The Discovery Institute’s own Michael Behe has a new book. I’ll admit I don’t know enough about protein-protein binding to actually understand what the hell he’s talking about. But I do know that scientists are laughing at him.
Behe uses a pitiful number of examples (count’em: four) to attempt to establish a generalization that binding sites can’t evolve, ignores numerous known cases where binding sites are known to evolve, and then concludes that anything involving the evolution of two or more binding sites is impossible without mystical unspecified guidance by a mystical unspecified supernatural force that somehow mysteriously frontloads nonrandom mutations into the beginning of the universe. Or something. Behe even says explicitly that malaria and HIV are intelligently designed in just this fashion. Along the way he repeatedly violates the First Commandment of Competent Argument Against Evolution – Get Thee To A Library and Double-Check Thy Generalizations About Biology Against The Biological Literature Or Thou Willst Look Like A Fool. My biggest problems with Behe are within this last point, but Chu-Carroll shows that the math area is just as bad. And I’m sure the philosophers will jump in at some point. Most amazingly, in The Edge of Evolution, Behe treds onto ground occupied by population geneticists. Behe’s first book talked about stuff like flagellum evolution, which was actually pretty devious because the number of people who know enough about evolution, creationism, and a random obscure biological organelle to give a detailed rebuttal is bound to be pretty small. But vast herds of population geneticists stampede around the evolution meetings, trampling all foolish enough to get between them and another exciting session on Drosophila genetics. So Behe invading that turf is kind of like the “land war in Asia” scenario. Not a good idea.
Or to make it more simple:
Wow, double the irreducible complexity! You can’t build cilia without a functioning IFT, so now you have to explain both the origin of the IFT and the origin of cilia. Except that, as Nick shows, this claim is just plain false. Just as his claim in his earlier book that every single factor in the blood clotting cascade must be present in order to function was easily disproven by pointing to dolphins, which lack Factor XII (Hagemann factor) yet still have blood that clots), this claim is easily disproven by showing that, in the real world, there exist organisms which have cilia but do not have the IFT.
Nick shows a chart and offers a citation showing that there is an existing organism that has a cilium but does not have IFT, an organism in a group called Apicomplexans. Specifically, a parasitic organism in that group. More specifically, a parasite known as Plasmodium falciparum. You might know it by its better known name: malaria. Yes, the very organism that Behe spends much of his book using as evidence of IC actually disproves his claim about the cilia/IFT system being irreducible. Oops.
Hmm. Well maybe a research assistant who deals with infectious diseases can shed some light on the subject.
1. Evolution can be modeled in terms of a static, unchanging fitness landscape.
2. The fitness landscape is a smooth, surface made up of hills and valleys, where a local minimum or maximum in any dimension is a local minimum or maximum in all dimensions.
3. The fitness function mapping from a genome to a point of the fitness landscape is monotonically increasing.
4. The fitness function is smoothly continuous, with infinitessimally small changes (single-point base chanages) mapping to infinitessimally small changes in position on the fitness landscape.
Ouch. I dont talk about my research directly a whole lot here (except for pretty pictures, of course), but like I put in my blurb, I study the evolution of HIV within patients and within populations. Fitness and fitness landscapes are vital to my research. And if Mark has summarized Behes claims properly– Im kinda peeved *fumes*
No one can have a basic, basic, basic understanding of ‘fitness landscapes’ and come out thinking those four points are valid. Just watch, Ill explain fitness landscapes to you all right now in the context of HIV, and you will get it! You, even those of you with zero biological training, will be able to refute Professional Creationist Michael Behe! Yay!
And if you’re like me, you won’t actually get it, but you’ll get closer, so you might as well read go read it.
And this has some obvious real world implications. Namely if you don’t know how malaria works, it becomes very tough to cure malaria. Same with HIV or any other virus. If you’re hoping that God or magic or whatever unseen, unknowable force is acting on these diseases, well, I certainly believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe in knowing how things work. In experimentation. In moving slowly, one piece of data at a time, one experiment at a time, one peer reviewed paper at a time toward the truth.
That’s where the creationists and the intelligent designers bug the fuck out of me. Because even more important than any real world implication, is a basic attack on the truth. We humans believe a lot of crazy things (I certainly believe in the power of prayer). We take shortcuts in our thinking and we all bring in biases and our partial information to whatever we’re trying to discover. So science has taken great pains to figure out ways to minimize these problems so that we can get at the truth. And then these anti-intellectual institutions think they can just yell “nu hu!” and that their argument is just as good as the scientific method. But if evolution isn’t the best explanation, then do what plate tectonics and what quantum physics and every other new discovery in science has done: prove it! Make claims that can be proven wrong with experimentation (as opposed to God might do something, or He might have done something). Then if those claims aren’t proven wrong, you’re on the way. Publish in scientific journals. Repeat like a zillion times so you know it wasn’t a fluke and people will start to believe you. Then, maybe you can write your book.
But if you yell “nu hu!” enough, and let your biases and prejudices interfere with human advancement toward the truth, you create your own world. And that world can be scary to those of us looking at it from outside.
These folks living in their own world give skepticism a bad name. If it’s these creationists or if it’s Exxon scientists. And skepticism is vital to that advancement toward the truth. I’m thrilled that people are questioning even our basic assumptions. I’m disgusted that people think just saying “no” without proving it, or really even trying is the same thing as honest skepticism.
And it is embarrassing that a Seattle institution is getting in the way of finding the truth. It’s horrible to have to read, “Seattle’s Discovery Institute” as if the city had something to do with those freaks.