The Questionable Authority

Last week, I reposted four old articles that I wrote back in 2005, when a group representing a number of Christian schools in California filed a lawsuit against the University of California claiming that UC’s rejection of several of their courses was illegal “viewpoint discrimination.” In a more recent post, I mentioned that there’s a hearing on motions for summary judgement scheduled for later this month. I also mentioned that the Christian schools claim that all they are doing is “adding a religious viewpoint” to “standard course material.” It doesn’t take a genius to see that the “viewpoint” presented in some of the textbooks used in the rejected courses is explicitly opposed to the actual science of biology. It certainly represents something very far from the “standard” course material for high school biology. (Or, for that matter, biology anywhere in the reality-based universe.) Nevertheless, the Christian schools seem to be determined to argue that they really do teach the “standard” scientific material.

And they’ve got help – an expert witness. That’s right, the Christian schools have found themselves someone who is willing to stand up and argue that a textbook that “puts the Word of God first and science second” really does teach standard science. Who, you might wonder, is the scientist brave enough to stand up to the harsh wind of reality and claim that teaching that, “man is a special creation that is completely separate from the physical universe and the animal kingdom,” is just an addition to “standard” science? Professor Michael Joseph Behe of Lehigh University, that’s who.

The Christian schools hired Dr. Behe (for $20,000) as an expert in “biology and physics.” (That second part should make Chad and Rob’s heads explode, given that Behe has absolutely no physics experience of any kind.) To earn his fee, Dr. Behe prepared a report that said, basically, that the Christian textbooks are excellent works for high school students. He also defended that view in a deposition that was taken back at the end of May.

I’ll have more – much more – to say about both the contents of Behe’s expert report and about his deposition performance in coming days. It wouldn’t surprise me, either, if a few other folks weigh in on Behe’s views. In the meantime, read the two documents (linked in the paragraph above) for yourself. Feel free to use the comment thread for this post to discuss various points that you find interesting or amusing.

Comments

  1. #1 raven
    September 5, 2007

    Behe seems to be getting more extreme and kooky as time goes by. It wouldn’t suprise me if he ends up as a full blown YEC someday soon.

    In parallel with that, he is also becoming less and less of a scientist. I’m sure that his department at Lehigh is getting more and more appalled. They have a disclaimer on their website right now.

  2. #2 Mark Nutter
    September 5, 2007

    Heck, I’ve got as much expertise in physics as Mike Behe, and I’ll do my report for only $10K. Of course, I’ll say the textbooks are poor science and can be expected to cripple a student’s critical thinking skills (e.g. by teaching that “critical thinking” means thinking up ways to criticize evolution).

  3. #3 Coin
    September 5, 2007

    Wow. So does this mean Behe is going on the stand again? He really is the evolutionist’s secret weapon.

    The Christian schools hired Dr. Behe (for $20,000) as an expert in “biology and physics.” (That second part should make Chad and Rob’s heads explode, given that Behe has absolutely no physics experience of any kind.)

    Wouldn’t this normally mean that the state could challenge the validity of Behe’s expert report to the extent that he claims to be an expert in physics? If so, do they plan to? I remember from the Dover transcripts that there was in that trial quite a lot of time spent debating exactly which subjects that expert witnesses were to be admitted as experts of.

  4. #4 Rien
    September 5, 2007

    Yes, because using Behe as expert witness in a trial usually turns out well…

  5. #5 Spanish Inquisitor
    September 5, 2007

    I swear it’s all about making a living. People sell their souls every day for a dollar, but really, religion is just big business. Someone like Behe finds a niche that he’s comfortable in, and it becomes his occupation. Hell, we all wish we could turn our avocations into vocations.

    Look at Hovind. I’m sure that’s all it was to him, he probably loved being Dr. Dino, and he didn’t even want to pay tax on his take. Even people like Robertson are clearly in it for the money. They may have themselves convinced that they are pursuing a higher purpose, but it’s clear to me, that they’re lying to themselves.

  6. #6 Brian
    September 5, 2007

    I’m not even sure that, for people like Behe, they’ve made their avocation into their vocation. He’s a fairly intelligent person, so either he’s got some kind of schizophrenic outlook as to what constitutes ‘evidence’ (or ‘science’. or ‘truth’.), or he realizes that he can make a lot of money playing the idiot savant.

  7. #7 386sx
    September 6, 2007

    It wouldn’t suprise me if he ends up as a full blown YEC someday soon.

    I think he and Dembski already are. But of course that’s only my opinion and it makes no sense whatsoever. But hey.

    Behe is going to walk out of there utterly embarrassed, assuming that he is capable of feeling embarrassment. (Which I doubt.)

  8. #8 Bing McGhandi
    September 6, 2007

    I always take heart when I hear that he is taking the stand, because he invariably gets knocked onto his left behind.

    HJ

  9. #9 Nomad
    September 6, 2007

    Why do I imagine a cheer going around the scientific community? I keep seeing forum posts where people practically beg people like Behe to take the stand once again.

    What disturbs me is that a group of schools were willing to pay this nutjob twenty grand to go in front of a judge and embarrass them.

    And rather than realize that it was a big mistake and think differently in the future, they’ll rationalize it as being the fault of the “vast atheist conspiracy” and continue merrily along on their course of trying to use the legal system to force the rational world to accept their mumbo jumbo.

  10. #10 cdesign proponentsist
    September 6, 2007

    Looking through the expert report, I got the feeling that creationism is evolving into something like postmodernism in an attempt to find a legal niche in public schools. At least on paper, Behe seems to have totally bought the idea that all ideas have equal value, and he shows this on page 18 where he argues that the “agricultural perspective” of an Agricultural Biology course is equivalent to the creationist perversion of science. It’s also visible in how he has to employ a double asterisk so that even an attempt to trash a concept is counted as covering a standard, and how his argument that the textbooks equally cover the science rests only on a ratio of number of standards covered (with, admittedly, no attention to depth) to total number of standards.
    In the end, with all of the caveats in how he counted and judged the report is worthless except for fisking, but there’s one interesting tidbit in that his list of papers shows his rapid descent into quackery. Prior to Darwin’s Black Box (1996), it’s all science, but afterwards there are less than a handful of science papers in a sea of pseudoscience.

  11. #11 Shawn Wilkinson
    September 6, 2007

    Physics? Granted, a biochemist ought to have an understanding of elementary physical principles (thermodynamic relations, kinematics, etc.) , but I doubt even the greatest biochemistry professor knows an affective way to teach physics, let alone on the hgih school level. That really bothers me and it doesn’t bode well for the schools.

  12. #12 snaxalotl
    September 6, 2007

    “It wouldn’t suprise me if he ends up as a full blown YEC someday soon”

    no, it’s the other way. he’s under deep cover, garnering support, nay worship, from loonies everywhere, and just as the adulation reaches it’s full fervor he’s starting to slip in basic unpalatable truths: oh, by the way we’re all descended from apes after all, and you can’t backpedal because you already swore undying allegiance. And for being a stealth evolutionist, and truly taking one for the team, what thanks does he get from you guys? mockery and ridicule.

    When he comes in from the cold, I hope you all make it up to him is all I can say, you ingrates

  13. #13 Frank J
    September 6, 2007

    Raven: “It wouldn’t suprise me if [Behe] ends up as a full blown YEC someday soon.”

    386sx: “I think he and Dembski already are. But of course that’s only my opinion and it makes no sense whatsoever. But hey.”

    Stop taking the bait. Behe and Dembski are unequivocally old-earthers. Behe is more clearly convinced by common descent than ever. While Dembski refuses to take a position on CD, has never challenged it and has defended Behe’s acceptance of it.

    What you are observing is not any IDers “belief,” but the fact that, due to public misconceptions and science illiteracy the “don’t ask, don’t tell” strategy ends up promoting YEC more than anything else. Furthermore, Dembski even once expressed greater political sympathy to YECs than OECs, despite being clear on his scientific differences with them. What else can they say? These are salesmen, and they can’t turn off their biggest market.

  14. #14 Frank J
    September 6, 2007

    cdesign propoentsists: “Looking through the expert report, I got the feeling that creationism is evolving into something like postmodernism in an attempt to find a legal niche in public schools.:

    Paul Gross said that 7 years ago in the article “Politicizing Science Education.”

  15. #15 Jud
    September 6, 2007

    Mark Nutter wrote:

    “Heck, I’ve got as much expertise in physics as Mike Behe, and I’ll do my report for only $10K.”

    Sorry, you’ve got no chance to be hired as an expert by plaintiffs, for you are the “large-N” variety of Nutter, and I believe they’re looking for “small-n”s only.

  16. #16 Ginger Yellow
    September 6, 2007

    “The Christian schools hired Dr. Behe (for $20,000) as an expert in “biology and physics.”"

    Oh, those poor intelligent design types, unable to make a living because of their outspoken defence of scientific heresy.

  17. #17 Doc Bill
    September 6, 2007

    Behe’s deposition reads like a Kitzmiller deja vu. Behe redefines science once again as if Kitzmiller never happened. And, perhaps, in Behe’s compartmentalized little mind, Kitzmiller is so far tucked away it might as well not have happened.

  18. #18 Tyrannosaurus
    September 6, 2007

    There must be a point in time in which the views of a person are a detriment to an institution. Behe might be a tenured professor and have protections under the first ammendment but he is causing damage to Lehigh U and to science in general. He must be responsible and realize the damage to the University reputation when his name is invocked along with Lehigh. That is a loss for the employeer that Behe is not going to be cleaning any time soon.

  19. #19 Erp
    September 6, 2007

    There must be a point in time in which the views of a person are a detriment to an institution. Behe might be a tenured professor and have protections under the first ammendment but he is causing damage to Lehigh U and to science in general. He must be responsible and realize the damage to the University reputation when his name is invocked along with Lehigh. That is a loss for the employeer that Behe is not going to be cleaning any time soon.

    Actually Behe probably isn’t protected by the first amendment in his employment as Lehigh is a private university not government run. However being unpopular shouldn’t be a reason to fire him. Clear evidence of academic or other serious misconduct would be needed, and, I don’t think that exists in this case. Remember professors can be considered to be a detriment to their institution for many reasons (e.g., being outspokenly atheist in the Bible Belt).

  20. #20 Keanus
    September 6, 2007

    At $20,000 a pop for his “expert” services, one has to wonder if Behe is actually a closet supporter of evolution but sees his services to the DI and the fanatasy world as a golden opportunity to enrich the Behe estate. His annual consulting fees and book royalties (on “Darwin’s Black Box” and “Edge of Evolution”) have to at least double his salary at Lehigh.

  21. #21 Frank J
    September 6, 2007

    Keanus,

    I think that nearly all major ID promoters, and many if not most major promoters of classic creationism, are closet “accepters” of evolution. I wouldn’t say “supporters” because they don’t provide either new evidence or defend what’s already there. I don’t think their primary motivation is financial, either. See:

    http://reason.com/9707/fe.bailey.shtml

  22. #22 Abhishek
    September 6, 2007

    Frank J:
    Stop taking the bait. Behe and Dembski are unequivocally old-earthers. Behe is more clearly convinced by common descent than ever. While Dembski refuses to take a position on CD, has never challenged it and has defended Behe’s acceptance of it.

    I know you are a veteran ID observer, but I don’t see how you’re so sure. Dembski has used a hodge-podge
    of classic creationist arguments against human evolution which may as well be YEC as anything else. Both he and Behe appear regularly and share arguments with Paul Nelson who is definitely YEC. Behe’s defintion of common descent in EofE is so obscure that it isn’t clear it corresponds to the the regular one. Most importantly both are tone deaf to the contradictions that between the host of other ideas they appear to espouse, and common descent.

    How do you separate the ‘salesmanship’ from heartfelt belief with these guys?

  23. #23 Doc Bill
    September 6, 2007

    Abhishek et al.

    These guys don’t have a position other than to overturn materialism which is their word for the natural processes of evolution; science, basically.

    They, Dembski, Behe, Wells and the entire lot, believe that materialism as they define it is BAD. Anything they can do to overthrow materialism they will do.

    What is materialism?

    Science.

    So, young earth, old earth or middle earth it doesn’t matter so long is it casts doubt on modern science.

    And, that, in my opinion, is why Behe in particular is so disgusting. He would cast out all of science to soothe his personal religious beliefs.

  24. #24 Andrew
    September 6, 2007

    When one party introduces expert testimony during a trial, the party proffering the witness will lead the court through a series of questions designed to show the witness’s qualifications. At the end of that introduction, the attorney will then move the witness as an expert in whatever fields they want the witness admitted as an expert in.

    At that point, the other side can voir dire the proffered expert, which is just fancy lawyer-speak for “cross-examine the expert to see if he’s really an expert in the areas for which he’s being offered as one.”

    I cannot imagine Behe surviving voir dire in *physics*.

  25. #25 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    September 6, 2007

    I agree after a quick browsing with cdesign proponentsist that these texts are examples of a pomo view and mostly bait for fisking. The religious books are put against the scientific definitions and books and fails, yet Behe moves on.

    For example, when the science books (and, I assume, the curricula) stress predictivity Behe accepts contradictory religious texts that claims the past (beginning of life) or the future “cannot be observed or measured” so are beyond predictive science. And btw, science isn’t allowed to answer “how”, which surprisingly is exactly what theories do. (Behe report p. 8.)

    I can offer this fisking: In his deposition Behe claims against history that when the big bang
    hypothesis was presented based on new observations scientists opposed it because these models had an observable initial boundary. But Einstein, despite having presented his own steady-state model based on earlier observations, was influential in spreading those ideas.

    What Behe presents is the usual creationist contrafactual description of this piece of science history.

  26. #26 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    September 6, 2007

    Actually, one could probably also fisk Behe on the point that later scientists have added models with initial boundaries and other variants such as cyclic universe to the older models with a simple big bang origin.

  27. #27 Ichthyic
    September 7, 2007

    While Dembski refuses to take a position on CD,

    not true, he has gone on record in his debate a couple years back with Michael Ruse as supporting the concept of common descent, conceding that there is a tremendous amount of evidence to support it…

    before mitigating by saying he didn’t believe that natural selection was the mechanism that produced it.

    seriously, I still have a copy of the interview, so wonder no more. He was pretty clear in saying the evidence for common descent was undeniable. If he says anything otherwise at this point, it is quite easy to show him on record saying he does.

    I think this year, they are now pushing the concept that natural selection is a valid mechanism, but that there is no evidence it has produced any significant changes in alleles within populations.

    they are nothing if not consistent in how mobile they make their own goalposts.

    lies and the lying liars that tell them, as our old pal Al Franken would say.

  28. #28 hoary puccoon
    September 7, 2007

    I find it hilarious that the creos rail against ‘materialism.’ Good ol’ fashioned materialism, in the sense of ‘gimme, gimme, gimme,’ seems to be the ONLY thing they believe in.

  29. #29 Frank J
    September 7, 2007

    Ichthyic:

    Is WD’s concession online or otherwise available? Not that I doubt it. Rather I suspect that if one adds up all the major IDers’ quotes (without deliberate mining of course), one will find they concede all of evolution except “naturalism” (whatever that is) and the caricatured version of natural selection that even Dawkins argues against.

    They do try to have everything both ways, though. Behe even added a pathetic disclaimer to CD once. He said that there are some who deny it who are more familiar with the “relevant science.” I’m not sure if he was thinking of Carl Woese (who only denies a caricature of CD) or the 2 or 3 DI personnel that are in on the scam, but the irony is that the disclaimer is a curious exception of the DI policy of reminding everyone how those most familiar with the “relevant science” can be biased. And that those who aren’t can provide a fresh perspective.

  30. #30 Ginger Yellow
    September 7, 2007

    No matter what Behe says about common descent, his concept of irreducible complexity is incompatible with any normal conception of CD. Given the prevalence of irreducibly complex structures among organisms, if no unguided process can produce them then the only alternative is thousands if not millions and billions of special creation events – one for each organism. Which kind of makes you wonder why God, sorry, the designer, bothered with common descent at all.

  31. #31 Frank J
    September 7, 2007

    Ginger Yellow,

    If the “special creation events” occur in-vivo, then it’s still CD – though more in the Goldschmidt “saltation” sense than in the “normal conception.” No major IDer to my knowledge ever specifically said that the first cell of any new species (or “kind”, or “containing a new IC system”) must have appeared in the wild – as classic creationists contend. But even the latter are hiding behind weasel words like “common design” these days.

    I asked 3 questions on Talk.Origins recently for IDers to describe some general “whats, wheres and whens” of those events. I did not ask for anywhere near as much detail as they demand of evolution. Not one person answered. The best we have after all these years is Behe’s half-hearted speculation that all IC systems (mostly “turned off”) was all incorporated in the first ancestral cell ~4 BY ago.

  32. #32 Gary Hurd
    September 9, 2007

    I think Mike has a memory problem:

    23 Q. Is the statement that man
    24 is completely separate from the animal
    25 kingdom consistent with scientific
    page 163
    1
    2 evidence?
    3 A. (MICHAEL J. BEHE) I guess it depends on what
    4 completely separate means. Certainly
    5 humans share much, many physical
    6 characteristics in common with all
    7 other animals. And the majority of the
    8 scientific community — I’m sorry, I’ve
    9 forgotten the question.

  33. #33 Gary Hurd
    September 9, 2007

    There are lots of goodies here, but I am worried that the UC lawyer has jumped the gun. She should have used the age of the earth, and common descent questions in the trial.

  34. #34 Gary Hurd
    September 9, 2007

    There is a great Panda’s Thumb post to be written now that we finally have Mike Behe’s definition of genetic information.

    Ah well.

  35. #35 Gary Hurd
    September 9, 2007

    Mike (Dunford not Behe), are the Ayala report and deposition online? I have some real reservations about Ayala as an expert witness in this case. He is an expert, but I wonder how he will fare in the box.

  36. #36 W. Kevin Vicklund
    September 10, 2007

    The expert report is online, though not the deposition (at least, not without PACER access). Look at the UC site for the case.

  37. #37 386sx
    September 19, 2007

    Frank J said: Stop taking the bait. Behe and Dembski are unequivocally old-earthers. Behe is more clearly convinced by common descent than ever. While Dembski refuses to take a position on CD, has never challenged it and has defended Behe’s acceptance of it.

    Well according to this Dembski doesn’t believe that humans evolved from another species. Like Abhishek says, how do you separate the ‘salesmanship’ from heartfelt belief with these guys? Who freakin knows, man.

  38. #38 Ichthyic
    September 19, 2007

    Is WD’s concession online or otherwise available?

    yes.

    hmm, I have it locally, but I think you could still find it by googling for Ruse Dembski and i *think* nightline.

    let’s see…

    ah, yes, i believe this is the right one, and Dembki’s responses re common descent come after the interviewer points out the tremendous amount of evidence in favor of common descent.

    can’t recall without watching it again exactly what time in the clip Dembski’s answer appears. I’ll let you do that for yourself.

    http://telicthoughts.com/nightline-dembski-ruse-debate/