Did Swamidass Punt on Innovation?

Honestly, there is a rhetorical genius to Behe’s argument, and I think he deserves an immense amount of credit for this.

Rhetorically, his approach shifts the burden of proof to the evolutionary scientist.

  1. He expresses incredulity at the idea that “darwinism” could produce a complex structure, and asks for an account.

  2. He is upfront about not considering how design works, which is actually reasonable if we are talking about divine design.

  3. Whatever is offered, he asks for more detail and more evidence, and usually objects to anything but positive selection as an explanation, thereby constraining the explanations to a strict darwinistic account.

Rhetorically, this is brilliant for several reasons. First, his request for an account is usually met because it seems reasonable and evolutionary science often does give a partial account. Evolutionary science usually offers accounts that are:

  1. Plausible, given a sophisticated understanding of how biology works.
  2. Partial, not seeking to be total or sufficient.
  3. Complex, appealing to several mechanisms, not just positive selection.

Behe means something different when he asks for an account. He wants an account that is,

  1. Demonstrated, often by ruling out other alternate pathways at every step.
  2. Complete, in that we can drill down to arbitrary detail with out losing certainty.
  3. Simple, relying only or primarily on positive selection and easy for a crowd of non-specialists to understand.

Behe now has a great rejoinder every time something plausible rather than demonstrated, partial rather than complete, or complex either than simple is used in the account provided by his interlocure.

The thing is, evolutionary science (really any science) does not produce “demonstrated+complete+simple” explanations of anything. The rhetorical genius, however, is that most people think that science does produce explanations like this, so Behe’s rejoinders seem imminently reasonable. Of course, if he is asked to give a detailed account, he does not, but he returns to his chorus “purposeful arrangement of parts.” When pressed further, as he did in Texas, he rightly notes (indirectly) that God’s design is inscrutable.

I understand (and agree with) the scientific critique of this approach to reasoning, but do not miss the point. Behe’s pattern here is pure rhetorical genius, and it is not surprising that it convinced masses. With Darwin Devolves, there is a similar rhetorical genius, but it works in a different way.

Any how, that is why I focused on common ground, and did not give a step-by-step account of flagellum in public (but I did privately to Tour regarding his question). He agrees that neutral theory provides strong evidence for common descent (contra @BenKissling) and never explains it. I explained it, and he agreed with my explanation, but somehow felt compelled to dispute it? Any how, that approach granted legitimacy to a valid scientific argument with which he agrees but rarely explains.


A post was split to a new topic: Is Statistical Induction a Proof?

16 posts were split to a new topic: Rhetoric and Honesty

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BINGO! This is exactly my point!

Until we are able to convincingly state what kind of argument they are using, and why it falls short, it will always be a “He Said/She Said” kind of discussion.

Man 1: “This isn’t how Science works.”
Man 2: “Yes it is.”
Man 1: “My big brother is bigger than your big brother…”

And so on…

Oy! It was a 1000+ post thread. Leave the order-of-magnitude errors to the IDers.


Lol, sorry. I probably skipped the bulk of it out of sheer desperation.

Well, when that post re-opens, as they all do eventually, feel free to jump in and type the magic words that will either persuade the ID Creationists to describe their hypothesis, or to admit they have no hypothesis and finally accept the fundamental scientific facts of evolution.

I’m looking forward to that.


Extremely good analogy I have to say. This same accretion-type model explains so many things, from the increasing complexity of macromolecular machines like spliceosomes and ribosomes, to even the growth of multicellular organisms. One might wonder how a tree could grow incrementally to it’s present size because if you were to remove the roots or trunk it would die. Of course that seems silly on it’s face because we have direct experience of how it is that trees grow, but it’s the same principle that underlies how complex biological entities evolve, and why additions to the system that occurred further back in history, can not be removed later.

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16 posts were split to a new topic: Is ID Just About Atheism vs. Theism?

Well I don’t think evidence shows this. Rather evidence and experiment shows that proteins are highly sensitive to mutations and that even neutral mutations cumulatively end up destroying protein structure past a certain point. At this point there are many studies showing this through direct experiment.


beta lactamase



lambda repressor


Other relevant studies:

Random protein

cytochrome c

FoldX algorithm

Lethal Mutagenesis

None of those studies are relevant to any argument that would purport to undermine what @T_aquaticus is talking about, which is epistasis in protein evolution under natural selection.

The only general point that could be extracted from those articles is that no protein can be expected to evolve and maintain it’s function indefinitely. But @T_aquaticus never said that, so it’s an irrelevant point. All he’s saying is that an initially neutral mutation that occurs first, might be critical to a novel function that evolves later. Which is absolutely correct, and the phenomenon is rather pervasive in protein evolution:
Starr TN, Thornton JW. Epistasis in protein evolution. Protein Sci. 2016 Jul;25(7):1204-18. DOI: 10.1002/pro.2897


The two bolded phrases contradict each other. Make up yer mind, @BenKissling.


Any mutation that destroys protein structure is by definition not neutral.

If a mutation destroys a function in a way that lowers fitness then it isn’t neutral, and it can be selected against.

It is also possible for neutral mutations to attenuate future mutations through epistasis. Therefore, neutral mutations can also be beneficial at a future point in history. Neutral mutations can also contribute to changes in function.

It’s also possible for two mutations that would be neutral if either one occurred by itself to be non-neutral if both occurred together.

For example, in the standard genetic code mutating the codon CGG->AGG doesn’t change the amino-acid in a protein, since both triplets code for arginine. Nor does mutating the same codon CGG->CGC, since that also codes for arginine. So both these mutations are likely to be neutral. But having both mutations together, CGG->AGC changes the amino-acid to serine, which may not be neutral.

Whether a particular mutation is beneficial, neutral or detrimental depends not just on environmental context, but also on the presence of other mutations.