A new ID book, a new selection of yummy delicious quote mines. Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution (EoE) offers quite the smorgasbord
I’m not surprised that Jerry Coyne would have such a visceral negative reaction to anything Michael Behe writes. He was the victim of one of the more egregious ID quote-mines of recent memory. In Darwin’s Black Box (DBB), Behe quotes Coyne as follows:
Jerry Coyne, of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, arrives at an unexpected verdict:
We conclude — unexpectedly — that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view: its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak. (pp. 29)
This from a section in which Behe presumes to convince us that the neo-Darwinian synthesis is a black pit of unanswered questions.
The quotation comes from a paper Coyne coauthored with biologist H. Allen Orr. Going back to the original text reveals that Behe not only removed the quotation from its proper context (to make a small criticism about an esoteric part of the theory appear to be a criticism of the whole shebang), but actually doctored the text as well:
Although a few biologists have suggested an evolutionary role for mutations or large effect (Gould 1980; Maynard Smith 1983: Gottlieb, 1984; Turner, 1985), the neo-Darwinian view has largely triumphed, and the genetic basis of adaptation now receives little attention. Indeed, the question is considered so dead that few may know the evidence responsible for its demise.
Here we review this evidence. We conclude–unexpectedly–that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view: its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak, and there is no doubt that mutations of large effect are sometimes important in adaptation. We hasten to add, however, that we are not “macromutationists” who believe that adaptations are nearly always based on major genes. The neo-Darwinian view could well be correct. It is almost certainly true, however, that some adaptations involve many genes of small effect and others involve major genes. The question we address is, How often does adaptation involve a major gene? We hope to encourage evolutionists to reexamine this neglected question and to provide the evidence to settle it. (Emphasis Added)
As Coyne himself noted, doctoring a sentence to make it appear to mean something different from what it actually means is not just sloppy scholarship, it is deliberate distortion.
Fast forward to EoE. On pages 188-189 Behe writes:
The next unwitting evo-devo point is even more striking: Basic features of life were totally unpredicted by Darwin’s theory. In fact, reasoning straightforwardly in terms of Darwin’s theory led badly astray even the most eminent evolutionary biologists, who reached conclusions completely opposite to biological reality. (Emphasis in Original).
This is rather like indicting the germ theory of disease for not predicting the motions of the planets. Darwinian evolution is a marvelous thing, but it by its nature it has little to say about the minutiae of embryological development or the structure of the genome. It can tell you in broad terms what you should expect to find in those disciplines, but the details have to be worked out the old-fashioned way.
Behe then offers five bullet-point quotations to back up this assertion. All are out of context, the basic error being to present any erroenous prediction made by an evolutionary biologist as the direct result of Darwinian thinking. (Evolutionists do think about other things, you know.) But this one really caught my eye:
Mathematicians, too, were fooled, “Many theoreticians sought to explain how periodic patterns [such as fruit fly embryo segments] could be organixed across large strucutres. While the maths and models are beautiful, none of this theory has been borne out by the discoveries of the last twenty years.” “The continuing mistake is being seduced into believing that simple rules that can generate patterns on a computer screen are the rules that generate patterns in biology.”
You must wade into the endnote section of EoE to find out where these quotes come from. Turns out they are two separate quotes from two separate pages of Sean Carroll’s book Endless Forms Most Beautiful. The first comes form page 123:
The revelation of how these stripe-making switches work clarified a long-standing question in the study of pattern formation in biological structures. For several decades, mathematicians and computer scientists were drawn to the periodic patterns of body segmentation, zebra stripes, and seashell markings. Heavily influenced by a 1952 paper by the genius Alan Turing (a founder of computer science who helped crack the German Engima code in World War II), “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis,” many theoreticians sought to explain how periodic patterns could be organized across entire large structures. While the math and models are beautiful, none of this theory has been borne out by the discoveries of the last twenty years. The mathematicians never envisioned that modular genetic switches held the key to pattern formation, or that the periodic patterns we see are actually the composite of numerous individual elements. (Emphasis Added).
We find that Behe not only deleted the first half of the sentence, but also did not provide an ellipsis to indicate that something had been cut.
It is easy to see why he would do that. The first half of the sentence makes it clear that it was not straightforward reasoning from Darwinian theory that led mathematicians astray in this case. Rather, it was an inadequate, 1950’s view of embryology that led to the error. This becomes especially clear when you look at the Turing paper Carroll mentions. The paper has nothing to do with Darwinism or even with evolution. It is actually a valiant attempt, from a time when little was known about the details of embryological development, to devise a mathematical model for the process of morphogenesis. It was various principles of physics and chemistry that led Turing to his model, not Darwinism.
How about that second quote? That comes from page 318, in the notes to Carroll’s book. He is fleshing out his earlier statement about how certain theoreticians were led astray by pretty mathematics. Just prior to the quote Behe cites, Carroll provided three examples of recent scientists following in Turing’s footsteps by providing computational models of pattern formation in nature. The three scientists? S. Kauffman, P. Ball, and S. Wolfram. After mentioning books written by these people, Carroll makes his statement about the continuing error of such approaches.
Since Behe is keen to argue that these folks represent the error and confusion that arises when people think in Darwinian terms, it seems only reasonable to point out that none of these gentleman has an especially high opinion of Neo-Darwinism. Kauffman and Ball are more interested in carving out a niche for the idea of self-organization in evolution, while Wolfram holds certain outre views about the importance of cellular automata. None of them was led astray by an adherence to Darwinian principles. Just the opposite, actually.
So let’s take stock. Behe deleted part of a sentence and gave no indication that he had done so. By doctoring the sentence in this way he removed crucial context that directly contradicts his explanation of the statement’s importance. He presented a second quotation, which described errors made by people arguing from a non-Darwinian perspective, as if they were errors made in applications of Darwinian theory.
Not a bad haul for one bullet point. Anyone want to guess what we’ll find if we look into the others?