January 05, 2006

When the going gets tough, IDC gets weird

I wrote on December 20, 2005 of the smackdown that US District Judge Jones delivered to the intelligent design creationist (IDC) people in his verdict on the Dover case. The judge closely examined the testimony provided by a key IDC witness, Michael Behe, author of the IDC bible Darwin's Back Box, and wasn't persuaded.

After he had given his testimony, Behe seemed quite smug about the way that he had presented his side of the case, feeling that he had also demolished the arguments against IDC. He writes:

[I]t was actually all rather exhilirating [sic]. I rather enjoyed myself on the witness stand, because I got to explain in very great detail the argument for intelligent design, and the other side had to sit there and listen.

The cross examination was fun too, and showed that the other side really does have only rhetoric and bluster. At one point the lawyer for the other side who was cross examining me ostentatiously piled a bunch of papers on the witness stand that putatively had to do with the evolution of the immune system. But it was obvious from a cursory examination that they were more examples of hand waving speculations, which I had earlier discussed in my direct testimony. So I was able to smile and say that they had nothing more to say than the other papers. I then thought to myself, that here the NCSE, ACLU, and everyone in the world who is against ID had their shot to show where we were wrong, and just trotted out more speculation. It actually made me feel real good about things.

Unfortunately (for Behe), the judge did not share Behe's high opinion of his own testimony. P. Z Myers at the excellent evolution website Pharyngula provides a nice deconstruction of the way the judge viewed Behe's testimony. Here are some choice excerpts from the judge's verdict:

Dr. Haught testified that this argument for the existence of God was advanced early in the 19th century by Reverend Paley and defense expert witnesses Behe and Minnich admitted that their argument for ID based on the "purposeful arrangement of parts" is the same one that Paley made for design.


Moreover, it is notable that both Professors Behe and Minnich admitted their personal view is that the designer is God and Professor Minnich testified that he understands many leading advocates of ID to believe the designer to be God.


Professor Behe remarkably and unmistakably claims that the plausibility of the argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God.


Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology.


Moreover, cross-examination revealed that Professor Behe's redefinition of the blood-clotting system was likely designed to avoid peer-reviewed scientific evidence that falsifies his argument, as it was not a scientifically warranted redefinition.


We therefore find that Professor Behe's claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large.

In fact, on cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He was presented with fifty-eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not "good enough."

We find that such evidence demonstrates that the ID argument is dependent upon setting a scientifically unreasonable burden of proof for the theory of evolution.

So the judge says that Behe's testimony was extremely effective for the opposing side! It helped the judge determine that IDC was a form of creationism, that it was thus a religion, and that teaching it in science classes was unconstitutional.

After such a humiliation, you might expect that Behe would lie low for awhile and thoughtfully examine what had gone so terribly wrong. But no, he is back again on TV on December 23 saying even weirder things. First he trots out that old standby, the Mount Rushmore analogy, which I have already pointed out (here and here) proves nothing.

Then when he is asked who the designer is, he replies: "Well, as I've said since 1996 when I published "Darwin's Black Box," I'm a Catholic. I think a good candidate for the designer is God. But that is not straight - that's not a conclusion that you come from, from the structure of the bacterial flagellum."

Along with Mount Rushmore, the bacterial flagellum is another IDC staple, a poster child for intelligent design, and is trotted out repeatedly at every opportunity. The amazing thing is that it was first introduced by Behe in 1996 as an example of design, and thry keep plugging it over and over even though evolutionary biologists have strongly challenged his assertion that its appearance is inexplicable according to natural selection. (I'll write about this in another posting.)

Then the interview gets interesting as the interviewer asks: "What would be the other options if it's [i.e. the designer's] not God?" and Behe replies: "Well, you know, other things that would strike us as, you know, as pretty exotic, you know. Space aliens or time travelers or something strange." (My emphasis)

That's pretty exotic, all right. The IDC people have to be pretty desperate if they are now mixing the most hackneyed plot devices of science fiction into their religion. This is what happens when you feel the pressure to come up with new arguments after ten years of pushing the same old ideas. Behe should have stuck with Mount Rushmore and the bacterial flagellum, trite as they have become. At least they have the air of sophistication. Or perhaps he should abandon his Roman Catholicism and convert to the Raelian religion, since he seems open to its basic tenet about space alien intervention.


James Moore writes about the secret government at work. He says: "I have been on the No Fly Watch List for a year. I will never be told the official reason. No one ever is. You cannot sue to get the information. Nothing I have done has moved me any closer to getting off the list. There were 35,000 Americans in that database last year. According to a European government that screens hundreds of thousands of American travelers every year, the list they have been given to work from has since grown to 80,000."


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Speaking of no-fly lists...

Posted by Shruti on January 5, 2006 04:24 PM