Dear Gentle Readers: At the bottom of this essay, I’m collecting links to reviews of Behe’s book The Edge of Evolution, replies to reviews and so forth.
Well, now the burden is off me, and I can devote my book-reviewing time to good books, like the works of Hector Avalos. Mark Chu-Carroll has reviewed Michael Behe’s new book, The Edge of Evolution. In short, it’s as bad as I thought it would be. When I first heard about it, the only information available was the flap copy: the publisherâ€™s blurb and four laudatory quotes. I found that with a trivial amount of Web-searching, each laudator was revealed to be a creationist sympathizer â€” which didn’t bode well for the contents of the book itself. What, they couldnâ€™t get even one serious biologist to say something good about it?
My prediction, although in principle falsifiable, was not falsified but instead borne out by further investigation. Don’t you love it when that happens?
Behe’s new book comes at an interesting time in the ongoing struggle against arrogant ignorance. Once upon a time, the law mandated that Genesis be taught in science classrooms; then came “equal time” for science and mystical anti-science, followed by “creationism” and “creation science” which then became “Intelligent Design,” about which we had to “teach the controversy.” (Of course, like a linear portrayal of biological evolution, this little “X followed by Y” story focuses only on one path, on a single twig of a ceaselessly diversifying bush. Just as there are still living descendants of the dinosaurs, there are still Old Earth Creationists, ideological descendants occupying their own branch of the phylomemetic tree.) After the thumping “Intelligent Design” got at Dover, many of us wondered how the opposition to reason would reinvent itself. One strategy, embraced by at least one twig, is to rebrand the very word evolution:
Dinesh D’Souza, a writer whose failures of comprehension and lack of basic human empathy should be plain for all to see, has a new book in the pipeline:
In my forthcoming book “What’s So Great About Christianity” I will show why, contrary to the claims of Dawkins and company, Darwinian evolution does not undermine the design argument for God. On the contrary, the latest findings of modern science have greatly strengthened that argument. Paley was right and Dawkins is wrong.
This is not just incorrect, it is brazenly so. PZ Myers says,
Note the sleight of hand: he’s babbling about “design”, Paley, the common creationist lie that modern science supports belief in God, his book is about Christianity, and he’s calling that “Darwinian evolution”. If you’ve been wondering what the new name for repackaged Intelligent Design was going to be after the drubbing it took in Dover, look no further: it’s going to be called “evolution”. The new textbook from the gang at the DI, intended to replace Of Pandas and People is going to be titled “Explore Evolution”.
There’s a chance that “Explore Evolution” will be as transparent as Pandas and People before it, where the “scratch out creation, write Intelligent Design” tomfoolery was blatantly obvious. Perhaps this rebranding will produce nothing more than bad science books, against which we can argue on scientific grounds — but then again, all those school boards in places like Dover and Cobb County aren’t just going to change their attitudes, let their faith fall by the wayside and embrace knowledge in a giant explosion of happiness, are they? To an extent, the specific words in a textbook don’t matter, because they’re always viewed through the haze of ideology. Won’t the same people who liked “Intelligent Design” last year and “creation science” ten years ago enjoy the “Explore Evolution” textbook for the same reasons? I’m not sure.
I’ve noticed that intellectuals, whether professional or amateur, tend to focus on the words we see printed on the page. Does the book mention X? No? Well, then, it’s not about X, even though the author may spend a lot of time thinking about X, and he wants to sell the book to other people interested in X.
This way of thinking can get you in a perplexing situation. For example, between alpha and omega the Bible goes through a whole lot of violence, misogyny, slavery, genocide and what-have-you. This has caused many people â€” both religious and not â€” to ask, “You want that to be your foundation of morality? You have to have a moral standard just to pick out the decent parts from the rest!” Other people, somehow, see the whole book as “a message of love,” and interpret every verse they find in that context. They’re not faithful to the book, but rather to the invisible force field emanating from it â€” a force field against which the phasers of reason are useless.
Why do I bring up this subject in a discussion about science textbooks? Well, my theory is that every book spat out by the Discovery Institute will have that same kind of force field. Does it matter that the book specifically mentions irreducible complexity, the Universal Probability Bound, Hoyle’s 747 or Jehovah’s pointing finger? No, not really. As long as it represents evolutionary biology poorly enough, ideologically motivated people will want to use it. What â€” does anyone think the school boards which want to use creationist books right now are going to go away? Furthermore, a bad science book does make it easier to teach bad science.
The next round won’t just be “good science versus bad,” it’ll be “good science versus bad science propped up to support the agenda of a particular religion.” I don’t know if a damn-the-torpedoes attack on religious culture in general does more good than harm on this specific short-term issue; that’s ultimately an empirical, falsifiable statement which cannot be conclusively decided by philosophy alone. What I can say with some confidence is that we’re going to see bad science promoted for the same reasons that we’ve seen non-science advocated.
I hate to bring up the F-word, but wasn’t the whole point of that convoluted affair that people outside science don’t judge science to be good or bad the same way that scientists do? We insiders care about the evidence, first and foremost, but others have their own fr*me: to them, the notions of “morally acceptable” and “factually correct” are mingled, if not completely blended. Suddenly, despite all our brave talk about fr*ming, it’s all about demarcating good science from bad?
And, of course, the “rebranders” are only one twig on the phylomemetic tree of creationism.
So, where does Behe’s The Edge of Evolution fall in the ongoing evolution of creationist antiscience? Is it part of the “rebranding,” or is it a late-arriving bit of “Intelligent Design,” the last gasp of the 1990s? Does the “horizontal meme transfer” of common arguments make the division of creationists into ideological species a futile endeavor? Tough questions.
Me, I’m just glad tomorrow is Friday.
FRIDAY UPDATE: The press material from the publisher makes it look like they’re trying to have it both ways. This is how the release begins.
What if evolution is NOT (as Darwinists claim) a series of random mutations at the genetic level, but a process based on planned, coherent design? Would that revelation radically change how we see life (and, indeed, the entire natural world) in the same revolutionary way that Darwinâ€™s theories did in the middle of the 19th century?
But a couple paragraphs later, we get into this.
After launching the Intelligent Design movement with his best selling book Darwinâ€™s Black Box (Free Press; 1996), Behe became a somewhat reluctant celebrity for the movement in 2005 when the Dover, Pennsylvania school board made a controversial decision to include ID in its high school curriculum. When angry parents struck back in federal court, Behe took the stand as the lead witness for the defense of intelligent design. As he insisted at the time, ID is a young science with much work to be done. Until now. With THE EDGE OF EVOLUTION, intelligent design finally has its masterwork.
Pick a twig and live on it, people!
(Parenthetically, I gotta say that I just love that description of Behe’s performance at Dover. They do such a fantastic job of leaving out the part where he got totally Perry Masoned. And also the part where he said that by his definition, astrology has to be a scientific theory.)
- Keith Robeson, “Darwin’s Black Box: Irreducible Complexity or Irreproducible Irreducibility?” (11 December 1996)
- Richard Wein, “Not a Free Lunch But a Box of Chocolates” (23 April 2002)
- Publishers Weekly staff, “Nonfiction Reviews: Week of 4/9/2007” (9 April 2007)
- Brian Switek, “The Edge of Evolution; or Darwin’s Black Box Pt. II” (16 April 2007)
- Blake Stacey, “The Edge of Evolution” (4 May 2007)
- Robert Camp, “Behe’s back – Still deluded after all these years” (26 May 2007)
REVIEWS AND REPLIES:
- Mark Chu-Carroll, “Behe’s Dreadful New Book: A Review of The Edge of Evolution” (31 May 2007)
- Nick Matzke, “Behe’s bad math” (31 May 2007)
- SA Smith, “Good Virus, Bad Creationist” (31 May 2007)
- Touchstone, “Chu-Carroll Savages Beheâ€™s New Book, Dembski Complains” (2 June 2007)
- Michael Ruse, “Design? Maybe. Intelligent? We have our doubts” (2 June 2007)
- Pegase, “Intelligent or Silly Design? Behe, MarkCC & Dembski” (2 June 2007, in French)
- Mark Chu-Carroll, “Dembski notices GM/BM, and he’s not happy!” (3 June 2007)
- Tyler DiPietro, “Shorter Bill Dembski” (3 June 2007)
- Jason Rosenhouse, “Ruse and Chu-Carroll on Behe” (4 June 2007)
- SA Smith, “Look Ma! No math!” (4 June 2007)
- PZ Myers, “Brain melting…” (5 June 2007)
- Nick Matzke, “Of cilia and silliness” (5 June 2007)
- Tara Smith, “Behe pwned again” (5 June 2007)
- PZ Myers, “Behe’s Edge of Evolution, part I” and “part Ia” (5 June 2007)
- Brian Switek, “Behe fail science? That’s un-possible” (5 June 2007)
- PZ Myers, “It just gets worse for Behe” (5 June 2007)
- John Lynch, “Beating on Behe” (5 June 2007)
- Jerry Coyne, “The Great Mutator” (5 June 2007)
- Blake Stacey, “Behe’s Bad Arithmetic and Worse Science” (6 June 2007)
- SA Smith, “Fitness Landscapes: Behe really, really shouldn’t have gone there” (6 June 2007)
- Sean B. Carroll, “God as Genetic Engineer” (8 June 2007)
- PZ Myers, “Behe’s The Edge of Evolution, part II” (8 June 2007)
- SA Smith, “One Last Behe-Bile Post, I Swear!” (9 June 2007)
- Douglas Watts, “Wheels off the wagon. . .” (9 June 2007)
- Gordon Glover, “The Edge of Evolution” (10 June 2007)
- Richard B. Hoppe, “Behe Blows It (in other words, dog bites man)” (13 June 2007)
- John Lynch, “Surprising Silence Over Behe’s Book” (13 June 2007)
- PZ Myers, “The Silence of the Sheep” (14 June 2007)
- Jason Rosenhouse, “Quote Mining in EoE” (21 June 2007)
- PZ Myers, “Segmentation genes evolved undesigned” (24 June 2007)
- Ken Miller, “Falling over the edge” (27 June 2007), quoted and summarized in PZ Myers, “Another nail driven into poor Behe” (27 June 2007)
- Richard Dawkins, “Inferior Design” (issue of 1 July 2007)
- Jerry Coyne, “Professor Jerry Coyne Addresses Michael Behe’s Reply to Coyne’s Review of Behe’s New Book” (1 July 2007)
- Corey S. Powell, “The Simplistic Manifesto” (2 July 2007)
- Tyler DiPietro, “Salvador Cordova is Pathetic” (4 July 2007)
- Kevin Beck, “Uncommon Descent manages to fall further” (4 July 2007)
- The Factician, “Review of Pat Sullivan’s review of Dawkins’ review of Behe’s Edge of Evolution” (10 July 2007)
- The Factician, “Dr. Egnor, can I have a Unicorn?” (11 July 2007)
- Arthur Hunt, “Reality 1, Behe 0 (22 July 2007)
- Blake Stacey, “Behe on The Colbert Report” (3 August 2007)
- Jason Rosenhouse, “Tidbits From the RNCSE” (12 October 2007)
- Paul R. Gross, “Design for living” (October 2007)
- Pim van Meurs, “Science versus Intelligent Design: And the myth continues (Luskin on Behe)” (4 November 2007)
- Nick Matzke, “Behe ‘replies’ to TREE review” (6 November 2007)
- Jason Rosenhouse, “Roughgarden on Behe” (15 November 2007)
- Ian Musgrave, “I See Red (not quite protein-protein binding)” (22 November 2007)
- David E. Levin, “The Edge of Evolution” (20 December 2007)
- PZ Myers, “Another shovelful on Behe’s grave” (20 December 2007)
- Jason Rosenhouse, “EoE Reviewed in CT” (28 March 2008)
- PZ Myers, “Historical contingency in the evolution of E. coli” (10 June 2008)
- Gerlach, “Creationist objections to the Lenski paper” (15 June 2008)
- SA Smith, “Behe vs HIV” (13 June 2007)
- SA Smith, “HIV: Keeps getting more impossible-er” (6 July 2007)
- SA Smith, “Michael Behe: I’m calling you out” (19 July 2007)
- SA Smith, “ERV & HIV versus Behe. Behe loses.” (2 August 2007)
- SA Smith, “ I bring out the best in Creationists: Behe Speaks” (11 October 2007)
- Pim van Meurs, “Science v Intelligent Design: ERV v Behe” (17 October 2007)
- Ian Musgrave, “An Open Letter to Dr. Michael Behe” (22 October 2007)
- SA Smith, “Hello again, Michael Behe” (4 November 2007)
- SA Smith, “Quick Translation for Laymen II” (8 November 2007)
- Ian Musgrave, “An Open Letter to Dr. Michael Behe (Part 2)” (11 November 2007)
- Ian Musgrave, “An Open Letter to Dr. Michael Behe (Part 3)” (12 November 2007)
- SA Smith, “Epic Fail.” (13 November 2007)
- Ian Musgrave, “An Open Letter to Dr. Michael Behe (Part 4)” (13 November 2007)
- Ian Musgrave, “An Open Letter to Dr. Michael Behe (Part 5)” (15 November 2007)
- SA Smith, “ Mr. Owl, how many days does it take to get a Creationist to admit he made a mistake?” (16 November 2007)
- Ian Musgrave, “An Open Letter to Dr. Michael Behe (Part 6)” (16 November 2007)
- Ian Musgrave, “An Open Letter to Dr. Michael Behe (Part 7)” (16 November 2007)
- Ian Musgrave, “The Open Letters File” (18 November 2007)
- Pim van Meurs, “A Day In The Life of a DI Fellow: Behe” (27 January 2008)
- SA Smith, “HIV and the failures of Intelligent Design” (27 February 2008)
- SA Smith, “Vpu — Evilution keeps on rollin’” (31 May 2008)
- SA Smith, “Vpu vs Behe, Round Amillionty” (12 April 2011)