Behe's blinders: My rough 2 cents on Behe's paper

I don’t have time to do a serious blog entry, but I would just note that Jerry Coyne has been blogging Behe’s QRB paper, and the scandalous abuse of it by ID proponents (well, I’m sure the abuse was intended by Behe, but what he could actually establish in a peer-reviewed paper does not support even a smidgen the claims that Behe and other ID fans are making about the paper on the blogs).

In the latest thread, Paul Nelson popped up with another promise for another piece explaining why something that’s obviously wrong is actually reasonable (in this case, why ID advocates are allowed to disdainfully ignore the massive evidence that gene duplication + divergence is the main source of new genes with new functions, and why they are allowed to claim that the origin of new functional sequence is a big problem, when in fact it’s basically a solved problem, with the answer – gene duplication + divergence – known across biology, tested and verified in numerous different ways, and written down for beginners in the textbooks). We’ll see if he ever comes up with it. But in the meantime, here are a few irate comments from me:

Post #1:


What Jerry said. Ignoring the massive evidence that gene duplication + divergence is the main source of new “information” = one is a traditional, very silly, creationist hack who will be dismissed as a crank and who will deserve it.

Basically what Behe and his fans are doing by ignoring this obvious, long-known, long-the-dominant-explanation-in-standard-textbook-theory, extremely-well-tested explanation for the origin of new “information” is the equivalent of going to Kansas, observing that the Earth looks flat in their arbitrarily selected extremely limited observational domain, and then concluding that the Earth is probably flat, and then petulantly insisting that the world is flat unless someone can show them that the Earth isn’t flat by direct observation, while never allowing observations that involve something broader than the view from the ground in Kansas.

I vote we dub this kind of thing – stubbornly ignoring obviously relevant evidence, and obsessive focus on one very narrow kind of evidence as the only good evidence – as “Behe’s Blinders”.

(All that said, consider:

  1. Mainstream theory says gene duplication + modification of a copy is basically the main source of new genes with new functions.

  2. Behe reviews many experiments in which adaptive (even better than neutral spread!) gene duplications are observed in very short-term, very-simple experimental situations.

  3. Behe reviews many experiments in which genes successfully change function (e.g. new substrates, even to human-created xenobiotic compounds not before seen in nature) through point mutations, observations again made even in very short-term, very-simple experimental situations.

  4. Behe concludes we should be skeptical of gene duplication + modification as an explanation of new genes.

This is the only appropriate reaction when confronted with that sort of silliness:

Post #2:

Paul Nelson writes:

“Just to be sure: NO experimental studies have been done in eukaryotes on the origin of what Behe calls FCTs?”

Yeah, no, there is a bunch of stuff with yeasts. Especially because of industrial uses with fermentation, ethanol production for biofuels (and drinking) etc. This one is a classic, long-mentioned on e.g. talkorigins…as far as I can tell it even meets the “new coding sequence” requirement as well:

Yeast was put in a medium with very little sugar. After 450 generations, hexose transport genes had duplicated several times, and some of the duplicated versions had mutated further. (Brown et al. 1998) […]

Brown, C. J., K. M. Todd and R. F. Rosenzweig, 1998. Multiple duplications of yeast hexose transport genes in response to selection in a glucose-limited environment. Molecular Biology and Evolution 15(8): 931-942.