Chu-Carroll on Behe’s The Edge of Evolution

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 publisher’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 — which didn’t bode well for the contents of the book itself. What, they couldn’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 — both religious and not — 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 — 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 — 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 Darwin’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 Darwin’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.)





30 thoughts on “Chu-Carroll on Behe’s The Edge of Evolution

  1. Thank you for the link! I didn’t think anyone had noticed when I posted my original thoughts on Behe’s forthcoming book. I also thought what you wrote (about the F-word especially) was relevant in terms of what Sam Brownback’s opinion piece in today’s NYT; to him and others like him, evolution vs. creationism is a moral issue, outside the realm of rationality or evidence (i.e. he says we must temper reason with faith, faith going unspecified).

  2. I’m slogging through Behe’s new book right now, and it really is as bad as Mark-CC says. I got through a few chapters of his overwrought claims about the limitations of evolution, and started wondering when he was going to explain how ID gets us over these incredible roadblocks, so I skipped ahead.

    He never does.

    It’s a whole book that says “Evolution is impossible, therefore it was designed,” and nothing more.

  3. Thanks for suffering on our behalf, Prof. Myers. It doesn’t look like Behe’s latest offering is original enough to make me want to write more about it (new stupidity, I can get myself geared up about), but I will play “amateur Coturnix” and gather the links as they appear.

    By the way, I didn’t think the book was officially out yet, but I definitely remember spotting it in the local Borders last weekend.

  4. Blake, 2 questions. First what the heck is a lolcat. I tried to figure it out, and I researched for the last 2 weeks to no avail. Second question, do you know who won the molly this month – Was it bronze dog?

  5. A lolcat is a photo of an animal, often a cat, with a humorous caption. “They are a type of image macro, and are thus also referred to as cat macros. Lolcats are created for the purpose of sharing them with others on imageboards and other internet forums, especially on Saturdays (“Caturdays”).”

    I don’t think last month’s Molly was officially awarded.

  6. For the benefit of non-French speakers, Pegase gleefully trashes Behe, and Dembski, too, without fear of being dragged into the endless rounds of, ahem, pathetic detail dished out by the Disco Inst. France is such a lovely country….

  7. JLT and Jim Lippard:

    Okay, that’s really weird. I restored the list (and the truncated paragraph leading up to it). Now, I’m going to take the time to be worried.

    (Jim Lippard’s comment was trapped in the Akismet spam filter, which delayed my recognition of the problem. Grrr!)

  8. Well,
    You may want to check out the book “Evolution and religious creation myths: How scientists respond” by Lurquin and Stone (Oxford UP, 2007).

  9. Hello,

    You might wish to check out both my review and Carl Flygare’s of Behe’s book here at

    I’m a former paleobiologist and Carl has a background in information technology. I’ve also been among those commenting extensively on Behe’s work at along with Abbie Smith, biochemist David Levin, botanist Mary Endress and a few others.

  10. A lot of creos, esp. when ranting about “Darwinism”, seem to think that evolution was Darwin’s pipe dream, when in fact he was far from the first to notice the evidence that life had changed through time, and his claim to fame came about by being the first to propose a mechanism (nat’l selection, of course). If ID is presenting itself as evolution like this, I think they are trying to equate it with theistic evolution. I have noticed that many people in the general public seem to think that’s what ID is already..theistic evolution. This confusion is not unintentional, of course. This maybe the direction that ID is going now…trying to pass itself off as an alternative mechanism to “atheistic Darwinsim”. The only problem is that if they do this they would have to accept common decent, fossil evidence, 4.6 billion year old earth, etc. (which they would never do, as it would cut of the YECs support) And the public will see this not as creationism vs. evolution, but “new scientific evidence of a designer who guided evolution” vs. “atheistic unguided evolution”. As if evolution not being able to plan ahead is the same thing as stating that could not have a say. Sure, you cannot rule out the possbility of a hidden God pulling the mutational strings(theistic evolutionists have come to terms with this) but that is an unscientific statement. God cannot be observed (well, by most people I know), and definatly cannot be falsified. Science cannot address it for practical reasons. IDers, even under this new disguise, still won’t get that, and will do everything in their power to prevent the public from understanding that. Most people are comfortable with theistic evolution, and this is the feeling IDers are trying to exploit.

  11. Jake S:

    Good points. I think it’s important to remember that, like biological evolution, the social and ideological evolution of creationism is not a linear chain, but an ever-branching tree — a bush, not a ladder. We still have Young-Earth Creationists, and they don’t exactly get along with the ID folks; at the same time, we have OECs living alongside “design proponents” and using much the same arguments. I think that a big division, perhaps the key branching point in the cladogram, is whether or not the creationist accepts an old Earth.

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