Thursday, July 12, 2007

Michael Behe Responds to Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne on Dog Breeding

Related to my last two posts, here is Michael Behe in his own words on Richard Dawkins' ridiculous dog breeding example:


Finally, I note that Behe’s “response” completely ignores two devastating criticisms of his “scientific” theory. First, as both Dawkins and I point out, if random mutations can’t build complexity, how can they possibly have been so effective in artificial selection of plants and animals?


Because, of course, the genomes of many plants and animals already contain much developmental plasticity. Turning some existing genes or regulatory elements on or off, or tuning them up or down, or changing them slightly by simple, single mutations, can certainly affect the shapes and other properties of organisms somewhat. Artificial selection for such variants can easily explain dog breeds and such, as I noted in Chapter 9. But of course that begs the question of where the complex systems controlling the organisms’ development came from.

Now, was that really supposed to be a “devastating” criticism of my argument? Frankly, I’m a bit perplexed by this line of reply from Coyne and Dawkins. In The Edge of Evolution, and in Darwin’s Black Box before it, I strongly emphasized that modern biology shows us that life is built upon intricate molecular systems, and that to understand the limits of random mutation and thus Darwin’s theory, we have to concentrate our attention on the molecular level. I readily said that answers to questions about animal shape and other macrobiological properties would have to await elucidation of the molecular underpinnings of those properties. In The Edge of Evolution I argued that some biological levels (down to vertebrate class) could not be explained by Darwinism, but I based my argument entirely on advances in our knowledge of the complexity of the molecular developmental systems underpinning them. Even though I suspect Darwinism is also ineffective at lower biological levels, I stopped at the level of vertebrate class because, as I wrote, “at this point our reliable molecular data runs out, so a reasonably firm answer will have to await further research.”

It does not engage my argument, then, for Professors Coyne and Dawkins simply to point out that varieties of dogs come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. To actually engage my argument, a reviewer has to argue from molecular properties.

On that Amazon blog, Behe has more responses to Coyne and other critics. Go ahead and buy his book while you are there.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Proposed Dog Experiment

As a follow up to my last post on Richard Dawkins, Michael Behe and dog breeding, I propose an experiment to see what random mutation and natural selection can do. Let's take 1000 domesticated dogs of all different breeds and put them in an enclosed space (perhaps Richard Dawkins would volunteer his home and backyard?) and let them breed naturally for 20 years. My prediction: we would end up with a lot of very similar looking mutts. Natural selection would do away with all the remarkable variety that so delighted Dawkins.

Next experiment: same as above, but put them in an enclosed but natural environment and put in 1000 wolves with the 1000 domesticated dogs. My prediction? 1000 dead mutts. 1000 well fed wolves.

Well, perhaps I exagerate. For a while, you might also have some very shell-shocked Pekingese bitches giving birth to some very wolf looking pups.

Viva natural selection!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Richard Dawkins Tries to Refute Behe With Dog Breeding

I was astounded to read Richard Dawkins' attempt at a review of Michael Behe's most recent book. It is not much of an attempt. It is more of an attempt at personal ridicule.

In any case, Dawkins actually pulls out intentional dog breeding as an argument to refute Behe:

Now, if you sought an experimental test of Behe’s theory, what would you do? 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? Behe has to predict that you’d wait till hell freezes over, but the necessary mutations would not be forthcoming. Your wolves would stubbornly remain unchanged. Dogs are a mathematical impossibility.

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

That last line is an attempt to anticipate the obvious response- dog breeding is not natural selection but is an excellent example of intelligent design. Dog breeding works because you have human dog breeders selecting the dogs for breeding.

More importantly, even with intentional selection, you only end up with dogs and more dogs- all the same species. This is microevolution, which is well established and is not controversial. Dog breeding is actually an example of the inherent limits to variation, even with human input.

In any case, Dawkins argument is blatantly fallacious, and embarrassingly so. The fact that Dawkins has to resort to such a bad argument should tell you that he does not have any really good arguments to use instead. "Bad arguments" continue and continue and continue to convince me.

No one denies variation within species. The question is whether random mutation and natural selection can produce all the varieties of species, families, orders and phyla that we see around us. Intentional, controlled dog breeding does not tell us. Suggesting that it does is misleading at best.