Coyne: More criticisms of Behe’s new ID book

From @Jerry_Coyne for @gbrooks9 to answer:

I wonder whether, at the Discovery Institute, the Christians and Orthodox Jews ever ponder how their God has Himself “devolved” from a majestic de novo creator to a Heavenly Mutagen—a Divine Alpha Particle. Why did God want to make new forms by tweaking the DNA in undetectable ways rather than just poofing them into existence? Such are the mysteries of biological theology.

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Excellent article by @Jerry_Coyne. He presents a light critique of @NLENTS, saying he agrees with 2.5 of his three points.

Misunderstanding #3: Behe frequently speaks as though natural selection (which he often calls Darwinism ) is the only evolutionary force. In reality, natural selection is joined by genetic drift, neutral theory, exaptation, gene flow, sexual selection, hybridization, punctuated equilibrium, frequency-dependent selection, and dozens of other forces. Behe constantly repeats his refrain that natural selection cannot account for everything we see in nature. Yeah, we know. And we’ve known that for a very long time.

Well, here I think Lents has made some semantic errors. For instance, neutral theory is really a theory of selectively neutral alleles that evolve largely through genetic drift, so it’s not something separate from drift, and it’s a theory, not an “evolutionary force.” Exaptation, frequency-dependent selection, and sexual selection ARE subsets of natural selection, not something entirely different. Punctuated equilibrium is not known to be responsible for the evolution of any adaptation, at least not in the convoluted form presented by Gould and Eldredge. And Lents leaves out a truly unique evolutionary force: meiotic drive—evolution occurring through differential segregation of alleles at meiosis. Finally, both exaptation and punctuated equilibrium are not “forces” but phenomena.

Behe does err if he indeed neglects genetic drift in the evolution of adaptations, as it’s undoubtedly been important, including in some pathways Behe sees as “irreducibly complex”. But if I were Lents I wouldn’t leave myself open to criticism by saying that “exaptation” and “frequency-dependent selection” are forces different from natural selection.

Now you might say that my criticism of this one small part of Lents’s piece is going to make Behe happy, as he’ll crow, “See, Coyne takes issue with Lents’s criticism of my book,” but that’s bullshit. As Steve Gould said in his essay “Evolution as fact and theory” (he’s referring to his colleagues’ attempts to make him stop criticizing traditional evolutionary theory because that would play into the hands of creationists)

In some senses, I agree with @Jerry_Coyne.

At the same time, the way ID and Behe describe “natural selection” and “darwinism”, it is exclusively positive selection, and even excludes negative selection (see: Miller: Axe Decisively Confirmed?). Yes, there is often a mention of other processes (like neutral drift and exaptation, etc.) , but usually just to dismiss them as unimportant and negligible.

There may be a way to explain this more clearly than @NLENTS did. The issue, however, is that they are working from a reduced set of evolutionary mechanisms. They are working from a reduced set of evolutionary mechanisms that they term “darwinism.” That is a central plank on which much of their arguments depend. I think that is what @NLENTS is speaking to here.


I don’t think there’s a real difference. It all depends on which allele you focus your attention on.

And Coyne’s critique isn’t about positive vs. negative selection. It’s about saying that certain subsets of natural selection are not natural selection. At best, that’s an unfortunate choice of words. Natural selection encompasses sexual selection and frequency-dependent selection; thus, so does “Darwinism”.

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Yes, ^ what Josh said, but @Jerry_Coyne is absolutely right that I got a little sloppy with my quick lists and I should know better. Coyne always keeps’ it real and I accept the rebuke because obviously I know better than to be this lazy with my audience. If you’ll forgive me a bratty complaint - it’s really hard to do all this ID-correction with small pockets of time here and there. My regular day job is demanding enough, I have two kids under 9, and a wicked travel schedule lately. I’m in FL right now, my third of four trips this month, and I’m WAY behind on about 25 things I should be doing besides defending science from pretenders.


Which is why we really need to get PS funded to give all of us support in things like this. We need a gathering ground for scientists wanting to engage the public well, and staff to support our work.

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Look at the example I linked to from @Rumraket. He nails it on the head. Purifying selection in that case is the right way to describe what @bjmiller is neglecting in his argument for Axe.

Like I said, there’s no difference. If you prefer to focus on the rare allele, it’s negative selection. If you prefer to focus on the common allele, it’s positive selection.

'Science from pretenders" . Well were you LAZY or misunderstanding the essence of evolutionary biology? good posts here about what natural selection is and includes.
Its rare these days to hear punciated equil;brium brought up! convoluted or not!
i bring it up but notice evolutionists seem to want to ignore it because it was based on the fossil record NOT SHOWING at al evolutionary progression as it should if true. so it was plan B but is still unwelcomed.
Evolutionists in these later times were FORCED to say Drift and other things helped old time evolutionism.
They need it. Darwins fail just fails as better research is done. there is a curve here of correction.
.Its very likely the curve isn’t finished eh!
The essence of the crazy claims of evolutionism is mutationism. to turn a fish thing into a rhino is no small matter. selectionism is the next important thing.
Natural selection for the selection part must be 95% of it! So Behe is right to concentrate on it. The rest is chump change.

I can actually follow most of this! It’s almost all either off-target or wrong, but at least it’s mostly grammatical and sensical. Yay!


Which was off-target and which was wrong? more DNA branching here!

@Patrick and @Jerry_Coyne

My apologies in the delay in answering this question. Somebody logged me off of PeacefulScience, (as far as I could tell, it was someone on the system side) and it took me until today to focus on recovering my password.

The question:

“Why did God want to make new forms by tweaking … DNA in undetectable ways rather than just poofing them into existence?”

Well, that’s an odd kind of question for Atheists to be asking. As I’ve said any number of times, I’m a Unitarian Universalist… and some of my more cynical colleagues like to amuse the tourists by saying “We are atheists with children.”

I’m not quite so extreme in my thoughts or my humor (well, mostly).

My view is that the default setting for God’s creation is by means of Natural Processes … and by Natural Processes I mean those that are amenable to the scientific method… as opposed to “Super-Natural” processes, which might be characterized as more like “magic”… hence the “poof” effect!

So, for me, evidence shows us that God (which is a major premise for Pro-Evolution Christians, right?!) most definitely used the processes of Evolution to create virtually all the living things on Earth.

The exception, which is not even an exception that is important to me personally, is that God “poofed” just 2 humans into existence; science cannot confirm or deny this. And so, here at PeacefulScience.Org we are able to provide this scenario as a reasonable choice for Christians who very much rely on Romans 5 for their understanding of Christiantiy … and yet can see all the physical evidence which also show that humanity appears to have evolved from the Great Apes branch of the animal kingdom.

So… the mysteries of “biological theology” are probably still the poofing of 2 humans.

Calling God a “Heavenly Mutagen” might have its place… but not if the next step is a Divine Alpha Particle. There are hundreds of ways of making mutations - - the flawed replication of genetic information:

  1. the presence of water;
  2. the absence of water;
  3. too much local heat energy;
  4. too little local heat energy;
  5. cosmic ray strike;
  6. any kind of electromagnetic radiation strike;
  7. physical trauma;
  8. chemical trauma…
    and on and on and on…

If God configures all these sequences at the moment of the Big Bang… we don’t need to call him a mutagen at all… other than to draw attention to his USE of mutagens.

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I found myself logged out a few days ago. It was at about the same time as a forum software update that changed some other things. So I logged in again – fortunately I had not forgotten the password. And then, checking my profile, it showed me logged in twice on the same browser. So maybe the forum software lost track.

Many atheists, including @Jerry_Coyne and perhaps @Patrick are YEC atheists. That is to say, the YEC version of Christianity is the one that they reject. Well, they probably reject other forms too, but the YEC version is the one that they most frequently criticize.

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I find this happening when I log in with a different device with different browsers. But I am able to log in again with Facebook.

5 posts were split to a new topic: YEC Atheists

I think most scientists who happen to be atheist (or Christian) are most appalled and concerned about YEC science or YEC pseudoscience. Sure atheist’s reject OEC and TE but don’t feel that these are blatantly harmful to science education like YEC pseudoscience is. I would certainly want Hugh Ross to teach astronomy and Francis Collins to teach genetics anywhere. But having Jeanson, Faulkner, or Puyom teach anything about science is frightening to me.


Most appalled, perhaps?

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