Behe Disproves Irreducible Complexity

| 130 Comments

One of the interesting segments of the Michael Behe cross examination begins on page 42 of the Day12AM transcript, and it concerns a paper that Behe wrote with David Snoke. That paper, called Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Feature that Requires Multiple Amino Acid Residues, was based upon a computer simulation that attempted to answer the question of how long it would take cumulative point mutations in a single gene to produce a new trait - the interaction of two proteins - requiring a change in multiple amino acid residues if there was no selective advantage to preserve any of the individual mutations until they were all present and the final result was fully functional. For Behe, this is a simple example of irreducible complexity:

Thus in order for a protein that did not have a disulfide bond to evolve one, several changes in the same gene have to occur. Thus in a sense, the disulfide bond is irreducibly complex, although not really to the same degree of complexity as systems made of multiple proteins.

This paper has been lauded by ID advocates as an excellent example of ID-stimulated research. The DI has listed it as an example of genuine peer reviewed research that supports ID. William Dembski has declared that Behe and Snoke’s research “may well be the nail in the coffin [and] the crumbling of the Berlin wall of Darwinian evolution.” Unfortunately for them, this paper didn’t hold up well under questioning during the Dover trial.

Continue reading Behe Disproves Irreducible Complexity at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

130 Comments

So the funny thing is that Behe even pointed out during the cross examination that some of the math necessary to make the argument ludicrous is in the Behe and Snoke paper. He specifically noted that calculations were also done for the entire annual prokaryotic population of the earth. Based on the math presented there, it appears that this sort of mutation combination could arise about 10^14 times a year, or something like 100 trillion times a year. Really “nail in the coffin” sort of stuff, that.

The Intelligent Designer must be a pretty busy fellow, then, just keeping up with bacteria.

I don’t think even Santa Claus moves that fast.

This just cries out for some non-banned person to post on Dembski’s site with a question as to the correctness of the math ;-)

hugs, Shirley Knott

What. A. Maroon. Sheesh. Best argument against tenure I’ve ever seen. My sympathy goes out to the real biologists at Lehigh who are stuck with this terminally embarrassing colleague.

I know of a number of cases when a tenured professor was kicked out for some transgressions. In one case a middle-aged professor was accused by a few female students of “ogling” them in a swimming pool. Behe’s behavior is, to my mind, immensely more obscene and harmful. His colleagues at Lehigh will surely not touch him, as they are too busy with real research to spend energy on getting rid of a rotten apple.

Just because they said he was staring at them?! That sounds like the straw that broke the camel’s back. There must have been a lot of other things he’d done that they were all just itching to get him for something.

If elephants reproduce, on average, every four or five years, is that one new sulfide bond in, what, 100,000 years? And so why don’t bacteria become some other species right before our eyes?

If elephants reproduce, on average, every four or five years, is that one new sulfide bond in, what, 100,000 years? And so why don’t bacteria become some other species right before our eyes?

You’re babbling again, Blast.

If elephants reproduce, on average, every four or five years

Well, I see that Blast knows as much about elephants as he does about … well . . everything else.

(snicker) (giggle)

Forget about a ton of soil:

It has been calculated that the normal human houses about 10^12 bacteria on the skin, 10^10 in the mouth, and 10^14 in the gastrointestinal tract. The latter number is far in excess of the number of eukaryotic cells in all organs which comprise the human host.

Source: http://textbookofbacteriology.net/n[…]alflora.html

Indeed, if you calculate the numbers, Behe’s paper implies that this particular irreducibly complex structure probably evolves naturally more than once a day on Planet Earth.

Great Job, Behe! Really destroyed Darwin there.

This just cries out for some non-banned person to post on Dembski’s site with a question as to the correctness of the math ;-)

I’m not banned. I post under the name “higgity.”

I’d post but I am no good at math.…still, just reading this article I can see major flaws in Behe’s approach.…if a poet can do it, why can’t a friggin’ creationist?

Great post.

Put in one more thing for this nice debunking of Behe: He is trying to simulate the evolution of a disulfide bond. In addition to Behe’s absurdly small bacterial populution, ignoring all forms genetic change besides point mutation, and looking at short period of time, I would question Behe on another crucial and often missed point. what reason is there that bacterial could not have evolved something else besides a disulfide bond? Maybe they could have evolved a different form of chemistry. There are many ways to evolve something “better.” To calculate the odds of only one particular solution is just plain silly. (And on a similiar note, how can one figure out every possible way that life use chemistry to form disulfide bonds?)

Here’s a question for Blast.

My cat and I are sitting on the back deck enjoying the sunset. Golden rays and all that stuff. We both spot a mockingbird on the hedge showing his stuff.

The question is this:

Who has been evolving longer, me or my cat?

It should be an easy question for Blast to answer.

Now, the Bonus Question has to do with the bacteria on the soles of my flip-flops and the pads of my cat’s feet. Again, which has been evolving longer?

Over to you Blastgenius.

Behe’s question wasn’t even interesting! I mean, it just looks like the neutral theory of molecular evolution. Not exactly news.

Exactly, Mike H.

Over on the post at “Dispatches” he summarizes Behe as confirming his work to say, among other things, that it would take just 20,000 years for a “necessary” mutation IF you assume a population of bacteria on the entire earth that is 7 orders of magnitude less than the number of bacteria in a single ton of soil.

So, if I did the math right, that would be the population of bacteria in three 1000ths of an ounce of soil. Isn’t that way less than a single grain of sand, or so?

This is hilarious.

But, Mike H. (who correctly surmises that most of New Mexico is a placeholder for American territory and a substrate for gas stations)!

Your argument opens the way for Behe to make an “Earthquake” move! The cytosol is typically a reducing environment. Taking this into account (with some number that is accurate in some particular case, neglecting whether it is valid given the evidence that disulfide bonds DO form in the cytosol), one might arrive at the conclusion that the evolution of a disulfide bond is a PHYSICAL IMPOSSIBILITY! This evidence would invalidate Behe’s study, but it would also be another way to cast doubt on biological evolution, which, of course, is Behe’s purpose.

But, in general, one thing that needs to be mentioned here is the point made emphatically by Michael Lynch in his reply / couterstudy to Behe in September’s Protein Science issue: that Behe wasn’t studying a Darwinian evolutionary process in his attempts to probe the limits of Darwinian evolution!

One of the local ID guys I talk with was really sand-bagging on the issue of the Behe article. On the one hand, he realized that there were valid criticisms, but on the other, he had to dig at me that I hadn’t researched the article thoroughly enough for myself. Firstly, I feel like the guiding notion of his argument is that anything that a particular person can’t disprove without consulting other experts must be true, or at least that particular person must conclude it to be true. Then, things got really off the wall when he made an aggressive argument that

(paraphrase) “now that this is out there in the literature, I’d expect to see more than just a web-blog (which isn’t peer-reviewed and whose contributors are not real scientists) respond to this. But, that hasn’t happened. Where are the rebuttals?”

He made that allegation in September of 2004, one month after the paper had been made available online. Michael Lynch’s study was received by Protein Science in October of 2004.

When will someone point out that Behe’s “unselected steps” are imaginary? He has to asusme that any point mutation until a new binding site is formed cannot be selected for for any other option, but can only operate to build toward the unrealized disulfide binding site. This is a MAJOR flaw in his reasoning, and for the whole paper, that adds to the long litany of improbabilities to make IC work.

Jaime,

Are you suggesting that he assumed his own concept of irreducible complexity for the purpose of demonstrating the existence of irreducible complexity, and in so doing disproved the existence of irreducible complexity in this case?

Hmmm.…

He had to assume that to disprove evolution and use successive point mutations, only the end result is valid for there to be a Crea—er, Designer. Thus, only the end result can be true and the Designer’s “hand” seen in the successive point mutations which “don’t work.” Thus, IC is TRUE! Indeed, he’s not shown how these successive steps are NOT selectable, but how to test that? Hmmm. We’ve already seen gradation in cellular secretion systems into flagella and how intermediate models are not only found in nature, but WORKING, and doing things unexpected of non-flagellar “reduced” secretion systems. And, not only is it possible to make a two-legged stool, you can make a ONE-legged stool work just as well. Selection, to make these work, would only have to alter the shapes of the legs, so a two legged stool can be acheived by warping the legs to support the center of gravity, and a one legged stool need only increase the leg’s “girth” to prevent distortion under pressure; since we see both of these in place, by simple logical exaptation, why can we not see it in pre-existing forms today, and inferring their nature in the unseen past? This is why Behe is a fatuo— is wrong.

Dave Cerutt Wrote:

But, Mike H. (who correctly surmises that most of New Mexico is a placeholder for American territory and a substrate for gas stations)!

I surmised what?

This issue illustrates the importance of numeracy for scientific literacy. It is amazing what rough calculation can do to inform us about the world.

(Also, happy mole day everyone.)

No you blooming idiots, your math is wrong. The reslut is just the opposite. Behe is proving that bacteria “evolve” a new trait every trillion years or so.

Because I doubt Aristotle is your real name, I decided to use the name Democritus. I hope you can taste the irony. Anyway, would you like to prove your argument, for this isn’t a Greek congregation your talking to, were your influence proves whether you’re right or wrong. This is modern day science we are talking about. Your answer must be backed up by evidence, or is that too hard to conceive? Besides, you spelled result wrong.

Your math is wrong because God is not on your side. Your sacreligious acts must stop, you are impedeing the rights of others. Chew on that Democritus.

How can you reason like that? “Your math is wrong because God is not on your side”? May I ask how old you are? Or are you some stupid kid without understanding of scientific process? Your arguments have no support, baseless. This style of debate is all too common with creationists like you. Again, how can you reason like that? You are just another example of why we should not teach ID in schools. I hope someone bans you from this site.

I enjoyed the exchange, myself. Behe made as many demonstrably false assumptions as he could find, to stack the deck in his favor as much as possible, and irreducible complexity STILL failed miserably. I trust the judge saw the moral of this story: religious imposition on science fails even when they cheat!

sir ToeJam:

re: Vampire bats.

I could easily argue there is no such thing BUT “reciprocal altruism”, even as you define it.

Puzzled by this, i reviewed the thread… In fact my original statement was “Altruistic behavior is not natural; this is a consequence of evolution: helping competitors is not an evolutionarily stable strategy.” (I suppose I should have interpolated “unilaterally” after the colon.)

You’re the one who brought up the vampire bats and now you seem to be agreeing with me! So what are we arguing about?!

did you need me to dig up references for you, or can you do that on your own?

Thanks for your offer, but I am well-trained in Ecology and Evolution (Ph.D., 1993 from a reputable instituton) and I understand the nature and definitions of altruism in its various forms.

As to the bats, check out this site: http://www.bio.davidson.edu/people/[…]ltruism.html

I would, however, be very interested (and excited!) if you could provide me with an unequivocal example of true altruism (in which the donor voluntarily reduces its own fitness to benefit an unrelated member of its own species or a member of another species) in a species other than H. sapiens. I’ll happily FedEx you a bottle of my bad homebrewed plum wine (or whatever type I have at the time.)

There have been some notes about how much earth is in the earth, but I thought a different perspective would be interesting. Dirt weighs about 2500-3000 lbs per cubic yard depending on density and moisture. Taking the low end of the range to be charitable to Behe: 27 * (2000/2500) = 21.6 cubic feet of soil (0.8 cubic yard, 0.6 m^3). In other words, this evolutionary process is happening all over your yard. With heavier dirt of course, the volume a ton would occupy is even less.

I would, however, be very interested (and excited!) if you could provide me with an unequivocal example of true altruism (in which the donor voluntarily reduces its own fitness to benefit an unrelated member of its own species or a member of another species) in a species other than H. sapiens. I’ll happily FedEx you a bottle of my bad homebrewed plum wine (or whatever type I have at the time.)

Numerous examples of dogs acting altruistically toward humans have been documented. There are inter-species examples as well, e.g., http://www.umich.edu/~esupdate/libr[…]mamakos.html although they can be dismissed as “enlightened self interest” by fallaciously equating the interests of the organism with the dispersal of its genes throughout the entire population. “no altruism” is strong dogma, based in large part on Spencerian concepts of evolution that still hold sway. It is a fact that genes are selfish in Dawkins’ sense, but that does not extend to the behavior of the organism as a whole.

An additional example would come from the long-tailed manakin, where pairs or trios of males work together to court a single female, but only the dominant male actually mates if their courtship’s successful. The males in these groups are known to be unrelated (see here.) Again, multiple paper wasps (for instance, Polistes) may found a nest together, and typically only the dominant foundress rears fertile offspring; the other foundresses are often, but not always, related to her.

In both of these cases, as with feeding of unrelated pups in wild dogs, the strategy seems to be evolutionarily stable because the altruistic individual has a chance of receiving a payoff in the future. When the dominant male at a manakin lek dies, one of the subordinate males who assisted him inherits his position; ditto for the subordinate foundresses at a wasp nest. But it’s not reciprocal altruism, because the altruistic individual doesn’t expect their partner to “pay them back” in the short term, or necessarily at all. They don’t punish the individual who benefits for failure to reciprocate. And, as Morbius said, it would be a mistake to call this “enlightened self-interest;” the wasp/manakin/wild dog doesn’t necessarily know it’s working for a possible payoff later. It just does what its instincts say it should.

Moreover, the definition of “true altruism” in animal behavior has very little to do with what we consider “altruism” in the normal sense of the word. Consider:

A conservative Catholic priest is the most “truly altruistic” person imaginable, because he nullifies his own fitness (via celibacy) while boosting everyone else’s (via condemning birth control).

Assisting in the rape of a nun is “true altruism,” because you’ve helped raise her reproductive output while likely sacrificing your own (due to social ostracism/jail time if you get caught).

Giving money to a program helping poor kids get through college is not “true altruism,” because you’re actually reducing their fitness; the affluent and educated in developed countries usually have fewer children.

So it’s rather unfair to say humans exhibit true altruism while most nonhuman species don’t–you’re conflating the colloquial definition of “doing nice things without expectation of a reward” with the evolutionary definition of “sacrificing one’s fitness to improve the fitness of an unrelated other.” Plenty of animals do “nice” things without (so far as we know) consciously expecting a reward.

Having fewer offspring does not simplistically equate with decreased fitness. (I know you probably know this, but for those who might be confused…)

The point is having offspring who survive to sexual maturity and successfully mate, thus having offspring who survive, etc.

Sending poor kids to good schools might very well enhance their fitness even if it also decreased the number of their offspring. Education, success, etc., can considerably enhance the likelihood of the survival of offspring and the propogation of a lineage, whereas poverty, disease, lack of success, the debilitating effects on females of having too many offspring, etc., can reduce the odds of survival of the offspring and of their likelihood of founding longterm lineages.

And, of course, it’s possible that both “strategies” can pay off–investing relatively more in a few offspring and investing relatively little in more offspring.

And, as Morbius said, it would be a mistake to call this “enlightened self-interest;” the wasp/manakin/wild dog doesn’t necessarily know it’s working for a possible payoff later. It just does what its instincts say it should.

My point wasn’t really about enlightenment, but that the payoff doesn’t go to the individual, but rather to its gene dispersal, and these are not the same thing. Behavior can be evolutionarily stable simply by creating an environment in which the genes that produce the behavior propagate, regardless of which individual carries the genes, such that the individual doesn’t receive the entire benefit of its behavior. That follows from the “selfish gene” refocus on genes rather than individuals as the elements of evolution. One can call this “reciprocal altruism”, but that gets rather tautological given that natural selection is at work at all.

Moreover, the definition of “true altruism” in animal behavior has very little to do with what we consider “altruism” in the normal sense of the word.

In other words, “altruism” as biologists define it has very little to do with true altruism. The problem is that these get conflated, and then the ToE is coopted to serve as justification for Spencerian moral philosophy, and we get people like Ayn Rand declaring altruism to be a sin.

Sending poor kids to good schools might very well enhance their fitness

Sending poor kids to good schools might very well enhance their productivity to the society I live in and reduce the chances they’ll mug me; their genetic fitness isn’t relevant.

Sending poor kids to good schools might very well enhance their fitness even if it also decreased the number of their offspring. Education, success, etc., can considerably enhance the likelihood of the survival of offspring and the propogation of a lineage, whereas poverty, disease, lack of success, the debilitating effects on females of having too many offspring, etc., can reduce the odds of survival of the offspring and of their likelihood of founding longterm lineages.

That’s certainly true. In the particular case of modern developed countries, though, I don’t think any issues with offspring health or success are enough to outweigh the much higher birthrate among the poor. Which is not to say that wasn’t the case for most of our species’ history, just that mortality of children and infants is fairly low (not as low as it should be, of course) now in all economic strata. Poor kids grow up less healthy than rich kids, to be sure, but they do generally survive to found comparatively large families of their own.

But that’s just my opinion about this particular case; I certainly agree that offspring number doesn’t automatically equal fitness. In any event, I’m fairly sure that most people who help send poor kids to good schools aren’t doing it so that they’ll disseminate their genes more widely in the long run!

u r all geeks who hav no life. y does it even matter? nobody cares!!!

Math and logic aren’t being applied right here.

I only had enough time to read 1/4 of your responses in this thread, but does anyone here see that Behe’s paper isn’t really that interesting yet? That maybe it is nothing more than a preliminary work on studies in the future that can become more interesting?

Here is what Behe said: “Thus in a sense, the disulfide bond is irreducibly complex, although not really to the same degree of complexity as systems made of multiple proteins.”

Here is my point: Isn’t there a difference between something that is mildly irreducibly complex and something that is extremely irreducibly complex? I’m talking different enough to be put into a different category altogether. Here’s why: If a truly irreducible complex system is based upon the statistical equivalent of hundreds of disulfide bond formations, then the probability of forming this result is the mathematical product of the improbability of disulfide bond evolution. In this case, we’re talking hundreds of orders of magnitude greater number of bacteria needed. Many talked about there being 7 orders of magnitude more bacteria on the earth than in a ton of soil. That’s just 7 orders of magnitude. So how many “earths” are needed to hold hundreds of magnitudes more bacteria? We’re talking significant IC, not disulfide bonds.

If you think this event has anything to do with the issue in any significant way, and make ID finally come to an end, don’t get your hopes up.

I’m just being honest everyone.

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This page contains a single entry by Ed Brayton published on October 22, 2005 12:22 PM.

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