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An eloquent but bogus non-review by Dawkins

Dawkins displays his formidable command of the English language in Inferior Design, a review of Michael Behe’s book, The Edge of Evolution. Of all the anti-Behe reviews I’ve read, this was the most convincing, at least on rhetorical grounds, but certainly not on evidential nor scientific grounds.

Dawkins is a master of rhetoric. Only he could take a clear example of intelligently designed evolution (dog breeding) and offer it as a convincing “proof” of Darwinian evolution. He writes:

You’d take a wild species, say a wolf that hunts caribou by long pursuit, and apply selection experimentally to see if you could breed, say, a dogged little wolf that chivies rabbits underground: let’s call it a Jack Russell terrier. Or how about an adorable, fluffy pet wolf called, for the sake of argument, a Pekingese? Or a heavyset, thick-coated wolf, strong enough to carry a cask of brandy, that thrives in Alpine passes and might be named after one of them, the St. Bernard?

But this is misleading. In fact, for varieties of dogs to emerge, there has to be a relative absence, not presence of natural selection. The kind of selection in play in Dawkins example is intelligently designed, it is not natural whatsoever. Deliberate dog breeding is an example of intelligently designed selection, not natural selection. But Dawkins masterfully conceals this inconvenient fact and leads the reader into thinking natural selection works like an intelligent designer, when in reality it does not.

Dawkins is surely familiar with the consequences of The Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection by Fisher. The theorem implies that traits under extreme pressure from selection cannot be very variable. They can only be variable if natural selection is weak or non-existent.

This is easy to see. If selection is strongly favors dark colored individuals of a species, eventually most if not all of the individuals will be dark colored. Any future mutations that don’t yield dark colored individuals will be weeded out by selection. Natural selection is the enemy of diversity. Selection is the enemy of innovation. Not the friend of it.

To patch up this annoying fact, Darwinists make desperate appeals to gimmicks like time varying, randomly walking fitness landscapes (where selection chooses one thing one day, and other thing another day). But appeals to randomly walking fitness landscapes are appeals to randomness, not direction toward a design, exactly the opposite of what Darwinists advertise natural selection to be doing.

The importance of the lack of selection was reinforced in a peer-reviewed paper in Journal of Theoretical Biology. The author, Mae Wan Ho, was a signatory of the Discovery Institute’s Dissent from Darwin list. In Beyond neo-Darwinism. She writes:

the natural selection of random mutations—is insufficient to account for evolution. The role of natural selection is itself limited: it cannot adequately explain the diversity of populations or of species; nor can it account for the origin of new species or for major evolutionary change. The evidence suggests … that a relative lack of natural selection may be the prerequisite for major evolutionary advance.

And another signatory of the Discovery Institute’s Dissent from Darwin list, Stanley Salthe, pointed out:

The internal contradiction in its [Darwinism’s] major theoretical cornerstone — Fisher’s fundamental theorem. As mentioned above, Fisher’s theorem has it that population variance in fitness is exchanged over the generations for population fitness increase — that is, for adaptedness. A corollary would be that traits having been subjected to heavy selection pressures, because of their importance in the lives of the organisms, should be less variable than less important traits. ….note that when asked which traits are most likely to be able to evolve, evolutionary biologists, again citing Fisher’s theorem, will reply, “those that have more variability in fitness”. That is to say, traits that have been most important in the lives of organisms up to this moment will be least likely to be able to evolve further!

So Fisher’s theorem is “schizoid” when one compares its postures facing the future or the past.

and the very example that Dawkins offers as “proof” of natural selection’s efficacy in the wild is refuted by recent scientific discoveries:

The domestication of dogs caused a dramatic change in their way of life compared with that of their ancestor, the gray wolf.
….
a major consequence of domestication in dogs was a general relaxation of selective constraint [weakening of Natural Selection] on their mitochondrial genome. If this change also affected other parts of the dog genome, it could have facilitated the generation of novel functional genetic diversity.

Relaxation of selective constraint on dog mitochondrial DNA following domestication

Not to mention, recent papers suggest there is a disturbing absence of natural selection to evolution in the wild today. See: The Strength of Natural Selection in the Wild by David Berlinski.

Finally, consider the evolution of flight: an arm evolving into a wing. The arm must go through several stages of being a bad arm first before becoming a good wing. Thus, clearly, selection would be a rather nasty barrier to the development of an arm into a wing. Behe faintly alluded to such inconvenient facts on page 112. Dawkins chooses to not even address them for obvious reasons.

But where Dawkins lacks in substance, he more than makes up for it in form. Dawkins cunningly avoided dealing squarely with the facts, and rather chose to resort to veiled ad hominems and arguments from authority. For Dawkins, this only makes sense because, as one of Dawkins loyal cohorts in Canada, Larry Moran, aptly said, “it’s going to be a challenge to refute Behe’s main claims”.

HT: BertVan at ARN for the Ho and Saunders paper

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30 Responses to An eloquent but bogus non-review by Dawkins

  1. I think everyone should read Behe’s response to critics in his own blog.
    Very nice reading as usual :)

  2. This non-review by Dawkins is really pathetic. I mean, nothing about malaria, HIV, E-Coli, just mere personal attacks and the dog breeding nonsense.

  3. IDist is correct. Darwinist pride themselves on cold hard facts. They say we hide behind rhetoric and fuzzy logic. But seriously, this review is a sad factless rant by a man who has not contributed much to biology – unlike Prof Behe.

  4. Ditto that for Behe’s responses on Amazon.

  5. Richard Dawkins in the review:

    Don’t evade the point by protesting that dog breeding is a form of intelligent design. It is (kind of)…

    By saying this, Richard Dawkins grudgingly accepts:

    1. Intelligent design is a tractable idea in biology
    2. Intelligent design can be thought of without any reference to the supernatural
    3. Intelligent design is compatible with common descent
    4. Intelligent design has practical applications

    Thats progress.

  6. I recommend we start a new classification system called the pseudo-argument and show how it is used in the evolutionary debate.

    Dawkins, like Darwin, would have made great used card salesmen because both were masters of the pseudo-argument. Darwin never presented any relevant evidence either in the OOS but both Dawkins and Darwin’s arguments are structured so that one nods their head yes for most of what they are saying. Then they pull a switch and present something that does not flow but sounds like it does.

    The genius of Darwin and Dawkins is their rhetoric and their use of pseudo-arguments. And we should give each his due.

    There should be a site devoted to the pseudo-arguments used in the evolution debate. Things like literature bluffing, focus on irrelevant minutiae, bait and switch with the reader, claims of refutation when none exists as well as the standard other fallacies of logic.

  7. There should be a site devoted to the pseudo-arguments used in the evolution debate. Things like literature

    It’s in the works. I have been very much amazed at the rhetorical prowess of the anti-ID crowd. I suppose they have to be good at it since the facts are not on their side.

  8. Why can’t you just believe in Science? Here’s a little biology lesson to illustrate the facts of Natural Selection:

    How did flying spaghetti monsters get their start? Many spaghetti monsters leap from bough to bough, and sometimes fall to the ground. Especially in a small spaghetti monster, the whole body surface catches the air and assists the leap, or breaks the fall, by acting as a crude aerofoil. Any tendency to increase the ratio of surface area to weight would help, for example flaps of skin growing out in the angles of joints. It doesn’t matter how small and unwinglike the first wingflaps were. There must be some height, call it H, such that a spaghetti monster would just break its neck if it fell from that height, but would just survive if it fell from a slightly lower height. In this critical zone, any improvement in the body surface’s ability to catch the air and break the fall, however slight the improvement, can make the difference between life and death. Natural Selection will then favour slight, prototype wingflaps. When these small flaps have become the norm, the critical height H will become slightly greater. Now a slight further increase in the wingflaps will make the difference between life and death. And so on, until we have proper flying spaghetti monsters wings.

    – adapted from Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker ;)

  9. And don’t forget that dog breeding is the mixing, matching, and reshuffling of existing genetic information, not the creation of new information. The dog genome is unusually plastic.

  10. 10

    I think it is important to point out that Dawkins and all the other reviewers of Behe’s excellent book, fail to substaniate their claims. Behe has demonstrated, in the lab, that the probability of such a resistance is impossible without the hand of intelliegent designer.

    This is a critical breakthrough in ID science. Becasuse Behe has shown the impossibility of such an event via material causes, the only logical explanation is that of an ID’er. This is proof enough for me.

  11. DG:

    As per Dawkins (with DG mods) on spaghetti monster wing flaps — This is his usual story-telling technique.

    Of course there is no explanation as to how skin flaps would just start ‘emerging’ out of the monster’s limbs.

    Now considering that spaghetti monsters have a multitude of limbs this ‘flap mutation’ would actually cause an enormous weight increase.

    Result? The spaghetti monster can no longer leap at all – subsequently dies of starvation (no longer able to find it’s needed tomato sauce) and from the remains produces overweight Italians.
    ;-)

  12. Honestly, I’m a bit shocked at Dawkins ‘review.’ I expected a lot more from him in particular. This review by Dawkins, in my opinion, is the most ill-conceived and is worst of the lot thus far.

    The thing that’s so striking about it that Dawkins doesn’t appear to address the central theme of Behe’s book. I’ve not finished the book yet, but am most of the way through it. Thus far, Behe’s main point seems to be that all available evidence suggests that Darwinian processes are incapable of building complex protein machinery. He utilizes three model organisms, the malaria parasite, HIV, and E. coli to demonstrate this. In x generations, none of these organisms have evolved any new protein machinery to overcome any selective pressures.

    The best Dawkins can come up with is the domestic dog? Exactly how does the dog cite counter the notion that Darwinian processes can’t fashion complex, multi-component protein machinery? It doesn’t. There’s no complex protein machinery in dogs that isn’t present in wolves.

    One wonders if Dawkins even read this book. From what I can tell, Behe clearly doesn’t place the “edge of evolution” at the level of species. In fact, Behe explicitly acknowledges that Darwinian processes are completely capable of reshuffling genetic material and creating variation within genera. I think the section of Hox genes describes this quite nicely.

    It would appear that this review, like many others out there is an effort to simply dissuade others from purchasing or reading the book, by citing seemingly obvious examples of “evolution” that are tangible to everyone.

    Once more: Could someone explain to me which molecular machinery present in dogs, but not wolves, disproves the central hypothesis of Behe’s book? Please?

  13. Antg

    Dawkins says it is “intelligent design (kind of)” because the intervention of the designer (the dog-breeder) only alters the incidence, not the biology, of the reproductive process, surely? It’s the biology that both Behe and Dawkins are interested in.

    All of your points reference human intervention, at least in so far as Dawkins accepts them. ID is patterns in NATURE (my emphasis) best explained by intelligence i.e. non-human intervention.

  14. I think all these all-stars reviewers just want to smear Behe’s reputation so as to discourage people from reading his book.

    It is the same thing those Amazon reviewers are doing right now – assigning the book one-star to pull down the star-rating of his book.

    If any of us are able to post a review on Amazon, please do so, with a 4-star or 5-star rating – if you are convinced of the substance of his arguments in the book.

    Behe’s book overall rating averages 3-star to 3½-star so far. Many less well-known creationist and ID books are getting better ratings.

    So, these guys are all zeroing on Behe, and they are not paying much attention to other ant-Darwinism books.

    Behe has really made an impact! Praise God!

  15. Scordova cited Dr. Mae Wan Ho as a signatory of the Dissent From Darwin list. I think her ideas are worthy of consideration. She recognizes the bankrupty of Darwinism, but opts for a non-intelligent (in terms of sentient) cause. She is trying to kind of have her cake and eat it too, with a sort of EAM type of hypothesis that I disagree with, but it is interesting and has some points.

    She has at least a little clout in science as a long-time critic of NDE and genetic engineering and a pioneer of epigenetics, a sought-after speaker on epigenetics, a director and advisor to science institutes, and the author of 300 influential books and publications.

    If anyone is interested (maybe not), her hypothesis is summarized in this quote from her excellent paper “Nature”, incorporated as a chapter in a 1998 comparative psychology textbook, at http://www.ratical.org/co-glob.....cyclo.html (I guess she was able to get it published in a textbook because the discipline was outside biology per se):

    “In his last works, Piaget (1979) returned to the study of biology in order to consider the evolutionary problem which he regards as insoluble within the neo-Darwinian framework: how is it that the form of an organ is invariably accompanied by the behavioural repertoire appropriate to its use? It stretches credulity to imagine, for example, that the woodpecker first got a long beak from some random mutations followed by other random mutations that made it go in search of grubs in the bark of trees. The only explanation for this coincidence of form and behaviour in the execution of function is that the two must have evolved together through the organisms’ experience of the environment.

    Experience, as we have seen, never involves the organism in a purely passive role. Organisms generally act (more than just behave) so as to give themselves the greatest chance of survival. This is brought about by various means ranging from avoidance reactions in unicellular organisms to the purposive or directed explorations of higher organisms. Thus, a change in habit may be the efficient cause of the change in form, which in turn accounts for the fit between form and function. If it is true that organisms generally act so as to maximize their prospects for survival, it follows that the resulting modification of form will most likely be `adaptive’. The `adaptation’ will involve feedback effects on its physiology, which include changes in gene expression, or in the genes themselves.”

    I think this argument has its points, but the problem is it still doesn’t explain “irreducibly complex” biological systems or intricate complicated systems in general, which seem to demand a sentient focused intelligent designer. This is Behe’s argument, and I think Ho doesn’t dent it with her version of EAM/Lamarkism.

  16. [...] A short example of more Dawkins-foolishness is his seeming review of Behe’s latest book, The Edge of Evolution. Dawkins obviously is quite taken with his own rhetoric, and lays it on pretty thick here. He starts with an ad hominem attack, then goes downhill from there, ignoring the real issues of Behe’s book and mis-characterizing what he does discuss. He even has the gall to plead, “Don’t evade the point by protesting that dog breeding is a form of intelligent design. It is (kind of) …” It’s embarrassing, or at least should be. For a good explanation of how Dawkins’ “review” misleads, jump over to Uncommon Descent. [...]

  17. magnan,

    Funny, we were just discussing finch beak adaptation at Telic Thoughts and that paper was one that came to mind. It is cited by Spetner in his book on the neo-Lamarkian styled Non-Random Evolutionary Hypothesis. He basically argues that the environmental cues trigger built-in, coordinated responses in organisms.

    Interesting idea. If the traits are latent (front-loaded) then this would explain the coordinated changes (answering the paper above) but also show evidence of ID (adaptational forethought).

  18. Regarding epigenetics, maybe there should be a blog entry on UD going into this in more detail? Strangely I’ve heard it cited as a criticism of neo-darwinism (though not evolution as a whole), but I have yet to hear the reasons fully developed, despite it apparently gaining legitimate scientific ground.

  19. There are a lot of posts in my backlog, and endogenous adaptive mutations (EAM) is one that I might post on if I get around to it.

    There is evidence organisms have some capacity to self-evolve. We know for a fact, certain organisms can even reformat and rebuild their entire genome!!!

    Our immune system, is able to modify DNA. It’s not a stretch to think that organisms have a limited capacity to self-evolve. The mutation is not random. And as Behe argues, mutation is not random.

    Although, personally I reject universal common descent, I do believe there is both front loaded evolution (FLE, PEH) to some degree as well as endogenous adaptive mutagenesis (EAM). The question isn’t a matter of whether these things exist, but the degree that they appear in biology.

  20. Salvador or anyone,

    I believe that genetic drift is considered the main force operating in population genetics. As such it should put pressure on many of the traits not under extreme pressure from selection and eventually drive some or most of them to uniformity. So it is also the enemy of diversity, probably a more powerful one.

    As such NDE would predict that over time that most of the traits of a population should become increasingly less variable. So where does the variety come from that we see especially in the human population? Can mutations explain it? It seems to me that what NDE predicts on this and what exists are at odds especially since the relatively small number of mutations that have been documented in multi-celled organism that actually create new alleles.

    Is there a discussion of this somewhere?

  21. jerry,

    Let’s go piece by piece as this is a large and difficult topic.

    It is true that most evolution is neutral. The arguments are outlined in What are the speed limits of naturalistic evolution?. But in brief, if selection were acting on every nucleotide, there would be inadequate population resources. Too many individuals would have to be killed in relation to births to achieve policing of every nucleotide. Thus, some insane percent, like 90-99% or more, of nucleotides are not under immediate selection. Selection policing all nucleotides is impossible!

    Not just at the nucleotide level, but even at the ogranismal phenotype level, neutrality is in evidence. Larry Moran points out the interesting example of rhinos having either 1 or 2 horns. Natural selection doesn’t really explain this very well! See: Visible Mutations and Evolution by Natural Selection.

    Richard Lewontin uses the example of the Indian and African rhinoceros to focus the debate. The African rhinoceros has two horns while the Indian rhinoceros has only one. The question is whether this difference is due to natural selection—is two horns better than one in Africa? Or, is it just an accident of evolution that one species has two horns while the other has only one?
    I don’t understand why the adaptationist camp is so reluctant to admit that some visible characters can be fixed by random genetic drift. The idea that every feature of an organism has to be an adaptation seems so out of touch with our modern understanding of evolution that I’m really puzzled by the vehemence with which adaptationists defend their orthodoxy. It seems as though admitting that visible phenotypes might be non-adaptive is a major threat to their worldview.

    [Lewontin, in addition to Gould, was a teacher of Kurt Wise. Wise revered Lewontin. It is easy to see why.]

    This then lead to genetic drift. Yes fixation happens even in neutral theory because of the phenomenon of Gambler’s Ruin. But this presumes a well-stirred population. Kinda hard to achieve if segments of the poplulation become reproductively isolated. So this mechanism is insanely slow and complicated if population segments are geographically (or otherwise) isolated from each other.

    So where does the variety come from that we see especially in the human population?

    One theory, which I subscribe to, is pre-programmed genetic mutation. Behe argues as much when he says the most important mutations could not have been random. I agree. Some of the adaptive mutations are still detectable, some are no longer, and the front-loaded mutations have probably expired by now. As Davison said, evolution (as far as macro evolution) is finished.

    Spetner argues for NREH (environmentally triggered evolution). Spetner’s ideas are akin to EAM and FLE.

    James Shapiro has exciting work in these areas of self-evolution. See: Who are the (multiple) designers? James Shapiro offers some compelling answers

  22. Regarding neutral features, Behe has a chapter on Spandrels, which relate to an essay by Gould and Lewontin.

    It would be very instructive to read the essay by Gould and Lewontin that shook the evolutionary world:

    The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme.

    It was required reading in Allen MacNeil’s ID class last year. It’s easy to see why:

    The stochastic process of change in gene frequency by random genetic drift, including the very strong sampling process that goes on when a new isolated population is formed from a few immigrants, has several important consequences. First, populations and species will become genetically differentiated, and even fixed for different alleles at a locus in the complete absence of any selective force at all.

    Secondly, alleles can become fixed in a population in spite of natural selection

    Thirdly, new mutations have a small chance of being incorporated into a population, even when selectively favored. Genetic drift causes the immediate loss of most new mutations after their introduction.

    The then cover examples of:

    Selection without adaptation.

    [and ]

    Adaptation without selection

    [and]
    Adaptation and selection but no selective basis for differences among adaptations

    This was devastating essay against natural selection’s explantory power.

  23. Salvador,

    Thank you for the analysis, the examples and the links.

  24. I ended up in a discussion with a biochemist. He said Behe was totally discredited on IC and I said only if straw man burning counts. I argued the flagellum was IC and, since I am a non-scientist, he is having me for lunch. Do any of you that are more qualified have an answer to co-option? Specifically the scenario presented on talkorigins org indexcc/CB/CB200_1.html.

  25. bb

    Suppose I told you that William Shakespeare had a pet chimpanzee that secretly wrote all his plays. You’d probably doubt any chimp could do that and ask for some evidence. I protest that both Shakespeare and the chimp are long dead so it can’t ever be proven. But I then tell you that I’ll give you a proof of concept and show you a chimp pressing keys on a typewriter. What the chimp types is largely gibberish except for an occasional short word. You would then probably and quite rightly claim that this is no proof that monkeys can write plays.

    This is what Darwinists give us as proof that their hypothetical mechanisms underlying organic evolution are capable of doing what is claimed.

    Now imagine that instead of gibberish the chimp I show you produces a decent play. This still wouldn’t prove that Shakespeare used a chimp to write his plays but it would constitute a proof of concept – a chimp could have written Shakespeare’s plays.

    We know that genetic engineers capable of tinkering with heritable characters of organic life for directed purposes exist in the universe today. That is a proof of concept for ID. Demand a proof of concept for hypothetical Darwinian mechanisms and don’t settle for simian gibberish in place of real proof.

  26. bb (google search, site:evolutionnews.org co-option irreducibly complex)

    Evolution News & Views: Do Car Engines Run on Lugnuts? A Response …
    “Dr. Behe’s prediction is that the parts of any irreducibly complex system … other ID-proponents have long-acknowledged “exaptation” or “co-option” as an …
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....gnuts.html – 24k – Cached – Similar pages
    Evolution News & Views: Do Car Engines Run on Lugnuts? A Response …
    Arguably, this system is itself irreducibly complex. In any case, the co-option argument tacitly presupposes the need for the very thing it seeks to …
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....uts_1.html – 34k -

  27. Am I grossly naive for wondering what would happen if you crossed Dawkin’s wolf with a cat, or a rabbit, or anything other than a dog?

  28. bb,

    Sorry he’s having you for lunch. The link you provided didn’t seem complete so I was unable to read the discussion.

    Salvador

  29. 29
    Jonathan Sarfati
  30. [...] 5. At least 3 signatories of the Discovery Institute’s Dissent from Darwin list anticipated these recent developments. Davison, Salthe, and Ho. Ho managed to present echoes of these ideas 30 years ago in a peer-reviewed journal. See: An eloquent but bogus non-review by Dawkins. a relative lack of natural selection may be the prerequisite for major evolutionary advance [...]

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