Evolution unscathed: Darwin Devolves argues on weak reasoning that unguided evolution is a destructive force, incapable of innovation
Authored by two of Behe’s colleagues at Lehigh University’s Department of Biological Sciences,
Academic buildings can be quirky places. Like proteins they evolve, adapting to new functions while holding on to traces of their past, occasionally performing tasks that are in conflict with one another. Iacocca Hall is no exception. Once home to the research and development division of Bethlehem Steel, the mountaintop building now houses Lehigh University’s Department of Biological Sciences. The most infamous (among scientists) and celebrated (among creationists) of our 22 faculty is Michael Behe, a well‐known proponent of intelligent design and a tenured member of our department who recently released his third book, Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA That Challenges Evolution (HarperOne, 2019, 352 pp.).
This is a phenomenal article. The best of the reviews that have come out, echoing, expanding, and adding too much of what the rest of us have said. Some greate quotes:
About Real Time Evolution
Proteins are promiscuous (Hammer et al. 2017). They moonlight, by chance interacting with other cellular components to effect phenotype outside their traditionally ascribed roles (Copley 2014). These adventitious functions can be strengthened by selection, allowing a protein to assume a new or a dual role. This topic was raised in a recent review of Darwin Devolves in Science (Lents et al. 2019), where the authors highlight a study that employed experimental evolution to strengthen the weak nascent ability of a protein in the histidine biosynthesis pathway to act on a similar substrate in tryptophan biosynthesis (Näsvall et al. 2012). For multifunctional proteins, gene duplication and divergence can parse specific functions into separate proteins, each now free to specialize to its own task (Hittinger and Carroll 2007).
About Misleading Metaphors
The planthopper’s hind legs are a “large, in‐your‐face, interacting gear system (p45).” As for the “supremely complex molecular machine called the spliceosome,” simple scissors will not do. Behe opts for “an automated machine that could make fancy paper cut‐out dolls (p61).” Most of the analogies in Darwin Devolves are not Behe’s creation—he has done well to scour press coverage (Yong 2013) and the scientific literature (Burrows and Sutton 2013; Franze et al. 2007) for relatable metaphors; and he is generous with their use. But reality remains: proteins are not machines, a flagellum is not an outboard motor, and no one is claiming that mousetraps evolved gradually by natural selection.
Behe nearly catches his own error. He notes: “Metaphors, of course, do not denote the thing they are applied to. They are vague analogies… [I]f metaphors are taken too seriously in science, they can be confusing at best; and they can often be actively misleading (p201).”
Much more to dig into here.