Intelligent design proponent Michael Behe, a Lehigh University biochemist, withstood a barrage of criticism for an inference he made in his 2007 book, The Edge of Evolution. Stung by Behe’s presentation of direct evidence that threatens the mechanism of random mutation and natural selection as the creative force for life, Darwinists picked a minor point in the book’s argument, declared it erroneous, and used it to besmirch Behe’s entire work, and Behe himself.
According to a recent paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Behe was right after all.
At issue is malaria, a parasitic unicellular microorganism, and its ability to resist the drugs that fight it. One antimalarial drug, chloroquine, had a particularly stellar record of preventing and treating malaria, meaning the malaria parasite’s resistance to chloroquine was abysmally low. Given that the malaria parasite’s mutations quickly build resistance to some other antimalarial drugs, but cases of resistance to chloroquine were at first rare, scientists wondered what would be the minimum number of mutations, and the nature of the mutation-pathway, required to create resistance to the drug.
In his book, Behe inferred from simple mathematical calculations that multiple mutations—at least two—would be required to confer any resistance to chloroquine in a malaria parasite. The first mutation would produce no resistance, and resistance would not arise until multiple mutations were present. His conclusion directly challenged Darwinian theory, which would predict that each mutation in the pathway would yield an advantage towards resisting the deadly influence of chloroquine upon malaria. His opponents immediately accused Behe of assuming the multiple mutations were required for resistance, when they said, the mutations could occur successively, each adding a degree of resistance as it occurred.
But Behe’s point was not how the mutations would occur—simultaneous or successive—but that they would occur at all given the huge mathematical improbability of the event.
By simple calculation, Behe found that if, according to public health studies, resistance to chloroquine occurred in only one of 10^20 organisms, then if some biological trait required at least two equivalent mutations to provide any advantage, that would mean 10^40 organisms would be required to evolve the trait. And that would raise problems for Darwinian evolution given that only 10^40 have lived on Earth in its entire history.
Chloroquine did end up developing resistance to Malaria because of the sheer numbers of parasites in each sick person and the number of people who get the disease each year. The volume of parasites provided enough chances to allow random mutation to eventually come up with the correct combination of mutations to confer resistance in a few people. The chloroquine resistance spread as the disease spread, eventually encompassing much of East Asia.
But the paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, confirmed Behe’s observation that at least two mutations are sufficient for a low level of resistance to chloroquine and four may be sufficient to confer full resistance.
Bottom line: Until at least two or more mutations are present, no chloroquine resistance arises. And according to Darwinian theory, the first, worthless mutation would not have led to the second.