Thursday, October 18, 2012


Recently, I started working at a hospital of sorts. One of the rules for staff is to not discuss religious topics with patients. A good and understandable rule, if you ask me. But since this is Utah, religion inevitably comes up. My response to inquiries about my stance on religion is usually "no comment". This may come as a surprise to readers of this blog, but I am very careful about who I tell about my atheism. This is doubly so with my patients.

I am not worried about being alienated or discriminated against at work. Mostly, I want to avoid any abuse of power on my part with my patients. You see, because of the nature of the facility where I work, and my relationship with my patients, if I were to lay out my arguments against god and religion to one of my patients, they would likely swallow it whole simply because they trust me. And I have a big fat ethical problem with that.

Today, one of my patients and I were discussing evolution, which is sort of a pet topic of mine. This patient had recently read a book called "Darwin's Black Box" which, according to her, was written by Darwin himself and refuted evolution. I thought it strange that Darwin would write a book refuting his own theory and decided to look up this intriguing book after work.

It turns out that my patient was only partially correct. The book does, in fact, offer a refutation to evolution, however, it was not written by Darwin, but by biochemist Michael Behe (1996). As soon as I saw the name, I new exactly why this patient was so confused by evolution.

About a month ago I wrote this post about, among other things, the Kitzmiller v Dover trial. As I noted in that post, the trial was about teaching Intelligent Design (ID) in Public Schools as an alternative theory to Evolution. One of the main points given by those in favor of Intelligent Design was that of Irreducibly Complex biological systems (IC). Well, Michael Behe was the "expert scientist" advocating ID through Irreducible Complexity--hence the red flags going up when I saw his name on the book.

The problem with Behe's argument is that it is not scientifically justified. This also happens to be the same reason Behe wrote a book about Irreducible Complexity rather than, say, an article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal...

Irreducible Complexity relies wholly on an argument from ignorance. Actually, make that two arguments from ignorance. Behe claims that because he doesn't know how a particular biological process can occur naturally, it must, therefore, be Irreducibly Complex (fallacy 1). And if something is Irreducibly Complex, it must, therefore, be Intelligently Designed (fallacy 2).

At no point in Behe's book or in the Kitzmiller v Dover trial did he use any scientific support for ID or IC. He just throws his hands in the air and says "god did it". I'm sorry, but that's not how science works. Behe must know this, being a biochemist, which makes him dishonest.

In fact, during the trial, other biologists confronted Behe's claim that there is no scientific research to show how these various processes can occur naturally and must be irreducibly complex, by stacking piles of peer-reviewed scientific literature showing how every single example offered by Behe of IC was false. And when asked if he had read any of the literature overflowing his witness stand, he said, "no".

Here is a dramatization from NOVA of the event at the trial:

As I pointed out before, Behe's argument is ultimately an argument from ignorance. In this context it means that even if he were to adequately show that a biological system was completely and totally irreducibly complex he would still need to offer support for the claim that "god did it" rather than just inserting it into this particular gap of scientific ignorance.

Injecting religion into science in a such an underhanded way makes Michael Behe, by my estimation at least, among the most dishonest scientists I have come across. There is a reason virtually every other biologist and biochemist of any report or merit stands on the side of evolution--because that's where the science leads.


Here is the rest of the above video on the trial:

No comments: