Behe, Intelligent Design, and “Folk Science”

behe_smiling Over at Quintessence of Dust, Steve Matheson raises some good points about Behe. Steve’s argument boils down to the following:

Behe’s fans say that he’s a nice guy, and that the evolutionists are "crucifying" him. Both claims seem to be true, but they can’t hide some serious problems with his conduct as a scientist.” These problems are …

A. “Behe exudes an arrogant contempt for the scientific community, exemplified by his neglect of peer review.”

B. “I find many of Behe’s responses to his critics to be suspiciously misleading, and I believe this provides a clue as to why he does not allow comments on his blog or participate in professional discussion of his proposals.”

Of course, Steve’s two points above are exemplified by the whole ID movement; one could swap Dembski, Meyer or Wells for Behe and not alter the truth of the statements one iota. They are all defending what Matheson terms “folk science.”

Wander over and read the whole post. This part in particular made me smile:

Behe has excused himself from the company of those who seriously study evolutionary science, and has done this by approaching the complex and fascinating analysis of evolutionary genetics with a malignant combination of arrogant condescension and pitiful ignorance. (Or, alternatively, his integrity has been somehow compromised.) You see, it actually doesn’t matter how you couch your words when the message to an entire field of science (about which you know relatively little) is: "Hey, guys, give it up; I just figgered the whole thing out." In fact, in my opinion, there’s something pretty creepy about a bland smile on the face of an undistinguished biochemist who claims to have overturned a century of work by some of the best minds in the history of biology.

For those that don’t know, Matheson is a developmental cell biologist at Calvin College and makes no attempt to hide his Christian beliefs. It looks like he will be following up the post with another arguing that “Some of Behe’s defenders think that he has effectively answered his critics. He has not, nor has he understood or acknowledged the most important criticisms of his crude claims.”


12 thoughts on “Behe, Intelligent Design, and “Folk Science”

  1. I hope Prof. Matheson has some good support from Calvin College: he is in the heart of Dutch conservative Christian country, and there are many big money donors in the area (owners of (Sc)Amway, for example) who enjoy putting pressure on those they feel aren’t towing the Christian line. They pressured Hope College into dismissing a professor who dared to speak openly about the excesses of the conservative church nationwide.

  2. John, thanks much for the link, and I’m glad I made you smile. Dean, I’ve recently written about the past and present atmosphere at Calvin re origins issues; the upshot is that I have “good support” from the college and find the community to be generally supportive and eager to learn. If that changes, we’ll move in with my parents in Phoenix and I’ll bug John for a job at ASU. πŸ™‚

  3. Steve,
    I seem to remember you went to U of A, so I don’t think we’ll be employing you πŸ™‚

  4. What I find interesting is how the ID community has generally distanced themselves from Behe even though he was their star for a while. The trailers for Expelled showed that he was interviewed but he didn’t show up in the movie. I wonder if he’ll make it onto the DVD.
    Last summer we were warned by the ID crowd that The Edge of Evolution would cause the heads of all “Darwinists” to simultaneously explode. Instead the book seems to be largely forgotten and I imagine that Darwin’s Black Box is going to be what Behe is known for as his own team seems to have moved on without him.

  5. Brian, speaking of EoE being “largely forgotten, you can get a brand-new copy at for just seven bucks. That’s a 75% discount! Woo hoo! πŸ™‚
    John: Has the A been painted red and blue lately?

  6. Hah! No, but some Wildcats attempted to and almost did some permanent damage to petroglyphs.

    A University of Arizona student prank has cost Tempe taxpayers nearly $10,000 to clean up.
    In the past, it has been a tradition for UofA football fans to try to sneak up Tempe Butte, also known as “A Mountain”, in an attempt to paint Arizona State University’s giant “A” red. But before game day on Nov. 25, 2006, someone trespassed on the north side of the butte and painted a new “A” near some ancient Native American petroglyphs that date back to 1250.
    Tempe officials initially feared some of the petroglyphs had been destroyed by the paint but it was determined that none had been, Tempe Historical Museum administrator Amy Douglass said. She was in charge of finding a way to safely remove the paint.
    Peter Sharp, general manager for Elite Blasting, the company in charge of the paint removal, said it was luck that the paint didn’t hit any petroglyphs because the vandalism occurred at night.
    “That would have been a disaster,” he said.
    The red “A” was about 10 feet high and 10 feet wide, and was visible from Rio Salado Parkway and Loop 202.
    Douglass said at first she also feared that the removal process itself would damage the petroglyphs.
    Tempe spokeswoman Nikki Ripley said the clean up cost the city nearly $10,000. The individuals responsible were never found.

  7. As another U of A grad (currently stuck in Kansas, I do NOT recommend it!!), I resent those remarks about not hiring Steve! =P
    Shame about the petroglyphs, but it’s somewhat of a given that the sort of person who would actually go through the trouble of trying to paint the A probably wouldn’t know to be very discriminate of what they paint. Glad they didn’t ruin the petroglyphs.

  8. “True Wildcats” go to Northwestern. Go Cats!
    Truly a shame that kids from McSame’s home state try to paint the alphabet and can only remember the first letter.

  9. I note that Matheson says of Behe: “When challenged by Richard Dawkins on his failure to have his hypothesis subjected to peer review, he redirected the discussion to a consideration of his publication record in general, and compared it to Dawkins’ nonexistent contributions.”
    Has anyone actually done a comparison? It seems to me that neither of them are really ‘doing anything’ with regard to scientific research these days. Not that it makes an ounce of difference as to who is right and who is wrong. Dawkins’s point still stands and it’s rather shameless of Behe to hide behind a straw man like that, but I was just curious as to what their comparative output was when they were doing active research.

  10. It’s pretty easy to compare the research productivity of Behe and Dawkins. Dawkins’ CV is posted on his website, and shows that he hasn’t published in the technical literature in nearly three decades. In his time, he was a decent neuroethologist, and published several interesting studies in the 1970’s. Behe’s publications can be perused on PubMed (search for “Behe MJ”), where you’ll discover that he hasn’t published a research article since 1998, not counting the silly 2004 paper in Protein Science. Before that, he was a reasonably accomplished biochemist, focusing on DNA/nucleosome structure. He published at least twice as many peer-reviewed papers as Dawkins did, and his research career lasted about twice as long as Dawkins’ did. Also see David Lampe’s examination of Behe’s productivity since the publication of Darwin’s Black Box. I’ve noted this before: Dawkins is a smart guy, and a great writer, but his scientific credentials (as assessed by productive research) are piddling, and he hasn’t been an active scientist in a quarter century. When pointing out the undistinguished research track record of ID theorists (Wells’ CV is hilariously pathetic), critics of ID should avoid their idiotic habit of overstating the qualifications of their apologists. They have Behe & the laughable Wells; countering with Dawkins and Myers is a mistake on multiple levels.

  11. When pointing out the undistinguished research track record of ID theorists (Wells’ CV is hilariously pathetic), critics of ID should avoid their idiotic habit of overstating the qualifications of their apologists. They have Behe & the laughable Wells; countering with Dawkins and Myers is a mistake on multiple levels.

    I agree whole-heartedly.

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