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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Darwin's defenders: Moving stuff around and claiming it just happened by chance ...

Intelligent design theorist Mike Behe, author of Edge of Evolution recently commented on his controversial his effort to apply some science thinking to the airy nothings spun around Darwinian evolution:
Musgrave and others seem quite intent on ignoring the basic point of EOE, that we now have data to constrain our speculation about evolutionary events. He assumes that it would be a breeze to duplicate genes and re-target proteins to make new, complex pathways. However, we see nothing like that happening in Lenski's E.coli work, work on HIV, malaria, etc. The chance re-arrangements of which he speaks are all in his head.

It reminds me of a time when I was invited to UCSF to give a talk. Beforehand I met with Wendell Lim, a hot shot in the protein structure field. He intended to show this bozo how easy it was for domains in yeast to swap to give new functional proteins. He brought out a manuscript of his that had just been accepted for publication in Science.

"Look," he said, "We simply took this one domain, and placed it next to this other domain, and look at the activity we got!"

I said, "Umm, YOU put the domain there?"

He, immediately realizing the problem, said, "I guess you're probably going to use this example in your talks now."

There seems to be a mass blindness among these folks that whatever they see in nature happened by Darwinian processes. The nice thing these days is that there are experimental results to rein in that thinking, for those who are willing to look.
Experimental results? Who wnats that when they can get away with moving the domains around and pretending that it happened by chance?

Come to think of it, lawyer friend Edward Sisson told me a similar anecdote:
In preparing for my talk with Bill Dembski at Boston University in 2005, I went on-line to identify and download all the course materials and readings in the BU first-year curriculum on evolution, and read it all, so I would be prepared for any questions, and in hope of making good points.
In one of the supplemental readings (not the textbook) I came across a report of evolution-in-nature and the immediate survival-of-the-fittest consequences.

A field of corn was planted and it turned out that the DNA for the corn in that field had mutated, causing the "silk" in the corn not to be produced, and having the effect that the corn was uniquely vulnerable to some insect or disease (I forget what, precisely).

On reading this my immediate reaction was, Why haven't I read of this clear example of mutation and fitness change before? This is such a good example of the mainstream side's position, it ought to have been everywhere.

So I turned to my computer, and ran a google search, and within 30 seconds I had the answer.

The mutation in the corn was man-made genetic engineering. The silk in corn often has to be removed before further processing, canning, etc., and the removal step costs money (there are machines that do it). A genetically-engineered strain that has no silk will be cheaper to process, so there will be a market for the seeds.

So they made a batch of silkless corn and planted the field to see what would happen. And discovered that a side-effect of the DNA mutation was a vulnerability to this pest.

So the corn-field example was not an example of mutation-in-nature at all. BU students were being misinformed in this reading.

I didn't use the anecdote in the debate; our time was so limited that focusing on an error in a mere supplemental text wasn't effective enough. But it is another example. ...

Edward, the only reason they write that stuff is that there is very little consistent, reliable evidence of Darwinian natural selection producing much of anything. They're like Soviet economists looking for evidence that Marxist economics works - if they look hard enough, they are sure to find something .... and if they can't find it, they ...

By the way, Behe's blog at Amazon is a great - and very imformative - read.

Why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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