Keeping up with Behe

While we’re waiting for the Panda’s Thumb server to come back up, with some new material on Behe’s new book, I’ll recommend Blake Stacey’s dissection of the malaria mutants. This little fable that Behe summarized about the frequency of chloroquine-resistant mutations in the malaria parasite is the centerpiece of his book, and the important odds of 1 in 1020 was the yardstick by which he measured evolution — it was the magic number, the limit to evolution, the likelihood that a fairly simple set of mutations could occur … and the whole story is bogus. The book has been out for only about a week and the whole thing is just crumbling to pieces already.

Not that it will matter in the slightest, of course. The Edge of Evolution isn’t a science book, it’s a propaganda piece — and the big lies are just fine for that purpose.


  1. valhar2000 says

    Well, if, you know, IF, it were true that the odds of one bacterium developing these mutations are 1 to 10^20, what is the probability that out of 10^20 bacteria one or more will develop it?

    I’m pretty sure it would be a result that would make the mouths gamblers the world over water…

  2. jotetamu says


    1 – (1 – 10^-20)^(10^20)

    But a much smaller population would give you a good chance of the mutations. It’s analogous to the question, what is the chance of a random group of n people (without twins) having the same birthday (ignoring year).

    Jim Roberts

  3. says

    Based on an E. coli – mass 665 femtograms – 1 to 10^20 bacteria is a mere 66.5 metric tonnes. With 1.5 tonnes of bacteria present in an acre of soil, the (spurious) mutation rate could produce the necessary mutation once every 44 or so acres.


    ‘Course, it’s all bollocks anyway so I just wasted 10 minutes of my life working that out…

  4. CortxVortx says

    re: #3

    Time not wasted at all, Lee. Since we can expect to hear cretinists parrotting that “1 in 10^20” canard, we now have something to slap upside their pointy heads: It happens in less than 50 acres of land. All over Earth.

    I say, well done!

    — CV

  5. says

    Lee – thanks for doing the math. :) What you just presented is a perfect example of Dawkins’ point that we humans aren’t equipped to effectively think about very long odds and long periods of time.


    (PS – someone should cross check your assumptions – no offense – just for skepticism’s sake)

  6. says

    Thanks for the link!

    Let me emphasize that I am not a biologist by training, but rather a dilettante from the physics department. The clarifications already offered in the comments have been extremely interesting.

  7. says

    Well, one thing about his book – I do like the cover art. Anybody know where that came from, or was it commissioned just for this book?

  8. jotetamu says

    I apologize for my previous post. The same birthdays problem is a bit similar, but needs quite a different calculation.

    Jim Roberts

  9. RamblinDude says

    “Not that it will matter in the slightest, of course.”
    I just thought it needed to be said twice.

    I just finished the doing math and, by startling coincidence, the odds of any creationist actually understanding how and why the information in Behe’s book is wrong, and then relaying that information to the Faithful, is almost exactly 1 in 10^20.

    It must be a Divine Number.

  10. says

    Sean B. Carroll has a review of The Edge of Evolution in Science that begins with a quote from Huxley:

    “The Lord hath delivered him into mine hands.”

    It’s safe to say it goes downhill for Behe from there.

  11. chuckbert says

    Probably a minor point, but Plasmodium falciparum, the malaria parasite is not a bacterium, but a eukaryotic protozoan apicoplast parasite. This merely means that 10^20 cells won’t occur in a few acres of soil, but probably will (haven’t done the sums) in a pretty concentrated population of humans and anopheles mosquitos.

  12. says

    I will add Sean B. Carroll’s review to my list forthwith.

    You know, I’m starting to get a little irritated that nobody at Uncommon Descent has complained about me. My various blag posts show up in the first page of various Google searches (“edge of evolution review”, and so forth), I’ve been linked from Pharyngula, my tone is uncivil and my diatribes both long and well-referenced. Whom do I have to bite to get a little attention around here? When will DaveScot say that it is beneath his dignity to rebut me?

    (sings, to the tune of the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”)

    Don’t — don’t you fisk me
    You know that your cognition skills are really quite pathetic!
    Don’t — don’t you fisk me
    I’ll trump you on all topics mathematic and genetic!

    Don’t you fisk me, baby. . .
    Don’t you fisk me, oh-o-oah!