Lately I've been getting a man-sized kick out of the little pearls of wisdom falling out of the textbook "Biology for Christian Schools," which is published by Bob Jones University and is currently the subject of a lengthy, circus-like lawsuit in California. Check out some of the knee-slappers, head-scratchers, and just-flat-out-incorrect highlights from the textbook here and here. It looks like a healthy combination of far-right bumper sticker slogans and stunning ignorance. Thankfully, the courts haven't looked too favorably on unfalsifiable religious ideology masquerading as science. As usual the lawsuit is more about publicity and martyrdom ("Activist judges declare war on Jesus!") than any reasonable expectation of success.

One aspect of the case, and previous ones like it, that amuses me to no end is doing a little research on the "expert witnesses" that creationists trot out to absorb punishment at the hands of actual scientists. That brings us to ipse dixitthe appeal to questionable authority.

Look closely at the California and you'll see the name Michael Behe, a leading "intelligent design" proponent who teaches at Lehigh University. As his written report states, the Christian schools hired him (to the tune of $20,000) as an expert witness in "biology and physics." This is despite the fact that Prof. Behe has absolutely no physics background. I suspect that ID advocates don't understand that physics and biology are two different things.

Behe's resume (starting on p. 58 of the written report) could be that of any one of the hundreds of tenured pariahs and cranks that litter academia. Their research is a joke, they are a joke, and their only recourse is to seek validation from like-minded cranks. Behe may not be able to get his work about irreducible complexity published in "peer-reviewed" or "legitimate" science journals, but he did make National Review's list of top non-fiction books! Oh, and let's not forget the coveted Book of the Year award from Christianity Today. Notice the gap between 1978 and 1995 (when he started publishing creationist nonsense) in his resume? The reason is simply that he failed at being a real academic, so he quit trying and transitioned to the lucrative world of Paid Shilling.

Behe's theory has been disproven through numerous peer-reviewed studies. It is widely ridiculed and considered a poorly-repackaged creationist argument. And please note the last line of the entire report:

Testimony in other cases: In the preceding four years, Kitzmiller vs. Dover

Why is that funny? His testimony in the widely-publicized Kitzmiller case resulted in one of the best, most lengthy, and most brutal intellectual beatdowns ever to flow from our legal system. And for some reason he's bringing it up like a good resume-builder. Among the comments in the 130+ page decision written by George W. Bush-appointed Republican judge John Jones:

"…on cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He was presented with fifty-eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not "good enough." (23:19 (Behe))." (Page 78)

"By defining irreducible complexity in the way that he has, Professor Behe attempts to exclude the phenomenon of exaptation by definitional fiat, ignoring as he does so abundant evidence which refutes his argument. Notably, the NAS has rejected Professor Behe's claim for irreducible complexity…" (Page 75)

If you're so inclined, you can read all 130 pages of that pimp-slapping here. Needless to say, the court was not impressed by the paid testimony of a failed biologist-turned-pitchman. If I were Behe, I'd demand a lot more than $20,000 per appearance to subject myself to such ridicule. He and his kind are a dime a dozen; they cling to bizarre ideas that are repeatedly disproven and consider their widespread rejection by their peers to be a sign of the righteousness of their crusade toward intellectual martyrdom.

The moral of (my) story here is that creationists are using a very simple, misleading, and transparent logical fallacy by trotting out such "expert witnesses" in the media and in court. They ignore the fact that Michael Behe is completely full of shit and that every word he's ever written has been challenged and contradicted by hard data. Their goal is simple – introduce him as "Professor" Michael Behe and grandly state his awards and accomplishments (don't mention that they're mostly from far-right ID groups, not peer-reviewed academic journals). The presence of such an "expert" with a fancy title is intended to lend weight to and imply intellectual support for the argument. What makes this an appeal to questionable authority, which is distinct from an ordinary appeal to authority, is that this authority is a fraud. Appeals to authority are very often a logical, valid form of argument. Appeals to charlatans and snake-oil merchants, however, are always riddled with logical holes and built on a foundation of quicksand.


  • The fascination in this arena lies, for me, in the union of two groups that, at their self-proclaimed ideological core, ought to be totally and utterly opposed to each other: Christians for whom God/Jesus is/are all, and for whom this world is a snare and a delusion because all that matters is the realm of the spirit, and Mammon-worshipping industrialists who exist solely, and I mean *solely*, to bring in the bucks, who are the epitome of those who worship *only* this world because they clearly do not believe in Hell or any other form of post-mortem accountability. Hence the inclusion in the 'science' book of the bit about how there's no such thing as global warming. Like the marriage-of-convenience of rabid theocrats and equally rabid feminists, who form a sickening alliance against pornography, these people rightfully ought to hate each other. And yet, thanks to what *really* underlies their belief systems (a desire to victimize others), there they are, hand in taloned, scabby hand. And together, their child is Michael Behe. They must be so proud of Junior…

  • The ID bunch are great for a laugh… the last one I had personal interaction with, a contractor visiting my house for an estimate on some windows (male, 60+yrs), immediately wanted to jump into an ID debate after finding out that I was a biologist. Not being in the mood and really wanting to get back to the windows, I told him that I only had 3 words for him: "male, prostate, gland". How's that for intelligent design?

    He came back with a "what's that?", to which I suggested he speak to his doctor… and here's the kicker: he asked "why? is that a gay thing?" Intelligent Design indeed.

  • Behe also draws a buck as Ann Coulter's 'scientific advisor'.

    What's brilliant about that is that she trots him out as proof of her deep understanding of fundamentalist Christian 'science', but openly and blatantly disagrees with his half-baked 'well sure, there's plenty of evolution, just not enough' schtick.

  • This is totally off topic, but I saw this on CNN.com this morning and immediately thought of your open letter to Chris Tucker from a few weeks ago….

    Jackie Chan: I'm not a fan of 'Rush Hour' films

    HONG KONG (AP) — "Rush Hour" put Jackie Chan in Hollywood's major leagues, but the Hong Kong star isn't a fan of his successful action comedy franchise.

    Chan said when he made the first installment of the "Rush Hour" series in 1998 he only wanted to test the U.S. market and didn't have high hopes.

    "When we finished filming, I felt very disappointed because it was a movie I didn't appreciate and I did not like the action scenes involved. I felt the style of action was too Americanized and I didn't understand the American humor," Chan said in a blog entry on his Web site seen Sunday.

    The actor said he made the sequel because he was offered an "irresistible" amount of money to do it and made the recently released third installment to satisfy fans of the series.


    Chan has been known to be blase about his Hollywood work. He said in a 2005 interview with The Associated Press that he uses the high salary he earns in the U.S. to fund Chinese-language projects that truly interest him.


  • "Like the marriage-of-convenience of rabid theocrats and equally rabid feminists, who form a sickening alliance against pornography, these people rightfully ought to hate each other."

    Just to clear a point, feminists–with or without mouth foam–do dislike the theocrats and do not have the same issues with porn that the wingnuts do. The wingnuts want to ban it for all people for all time so they and they alone can have access to wanking material being all powerful god-men whose behavior is beyond question.

    Feminists, OTOH, have an issue with the increasing violence depicted in the genre. Today's mainstream porn is yesterday's weird fringe stuff. Depictions of women in degrading, humiliating, objectifying and downright effing painful acts are what is 'mainstream' and 'normal' in porn these days. Talk about your conditioning exercise a la Clockwork Orange–have an orgasm to pictures of women in pain and being abused and suddenly women in pain and being abused is sex instead of torture. Some feminists do call for the abolition of the genre for this reason and not only do I think that's throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I also think it's impossible. But, that's completely OT.

    So, not so much 'marriage-of-convenience' as two people who despise each other arriving in the same room from opposite directions to the dismay of both.

  • Just to clarify, I want to point out that I said "rabid feminists" so as to distinguish them what I think of as "mainstream feminists," for whom I've nothing but respect because, oddly enough, I agree with their ideology. But Catherine Mackinnon and the late Andrea Dworkin (whom I consider to be the feminist equivalent of tongues-speaking snake-handlers) were explicit in their political affiliation with the Falwells of the world, in that they argued that *all* porn was bad, and using only the *extreme*–and rightly reviled–examples as being 'typical' of the genre.

    I'm unaware of the trend towards 'mainstreaming' violence/degredation in mass-consumption porn, but that's because I'm largely ignorant of the genre as a whole. (No, really! Honest! And I read it for the articles!) If that is the trend, and I've no reason to doubt you, then yeah, that's cause for concern. But then, I would argue that the solution for this lies in the application of feminism to the business end of porn–more women behind the cameras, putting up the money, unionization, etc. Not, as you point out, a completely impossible abolition.

    Apologies to Ed for completely highjacking this post; I'll shut up, now.

  • Perhaps the stupidest type of argument I've heard against evolution comes from people who conflate biological evolution with Social Darwinism. I've heard this on a number of occasions. I don't know whether these people really believe that they are one and the same thing, or if they are deliberately trying to sow confusion in the minds scientifically illiterate people.

  • And here is where I, quite cleverly, bring it all back to Ed's discussion of logic:

    Much theoretical academic stuff is really not much more than mental masturbation, in that they take a point and bring it to a logical but completely fringe point pushing the boundaries of common sense to the breaking point (and beyond). So, let's take the "all het sex is rape" point as an example. In a society in which the balance of power is unequal, the group that is lower on the totem pole cannot decline without fear of negative consequences making consent in it's most pure definition null and void. Thereby, making het sex non-consentual b/c all men in a pure patriarchy have more power than all women and women cannot decline without fear of negative consequences ranging from loss of job to being called a frigid prude. In a logical and purely academic argument, this is essentially correct. YET. We do not live in a pure patriarchy, nor do we define consent in quite that way in the day-to-day world. So, while one's logic may be perfectly correct, one can also be perfectly wrong. Or, even more ironically, one can be correct in a particular setting like academia and yet not so much in another like the real world.

    Like Ed says, appeal to authority are often a valid form of logic argument. He didn't say always because one must take into account the context and intended audience.

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