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

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He does not to disclose anything on an unpublished review.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.

I must admit to being a bit confused here. Perhaps I have indeed missed something. It appears that you are saying that you and @NLENTS are not addressing Behe’s new book/arguments here in this thread about his new book? Comments like the one quoted below by @NLENTS sure sound like it:

“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.”

Then your earlier comment that I first responded to (“His argument, in fact, depends on the absence of counter examples.”) uses a quote of that comment. Thus your comment appeared to be in relation to Behe’s new book (generally) and the counter examples that @NLENTS says are missing (specifically). However, I now see that you are saying that your comment was a reference to Behe’s older IC arguments (“IC can not evolve”). If so, then I agree that this argument does depend on an absence of counter examples as you say.

I appreciate the new thread and I am interested in the topic, but I don’t have time to do it justice.

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In his book, Behe makes the claim that the work from his two prior books have not been refuted. He does this by ignoring all the refutations that been put forward. That is what I am focusing on now. When it his book comes out in February, we will be able to explain the problems with his newer arguments (there is not much there) in more detail. For now, I am confining my critique to what he already has in public.

Arguing about the “Devolution” argument is going ot be pointless now any ways, as most people are going to do what you are doing here. Just avoiding the point, and suggesting we wait till we read the whole book. That is no good, and waste of time. If you would like to make the argument for your self, independent of Behe, you certainly can and should give it a shot. You will find that this is just not in accord with the evidence.

Also, with you in mind, I excerpted a few helpful articles in another thread. Hopefully this helps you get “unconfused”.

You are a student in biology, and when I was at your stage I also was convinced by Behe. Then, I learned some more about Biology, and found that it was a fallacious argument. I was a Christian too @Dan_Durston, and still am a Christian and science. I think the Behe was ultimately right in he is arguing that God created us (and He did), however his argument is false. There is no value in false arguments for true claims. God does not need fallacious arguments, does he?

For that reason, I encourage you to dive into this for yourself and learn with us. We are happy to show you how evolutionary science works. We are also glad to explore with you how evolutionary science can make sense alongside Christian faith:

@Dan_Durston, when you get a chance, take a look at this article I wrote about my story, and tell me what you think?


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I don’t think this is true at all. As far as I know, everyone agrees that mutations are much more likely to harm than help, and much more likely even to be neutral. I don’t know any molecular or evolutionary biologist that would disagree with that. So, if by “overall pattern,” you are implying a numbers game, then we are all in agreement. Instead, Behe argues that breaking things is all mutations can ever do and is therefore insufficient as the source of biodiversity. He states very clearly that adaptive radiation at the level of genus and species fits the mold of modern evolutionary but with mutations always being destructive in doing so. (He also chooses his examples selectively here and, in at least one case, selective explains his example.) But he then goes further and says that higher-level diversification at the level of family and up, when new structures, functions, etc. appear (in other words, macroevolution, although he defines it more rigidly than necessary, I suspect to better fit his overall notions) requires an influx of new genetic information from somewhere other than mutations.

So, as @swamidass says, the absence of counter-examples is central to his argument and the existence of those examples demolishes his point. In fact, there are examples of gain- and alteration-of-function mutations that have been crucial for adaptation. Also, he is really doubling down with his “line in the sand” between lower-taxonomic-level microevolution and higher-level macroevolution, and seems to ignore all that has been done to show that such a mechanistic division does not exist. But that’s another matter, though not unrelated.


The elephant in the room which Behe ignores is changing environmental selection pressures. Of course evolution works by modifying existing genomic sequences or “breaking things” as Behe puts it. But such things are almost always only “broken” when they are no longer needed by the population due to changing selection pressures while the new uses for the “broken” parts are beneficial in the new changed environment. New genetic variations arise in every generation. The genetic changes which are retained in the population gene pool are those which are fixed by selection and drift. That’s where the “new genetic information” comes from - feedback from the environment.

Sadly I must conclude this book is just one more attempt by Behe to push a false argument hoping the lay public won’t tumble to the false picture Behe paints.


The key concepts never mentioned once:

  1. Exaptation.
  2. Muller’s two step and Dr. Orr.
  3. T-urf13 and @art hunt.

For the record though, there is a section about the bad design argument with which I totally agree. I’m going back through to note the places I agree with him. He also affirms common descent.

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