Behe Rejects Evolution by the Numbers

You may have seen the news about some interesting work done by Herbert Wilf and and Warren Ewens of the University of Pennsylvania. Their work is described in this article at the university’s website: New Penn Mathematics Research Proves There’s Plenty of Time for Evolution.

One excerpt will tell you what they’ve done, and the results are not surprising:

A new mathematical model developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has offered even more evidence of the correctness of evolutionary theory.

Herbert Wilf, Penn’s Thomas A. Scott Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, and Warren Ewens, emeritus professor of biology, say their model directly challenges the long-standing contention among some doubters that evolution couldn’t have happened because the small changes in species outlined by the theory simply would have taken too much time to be completed.

Their works shows that, under a very reasonable model of mutations and natural selection, the time required to evolve a very complex organism is vastly smaller than might be presumed. As a result, the idea that evolution would require “too much time” to be true is proved false.

Here’s a link to the abstract of their published paper: There’s plenty of time for evolution.

As you can imagine, creationists are very unhappy about this — especially the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

At the Discoveroids’ creationist blog they have an article by Michael Behe: Methinks New PNAS Paper Is Like a Weasel. If you don’t know who Behe is, the next indented paragraph will inform you:

Michael Behe is a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, and the author of “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution,” which makes him the lord high guru of the cult of irreducible complexity. His colleagues at Lehigh — from which he’s never been Expelled! — are so impressed by his brilliance that they have publicly disassociated themselves from him by issuing this statement: Department Position on Evolution and “Intelligent Design”. To read about Behe’s disastrous testimony in the Dover litigation, see: Kitzmiller v. Dover: Michael Behe’s Testimony.

Okay, that’s what we’re dealing with. One excerpt from the Discoveroid blog should give you the essence of Behe’s brilliant critique. He says, with bold font added by us:

But this is no more than a mathematized version of Richard Dawkins’ “Methinks it is like a weasel” analogy published in his classic 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, where a string of letters is compared to that phrase in Dawkins’ computer’s memory, the letters that match are kept, and the ones that don’t are randomly replaced until all letters match.

You can read about Dawkins’ “weasel” program here: Dawkins’ weasel. Wikipedia points out that it was criticized by creationists as being an unreal representation of evolution, and Dawkins responded by saying that:

[T]he program was never intended to model biological evolution accurately, and that he very specifically described it as an artificial selection process from the outset … . It was only meant to demonstrate the power of cumulative selection as compared to random selection, and show the complete unrealism of the popular notion of natural selection as “monkeys pounding on typewriters”.

That old criticism is the same thing that Behe is blogging about today, and Dawkins’ response is as appropriate now as it ever was — that is, it’s very appropriate.

What Wilf and Ewens have done is to use mathematical rigor to demonstrate what Dawkins’ weasel program demonstrates. It’s very good that they’ve done this, but the point they make is nothing new. We’ve always known that the objections of creationists are totally absurd.

In fact, your humble Curmudgeon once attempted to explain in words what Dawkins did with his weasel program, and what Wilf and Ewens have now done with mathematics. Our feeble effort is here: The Inevitability of Evolution (Part III).

Anyway, Behe dismisses all of that and insists that evolution isn’t possible without the invisible and unevidenced interventions of the Discoveroids’ magical mystery designer. Actually, Behe’s got to be right. If he’s not, then he has squandered his education, destroyed his reputation, and wasted his life.

Update: See Answers in Genesis: Dawkins’ Weasel, Aliens, etc.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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9 responses to “Behe Rejects Evolution by the Numbers

  1. GreatGungHolio

    I prefer a visual evolution model like ‘Conway’s Game of Life’ that show how simple rules and random distributions of particles can create ‘lifeforms’ which, from a distance, appear to be alive.
    Are there any other evolution simulations available ?- (Im too lazy to look)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conways_Game_of_Life

  2. So Behe doesn’t say why Wilf and Ewens is wrong, only that they are.

    He must have stomped his foot when he saw the article and whined “Is not! Is not!” until his co-workers calmed him down. Poor guy. It’s hard to take it when real grown-up scientists and mathematicians disagree with you.

  3. Once again it’s Behe who’s the lying weasel.

    Behe says that the letters that “match are kept.” Behe knows this is wrong and he deliberately writes it anyway because if he didn’t lie then he would have even less of a tissue to stand on.

    Creationists like Behe have been yammering about Dawkins’ Weasel program “latching” letters for years. Even when they are showed the code where it’s obvious that letters are not “latched” or kept, they claim, well, the program is doing implicit latching.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong! What happens is that the string of letters that most closely matches the target phrase, however slightly, is chosen, let’s say “selected” to reproduce to the next generation, suffering random mutations along the way.

    If you watch a video of Weasel running it’s plainly obvious that letters are not kept nor latched because “correct letters” occasionally mutate.

    Lying creationists like Behe have to propagate the blatant falsehood that the program is somehow biased, or pulling a fast one, by “latching” otherwise their rejection of the action of natural selection is baseless. Behe’s behavior is worse than mere buffoonery, it’s downright disgusting.

  4. Well, there is a valid criticism in that “Weasel” has a target sentence chosen by the programmer, but as Dawkins said that’s not the point of the exercise.

  5. Gabriel Hanna says:

    Well, there is a valid criticism in that “Weasel” has a target sentence chosen by the programmer …

    That’s not much of a criticism if the “weasel” program is thought of as a demonstration of how some already known feature could have evolved, in spite of the creationists’ insistence that it’s a statistical impossibility.

  6. Well, there is a valid criticism in that “Weasel” has a target sentence chosen by the programmer, but as Dawkins said that’s not the point of the exercise.

    That is not a valid criticism. Think for a second. OK, time’s up.

    What would the program do if it didn’t have a target sentence?

    By your logic, GH old buddy, a program that has an “Exit” button cheats because it doesn’t know when you want to exit.

    But, as you tried to recover, the point of the program is to demonstrate how selection works. So, how can you have your pudding if you don’t eat your meat????

  7. “Well, there is a valid criticism in that “Weasel” has a target sentence chosen by the programmer …”

    It’s a valid criticism only from the perspective that evolution does not have a specific target, only a gradient of “fitness”. Evolution climbs up that gradient quite nicely, but it doesn’t know where it is going.

    I have only skimmed the abstract, but if anything Wilf and Ewens have understated the case, because evolution operates in parallel, as our own Curmudgeon so elegantly points out in the final link above.
    I get terribly jealous every time I read that post, because I tried to write about the same thing once, but Curmie did it first, and better. Rats! :-)

  8. I just re-read the comments in “The inevitability of Evolution (Part III),
    and the comment from CJYman:

    Also, you are aware that the efficiency of an evolutionary algorithm is directly related to problem specific information incorporated into the very design of the algorithm.

    Bull … frogs. This is a reference to “front loading”, and the same criticism of the targeted Weasel algorithm above.
    Again, evolution doesn’t know the target, it just searches for greater fitness.

  9. Tomato Addict says:

    I get terribly jealous every time I read that post …

    But you can take comfort in knowing that I wasn’t paid for it. It’s all part of the Curmudgeonly service.