Nav: Home

Defending Darwin: Scientists respond to attack on evolution

February 11, 2019

Science magazine, the country's top scientific journal, has taken the rare step of publishing criticism of a new book. The book is called Darwin Devolves, and Science says its author, Michael Behe, is on a "crusade to overturn evolution."

The magazine invited three biologists, all experts on evolution, to refute Behe. The biologists are John Jay College Professor Nathan H. Lents, a noted researcher on cell and cancer biology, genetics, and forensic science; Washington University Professor S. Joshua Swamidass, a physician-scientist; and Michigan State Professor Richard E. Lenski, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a past MacArthur "genius" fellow.

Behe, a biochemist, is a leader in the "intelligent design" movement, which contends that living organisms are too complex to have evolved on their own. The claim is cited by some as proof that a supernatural force has designed all living things.

Lents and his colleagues discredit Behe in elaborate detail, noting that he's "selective" in his examples and ignores evidence contradicting his theories. Modern evolutionary theory, the authors write, "provides a coherent set of processes -- mutation, recombination, drift, and selection -- that can be observed in the laboratory and modeled mathematically and are consistent with the fossil record and comparative genomics." In contrast, "Behe's assertion that 'purposeful design' comes from an influx of new genetic information cannot be tested through science."

Darwin Devolves is being released at a time when science in the U.S. is under assault. Unfounded fear of vaccines has led to measles epidemics. Climate change is causing irreversible damage. And the proper teaching of evolutionary science is being undermined by local school boards. By publishing a response to Darwin Devolves in the flagship journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the AAAS is signaling its willingness to call out pseudoscience and defend the facts supported by scientific research.

Behe is known for the notion of "irreducible complexity." He argues that "some biomolecular structures could not have evolved because their functionality requires interacting parts, the removal of any one of which renders the entire apparatus defective," according to the Science article. But Lents and his co-authors explain that "irreducible complexity" is refuted by the evolutionary process of exaptation, in which "the loss of one function can lead to gain of another."

Whales, for example, "lost their ability to walk on land as their front limbs evolved into flippers," but flippers "proved advantageous in the long run." Nature's retooling of a biomolecular structure for a new purpose can lead to "the false impression of irreducible complexity."

Of course, evolutionary theory has been challenged by non-scientific arguments since Charles Darwin published Origin of the Species in 1859. Darwin Devolves continues this pseudoscientific tradition.
-end-
(Originally published Feb. 8 at https://sum.cuny.edu/defending-darwin-scientists-respond-to-attack-on-evolution/)

The City University of New York is the nation's leading urban public university. Founded in New York City in 1847, the University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, and additional professional schools. The University serves nearly 275,000 degree-credit students and 218,083 adults, continuing and professional education students.

For more information, please contact Shante Booker (shante.booker@cuny.edu) or visit http://www.cuny.edu/research

The City University of New York

Related Lead Articles:

Stroke patients take the lead in their rehabilitation
EPFL spin-off Intento has developed a patient-controlled electrical-stimulation device that helps stroke victims regain mobility in paralyzed arms.
Preventing lead spread
While lead pipes were banned decades ago, they still supply millions of American households with water each day.
Evidence lacking to support 'lead diet'
Writing in the Journal of Pediatrics, UB researcher says public health experts need to be more up front with parents in explaining that CDC dietary recommendations may not help children who have been exposed to lead.
New drug lead identified in fight against TB
Antibacterial compounds found in soil could spell the beginnings of a new, much-needed treatment for tuberculosis, new research led by the University of Sydney has found. tuberculosis (TB) causes more deaths than any other infectious disease including HIV/AIDs.
Lead dressed like gold
Princeton researchers have taken a different approach to alchemists' ancient goal to transmute elements by making one material behave that another.
Iron supplements in the fight against lead
Targeted iron supplements in biscuits can achieve a striking reduction in the level of lead in children's blood in regions with high exposure to this toxic heavy metal.
A more accurate sensor for lead paint
A new molecular gel recipe developed at the University of Michigan is at the core of a prototype for a more accurate lead paint test.
Using urban pigeons to monitor lead pollution
Tom Lehrer sang about poisoning them, but those pigeons in the park might be a good way to detect lead and other toxic compounds in cities.
Looking beyond conventional networks can lead to better predictions
New research from a team of University of Notre Dame researchers led by Nitesh Chawla, Frank M.
What can we expect next in the long history of lead poisoning in the US?
While state and federal officials continue to criticize each other for failing to guarantee safe drinking water, the question of exactly who is responsible for crises like in Flint, Michigan, lies at the root of the problem.

Related Lead Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Setbacks
Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".