Thursday, July 05, 2007

Bluff And Bluster

A response to Dawkins' review of Behe:

Richard Dawkins reviewed Mike Behe’s new book The Edge of Evolution in the June 30 New York Times Book Review. Dawkins offered no surprises. Much of the review was simply a sneer:

I had expected to be as irritated by Michael Behe’s second book as by the first. I had not expected to feel sorry for him…[this] is the book of a man who has given up. Trapped along a false path of his own rather unintelligent design, Behe has left himself no escape. Poster boy of creationists everywhere, he has cut himself off from the world of real science.

Nothing new here. Dawkins uses the standard Darwinist ad-hominem attacks. What’s remarkable about the review is Dawkins’ lack of substantial scientific criticism of Behe’s point in Edge of Evolution. Behe makes the observation that there are limits to the amount of specified complexity that random mutation and natural selection can generate, and that there is reason, based on evidence such as the biochemistry of drug resistance of the malaria parasite, to infer that random mutation and natural selection may be adequate to explain some, but not all, observed biological complexity. It’s a fair and obvious question: how much functional biological complexity can random mutation and natural selection actually generate? Can it account for all of the biological complexity that we actually observe?

Dawkins answers Behe in three ways. First, after the sneers, he quotes Judge John E. Jones’s decision in the Dover case, labeling the Dover citizens’ efforts to discuss intelligent design and to freely criticize Darwin’s theory in schools “breathtaking inanity”. Then he extols biologist Ken Miller’s speculations as to how the bacterial flagellar motor ‘could have’ evolved as offering decisive refutation of Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity. Neither of Dawkins’ answers involves a scientific refutation of Behe.

Finally, Dawkins offers science, and I assume it’s his best shot. He points out that dog breeding provides evidence that mutation rates don’t limit evolutionary change. He cites Jack Russell terriers! We’ll leave aside Dawkins’ highly questionable assumption that the variation with which dog breeders work is primarily the result of new mutations, rather than established variation in the population. In his dog breeding analogy, Dawkins uses a bit of ‘pseudo-Darwinism’, a rhetorical tic in which Darwinists try to defend Darwin’s theory of random variation and natural selection by invoking either non-random variation (bioengineering) or artificial selection (breeding). Dawkins’ invocation of pseudo-Darwinism means one thing: he doesn’t have actual convincing examples of the generation of significant new specified biological complexity by real Darwinism- random mutation and natural selection. Which is Behe’s point.

Dawkins assumes dog breeding is some kind of clincher. Now if breeders could take nothing but chihuahua's and yield an Arctic wolf, then my ears might perk up. But starting with something hardy like the wolf and breeding something scrawny and freakish like a chihuahua, well, not so much.

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