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Behe’s Last Stand

DR. MICHAEL BEHE IS A PROFESSOR OF BIOCHEMISTRY at Lehigh University and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, an organization noted for promoting the pseudoscientific theory of Intelligent Design (ID). He has now written his third book in attack of modern evolutionary theory: Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA that Challenges Evolution (2019, HarperOne). Although his views are well outside the scientific mainstream, this will not stop the efforts of the creationist and ID communities to use Behe’s work to convince school boards that ID is a valid scientific theory. Accordingly, the scientific and skeptical communities should not yield to the temptation to ignore Behe.1 Because his careful writing has the veneer of expertise, the public will look to scientists for responses to the points raised in Darwin Devolves, and I urge my colleagues to respond, not with insults, but with the only tool that matters, evidence.

At several points in Darwin Devolves, Behe makes clear his acceptance of the fact that life has evolved over billions of years and that all living things are related by universal common descent. He also acknowledges how mutation and natural selection have shaped organisms and achieved fitness gains in specific cases. Where he disagrees is the mechanism of how genetic change drives evolution of anything other than the smallest tweaks. Where science has shown that mutation and recombination provide the raw material for all of life’s diversity, Behe maintains that mutations can only break things and an intelligent intervention is required for innovation or even simple gains-of-function. To support his view, he spends a lot of time explaining, in mostly accurate detail, several cases of how mutations have diminished functions of genes with the result of improving survival, although his discussion is misleading, as I’ll explain.

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