When Discovery Institute fellow Michael Behe decided to publish his book The Edge of Evolution he must have known that people who actually understand the mathematics of mutation would examine his arguments and find them wanting. Perhaps urged on by his masters to feed their demanding public a new pile of steaming squish, he did it anyway, and now the bill has come due. See Richard Dawkins’ review in the New York Times, it’s devastating:
But letâ€™s follow Behe down his solitary garden path and see where his overrating of random mutation leads him. He thinks there are not enough mutations to allow the full range of evolution we observe. There is an â€œedge,â€ beyond which God must step in to help. Selection of random mutation may explain the malarial parasiteâ€™s resistance to chloroquine, but only because such micro-organisms have huge populations and short life cycles. A fortiori, for Behe, evolution of large, complex creatures with smaller populations and longer generations will fail, starved of mutational raw materials.
If mutation, rather than selection, really limited evolutionary change, this should be true for artificial no less than natural selection. Domestic breeding relies upon exactly the same pool of mutational variation as natural selection. Now, if you sought an experimental test of Beheâ€™s theory, what would you do? Youâ€™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: letâ€™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 youâ€™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.
I picture Behe sitting in a corner somewhere wimpering, but his buddy Denyse O’Leary, the ID journalist from Canada, says he “outclasses” Dawkins and calls his dog meditation an “irrelevant riff.” Why would it be irrelevant in a discussion of the size and scope of genetic variation? O’Leary doesn’t say, but her reasoning would probably go something like this: “Behe doesn’t talk about dog breeding!” Indeed he doesn’t, and that’s a big part of his problem.
UPDATE: This post pinged “Uncommon Descent,” the ID blog where O’Leary offered her slapdash opinion of Dawkins’s critique. After reading this post, the admin of Uncommon Descent removed the trackback; I can see this from my referral log. Perhaps the only way IDers will ever win their argument with reality is to stop acknowledging reality. Not that they ever did, poor dears.