Recently in Immune system Category

Heh, five years later and Casey Luskin is still trying to refute the immune system cross:[…]_042001.html

Never mind that Luskin’s one immunologist, Donald Ewert, admits that most of his colleagues, even his coauthors, are against him and use homology and comparative evidence everywhere all the time; admits that there is a mountain of literature on the evolution of the immune system; and admits (although he barely stammers it out) that there actually is an evolutionary model for the origin of receptor rearrangement in adaptive immunity and that the researchers themselves interpreted this as confirmation of the basic transposon-origins model (although Ewert somehow thinks this was just a “classification” of the RAG genes as bacterial transposons, ignoring, (a) how damned odd that is to find in vertebrate immune system genes and (b) how this was suspected ever since the 1970s and was deliberately tested in the 1990s-2000s).

Ewert’s reply basically boils down to vague denial of vast amounts of detailed work in evolutionary immunology, raw assertions that sequence similarity doesn’t suggest common ancestry (I dare Ewert/Luskin to do a survey of comparative immunologists on that point), and complaints about the literature not being detailed enough. Unfortunately for them, Behe made all these same points at trial. When you make these kinds of claims in the teeth of an entire specialized subfield which refutes you, it’s your credibility that’s shot, on the stand or anywhere else. So, try again. Give us a better, more detailed explanation of the origins of the immune system, Luskin and Ewert. Good luck!

Aron-Ra in the flesh


Back when I was a little baby creationism debater, back in the day when the world wide web was young, there were several gladiators who, every day on the newsgroup, sallied forth and took on all comers. These were names like PZ Myers, Wes Elsberry, John Wilkins…that’s right, these guys, now famous, all were originally newsgroup junkies. Eventually I got to meet them all in person. But another gladiator there was, by the name of Aron-Ra, who wielded his challenge to great effect. I never got to meet him…but now there is YouTube.

Apparently, Michael Behe just doesn’t know when to pack it in. In reply to Travis’s essay in Science, “On the Origin of The Immune System” (see previous PT posts: 1, 2), Behe has posted a letter he sent to Science. Instead of just sucking it up and admitting that his statements in Darwin’s Black Box that

“As scientists we yearn to understand how this magnificent mechanism came to be, but the complexity of the system dooms all Darwinian explanations to frustration.” (Darwin’s Black Box, p. 139)


We can look high or we can look low, in books or in journals, but the result is the same. The scientific literature has no answers to the question of the origin of the immune system. (Darwin’s Black Box, p. 138)

…were wrong, or at the very least became wrong in the time between 1996 and 2005, Behe is still expressing proud, Kierkagaardian-esque defiance. In this (rejected) letter to the editor of Science, Behe reiterates his proud stand that the work of an entire field, the life’s achievements of hundreds of immunologists, complete with surprising experimental support for a surprising hypothesis (the transposon hypothesis), still has “no answers” to the question of how it evolved, and that Darwinian explanations are “doom[ed].”

Following up on the Science story on the origin of adaptive immunity and the role it played in the Kitzmiller case, the Science Origins blog has a short interview they did with me while writing the article. It didn’t make the final cut for the print version, but it is nifty for it to be online. I hope I sufficiently acknowledged my PT collaborators and all the other friends/enemies on the net that made that particular bit of the Behe cross-examination seem like a good idea.

Also, while I am on this topic, I should mention that I have been invited to speak about the role of evolutionary science in the Kitzmiller case, with special focus on the immune system science and how it was used in the Behe cross-examination. This will occur on September 3, 2009 at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Here is the link for the meeting, September 2-4, 2009: It looks like a fantastic lineup of speakers. The early (cheaper) registration deadline is July 31. And yes, I am mentioned in the same sentence as another speaker, Jack friggin’ Horner, which is just weird. (PS: Email me if you’ll be in the area and want to meet up!)

Here’s the flier the organizer, Brad Ericson, sent me, and asked to have put up: Evolution2009_poster_Univ_Nebraska_Kearney.pdf

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.

Best Behe takedown *ever*


So I guess DaveScot and Dembski didn’t like Mark Chu-Carroll’s critique (which I linked to) of Behe’s usage of fitness landscape concepts in The Edge of Evolution.

Well, if anyone is still having trouble getting it, check out Good Virus, Bad Creationist at the blog ERV. The reason I say it’s the best Behe critique ever is the style. L.O.L.

PS: And watch out for ERV. She’s clearly going to run the planet someday, or at least the NIH.

The PNAS Early Edition webpage has just posted a series of papers from the December 2006 National Academy of Sciences Sackler Colloquium, “In the Light of Evolution: Adaptation and Complex Design,” organized by Francisco Ayala and John Avise. The series of papers, on topics ranging from color vision to beetle horns, is now available (I will post the list below the fold). Eugenie C. Scott (aka Genie) was invited to speak at this meeting about evolution education and the history of opposition to it, and the speakers wrote papers to be published in PNAS and a forthcoming NAS volume.

Genie brought me on as a coauthor on the paper she was asked to write. This became:

In “Darwin”s Black Box” (DBB), ID”s arch-biochemist Behe glibly labeled evolutionary hypotheses for the origin of “irreducibly complex” systems as “hops into the box of Calvin and Hobbes” (for those who don”t know what the heck this refers to, go here to learn about Calvin and Hobbes, and here for info on their box, or even better go spend some time here, and come back tomorrow). This overconfidence has come back to haunt him as more and more evidence accumulated in support of the evolutionary origin of his various IC systems, from the flagellum to the complement and clotting cascades.

The topic where the idea of unevolvability of IC systems has probably taken the most beating is the vertebrate adaptive immune system, where not only evidence for evolution has accumulated at a steady pace, but even more embarrassingly for Behe, it has developed exactly along the lines predicted by those “Calvin and Hobbes jumps” he originally dismissed. A recent paper in the journal PLoS Biology [1] is the latest turn in the death spiral of irreducible complexity of the immune system, and I think provides a good opportunity to take a look at how science works, as opposed to ID navel-gazing.

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