wildly improbable . . .

. . . Wrong. If it looks impossible, this is only because of Behe's bizarre and unrealistic assumption that for a protein-protein interaction to evolve, all mutations must occur simultaneously, because the step-by-step path is not adaptive. Yet Behe furnishes no proof, no convincing argument, that interactions cannot evolve gradually. In fact, interactions between proteins, like any complex interaction, were certainly built up step by mutational step, with each change producing an interaction scrutinized by selection and retained if it enhanced an organism's fitness.
(emphasis added)

But Behe's point is that the intermediate mutational steps do not "[enhance] an organism's fitness" and hence are not "scrutinized by selection," and without selection a step is not likely to be "retained" by a population that is large enough to make it likely that the species will proceed to the next step by random mutation.

After all, commercial corn, greyhounds, tomatoes, and turkeys were redesigned by humans, not the Intelligent Designer, and since humans cannot produce miracle mutations, we are limited to selecting whichever ones arise--that is, random ones.

Coyne is here arguing against is own position. Natural selection, like breeding by humans, is "limited to selecting whichever ones [i.e., mutations] arise -- that is, random ones."

. . .Behe has never published a paper supporting intelligent design in any scientific journal, despite his assertion in Darwin's Black Box that his own discovery of biochemical design "must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science," rivaling "those of Newton and Einstein, Lavoisier and Schrodinger, Pasteur, and Darwin."

Egads -- did Behe ever make so immodest a statement?

As we know from the fossil record, the multiple features of organisms that make them look designed -- say, the feathers, legs, and wings of birds -- did not appear instantly and simultaneously, but evolved gradually.

It has been observed that many organisms appeared suddenly in the fossil record without precursors and continued virtually unchanged until the present day or until they became extinct.

. . . questions about the goals, the powers, and the limitations of the Designer are precisely what must be answered if ID is to become scientific.

What is "scientific" about answering philosophical or theological questions?

Behe waffles when confronted with the testability problem of ID and turns it back on evolutionists, saying that "coming from Darwinists, both objections [the lack of predictions and the untestability of ID] are instances of the pot calling the kettle black."

A lot of Darwinism's so-called "predictions" are not predictions at all but are just observations that discoveries are consistent with the theory. And something can be scientific without being able to predict anything beyond what is already known. For example, we don't need Newton's laws of gravity and motion to predict that dropped objects will fall and their rate of fall. Galileo's experiment of dropping stones of unequal mass from the Leaning Tower of Pisa demonstrated that objects of different mass fall at the same rate (assuming wind resistance is not a factor), before Newton's laws showed the reasons for this phenomenon: acceleration is equal to force divided by mass and gravitational force is directly proportional to mass, so the effects of increased mass and increased gravitational force exactly cancel each other out.

One of the great joys of science is that we never know what will happen next. Who could have guessed twenty years ago that dinosaurs probably became extinct after a giant meteorite collided with Earth and produced a "nuclear winter"? IDers would deprive us of this essential excitement, urging us to stop working when we come up against the hard problems and to ascribe our difficulties to God.

IDers have urged no such thing.

===========================================

As I have said many times, the nearly exclusive focus on ID as a criticism of Darwinism has almost produced a "contrived dualism" where Darwinism and ID are considered to be the only possibilities. As I have also said many times, there are also non-ID criticisms of Darwinism, e.g., criticisms concerning co-evolution, the propagation of beneficial mutations in sexual reproduction, and chromosome counts. None of these three non-ID criticisms questions the effectiveness of the Darwinian mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection.
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2 Comments:

Blogger AIGBusted said...

It is sad to see people who buy into the DI's propaganda. I encourage you to check out something I have written about the lies of IDers:

[=link]http://aigbusted.blogspot.com/2007/12/discovery-institutes-youtube-propaganda.html[/link]

-Ryan

Saturday, June 28, 2008 10:27:00 PM  
Blogger AIGBusted said...

Allow me to correct that, the link is:

http://aigbusted.blogspot.com/
2007/12/discovery-institutes-
youtube-propaganda.html

(spaces removed)

Saturday, June 28, 2008 10:44:00 PM  

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