ENV: Behe and Swamidass Debate Evolution and Intelligent Design at Texas A&M

The video of the debate (with good audio) was just posted today. Link: YouTube


I take it Behe didn’t show any of the structures in related insects to determine whether there are degrees of friction-enhancing morphologies? Weird, it’s almost like you’d think it should have been relevant if you’re going to claim some thing is designed, to look at how such structures look in both close and more distant relatives. If you’re going to make an inference to the best explanation, you’ll want to look at all the data to be explained. And if you’re going to claim design is a better explanation than evolution, you’ll need to look at the kind of data the evolutionary model would be derived from, to see how well it explains it, and then give your putatively superior design-model. But Behe doesn’t have a design-model. He didn’t offer any.

On the storytelling point, can someone enlighten me here: How is saying “it was designed” NOT storytelling? The gears were popped into existence by a designer that wanted to give these planthoppers gears. Ta-da! Not a “just-so” story at all. Nope.

Also, I’m sorry but I have to say this: Tour’s question is bordering on stupid. There isn’t a pretty way to say this. What is he expecting should be explained to him here? The chemistry of mutation? How enzymes work? What is he asking for? How changing one amino acid for another in a protein alters distance between atoms in catalyst and substrate? As if he can’t just go open a biochemistry textbook to learn about this stuff. But he can of course always just demand more detail. So enzyme acts on substrate, and then what? And then what?

His question is misleading rhetoric designed to make it seem like you have to know everything that happens at some atomic resolution before you can make good, evidence-based inferences about how they happen. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to understand at the level of chemistry how exactly erosion happens, to know that it happens, and be able to infer that it has happened for billions of years and shaped innumerable geological features.

1 Like

Thank you @zacharylawson!!! That was quick!


Indeed. Two things:

(1) It’s a bit like the three-year-old who asks why grass is green, and then responds to the answer with “why?” and then responds to the answer to that question with “why?” and so on. Eventually, all chains of “why” devolve to something unexplainable. But when we are seeking proximate causes and helpfully descriptive explanations, we do not need to always drill down to “why is there anything instead of nothing?”

(2) What I find galling about this sort of approach is that, as often as not, the unknown explanation is unknown precisely because we only recently discovered the phenomenon in need of explanation. On the day that you first observe gear-like nubs on planthoppers, of course, you do NOT have a detailed genetic/biochemical explanation of how this happened. What you DO have is some morphological info that you didn’t previously know about. But so often the reaction of the ID Creationist is to demand that science explain, to the uttermost detail, every aspect of a phenomenon NOW – and to insist that if this cannot be done, design is the only plausible answer.


Wow. I somehow missed the memo.

That’s what I get for not keeping current on the news. I can’t believe that I didn’t see or hear the “All Evolutionary Processes Grind to a Halt!” headline. Go figure.


I think that it always has been a business, not a scientific movement. The question is how to generate revenue, and the answer is that religious fundamentalists will give money if they are persuaded that somebody is being persecuted for spreading the Word of God. The importance of “engaging” scientists has never been that there was any hope; the importance has always been that the rejection of pseudoscience by the scientific community helps to tell the persecution tale which is the key to the revenue stream.

But I think that what they’re finding is that their members aren’t really interested in the scientific aspects. Very few people interested in ID are interested in biology for biology’s sake – they are largely interested in it because they hope to find a salve for their doubts in it, or an argument they can finally win with someone. You can’t get someone who has read Darwin’s Doubt to pick up the Erwin and Valentine book on the Cambrian explosion – it is a mistake to assume that the fact that they read Darwin’s Doubt reflects ANY interest in the Cambrian at all.

So why spend money? Why get Axe and “green screen” Gauger to write more papers that will be ignored? It is as easy to be rejected when you present pseudoscientific claims without data as when you present them with data. Do you need an expert in primate evolution to write a couple of chapters of a book? Get an unemployable lawyer to write them! Who needs a biologist, or a paleontologist, to weigh in on such matters? When the object is to say something that sounds sciencey, and to be rejected so that you can claim you’ve been treated unfairly, this works just as well.


A follow-up note on this quote from p. 227 of Axe’s book: I didn’t have the book at hand when citing it earlier today so could not recall if there was anything which would make the statement slightly less absurd if read in context. I’ve now examined the book and can assure you that there is not.

Is there anyone – anyone – who can honestly say that this statement is consistent with Axe being both honest and competent? I have already given my view, in other contexts, here: that such things are a hideous mishmash of dishonesty mixed so well with incompetence that the two present as one flavor. But if there is anyone who can explain how Axe’s statement is both competent and honest, I would love to hear it.

1 Like

Can you first explain why the statement is both incompetent and dishonest ?

Is it your opinion that Douglas Axe is correct to say that “The current stance is that evolution was so successful that it perfected life to the point where modern forms no longer evolve”?

This “We don’t observe evolution transitioning new species today” trope brings to mind the related lame claim “I sure don’t see any monkeys evolving into humans anywhere I ever looked!” That one was very popular among evolution deniers back in the 1960’s. I even heard it at the barber shop as I was getting my “crew cut”, which was close to a buzz cut.

I’ve already read that this argument has been used by evolutionists in response to the observation that evolution seems to have stopped recently. Is it a general stance? I haven’t explored the issue enough to answer, but that would not surprise me.


I’m going to call bovine excrement on this one.

Gilbert I have to say that your post reads like one you’d have composed trying to look for a way out without admitting that you know what Axe says is false.

1 Like

The truth is that I really don’t know yet if what Axe says is false. But can you explain me why you think it is false?

How about this: I’ve never heard or seen any biologist (including me) make the claim that Axe attributes to “the current stance”. If you’ve “read that this argument has been used”, it sounds as if you’re relying on unfounded statements from anti-evolutionists, like the one Axe made.


Here are Axe’s claims:

Axe: “The current stance is that evolution was so successful that it perfected life to the point where modern forms no longer evolve, making the whole process even further removed from the category of observable phenomena.”

The first part is demonstrably false as nowhere does evolutionary biology posit modern forms no longer evolve. Axe made that up whole cloth.

The second part about evolution not being observed we may charitably attribute to Axe’s ignorance, although it’s hard to believe he’s never heard of the Lenski LTEE. There are also any number of easily found examples of incipient speciation described in the scientific literature.

Axe is either dishonest, incompetent, or both. Why do you believe the claims of such people?


Evolutionary science does not make this claim. I don’t even think this is a minority position.


Okay. But then how do evolutionists explain the fact that creative evolution appears to be amortized, decadent or nearing to an end?

Why would you expect evolutionary biologists (I don’t really think there are any “evolutionists” anywhere, at least not these days) to want to explain a “fact” that is false?

1 Like

Easy. That isn’t a fact and is demonstrably false. Wherever did you hear that Creationist canard?