Reviewing Behe's "Darwin Devolves"

@NLENTS, I’ve read that Behe discusses alternatives to Darwinian evolution in his new book. Is that true?

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He exceedingly briefly discussed some non Darwinian mechanism, and then concludes they are real but unhelpful evolutionary processes, so there is no point in discussing them further. At this point he returns to discussing evolution as exclusively natural selection.

This indicates that Behe understands modern evolutionary theory is more than darwinism, but he has not taken into account how this affects is analysis (except to claim without evidence that non Darwinian mechanisms are irrelevant).


I did not mean to cut him or anyone slack… rather I was merely questioning what the proposed tests would prove/disprove.

In his experiment, it seems that if lab bacteria…

  1. Produce flagella, IC would be disproved. ID would not necessarily be, and natural selection would, of course be validated in this sense (and not disproven.) In fact, if this experiment were successful, couldn’t the ID folks say that bacteria were designed to evolve flagella?
  2. Fail to produce flagella, IC would fail to be disproved, but also fail to be proved. ID would fail to be disproved, but also fail to be proved. Natural selection would fail to be disproved, and, of course, not validated.

Is this correct?? If so, the experiment seems to offer very little. Maybe I’m missing a big point?

@Michael_Callen we already know what Behe would do, in place of agreeing IC had been falsified. He would:

  1. Object that the experiment itself was designed, requiring intervention from scientists, therefore the flagellum in the experiment was designed.

  2. Object that the the cells were preloaded to evolve flagellum, and we know this because they were successful at evolving the otherwise impossible to evolve…

  3. Object that even if the flagellum could evolve, other IC structures couldn’t.

  4. Object that the flagellum is actually quite easy to evolve from prior structures.

We have seen these objections already from Behe and others when their theories are falsified. There is no logical reason these objections would not apply to the hypothetical falsification he offers. We can be entirely certain that no amount of evidence would change their minds. They, after all, have a large financial conflict of interest now. How do you acknowledge that your pet theory is falsified when it pays the bills?

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I get what you are saying, too. But that really goes to what I’m asking and still want to know. On the surface, the “experiment” with the bacteria in the lab, waiting to grow flagella, seems to be significant. But when you drill down, I don’t see that it can potentially prove or disprove anything, except that it would disprove irreducible complexity, at least as it pertains to that, particular, example. Am I right?

Behe’s claims about IC have already been disproven. See the work of molecular biologist Joe Thornton in resurrecting ancient proteins. IC structures have been empirically shown to evolve through indirect pathways, using co-option and molecular scaffolding. Thornton’s work caused Behe to now claim IC systems can’t evolve through direct Darwinian pathways which is a pretty lame claim since they still evolve.

That depends on the definition. Behe’s usual definition does not explicitly incorporate “can’t evolve”, so just because something evolves doesn’t mean it isn’t IC. What it means is the claim that IC systems can’t evolve has been falsified.

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The usual sequence is science shows how something Behe claims is IC can evolve, then Behe just says that only means it wasn’t IC to begin with and moves the goalposts to the next claimed IC thing. He’s been playing this intellectual whack-a-mole game for years.

when? think about thisi analogy: a car engine cant evolve stepwise since it need many parts to be functional. what make you think that its possible to evolve ic system in the biological world?

The mammalian middle ear has three bones that are all interlinked (malleus, incus, stapes) and removing one of those bones stops the function of the mammalian middle ear. Mammals are supposed to have evolved from reptiles, and in reptiles there is just one middle ear. Additionall, the mammalian lower jaw has a single bone while the reptilian jaw has 3 bones. What do we see in the fossil record? We see reptile-mammal transitional fossils where two lower jaw bones evolve to serve as both ear bones and jaw bones, and then eventually they move into the middle ear where they serve as just ear bones. With this example we can see the step by step evolution of an IC system.


Here’s an example that recently occurred to me.

Think of a camera. It is obviously designed. It needs many parts, working together, in order to be functional.

Yet, when we look at the history of the camera, we see something different. The earliest cameras were pinhole cameras. And these can arise naturally by accident. This was then improved to the camera obscura. Then, at some later stage, a lens was added to increase the amount of light without blurring. Someone discovered light sensitive chemicals, and these were used for photographic plates, later film. A shutter was added to control the length of light exposure of the plates. A diaphragm was added to control the size of the aperture. A focusing system was added to allow adjusting between close up photography and landscape photography.

There really was a stepwise evolution over time.


Further, there is nothing in the theory of evolution which prohibits a flagellum from “poofing” into existence in a manner virtually indistinguishable from a miracle.

So here we have an example, quoted by T_aquaticus, where Behe does not say evolution could not do it, nor does he say that natural processes could not do it.

But will that stop anyone from claiming that by “natural selection” he really means 'evolution" or “natural processes”?

Probably not.

Behe says it here:

Added in edit:

I would also like to add this piece of testimony given by Behe in the Dover trial:

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Of course it won’t stop us from accurately representing his position @Mung. Your sympathetic revision of his position is just not accurate. I encourage you to read his new book, where he makes clear his position on these matters. We don’t have to guess or rely on your guess.


So here we have another example, quoted by T_aquaticus, where Behe does not rule out natural causes. But will that stop anyone from claiming otherwise? Probably not.

I look forward to it. We already know from you that Behe does not lump all evolution under natural selection or Darwinism. But that won’t stop people from claiming otherwise. This we also don’t have to guess about.

Behe clearly states that something like the flagellum will not be produced by bacteria all on their own through natural processes without the help of an intelligent designer. The fact that you can’t be honest about this fact only illustrates how problematic intelligent design is.


This is a straw-man. I wondering if you can critique your own misrepresentation here.

In what way is it a straw man Bill? Behe is pretty clear that he believes ID is necessary for making the flagellum and in his most recent book say this would come as an “infusion of information” from the designer.