Behe's (malevolent) intelligent designer is still at work

Correction: See this comment and this one. Operating from memory, I mis-stated Behe’s argument below. According to Behe’s “CCC” criterion, chloroquine resistance is (barely) within the capabilities of evolution given the time and population size available. It’s the “double CCC” that’s unevolvable according to Behe. Malaria itself, however, was designed according to Behe, and the case of artemesinin resistance is still open.


In “The Edge of Evolution”(reviewed here and here), Michael Behe argued explicitly that an intelligent agent is responsible for the evolution of chloroquine-resistant malaria, arguing that the necessary mutations are beyond the reach of chance and selection given the time and population sizes available. Therefore, he claimed, an intelligent designer is responsible for drug-resistant malaria. He wrote

Here’s something to ponder long and hard: Malaria was intentionally designed. The molecular machinery with which the parasite invades red blood cells is an exquisitely purposeful arrangement of parts. C-Eve’s children died in her arms partly because an intelligent agent deliberately made malaria, or at least something very similar to it. (p. 237)

Not only that, the purported intelligent agent is responsible for drug resistance in malaria. Behe claimed that because it requires multiple independent mutations, none adaptive by themselves, given the time and population sizes available malarial resistance to chloroquine must have been designed (and presumably manufactured) by an intelligent agent (see his Chapter 3 for elaborate probability calculations). And chloroquine resistance in malaria is now nearly universal.

The currently most effective first-choice treatment for otherwise drug-resistant malaria is artemisinin. Hailed in 2004 as a “magic bullet” against malaria, artemisinin is an extract of a plant grown mainly in Viet Nam. Just a few years later, an artemisinin-resistant strain of malaria appeared in southeast Asia. In fact, according to this paper in Science published yesterday, April 6, 2012, 33 regions on the falciparum malaria genome appear to be under strong selection for artemisinin resistance. (See a news story here.) 33 genome regions on chromosome 13 that are under selection for artemisinin resistance! Surely in Behe’s fantasy world that’s way beyond the capabilities of evolution, and his malevolent intelligent agent is working over-time in Cambodia and Thailand to kill people.

Behe also discussed the research of Barry Hall on a class of antibiotic drugs called carbapenems. He approvingly quoted Hall as writing

“The results predict, with 99.9% confidence, that even under intense selection the [enzyme] will not evolve to confer increased resistance to imipenem [a member of the carbapenems].” (p. 237)

Behe continued, in his own words,

In other words, more than two evolutionary steps would have to be skipped to achieve resistance, effectively ruling out Darwinian evolution. (p. 237).

So if resistance to carbapenems (of which imipenem is an instance) should appear, according to Behe it must have been due to an intelligent agent. But even before Behe published that (“Edge of Evolution” was published in 2007), carbamenem-resistant gram negative bacteria were being detected in 2005. Again, in Behe’s fantasy world, a malevolent intelligent agent is hard at work right now, designing (and manufacturing) pathogens to kill people.