Lehigh biochemist and creationist darling Michael Behe, last seen falsely claiming that no evidence exists for an evolutionary origin of the bacterial flagellum, has written yet another book attacking the darwinofascist patriarchy. Writing in Science, molecular biologist Sean Carroll surveys the damage:
The problem is what Behe asserts Darwinian evolution can’t do: produce more “complex” changes than those that have enabled humans to battle malaria or allowed malarial parasites to evade the drugs we throw at them. Behe’s main argument rests on the assertion that two or more simultaneous mutations are required for increases in biochemical complexity and that such changes are, except in rare circumstances, beyond the limit of evolution. He concludes that “most mutations that built the great structures of life must have been nonrandom.” In short, God is a genetic engineer, somehow designing changes in DNA to make biochemical machines and higher taxa.
[…] Behe seems to lack any appreciation of the quantitative dimensions of molecular and trait evolution. He appears to think of the functional features of proteins in qualitative terms, as if binding or catalysis were all or nothing rather than a broad spectrum of affinities or rates. Therefore, he does not grasp the fundamental reality of a mutational path that proteins follow in evolving new properties.
This lack of quantitative thinking underlies a second, fatal blunder resulting from the mistaken assumptions Behe makes about protein interactions. The author has long been concerned about protein complexes and how they could or, rather, could not evolve. He argues that the generation of a single new protein-protein binding site is extremely improbable and that complexes of just three different proteins “are beyond the edge of evolution.” But Behe bases his arguments on unfounded requirements for protein interactions. He insists, based on consideration of just one type of protein structure (the combining sites of antibodies), that five or six positions must change at once in order to make a good fit between proteins–and, therefore, good fits are impossible to evolve. An immense body of experimental data directly refutes this claim. There are dozens of well-studied families of cellular proteins (kinases, phosphatases, proteases, adaptor proteins, sumoylation enzymes, etc.) that recognize short linear peptide motifs in which only two or three amino acid residues are critical for functional activity [reviewed in (7-9)]. Thousands of such reversible interactions establish the protein networks that govern cellular physiology.
Very simple calculations indicate how easily such motifs evolve at random. If one assumes an average length of 400 amino acids for proteins and equal abundance of all amino acids, any given two-amino acid motif is likely to occur at random in every protein in a cell. (There are 399 dipeptide motifs in a 400-amino acid protein and 20 20 = 400 possible dipeptide motifs.) Any specific three-amino acid motif will occur once at random in every 20 proteins and any four-amino acid motif will occur once in every 400 proteins. That means that, without any new mutations or natural selection, many sequences that are identical or close matches to many interaction motifs already exist. New motifs can arise readily at random, and any weak interaction can easily evolve, via random mutation and natural selection, to become a strong interaction (9). Furthermore, any pair of interacting proteins can readily recruit a third protein, and so forth, to form larger complexes. Indeed, it has been demonstrated that new protein interactions (10) and protein networks (11) can evolve fairly rapidly and are thus well within the limits of evolution.
True enough, as always Behe’s declarations sound convincing to anyone who skipped undergraduate biology. For the rest of us, not so much. As an undergraduate I wrote a fairly comprehensive rebuttal of Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box. It isn’t that hard if you have access to some textbooks and a free database like PubMed or Google Scholar.
As dangerous as Behe’s work might be to people who grow stupider for having read it, I think that Behe poses much more of a danger to the creationist movement itself. The problem is that unlike most other luminaries in the anti-Darwin movement Behe insists on making testable predictions. This passage from Carrol’s review illustrates Behe’s problem:
Behe once wrote, “if random evolution is true, there must have been a large number of transitional forms between the Mesonychid [a whale ancestor] and the ancient whale. Where are they?” (12). He assumed such forms would not or could not be found, but three transitional species were identified by paleontologists within a year of that statement.
Behe makes this same mistake over and over and over. When he declared in Darwin’s Black Box that the bacterial flagellum could not have evolved Behe ignored significant literature that already sketched out a plausible mechanism and subsequent work has almost completely clarified it. We now know that systems as apparently irreducible as our nervous system have clear precursors in species which lack the faintest hint of a neuron or synapse. In fact, Harvard neuroscientist David Linden has just published an engaging book describing how far from representing biological perfection, natural selection instead cobbled our modern brains together from a mishmash of subpar components that had the distinct advantage of being available.
The distinction here is crucial – creation “theory” posits a creator with a near-infinite toolset to work with. Only a cruel or limited creator would create a beloved species using suboptimal components, whereas evolutionary theory demands that a new species can only make incremental changes on the species that came before. Perfect, precursor-free optimization would discredit evolution if it anyone could ever demonstrate it, while suboptimal adaptations, limited by finite precursors, directly contradict the basic tenets of creation. Whenever a creationist proposes a testable hypothesis, creation loses.
Unlike Behe the bright minds behind
Ohio’s Kentucky’s new creation museum get the picture.
Early in the museum, the visitor is given advice on the proper mind frame to have for your visit: “Don’t think, just listen and believe”. As you can see in the picture below, Human Reason is the enemy and God’s Word is the hero. Descartes represents Human Reason, saying “I think, therefore I am”. But God tells us there no need to waste your beautiful mind, for God says “I am that I am”.
Answers in Genesis has it exactly right – if you care about creation then check your critical thinking at the door. That should go without saying whenever an inquiry presupposes its own conclusions (are you listening, Doug Feith?), yet somehow doofuses like Behe keep mucking it up.
For more thorough swings at this pinata, read PZ Meyers and the Panda’s Thumb.
Thanks for the pointer; I haven’t read Linden. For those interested in this topic, Kim Sterelny’s Thought in a Hostile World (sorry, link won’t work) and Terrence Deacon’s The Symbolic Species are excellent.
Didn’t that guy get killed or shot at for that goal?
Actually, Tim, that damn creationism museum to which you refer is not in Ohio, but across the river and a few miles south in Northern Ky.
Yep. So I’m not quite sure what Tim is trying to say.
I forgot to mention: One of the things I learned in grad school is that, to a large extent, research can be thought of as a conversation with one’s scientific community. For example, I’ve been working in an area of robotics for a couple of years, and my group has developed a novel perspective on how a particular type of behavior can be generated and explained. If I were Behe, I might write a book. (We probably have enough material to write one.) But that wouldn’t be the best thing to do, because we’re not geniuses, and there’s always the possibility that we’ve gotten something wrong. So instead, we wrote an article and submitted it to a relevant journal, where it was (is being) reviewed by our more knowledgeable peers. That does two things: it improves what we do, and it saves us a considerable amount of public embarrassment if we’re wrong. Behe obviously evaluates things differently.
Yes, that’s all very nice, Tim, but look at how long it is. And look at how many big words it contains. “Protease?” “Peptide motifs?” C’mon. “Goddiddit” is a much more elegant and simple explanation–look, it doesn’t even take 10 letters to explain absolutely everything! Occam’s Norelco (like Occam’s Razor, only lazier) proves that this makes “Goddiddit” correct.
His faculty page is interesting:
I wonder how on earth he became a full professor if his colleagues think he’s wrong about his primary research?
Tim is not talking about the stuff that happened afterwards, he’s merely pointing out that trying to logic the illogical constitutes an own goal.
Oh, I thought you wanted to hire a colombian cartel to wack behe.
I can’t believe the mousetrap sketch. Why not a ship sailing off the edge of the earth?
When your argument becomes absolutely indistinguishable from spoof, like this, then ….. the spoofterrorists have won.
Which, of course, is exactly why we spoof. Life is good.
I am that I am, and that’s all that I am, I’m Popeye the Sailor Man!
thanks for the link, Louise. i agree. notice that in his selected publications list, all are single author, save one. this is rather unusual. behe must have a very small group of grad students.
an upbeat description of the peer review process. i hope a more knowledgeable peer is selected but sometimes it’s just a buddy of the editor or someone who owes the editor a (reviewing) favor.
i wonder who reviews Behe’s stuff. on second glance i see that only the Protein Sci article (which has the second author) was submitted to a scientific journal. Apologies to those who are offended by my characterization of Philosophy of Science and Biology and Philosophy as non-scientific. I’m a chemist. There is no journal of Chemistry and Philosophy and I like it that way.
Well, don’t apologize to me. That stuff all strikes me as wanktastic academic navelgazing.
That’s a very good point. He apparently became full after the publication of Darwin’s Black Box. Academics are notoriously jealous about the reputation of their departments; it’s hard to imagine what could have led to a favorable vote. (I do know people who have threatened to sue their departments if they did not get a promotion, but this was only from assistant to associate.)
Well, in this case, we’ve had two rejections with very detailed comments, along with strong encouragement from the editor to resubmit, so at least we can see what’s going on. But you’re right, in general, that there’s a crap-shoot aspect to a lot of peer review.
I wish I could do a better job of articulating this, but here goes:
“Scientists” like Behe creep me the fuck out. It isn’t just that he’s wrong. Everyone can be wrong. It’s that he insists on hammering away at the facts in an attempt to make them fit his hypothesis. This is not science. It is at best, philosophy. Nothing wrong with philosophy, but you ain’t gonna find it in a lab.
Here’s where I start to feel creeped out: What if people like Behe worm their way into the fields of medical research or applied medicine? What if cures for illnesses start to hinge on what a handful of dingbats regard as – Oh wait, we’ve got pharmacists screaming that the shouldn’t have to fill a prescription for contraceptives because it violates their religious principles. The guy tapped for Surgeon General ignores what every professional medical and psychological society has to say on homosexuality. I haven’t heard this but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a group of doctors who oppose SCR because they love them zygotes.
I guess it will just be a matter of time before I go to the doctor and hear “Say two rosaries and call me in the morning.”
Just reading about the university one has to wonder just why they picked him up in the first place. The school has been around since 1865 and this is from their “Past To Present” page:
Emphasis mine. If they seek those qualities in students then shouldn’t they seek the same in their staff?
do i detect smugness?
ZSC will be leaving a lump of coal in your zombie stocking.
When people like that worm their way into institutes of medicine, we’ll be looking at the end of modern medicine in America. But I’ll bet you good money that Pfizer and Merck and the rest of the gang aren’t touching these doctors with a fifty foot poll. Pharmaseudical companies make their money largely on the premise that a pill can solve any problem. What educated person would buy Dramamin or Excedrin if he thought the doctor who designed it didn’t really believe in headaches, just god-induced headbutts?
Applied Medicine has no place for Behe. You’ll never see a young earther developing gene therapies because they’ll never have the education to actually make anything that’s saleable. You’ll never see an anti-Darwinist developing flu vaccines or cancer therapies, because they will have refused the education that makes the treatments work. At best, you’ll have the Holy Roller medicine men and that sort of medicine just isn’t a growth industry.
i’m glad my real name isn’t Asa Packer.
James F. Elliott
Well, Luther did state that Reason was a “whore” and the enemy of Faith. Don’t you dare use that God-given ability to think; it’s a trick.
“The distinction here is crucial – creation “theory” posits a creator with a near-infinite toolset to work with. Only a cruel or limited creator would create a beloved species using suboptimal components, whereas evolutionary theory demands that a new species can only make incremental changes on the species that came before. Perfect, precursor-free optimization would discredit evolution if it anyone could ever demonstrate it, while suboptimal adaptations, limited by finite precursors, directly contradict the basic tenets of creation. Whenever a creationist proposes a testable hypothesis, creation loses.”
Exactly right, and one of the most obvious pieces of data to support this is actually the eye, that same structure ID tries so hard to make impossible for evolution to have produced.
The human retina has a blind spot pretty much smack dab inthe middle of it. Your brain does its best to keep you from noticing but if you do any star gazing you’ll quickly find the very frustrating fact that looking right at a star tend to make it disappear from view.
The reason for this blind spot is that the optic nerve is basically hooked up backwards. It’s terrible “design” and no engineer would ever make such an obvious mistake. Certainly God wouldn’t be so incompetent when designing his masterpiece.
True ID. Probably my favorite anti-Creationist arguement.
What about the argument that we are imperfect because of sin? And that we continue to devolve because of The Fall. Don’t you all know that there is no such thing as gravity-we are really stuck to earth because of the weight of our SINNNNNNN.
Fixed. And here all this time I thought Darwin’s Black Box was a porno.
What about all the lies Clinton told about th eorigin of the bacterial flagellum?
What about all the lies Clinton told about the origin of the bacterial flagellum?
Lehigh’s biology department wants you to know that they’re not on board with the good Behe. I understood he had tenure before he went around the IDiot bend.
Clinton? Flagellation? Mmm, that’s some good snark.
Yeah, but they promoted him afterwards. Weird.
This is so fucking embarrassing. I went to Lehigh (Go Engineers!), and this fucking no talent ass clown can’t keep spouting insanity out of his word hole. Other then this douche nozzle, it’s a very fine school
I hear you and I agree that in a rational world we wouldn’t be having this conversation. However… what I see is a tendency, currently confined to this administration (for the most part), to switch what is relevant and irrelevant and it can quite easily spread into the private sector.
For example, under this administration a person’s practical experience is irrelevant to whether or not she gets a high-ranking job in the Department of Justice. What has become relevant is that she went to a school that promotes a subset of a particular religion’s ideals (and likely made a big fat contribution to a campaign fund). She in turn makes hiring decisions based on irrelevant factors like who a potential hire voted for or what that person thinks of a particular Supreme Court decision. Now imagine if private employers took a similar approach to hiring:
“I don’t care if he knows how to fix a transmission, just as long as he thinks Friends is the worst TV show ever!”
Complete fuckery in less than an hour. So, Behe looks like more than just one loon, he looks like an early warning of what happens when irrelevant becomes relevant. Reason gets shoved to the side and we’re left at the mercy of whoever can scream the loudest.
What if not just touching but holding hands was a requirement for getting federal funding for research, or FDA approval? Before you say my tin foil hat is too tight, look at the SCR debate. Medical advances are being held back by people who want to make something irrelevant relevant. (And still no picketing of IVF clinics. Hmmm.) Before that there was the hysteria over RU-486. No U.S. pharmaceutical co. would touch it because some people screamed about the zygotes. What happens if these clowns throw a tantrum and threaten boycotts because Lilly won’t hire a person who doesn’t believe in evolution, thinks you can bottle the healing power of Jesus or is convinced that contraceptive pills contain a little bit of Satan? They caved before; you know they’ll cave again.
But if you check what happened down in Texas, you’ll notice how Merck pushed Rick Perry hard to make an end run around the “Herpes Vaccine promotes teen sex” crowd and mandate the shot for all girls under the age of 16. Likewise, Pfizer and company have made a killing by selling Viagra pills to Medicare. And the pharmaceutical companies have been very aggressive in pitching the Morning After pill, one of the only reasons its available at all.
This shit begins and ends with the bottom line. The moment Fundie faith starts impacting profits, the mega-corps start pushing back hard.
Since I seem to have opened the gates of Hell in the thread below by stating my belief that not all processes in a complex brain can be explained by Darwinism — or by mechanistic physical processes at all — let me go on record as saying that Tim’s argument is just one of several arguments used in Jerry Coyne’s very good piece on the subject in the Aug. 22, 2005 New Republic.
That piece (no longer on the Web, alas) is both lengthy and extremely easy for a nonscientist to understand, and it makes a bulletproof case — using arguments that can only be described as common-sense — for the PHYSICAL evolution of human beings as occurring entirely through Darwinian processes. It ought to be required reading for anyone interested in this debate. In fact, it makes it clear that the only possible alternative to Darwinism is UNintelligent Design — that is, Tennyson’s proposal that “Some lesser god had made the world/ But had not power to shape it as he would.” Moreover, this fumblebunny God would have to have made his particular mistakes in a way that precisely imitates what you’d expect from pure Darwinism.
So, let me try once again to clarify my own position by saying that I am in no way questioning Darwinism as the adequate explanation for the physical evolution of living things. I am, however, saying that — once Darwinism has forged brains of sufficient complexity — processes start to go on within those brains that are not even purely materialistic and determinant, let alone “Darwinian”, and that transform what started out as a simple evolution-produced biological drive into something bigger. This is why I don’t find anything absurd or pointless about believing both that Darwinian evolution is entirely correct, AND that God really could have used it as (one of) his tools for creating the human mind capable of moral judgments.
I really wish the Talevan had StFu and let the grown ups (doctors and other medical experts) talk because they muddied the main issue. Again, irrelevant trumped relevant.
Ask yourself this: If the debate weren’t Teen Sex v. Vaccinations for HPV, but instead The Merits of Using a Medication Not Fully Tested on a Specific Population v. Vaccinations for HPV, would you feel the same about the vaccine?
I’m guessing no. But the Talevan distracted everyone and made things easier for Merck because the company could then paint everyone who had questions, reservations, relevant concerns as being part of the fundy set.
An interesting side note: Some groups are suggesting mandatory vac. for boys because they can carry HPV. No one seems interested. Hey. There’s nothing wrong with these shots, is there? Hello?
Also true, also a source of concern. When (if) someone finds an AIDS vaccine the pharm company just has to wait for the fundies to start screaming about nookie. It will drown out those questions about R & D.
Such as? As far as I can tell, neurons “fire” w/r/t action potentials, which cause a cascading effect of causing more neurons to “fire”. The process is well-understood, although the complexity of the connections is so immense as to appear as though “there must be more to it”. In a sense, we’re all just machines, responding slightly differently to different subtle physical stimuli, and if the machine that I produce does this more effeciently, it becomes a set part of future genomes.
What’s your take, keeping this as scientific and physiological (as opposed to philosophical or metaphysical) as possible?
I think Moomaw’s point is that once the brain becomes a Turing Machine any crazy thing can influence it. Doug Hofstadter’s new book is a great place to start for that line of reasoning.
I tend towards the belief that our brain’s unprecedented ability to manipulate symbols, detect patterns and assign agency (very helpful in the tall grass of the savannah) is what led our brains to create the concept of god. But if other people want to believe something else it’s no skin off my back as long as they don’t try to impose it on me.
Look, people, its quite simple:
Certain biological mutations cannot be scientifically proven, therefore, those mutations must have been created by some sort of Supreme Power…that can’t be scientifically proven.
I don’t see how you people just can’t grasp that! There can’t be random change or evolution without a God or Supreme Being…that is seemingly random, came from absolutely nowhere, was not created, and did not evolve! Sheesh!
Stop trying to understand the things you can interact with here on Earth and just have faith in something that you can’t see, touch, feel, or hear (well, at least not since Biblical times, when God used to chat with folks all the time. He stopped all that talking, and now uses “signs,” like the image of the Virgin Mary burnt onto a piece of toast. Don’t ask why!).
What led to the concept of God in my view was two things–the inability to assign a rational explanation to outwardly physical things (storms, drought, lightning, etc.) back in biblical times, as well as (and more importantly) people’s inability to grasp what being DEAD really means. What not living, not existing anymore, not being….a being…conceptually means.
Hence, we invent “Heaven”, so we can’t actually stop “being”, and we resolve ourselves of the incredible apprehension we face near death. As they say, there are very, very few atheists on their death bed, and lots and lots of converts.
What, we’re not using the argument that God was a concept invented by a bunch of would-be priests who realized it gave them a really, really good way to get other people to do what they told them to?
Also go read “Conciousness as the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” by Julian Jaynes. That book really will blow your world-image.
Yes his home page is interesting but the departmental home page is better! I particularly like the dept’s stance on ID.
My follow up question is why is he still there?