Saturday, June 09, 2007

Wheels off the wagon ...

"Here's something to ponder long and hard: Malaria was intentionally designed. The molecular machinery with which the parasite invades red blood cells is an exquisitely purposeful arrangement of parts."

The above is from a new book called "The Edge of Evolution" by creationist and tenured Lehigh University biochemistry professor Michael Behe.

In this new book, Behe claims that because the tiny parasite which causes malaria has such an "exquisitely purposeful arrangement of parts" it must have been designed by a Designer ... err ... God ... err ... Someone Big.

Oddly, Mr. Behe asserts the recent appearance of highly drug resistant malaria is not due to the hand of God, but is due to good old Darwinian evolution.

Apparently, according to Behe, evolution can only improve upon the diseases and scourges devised and approved by the Grand Old Plaguemaker himself.

Shorter Behe: Evolution can explain observed differences within a species, but cannot explain how one species could evolve into another species.

This is like saying that the laws of physics can explain the observed differences within various sedimentary rocks but cannot explain how a sedimentary rock could become a metamorphic rock.

It's really that stupid.

As shown by the title of his book, "Edge of Evolution," Behe argues that evolution is a "weak force" that only goes so far -- and not far enough to explain the origin and diversity of life on Earth. Something else is needed to explain that, but Behe never says what it is, except to evasively say it is "something" other than known, natural forces. Yawn.

Behe admits that evolution can fully explain the ability of malaria to become resistant to a drug, chloroquinone, but then says evolution cannot explain how the little animal that causes malaria, Plasmodium, evolved in the first place.

This is yet another iteration of Behe's 'irreducible complexity' idea, that things in nature seem so perfectly fitted and planned out that they can have no explanation except being the Creation of an Intelligent, Overseeing, Planning Something or Other.

Mr. Behe starts and ends with a circular argument, ie. that the proven fact the Plasmodium parasite is very adept at invading and living in human red blood cells is proof that "someone" designed it just for that purpose.

Let's leave aside that the "Designer" of malaria must really hate human beings, given the unique, long-term and special type of suffering that malaria causes afflicted humans.

Mr. Behe fails to consider the alternate explanation:

Parasites that are really crappy at parasitizing go extinct very quickly.

Obviously, the only parasites that can exist are those "exquisitely" arranged to parasitize an organism.

If wood ticks, for example, were not "exquisitely" arranged to be able to gather and use animal blood as food, they wouldn't be very successful at being wood ticks. In fact, they wouldn't be wood ticks. They would be extinct or would be something other than a wood tick.

The same could be said for all specialist organisms. Mr. Behe is like a guy who smoked his first joint of marijuana and suddenly finds everything to be utterly amazing and unbelievable.

Did you ever look at your hand. I mean, really look at it ?

Behe tries to play "gotchya" and ends up getting got. While admitting to the clear physical evidence that natural genetic mutations in the Plasmodium parasite have recently created a drug resistant strain of malaria, Behe tries to simultaneously argue that this same process is so "rare" in real life that this same process could not have also created the various species of the Earth, including the malaria parasite itself.

As noted by others, both the mathematical and genetic premises of Behe's specific, probabilistic malaria argument are refuted by numerous lines of independent and detailed evidence.

But the real problem with Behe's claim is that it does an excellent job of refuting itself and the entire Creationist Canard. Talk about shooting one's cause in the foot, and the gut just to make sure it's not just a flesh wound.

Behe concedes that natural mutations and selection pressure alone are sufficient to create a new and highly drug resistant variety of the parasitic animal that causes malaria. Behe has to concede this fact because the specific mutations have been physically observed and documented by geneticists. So Behe has to admit that random, periodic natural genetic mutations alone can transform a malaria parasite that is killed by chloroquinone into a malaria parasite that can survive it.

Now think of it. A tiny organism (Plasmodium) that can "make itself" immune to a sophisticated drug (chloroquinone) has performed quite a remarkable feat, especially when it has no brain and no "idea" what it is doing. In fact, little Plasmodium has prevented its own extinction in just a few decades. Not bad for a microscopic parasite without a degree in advanced medicine.

Behe admits that regular, Darwinian evolution has done this. But he then argues that this same process is so "weak" that it could never create a new species. Only an Intelligent Designer could do that.

Which brings us to dogs. The selective breeding of dogs is commonplace and is due to regular evolutionary processes. Even Behe would admit that a dog breeder doesn't just "pray to God" that the next batch of Labrador Retriever puppies will be Labs instead of poodles or Great Danes.

Without Darwinian evolution the selective breeding of dogs would be impossible. It would be impossible for a dog breeder to select for certain features (long ears, short nose, etc. ) and have any assurance of the desired result. Without Darwinian evolution, dog breeding would be totally random and uncontrollable. Two Saint Bernards mating could just as easily produce a litter of chihuahas as a litter of Saint Bernards.

Behe tries to claim there is an unclimbable, inpenetrable wall between the type of Darwinian evolution that can turn a wild gray wolf into a Saint Bernard, poodle or a chihuaha through repeated selective breeding -- and the force necessary to create a true "species."

Here's why this makes no sense.

In his book "The Ancestor's Tale", Richard Dawkins tells of two European grasshopper species which do not interbreed in the wild (the key definition of speciation) but have been induced to interbreed in captivity.These two grasshopper species are physiologically capable of accepting each others' sperm and egg and making viable babies. But, in the wild, they never do. Why ?

Mating calls. Each species has a different mating call. The female of grasshopper species A will not respond or mate with a male of grasshopper species B even though, physiologically, the two could mate and produce viable offspring. As such, in the wild, the two grasshopper species never interbreed -- even though they are perfectly capable of doing so. As Dawkins correctly notes, groups of animals that do not and will not interbreed with each other solely due to behavioral reasons meet the 'species' definition just as much as if there were a geographic or other physical barrier preventing interbreeding.

The female chihuaha - male Saint Bernard dilemma is even more profound than Dawkins' grasshopper example because in a physiological sense it is probably impossible for a female chihuaha to survive mating, impregnation and birth with a male Saint Bernard.

If not for our intimate knowledge of their domesticated roots, no intelligent human would ever claim that a chihuaha and a Saint Bernard are the same species. Nobody would claim that a female and male of the two dogs could successfully have offspring without massive human medical intervention.

But we know that, genetically, Saint Bernards and chihuaha are exactly the same species. They are Canis lupis, the gray wolf, with body shapes and sizes radically altered by selective breeding. So radically altered that interbreeding is now virtually impossible. And unlike the grasshoppers, it is impossible even if the female and male wanted to.

Dog breeds are now so specialized and domesticated that few if any can survive in the wild and give birth to offspring that can also survive in the wild. If all of the domesticated dogs of the world were turned out of their human homes and forced to fend completely for themselves, they would all quickly go extinct. There is no record of domesticated dogs successfully reverting to fully wild animals. This means that selective breeding, directed by humans, has alone been sufficient to create a new species of dogs, ie. animal which can no longer interbreed with their own wild selves. This is the definition of species.

Evolution makes no distinction between "artificial" selection and "natural" selection, any more than gravity makes a distinction between you falling off the Empire State Building or the edge of the Grand Canyon.

What Behe tries to do is create a false separation between well known Darwinian selection in domestic animals and disease resistance and the exact same processes in the "wild."

Dog breeders don't clasp Rosary beads and pray for a St. Bernard instead of a Pekinese. A malevolent God or Designer did not suddenly in 1971 tweak His malaria parasite so it could survive a dose of chloroquinone.

In the end then, the core of Behe's argument is that the delta of sand you see today forming at the mouth of a river could not possibly be the same mechanism that created sandstone at the mouth of an ancient river, and therefore, that all sandstone must have been made from whole cloth by a "Designer."

It is really that retarded.


C said...

wow dood yur smart*

*Seriously - interesting stuff. I'll hve to come back when I'm better able to absorb all this.

Culture of Tr√úth said...

sorry that wuz me

Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate that such an argument even warrants your articulate refutation. As Sagan said in the first episode of Cosmos "Evolution is a fact. It really happened."