Behe's bad math

Review copies of Michael Behe’s new book The Edge of Evolution are now out – the book is officially coming out on June 5 – and now the reviews are starting. Mark C. Chu-Carroll at Good Math, Bad Math, has beat us all to the punch. I perceived many of these problems while giving The Edge of Evolution my own read-through, but it takes a mathematician to comment on Behe’s abuse of fitness landscapes and probability arguments with the appropriate sense of outrage.

I am sure we will have much more on Behe’s latest starting in June. My first take is that The Edge of Evolution is basically an incompetent attempt to provide a biological foundation for the silly assumptions that were made in Behe and Snoke’s (2004) mathematical modeling paper in Protein Science. (You will recall that it received its most thorough critique here at PT and also in a rebuttal written in Protein Science by Michael Lynch; and a biological rebuttal in this 2006 paper in Science – see also summary by Adami.)

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.

Also, be sure to get a load of the press material – see Description, Praise, excerpt, and Q&A with Michael Behe. Count the number of times the word “masterwork” appears.

If you think the publicity material on the publisher website is overwrought, check out the letter they send out with the paper version of the publicity material. The paragraph about ID being a “young science with much work to be done. Until now.” is particularly precious.



Dear Editor / Producer: May 2007

What if evolution is NOT (as Darwinists claim) a series of random mutations at the genetic level, but a process based on planned, coherent design? Would that revelation radically change how we see life (and, indeed, the entire natural world) in the same revolutionary way that Darwin’s theories did in the middle of the 19th century?

In THE EDGE OF EVOLUTION: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (Free Press; June 5, 2007; $28.00), Michael J. Behe presents astounding new findings from the genetics revolution to show that Darwinism cannot account for the sheer complexity and near-miraculous design of life as we know it. Behe analyzes three key case studies: tens of thousands of generations of malaria, E. coli, and the HIV virus, and studies the human genomic response to those invaders. He argues that Darwinism is demonstrably true, but trivial. Most important mutations are nonrandom.

After launching the Intelligent Design movement with his best selling book Darwin’s Black Box (Free Press; 1996), Behe became a somewhat reluctant celebrity for the movement in 2005 when the Dover, Pennsylvania school board made a controversial decision to include ID in its high school curriculum. When angry parents struck back in federal court, Behe took the stand as the lead witness for the defense of intelligent design. As he insisted at the time, ID is a young science with much work to be done. Until now. With THE EDGE OF EVOLUTION, intelligent design finally has its masterwork.

Michael J. Behe is available for interview to explain the concept of intelligent design and address the controversy that surrounds it. Some of the questions he can answer include:

* Does intelligent design settle the great Creation vs. Evolution debate?

* Does scientific evidence point to some sort of “higher power” in the world?

* How does this new data change our understanding of humanity’s role in the larger context of life in the universe? What does this say about the probability of intelligent life on other planets?

* Does our new capacity for genetic research give us the ability to predict the course of life in the future?

THE EDGE OF EVOLUTION will be a revelation and a bombshell to both sides of the ID debate. Controversial and timely, THE EDGE OF EVOLUTION presents a comprehensive scientific statement that draws the line between random and non-random mutation in nature; defines the principles by which Darwinian evolution can be distinguished from design; fits design theory together with the findings of cosmology, chemistry, and physics into an overarching theory of the universe; and lays out a research program, with predictions, to counter the failed predictions of Darwin’s enthusiasts.

Michael Behe lives with his wife and nine children near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he is a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University. His current research involves delimitation of design and natural selection in protein structures. I hope you will consider an interview with the author or a timely review of his new book.

Best, [Simon & Schuster media contact]