As I’ve mentioned before, Michael Behe has a new creationist (i.e., Intelligent Design) book coming out soon: Darwin Devolves: The New Science about DNA that Challenges Evolution. While its official release date is February 26, three scientists have written an extremely critical review of the book in the journal Science (click on the screenshot below). One of them, Rich Lenski, did the famous lab-evolution experiments in bacteria that Behe discusses (and apparently tries to rebut) in his book. I won’t reiterate what Lents et al. say, as you can read their review below. The title tells the tale.
Behe, like all ID advocates, has a very thin skin. Although his books have sold decently in America because we have so many creationists seeking confirmation of what they like to believe, the response of scientists to Intelligent Design—and Behe’s books—has been pretty similar to the opinion of Judge Jones in the Kitzmiller ID case: this isn’t science but disguised religion.
So not two days passed before Behe responded on the Discovery Institute Evolution News site, crowing in triumph. Click on the screenshot below.
Behe promises a fuller response to Lents et al., but all his crowing is apparently about the reviewers having not responded to the “central argument of [Behe’s] book”—the “First Rule of Adaptive Evolution”. As Behe says:
In a few days I will offer a detailed rebuttal. But the overwhelmingly important point to notice right up front is that the reviewers (Lenski plus Josh Swamidass over at Peaceful Science and John Jay College biologist Nathan Lents) have absolutely no response to the very central argument of the book. The argument that I summarized as an epigraph on the first page of the book so no one could miss it. The one that I included in the title of a 2010 Quarterly Review of Biology article upon which the book is based. The one for which I chose the most in-your-face moniker that I could think of (consistent with the professional literature) to goad a response: The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution: Break or blunt any gene whose loss would increase the number of offspring. The rule summarizes the fact that the overwhelming tendency of random mutation is to degrade genes, and that very often is helpful. Thus natural selection itself acts as a powerful de-volutionary force, increasing helpful broken and degraded genes in the population.
And they had no response! That’s because there is in fact nothing that can alleviate that fatal flaw in Darwinism. Much more to come soon.
In a separate post on Evolution News, IDer David Klinghoffer simply echoes Behe’s point, and helpfully adds that perhaps Science should have chosen reviewers that could have addressed Behe’s main point.
Unfortunately, Behe appears to have missed the fact that the reviewers did address Behe’s main point—at least twice. What is that point? It’s apparently the contention that evolution nearly always relies on inactivated genes during nonadaptive evolution, as such genes can be useful (not making a product can increase your fitness if that product is superfluous or injurious in a new environment). On top of that, mutations that “break” or degrade genes are more common than genes that affect or alter gene function. Put these together and you get Behe’s Rule, but the rule itself is broken.
The problem with Behe’s Rule is that yes, random mutation most often degrades genes, and broken genes can be adaptive, but natural selection doesn’t just choose any gene; it chooses ones that increase fitness. And we have many examples of non-broken genes that increase fitness. These include the arising of duplicated genes and then the divergence of those genes to perform new functions on top of old ones—a very common mode of adaptation in nature that has created many useful “gene families.”
And Lents et al. know this. I’ve put in bold Lents et al.’s referral, in their review, to adaptation involving non-broken genes:
Behe argues. He allows that mutation and natural selection can explain species- and genus-level diversification, but only through the degradation of genes. Something else, he insists, is required for meaningful innovation. Here, Behe invokes a “purposeful design” by an “intelligent agent.”
There are indeed many examples of loss-of-function mutations that are advantageous, but Behe is selective in his examples. He dedicates the better part of chapter 7 to discussing a 65,000-generation Escherichia coli experiment, emphasizing the many mutations that arose that degraded function—an expected mode of adaptation to a simple laboratory environment, by the way—while dismissing improved functions and deriding one new one as a “sideshow” (1). (Full disclosure: The findings in question were published by coauthor Richard Lenski.)
. . . Behe is skeptical that gene duplication followed by random mutation and selection can contribute to evolutionary innovation. Yet there is overwhelming evidence that this underlies trichromatic vision in primates (8), olfaction in mammals (9), and developmental innovations in all metazoans through the diversification of HOX genes (10). And in 2012, Andersson et al. showed that new functions can rapidly evolve in a suitable environment (11). Behe acknowledges none of these studies, declaring an absence of evidence for the role of duplications in innovation.
I won’t list the many examples of adaptations based on non-broken genes, which involve far more than duplications (such examples can involve simple amino acid substitutions), but more about that later. In the meantime, the thin-skinned Behe is crowing like a rooster, failing to notice that behind that irascible old rooster is a farmer with an axe and a hunger for chicken stew.