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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 24.1 > Behe’s Last Stand

Behe’s Last Stand

The Lion of Intelligent Design Roars Again

DR. MICHAEL BEHE IS A PROFESSOR OF BIOCHEMISTRY at Lehigh University and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, an organization noted for promoting the pseudoscientific theory of Intelligent Design (ID). He has now written his third book in attack of modern evolutionary theory: Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA that Challenges Evolution (2019, HarperOne). Although his views are well outside the scientific mainstream, this will not stop the efforts of the creationist and ID communities to use Behe’s work to convince school boards that ID is a valid scientific theory. Accordingly, the scientific and skeptical communities should not yield to the temptation to ignore Behe.1 Because his careful writing has the veneer of expertise, the public will look to scientists for responses to the points raised in Darwin Devolves, and I urge my colleagues to respond, not with insults, but with the only tool that matters, evidence.

At several points in Darwin Devolves, Behe makes clear his acceptance of the fact that life has evolved over billions of years and that all living things are related by universal common descent. He also acknowledges how mutation and natural selection have shaped organisms and achieved fitness gains in specific cases. Where he disagrees is the mechanism of how genetic change drives evolution of anything other than the smallest tweaks. Where science has shown that mutation and recombination provide the raw material for all of life’s diversity, Behe maintains that mutations can only break things and an intelligent intervention is required for innovation or even simple gains-of-function. To support his view, he spends a lot of time explaining, in mostly accurate detail, several cases of how mutations have diminished functions of genes with the result of improving survival, although his discussion is misleading, as I’ll explain.

As is his calling card, Behe holds modern evolutionary theory to an impossible standard, declaring it “insufficient” if we cannot pinpoint every point mutation, every intermediate genetic step, in what order, and in which ancient organisms. Meanwhile, Behe’s own theory is held to no standard whatsoever, enjoying a vaulted default status as any gaps in knowledge are simply filled by the designer. Fortunately, his reasoning failed to convince a federal district court in Dover, PA which blocked the school board’s attempt to insert mention of ID into science textbooks. It is worth noting that the lead witness on behalf of the plaintiffs was Kenneth Miller, a devout Catholic who has been often featured in the pages of this magazine for his tireless and erudite defense of the proper teaching of evolutionary science. As Judge John E. Jones III found, ID cannot be scientifically tested. Darwin Devolves continues this pseudoscientific tradition.

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BEHE’S LAST STAND COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Is Low-Dose Radiation Good for You? The Questionable Claims for Hormesis, by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: Define Your Terms (or, Here we Go Again), by Carol Tavris ARTICLES Making Gasoline from Water: John Andrews and the Invention of a Legend • Online Gaming: A Virtual Experiment in the Dark Side of Human Nature • Duped by Data Mining • How Science Will Explain and Fix Fake News • The Cult of Falun Gong: A Dance Troupe and Victimhood Raises Big Money • The Opioid Epidemic Misunderstood • Why the Human-Centered View Has Not Served us Well • Behe’s Last Stand: The Lion of Intelligent Design Roars Again • Straw Man on a Slippery Slope: The Case Against the Case Against Postmodernism • A Disproof of God’s Existence REVIEWS Reviews of: The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure; The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe: How to Know What’s Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake; Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits; Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post- Facts, and Fake News; Hoax: A History of Deception: 5000 Years of Fakes, Forgeries, and Fallacies; Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War Over Anthropology JUNIOR SKEPTIC Quest for the Truth about Dungeons and Dragons