Behe Part 2: Pomo vs. Buzzsaw

Michael Behe’s cross-examination started well. He answered the first four questions with as much confidence and aplomb as when he was answering the planned and rehearsed questions at the direct examination. For the record, those questions were:

  1. How are you?
  2. Professor Behe, do you have a copy of your deposition and expert report up there with you?
  3. And I saw that you had a copy of Pandas, but do you have a copy of Darwin’s Black Box with you?
  4. Professor Behe, there are many many peer-reviewed articles regarding the Big Bang theory, correct?

After that, it was all downhill.


Any time Rothschild, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, asked him a question, Behe would dodge and wriggle and explain why the question was wrong. Apparently he thinks that “It depends on what the definition of `is’ is” is a valid defense strategy. Either that, or years of defending ID from the forces of science and reason has rotted his brain. I’m imagining this domestic scene:

Mrs. Behe: What do you want to do for dinner?

Behe: Assuming that by “dinner” you mean “supper”, that question can avail itself of several possible meanings. You might be asking me what I want to do on dinner’s behalf, which to my mind is an absurd proposition, so I’d have to ask you to justify your asking it. But in the more common sense, to answer that, I’d have to take into account not only my state of mind, but also yours, since my satisfaction partly depends on your enjoyment of dinner.

Mrs. Behe: Do you want to go out for a pizza?

Behe: That’s too broad a question, which I can’t answer without further specifics. There are several major varieties of pizza, and practically endless varieties of toppings, and I can’t possibly make a blanket statement about all those different possibilities.

Mrs. Behe: How about Chinese?

Behe: Again, that’s a seemingly simple question that can’t be answered as stated. Hunan, Szechuan, and Cantonese cuisines are quite different, and that’s not even taking into account regional variations or adaptations to an American customer base.

Mrs. Behe: Okay, I’m going to Luigi’s for a calzone. If you figure out what you want, you can come join me.

Behe: [starves to death before coming to any clear conclusion]

He spent a fair amount of time explaining that Of Pandas and People, the ID textbook used in Dover, doesn’t mean what it seems to mean. In his world, not only is every word precisely chosen to convey a specific shade of meaning, but the average ninth grader will ignore the obvious innuendo-signposts pointing to God (it’s already been established at the trial that Pandas was originally an explicitly creationist book), but that they’ll parse every sentence in the only way that avoids both the Scylla of creationist indoctrination and the Charybdis of bad pedagogy.

It’s just presenting an alternate viewpoint, a way to allow students to separate the data from the interpretation of the data. What’s the harm in that? It doesn’t even matter if it’s a load of rat bollocks from cover to cover, as long as it presents a different interpretation for pedagogic purposes, right?

But only if it’s about evolution, it seems. Behe doesn’t have a problem with schools not presenting alternate viewpoints to germ theory, atomic theory, or plate tectonics.

Behe, by the way, was also a contributing author to Pandas. He wrote the section about the blood-clotting cascade, another of his examples of Irreducible Complexity (IC). Not only that, but he was also a reviewer for the book, checking it for accuracy. Except that he didn’t review the entire book. He only reviewed the parts that fell within his area of expertise, biochemistry. That is, the part about the blood-clotting cascade. In other words, he reviewed his own work.

“So when the publishers of Pandas indicate that you were a critical reviewer of Pandas, that’s somewhat misleading, isn t it?” Objection. Overruled. Restate question. Objection. Overruled.

Then he and the lawyer got into a discussion of whether ID was a scientific theory. According to Behe, yes, it is, but not according to the widely-accepted definition. The National Academy of Sciences’s definition is too restrictive, what with its anal retentive emphasis on “data” and “explanations” and “testability”. So we should use a looser definition of “theory”, one that basically means “hypothesis”. One that would accept astrology as a scientific theory.

There was a break as the bailiff took away Dr. Behe’s gun and the EMTs bandaged his foot.

Throughout the examination, Behe kept talking about the Big Bang. He loves the Big Bang, and drew several parallels between it and Intelligent Design:

  • Both have religious implications. The Big Bang was originally scorned because cosmologists thought it was just Genesis in disguise.
  • We don’t know what caused the Big Bang, but it’s still a scientific theory. So we don’t need to ask any questions about ID, like who the designer is, or how or why the designing happened.
  • Despite initial suspicion, after a few decades, the Big Bang came to be the dominant theory in cosmology.

To this last point, Rothschild pointed out that ID went back at least as far as Paley’s watchmaker, 200 years ago. So why is it taking IDists so long to prove their case to the scientific community?

Rothschild also pointed out that not only were there no papers on ID in the literature, not only had several scientific organizations issued statements denouncing ID, but also that the Department of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University, where Behe teaches, has issued a proclamation of We Don’t Know This Dude, He’s Not With Us, Just Ignore Him. Behe neatly countered with

The department faculty is unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory. What does that mean? To commit one’s self to a theory, to swear allegiance to a theory. That s not scientific.

Evolution is a religion. And the entrenched reactionaries don’t want to upset their gravy train. And they’re all meanies and won’t let me play with them.

Now admire Behe’s deft answer to the question of how many research papers on ID have been published:

A The number of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals which show that life is composed of molecular machinery that exhibits the purposeful arrangement of parts in detail on term, you know, many many many thousands. There are — I think there are just one or two that mention intelligent design by name.

Q That argue for the intelligent design of complex molecular systems in peer-reviewed scientific journals?

A No, I don t think — now that you mention it, I think that I was thinking of something else.

“I was thinking of something else” — brilliant! They’ll have to add a new course in law school: RHET 322: How to Deal With Witnesses Who Are Running With Scissors, Metaphorically Speaking.

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