This is the first in a series of posts responding to the extended critique of Darwin Devolves by Richard Lenski at his blog, Telliamed Revisited . Professor Lenski is perhaps the most qualified scientist in the world to analyze the arguments of the book. He is the Hannah Distinguished Professor of Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University, a MacArthur (“Genius Award”) Fellow, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences with hundreds of publications, who also has a strong interest in the history and philosophy of science. His own laboratory evolution work is a central focus of the book. I am very grateful to Professor Lenski for taking time to assess Darwin Devolves . His comments will allow interested readers to quickly gauge the relative strength of arguments against the book’s thesis.
Hey @nlents, Behe called you a Lesser-Known.
And then Behe quotes @NLENTS without saying your name:
(One of Lenski’s co-reviewers actually talked himself into thinkingthat “it is entirely possible that none of the 17 most positively selected genes in polar bears are ‘damaged.’” Now there’s a great opportunity for someone to make a few dollars with a friendly wager.)
Here is the Behe’s very scientific response:
I’d like to highlight one final critical point. Let me set it up with a homey analogy. When I was 14 I worked weekends at McDonald’s, and sometimes I’d be assigned to operate the milkshake machine. The machine was broken down each night for cleaning. One of my tasks early in the morning before opening was to reassemble its parts. There were maybe a dozen parts to put together — sprockets, clamps, gaskets, and such. Shakes were very popular back then (mid 1960s) and made many customers happy for a while. Nonetheless, the function of the parts of a shake machine is not “to make people happy.” The function of a sprocket or a clamp isn’t even “to make a milkshake.” Rather, they have lower-level mechanical duties that are subservient to the overarching higher purposes of the systems.
From the above I am sure that Behe upon retirement from Lehigh University can get his old job back at any of the area’s McDonald’s and see that the shake machines have evolved considerably in complexity but the milkshakes that they make will still make you fat and only increases your bad cholesterol.
Seems to be doubling down on misinterpreting PolyPhen results, but he does provide an interesting reference to how a knock down can reduce cholesterol. I’m not sure if that relates to survival, or how it relates to reduced function.
It’s hilarious. He has an easily-testable hypothesis, but won’t lift a finger to test it.
It seems to me that Behe is now arguing that the putatively damaged APOB in polar bears lacks between 50 and 70% of the activity of its ortholog in brown bears (or maybe humans - it is not entirely clear from his use of the paper by Farese et al. just what the standard or control might be). Of course, he doesn’t offer any data to support this hypothesis, or otherwise argue that this explanation is better than that discussed by Lenski and Lents. But (good news, @Mercer) at least there is a hint of a testable hypothesis here. Regardless, APOB is still not the open-and-shut example Behe needs for his assertions to be correct.
Glaring (and, IMO, damning) by its omission is Behe’s refusal to address his blatant misrepresentation of Table S7 of the paper by Liu et al. One might think this to be an oversight, or maybe something that Behe may address come later. But, IMO, Behe’s extreme pettiness in refusing to name @NLENTS in the latest ENV piece suggests to me that Nathan’s essay hit closer to home than Behe will ever acknowledge.
Also, Behe suggests that Lenski is more well-known than Nathan. (“Echoing blogged arguments by his lesser-known co-authors …”) To be sure, Lenski’s research is impressive and has a respectable audience. But Nathan is a best-selling author, and it is possible that he is better known to the public than Lenski.
He does manage some speculation of the science, so I’d say that’s progress on returning to a serious discussion. He gets in a couple pot shots, too, but we can take them. He has really backed himself into a very narrow position that, even if it turns out right, which I doubt, will hardly be strong enough to counter all the examples of mutations that drive innovation, like those I discuss in my skeptic article.
By the way, two more reviews coming out this week including a devastating one in Evolution. Gonna be a tough week for Behe.