Full text of ‘The Edge of Creationism’

| 25 Comments

In the post about my review of Behe’s The Edge of Evolution, many complained that they couldn’t access the full text without a university subscription or paying a huge fee. I have checked Elsevier’s policies on this. Authors are not allowed to post the published PDF to their websites (you have to get that from Elsevier), but they can put up the unformatted, submitted preprint version of their articles, as long as they include the reference and DOI to the published version. So here is the reference: Nicholas J. Matzke (2007). “The edge of creationism.” Trends In Ecology and Evolution, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 24 October 2007. ScienceDirect, doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2007.09.004.

…and the full text is below the fold. Note that the unpublished version has a few minor differences from the published version. For example, it has more emphases which were kind of my way of jumping up and down on the smoking ruins of Behe’s core arguments in The Edge of Evolution.

The Edge of Creationism

Review of: Michael J. Behe (2007). The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism. New York: Free Press. US$28.00, hbk (336 pages). ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-9620-5

Reviewer: Nicholas J. Matzke

Michael Behe is the leading advocate of “intelligent design” (ID), which has been on the ropes since the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial. There, Behe’s effort to show that ID is science and not creationism failed [1-3]. The Edge of Evolution is Behe’s rather scattered comeback attempt. The title refers to Behe’s thesis: that anything as complex as a three-protein complex is beyond the reach of random mutation aided by natural selection.

Behe begins by trying to shore up his argument that “irreducibly complex” multiprotein systems, such as flagella, are unevolvable. He claims that the bacterial flagellum is now known to be even more complex than previously thought, trumpeting the extra complexity of four regulatory proteins—apparently unaware they are absent in various flagella [2]. Similarly, he claims that the unrelated eukaryotic flagellum (or cilium) represents “irreducible complexity squared” because intraflagellar transport (IFT) is required for assembly. But Behe somehow missed the fact, mentioned even in literature that he cites, that the malaria parasite Plasmodium assembles its flagellum without IFT. There is “[m]ore than one way to build a flagellum” [4].

Ironically, Behe pays close attention to Plasmodium elsewhere, when he attempts to use P. falciparum’s evolution of chloroquine resistance (CQR) to establish that the origin of multiprotein complexes requires ID. Here is the flabbergasting line of argument. First, Behe admits that CQR evolves naturally, but contends that it requires a highly improbable simultaneous double mutation, occurring in only 1 in 1020 parasites. Second, Behe asserts that protein-protein binding sites require several simultaneous point mutations and are therefore even less probable than the alleged double-mutant CQR. Behe’s last step is to square 1020 to produce 1040, the number of organisms required to evolve two binding sites linking three proteins. Since fewer organisms than this are available in Earth’s history, any complex of three or more proteins is beyond the reach of mutations not guided by ID.

The argument collapses at every step. Behe obtains the crucial 1020 number from an offhand estimate in the literature that considered only the few CQR alleles that have been detected because they have taken over regional populations. What is needed, however, is an estimate of how often any weak-but-selectable CQR originates. A study conducted where CQR is actively evolving [5] shows that high-level CQR is actually more complex than two substitutions, but that it is preceded by CQR alleles having fewer substitutions, and Behe’s two mutations do not even always co-occur. As a result CQR is both more complex and vastly more probable than Behe thinks. This sinks Behe’s 1 in 1020 estimate for CQR, as well as his notion that protein-protein binding sites are more complex and therefore less probable than CQR. Behe’s decision to square the probability for two binding sites depends on the assumption that two binding sites would have to evolve at once, but the assumption is false for the same reasons that Behe’s “irreducible complexity” argument failed in the first place [1-3]. The squaring assumption is further contradicted by any experiment that accidentally evolves two proteins binding to different sites on a target protein instead of just one (e.g. [6]).

Behe buttresses his argument for the improbability of protein-protein binding sites with the fact that no new protein-protein binding sites arose during the evolution of CQR, but never explains why this contradicts evolutionary expectations. He apparently thinks that evolutionary theory says anything should evolve a new binding site in response to any arbitrary situation. Behe dismisses antibodies, where new sites easily evolve to bind almost anything, on the grounds that the immune system is designed, neatly inserting his conclusion into his premises, and ignoring once again the embarrasing mountain of evidence against him [1]. Microbial toxin evolution is waved aside with “it’s relatively easy to clog a system,” which ignores the fact that such proteins often have exquisitely specific binding. Snake venom shows that even vertebrates with small populations can evolve huge gene families that specifically bind diverse proteins, with massive evidence of duplication, mutation, and selection as the mechanisms, and with intraspecific variation in regulation, sequence, and specificity. Is Someone actively designing rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus) venom in the American Midwest [7] and fine-tuning the specificity of black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) toxins for subtypes of mammalian muscarinic acetylcholine receptors [8]?

It is clear that Behe is driven not by a truly scientific investigation, but instead metaphysics. He is obsessed with “randomness,” which he incorrigibly associates with “Darwinism” and cosmic purposelessness. This is one of many incorrect but blindly-held assumptions common with creationists. But randomness in evolution is no more metaphysically significant than randomness in weather systems. If creationists realized this, we might finally see the edge of creationism, if not the end of it. But if Behe is any indication, that won’t be any time soon.

References

1 Bottaro, A. et al. (2006) Immunology in the spotlight at the Dover ‘Intelligent Design’ trial. Nat. Immunol. 7 (5), 433-435

2 Pallen, M.J. and Matzke, N.J. (2006) From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella. Nat. Rev. Immunol. 4 (10), 784-790

3 Scott, E.C. and Matzke, N.J. (2007) Biological design in science classrooms. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 104 (suppl. 1), 8669-8676

4 Briggs, L.J. et al. (2004) More than one way to build a flagellum: comparative genomics of parasitic protozoa. Curr. Biol. 14 (15), R611-612

5 Mittra, P. et al. (2006) Progressive increase in point mutations associated with chloroquine resistance in Plasmodium falciparum isolates from India. J. Infect. Dis. 193 (9), 1304-1312

6 Petrenko, V.A. et al. (2002) Alpha-helically constrained phage display library. Protein Eng. 15 (11), 943-950

7 Sanz, L. et al. (2006) Venom proteomes of closely related Sistrurus rattlesnakes with divergent diets. J. Proteome Res. 5 (9), 2098-2112

8 Fry, B.G. et al. (2003) Molecular evolution and phylogeny of elapid snake venom three-finger toxins. J. Mol. Evol. 57 (1), 110-129

25 Comments

El Camino Bignum

I love the way large numbers seem to numb the brain of ID proponents. Over on UcD, DaveScot’s own review of EofE goes all Sagan-y with “billions of trillions” of replications, which slides into billions of trillions of generations without really thinking what that means. Even if P. falciparum has been around for a billion years, which it obviously hasn’t, a trillion generations per year is one every 0.000031536 second. But why let thinking stand in the way of hyperbole?

Dave says

Except for biochemically (but medically important) trivial changes in genotype the bug went exactly nowhere. It’s still the same old p.falciparum as its great grandparents billions of trillions of generations removed. It neither progressed nor regressed in an evolutionary sense.

Sorry Dave. P. falciparum isn’t trying to change. It’s quite happy with it’s niche in mosquito guts and human bloodstreams, which are not themselves changing either. It’s not trying to evolve a better flagella or automatic transmission or whatever. The only things pushing on it to evolve are things like the evolution of sickle cell anemia in humans or those darn drugs. Set down the burden of teleology and it all becomes much simpler to understand.

I remember reading that because Plasmodium falciparum is so virulent, it is believed to have only recently infected humans, and that it is more related to the plasmodiums that cause Avian malaria, rather than the other human malaria plasmodiums..

David vun Kannon Wrote:

… large numbers seem to numb the brain of ID proponents …

What makes you think DaveScot’s brain was anything but numb to start with … ?

But why let thinking stand in the way of hyperbole?

Um, because it is expected of someone with an IQ “north of 150” to hold a coherent argument? There are mistakes, there are stupid mistakes and then there are DaveScot trying to think.

I have come to suspect that the “north of 150” is the amount of $$$ DaveScot paid for his worthless test.

Torbjorn Larsson Wrote:

… an IQ “north of 150” …

You might also expect someone with a high IQ to be able to distinguish between north / south and greater than / less than. :-)

Nick, I apologize for hijacking the thread. Your review of EofE was interesting, though in the same space I don’t know that I would have gone into quite that level of detail on Behe’s 10^20 arguments.

I like your concluding point regarding the appearance of randomness in other parts of the world, such as the weather. Just as we’ve given up on Intelligent Falling (aka Intelligent Orbiting), we also no longer feel the need for Intelligent Lightning. If biblical literalists can give up on astrology despite “the stars in their courses fought with Sisera”, why take a stand here?

I think there has been a small uptick recently in ID folk saying that age of the earth and common descent are not important points of difference with the scientific community. I hope that is the real Wedge of change.

Yeah, I could have made it less technical, but I figured there were already plenty of generalist reviews out there, so the one in a specialist evolution journal might as well give people the nitty-gritty. Plus I am annoyed at how the creationists exploit reviews written for more general/popular publications: basically they say, “Oh, this doesn’t refute obscure dubious point X of my argument, therefore I can ignore it.”

But maybe it was too much? Is there a general feeling that this review is just opaque to most readers?

I would have focused more on the false dualism of micro/macro that is at the core of the “Edge” idea. Dualism, esp Xian mind/body, good/evil, God/Satan dualism is at the bottom of a lot of problems in creationist thinking.

I agree that’s an important point, however I think the reply would just be, “but the probability of two protein-protein binding sites is 1 in 10^40 so macroevolution is impossible.”

He is obsessed with randomness?

No, Behe is obsessed with making money by constantly lying about everything. He couldn’t possibly believe anything in the books he writes, nobody could be that stupid. Like everyone else who works for the Disco Institute, Behe’s job is to be a liar. Behe has what it takes to keep lying no matter what, not caring that every sane person knows he’s a liar. His customers, the god-did-it everything-is-magic creationists trust Behe, and that’s all he cares about.

BobC – Here is a bit of Zen and the Art of Creationism Fighting for you…

1. Creationists usually believe what they say.

2. Even when it seems like they couldn’t possibly believe what they say, they probably do.

3. Usually they don’t actually know much at all about what they are talking about, but it is this exact fact, plus a combination of high ego and low capacity for self-reflection or self-checking – oh, and a deep, deep longing to prove their theology to the world and to themselves with secular data – that gives them the ability to expound confidently on the topics without a trace of shame.

3.5. Biblical inerrancy, or lacking that a very conservative view of the Bible or other holy text, is a fundamental premise for most of these guys. If you start with that premise then if the mere scientific data seems to be contradicting your preferred reading, then so much the worse for the data.

4. Then add in Morton’s Demon when they start to encounter critics, and you have got the basics of a real understanding of ID/creationist psychology.

Harry Frankfurt’s little book “On [BS]” (see wikipedia) is a useful window into this. Frankfurt points out that liars and BSers are different. Liars actually respect the truth, in the sense that they know the truth and then try to subvert it. BSers, on the other hand, are just so sure they’re right they never bother to really check anything out thoroughly, never test their claims, and generally just hold forth, oblivious to countervailing data. Frankfurt concludes that BSers are actually more dangerous enemies of truth than liars are.

You can guess where I think creationists fit…

He couldn’t possibly believe anything in the books he writes, nobody could be that stupid.

Honestly, this claim is no more intelligent or in line with the evidence than any of Behe’s or DaveScot’s.

Frankfurt points out that liars and BSers are different. Liars actually respect the truth, in the sense that they know the truth and then try to subvert it. BSers, on the other hand, are just so sure they’re right they never bother to really check anything out thoroughly, never test their claims, and generally just hold forth, oblivious to countervailing data.

This is a false dichotomy; some claims can be BS and some can be lies, from the same person.

You can guess where I think creationists fit…

Their core beliefs are BS, but they will readily tell “tactical” lies. Think Sal Cordova.

But maybe it was too much? Is there a general feeling that this review is just opaque to most readers?

Not me, not at all; I think it’s reasonably clear, and doesn’t require any specialized knowledge. And the core idea of ID is that biological systems are too “complex” == unlikely to have arisen via evolution, and Behe and his supporters claim he’s doing hard science, so showing that his math is trivially and radically wrong hits him where it really hurts.

It is clear that Behe is driven not by a truly scientific investigation, but instead metaphysics. He is obsessed with “randomness,” which he incorrigibly associates with “Darwinism” and cosmic purposelessness. This is one of many incorrect but blindly-held assumptions common with creationists. But randomness in evolution is no more metaphysically significant than randomness in weather systems.

Lutherans say that even weather is not actually random. It is in God’s hands.

Lutherans says that weather is not only controlled by God but it is also created by Him. That’s why Lutherans - like judge Jones - have usually not problems with “natural” explanations, because Lutheran theology says that “natural” explanations are not true. “Natural” explanations are perhaps incomplete parts of truth, but not the entire truth. Lutheran theology says that it is not even possible to be any “natural” (=without God’s intervention) in our world.

Because Jones is Lutheran, he emphasized in his decision that “ID arguments may be true”. As a Lutheran he didn’t think that “natural” explanations can tell the entire truth.

I said earlier that Behe couldn’t possibly believe anything in the books he writes, and I stand by my statement. Behe must have heard or read Miller’s comments at the Dover trial, so he has to know he is wrong about everything, yet he continues to repeat the same lies, for the simple reason that’s his job. Behe, like everyone else who works for the Disco Institute, is a professional liar. They all know they are liars. Their gullible Christian audience believes these liars for Jesus, but the liars themselves, including Behe, don’t believe any of it. They’re in it for one reason only, to make a living. Part of their job is not caring every sane person in the world knows they are lying. Their customers believe them and that’s all they care about.

Where to start?

First ID was never shown to have any link to Creation- in the Dover trial nor any place else. All that happened at Dover was one judge taking the word of anti-ID zealots over people who know more about ID- the ID proponents.

I guess if one believes lies over reality you can get a decision like the one handed down over the Dover fiasco.

Next all you have to do to refute Behe and ID is to demonstrate that any one of his pet structures could “evolve” via purely stochastic processes. Yet none of the anti-IDists have been able to do so. Go figure.

As for IFT Dr Behe states that is for the euk. cilium, not the flagellum of Plasmodium falciparum.

Or do you just not comprehend what Dr Behe wrote?

Joe Lying:

First ID was never shown to have any link to Creation- in the Dover trial nor any place else. All that happened at Dover was one judge taking the word of anti-ID zealots over people who know more about ID- the ID proponents.

The ID and their supporters mention it’s religious roots continuously. Read PT for a week and see how often they mention god this and god that. Dembski is at Southern Theological Seminary among other things. Read the wedge document, a vicious piece of Xian dominionist writing that is the founding document of the DI. It is on wikipedia under “wedge document”.

Joe is a creo. We know this because he is lying. It is impossible to be a creo or IDist and not lie. What happens when you try to pretend that 2 pages of bronze age mythology describes the real world.

wikipedia: Wedge document.

The document sets forth the short-term and long-term goals with milestones for the intelligent design movement, with its governing goals stated in the opening paragraph:

“To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies”

“To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God” There are three “wedge projects,” referred to in the strategy as three phases designed to reach a governing goal:

Phase I: Scientific Research, Writing & Publicity, Phase II: Publicity & Opinion-making, and Phase III: Cultural Confrontation & Renewal. Recognizing the need for support, the institute affirms the strategy’s Christian, evangelistic orientation:

“Alongside a focus on the influential opinion-makers, we also seek to build up a popular base of support among our natural constituency, namely, Christians. We will do this primarily through apologetics seminars. We intend these to encourage and equip believers with new scientific evidences that support the faith, as well as “popularize” our ideas in the broader culture.”

Joe, sounds like the IDists themselves explicitly mentioned their religious goals in their founding documents. And many times since.

You lied. Nothing new with a creo lying. They all lie all the time. Not even a good lie, the documentation of their Xian Dominionist goals is overwhelming.

For a change, why don’t you explain why you lied. God told you, voices in your head, demonic possession, drugs, natural inclination, mistake in your copy of the 10 commandments, Thou shalt lie instead of Thous shalt not lie. Curious minds want to know.

Furthermore, the purpose of the Discovery Institute is plain. Phillip Johnson, a senior fellow at the Institute, stated last year on a Christian radio talk show that “Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit, so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.”

From another thread on PT. Phillip Johnson is a Berkeley lawyer and one of the founders of the DI. Looks like Joe is a hit and run troll. Whatever, these guys must have their annual convention under a bridge somewhere.

It’s a bridge over trolled waters…

As for IFT Dr Behe states that is for the euk. cilium, not the flagellum of Plasmodium falciparum.

Or do you just not comprehend what Dr Behe wrote?

Um, the flagellum of Plasmodium falciparum is an example of a eukaryotic cilium. The terms “flagellum” and “cilium” are basically interchangeable for eukaryotes. Whereas bacteria just have flagella. Check wikipedia on “flagellum” for the gory details.

At least one of us comprehended what Dr. Behe wrote.

First ID was never shown to have any link to Creation- in the Dover trial nor any place else. All that happened at Dover was one judge taking the word of anti-ID zealots over people who know more about ID- the ID proponents.

Is it thus not ironic that much of the evidence that led the judge to his judgment were based on the statements of the ID proponents?

Ironic isn’t it.

Joe G Wrote:

I guess if one believes lies over reality you can get a decision like the one handed down over the Dover fiasco.

Now that is a piece of irony. Just a matter of belief eh?

Instead of believing their religious handlers these people should actually take their brains out of limbo (or Limbaugh) and go read the transcripts and the other trial documents from Dover. Who knows, they might get some notion that there is a reality out there that is different from what they are told to believe.

I guess if one believes lies over reality you can get a decision like the one handed down over the Dover fiasco.

You mean “lies” like Phillip Johnson’s statement that ID doesn’t actually have a theory, and thus he wasn’t surprised at the Dover decision?

See, Joe, I know you’re enamored with dishonesty and bigotry, the trouble is that IDists can’t really keep their mouths shut, so raving bigots like yourself get tripped up by the likes of Johnson. In your evil little world I know that whatever we say is “wrong,” no matter how well supported, and the IDists are “right” no matter how unsupported.

The problem for you is that most of what we say has been said by IDists as well at some place and time, meaning that even your viewpoint informed solely by tribal hatreds is inconsistent with itself. Not that it’s going to change anything about you, but more balanced and honest people can see right through your raging impotence.

That’s enough feeding of that troll by me on this thread (not actually a promise that it’s my last).

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on October 30, 2007 12:01 AM.

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