Re: [asa] Behe's bad math

From: David Buller <bullerscience@gmail.com>
Date: Sun Jun 03 2007 - 22:08:57 EDT

I've downloaded the first chapter of The Edge of Evolution from the
publisher's website; here are some interesting quotes and my comments (in
brackets).

"Life has been on earth for billions of years."

[This one will certainly not win Behe any favor with ICR and AIG!]

"*If there is not a smooth, gradually rising, easily found evolutionary
pathway leading to a biological system within a reasonable time, Darwinian
processes won't work.*"

[This seems to be the basic argument of the book, much like Darwin's
statement about complex structures was for *Darwin**'s Black Box.*]

"What's more, scientists have catalogued myriad ways in which DNA can
change. Not only can single units (called nucleotides) of DNA accidentally
change when the DNA is copied in a new generation, but whole chunks of the
double helix can accidentally either be duplicated or be left out. Very
rarely all of the DNA in a cell is copied twice, yielding offspring with
double the DNA of its parents. Other times active DNA elements resembling
viruses can insert copies of themselves at new positions in the genome,
sometimes dragging other bits of DNA with them. Opportunities for nature to
alter an organism's DNA are virtually boundless."

[This strikes me as a rather interesting paragraph. Much of Behe's argument
is based upon the last quote, including the "smooth" and "gradually rising"
clauses. Yet wouldn't DNA changes like this cause some jumps and gaps?]

"Evolution from a common ancestor, via changes in DNA, is very well
supported. It may or may not be random. Thanks to evolution, scientists who
sequence human DNA and find mutations that are helpful -- against, say, our
natural enemies -- are not just studying the DNA of one person. They are
actually observing the results of a struggle that's gone on for millennia
and involved millions and millions of people. An ancestor of the modern
human first sustained the helpful mutation, and her descendants outcompeted
the descendants of many other humans. So the modern situation reflects an
evolutionary history involving many people. When scientists sequence a
genome, they are unfurling rich evidence of evolution -- Darwinian or
otherwise -- unavailable by any other method of inquiry."

[Well, this strikes me as rather interesting. Behe fully accepts common
descent, the question in is mind is just "how much was random, how much was
designed." Behe is basically saying that all things have developed over
time from a common ancestor, but he questions the ability of neo-Darwinian
evolution to account for it. So, how is Behe's view really any different
from that of Lynn Margulis or any other scientist who takes a "systems view"
of evolution and common descent? It seems like Behe should have really
title his book "The Edge of Darwinism."]

On the other hand, there's *E. coli.* A normal inhabitant
of the human intestinal tract, *E. coli* has also been a favorite bacterium
to study in the laboratory for over a century. Its genetics and biochemistry
are better understood than that of any other organism. Over the past decade
*E. coli* has been the subject of the most extensive laboratory evolution
study ever conducted. Duplicating about seven times a day, the bug has been
grown continuously in flasks for over thirty thousand generations. Thirty
thousand generations is equivalent to about a million human-years. And what
has evolution wrought?

Mostly devolution. Although some marginal details of some systems have
changed, during that thirty thousand generations, the bacterium has
repeatedly thrown away chunks of its genetic patrimony, including the
ability to make some of the building blocks of RNA. Apparently, throwing
away sophisticated but costly molecular machinery saves the bacterium
energy. Nothing of remotely similar elegance has been built. The lesson of *E.
coli* is that it's easier for evolution to break things than make things.

[Maybe I'm just really missing the boat here, but in his scenario with the *E.
coli*, isn't neo-Darwinism missing something? Maybe it's the natural
selection? How much natural selection is there really in a test tube? I
find it interesting that in order to show a limitation of neo-Darwinian
evolution he cites an exemple that is missing a major component of
neo-Darwinism!]

"In the past hundred years science has advanced enormously; what do the
results of modern science show? In brief, the evidence for common descent
seems compelling. The results of modern DNA sequencing experiments,
undreamed of by nineteenth-century

scientists like Charles Darwin, show that some distantly related organisms
share apparently arbitrary features of their genes that seem to have no
explanation other than that they were inherited from a distant common
ancestor. Second, there's also great evidence that random mutation paired
with natural selection can modify life in important ways. Third, however,
there is strong evidence that random mutation is extremely limited."

[Once again, this is more an attack on Darwinism than an attack on
evolution.] **

* *

As I will argue, mathematical probabilities and biochemical structures
cannot support Darwinism's randomness, except at the margins of evolution.
Still, as we seek to find the line marking the edge of randomness, there is
no need to infer design.

[So why would this even be considered a book on Intelligent Design? Like I
said, it seems like it's going to be merely an attack on neo-Darwinism,
rather than an attack on evolution.]

"Darwin's Black Box was concerned to show just that some elegant structures
in life are beyond random mutation and natural selection. This book is much
more ambitious. Here the focus is on drawing up reasonable, general
guidelines to mark the edge of evolution -- to decide with some precision
beyond what point Darwinian explanations are unlikely to be adequate, not
just for some particular structures but for general features of life."

[Forgetting for a second about Behe scientific claims, I don't like the
overall philosophical approach that he takes here. In Behe's view, the role
of God as the Designer seems rather limited. God seems to fit his designing
around the "edges of evolution." He sets up this unnecessary "edge" for
design: evolution on one side, design on the other. Why does he feel it
necessary to separate God from the natural forces of evolution and at the
same time separate the natural forces of evolution from God. In my opinion,
if he would dispose of this unnecessary barrier (God must work around
evolution, evolution must work around God), he would more objectively be
able to look at the issue.

At any rate, I'm glad that Behe doesn't shy away from opposing the antiquity
of the earth or common descent (like Dembski). It's rather interesting; *The
Edge of Evolution* is unlikely to be warmly embraced by the scientific
community. At the same time, I doubt I'll see it in our church bookstore!

What do the rest of you think?

-David Buller

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Received on Sun Jun 3 22:09:51 2007

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