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.
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