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 dixit – the 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.