Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Timmer on the Behe lecture

I ran across this link last week. It’s an article written by John Timmer. I’m not familiar with the guy, but apparently he listened to the Behe lecture via internet and provided his thoughts on the lecture in this article. I’ve tried to just let his inaccurate portrayal of Behe’s words melt from my mind, but I’m finding that unless I vent via the written word, I’m not going to be able to let it go. So...here are some thoughts on Timmer’s view of the lecture that I must purge to be able to move on with life.

Timmer writes:
Many of the presentations are old news if you've seen the people speak before (I'm quite familiar with Ken Miller and Eugenie Scott), but one of the speakers was Michael Behe, ID's only advocate that has done any research in biology.
False. If he’d been paying any attention whatsoever during the Dover trial, he’d know that biochemist Scott Minnich, testified about his own research. Of course, there are various other pro-ID biologists and other scientists doing research, but such a claim shows a complete lack of care for accuracy about the issues. Shoot, there is even a list of scientists who have signed "A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism" document. From merely scanning that list, it appears that there quite a few biologists on it who would be happy to share their research work with Timmer.

Behe spent nearly 45 minutes of his talk addressing other people's arguments, with over 35 minutes of that devoted to attacking the Dover decision.
Right, and perhaps that was because Behe was invited to speak as the LAST PERSON IN A SERIES in which he had previously been ATTACKED by Ken Miller, Eugenie Scott, and others. How could he possibly fail to rebut the incorrect information that had been put forth by those individuals?

Dover declared ID a form of creationism, which is inherently non-scientific, and suggested that the scientific arguments that it does use have already been revealed to be flawed.
Oh, please...this sound like a “Judge Jones said it, I believe it, that settles it” mindset. Judges get things wrong all the time, and there were some very significant problems with Jones’ decision. Those problems are carefully documented in the book Traipsing Into Evolution.

... Discovery has already published a book that challenges the legal and scientific underpinnings of Dover. This book, and many press releases, focused on claiming that the testimony of pro-ID witnesses (including Behe himself) was either misunderstood, ignored, or misconstrued.
Well, at least he got that part right. But these weren’t trivial misconstruals. These were relevant misconstruals which relate to key questions such as (1) Does ID require supernatural causation? (Behe, Minnich, and the Pandas textbook clearly said “no,” but Judge Jones ignored their testimony and claimed it does); (2) Is ID simply a negative argument against evolution? (Behe and Minnich discussed the positive argument for ID, but Judge Jones then made his own argument against their position and behaved as if their argument doesn’t exist); (3) Has ID published peer-reviewed articles? (Minnich and others testified about such articles but Judge Jones apparently ignored this testimony; (4) Has ID been the subject of testing and research? (Minnich and Behe both testified about their own research but Judge Jones apparently ignored this testimony as well.)

This approach seemed to gain very little traction, and Behe reveals the latest twist on it: the Dover ruling is simply not to be trusted. Discovery has latched onto something that has been obvious for over a year (so obvious, I noted it in my initial description of the decision). In the US legal system, judges typically ask both sides to submit proposed findings, models of how they wish the court to rule. The court then has the option of using whatever it wishes from the side it feels has best made its case. As Judge Jones rejected the defense's case in its entirety, his decision followed closely along the lines of the pro-science side's proposed findings, and included many sections taken directly from it.

This bit of standard legal practice has recently been termed plagiarism by Discovery.
Hmmm... Apparently Timmer did not read the report from the Discovery Institute which explains that they were NOT accusing Jones of “plagiarism” but were making a different point. Here’s what the report actually said .

“Proposed “findings of fact” are prepared to assist judges in writing their opinions, and judges are certainly allowed to draw on them. Indeed, judges routinely invite lawyers to propose findings of fact in order to verify what the lawyers believe to be the key factual issues in the case. Thus, in legal circles Judge Jones’ use of the ACLU’s proposed “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” would not be considered “plagiarism” nor a violation of judicial ethics. Nonetheless, the extent to which Judge Jones simply copied the language submitted to him by the ACLU is stunning. For all practical purposes, Jones allowed ACLU attorneys to write nearly the entire section of his opinion analyzing whether intelligent design is science. As a result, this central part of Judge Jones’ ruling reflected essentially no original deliberative activity or independent examination of the record on Jones’ part. The revelation that Judge Jones in effect “dragged and dropped” large sections of the ACLU’s “Findings of Fact” into his opinion, errors and all, calls into serious question whether Jones exercised the kind of independent analysis that would make his “broad, stinging rebuke”27 of intelligent design appropriate.”

Perhaps Timmer should read from the actual report rather than parrot a militant pro-Darwin blog site.

Behe doesn't take that inflammatory tack, but he clearly implies that Jones had no sense of the scientific arguments, and that the Dover decision mindlessly parroted the arguments of the plaintiff's attorneys. He terms Jones "the former head of the liquor control board who signed off on a tendentious brief by a product liability trial lawyer." Behe uses some self-deprecating comments made by Jones to suggest that he was in no position to judge scientific evidence. He also repeated his standard claims that his own testimony was ignored or misinterpreted.
His testimony was ignored, misinterpreted, and misrepresented. Judge Jones even put words into Behe's mouth that he DID NOT SAY. Read this book, or listen to the actual trial transcripts and you‘ll see for yourself, unless you’re wearing Darwinian blinders.

Some of these arguments over Dover are simply bizarre. Reading any of the ID web sites reveals that all of them regularly conflate ID and religion.
Hey Timmer, how about some documentation here? I mean, good...flipping...grief! ID is no more religiously motivated than Darwinian evolution. Both theories, in and of themselves, say nothing about God or religion whatsoever! ID doesn’t reference passages from the bible, the koran, the vedas or any other holy book for that matter. Nor does it make any indication whatsoever WHO or WHAT the designer may be. This is certainly an important question, but something that is out of the hands of scientists. I see just as much God or anti-God statements, humanist and atheist proselytizing, etc. associated with pro-Darwin scientists and web sites as I do with pro-ID websites. I’ve pointed this out in previous posts many, many, many times.

Shoot, Richard Dawkins uses his background in biology and his claims about the truths of ~all powerful~ natural selection as a reason to put an end to religion. The man signed a petition that states that:

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.”

Further details on the petition followed:

“In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. At the age of 16, as with other laws, they would then be considered old enough and educated enough to form their own opinion and follow any particular religion (or none at all) through free thought.” [my emphasis]

After being called on his authoritarian attitude, he had his name removed from the petition feigning a misunderstanding of the petition due to not reading it thoroughly enough. What a bunch of baloney.

It appears to me that many Darwinists conflate evolution with their own form of religious faith beliefs.

Behe regularly acted as if the designer were God during the question session that followed his talk.
Let’s look at what Behe has said repeatedly in print:

"The conclusion that something was designed can be made quite independently of knowledge of the designer. As a matter of procedure, the design must first be apprehended before there can be any further question about the designer. The inference to design can be held with all the firmness that is possible in this world, without knowing anything about the designer." (Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box, pg. 197)

"The most important difference [between modern intelligent design theory and Paley's arguments] is that [intelligent design] is limited to design itself; I strongly emphasize that it is not an argument for the existence of a benevolent God, as Paley's was. I hasten to add that I myself do believe in a benevolent God, and I recognize that philosophy and theology may be able to extend the argument. But a scientific argument for design in biology does not reach that far. This while I argue for design, the question of the identity of the designer is left open. Possible candidates for the role of designer include: the God of Christianity; an angel--fallen or not; Plato's demi-urge; some mystical new age force; space aliens from Alpha Centauri; time travelers; or some utterly unknown intelligent being. Of course, some of these possibilities may seem more plausible than others based on information from fields other than science. Nonetheless, as regards the identity of the designer, modern ID theory happily echoes Isaac Newton's phrase hypothesis non fingo. (Michael Behe, "The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis," Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2001), pg. 165, emphasis added.)

Yet the ID proponents testified at Dover that there was nothing inherently religious about it. Judge Jones simply didn't believe them. Now, oddly, this aspect of his ruling is being used as an indication that he was biased against ID. Of course, discrediting Jones, and claiming that the pro-ID arguments were not accurately assessed seem to be the only way for Discovery to cope with Dover. I expect that Behe's aggressive attack on the ruling is just the latest in what will be an ongoing effort to find something that will allow them to label the decision as seriously flawed and actually have someone outside of the ID community believe them.
Yes, the ruling was flawed. But until Timmer starts actually citing evidence and doesn’t simply take the “Judge Jones said it, I believe it, that settles it” approach, his entire discussion is worthless. As I’ve said before, The Discovery Institute painstakingly documented the flaws in Judge Jones’ ruling in their book, Traipsing into Evolution. Perhaps Timmer should consider an actual discussion regarding what the book says about these issues.

He also dismissed it because evaluations of design occur based on our knowledge of the capabilities and motivations of the humans doing the designing. ID, in contrast, steadfastly refuses to say anything about the designer of biology, making its claims impossible to evaluate.
Ah... but ID theory does say that the designer has intelligence, like a human, making the study of human designs entirely relevant to finding machine-like structures and digitally encoded information sufficient to warrant a design inference. It is also interesting that early in Timmer’s spiel, he stated that Behe conflates God with ID, and now he acknowledges that ID doesn’t say anything about the designer. Which is it, dude?

Three things struck me about the rest of the talk: explicit creationism, a flawed understanding of science, and a presentation of evolution that is a caricature of science's actual understanding. The creationism was apparent in several places. Despite ID's general attempt to abstract itself from any specific claims of the designer, Behe was happy to answer questions which specifically referred to God. He also happily claimed the design argument of William Paley, which dates from before Darwin and explicitly mentions God as the creator, as his own.
I sat through Behe’s lecture, and I didn’t hear anything that any creation scientist would claim as “creationism”. Also, Behe has carefully distinguished between himself and Paley in the past, and I provided a quote from Behe regarding this matter above.

He cites the use of cautious language in descriptions of evolutionary models as a sign of their weakness, rather than a recognition of the tentativeness of science.
Perhaps Behe is justified in questioning these tales! When scientific papers are riddled with “might have”, “could have”, etc. we should sit up and take notice. Just so stories don’t make for factual claims.

He also, as noted, runs into trouble when asked about testability. He suggests that both good and bad designs are compatible with ID, so that discoveries regarding extinctions and inefficiencies are perfectly okay as far as ID is concerned, raising questions about what aspects of ID are testable.
Timmer is presenting a false caricature of ID. His view is that “if evolution fails, we can accept ID. Design, in short, should be viewed as a default explanation until proven wrong, despite its lack of experimental support.” THIS IS FALSE—ID has a positive argument based upon the fact that we find structures in nature with the same informational properties as things commonly designed by human intelligence!

As with other creationists, Behe never bothers to actually calculate probabilities, nor does he ever consider potential intermediate states.
I wonder if Timmer has ever read Behe’s paper in Protein Science.

Instead, Behe favors what one of the questioners called the ultimate "just so" story: an unidentified designer with the capability of creating anything we now see.
Hmmm...I thought you said Behe said the designer was God. You keep flip flopping on this particular issue.

But beyond those failed arguments, the case for ID that they advance is striking. Based on Behe's talk, they've given up trying to dissociate themselves from their own creationist history: they openly embrace many creationist arguments and happily identify their designer as divine.
Documentation of Behe’s alleged statements about the identity of the designer is still lacking.

If I had to come up with a term for this strategy, I'd borrow one from politics: playing to their base. ID has lost in the courts and in the political arena, and it never went anywhere in the scientific community. As a result, its advocates have given up on any pretenses of addressing those audiences, and are trying to retain the interest of their non-scientific supporters, presumably including those who fund the Discovery Institute.

This dude evidently doesn’t read anything that doesn’t support his own views on this subject. The list of scientists who have signed the “Dissent from Darwinism” continually grows, and ID has spread throughout the world.

Interestingly, William Dembski is actively seeking a public debate with Barbara Forrest to discuss these issues further. If Eugenie Scott et. al. hadn’t laid down the law stating that Darwinists should not debate IDists, there would be much more opportunity to “address those audiences” in the scientific community. But, the authoritarian “scientific community” has done everything in their power to discredit ID.

Bet my bottom dollar Forrest will never agree to a debate with Dembski, because if she does, the misinformation she and her colleagues have been feeding the public may blow up in her face.

WHEW! I feel a 100% better now that I have all that off my chest. Now, it’s time for the last of the yummy spiked eggnog. Whoops, can’t do that because I’ve started my diet already.

Shoot....a fruit smoothie?

Guess that will have to work. Diets suck.