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Quarterly Review of Biology Publishes Outlandish Rhetoric Against Intelligent Design as Penance for Behe’s Paper

Casey Luskin

As we discussed, Michael Behe published a peer-reviewed paper in the December, 2010 issue of Quarterly Review of Biology (QRB), a prominent biology journal.

Critics have claimed that Behe’s paper had nothing to do with intelligent design (ID) — but the paper sought to establish that Darwinian mechanisms tend to not generate new functional molecular features, which seems very much like an argument relevant to ID. The editors of QRB apparently disagreed with those critics, as they felt compelled to publish alongside Behe’s paper — in the same issue — an article against Behe and ID titled “Irreducible Incoherence and Intelligent Design – a look into the conceptual toolbox of a pseudoscience,” whose argument actually managed to surpass its title in outlandish rhetoric.

If you read Behe’s paper, it’s is measured, carefully argued, and restrained and cautious in its conclusions. One can see that he’s being very careful with his argument. In contrast, the anti-ID paper has a very different tone. It is filled with charged rhetoric, bold sweeping conclusions, and cursory analysis. Behe’s standard scientific tone is inordinately tame compared to his critics. Aside from the title, consider the following unqualified broadbrush statements with outlandish rhetoric in the paper critical of Behe:

  • ID suffers from “complete lack of scientific merits”
  • “Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) had been one of the most successful pseudosciences”
  • “IDC’s politics and religious ideology”
  • ID suffers from “religious motivation”
  • “the IDC movement was never driven by its arguments but by its religious ideology”
  • Behe uses an “incoherent definition”or a “disjointed definition” that is “misleading”
  • Behe was “stubbornly insisting” on intelligent design
  • “Behe has disingenuously taken advantage of this very ambiguity in answering his critics”
  • Behe makes “an absurd demand” or “pointless arguments” and “dodges and weaves like a hunted rabbit”

This paper of course mirrors the rhetorically charged attacks on ID that the journal Synthese published late last year. Why is it a common theme that anti-ID papers must turn up the volume and resort to such harsh rhetoric?

Apparently such rhetoric passes for scientific argument in QRB, provided that it’s oriented against ID. And of course, no rant against ID would be complete were there not a comparison between ID and some kind of unwanted, parasitic plant:

We think of creationism as a cluster of ideas that reproduces itself by spreading from mind to mind and struggling with competing ideas for a home among a person’s beliefs. Sometimes it loses out to more powerful rival ideas, but sometimes it finds receptive mental soil, takes root and waits to be passed on again.

(Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, and Johan Braeckman, “Irreducible Incoherence and Intelligent Design – a look into the conceptual toolbox of a pseudoscience,” Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 85 (December 2010).)

So there you have it: minds which accept ID are apparently not capable of properly determining which ideas are most “powerful.” With such over-the-top rhetoric, it seems that QRBs editors strongly felt they needed to bash ID after publishing Behe’s paper. So much for the claim from Behe’s critics that his QRB paper had nothing to do with ID. It sure doesn’t seem like QRBs editors felt like the paper had nothing to do with ID.

In a second review I will discuss Behe’s critics’ inaccurate take on the origin of irreducible complexity.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Michael Behe