Sunday, June 10, 2007

Behe's New Book--The Discovery Institute's Big Mistake?

The early responses to Michael Behe's new book are predictable--the proponents of intelligent design praising it, the opponents denouncing it. But, as I have indicated in my previous post, I think there's a big story here that people are missing. They're missing it, because most people have not yet read the book carefully.

A careful reading of the book suggests that in sponsoring and promoting this book, the Discovery Institute is making a big mistake. As I have indicated, Behe concedes so much to Darwinian science--the limited power of natural selection working on random mutation, common descent, the evolution of human beings from primate ancestors shared with chimpanzees, rejection of Biblical creationism as "silly", support for theistic evolution--that Behe actually subverts much of the moral and religious agenda of the Discovery Institute. After all, he even questions the goodness and omnipotence of the intelligent designer in deliberately creating malaria!

My prediction is that as people have time to read this book more carefully, it's going to produce a backlash from those who would normally agree with the Discovery Institute/intelligent design program. At the very least, Biblical creationists are going to see Behe as their enemy.


Chris Harrison said...

Well certainly Behe's book isn't going to set well with the majority of ID-advocates.

This book isn't going to be recommended by many Christian churches, so the religious base that is ID's main support will, as you say, find the book uncomfortable.

But for the small percent of IDists who think detecting intelligent agency is what ID is truly about, Behe's latest will be welcomed.

Unfortunately for those 2 percenters, Behe's research and science appears to be embarrassingly bad. Check out Sean Carroll's review of TEoE here:

Nick said...

Actually I think this view is pretty naive. Since time immemorial IDists/creationists (same difference) have been eagerly and un-self-consciously dredging up and citing any old half-baked thing, evolutionist or not, that could be spun to support their position. Google "Morton's Demon". Anything that is mildly critical of anything vaguely associated with what creationists think is mainstream evolutionary theory has been eagerly and endlessly used by creationists. For example, evolutionist critiques of "neo-Darwinism" -- which in reality were just saying "there is more to evolution than just population genetics, let's pay attention to mass extinctions and lineage sorting and stuff like that also" -- meant to creationists "evolution is on it's last legs and about to collapse!"

They have virtually no internal sense of self-contradiction and virtually no sense of degrees of disagreement. Instead they just blindly accept whatever they think supports their case and ignore the rest.

The major use of Behe's book will be to argue, "Look! ID isn't creationism! Behe accepts common ancestry!" This will be used to hide the fact that essentially everyone else in the ID movement rejects common ancestry and thinks that God specially created humans like it says in the Bible. And the ID movement has been pretty successful for the last 10 years at getting its more naive critics to take this obfuscation at face value, although a lot of it was torn down at the Kansas Science Standards Hearing in 2005 where ~20 ID supporters denied common ancestry when asked, and only Behe supported it.

Frank J said...

Every review of Behe should emphasize that he accepts common descent, but also that he nevertheless misrepresents evolution. While his personal belief may be nearly identical to that of some of his chief critics (e.g. Kenneth Miller), he has otherwise completely sold out to pseudoscience.

My take on the rest of the major ID promoters is that, while they may vaguely encourage denial of common descent (and conveniently ignore age-of-life questions), like Behe, they seem to know that mainstream science is correct, and YEC and OEC are nothing but a mess of scientific failures and irreconcilable differences. But of course they need rank & file YECs and OECs for political support. Many YECs and OECs have invoked “Morton’s Demon” to rationalize support for Behe before – even after he admitted at Dover that the designer might no longer exist! – so it may be a while before the big tent comes crashing down.

10 years ago Ronald Bailey made a compelling argument why anti-evolution activists might not necessarily believe what they want their audiences to believe:

mafarmerga said...

The other big problem for the Discovery Institute and other ID proponents who hitch their wagon to Behe is that they keep portraying him as both a gifted scholar and a rigorous scientist. With this latest book he has confirmed the fact that he is neither.

Most of the critics have focused on Behe's interpretation of "fitness landscape" and other things that truly are not in his area of expertise. But Behe portrays himself as a biochemist, and it is in chapter 5 where he dwells on biochemistry and shows himself to be inept (or perhaps a charlatan). In this chapter he claims that one of his examples of "irreducible complexity" (the cilium) is itself dependent on yet another "irreducibly complex" biochemical complex, the IFT. Thsu he claims an example of "Irreducible Complexity SQUARED" He states authoritatively that:

"It is clear from careful experimental work with all ciliated cells that have been examined, from alga to mice, that a functioning cilium requires a working IFT."

Hellooooooooo? Did he ever read Briggs et al. 2004 which clearly demonstrates a ciliated organism that lacks IFT? Hard to find this paper you say? Then Google the words "Plasmodium" (the favorite organism in the Edge of Evolution) and "flagellum" (the main topic of chapter five) and you will see that the second hit is this authoritative paper that was published three years before his book came out.

One of two possibilities exist. Either Behe flat out missed this important paper (unbelievably bad scholarship) or he knew about it and chose to ignore it because it contradicted his central premise (unbelievably bad science).

Either way Behe has completely shot his credibility and anyone who keeps holding him up as a great thinker in the realm of ID is going to get burned right along with him.