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In its quest to avoid irrelevance, Time Magazine has boldly surged into idiocy.

Remember a while back when this magazine-of-former-repute told us that “You” were the person of the year? As it happens, one of the Blagnet’s pixel-stained wretches predicted their choice over two months in advance, suggesting that no, we don’t need magazines to spout this kind of vanity — amateurs will do just as good a job for free.

A pragmatic person, given the job of managing a wood-pulp publication in these wild days of Web 3.1, would direct that publication’s efforts into doing things which the amateurs cannot. For example, they could send reporters to far-off locales, pull their strings to get inside connections, invest serious money in fact-checking and so forth. Alternatively, they could decide to outdo the Blagopelago through sheer force of idiocy. It’s not easy, but it could in theory be done.

Today, that theory has received empirical support.

Richard Dawkins is number 73 on the Time 100, and guess who they paid to write his profile.

Michael Behe.

Let’s consider a few reasons why this was a terrible idea. It’s hard to choose a place to start, but I’ll begin with Judge Jones’s ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover:

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. [...] First, defense expert Professor Fuller agreed that ID aspires to “change the ground rules” of science and lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology. Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich acknowledged that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces. [...] 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.

[...]

The one article referenced by both Professors Behe and Minnich as supporting ID is an article written by Behe and Snoke entitled “Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues.” (P-721). A review of the article indicates that it does not mention either irreducible complexity or ID. In fact, Professor Behe admitted that the study which forms the basis for the article did not rule out many known evolutionary mechanisms and that the research actually might support evolutionary pathways if a biologically realistic population size were used.

At the Dover trial, Behe found himself on the receiving end of a Perry Mason gambit:

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.”

Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, has been thoroughly demolished multiple times. His favorite hobby-horse, “irreducible complexity”, is both logically void and scientifically groundless.

I note with interest that Behe’s profile of Dawkins announces an upcoming book, The Edge of Evolution. Judging from the Amazon page, come the fifth of June we’ll have a whole new pile of decaying tripe to dissect.

All evidence to date indicates that Behe has made a career out of injecting stupidities into the national discourse and retarding the cause of science education, all in the interest of a particular religious belief. Why Time would hire a charlatan to write anything of significance is a subject for melancholy speculation. Does somebody on their staff think that “Intelligent Design” is a credible alternative to all modern science? Are they merely angling for a controversy? (We’ve got bloggers to handle that, too, thank you very much.) None of the alternatives sound very good.

Of course, the profile Behe writes for Dawkins is noteworthy for its inaccuracy:

Of Richard Dawkins’ nine books, none caused as much controversy or sold as well as last year’s The God Delusion. The central idea—popular among readers and deeply unsettling among proponents of intelligent design like myself—is that religion is a so-called virus of the mind, a simple artifact of cultural evolution, no more or less meaningful than eye color or height.

Well, at least he admits that ID is religion! But is that an accurate summary of The God Delusion? I doubt it. As quork says in the Pharyngula comments,

I wonder if Behe even read the book. The “mind virus” concept is not the central idea of the book. It is a broad-based discussion of the lack of evidence for the existence of gods, with additional sections on the possible evolutionary origins of religion, and the harm that religion causes in the world.

Behe also writes,

I believe his new book follows much less from his data than from his premises, and yet I admire his determination. Concerning the big questions, the Bible advises us to be hot or cold but not lukewarm. Whatever the merit of his ideas, Richard Dawkins is not lukewarm.

Ah yes, taking advice from Revelations, I see! Well, I can also summon a non-Laodicean enthusiasm: Behe writes lies and tells nonsense for money, while pulling this stunt makes Time even less worthy of our regard than before. (Incidentally, we have here yet another case of a creationist pot calling the kettle black, since all of “Intelligent Design” flows from its premises and none from data. Vigorously denying or distorting all data in sight is Behe’s stock in trade.)

The only bright spot in this grimpen mire is that Behe has, more or less forthrightly, admitted that “Intelligent Design” is a religious movement. Anyone who favors a secular society, be they religious or no, can recognize the danger in this. ID is not science. It’s probably not even your religion. It’s a Bronze Age myth wrapped in a cloak of many numbers. Under the guise of education, it aims to stifle the mind, disable critical thought and keep children stupid.

I must confess to a libertarian sentiment: fakers of this despicable breed should not be given ideological welfare. They do not deserve a helping hand into the limelight. Let them fight for survival in a free market whose consumers are equipped with the tools of skeptical inquiry.

Assuming our species survives long enough to write historical chronicles of the early twenty-first century, those chronicles will carry a great black mark against the “liberal” and “moderate” religions of our time, for while great iniquities are being committed in faith’s name, the preachers and prelates are but sleeping. Protestations of shared faith shield creationist liars from reproof, even in the most blatant cases of word-twisting false witness. Hark unto the words of the prophet Jeremiah — “Trust not in lying words, saying: The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, it is the temple of the Lord.”

Well, now that we’re all well and truly sick of this, here’s a video of what happens when a liquid-nitrogen depth charge is placed inside a garbage can full of oobleck.

Be seeing you.

8 Comments

    • nicole
    • Posted Thursday, 3 May 2007 at 18:11 pm
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    You know, I recently got an offer of a free magazine for two months and chose Time (over People and Maxim, or something), because I vaguely remembered it being halfway decent, and free is free, especially when your student loan grace period is coming to an end. Of course, at the end of the free trial they want to automatically subscribe you, so you have to call them up and prevent that.
    After receiving only two issues, I was so fed up with the mindless tidbits of non-information that Time likes to pretend make up a literate publication, I was actually excited about calling up to cancel – I couldn’t wait for someone to try to persuade me to remain a subscriber, just so I could tell them what trash they were selling. I was disappointed when the whole process was automated and I just had to dial “2″ a bunch of times. I’m so over it that I don’t even feel like writing a strongly worded letter over the Dawkins business.

  1. I definitely plan to write letter, and to make it as strongly-worded as I can. (I start my words lifting a calf and keep them lifting the same animal as it grows, until they can heft an adult bull. My words have a reinforced endoskeleton and fingernails of Damascus steel.) My problem is that I have to distill the unformed rant I wrote above into a sensible letter.

    • nicole
    • Posted Thursday, 3 May 2007 at 20:21 pm
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    I understand, and I think my failure to complete that distillation process is what usually causes my letters to go unheeded. Upon post-comment reflection (damnit) I remembered what it was that originally put me over the edge with Time: an inane article several weeks ago about how nice it is to teach the Bible as literature. A key part of the article was to somehow isolate everything so you didn’t have to discuss the truth value of any of the claims. Unclear how one would do this, but it was all very touchy-feely.
    I should be clear – my issue was not with the idea of teaching the Bible as literature. That would be more than fine with me. But the article itself was so devoid of real content, it was just some nice-sounding words strung together with no point. Completely unrewarding to read, and yet pretending to be thoughtful and thought-provoking.
    Of course, bringing all that up hardly helps the fine-tuning of my mental letter to the editor. “How could you have Behe write a profile of Dawkins! BTW your whole magazine SUCKS!!!” Maybe in a few hours I’ll deem myself more articulate than that.

  2. Isolating oneself from the truth value of claims is a sin against beauty. I mean, ain’t that all ye know on Earth and all ye need to know?

    • Scott Hatfield
    • Posted Friday, 4 May 2007 at 02:29 am
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    Blake, I quit bothering with Time when they had a cover story that read ‘When Apes Became Human’. The story itself wasn’t bad, but the misleading title and their penchant for accompanying photos and illustrations with blurbs that placed word play over content have become all-too-familiar. I like Michael Lemonick (a good writer and a standup guy), but in general their approach is all style over substance.

  3. Once you’ve read real writing (like the stuff in the New Yorker) it’s hard to go back to the pablum they put in Time. We need more magazines in the world that don’t assume you’re stupid and have the attention span of an ADD kid.

  4. But. . . but. . . I thought it was TV that catered to the attention-deficit crowd!

    :-/

  5. However, the historical editions they have put on the net are wondrous. Just as shallow, just as chirpy, but a window into the era and whatever stupidity gas was floating around to rot their minds. Try reading about Germany in the 1930′s.