Michael Behe declares victory after being stomped flat

Behe is crowing over the Science review of his new book. The man is deeply delusional.

…the overwhelmingly important point to notice right up front is that the reviewers (Lenski plus Josh Swamidass over at Peaceful Science and John Jay College biologist Nathan Lents) have absolutely no response to the very central argument of the book. The argument that I summarized as an epigraph on the first page of the book so no one could miss it. The one that I included in the title of a 2010 Quarterly Review of Biology article upon which the book is based. The one for which I chose the most in-your-face moniker that I could think of (consistent with the professional literature) to goad a response: The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution: Break or blunt any gene whose loss would increase the number of offspring. The rule summarizes the fact that the overwhelming tendency of random mutation is to degrade genes, and that very often is helpful. Thus natural selection itself acts as a powerful de-volutionary force, increasing helpful broken and degraded genes in the population.
And they had no response! That’s because there is in fact nothing that can alleviate that fatal flaw in Darwinism.

So the central claim of his book is that sometimes, gene loss can be adaptive, something that no competent evolutionary biologist would consider a remarkable claim. Of course, they would disagree with his implication that that is the only process allowed or that no mutation could increase complexity or that novel functions can not increase the fitness of an individual. Contrary to Behe’s laughable claim that Lents, Swamidass, and Lenski had no response to his central tenet, they did: they pointed out that he ignores the various ways evolution proceeds (it’s not just by “breaking” genes), and that he runs away from the evidence of clear examples of mutations that increase complexity.

Behe is skeptical that gene duplication followed by random mutation and selection can contribute to evolutionary innovation. Yet there is overwhelming evidence that this underlies trichromatic vision in primates, olfaction in mammals, and developmental innovations in all metazoans through the diversification of HOX genes. And in 2012, Andersson et al. showed that new functions can rapidly evolve in a suitable environment. Behe acknowledges none of these studies, declaring an absence of evidence for the role of duplications in innovation.

Because they politely pointed out instances where his First Rule of Adaptive Evolution falls flat on its face without explicitly saying it’s wrong by name, Behe thinks they didn’t respond to it — I guess he needs it said literally. So here, I’ll help, I’m not very polite. Behe’s First Rule of Adaptive Evolution is stupid and wrong, isn’t a real rule, and we have multiple examples that refute it, which Behe doesn’t comprehend, because he’s an ignoramus about evolution.


  1. ajbjasus says

    Isn’t Behe also making the fundamental error here of equating evolution with ever increasing complexity and sophistication? Sure, a mutation may “Break or blunt any gene whose loss would increase the number of offspring.”, but that is still evolution, as presumably the offspring are better adapted to that environment.

  2. says

    “If we increase the size of the penguin until it is the same height as the man and then compare the relative brain size, we now find that the penguin’s brain is still smaller. But… and this is the point… it is larger than it was!

  3. says

    Behe wants to claim that the only direction allowed by selection is downward, towards gradual degradation and simplification. He’s wrong.

  4. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @PZ: It doesn’t matter. The review could have highlighted every sentence in the book and debunked it and he’d still be claiming they didn’t. It wouldn’t matter if he was, in high school debate terms, pounded flat across the entire flow, with every single point repeatedly refuted, and if he had no responses. He is religiously obligated to lie, and to rely on his audience not reading the review and not being honest in comparing arguments.

    @1: Yes, but that’s not the point. Behe needs to be able to argue that, sure, you can get a rogue RNA strand here or there, but that can’t ever increase in complexity. Once you have the “metagame” of fully fledged animal and plant species, so to speak, I think a reasonably intelligent creationist (har har contradiction in terms har har) could concede that life can continue to evolve beyond all that. So he has to claim, like the much stupider and more venal creationists (again this is on the creationist scale), that basically evolution only removes traits, not adding them, or that it can’t produce new information. Me, I’d actually think that a genome that was long enough could be enough to have all life without new “information”. I’d argue to Behe that he’s basically saying that you couldn’t have an endlessly evolving language with a space of only 13 letters. But 13 letters would be 2.4^18 combinations, way more words than anyone would ever need. So even at the scale of microscopic life, I think one could make a case that he’s wrong, and that even an incredibly primitive early life form had the genetic potential to become every life form on the planet, but the point is that he’s just wrong anyways.

  5. says

    Generous to a fault, you fail to credit Behe with the other reason he doesn’t mention evidence that refutes his claims – other that ignorance and incomprehension, that is.

  6. nomdeplume says

    The lone voice crying in the wilderness is almost always there because what he is crying is bullshit.

  7. bachfiend says

    @Kip comment #2,

    Loved your Monty Python quote. Sounds like a good analogy of Michael Behe’s reasoning.

    Gene duplication has apparently resulted in some women having tetrachromatic vision. Which may explain why women have better colour vision, and wives often send their husbands back to change their ties owing to a clash in colours.

    Personally, I think blue goes nicely with green.

  8. naturalcynic says

    I wonder if Behe’s Not So Intelligent Creator is doing a one-handed or two-handed facepalm, wondering how IT could have missed how to do Molecular Biology a simpler way.

  9. EvoMonkey says

    I chose the most in-your-face moniker that I could think of

    Who does that in professional science? It reveals Behe’s character and intent. It’s not about the science. He’s got nothing new to say. He’s lost all respect within academia. His only option is to embrace being a contrarian crank with a persecution complex.

  10. Chris J says

    Sounds like Behe recognizes that Gene mutation can make the difference between a functional Gene and a non-functional one, but insists that the same step can never go in the opposite direction. Despite mutations, particularly point mutations, being pretty inherently reversable.

  11. PaulBC says

    I don’t know to identify a given change as a degradation and not improvement and I’m certain Behe does not either. (Though he might once have thought he did, but how can he still believe it?) In fact, it would sound like an improvement to me, lacking any better definition, if the result is to produce more offspring. There is certainly nobody watching to identify that the change decreases complexity, whatever that even means.

    I don’t even understand the proposed mechanism for assigning a direction. If a marginally “higher complexity” protein is a few mutations away from some other, there is nothing stopping it from being reached; in fact, it’s almost inevitable, and if it happens enough and has adaptive value, it will be propagated.

    Behe must think God has placed a sort of inverse Maxwell’s demon to prevent evolution from working. What can he possibly think would stop it from working?

    Also, doesn’t his “first rule” provide a mechanism for the evolution of “irreducible complexity.” You start with a mechanism that is “reducible”, keep breaking parts randomly, and when it is no longer possible to break parts and preserve function, it is now “irreducible.”

    (I realize I am not saying anything new here, but what prevents Behe from understanding?)

  12. zetopan says

    “He’s lost all respect within academia.”

    By turning into a crank he has instantly gained the admiration of the idiot ID crowd while before that he was essentially a no-name biochemist. I saw the same behavior in J. Allen Hynek, whom I personally met a few years before he died of a brain tumor. Hynek had an excuse of sorts, at least not long before his death (his presentation was quite poor), while Behe appears to be just another narcissist who wants adulation above all else.