Ruse and Chu-Carroll on Behe

Meanwhile, the reviews of Michael Behe’s new book The Edge of Evolution are starting to appear. Michael Ruse weighs in with a short review for The Globe and Mail. His verdict:

Although I am a hard-line Darwinian evolutionist and loathe and detest IDT, I have a grudging admiration for Darwin’s Black Box. It’s wrong through and through, but has a certain style – it is a brilliantly written piece of advocacy, powerful because (generally) it seems so modest.

I am afraid, though, that The Edge of Evolution is a bit of a sad sack. Nothing very much new, old arguments repeated, opposition ignored or dismissed without argument. What does surprise me is how emphatic Behe now is in putting a distance between himself and the older Creationists. For a start, he stresses his commitment to evolution. He thinks the world of life is as old as is claimed by any more conventional biologist. He also wants to give natural processes of change a role in life’s history. For instance, the genetic mechanisms that led to the production of anti-freeze in fish that live in Arctic conditions are explicitly acknowledged to be those of random mutation sifted through the processes of natural selection, the survival of the fittest.

Overall, however, we are still where we were with Darwin’s Black Box. The micro-world is too complex to be a product of nature. Something – or rather, Some Thing – else was needed. I presume the converted will like this book, although I do wonder about the extreme biblical literalists. These latter do not think IDT goes anywhere like far enough, but have agreed for the moment to let the IDT supporters do the blocking. When the battle has been won against evolution will be time enough to ask for a lot more.

Sounds about right, though I think calling Darwin’s Black Box “brilliant” in any way is a bit much. I agree with the basic point though. DBB was well written. One of the things that strikes you about the YEC literature is just how comically amateurish most of it is. DBB wasn’t like that. It was actually readable.

I am currently slogging my way through EoE. It is really, really boring. The writing is clumsy, and the attempts at levity or familiarity fall flat. I have finished the first two chapters, and will eventually finish the whole thing, but everytime I look at it I am overcome with a desire to clean the bathroom, or scoop out the litter box.

On the other hand, Chapter Three bears the tantalizing title, “The Mathematical Limits of Darwinism.” This I’ve got to see! On the other hand, Mark Chu-Carroll has already had a look, and I have a sneaking suspicion I’m going to arrive at the same conclusion as he:

The part of the book that is most annoying to me, and thus the part that I’ll focus the rest of this review on, is chapter three, “The Mathematical Limits of Darwinism”. This is, basically, the real heart of the book, and for obvious reasons, it seriously ticks me off. Behe’s math is atrociously bad, pig-ignorant garbage – but he presents it seriously, as if it’s a real argument, and as if he has the slightest clue what he’s talking about.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 4, 2007

    Duly added to the list.

  2. #2 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 4, 2007

    Thanks for the link!

  3. #3 Grodge
    June 5, 2007

    Thank God (or His equivalent) people like you are out there “slogging through” books by Behe. I know I couldn’t do it. I got half-way thru DBB and tossed the tome into the trash (only to fetch it out later to return it to the library.)

    Behe blinked. He sold out to the old earth crowd and, frankly, for a creationist that stance is untenable. I much more admire true YEC’s because at least they are consistent. Once one buys into the radioisotope dating and carbon dating stuff, the creationism theory unravels.

    For one to accept the Bible as literal truth, the earth has to be 4,000 years old. Period. Any re-interpretation of billion year days or some such metaphor only leaves the door open for metaphors regarding the Resurrection and Virgin Birth, etc. Literal should mean literal and the slope is awfully slippery.

    Thanks for reading Behe, so I don’t have to. The mathematical argument for ID is absurd, and as Chu-Carroll points out, is maddening. It’s even worse than just saying “the Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it” because Behe is trying to lend some pseudo-scientific patina to the argument. If he believes something that is unprovable and inconsistent with known science, then why doesn’t he just admit it is based on blind faith and move on. Even the Pope can do that.

    To corrupt mathematics by implying that it somehow agrees with his cockamamie theory, Behe commits a scientific heresy– the secular equivalent to a sin.

  4. #4 Dave M
    June 5, 2007

    Re: Ruse’s comment about the “modesty” Behe displays in DBB. Of course it seems “modest” the whole idea is that gee, the cell is SO complex, I just can’t for the life of me figure out how it could have evolved, maybe we were too hasty to think it had, let’s just be careful and consider other possibilities, etc., etc. “Modesty” is the natural rhetorical mode for this. That doesn’t mean it’s a virtue.

  5. #5 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 6, 2007

    Speaking of “Mathematical Limits,” it looks like Behe’s argument about chloroquine resistance — the yardstick by which he measures the difficulty of evolution — is a mixture of bad science and bad math. Since the Panda’s Thumb server is down for repairs, I tried writing about this myself (although a physics person writing about genetics is a scary prospect).