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Friday, December 05, 2014

On the irrelevance of Michael Behe

Michael Behe is one of the few Intelligent Design Creationists who have come up with reasonable, scientific, defenses of creationism. I give him credit for that and for the fact that it often takes some effort to show why he is wrong.

However, when he has been proven wrong he should admit it and move on. He should instruct his fellow creationists to move on as well. That's not what happened with respect to his book on The Edge of Evolution. Last July he doubled down when a new study appeared that refuted his claims. Amazingly, Behe said that his ideas were vindicated. I questioned his logic in: CCC's and the edge of evolution and Michael Behe's final thoughts on the edge of evolution.

After a thorough discussion, we conclude that Behe is wrong about his edge of evolution. There's nothing in evolutionary theory, or in experimental results, that prevents the evolution of new functions with multiple mutations.

Now Ken Miller has posted an article making many of the same points [Edging towards Irrelevance]. Miller rightly demands an apology from Behe but his main point is that Michael Behe's recent behavior has made him largely irrelevant in the debate over Intelligent Design Creationism. I agree.

What this means is that there is nobody left in the Intelligent Design Creationist community who deserves serious attention from scientists. It will still be fun dealing with them but the game has become more like whac-a-mole than science. PZ Myers1 makes the same point: Aren’t we all more than a little tired of Michael Behe?.

It's kinda sad.

1. Unfortunately, PZ weakens his case by misrepresenting Behe's argument. PZ says, The hobby horse he’s been riding for the past few years is the evolution of chloroquine resistance in the malaria parasite: he claims it is mathematically impossible." That's just not true. Behe's entire case rests on the fact that chloroquine resistance is well within the edge of evolution. Behe has no problem with the evolution of chloroquine resistance.


Petrushka said...

"Behe's entire case rests on the fact that chloroquine resistance is well within the edge of evolution."

That wording implies that Behe's argument would fail if resistance were within the Edge, but I think the wording is wrong. Behe's argument rests on the claim that resistance is the best that unaided evolution can do.

But even that seems irrelevant, since the 1 in 10^20 event seems unnecessary and probably didn't happen. The landscape simply isn't as sparse and hostile as Behe imagines.

William Spearshake said...

"What this means is that there is nobody left in the Intelligent Design Creationist community who deserves serious attention from scientists.

Gordon MUllings might disagree with you. How else could you explain a fishing reel?

Petrushka said...

Should be "not within the reach". I think.

Behe is arguing that some existing things could only have arisen via multiple simultaneous mutations. His argument would be stronger, not weaker if "multiple" meant two or more.

His argument fails not because his math is bad (though it is) but because biology is more permissive than he asserts.

Mikkel Rumraket Rasmussen said...

Exactly, the issue is with the unwarranted extrapolation he makes from this specific case. CCC takes a long time to evolve because it is, supposedly, the only "solution" available to malaria to beat chloroquine within these timescales. Behe takes this to mean that all evolutionary change requiring two mutations or more is basically impossible within the allowed timescales, because he imagines all other things that evolved were of the same kind of "bottleneck" type where it was the only thing that would work and that any other thing that happened was a lethal dead end. So therefore, sensu Behe, the fact that we exist must be a miracle because it's just too unlikely that a blind evolutionary search would happen to find all these wonderful solutions.

He apparenly doesn't see the irony of insisting that the diversity of life is unevolvable because, sensu Behe, there's no evidence of a diversity of solutions to common problems faced by life. Hmmm....

Steve said...

Behe seems hardly irrelevant as he has this penchant for pissing off alot of people. Its probably his unflappable manner that can so unnerve the likes of Moran, Myers, Dawkins, Coyne et al. You can't get him to scream to your (pl) preferred decibal level.

Behe rather, is the worst kink of opponent. So obviously a lot will be ill-advised energy will be invested in creating a veneer of irrelevance.

I don't think Behe is going anywhere soon.

More so, Moran has unwittingly alluded to (even though he has still yet to wrap his head around it) in a previous post, motivating students to learn more biology will entail plunging into design waters more often than he'd like since it is a particularly effective motivational tool for the majority of North American students.

So design can only pick up speed, not sink into irrelevance.

Who is Kennith Miller, the biology teacher and self-styled IC killer anyway?? I keep looking for a nobel, or a bust bearing his likeness in some point of interest city brochure, or an honorable mention somewhere but its just not happening. Maybe he oughta right a book entitled "Darwin's Magic Box". Now that might help him make a mark, even if not indelible.

Anonymous said...


Looks like Larry pissed off a very devoted fan of Behe... Behe deserves some of it but I wouldn't be here where I'm today without his work and his boldness... Yeah... the little man has the guts to stand up to K-K-Ken Smearer and Rich Dive-kinds...

Diogenes said...

Steve: "Behe rather, is the worst kink of opponent."

Is that a scientific statement? If so, by what conceivable protocol are you measuring "worst"?

Actually, Behe has made the least bad argument against evolution made by any creationist in 100 years. But their least bad argument is still $π!+.

He had to lie again and again about the content of the scientific literature ('No scientist knows how the immune system evolved!!') on multiple topics including blood clotting, immune system, protein binding site evolution, etc. He still had to practice equivocation by switching between multiple defintions of "Irreducible Complexity" to evade falsification. He still sucks at even the most basic probability calculations (all creationists do), and he will not even acknowledge the criticisms that he breaks all the rules of statistical calculation to make probabilities that have astronomically large errors and are interpreted incorrectly. And after all that, he still has to invoke God of the Gaps like a 17th century witch-hunter.

Oh, he's a big scary opponent, right Steve? Right, well tell him I'll debate him face to face in his home state of Pennsylvania. We can set something up at U. Penn. He can bring Dembski, Meyer, Ray Comfort, Kent Hovind, whichever creationist he likes who's not in jail. My only conditions are 1. I get internet connection, 2. All negotations public and 3. Open comment policy at ENV forevermore.

Rolf Aalberg said...

I find Behe both pathetic and outdated. He rely on identfying what he consider to be iunsurmountable obstacles to the possible origins of particular features, the concept of irreducible complexity. Except for a few favourite arguments like for instance the origins of the bacterial flagellum, it seems to me he is aligned with mainstream evolution including both common descent and nested hierarchies.

Behe had his day, and failed. Like the rest of them, you know.

Robert Byers said...

Behe is famous because he , intimately, takes on evolution using the idea of mutations with selection.
he strives to show its impossible for a series of mutations, joining hands, to create functions/bodies anew and alot.
He makes a good point. Details, details, but the theme here is a winner.
It should be up to evolutionists to prove the impossible idea of mutations plus selection plus time equals everything.
They can't. its just a line of reason of why not!
ID/YEC is doing fine and will celebrate a fantastic year. The next year will also be great and probably better.

colnago80 said...

Actually, Behe has a streak of yellow down his back as, several years ago he refused to debate Abbie Smith on the subject of the evolution of HIV. His lame excuse was that Ms. Smith was only a graduate student at the time. The real reason was that then Ms. Smith, now Dr. Smith, was doing her PhD thesis on HIV and he was well aware of the fact that she know a lot more about the subject then he did. Behe has some chicken feathers where his internal fortitude ought to be.

colnago80 said...

Booby Byers, as is the case with most YECs, neglects to inform us that Behe accepts an old earth and common descent, both rejected by noodle brains like him.

colnago80 said...

But he lacks the guts to stand up to Abbie Smith. Like all creationists, Behe is an MRA who is actually afraid of smart women like Dr. Smith.

Faizal Ali said...

Who is Kennith Miller, the biology teacher and self-styled IC killer anyway?? I keep looking for a nobel, or a bust bearing his likeness in some point of interest city brochure, or an honorable mention somewhere but its just not happening. Maybe he oughta right a book entitled "Darwin's Magic Box".

Actually, Prof. Miller has written a few books, among them one of the standard introductory biology texts:

I recall Behe and some of his IDiot friends also wrote a creationist "biology" texbook called "Of Panda's and People", and tried to get it into schools. I also seem to recall that that didn't quite work out for them. Do you remember what happened there, Steve?

Diogenes said...

Did ERV get her doctorate? Last I heard she was in grad school.

Piotr Gąsiorowski said...

O, fie upon thee, Diogenes! She's been Dr Abbie "ERV" Smith for more than a year now:

It's true that she doesn't run about waving her diploma, and doesn't style herself "Dr Smith" every time she shows her face anywhere (which she would be obliged to do if she worked for the Discovery Institute).

judmarc said...

While Dr. Behe runs incorrect probability calculations, real scientists run real experiments, gather real data about genetics and mechanisms of resistance, and publish real peer-reviewed papers:

Unknown said...

Hi all, I come here as either an amateur scientist or a very well informed layman. I agree fully with your article, Mr. Moran. I have engaged in "debate" several times with friends, co workers and strangers on the internet about many topics, but this old "evolution vs. creationism" thing keeps coming up. Almost always, it's someone from the U.S. (like myself), who seems to ultimately be repeating the already debunked works of people like Behe. This bad information resides on the internet for them to quote and cite as if it's genuine evidence. It certainly seems so, when couched in the language of scientific research and academia, and especially so when Behe himself uses words and phrases beyond the pay grade of the average devotee of creationism. I've been accused of being the "dogmatic one", in regards to my steadfast attempts to defend and explain Darwinian/modern evolutionary theory against their unending attacks and questions. I'm the one whose closed-minded, I'm the one who needs "faith", etc etc. It gets so very tiring to have to explain the fallacy of their arguments over and over...and I do this for principle. YOU do it professionally! I salute you sir. So how about some simple, everyday language? I propose this: (My original thought). To those I.D. / creationist proponents who accuse the evolutionist of being the dogmatic one, the one who needs "faith" to defend their position...we're tired of you idiots. We have better things to do. We're on advanced calculus, you want to discuss 2+2 all over again and work your way up from there. We actually understand this material, and have moved way, WAY beyond "is Darwinian evolution valid and for the most part, correct?" Yes, yes it is. And years and decades of trusted, peer reviewed research (not to mention just about ALL of western medicine) functions because it is correct. Geologists find oil because it is correct. Unknown, but predicted intermediate / transitional fossil species specimens are found because it is correct. We have moved on, long ago. If we seem dogmatic and closed minded, it is for the same reason that a college professor of science would seem closed minded and even irritated upon being asked to explain why the sky is blue, or where the Sun goes at night. We're only human, have finite lives, and we've already tried to educate you. You reject factual information in favor of your religious indoctrination, sorry but you're being left behind to wallow in the stupidity you've chosen. Please do not vote or reproduce.