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Behe on Darwin Dissent List: “Overselling Darwinism Means Downplaying Its Difficulties”


For Darwin Day, biochemist Michael Behe takes note of the “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” statement whose PhD signatories now stand at over a thousand, the tip of an iceberg. Why the need for such a list? Over at CNS News, Behe writes:

It turns out the peculiar action is needed because Darwin’s is a peculiar theory. Ever since it was first proposed, it has been used as a bludgeon in culture wars. In his day, the biologist Thomas Huxley, nicknamed “Darwin’s bulldog,” had issues with the Church of England; he and like-minded 19th-century scientists formed the “X Club” to promote evolution and attack the clergy-dominated English old guard. And in our time, primary sponsors of Darwin Day include groups with strong religious or anti-religious views. I don’t think it’s too cynical to suspect the groups care less about the science than about promoting their views about the philosophical implications of the theory.

Use of the theory as a weapon in culture wars leads to it being greatly overrated. To quickly see that Darwin’s theory is a lot less certain than it’s often portrayed, think about nutrition studies. Government science panels notoriously flip-flop on whether certain dietary substances — cholesterol, salt, fat, milk — are good or bad for you in greater or lesser amounts. Yet if it’s so hard to know what is even healthful for modern humans, who can be studied easily in real time, how can science know what would drive the evolution of extinct animals in the distant past – ones that can’t be studied nearly as easily as people? The simple answer is, it can’t. After all, if an easier task is too difficult, a harder one certainly is too. Claims to the contrary are bluster.

Overselling Darwinism means downplaying its difficulties. Despite frequent media stories that it is certain knowledge, Darwin’s theory hasn’t been faring too well lately. New research on DNA shows that random mutation and natural selection do sometimes help a species, but most often by degrading genes. In other words, they help by throwing away pre-existing genetic information that isn’t needed in a new environment, or that is positively interfering with an organism’s ability to adapt. Such a strongly de-volutionary process is, to say the least, unlikely to build elegant biology in the first place. As the website of a group of skeptical scientists puts it, Darwin’s theory “ignores much contemporary molecular evidence and invokes a set of unsupported assumptions about the accidental nature of hereditary variation.” I’ll bet you haven’t read many stories about that.

A Peculiar Theory, All Right

“Downplaying difficulties” with evolutionary theory is the standard strategy of evolutionists, as we saw in the Science review of Behe’s forthcoming book, Darwin Devolves. Speaking of which, one of the co-authors, Joshua Swamidass, now offers a bizarre statement over at his blog, Peaceful Science. Talk about dueling headlines. Swamidass writes, “I Agree With Behe.” What?! This is from the same scientist who just the other day signed his name under the title at Science, “A biochemist’s crusade to overturn evolution misrepresents theory and ignores evidence.” Now Swamidass at Peaceful Science says, “Michael Behe is one of my heroes.”

Dialogue is only possible if we keep our common ground in view. Behe and I, we have an immense amount of common ground. We still have much to discuss, and I want him to get a fair hearing.

This is a really strange thing to say, coming from a co-author of a review that is a total smear, falsely linking Behe with “creationists,” describing him as on a “quixotic” quest “to overturn modern evolutionary theory,” to advocate the “rightly rejected” idea of intelligent design. A “fair hearing”?

As others have observed, the review is a hit job. Whenever possible, Swamidass, Lents, and Lenski cast Behe’s claims in the worst possible light, paraphrase his writing in the most prejudicial way, portray critics’ claims as unassailable, and insinuate that he intentionally and deceptively ignores information they deem relevant. They allude to his arguments in the most cursory fashion and mention none of the evidence Behe cites. Pretty much the entire review is spent railing against a caricatured, largely undescribed argument and the person who makes it. Now come and have a dialogue with us, hero, as we “have much to discuss”?

Whoa, serious cognitive dissonance. But as Behe notes, evolution is a “peculiar theory” all right and not surprisingly produces peculiar behavior from its proponents. To step back and consider it objectively, give it a truly “fair hearing,” is the purpose of the Darwin Dissent list.