18 April 2008

Rousing Rabble

Last night, Jared and I went to a lecture by Michael Behe, who famously (in some circles, anyway) postulated that irreducible complexity demonstrates that there must have been an "intelligent designer." He also testified in case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District as a witness for the defense. In that case, after hearing both sides of the argument, called Behe's and others' attempts to introduce ID into the classroom "breathtaking inanity." So, with all that, Behe came to present his "scientific" view that there was a designer...

The evening started with a lovely bout of Christian music (didn't bode well for a science lecture) and the trailer to Ben Stein's propaganda movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Then, Behe talked for an hour about intelligent design. Now, I fully admit to not knowing a whole lot about biology, but what really got to me was his complete contempt for academic integrity. He took quotations by evolutionary biologists (most notably, one of my heroes, Richard Dawkins) completely out of context and twisted their words to make it sound like they believed in ID. He completely glossed over essential parts of Darwin's theory that he couldn't explain away and labeled them as trivial, particularly the whole descent-with-modification or man-descending-from-ape part. You know, because THAT part isn't important....

Finally, after over an hour of his lecture, he opened the floor up for questions. I was first and asked him something along the lines of

Your own biology department says on its website, "while we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally and should not be regarded as scientific." The vast majority of scientists reject your findings. Ben Stein would have us believe that there is a vast scientific conspiracy against you. Is there and if so what are their motives.
He responded by saying that most scientists believe in Darwinian Evolution because that's what they were brought up to believe. Really?! What a ridiculous thing to say for someone who ignores most scientific rules so he can desperately cling to his belief in a divine creator! So I followed up by asking "So, you're saying that other scientists haven't done enough research in the field?" He backpedaled very quickly after that.

It was an interesting evening, and though I wholly disagree with Behe, I did appreciate the fact that he came out and was willing to engage in debate with other biologists who rightly disagreed with him, even if there were only about five of us in a crowd of 200+.

Also, Jared blogged about the lecture.

PS: I know some of my readers will disagree with this post, so have at it in the comments, if you dare like!


Scott said...

Okay so here are a few questions:

"The evening started with a lovely bout of Christian music (didn't bode well for a science lecture)"

What sort of music would be appropriate? Does the choice in music matter? Wouldn't they be playing music that the majority of their audience would probably enjoy?

"What a ridiculous thing to say for someone who ignores most scientific rules so he can desperately cling to his belief in a divine creator!"

I agree with most of what science says (though I reserve the right to be skeptical about science's opinions on how life started). One does not have to ignore science in order to "desperately cling" to a belief in a creator. I accept that God could very well use the scientific laws that exist to create the universe. That's only logical considering he's the one that "wrote" the laws. That's not so much a question as a point of clarification.

"He responded by saying that most scientists believe in Darwinian Evolution because that's what they were brought up to believe."

While I don't believe that there is some vast conspiracy to subvert scientists who believe in ID and I agree that in almost every case (if not every case) where a job is lost it is lost because of bad science I also believe that there is a certain amount of entropy/resistance to change in every group of humanity. Science/scientists are not immune. There is no small degree of arrogance on both sides of this issue. Both believe that they have the right of it. I told my wife yesterday that believers in ID would be better served working within the scientific community, closely examining current theories rather than apparently revelling in their outsider/persecuted status. If there are holes/problems in the science, that's the way to find it. If there aren't then that's okay too.

Scott said...

So I guess the question wrapped up in that last paragraph is, while Behe certainly overstated the matter, do you think that he is entirely wrong? Is science immune from the near-sightedness that religion suffers from?

Toby said...

I had an issue with the Christian music because this was billed as a science lecture. The fact that he was not invited by Christian groups on and around campus, and not by the biological sciences department (or any other science department) was also a red flag. The choice of music was not surprising, but it seems to me that if one wants to lend credence to objectivity, something secular would have been better. Even if I accepted his premise that life was intelligently designed, who/what is to say that it was designed by the god in whom the Christians believe?

You're right in saying that "one does not have to ignore science in order to desperately cling to a belief in a creator." But Behe does. He ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence so that his belief in a creator fits in. He has admitted that by his definition of science, astrology is a valid field. Why is he not pushing for the zodiac to be taught in classrooms?

Good science (there are bad scientists, to be sure) is immune to the resistance of change, and in fact, welcomes it with open arms. Scientists are always looking to revise and change theories. The fact that Darwin's theory of evolution has stood up to the test of time and scrutiny, and has been supported by overwhelming evidence, makes it all the more amazing!

And I do think Behe is entirely wrong in his assertion that aspects of life are far too complex to have evolved. Any creator intelligent enough to have created life must be complex. Therefore, as the creationist argument goes, that creator must have been created. It's a never-ending regression.

Darwinian evolution has not yet given a satisfactory answer to the origin of life -- and there are many competing hypotheses -- but scientists (good scientists, anyway) do not give up and say that because we don't know, it MUST have been created.

Anonymous said...

Darwin's Theory of Evolution has stood up to the time and scrutiny and has been supported.
But his theory of how life originated has not.

Evolution is true in the sense that life can adapt and change according to it's environment.
There is no escaping that proof
But evolution fails to explain how life originated. There is no proof for that. No species has ever created a different one. (ex: Dog creates cat)
There are only slight modifications in species.
When scientists talk about the overwhelming evidence for evolution, they are only talking about Micro-evolution. Macro-evolution has no evidence and is purely a belief in the science community.

I just thought i should clear that up.

Toby said...

I don't know if you read my last statement or not, but I said that Darwinian evolution does not give us an answer to how life originated. But regardless of HOW life originated, Darwinian evolution is true.

And you're right in saying that no species has created another one. You're confusing breeding with evolution. Of course one cannot succesfully breed a cat and a dog to get a cog (dat?). Darwinian evolution shows that over the course of millions of years, species adapted via genetic mutation (Though Darwin never would have used the term "genetic mutation," as it wasn't around during his time. What's fascinating though, is that genetics provided overwhelming evidence that he was right!) Over these millions of years, new species did develop.

Also, "Macro-evolution," as you call it is really a non-term. As you describe it, it's really just a long series of "micro-evolutions," or rather, mutations. And it's not "just a belief." It's a theory backed up by evidence.

Toby said...

Oh yeah. I meant to post this link, which is a constantly-expanding website illustrating the evolutionary tree: http://tolweb.org/tree/