Remembering Raymond Shaw
The power of a slogan is that if you say it over and over again enough times, the effect is like brainwashing on yourself and many of the people who listen to you. It crowds out thought, to the point where, when a particular topic comes up in conversation, the slogan-imprinted mind simply spits back the slogan.
You'll see this at work among scientists, journalists, and the general public.
Take, for example, a slogan that dogs the evolution debate: "There is no debate," along with its variant, "There is no controversy." A Google search on those two, linked with the word "evolution," produces 20,800 and 18,800 hits respectively. One of those hits, I noticed, was from a piece I wrote in Publishers Weekly about the market for books on Darwinian evolution versus intelligent design. The editor of Eugenie C. Scott's book Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction at the University of California Press was Scott Crumly, and he had this to say to me: "There is no debate about evolution. ID is not an alternative to evolution. It's bogus."
I remember having tentatively posed to him the question of whether the sheer volume of books being published on the subject indicated otherwise. His response was vehement and contemptuous. It would have been funnier and more fitting if he'd said it in the far-off brainwashed tone of, say, Frank Sinatra and others in the cast of The Manchurian Candidate: "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."
One of the pro-ID authors that appeared in the article was Michael Behe. Since then, Behe has come out with his most recent book, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism. Repeat after me: There is no debate about the thesis Behe advances in his book. In this thesis, about which there is no controversy, he purports to show from field and lab experiments where exactly the limit lies to what Darwinian evolution can produce.
But it's all bogus, right? If so, then I keep wondering why Darwinists are, uh, how to put it? They are sort of going back and forth with Behe about his book, in a prominent peer reviewed (!) journal. And why he is replying to their challenges, and they are answering him in turn? What does that sound like to you?
Last year in the journal Genetics (180: 1501-1509), two Cornell mathematicians challenged Behe in an article titled "Waiting For Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution." In their Abstract, they make out as if the main point of interest were simply "regulatory sequence evolution in Drosophila and humans." Only in the last sentence of the paragraph do they let on that their more elusive prey is not fruit flies but, more to the point, Dr. Behe.
Of the latter, they note as if in passing, "In addition, we use these results to expose flaws in some of Michael Behe's arguments concerning mathematical limits to Darwinian evolution."
The question is how many generations of organisms would be required to evolve chloronquine resistance in the malarial parasite. In their paper, the mathematicians develop a model indicating that two needed mutations would be far easier to come by than Behe suggests in his book -- by a factor of 5 million. They are criticizing Behe for wildly exaggerating the necessary waiting time. Who's right?
Behe got his figure from empirical literature on the subject. He didn't make it up. Durrett and Schmit, on the other hand, spin out a population genetics model that gives them a figure more comfortably in line with Darwinian expectations that winning mutations are as forthcoming in the history of life as winning numbers in the New Jersey lottery -- an analogy that Durrett and Schmit actually cite in their reply. They introduce us to Evelyn Adams, who won the lottery twice in consecutive years (1985 and 1986).
Well, as I say, they go back and forth on this: first in a letter to the editor of Genetics by Behe, then in the authors' reply, then in a series of posts on Behe's Amazon blog. On one issue having to do with the value of a mutation rate, which may have been underestimated by a factor of 30, the two forthrightly admit, "Behe is right on this point." On other questions, there is attack and counterattack.
The details of the debate are fascinating but more so the fact that -- wait, did I say debate?
No, there is no debate. There is no controversy! Repeat 1,000 times!