Saturday, August 29, 2009

Poor Michael Behe

Poor Michael Behe.

The eminent professor Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box, which was named the 92nd best book of the last century by the geniuses at National Review, is unhappy. I guess he has a lot to be unhappy about, what with his University department posting a disclaimer about his work on their web pages. But no, it's not that his colleagues think his work is junk that is bothering him this time.

This time, it's about something much more sinister. It seems that John McWhorter, a linguist with no biological training that I can detect, recently interviewed Behe on bloggingheads.tv. In the interview, McWhorter gushes that "I just read your book The Edge of Evolution from 2007 and I found it absolutely shattering. I mean, this is a very important book. And yet I sense that from the reputation, or the reception of your book from 10+ years ago, Darwin's Black Box, that it may be hard to get a lot of people to understand why the book is important." Later, he claims that The Edge of Evolution was one of the most important books he's ever read. It seems that McWhorter didn't bother to read or understand the criticism of Behe's claims by actual biologists, such as Dawkins, Coyne, and Miller. Instead, Behe was able to babble without being challenged.

What happened next? Predictably, people who actually know something about evolution and Behe's misrepresentations complained, McWhorter had second thoughts, and the video was removed from bloggingheads.tv. Although I wouldn't have published this gushing, ignorant interview to begin with, I wouldn't have removed it afterwards, either -- it's a useful record of McWhorter's fawning stupidity and Behe's unsupported claims. Luckily, it's been archived.

What interests me more is Behe's reaction to the whole affair. He describes those who complained as "cyber bullies" and "internet mobs". (A bully, in Behe's view, apparently being someone who does not buy his bogus claims, and an "internet mob" is a few people who complained.) He also compares himself to Nikolai Yezhov and his detractors to Joseph Stalin.

Poor Michael Behe. While bloggingheads.tv showed very poor judgment in getting a non-biologist to interview Behe, and even poorer judgment in deleting the interview after posting it, Behe's reaction to the affair is hyperbolic. Behe had an interview deleted; he wasn't murdered in a basement. And the irony is even greater, since Behe posted his complaints on a blog which does not allow any comments!

When you make stupid and unsupported claims, you're going to get criticized -- and sometimes harshly. That's science. Deal with it.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Even if you disagree with him, you shouldn't use such mocking expressions. Disagreement doesn't imply disrespect.

John Farrell said...

I wonder if Behe is aware of this: I popped into the Boylston Street Borders Friday evening, browsing the philosophy section, and to my surprise saw that not only his books but the latest nonsense from Stephen C. Meyer were also shelved there, not in the science section. (Which is where they frankly belong...)

I wonder if Behe will complain about this?

Of course, this may not necessarily be the policy of Borders in general. Maybe the Boylston St. store just has a manager with good judgment.

:)

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anonymous:

On the contrary, I think mockery is a useful and effective tool.

crf said...

People are disparaging his ideas, Anonymous.

I'm sure Behe is prepared to have his ideas considered wrong, and called dumb or worse, and then be mocked. It's the gambit you take when you decide to put an idea out to the public and argue for it. In particular, his is an idea that seeks to dismiss two centuries of the careful scientific development of biology.

Tomato Addict said...

Michael Behe has worked long and hard to earn this level of mockery. Let him enjoy the fruits of his labors.

As for the disrespect, I'm willing to throw that in gratis.

Anonymous said...

If I were Behe I would be more embarrassed to have my book on that list of National Review's 100 best books (tracts/pamphlets) of the century than to be called names for my idea. Consider that my book is just 7 slots above a steaming pile of ... than Ken Starr's deathless prose or is rubbing shoulders with such timeless classics by hte likes of George Gilder!

-Truti

Blake Stacey said...

Behe and Meyer's books belong in "Religious Fiction" next to the Left Behind series.

schnk said...

They put the interview back on bloggingheads

William said...

McWhorter works for the Manhattan Institute, yet another right-wing "think tank". That's really all you need to know about him. They're not as notorious as some of the others, but they should be.

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

Carl Zimmer and Sean the Cosmologist Carroll dissociate themselves from bloggingheads.

Blake Stacey said...

"[Behe] also compares himself to Nikolai Yezhov and his detractors to Joseph Stalin."

From Wikipedia's article on Nikolai Yezhov:

"He completed only elementary education."

It's true! It's true! :-)

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Jeffrey Shallit said..."On the contrary, I think mockery is a useful and effective tool."

Indeed, with cases like this, mockery and cynicism are effective.

"And the irony is even greater, since Behe posted his complaints on a blog which does not allow any comments!"

Thanks for this comment. I did not know that no comments were allowed on the uncommon descent blog. But this is compatible with the views expressed therein: they are religious, rather than scientific, and what comments can a religious preacher allow? He wants you to accept what he says in faith.

robert said...

You all are as bad as the Christian fundamentalists: submit to experts, categorize assertions not supported by your own philosophical presuppositions as "irrational", and mock and demonize. Grow up.

Blake Stacey said...

What's wrong with submitting to an expert? Experts know things. It's certainly better than submitting to a non-expert like Behe, who is demonstrably unlearned in the relevant evidence.

Tomato Addict said...

@Blake Stacy:

Every time I visit Half-Price Books I make a point of properly re-shelving one of Behe's books. For all I know, they probably sell faster there anyhow.

Ty said...

"You all are as bad as the Christian fundamentalists: submit to experts, categorize assertions not supported by your own philosophical presuppositions as "irrational", and mock and demonize. Grow up."

My favorite thing about the creotards is that the absolute worst thing they can think to say is, "You're just as bad as we are!!!"

Point by point dismissal of your post to follow:

"submit to experts"

Many of the people posting on this blog, including the owner of the blog, ARE experts.

"categorize assertions not supported by your own philosophical presuppositions as "irrational""

Yes, because my philosophical presupposition is that reality is testable. Science is based on this presupposition, and science works. If it didn't, you'd be sending your nonsensical tirade through smoke signals rather than across an internet that science built. Name one creationist/religious presupposition that has ever been demonstrated to have predictive value and then we can talk.

"and mock and demonize"

When your opponents arguments are not based on logic or facts, mockery is often the only remaining tool to use on them.

Doppelganger said...

Better, it seems to me, to 'submit' to an expert than to submit to a charlatan.