Lents and Swamidass: Our Questions for Behe’s Darwin Devolves

@NLENTS, @swamidass discussions at PS made it to Evolution News again.



I saw at the website Peaceful Science that biologist Nathan Lents, author of Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes , says that he has been asked to review Mike Behe’s new book, Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA That Challenges Evolution (DD). Professor Lents notes:

I’ve been commissioned to review Behe’s new book, out next year, so I am reading it now. I’m about 70 pages in and so far, all I’ve seen is, “Gee, this stuff is complicated!”

Lents can rest assured: There is far more to the book than that . Behe dismantles the fundamental claim of evolutionary theory that mutations and natural selection naturally drive life toward greater complexity as new information is constantly generated. In stark contrast to this belief, Behe demonstrates the opposite. He summarizes the thesis of his book by stating

@bjmiller thanks for engaging us here.

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Now if we could just focus on the science instead of engaging in speculation about why Behe has not responded to critics or chooses to not post here.

I think we should wait for the book to come out and then invite Mike to come here to discuss the actual content of book, as opposed to what people think it should.have contained but didn’t.


Yes, @bjmiller, let me join @swamidass in thanking you for being here. I’ve now finished the book and I agree that it was more than that and it did make its way to some good scientific discussions of how mutations can effect beneficial change by diminishing or destroying function to a gene/protein. Unfortunately, in my reading, Behe completely omits mention of examples that are contrary to this and that’s what is frustrating for us. And @Mung, the omission of a response from Behe about examples that challenge his position (that have been clearly pointed out to him) is the key issue here. In my view, ignoring, instead of engaging, evidence that challenges your view opens you up to this kind of criticism and really weakens your position. Also, it’s borderline academic dishonesty because Behe presents all of his examples and implies that there aren’t contrary examples to contend with (when there definitely are). This leaves naive readers with the one-sided view that Behe wants them to have: that mutations can only destroy things. This is why scientists such as @swamidass and me feel an obligation to respond.


His argument, in fact, depends on the absence of counter examples. The omission of even discussion of several of the counter examples that have been brought to his attention over the last 2 decades does leave me feeling obligated to respond.


If one were to take Behe seriously and publish a serious response in a refereed journal, even if just the journal BIO-Complexity, I think he would take notice.

Perhaps @NLENTS and @swamidass could co-author!

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It is far kinder to give him a chance to respond to us now, before we wrote our reviews. That way he might change the direction I’m sure both of our reviews are going.

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Indeed. ID advocates have been making claims about ‘dismantling evolutionary theory’ for decades, but if Miller’s review is any indication this is just the same old stuff.

With surpassing irony it turns out that…Darwinian evolution proceeds mainly by damaging or breaking genes, which, counter-intuitively, sometimes helps survival. In other words, the mechanism is powerfully de -volutionary.

Is it just me, or does this sound like the YEC arguments from Ken Ham and AiG? Even for those who genuinely believe that ID is a sciencific inquiry, this does a disservice. ID needs positive evidence for the introduction of information and design, not rehashed arguments for why evolutionary theory can’t be correct.

Meanwhile, back at the science ranch, applications of evolutionary theory are creating new innovations and medical treatments. We have yet to see even a proposed application of ID theory.


@NLENTS Who asked you to review Behe’s book? I think that you should disclose who asked you and whether you are being compensated (and if so, how much) for doing the review. And are you required to take any prescribed position in reviewing the book. Full disclosure of these things is best.

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He does not to disclose anything on an unpublished review. Most likely he is being paid nothing and does not need to take proscribed view. It is even possible he may decide not to write it in the end, or that the terms will change before being published. Any disclosures that need to be made only need to made at publication.

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I am not being paid, nor was I asked to take any position, push an agenda, or say or not say anything. I’m not sure about revealing who first asked me. I mean, I can’t think of why I shouldn’t, but I also feel strange about it, because they aren’t committed to publishing what I send them if they don’t like it. What I can say is that one outlet asked me, I agreed and then queried a different outlet to see if they were interested and they agreed as well, so I am working on two articles now (one is a straight book review, the other an essay), and now I’m also thinking about writing a response in the peer-reviewed scientific literature as well. While some in the science community would have us all ignore Behe, the DI, and all of it, I disagree because I think large swaths of the general public will look to the scientific community to respond and so we should.


Thank you. Your disclosure is fine. Note that I am anticipating that DI will claim that you are a hack paid to trash Behe’s new book in part to get back at DI for trashing your book. By full disclosure now, you can show that this wasn’t the case.

I don’t think this correct. Behe’s argument depends on which is the dominant pattern, or in other words, what the net effect is.

If there are a few examples of increasing genetic sophistication/function, but far more abundant examples of decreasing function such that the overall trend is diminishing function over time, then Darwins mechanism would be incapable of producing sophisticated lifeforms. The net effect would be a loss of function.

Conversely, if there are only a few examples of diminishing function and far more numerous examples of increasing function, then it’s clear that Darwin’s mechanism is capable of producing increasingly sophisticated lifeforms, despite the occasional “devolution” setback. In other words, the net effect would be positive (increasing genetic function).

Thus determining the dominant pattern is the important question here. In my work with stickleback evolution, it seems like loss of function is the dominant pattern. Loss of function mutations at Eda are responsible for differences in lateral plating, loss of function mutation at Pitx1 are responsible for changes in pelvic morphology, and numerous other loss of function mutations underly evolution in school behaviour, body size, trophic morphology etc. As far as I am aware, nearly all the notable evolutionary changes have occurred through loss of function mutations. While examples of gains in genetic function could be present, it would be fair to say that the “highly derived” populations of stickleback possess a reduced amount of overall genetic function.

So I don’t think offering a few counter examples would be refutation of Behe’s argument. To be convincing, the overall pattern needs to be demonstrated. I hope Behe is arguing for the overall pattern in his book, and I hope any critique of it would do the same. I think the best way to do this is look at genome wide function over time, not individual genes - such as Lenski’s LTEE.

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Welcome @Dan_Durston. Which argument of his are you discussing?

By argument, I’m referring to what appears to be the central thesis of Behe’s book that “devolution” or loss of genetic function in the main result of Darwin’s mechanism.

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A post was merged into an existing topic: Is the Dominant Pattern of Evolution Reductive or Additive?

You are introducing a different argument than the one he first put forward 20 years ago, and then the next one he put forward 10 years go. We are happy to address what you are raising in another thread, however, this does not explain why Behe has in his book:

  1. Excluded the many valid counter examples and arguments against his (falsified) hypothesis that “IC1 systems cannot evolve” (Black Box) I’d encourage you catch up a bit by reading this brief summary: Which Irreducible Complexity?

  2. Equivocates Darwinism (i.e. positive driven change) with modern evolutionary science.

  3. Did not correct his misreading of a quote about the malaria complexity cluster (IC2), which is the central validation he points to in his last book, even as he draws on it now to make his case (Edge of Evolution).

As for the new argument you are offering, we can discuss that in another thread. We will find that there are many mechanisms that add genetic information to genomes quite easily. That, however, is a story for another thread.


A post was merged into an existing topic: Is the Dominant Pattern of Evolution Reductive or Additive?

Perhaps so. Obviously it’s difficult to have a good grasp of what Behe is arguing in Darwin Devolves prior to his books release. Through comments here and elsewhere it seems like his central thesis is clear (“devotion is the overall pattern”), but perhaps my perception here is not accurate.

Anyways, my core point is that Behe seems to be arguing that “devolution” is the overall pattern, and thus I hope your review will argue counter to that (it is not the overall pattern) rather than only providing a few isolation examples, as there are exceptions to any pattern.

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@Dan_Durston, both @NLENTS and I have a copy of the book. We are not guessing about it. I’d encourage you to read we have written here, as this does not violate embargo, and is easily understandable from what has already been published by Behe. We would not address new arguments he offers in this book, because that would not be fair to him.

I’m sorry @Dan_Durston, but this is changing the topic. We are not discussing this argument. We are discussing something else. A thread has been created to engage with that idea, independent of Behe’s book: Is the Dominant Pattern of Evolution Reductive or Additive?. Of course, this is not a new idea, so I imagine it would make more sense for you to quote the many people who have already published that idea, rather than Behe’s unpublished book that you have not read.