Re: [asa] Behe's debate with himself...

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Tue Apr 28 2009 - 20:21:22 EDT

Hi Dave,

I think you may have misconstrued what I'm attempting in this thread.

I'm not trying to argue that evolution MUST proceed in small, incremental steps, I'm simply pointing out that "no saltations" has been a near confessional orthodoxy ever since Darwin and that THIS seems to me to be the point at which Behe is questioning our understanding of evolution.

It may well be that a minor change in DNA results in rather major changes in biochemistry, morphology, function, etc - but, in that case, why is anything Behe has said so contentious?

Again, I'm not trying to argue anything here, I merely observe that IF minor DNA changes can result in major change in an organism then (1) we're STILL arguing for a position of "small changes" (albeit at the DNA level); and (2) this renders most curious the criticism which has been leveled at Behe's notion of irreducible complexity.

I would have thought that IF it is the case that small changes in DNA can lead to large changes in organisms, then people would have responded to Behe's claim of irreducible complexity NOT by trying to demonstrate that the possibility of a step-wise (i.e. "small, incremental") evolution of (say) the blood clotting cascade, but by demonstrating how that feature is brought about by changes in the DNA control sequence.

But, of course, this hasn't been the case. Rather, Behe's critics have attempted to show how the SYSTEMS Behe cites - principly the blood-clotting cascade and bacterial flagellum - could evolve in small steps. It's Behe's critics, not myself, who have set the terrain on this and it is THEIR claim (not mine) that systems such as Behe cites CAN evolve (indeed HAVE evolved) through a series of incremental steps at the biochemical level.

Now, regardless of whether Behe's supporters and critics are fighting the right battle or not, the only point I'm making is this: It seems to me that no matter how one approaches the argument the battle line is over this question of "small" vs "large" steps - whether at the DNA, biochemical, morphological, or other level. I allow that a small change in DNA might result in larger changes "higher up" (as it were) and in that sense I am certainly NOT engaging in the oversight you mention in your remarks. Indeed, if ANYBODY is making THAT mistake it is Behe, his supporters, and his critics and not myself.

I am simply pointing out, again, that the entire discussion seems to center around this question of "small" vs "large" steps.

The only comment I will make on THAT discussion is that I don't quite see how it bears at all on the metaphysical discussion. Every TE denies that "small steps" proves a purely naturalistic process. And, as Bernie suggests, "large steps" would probably be assimilated into a purely naturalistic understanding. I'm not therefore saying we shouldn't have the discussion. I am suggesting we shouldn't overstate the metaphysical implications either way.

All this said, I would advocate greater clarity and greater patience in the TE/ID debate.

On the first, I think people simply don't know what they want to say - and the example of critics who have argued against irreducible complexity without understanding how control sequences in DNA effect biochemical systems are a case in point. They have been so keen to argue AGAINST large scale change in a biochemical system, that THEY (not I) are guilty of the charge you raise: of neglecting the fact that large scale changes in biochemistry, morphology, function, etc MIGHT result from small changes in DNA - even ALLOWING the existence of Irreducible Complexity, in other words, we might STILL have nothing more than the outworking of a gradualistic process.

On the second, I think we should allow the fields of genetics, micro-chemisty, and micro-biology to mature before we start making strong pronouncements about what is, and isn't, possible. To my mind, there are too many hypothetical and conjectural pronouncements from both sides being passed of as scientific fact. One would be wiser, in my estimation, to acknowledge that ID theorists make some interesting observations and to leave it to future discoveries to cast light on same.

In that respect, I think that Behe - as well as his supporters and his critics - have jumped the gun with respect to some of their assertions - all I'm attempting is to lay out what I think some of those assertions actually are.


D. F. Siemens, Jr. wrote:
> Murray,
> I think you're neglecting the fact that a small change in a control
> sequence may produce a major change in an organism. After all, there is a
> 99% overlap in the genetic makeup of humans and chimps. Two areas of
> change, according to an article in the latest /Scientific American/,
> produce (1) a massive change in the size and complexity of the brain
> cortex and (2) an area producing language.
> Dave (ASA)
> On Wed, 29 Apr 2009 08:56:46 +1000 Murray Hogg <>
> writes:
>> Dehler, Bernie wrote:
>>> As I understand it, there's much more to biological evolution than
>> "small incremental changes." There are many evolutionary mechanisms
>> (random mutation, gene drift, natural selection,,, to list some of
>> the many,,, also now driven by the human mind as humans modify and
>> control DNA in plants and animals as well as manipulate habitats).
>>> If it is discovered that something happens very fast in a big way,
>> do evolutionists care? No, it is still evolution. But what would
>> the evolution-deniers then have to complain about? They complain
>> about small changes impossible to do something, then if they are
>> proven right, the big changes are then part of evolution and so what
>> can they complain about next? Just go on about how Darwin was
>> wrong,,, dancing on his grave? Darwin just set things in motion,
>> he's not a god. Evolution should be called evolution, and not
>> "Darwinian evolution" as if there's different kinds. People are
>> just researching the mechanisms for evolution.
>>> People who are against "Darwinian evolution" can be attacked on
>> their "Ham theology" (named after Ken Ham and his theology of
>> literal Bible interpretation).
>>> So there you have it:
>>> "Darwinian evolution" vs. "Ham theology"
>> Hi Bernie,
>> MAJOR category error in the above: "small incremental changes" is
>> not intended to be a description of a mechanism which one might
>> place alongside gene drift, etc. Hence, "there's more to biological
>> evolution than 'small incremental changes'" doesn't even make sense
>> as a response to my comments.
>> As to whether the notion of "small, incremental changes" is so
>> easily gotten around - one has to ask why Behe's notion of
>> irreducible complexity is so problematic if the sudden appearance of
>> biochemical features is something evolutionists don't care about.
>> Fact is that from Darwin to Dawkins the claim has been that
>> evolution involves small, incremental changes and any claim of
>> "jumps" is ruled out of court on principle.
>> As for only two possible positions on origins...
>> Blessings,
>> Murray
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Received on Tue Apr 28 20:22:10 2009

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