Is Behe’s acceptance of common descent confusing?

In his recent video Michael Behe explains the reasons for his acceptance of common descent.

Do you find it confusing?

Most members of the Discovery Institute find the idea of common descent lacking. Behe, ‘for the sake of the argument’ , is willing to accept it and, instead, focus on the mechanism of Darwinian evolution, natural selection and random mutations, as insufficient to explain evolution.

Here is an example of what I mean:

If a five pound land walking mammal is an ancestor of a 50 ton whale, through common descent, and the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection acting on variations is insufficient to explain their ancestry, as per Behe’s own admission, isn’t his acceptance of common descent confusing, or even contradictory?

If the mechanism of evolution can’t account for common descent, why would anybody accept it?

Watch the video and judge it for yourself…

ETA: Larry Moran is using Behe’s acceptance of common descent as evidence that he (Behe) accepts evolution…https://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2011/08/evolution-is-fact-and-theory.html?showComment=1581708597421#c1276531141808451482

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247 thoughts on “Is Behe’s acceptance of common descent confusing?

  1. J-Mac: I don’t have the book…never read it either…or maybe just some parts…Can’t remember…

    Rolling on the floor, laughing my ass off. I was thinking, in my last comment, that you probably knew nothing about Darwin’s Black Box. Is YouTube your primary source of information?

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  2. Tom English: Behe makes it clear, in the video, that he’s talking about universal common descent — as he has been since Darwin’s Black Box (1996). Try shutting up for 4 minutes and 42 seconds, and listening carefully to him.

    Oh yeah?!
    What’s the mechanism?
    Maybe you should shut the hell up, or tell us what it is?
    Because that’s pretty much what this OP is about, just in case you haven’t noticed…

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  3. Tom English: Rolling on the floor, laughing my ass off.

    So am I…
    I’ve read the critics though… Too long ones … It’s saves time instead of reading 300 page nonsense for uninformed morons…;-)

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  4. J-Mac: Like Behe, I know that common descent cannot be extrapolated beyond genus, or kinds, with some minor exceptions… because there is no mechanism to explain it and obviously even within genus and kinds the variations are often caused by the loss of information in DNA; often loss of function (s).

    Behe has said no such thing about common descent. You clearly do not know what Behe has written, and evidently are projecting your own notions onto him.

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  5. J-Mac: Old, outdated, I disagree with many things…
    Why should I read it?

    Biggest laugh of the year! You genuinely have no idea what an ignoramus you’re making yourself out to be, do you?

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  6. Tom English: Behe makes it clear, in the video, that he’s talking about universal common descent — as he has been since Darwin’s Black Box (1996). Try shutting up for 4 minutes and 42 seconds, and listening carefully to him.

    J-Mac: Oh yeah?!
    What’s the mechanism?
    Maybe you should shut the hell up, or tell us what it is?
    Because that’s pretty much what this OP is about, just in case you haven’t noticed…

    If you spent as much time reading what others have written about ID as you do separating ellipses with grunts, then you would know the alternative that evolution of the last universal common ancestor into all of the forms we see today was supernaturally guided.

    (Supernatural guidance is not a mechanism.)

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  7. Tom English: the alternative that evolution of the last universal common ancestor into all of the forms we see today was supernaturally guided.

    There’s also the notion that biological information was somehow “front loaded” into the evolutionary process.

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  8. keiths: From four years ago:

    Behe and colewd discuss common descent

    Thanks. I hadn’t seen your comment when I added my “front loading” comment. Behe does say “for the sake of argument” in the earlier video, but I don’t recall it in his writings.

    The main thing is that Behe indicates that intelligent design is not a mechanism. This is old hat.

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  9. Tom English: Biggest laugh of the year! You genuinely have no idea what an ignoramus you’re making yourself out to be, do you?

    You got me confused with someone else…Let me think: Oh, it’s you… 😉

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  10. Tom English: Behe has said no such thing about common descent. You clearly do not know what Behe has written, and evidently are projecting your own notions onto him.

    So, that’s why I disagree with him on common descent…

    BTW: degraded, or broken genes constitute loss of information but you wouldn’t know anything about it because for you omnipotent natural selection adds information when the information is lost 😉
    Nice set of beliefs..

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  11. I don’t know why some think that if Behe says something, or believes something, all supporters of ID should follow him like sheep for the slaughter…
    Why is that?

    I respect the guy for his courage and insight, but I’m allowed to disagree…
    He knows some aspects of my disagreement and as well as my stand on information theory…i.e. quantum information

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  12. J-Mac quotes Tom English: Behe has said no such thing about common descent. You clearly do not know what Behe has written, and evidently are projecting your own notions onto him.

    J-Mac replies: So, that’s why I disagree with him on common descent…

    This just keeps getting better and better!

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  13. For the record: guided evolution doesn’t constitute evolution
    It’s an oxymoron.

    I don’t care who said it, and why. People who repeat it either have no commonsense, or logic. In Tom’s case both.

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  14. Tom English:
    This just keeps getting better and better!

    Cry me a river!
    Stop embarrassing yourself !!! You have no clue why I disagree with him, so stop the bleeding now before you bring yourself to tears…

    Grow up!

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  15. Tom,

    Behe does say “for the sake of argument” in the earlier video, but I don’t recall it in his writings.

    It depends on his audience. Rumraket, from earlier in the thread:

    I don’t see how you can fault colewd for anything here. Behe really is being quite mealy-mouthed about his acceptance of common descent when he says he does it “for the sake of argument”. If that isn’t a dog-whistle for creationists, I don’t know what is. And I don’t buy for one goddamn second that Behe isn’t aware that he’s doing it.

    Yet the “for the sake of argument” qualifier is gone when you look at his books:

    Behe in 1996, from Darwin’s Black Box, p. 176:

    Like the sequence analysts, I believe the evidence strongly supports common descent.

    Behe in 2007, from The Edge of Evolution, p. 65:

    Over the next few sections I’ll show some of the newest evidence from studies of DNA that convinces most scientists, including myself, that one leg of Darwin’s theory — common descent — is correct.

    Behe in 2007, from The Edge of Evolution, p. 71:

    The same mistakes in the same gene in the same positions of both human and chimp DNA. If a common ancestor first sustained the mutational mistakes and subsequently gave rise to those two modern species, that would very readily account for why both species have them now. It’s hard to imagine how there could be stronger evidence for common ancestry of chimps and humans.

    Behe in 2007, from The Edge of Evolution, p. 72:

    The bottom line is this: Common descent is true; yet the explanation of common descent — even the common descent of humans and chimps — although fascinating, is in a profound sense trivial.

    Behe in 2019, from Darwin Devolves, p. 188

    Some religious groups are opposed in principle to the idea of common descent. I am not. As I explained in earlier books, I think the evidence supporting descent is strong, and I have no reason to doubt it.

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  16. J-Mac: He knows some aspects of my disagreement and as well as my stand on information theory…i.e. quantum information

    Where have you articulated your stand on quantum information theory? I really would love to see you spell out all of the details.

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  17. keiths,

    Thanks keiths.
    If I ever get the books, the context of those quotes will not contradict these statements, right? 😉

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  18. Tom English: Where have you articulated your stand on quantum information theory? I really would love to see you spell out all of the details.

    Articulated? lol
    The way you articulated guided evolution?
    You don’t understand quantum mechanics, so would I repeat what I have already written many times at TSZ?

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  19. keiths,

    Thanks for looking it up. I was pretty sure Behe had come down strongly on common descent. But I don’t like relying on my memory when someone is adamant that the opposite of my recollection is true.

    I’ll emphasize, for the sake of Bill Cole and J-Mac, that when Behe says that “one leg of Darwin’s theory — common descent — is correct,” there can be no argument that he is referring to something other than universal common descent.

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  20. J-Mac quotes Tom English: Where have you articulated your stand on quantum information theory? I really would love to see you spell out all of the details.

    J-Mac replies: You don’t understand quantum mechanics, so would I repeat what I have already written many times at TSZ?

    Obviously I did not ask you to repeat yourself. I do not believe that you have ever articulated your stand. I’ve seen you separate ellipses with quantum woofs and quantum barks many times — oh, you sound so formidable — but I’ve never seen anything with any substance whatsoever. All you have to do now is to point me to one of your OPs. Given the number of OPs you’ve generated, it would be very odd if none of them articulated that tremendously important stand of yours.

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  21. Tom English: “What is directed evolution and why did it win the chemistry Nobel prize?

    From a brief read, it seems that this was another form of selective breeding, except that instead of controlling the environment directly by selecting offspring, it was a case of controlling the environment indirectly by making it more suitable for certain classes of mutations to be better fits. But I’d say that any purposeful control of the environment qualifies as directed evolution.

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  22. Flint: From a brief read, it seems that this was another form of selective breeding, except that instead of controlling the environment directly by selecting offspring, it was a case of controlling the environment indirectly by making it more suitable for certain classes of mutations to be better fits. But I’d say that any purposeful control of the environment qualifies as directed evolution.

    I linked to that article as much for the title as for anything else. The “scientific background” paper “Directed Evolution of Enzymes and Binding Proteins,” provided by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, is quite good.

    Of course, breeding is directed evolution.

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  23. Tom English,

    The notion of “directed” here, as in “directed evolution”, needs bracketing and some unpacking, as it often means something quite different outside of a strictly biological context. At least Darwin’s language was not nearly so instrumentalistic – using evolution as a tool. It’s at the level when “directed evolution” supposedly (starts to) involve(s) “agency”, morality, and other “higher” (irreducible) features of the conversation, that throwing a blanket named “evolution” or “common descent” over too many things becomes problematic.

    Likewise, Darwin’s rhetoric in the “natural selection” chapter of OoS really deserves closer attention by those who think he wasn’t, or just forget how deeply influenced he was by Malthus’ natural-political theology.

    “I’d say that any purposeful control of the environment qualifies as directed evolution.” @Flint

    How then do you define operationally, in a way that can be measured, the terms “development” & “evolution”, based on time, space, unit, scale, stage, step, level, environment, field, network, niche, speed, etc.?

    The way one distinguishes these two terms can make a significant difference in how they approach the opportunities for collaborative science, philosophy, theology/worldview dialogue.

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  24. Tom English,

    The main thing is that Behe indicates that intelligent design is not a mechanism. This is old hat.

    This is not true. He sees mind as the mechanism. In the case of the pool shot mind set up the initial conditions.

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  25. Corneel,

    I read that as saying that he completely accepts common descent of all living species, but that as far as he is concerned the concept that there is purpose in evolution is the more exciting topic. What do you think?

    You got it. He sees the main issue he is interested is the differences between species.
    Common descent explains the similarities.

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  26. colewd:
    Corneel,

    You got it.He sees the main issue he is interested is the differences between species.
    Common descent explains the similarities.

    Common descent is either true or false. If Behe thinks there’s good evidence for it, then he believes in CD, and he does. Gpuccio does too. It’s not like you can believe in common descent because it explains the similarities and simultaneously believe it isn’t true if it doesn’t explain the differences, you know.

    By the way, Behe is wrong, or lying, when he says common descent only explains the similarities , as explained to you a trillion times here. It explains the pattern of similarities and differences. Why do you take Behe’s word as gospel?

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  27. dazz,

    By the way, Behe is wrong, or lying, when he says common descent only explains the similarities , as explained to you a trillion times here. It explains the pattern of similarities and differences. Why do you take Behe’s word as gospel?

    It does only explain the similarities. John Harshman has also made this claim. For the differences you need a mechanism. I believe Behe is right based of stuff you and I discussed years ago.

    Genes live in almost infinite sequential space. How do you find limited function by random change resulting in improvement? The problem here is pretty obvious and it is the same problem that forced the lottery fallacy discussions at Sandwalk.

    This is why Theobald wrote a paper 20 years ago supporting common descent without a mechanism. We are dealing with the same problem we discussed 4 years ago except the sequence data is making the problem look worse than we previously thought.

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  28. colewd: This is not true. He sees mind as the mechanism.

    No he doesn’t Bill. Behe is on record saying the Christian God is the Designer who stops by every so often to give life a squirt of impossible-to-evolve “information.”

    There’s no Creationist woo you won’t swallow hook line and sinker.

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  29. colewd: You got it.

    So we are agreed that Michael Behe accepts common descent, and he is not just pretending? Do you agree that his opinion differs from yours? You care about the issue of of humans sharing ancestry with the rest of creation, whereas he is indifferent to it?

    colewd: He sees the main issue he is interested is the differences between species.
    Common descent explains the similarities.

    It is a little more complicated than that, because in phylogenetics you cannot properly separate the two. As dazz has explained, similarities and differences are two sides of the same coin. Unless universally shared, any character that groups two or more taxa does so to the exclusion of other taxa differing in that character.
    Think of it like this: The observation that you have the same colour brown hair as your brother (speculating wildly here) only contributes to the similarity between you two if other people with blond, black or red hair exist. If all humans were identical, and everybody would have brown hair, than you and brother having the same hair colour is non-informative about possible kinship between you two. Hence, the similarities are only significant in the context of the differences.

    What you and Michael Behe are looking for is the mechanism by which novel characters come to be. You are seeking signs of the act of creation.

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  30. Corneel,

    So we are agreed that Michael Behe accepts common descent, and he is not just pretending? Do you agree that his opinion differs from yours? You care about the issue of of humans sharing ancestry with the rest of creation, whereas he is indifferent to it?

    I pretty much agree with him that it is a trivial claim but on the other hand as you mentioned it creates confusion. Common descent in its grand form implies starting from a single organism we get all the grandeur of life. I doubt this is true as you know the prokaryotic cell is so different from the eukaryotic cell. Multicellularity is another big leap. “Guided common descent” doesn’t make any sense here. So I differ from him here but it again is not a fight I would choose as I don’t think we are really ever going to get a solid implementation plan of what happened.

    The Darwinian paradigm starts with the simple to complex model. With the ID paradigm this is no longer required. We can have separate complex origin events.

    all humans were identical, and everybody would have brown hair, than you and brother having the same hair colour is non-informative about possible kinship between you two. Hence, the similarities are only significant in the context of the differences.

    Behe is concerned with the big feature differences and not the subtle differences such as eye color. We know we can get eye color variation through recombination. Wings appearing is a different story 🙂

    What you and Michael Behe are looking for is the mechanism by which novel characters come to be. You are seeking signs of the act of creation.

    I cannot speak for Mike here but what I see are the results of creation such as the DNA molecule, the transcription translation mechanism, the splicing machine etc.
    Artifacts that are very hard to explain without a mind behind them. If the Judeo Christian God is really behind all this I predict we will start to see the same evidence for design in matter as we understand it better.

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  31. colewd: Artifacts that are very hard to explain without a mind behind them

    Well, considering that no one from the ID camp has ever produced a mind based explanation for those artifacts, it would seem that they’re actually very hard to explain “with a mind”. And no, unfortunately for you, analogies like “I can type this message with tons of FI” don’t count, for reasons explained to you a gazillion times. But we all know that won’t stop you from robotically repeating your silly mantras.

    At least you have come to terms with the fact that your heroes accept common descent, and they do it based on evidence that you either ignore or don’t understand. Now the question is for how long will you be able to retain that idea. Hours, a few days tops is my guess

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  32. colewd: So I differ from him here but it again is not a fight I would choose […]

    Nobody is asking you to pick a fight with Michael Behe. Just stop fooling yourself into believing that what Michael Behe, gpuccio and your other champions are saying always matches what you want to hear. You are disagreeing with them on this topic, and that’s fine.

    colewd: We know we can get eye color variation through recombination. Wings appearing is a different story

    You are talking about the origin of novel characters again, which is utterly irrelevant to inferring common descent. What is relevant is that I can, for example, group bats on the basis of the presence of wings to the exclusion of all other mammals. This can be used as support for a common ancestor of all bats, not shared by any other mammal. See how it works?

    Of course, you need to include many more characters, preferably from DNA sequencing, to be able to make reliable conclusions, which people actually do!

    colewd: I cannot speak for Mike here but what I see are the results of creation such as the DNA molecule, the transcription translation mechanism, the splicing machine etc.

    Two out of three features you mentioned are shared by all cellular life, firmly supporting universal common descent. Well done!

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  33. Modération complaints only in modération issues thread. Comments have been moved to guano.

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  34. colewd: We know we can get eye color variation through recombination. Wings appearing is a different story

    We know how bat wings evolved down to the genetic level.

    Development of bat flight: Morphologic and molecular evolution of bat wing digits

    Abstract: The earliest fossil bats resemble their modern counterparts in possessing greatly elongated digits to support the wing membrane, which is an anatomical hallmark of powered flight. To quantitatively confirm these similarities, we performed a morphometric analysis of wing bones from fossil and modern bats. We found that the lengths of the third, fourth, and fifth digits (the primary supportive elements of the wing) have remained constant relative to body size over the last 50 million years. This absence of transitional forms in the fossil record led us to look elsewhere to understand bat wing evolution. Investigating embryonic development, we found that the digits in bats (Carollia perspicillata) are initially similar in size to those of mice (Mus musculus) but that, subsequently, bat digits greatly lengthen. The developmental timing of the change in wing digit length points to a change in longitudinal cartilage growth, a process that depends on the relative proliferation and differentiation of chondrocytes. We found that bat forelimb digits exhibit relatively high rates of chondrocyte proliferation and differentiation. We show that bone morphogenetic protein 2 (Bmp2) can stimulate cartilage proliferation and differentiation and increase digit length in the bat embryonic forelimb. Also, we show that Bmp2 expression and Bmp signaling are increased in bat forelimb embryonic digits relative to mouse or bat hind limb digits. Together, our results suggest that an up-regulation of the Bmp pathway is one of the major factors in the developmental elongation of bat forelimb digits, and it is potentially a key mechanism in their evolutionary elongation as well.

    But who are we to interrupt Bill’s comfortable willful ignorance with cold hard scientific facts?

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  35. colewd to Tom English,
    This is not true. He sees mind as the mechanism. In the case of the pool shot mind set up the initial conditions.

    Even though I find Mike quite a despicable, double-faced, individual, I doubt he’s stupid enough to propose “mind” as a mechanism. Minds might be a very important element in making plans, but minds cannot make plans by themselves “left unattended.” They need quite a bit of support to make those plans. Paper, pencils, previous knowledge, organs to exchange information with their surrounds, light, energy inputs, etc. Plans themselves are not put into action by “mind” alone either. To put plans into action you need quite a bit more than “mind” alone.

    So, don’t put foolish thoughts onto other peoples’ “minds.”

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