Behe Does It Again

Be wrong, that is.

Michael Behe (of Darwin’s Black Box fame) has a new book coming out called The Edge of Evolution. While I haven’t read his new book yet, one can ascertain from the title that this will be another “God of the Gaps” argument: Look, here’s a gap that science hasn’t explained (yet), therefore God did it. Behe’s new line will surely be: Look, here’s the ‘edge of evolution,’ the things that haven’t been explained just yet, so therefore God is proven.

If he had just done that in his last book, it would have merely been bad theology or very bad philosophy. But, the whole thing was based on (possibly intentional) factual errors. Behe makes broad, sweeping claims about the dearth of research on molecular evolution. Here’s one:

There has never been a meeting, or a book, or a paper on details of the evolution of complex biochemical systems.

He is very obviously playing to the ignorance of his readership. Unfortunately, this is something one can do when writing books about biology that will have a primarily religious audience (that’s not a slam–it’s a call for religious conservatives to learn more biology). Talk Origins has a nice listing of books and articles on molecular evolution, including those on complex biochemical systems. The present list has 22 books and ~203 peer-reviewed articles on many of the subjects that Behe has claimed he searched for evolutionary explanations for but failed to find: the immune system, blood coagulation, flagella, actin, cell membranes, the citric acid cycle, glycolysis, amino acid biosynthesis, photosynthesis, vision, etc.

To the biologically educated it should be quite apparent that Behe, as a biologist, has found a thrilling new lifestyle as a celebrity within the conservative Christian community, not to mention a profitable book market, by disregarding the amazing amount of research being done by other scientists and publishing popular works making extravagant claims. And because scientists are at the forefront of uncovering the complexity of life, research on the origins of those complex systems is often several years behind the discovery of them. So a biochemist like Behe is well-positioned to write books about the current ‘edge’ of research, point to a (real or imagined) lack of satisfactory explanations, and claim it as evidence for belief. This is bad theology, and very bad science.

ERV, who does some interesting research on drug resistance in HIV, has an article called Good Virus, Bad Creationist that dissects on of Behe’s arguments from The Edge of Evolution, revealing how he takes basic misunderstandings about a field he should (if he were really keeping up with the literature) be familiar with, but is apparently not.

There are really only a few conclusions one can make about Behe. If you think of any other options, let me know:
1) He honestly doesn’t understand the science he’s writing about, or fails to do his research, so the misunderstandings stem from this.
2) Similar to #1, but his ideological/theological leanings blind him from reading the scientific literature objectively (quite possible).
3) He understands that there are scientific explanations for what he’s writing about, and purposefully disregards the facts because he knows (the vast majority of) his readers will never check the facts independently (and on that he’d probably be right).

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2 Responses to Behe Does It Again

  1. Matt says:

    Behe’s reputation really doesn’t seem to be worth an old nickel, not since his irreducible complexity line of argument was utterly destroyed. He seems, at best, to be intellectually dishonest and certainly is not any sort of credible authority.

  2. Diganta says:

    Tired of God of the Gaps …

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