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Friday, November 02, 2007

Mike Behe and bad design

Blogs for books at Amazon are great! I just wanted to draw your attention to Mike Behe's Edge of Evolution blog, where he tackles the problem of "evil design", in connection with the writings of Christian Darwinist Ken Miller:

Behe, a fellow Catholic, has the same problem I do. One of the shell games that I had to learn to detect when I first started covering this beat, while writing By Design or by Chance?, was the "Christian evolution" demand that we "Leave God out of it!"

As in "Surely no Creator would ..."

Hey, wait a minute! Weren't we supposed to leave God ... out ... of ... ?

Well, it turned out that you could drag God into it, as long as you were saying that He isn't responsible for the way things are. Itall just sort of happened, see. Nonetheless, he is the Lord of Creation?

Shell game city.

Anyway, Behe says,
So, how to respond to such a position? The first thing to say is that it’s very hard to see how the Miller/Ayala position gets God off the hook. The “byproducts of a fruitful and creative [Darwinian] natural world” that Miller alludes to are not simply byproducts — they are deadly, dangerous, vicious byproducts. No matter if malaria were designed directly by God or indirectly by a sloppy process He put in motion, many children of mothers in malarious regions of Africa are going to be just as dead. There is going to be as much suffering in the world one way as the other.

Which reminds me: Until I had read George Hunter's Science's Blind Spot, I didn't really "get" the point of view of the "Christian Darwinists." Why would Christians, of all people, want to claim that there is absolutely no evidence for design in nature? So people should believe in God without any evidence at all? Hunter makes a persuasive case that they are mainly interested in getting God of the hook for whatever is wrong with the world. As if.

I figure God can take care of himself.

By the way, also check out our great author blog at The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper One, 2007) where we put links to multimedia resources around the book.

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The lazy paddlefish could have hands, feet - but never got round to it?

Fellow hack David Warren draws my attention to a paper earlier this year in Nature, according to which,
Long before animals with limbs (tetrapods) came onto the scene about 365 million years ago, fish already possessed the genes associated with helping to grow hands and feet (autopods) report University of Chicago researchers in the May 24, 2007, issue of Nature.

Paddlefish? Hmmmm.
Instead of using zebrafish—the hallmark animal for laboratory development studies—the scientists used paddlefish as a proxy for a more primitive ancestor. Unlike the simple fins of zebrafish, paddlefish have an elaborate fin skeletal pattern similar to that seen in more primitive vertebrates such as sharks and many fossil fish. This sturgeon-type fish is farm raised for caviar, which gives scientists relatively easy access to the animal for study.

[ ... ]

Tetrapods have a second phase of Hox gene expression that happens later in development. During this second phase, hands and feet develop. Although this second phase is not known in zebrafish, the scientists found that it is present in paddlefish, which reveals that a pattern of gene activity long thought to be unique to vertebrates with hands and feet is in fact much more primitive.

Warren comments,
So this fish walks into a bar ...

Owing to the complete non-evolution of certain species, such as the American paddlefish, over very long periods, such as hundreds of millions of years, we are today able to do genetic soundings on "living fossils," & by proxy look into that evolutionary bag of tricks, just as if we could travel back through time. Amazing what we find (as ever)!

In the case of the paddlefish -- an entirely submerged creature, that has never even dreamed of stepping out of the water (it is a big lake & slow-river fish, with a great spoonbill, that makes good eating both flesh & roe) -- we find a complete "second phase" genetic tool-kit for growing limbs, that it has never got around to using. (Even though it could probably use that kit now, to step around a few man-made dams when spawning.) That is to say, it could keep its fins, & walk out of the water, at any old time of God's choosing.

Now this is fun. We have reached a point in the evolution of our own knowledge of biology -- e.g. current genetics, & molecular biology -- where we can actually establish that things happened in the wrong order. I mean, wrong, nonsensical, according to all the biology textbooks & all those contrived, "pious fraud" exhibits at the Smithsonian & other natural history museums, designed to impress small children & the mentally retarded. Not wrong in any philosophical sense.

Example: fish did not develop arms & legs after leaving the water, & while slithering about haplessly in the mud, wheezing & lunging for food supplies to which they were not yet adapted. They developed arms & legs BEFORE leaving the water &, I daresay, made their exit graciously.

There's something bigger happening here, that is going to disturb all the phylogenetic chronologies. We have built the entire "tree of life" on the Darwinist assumption of increasing complexity. That was perfectly plausible, & it is easy to understand why, even without Darwinism, we would have done that. If you have three obviously related creatures, & two have a feature that the third lacks, we call the third creature the most primitive, & assume it evolved earlier. But as Dr Marcus Davis & colleagues at the University of Chicago, & many others are beginning to demonstrate, that wasn't a safe bet.

And he acknowledges Michael Behe too:
I am only beginning to grasp that Michael Behe's "black box" arguments are more powerful than first appeared. (At first glance they were overwhelmingly powerful.) For ID arguments from irreducible complexity will work even better on the reconstructed genetic sequence than prima facie on the contemporary evidence -- i.e. in circumstances where the complexities of the past lead to the simplicities of the present.

More broadly, it begins to appear -- indeed, it is already obvious from the genomic studies -- that all of God's animals are carrying design plans for a vast range of possible creatures elaborately different from themselves, so that the turn-of-the-last-century speculation of that Dutchman, De Vries -- that speciation must happen by sudden complete mutational twists -- must begin to look a hell of a lot more plausible than the natural-selective gradualism the Darwinoids decreed. (And which has never overcome the missing-links objection: a perfect sesquicentennial track record of total failure.)

This does not disprove Darwinism, of course. Because Darwinism has consistently avoided proposing anything that could be falsifiable, over 150 years, it is not science, & it can never be disproved. Given its use today as the cosmological component of a dark atheistical public religion, it will just have to be ridiculed to death.

Yes, well, maybe the Expelled movie will help.

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