The Blind Locksmith Continued: An Update from Joe Thornton

Carl Zimmer in his excellent blog, The Loom:

Joe1 I’ve written a few times here about the ongoing work of Joe Thornton, a biologist at the University of Oregon and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Thornton studies how molecules evolve over hundreds of millions of years. He does so by figuring out what the molecules were like in the distant past and recreating those ancestral forms in his lab to see how they worked. I first wrote about his work looking at how one molecule in our cells evolved from one function to another (here, here, and here). [Update: These links are now fixed.]

Most recently, I wrote in the New York Times about his latest experiment, in which he and his colleagues found that the evolution from the old function to the new one has now made it very difficult for natural selection to drive the molecule back to its old form. Its evolution has moved forward like a ratchet.

Thornton’s new work turned up last week on a web site run by the Discovery Institute, a clearinghouse for all things intelligent design (a k a the progeny of creationism). Michael Behe, a fellow at the Institute, wrote three posts (here, here, and here) about the new research, which he pronounced “great.”

This is the same Michael Behe who, when Thornton published the first half of this research, declared it “piddling.”

Why the change of heart? Because Behe thinks that the new research shows that evolution cannot produce anything more than tiny changes. And if evolution can’t do it, intelligent design can. (Don’t ask how.)

I pointed out Behe’s posts to Thornton and asked him what he thought of them. Thornton sent me back a lengthy, enlightening reply.

More here.