Michael Behe compares apples to oranges while waiting for two mutations

Plasmodium malariae

Plasmodium malariae

A recent scientific article published in Genetics criticized Michael Behe and “exposed flaws” in his thinking.  The article in question, Waiting for Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution, provides a mathematical model of the rate for two different mutations to occur in order.  They show that the time for prespecified mutations is within reason and support this by using two real world examples from humans and fruit flies.  Behe doesn’t believe it.

Behe had previously calculated the mutation rate that makes the protozoan P. falciparum (causes malaria) resistant to the antibiotic chloroquine that arose from two prespecified mutations in one protein.  He argued that this would take 1,000,000,000,000,000 years to achieve a similar pair of mutation in humans based on human population numbers and age until reproduction.   He seems to think that this is evidence to support intelligent design.

There are several problems with Behe’s thinking.  The most obvious is that Behe is comparing completely different organisms.  The mutation rate between various organisms can be very different.  In writing this post, I quickly determined from following the links from Wikipedia that the error rate of other protozoan (not specifically P. falciparum) seems to be around 100 fold lower than humans.  Not exactly the best comparison is it?

Other errors in Behe’s thinking include

  • Behe calculated the requirement for prespecified mutations; Evolution is not prespecified
  • These mutations could have arisen many times without our knowledge.  Unless Behe knows the sequence of every single P. faciparum, he can not really know how often these mutations occurred
  • Behe’s calculations seem to make the common statistical error of treating two consecutive events as one event.  For example, the odds of a couple that already have two girls having another girl is still 1 in 2, not 1 in 8 like you would get if you asked what are the odds in the beginning of having 3 girls

The original authors had many other complaints against Behe’s assessment, but they are fairly technical and beyond the scope of this blog.  If your interested, follow the links below.  Even without these criticisms, it is clear that Behe’s mind is being clouded over by the motivation of having an intelligent designer.

One interesting thing to note is that the authors actually call out Michael Behe by name in the abstract. I actually think this is semi-unprofessional. At the same time however, I think it also shows a lot of gumption. They must have known that not only would Behe respond with sharp criticism.

Further reading:

Behe’s blog

Behe’s response to Rick Durrett and Deena Schmidt

Durrett and Schmidt’s response to Behe’s response

Waiting for Two Mutations

Behe’s 2007 paper on the subject


4 Responses

  1. Pity the papers are not freely available.

  2. Bangs head on desk…ugh.

  3. […] a Cdesign proponentsists from the Discovery Institute. A nice blog post on the paper can be found here. I can only say that the 216 million years number is not relevant here – for starters, that […]

  4. The paper is now apparently avaliable in it’s entirety at the link…

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