Michael Behe has this new book out, Darwin Devolves. I haven’t been able to muster enough enthusiasm to even want to try and dissect it — that man has been shitting on science for at least 20 years now, and having picked through his fecal piles before, I know what to expect, and am tired of it. He is tediously predictable.
Fortunately, Gregory Lang and Amber Rice have the willingness to do the dirty work and dive right in and sift through the shit in this excellent review, Evolution unscathed: Darwin Devolves argues on weak reasoning that unguided evolution is a destructive force, incapable of innovation. They discover that Behe cherry-picks his evidence, ignoring, or worse, being completely ignorant of, vast orchards of information that directly refute his premise, which Lang and Rice cite and summarize. It’s an informative review. Go read it, I won’t rehash it. You’ll learn a lot from it.
I will mention the conclusion, which discusses the peculiar tension at the heart of the evolution/creation argument. I did highlight one sentence.
Without a hint of irony, Darwin Devolves cautions us that “[t]he academic ideas of nutty professors don’t always stay confined to ivory towers. They sometimes seep out into the wider world with devastating results (p257).”
Scientists—by nature or by training—are skeptics. Even the most time-honored theories are reevaluated as new data come to light. There is active debate, for example, on the relative importance of changes to regulatory versus coding sequence in evolution (Hoekstra and Coyne 2007; Stern and Orgogozo 2008), the role of neutral processes in evolution (Kern and Hahn 2018; Jensen et al. 2019), and the extent to which evolutionary paths are contingent on chance events (Blount et al. 2018). Vigorous debate is part and parcel of the scientific process, lest our field stagnate. Behe, however, belabors the lack of consensus on relatively minor matters to proclaim that evolutionary biology as a whole is on shaky ground.
By reviewing Behe’s latest book, we run the risk of drawing attention—or worse, giving credibility—to his ideas. Books like Darwin Devolves, however, must be openly challenged and refuted, even if it risks giving publicity to misbegotten views. Science benefits from public support. Largely funded by federal grants, scientists have a moral responsibility (if not a financial obligation) to ensure that the core concepts of our respective fields are communicated effectively and accurately to the public and to our trainees. This is particularly important in evolutionary biology, where—over 150 years after On the Origin of Species—less than 20% of Americans accept that humans evolved by natural and unguided processes (Gallup 2014). It is hard to think of any other discipline where mainstream acceptance of its core paradigm is more at odds with the scientific consensus.
Why evolution by natural selection is difficult for so many to accept is beyond the scope of this review; however, it is not for a lack of evidence: the data (only some of which we present here) are more than sufficient to convince any open-minded skeptic that unguided evolution is capable of generating complex systems. A combination of social and historical factors creates a welcoming environment for an academic voice that questions the scientific consensus. Darwin Devolves was designed to fit this niche.
Creationists like to pretend that there is still a legitimate debate here, and their absurd confidence does seem to be effective in swaying, as they mention, about 80% of the population. In response to their ignorance, responsible scientists are expected to invest a great deal of effort in reacting to stupidity. It is ten thousand times harder to master the science behind evolutionary biology than it is to read a few bible verses and some clueless apologetics and decide that the science is all wrong. Behe, and people like him, are ridiculous crackpots, and we’re saddled with the obligation to refute them.
And yet we do. Or Lang and Rice do. I’m sitting this one out, which makes me immensely grateful that more scientists are joining in the battle.