Friday, August 3, 2007

Michael Behe on Colbert

Michael Behe made an appearance on The Colbert Report tonight (see the video here). You have to give Behe credit for having the guts to go into situations with people he has to know are not exactly in his corner. Of course after the pasting he got at the Dover trial, I guess Colbert didn't seem too intimidating.

Another thing to take into consideration when evaluating this exchange is that Colbert wants people to enjoy their experience on his show (see an interesting conversation with Charlie Rose here). So he takes it easier on people like Behe than he would someone used to dealing with antogonistic press like a journalist.

Nonetheless, Colbert skewered Behe in ways only he can. He began with Behe's book THE EDGE OF EVOLUTION, which seeks (and fails) to show the limits of what evolution can do, and asked Behe if all science should begin with looking for how to limit a theory. Behe scrambled to his feet with the Einstein gambit, noting how Isaac Newton thought he had worked out all the laws of motion, and then here came Einstein with his theory of relativity to show that Newton's laws were essentially limited. It's a decent analogy, except for one little glaring flaw that Colbert jumped all over:

"So, you are saying you are Darwin's Einstein?"

Behe was a little taken aback by this, but really, it is the appropriate response. Behe might as well claim it is reasonable for him to be expect to be a professional athlete without working out because Shaquille O'Neal* can. If you are going to draw a comparison to Einstein, you need to have demonstrated that you are in that league, and Behe clearly isn't.

The rest of the interview had Behe prattling on about the usual issues: irreducible complexity, and the supposed increasing pressure against evolution from biologists (all in hiding for fear of reprisals from the Evil Darwinian Establishment of course). The predictability of the IDer/creationists is really remarkable. He even had the audacity to bring up the analogy to the mousetrap again, despite it being refuted. This refusal to deal honestly, if at all, with criticism, is what makes Behe just another crank.

*Nothing against Shaq. For all I know, he is the hardest worker in the NBA. The point isn't that he's lazy, but that he could be and get away with it.


Eric Michael Johnson said...

Great post on the show. Wasn't it hilarious that Behe finally admitted that Intelligent Design is based on creationists fighting back. I also wrote about the episode at The Primate Diaries.

ScienceAvenger said...

Absolutely. Colbert used an incredibly sneaky trick to make Behe look foolish:

1) Let him talk

2) Agree with him.

Herb said...

I thought the mousetrap discussion was great. A piece of wood? A spring? These objects are useless! And then Behe admitting they're not (whoops).

But I don't know how foolish Behe looked to the average watcher. He didn't get into ID very much (at all really) so it may have just seemed like he's a sciencey-looking guy with a new book out instead of a crank. To really embarrass him, Colbert should have asked about 1) his statement during the Dover trial that if ID is considered science then so is astrology, and 2) the Wedge document.

ScienceAvenger said...

I think you are correct. Behe is sciency enough to sound impressive to the average person, more so IMO due to their lack of interest in biology than any inherent mental defect (ie stupidity). However, The Colbert Report fans are certainly not average, and the uncomfortable groans they registered when Colbert was delivering those zingers verifies their comprehension of how foolish Colbert was making Behe look.

That said, I don't think he is going to come across as anything but a fool to any person of reasonable intellect that checks into the subject, for the same reasons we all think him one. The Wedge Document, as you mention, is a prime example, as is his shredding in cross-examination at Dover. His book isn't exactly selling like hotcakes either. And of course, there is his sparse (to put it kindly) scientific output in the many years since DARWIN'S BLACK BOX. If this is a scientific revolution, it is the slowest in recorded history.

Herb said...

Totally off topic, but SA, have you had success with anything from "Rebuild Your Back"?