I wish Michael Behe would get as tired of his nonsense as I am

Michael Behe has this new book out, Darwin Devolves. I haven’t been able to muster enough enthusiasm to even want to try and dissect it — that man has been shitting on science for at least 20 years now, and having picked through his fecal piles before, I know what to expect, and am tired of it. He is tediously predictable.

Fortunately, Gregory Lang and Amber Rice have the willingness to do the dirty work and dive right in and sift through the shit in this excellent review, Evolution unscathed: Darwin Devolves argues on weak reasoning that unguided evolution is a destructive force, incapable of innovation. They discover that Behe cherry-picks his evidence, ignoring, or worse, being completely ignorant of, vast orchards of information that directly refute his premise, which Lang and Rice cite and summarize. It’s an informative review. Go read it, I won’t rehash it. You’ll learn a lot from it.

I will mention the conclusion, which discusses the peculiar tension at the heart of the evolution/creation argument. I did highlight one sentence.

Without a hint of irony, Darwin Devolves cautions us that “[t]he academic ideas of nutty professors don’t always stay confined to ivory towers. They sometimes seep out into the wider world with devastating results (p257).”

Scientists—by nature or by training—are skeptics. Even the most time-honored theories are reevaluated as new data come to light. There is active debate, for example, on the relative importance of changes to regulatory versus coding sequence in evolution (Hoekstra and Coyne 2007; Stern and Orgogozo 2008), the role of neutral processes in evolution (Kern and Hahn 2018; Jensen et al. 2019), and the extent to which evolutionary paths are contingent on chance events (Blount et al. 2018). Vigorous debate is part and parcel of the scientific process, lest our field stagnate. Behe, however, belabors the lack of consensus on relatively minor matters to proclaim that evolutionary biology as a whole is on shaky ground.

By reviewing Behe’s latest book, we run the risk of drawing attention—or worse, giving credibility—to his ideas. Books like Darwin Devolves, however, must be openly challenged and refuted, even if it risks giving publicity to misbegotten views. Science benefits from public support. Largely funded by federal grants, scientists have a moral responsibility (if not a financial obligation) to ensure that the core concepts of our respective fields are communicated effectively and accurately to the public and to our trainees. This is particularly important in evolutionary biology, where—over 150 years after On the Origin of Species—less than 20% of Americans accept that humans evolved by natural and unguided processes (Gallup 2014). It is hard to think of any other discipline where mainstream acceptance of its core paradigm is more at odds with the scientific consensus.

Why evolution by natural selection is difficult for so many to accept is beyond the scope of this review; however, it is not for a lack of evidence: the data (only some of which we present here) are more than sufficient to convince any open-minded skeptic that unguided evolution is capable of generating complex systems. A combination of social and historical factors creates a welcoming environment for an academic voice that questions the scientific consensus. Darwin Devolves was designed to fit this niche.

Creationists like to pretend that there is still a legitimate debate here, and their absurd confidence does seem to be effective in swaying, as they mention, about 80% of the population. In response to their ignorance, responsible scientists are expected to invest a great deal of effort in reacting to stupidity. It is ten thousand times harder to master the science behind evolutionary biology than it is to read a few bible verses and some clueless apologetics and decide that the science is all wrong. Behe, and people like him, are ridiculous crackpots, and we’re saddled with the obligation to refute them.

And yet we do. Or Lang and Rice do. I’m sitting this one out, which makes me immensely grateful that more scientists are joining in the battle.


  1. raven says

    Evolution unscathed: Darwin Devolves argues on weak reasoning that unguided evolution is a destructive force, incapable of innovation.

    Behe is wrong on the facts.
    There are mountains of evidence that evolution can be and is, an innovative force capable of producing beneficial mutations.

    We can demonstrate this in lab experiments quite easily.
    A lot of people here are familiar with Lenski’s work on evolution of a new metabolic pathway,
    citrate utilization in E. coli.
    This is just the latest of many such examples.

  2. raven says

    Science. 2012 Oct 19; 338(6105): 384–387.

    Real-Time Evolution of New Genes by Innovation, Amplification, and Divergence
    Joakim Näsvall,1 Lei Sun,1 John R. Roth,2 and Dan I. Andersson1,*

    Gene duplications allow evolution of genes with new functions. Here, we describe the innovation-amplification-divergence (IAD) model in which the new function appears before duplication and functionally distinct new genes evolve under continuous selection. One example fitting this model is a preexisting parental gene in Salmonella enterica that has low levels of two distinct activities. This gene is amplified to a high copy number, and the amplified gene copies accumulate mutations that provide enzymatic specialization of different copies and faster growth. Selection maintains the initial amplification and beneficial mutant alleles but is relaxed for other less improved gene copies, allowing their loss. This rapid process, completed in fewer than 3000 generations, shows the efficacy of the IAD model and allows the study of gene evolution in real time.

    One mechanism for the evolution of new enzymatic activities is gene duplication followed by mutation of one of the copies.

    Here is one example of this process in real time.
    There are others.
    It was first demonstrated in the 1970’s with novel sugar metabolism in bacteria.

    Behe, like all creationists, ignores the vast majority of information we’ve accumulated about evolution since Darwin published his book in 1860.
    It’s extremely dishonest.

  3. simonhadley says

    Luke: “Is the dark side (creationism) stronger?”
    Yoda: “No…quicker, easier, more seductive.”

    The Jedi spent decades perfecting their art through discipline and study but a Sith acolyte could gain their power and abilities rapidly by giving into their delusions, anger and intellectual laziness. It’s the perfect metaphor for science vs. religion. Well, not quite perfect since the Jedi are also a religious order but you get my point.

    Make sure when you visit a book store to scour the science section for the works of Behe or other lying christians and move that crap to the christian fiction stacks where they belong.

  4. says

    It’s a lucrative racket for an academic whose credibility ran aground decades ago: just keep bashing the same – literally the fucking same – dead horses creationists always beat, rinse, repeat, cash in. There’s a book from the 1980s named Confronting Creationism: Defending Darwin that I liberated from my dad’s shelves. Even though bio-science has progressed (and how!) in the last three decades, I assure you creationist objections and arguments categorically have not. Bit like apologetics – which I guess is what it is.

    Oh, and don’t forget to mention Darwin when naming your book – not just because, as creationist stooges, you and your audience have fuckall original or novel thoughts on the topic, but because you know full-well that the rubes are conditioned to see him as evo’s patron saint (and therefore an Adversary on par with Tha Debbil) and will buy your sheaf of shit-tickets almost entirely because of the title.

  5. says

    I ran a comic shop around ’75–6, and we had a section of used books. My boss wouldn’t let me throw out the Uri Geller and Jeane Dixon books, so I made them their own little “unintentional humor” shelf section. None of them ever sold, that I know of.

  6. imback says

    Lang and Rice are in the same biology department at Lehigh University as Behe. Must make for uncomfortable coffee hours.

  7. microraptor says

    I keep trying to read that title as “Darwin Dewolves.”

    I’m not sure what exactly dewolfing is, but it sounds a heck of a lot mroe fun than anything that’s ever come out of Behe’s mind.

  8. leerudolph says

    I’m not sure what exactly dewolfing is

    It’s a word that demands to be given some meanings, isn’t it?

    The OED actually has the verb “wolve”, with two meanings: “1. intransitive (also with it). To behave like a wolf, play the wolf. 1702 C. Mather Magnalia Christi iii. iii. ii. 187/2 If any Seducers were let loose to wolve it among the good People of Roxbury” ; “2. Of an organ: To give forth a hollow wailing sound like the howl of a wolf, from deficient wind-supply.” Old Cotton would probably think of himself as a “dewolver”, and Behe might well model himself on the Reverend Mather. Contrariwise, to our ears Behe certainly gives forth “a hollow wailing sound”, and I for one would be glad to dewolve him.

    The OED also has a verb “wolf”, with four meanings. The first three are “to eat like a wolf”, “to behave like a wolf”, and “to delude with false alarms”; the third, especially, suggests that “Dewolfing Darwin” could mean “clearing away the false-alarm delusions about evolution that Behe and company love to spread.” The fourth is U.S. Black English, and the lexicographers have left it to their readers to learn its meaning(s) from the following illustrative quotations:

    1966 Urban Education II. ii. 108 Wolf, to make fun of someone.
    1969 Sports Illustr. 3 Nov. 36/2 I turned round and started wolfing at the guy, and he just strolled off.
    1971 E. E. Landy Underground Dict. 199 Wolf v., criticize; chop down.
    1974 H. L. Foster Ribbin’, Jivin’, & Playin’ Dozens iv. 172 Wolf, wolf’n, woof, woofin, wolf ticket, can mean anything from making fun of someone to challenging someone to a fight, a powerful person.
    1978 Detroit Free Press 2 Apr. (Detroit Suppl.) 8/3 ‘C’mon, man,’ they tell Balls, backing down, ‘we was just wolfin’ ya. We gotta be careful who we sell to.’

  9. Michael says

    To cleanse your palate, I’d recommend reading The Skeptics Guide to the Universe. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and wish it was mandatory reading in high school.

  10. mnb0 says

    “They discover that Behe cherry-picks his evidence, ignoring, or worse, being completely ignorant of, vast orchards of information that directly refute his premise.”
    Short version: dog bites man. Why would anyone expect anything else?

    “their absurd confidence does seem to be effective in swaying, as they mention, about 80% of the population.”
    That is the only justification for reviewing Behe’s crap.

  11. bachfiend says

    Michael Behe was dissected to be a charlatan by a layman, Judge Jones, when he appeared as an ‘expert witness’ for ID in 2004 in the Dover Trial.

    It appears that he hasn’t evolved since then.

  12. DanDare says

    Not just biology, computer scientists also find evolution to be a powerful creative force. We can use genetic algorithms to discover all sorts of novel solutions to design problems.