Just chiming in to provide a transcript of the important, relevant exchange during the debate. @swamidass , in his own words, “punted” on the central question at issue after seeming to contradict himself and never explained his view to the audience, believing it was too sophisticated for the audience to understand. I’m putting this here because this is where the transcript was requested. Feel free to move it to the current thread if you want.
Timestamps are from the youtube video.
(Reading from the slide) “The Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. We are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”
And that’s really what Mike’s main message, I would say, has been for the last twenty years. But here’s the big surprise for me when I got into actually studying evolutionary science. I found out that everyone actually agrees with this. The reason why is back in 1968, you [indicating Behe] were in high school in 1968, right? That’s when Haldane’s Dilemma was solved in a big part by Motoo Kimura, who showed that natural, positive selection driven change could not account for molecular machines, could not account for the changes in DNA, but in fact neutral mechanisms could. And in fact those are more important when considering DNA and molecular machines and all those sorts of things than Darwinian mechanisms.
When this fellow, Motoo Kimura, wrote his very influential, well actually his first paper, his book came out later called The Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution. It was a great advance. What it said is that most changes when a nucleotide in DNA is switched out for another one, they don’t do anything. Doesn’t do anything. And that’s very true and can help us track changes in DNA. What it doesn’t do is explain those mechanical structures that I showed you on the previous slides. What’s more, Dr. Kimura himself thought that his theory does not explain much about such structures. He wrote that (reading from the slide), “The theory does not deny the role of natural selection in determining the course of adaptive evolution, but it assumes that only a minute fraction DNA changes are adaptive.” So these are what are called neutral. They can come, they can go, la la la. Who cares? But the big changes, the important ones, the ones that put together complex interactive structures such as we’ve seen, that has nothing to do with this. So the examples that Josh has put up are interesting and useful, but they don’t speak at all to the examples that we saw.
Swamidass did not reply to this in rejoinder, however he did mention it during the Q&A (1:08:28):
(Addressing Behe) So you are correct, and I want to agree with you, that neutral theory as put forward by Motoo Kimura does not explain how new functions arise. That’s correct. (Addressing Tour) And this gets to this issue of “How do you change a complex system?” And so, I agree with you. It doesn’t. What it does is give us some evidence for common descent. That’s all I talked about. (Addressing Behe) And I punted on the question of how that arose, because it’s actually orthogonal to the question of that, alright? (Addressing Tour) What I would say is that biology is pretty complex, and it’s nonintuitive. Can you grant me that there are things in science that are nonintuitive? He’s nodding, “Yes” for the record. There’s things that are obvious to you as a chemist, Jim, that are just going to confuse many people in this room who are not chemists. Can you agree with me on that? And I’m just telling you like any complex area, that’s how it is in biology. And so not knowing that complexity I think this argument makes an intense amount of sense. As you understand actually what’s going in biology, it’s not, uh, it’s just basically your intuitions get [unintelligible, refaced? refused? refuted?]. That’s what’s going on. I think there’s a legitimacy to where you’re coming from because chemical intuitions won’t explain what I’m talking about. It requires some biological intuitions that are shaped in a different way. I know it’s not being satisfying but hey, I’m hanging out with you tomorrow. We’ll talk about it for hours.