|Keneth R. Miller|
Professor Kenneth R Miller is an evolutionary biologist and expert in molecular biology and cell membranes. He is also a Roman Catholic who has written boks such as Finding Darwin's God trying to show that evolution is compatible with belief in the Christian god. He also profoundly disagrees with the notion of 'Intelligent Design' as promulgated by fellow Roman Catholic, Michael J. Behe and the Discovery Institute.
The Discovery Institute was set up with the aim of using the Theory of Evolution, which many Americans find distasteful because it doesn't make them feel important enough, to undermine science as a prelude to subverting the secular US Constitution and installing a fundamentalist Christian, Taliban-style Levitican theocracy in America and elsewhere. Behe is a leading light in this disinformation campaign and concentrates particularly on misrepresenting evolutionary biology.
Miller's oposition to Behe and the Discovery Institute has made him a particular target of the antisciencers who are continually demanding he apologise for disagreeing with Behe and pointing out the misrepresentations of science, glaringly bad mathematics and false conclusions in his 2007 book, The Edge of Evolution, in which Behe tries to bamboozle his readers into thinking Darwinian evolution is mathematically impossible.
Whilst I could easily take issue with Miller on the subject of the [in]compatibility of evolution and belief in a god, his response to Behe's demands for an apology is devastating to the Discovery Institute and exposes the dishonesty and deceptions Behe uses in his book, and which he continues to use despite them having been pointed out by numerous critics, just as he did with his infamous Darwin's Black Box. Remember, Behe is a professional biochemist and presents himself as an expert biologist and an expert in the field of evolutionary theory, so there can be no excuse for the basic misrepresentations and mathematical error in his book. These are not the mistakes of an ignorant simpleton but the deliberate misrepresentations of a charlatan.
Suppose you published a book making a set of very specific claims. Then, after highly critical reviews of your book are published in major scientific journals, an international research team publishes a detailed study in the Proceedings of the National Academy (PNAS)[*] on the very system that was the focus of your book. Great news? Well, maybe, except for one little problem. That research paper shows, in great detail, why the claims at the heart of your book were wrong. Do you walk away quietly, hoping no one notices?
Not if you're Michael Behe. Instead, you declare victory, tell everyone who will listen that the research actually vindicates you, and then get your friends at the Discovery Institute to demand apologies from those who had criticized your book. In the strange world of "intelligent design" (ID), that’s how things seem to work. When new scientific findings support evolution, the ID crowd tries to spin things around by pretending they actually contradict it. They've done this before, and they'll probably do it again.
*The PNAS paper referred to is Robert L. Summers. et al.; Diverse mutational pathways converge on saturable chloroquine transport via the malaria parasite’s chloroquine resistance transporter; PNAS April 29, 2014 vol. 111 no. 17 E1759-E1767 doi:10.1073/pnas.1322965111.
|Michael J. Behe|
He had estimated that the probability of a single mutation required for the 'chloroquine complexity cluster' (CCC) was 1:1020. He then took that number and used it to claim that the probability of two mutations in the 'CCC' arising were 1:(1020 x 1020) or 1:1040. By doing this for each mutation he quickly arrived at a position where the probability of the 'CCC' arising by random chance mutation would require far more cells than the entire number of cells ever produced in the history of life on Earth.
Behe thus concludes that the probability of chloroquine resistance arising by mutation is for all practical purposes impossible and then extends this principle for all other situations where multiple mutations are involved (i.e., the whole of biology) and then plays the false dichotomy fallacy of claiming the only alternative explanation is that life must have been intelligently designed - and by implication, it must have been the Christian god who did it as described in the Bronze Age myths in the Bible.
Behe also falsely claims that a single mutation would always be "strongly deleterious" so would be quickly eliminated from the gene pool, so any accumulative effects of natural selection can be disregarded.
But Behe was dead wrong about it being "strongly deleterious." In fact, it seems to have no effect on transport activity at all. A neutral mutation like this can easily propagate through a population, and field studies of the parasite confirm that is exactly what has happened. In fact, a 2003 study recommended against using the K76T mutation to test for chloroquine resistance since that same mutation was also found in 96% of patients who responded well to chloroquine. Clearly, K76T wouldn't have become so widespread if it were indeed "strongly deleterious," as Behe states it must be. This is a critical point, since Behe’s probability arguments depend on this incorrect claim.
The problem is, as Miller and other critics point out, and as the PNS paper by Summers, et al, shows, that's not how Darwinian evolution works in respect of chloroquine resistance and the claim that a single mutation would always be deleterious is blatantly false and refuted by the evidence that it is commonplace in the gene pool and has no detectable deleterious effect on cell viability. Behe must know now that this claim is false and yet he continues to rely on it when he promotes his book and presents his arguments to audiences of creationists eager to be duped. Obviously, he feels the Ninth Commandment forbidding Christians from bearing false witness either doesn't apply to him or doesn't apply when he is pushing his god on people or pursuing a political objective. Maybe it's just too far down the list to be bothered with.
What Behe is misrepresenting here, in addition to the truth about the effects of a single mutation, is the basic fundamental of neo-Darwinian evolution. It is not necessary for several mutations to occur simultaneously, so multiplying their individual probabilities together to arrive at a single probability of them all occurring simultaneously is a fallacy and misrepresents both the science and the mathematics. To calculate the probability of two mutations being present over time in the same cell it is only necessary to calculate the probability of the second mutation since the two probabilities are independent of one another and both mutations can spread through the population by genetic drift alone.
Behe's argument depends on his dupes falling for the absurd argument that, for any 'complex' of mutations to arise, all mutations must arise simultaneously in a single cell, and that this is what the TOE requires. It's a form of the infantile parody so beloved of creationist frauds that evolution theory requires an entirely new species to arise in a single instance of multiple, simultaneous mutations.
Behe is also relying on an assumption that the outcome of an evolutionary process is deterministic, i.e. that there was a plan to produce a particular outcome and that the outcome could only have happened in a particular sequence. What he is doing here is the equivalent of calculating the probability of a hand of cards being dealt by multiplying the probability of each particular card being dealt in that order and concluding that dealing a hand of cards is as near impossible as makes no difference. Of course, it's almost impossible to randomly deal a pre-determined hand of cards, but it is simplicity itself to deal any hand.
|Pathways to Chloroquine resistance in Plasmodium; Summers, et al.|
Behe obtains his probabilities by considering each mutation as an independent event, ruling out any role for cumulative selection, and requiring evolution to achieve an exact, predetermined result. Not only are each of these conditions unrealistic, but they do not apply even in the case of his chosen example. First, he overlooks the existence of chloroquine resistant strains of malaria lacking one of the mutations he claims to be essential (at position 220). This matters, because it shows that there are several mutational routes to effective drug resistance. Second, and more importantly, Behe waves away evidence suggesting that chloroquine resistance may be the result of sequential, not simultaneous, mutations.
Behe, incredibly, thinks he has determined the odds of a mutation "of the same complexity" occurring in the human line. He hasn’t. What he has actually done is to determine the odds of these two exact mutations occurring simultaneously at precisely the same position in exactly the same gene in a single individual. He then leads his unsuspecting readers to believe that this spurious calculation is a hard and fast statistical barrier to the accumulation of enough variation to drive darwinian evolution.
It would be difficult to imagine a more breathtaking abuse of statistical genetics.
In reply to his critics, Behe (and of course the dutiful PR people at the Discovery Institute) continue to claim that all the criticism of his book was focussed on the probability of a single mutation arising being 1:1020 whereas it was in fact all about the way he had misrepresented Darwinian accumulation and so used fallacious mathematics in multiplying these improbabilities together to arrive at de facto impossibility; in other words, how he had misrepresented the science and so mislead his readers. It actually matters not one jot to that argument whether Behe had plucked 1:1020, 1:1015 or 1:1010 out of thin air to arrive at his desired conclusion of practical impossibility.
The following is from a letter from the molecular biologist Joe Thornton, now at the University of Chicago, to Carl Zimmer in response the Behe's claim that his work provides "More Strong Experimental Support for a Limit to Darwinian Evolution." Behe has made a habit of misrepresenting Thornton's work:
A path to a new function that involves neutral intermediates is entirely accessible to the evolutionary processes of mutation, drift, and selection. Our work showed that these classic neodarwinian processes are entirely adequate to explain the evolution of GR's new function.
Behe erroneously equates "evolving non-deterministically" with "impossible to evolve." He supposes that if each of a set of specific evolutionary outcomes has a low probability, then none will evolve. This is like saying that, because the probability was vanishingly small that the 1996 Yankees would finish 92-70 with 871 runs scored and 787 allowed and then win the World Series in six games over Atlanta, the fact that all this occurred means it must have been willed by God.
Behe’s argument has no scientific merit. It is based on a misunderstanding of the fundamental processes of molecular evolution and a failure to appreciate the nature of probability itself. There is no scientific controversy about whether natural processes can drive the evolution of complex proteins. The work of my research group should not be misinterpreted by those who would like to pretend that there is.
The degree to which Behe and the Discovery Institute rely on the scientific (and in this case statistical) illiteracy of their target audience can be gauged from the fact that Behe's book was acclaimed throughout the creationist and Christian fundamentalist community despite being panned by the evolutionary biologist and general scientific community and despite these blatant, and transparent to anyone who understands these subjects, falsehoods, misrepresentations and downright lies.
The fact that the Discovery Institute and its cabal of pseudoscientists know they need to use these techniques on their victims is indicative of the fact that there is a hidden agenda and one which depends on consciously and deliberately misleading people about evolutionary biology in particular and about science in general. This shows that Behe and his ilk believe that science, and particularly evolutionary biology, are incompatible with belief in gods. This is probably the only thing on which we would agree.
And what seems to have been lost in all this by Behe's creationist dupes is that he is actually saying that his god deliberately gave the malaria parasite resistance to a drug used to combat it. Malaria kills or severely restricts the life of millions of people every year, most of them children. Behe has his supposedly loving and compassionate god, who supposedly created mankind as his special creation in a Universe it had created specifically for somewhere for his special creation to live, actually siding with the malaria parasite in its arms race against human science and medical progress.
In Darwin's Black Box, Behe similarly argued that the flagellum of E. coli, which helps it make humans sick and die, must have been intentionally designed by his imaginary magic friend because he couldn't think how else it arose.
Nowhere does Behe or the Discovery Institute explain how their god siding with a parasite against humans is compatible with their sacred holy book, the Bible.