Behe devolves

Creationist Michael Behe is at it again. (Professor Behe is the originator of the claim that certain structures could not have evolved by random mutation because they are irreducibly complex. We have reviewed his works many times on The Panda’s Thumb; a small sample, here, here, and here.)

Professor Behe’s latest effort is evidently a book entitled Darwin Devolves and subtitled “The New Science about DNA That Challenges Evolution.” I have not read the book and probably will not. I have, however, come across a review by Nathan H. Lents of John Jay College, S. Joshua Swamidass of Washington University in St. Louis, and Richard E. Lenski of Michigan State University. Professor Lenski, in particular, is noted for incubating bacteria for 25 years (as of 2013) and watching them mutate. We described his experiment briefly here. The experiment shows, according to an article by Elizabeth Pennisi in Science magazine, “how multiple small mutations can prepare the ground for a major change,” among other things. Professor Behe essentially denies this conclusion.

The review of Darwin Devolves is highly critical, if not downright scathing. According to the review, Prof. Behe claims (consistently with other creationists) that evolution can progress unaided only by degradation or loss of function. He then discusses Prof. Lenski’s experiment and dismisses it. He “ignores the fact that some of his prior arguments have been dismantled.” In particular, he continues to claim that the blood-clotting complex is irreducible, when it has been shown not to be irreducible. He “doubles down” on his spurious claim that chloroquine resistance by the malaria parasite cannot have evolved by random mutation. And finally he evidently completely ignores exaptation, wherein a structure previously used for one purpose is adapted to another. Instead, he argues

that new functions only arise through “purposeful design” of new genetic information, a claim that cannot be tested. By contrast, modern evolutionary theory provides a coherent set of processes—mutation, recombination, drift, and selection—that can be observed in the laboratory and modeled mathematically and are consistent with the fossil record and comparative genomics.

Ultimately, Darwin Devolves fails to challenge modern evolutionary science because, once again, Behe does not fully engage with it. He misrepresents theory and avoids evidence that challenges him.

Speaking of devolving, I can only add that Profs. Lents, Swamidass, and Lenski have made a monkey of Prof. Behe.