The Erosion Uplift Analogy to Behe's Argument

A important and anonymous scholar contacted me with questions about this analogy.

He writes this response,

Dennis Venema has said that the argument of Behe’s newest book is analogous to someone’s
arguing that mountains cannot be natural because the forces of erosion are always destructive,
all the while ignoring the evidence for mountain-building forces.

Now I realize that showing that a purported analogy is not truly analogous does nothing to
refute the point which the analogy is supposed to illustrate. (That’s why, by the way, showing
that a mousetrap is not irreducibly complex does nothing to refute Behe’s claim that irreducibly
complex systems require designers.) Nonetheless, showing that a proffered analogy is inapt
does reduce the obviousness of the point that the analogy was intended to illustrate.

Venema’s analogy to Behe’s argument is inapt because the forces of erosion and mountain-
building are distinct forces. By contrast, Behe’s argument, in effect, is that erosion itself cannot
account for mountain-building because it is universally and always destructive. To refute Behe’s
argument one needs to show that “erosion” itself can build “mountains.”

How would you respond to him? This thread, also, should be kind. The scholar in question is putting this forward in good faith, and genuinely wants to know our response.

I’d respond

"No one in science says or thinks that erosion itself build mountains. Just as no one in science says or thinks evolutionary processes can only cause a genome to lose information.

Behe’s whole argument is based on a silly strawman caricature of actual evolution. That’s why no one in the actual biological sciences takes him seriously".


I would respond by saying this is incorrect. No they aren’t. Here’s a good little article . I’ll post more later if so desired

But his/her misunderstanding of mountain building pretty much refutes the argument. I believe Venema’s analogy stands

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I mean you can’t build mountains without erosion:


One more to just clear up the misunderstanding:

Tell this person they can email me if they want to discuss this further and stay anonymous

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I would respond that he is trying to pick apart the analogy instead of addressing the argument the analogy is illustrating.

Behe is making very general arguments about biology in the same way that Venema’s geologist is making general claims about geology. Therefore, there needs to be some way of addressing the whole instead of very tiny and specific examples. In the case of the infamous polar bear example, Behe is looking at a tiny number of genes out of the entire genome, and is limiting himself to one species out of potentially millions.

Surely Behe can find genetic differences between two species that are responsible for a positive and beneficial change. Using those examples, Behe should explain why those genetic differences could not be produced by known evolutionary processes.


Exploring the ways that mutation re-models transcription networks is a good way to refute both Klinghoffer and Behe, IMO. Point mutations can greatly alter these networks - new TFs can be brought into networks (thus expanding the sets of target genes), others may be left out, etc. etc. The morphological and evolutionary consequences of these changes can be very dramatic.

While I haven’t sat down with any single example, I am fairly sure that the ratios of “harmful” to “beneficial” mutations in these instances is going to be not very different from 1, and certainly not between 1000 and infinity (depending on which of Behe’s claims, or those of his supporters, one chooses to cite).

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The author is, himself, showing the dangers of misinterpreting an analogy. He seems to be interpreting “erosion” as analogous to evolution as a whole. Whereas, as I understand the original argument, the process of evolution is analogous to all the processes, including but not limited to erosion, involved in building mountains. And Behe is making the mistake of looking only at erosion and thinking this represents all the geological forces that create mountains.


He doesn’t think erosion is a mountain building force so the analogy isn’t applicable. But of course this is wrong. Erosion is one of the most important mountain building forces

His comment could be interpreted that way. But @swamidass asked us to be kind, so I will be. :slight_smile:

Well I thought I was kind when I pointed out the misunderstanding

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I think you were. It’d be easy to not be, however, in discussing such a basic error.