Thoughts on Prof. Behe


[Posting edited for style and tone.]

Could this possibly be an accurate description of Behe’s views? It must be, right? He is being interviewed on tape by the Discovery Institute! Eddie, I think you just lost your best evidence in defense of the I.D. movement. I don’t know an Evolution scientist who uses the term de-evolution.

Over at EvolutionNews.Org, there is a brief discussion regarding Harvard’s medical school video of a giant bacteria petri dish (more the size of a door laid across the top of a table!) … where two groups of bacteria quickly expand into ever-increasingly toxic territories of the dish. Each group has to develop new genetic “tools” to cope with the dramatic increases in antibiotics present in the growth medium.

“On an episode of ID the Future, biologist Michael Behe talked with Discovery Institute’s Sarah Chaffee about a Science article and Harvard Medical School video in the news that’s supposed to be giving “creationists” nightmares.”

“Dr. Behe isn’t losing any sleep. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria demonstrate evolution by breaking stuff – not by building it and certainly not by creating complex new biological information. On the contrary, information is lost. In other words, says Behe, what we have here is devolution, not evolution, the opposite of what needs to be explained by Darwinian theory.”

Devolution? Is this a standard term in the journals?
When reptiles lose their limbs (on their way to becoming snakes) … is that devolution? Or just another variety of evolution? Isn’t virtually any change in the gene pool of a population a category of Evolution? Over time, you can expect to have a dramatically successful mutation send the entire population down a new developmental path. When heading down a new path, it is expected that some less crucial genetic inheritance loses out.

Would an evolutionist call the newly emerged land-based tetrapod a Devolved Fish?

@Swamidass, do you have any thoughts on this matter?

George Brooks

Clips are available at this Evolution News website:

I’m sorry @gbrooks9 but I must protest the title of this post.

The fact that they frequently resort to ad hominems and polemics against us does not mean we should do the same. Rather than accuse him of being a shill I’d rather start with the presumption that he himself, at least, really believes what he is teaching. Let’s disagree with him about science or theology without moving to name calling.

About the science, of course I think he is wrong. But I would request we fix the tone here before we go into that. As should be abundantly clear in the current moment, people are watching us. And, even though we disagree about ID, Behe is a theistic evolutionist too. More importantly, he is a member of the Church, and one of our family.



I can only guess at the original title of George’s post, since the title seems to have been modified, perhaps in response to Joshua’s comments. Whatever it was, I would thank Joshua for his remarks. I would also add that, title change notwithstanding, the tone of the post is taunting rather than dialogical.


I apologize to the collective audience for the tone my thread title and thread discussion adopted. The energy of my comments was driven by the utter surprise that Dr. Behe, who I thought was the most level-headed of I.D. proponents, would be able to dismiss the Harvard Medical video of evolving bacteria as devolution instead of an example of evolution.

I really didn’t think he was capable of such a stance. Now that I know the situation, I can assure you that I will not be swept up in the sense of drama that article triggered in me.

I am much calmer now.

So let me ask a simple question, @Swamidass. Do you know any careful evolutionary scientist who is comfortable using the term Devolution ? I would like to get a sense of how professional evolutionary scientists use that term.

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I agree. @gbrooks9, not to pick on you, but can you please edit your article for tone and to represent your most kind engagement? Once you do that, we can focus on the fun part.

For that matter, I think “devolution” is the real topic at hand, not Dr. Behe.

That is easy. That is not a term that professional evolutionary scientists use.

There are few ways it is used in creationist and ID literature…

  1. Somewhat colloquially without a precise scientific meaning. In principle, I don’t have a problem with that. It is just slang.

  2. As a way to dismiss an example of evolutionary processes as not “real” or “constructive” evolution, but without a precise scientific explanation of what that is. I think that is what is happening here. In this usage, it is not scientifically precise enough to be useful, and I receive as primarily polemic.

  3. There is also a legitimate scientific theory at play here too, which is covered by creationists like John Sanford, Kurt Wise, and Todd Woods. Some of them have hypothesized a more specific theory, to which they often refer to as devolution, but does make some specific claims about DNA in the past and present. I’m pretty sure that is not what Behe is referring to here, and it is fairly obscure too.

Of all forms, I think #3 is most interesting, and wish we could hear more about that. Of course, I’m not endorsing it as correct, but at least it is something to engage with.

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I agree that Behe’s use of “devolution” is a rhetorical device to make his point that information is lost. He is not using it in any technical sense. At least, that’s how I read it.

In any case, I’m personally not so interested in #3, just because I’m pretty sure I know what it will say. It’s probably along the lines of “past DNA was different, more perfect, and contained within itself far more potentialities than current degraded copies.” Am I wrong? If my guess is way off base, maybe I would be interested to hear their proposal. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn something? It’s possible …

I am more interested in why Behe spoke of devolution. It seems to me that far too much emphasis is placed on the information piece of the puzzle. I am not a specialist, but this appears to be an easy one to solve. Start with the “original” DNA (which I will grant qualifies as “information,” for the sake of argument). Compare it to subsequent generations of DNA. Has something new been generated? Now, it will take a specialist to determine whether something “new” has appeared, and to make the prior determination as to what qualifies as “new.” Luckily, we have some specialists lurking, and I would like to hear what they think.

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I agree. I think my only issue with this is that it is likely to be received as some as an actual scientific claim, rather than just a rhetorical device. I can’t speak to if that is his intention. Frankly, it does not really matter. I think most people see it for what it is (a striking demonstration of bacterial evolution) and then quickly run back to their “home team” in the origins debate.


Having an evolutionary scientist describe any evolution as devolution (“reptiles devolved into snakes” because they lost their arms and legs) is like having an astronomer announce that we shouldn’t send a mission to Mars until the astrological charts are favorable. . . . meaning using Astrology to forecast the favorable time to launch


I’m pretty certain that’s how it’s done

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