P.Z. Myers has a very helpful post up explaining the biological details behind the Michael Behe quote mine I reported on here. Basically, Behe’s treatment of the subject was even worse than I realized. Recall that Behe was arguing that straightforward reasoning from Darwinian principles led certain mathematicians astray in resolving problems related to morphogenesis. Myers replies as follows:
But there are other problems with Behe’s claim. What he’s about to explain are not “basic features of life”, but the specifics of metazoan pattern formation. We know already that there are multiple ways you can generate patterns in an organism; the “mistake” we saw made was that developmental biologists sensibly proposed the simplest explanation first, as wise old Ockham would have instructed us, and discarded that as more complications were discovered.
Another error by Behe: these were not ideas derived from “Darwin’s theory”. Darwin’s theory was a general description of how organisms evolved. He did not know anything about genes, morphogens, reaction-diffusion models, computers, or any of the concepts used in this kind of work.
And finally, the early conclusions were not opposite biological reality. The early modeling is still useful and can be used to explain what’s going on in, for instance, vertebrates; it simply turned out that the animal model used in early investigations of the molecular basis of pattern formation, Drosophila, is highly derived and has acquired some very specific, hard-coded regulatory elements on top of a general principle.
I have occasionally commented that one of the reasons I spend so much time pondering creationist claims is that I learn lots of real science by researching their errors. P.Z.’s post is a useful reminder of that fact:
Mathematicians weren’t “fooled”. They were trying to model how, for instance, a chemical gradient could be transformed into a reiterating pattern of specific activation of other chemicals. It was good stuff; read some of Hans Meinhardt’s modeling work, for instance, which was very useful in explaining patterns of gene activation, once the genes had been identified. It was also not just free-floating speculation with a computer–Klaus Sander, as one example, was an excellent experimentalist who postulated the existence of gradients of morphogens from perturbations of embryos before the specific molecular agents were identified.
Go read the whole thing!