Uncommon Descent

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2 November 2007

Trends in Ecology and Evolution follows the trend, Part I

Michael J Behe

Dear Readers,

The latest issue of the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution (TREE) carries a tediously disdainful review (1) of The Edge of Evolution which revisits the blunders of previous reviews while adding new ones. This is the first of a three part series concerning the review. (References will be attached to the third part.)

Like almost all reviews by Darwinists, this one begins with a genuflection to the Dover trial, where a former-head-of-the-Pennsylvania-Liquor-Control-Boa rd-appointed-judge, showing no evidence he actually understood the academic arguments of either side, copied almost word for word the document handed to him at the end of the trial by the lawyers for the complainant. This was his “decision.” For signing off on a document castigating intelligent design the apparently clueless judge got his picture in Time magazine, was bequeathed honorary degrees, and has been lionized by all the right people. (On occasion I receive astonished inquiries from Europeans asking how Americans can allow a judge to rule on what are essentially philosophical matters. Good question — although it seems some European bureaucracies are getting in on the act now, too.) (2)

Scribes our TREE reviewer, “Behe begins by trying to shore up his argument that ‘irreducibly complex’ multiprotein systems, such as flagella, are unevolvable.” (1) Well, no, that’s not quite right. It seems he impatiently skipped a few chapters. My demonstration of the recently discovered greatly increased complexity of a number of biochemical systems is in the middle of the book. The argument of The Edge of Evolution actually begins in Chapter 2 by discussing the ravages that random mutation and natural selection have visited upon the human genome in its battle with the malarial parasite: sickle cell disease, thalassemia, G6PD deficiency and much more. I quote Carter and Mendis remarking:

This burden [of malaria] is composed not only of the direct effects of malaria but also of the great legacy of debilitating, and sometimes lethal, inherited diseases that have been selected under its impact in the past. (3, p. 589)

The importance of this discussion is that it sets the stage for the whole book by showing that random mutations much more easily debilitate genes than improve them, and that this is true even of the helpful mutations. Let me emphasize, our experience with malaria’s effects on humans (arguably our most highly studied genetic system) shows that most helpful mutations degrade genes. What’s more, as a group the mutations are incoherent, meaning that they are not adding up to some new system. They are just small changes — mostly degradative — in pre-existing, unrelated genes. The take-home lesson is that this is certainly not the kind of process we would expect to build the astonishingly elegant machinery of the cell. If random mutation plus selective pressure substantially trashes the human genome, why should we think that it would be a constructive force in the long term? There is no reason to think so.

No Darwinian reviewer of The Edge of Evolution has paused long to ponder the effects of malaria on the human genome. I wonder why.

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