Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Reviewing the Review

The reviews of Michael Behe's new book The Edge of Evolution are starting to appear, and some of those coming from the Darwinians are vitriolic. This is not unexpected, of course, since Darwinists are often people of the ideological left, and the left can't seem to engage people in intellectual debate without taking every opportunity to demean, degrade, and insult.

A good example of this polemical slash and burn tactic is a review by computer scientist Mark Chu-Carroll.

Despite his considerable intellectual gifts Mr. Chu-Carroll has the emotional maturity of a fifth grader, and he's not shy about proving it. Here's his concluding paragraph:

[Behe] seems to be incapable of actually really thinking about an argument in any way deeper than asking "Does this agree with my conclusion?"; and even then, he doesn't seem capable of recognizing when an argument doesn't support his conclusion. It's really appalling. Frankly, I'm really shocked that this guy ever managed to get tenure anywhere - judging by his writing, he's not particularly bright; he's a remarkably disorganized and muddled thinker; and he's incapable of comprehending or responding to arguments made by other researchers.

This is typical of his style throughout the review, but the substance of his critique also leaves us wondering how carefully he read the book. He takes Behe to task, for instance, for stating that "there is strong evidence that random mutation is extremely limited" in what it can accomplish. Chu-Carroll says:

What I found astonishing here is that he asserts his conclusions in this paragraph as settled fact, without even attempting to cite any evidence. It's typical, but pathetic...But this incredible statement: that "there is strong evidence that random mutation is extremely limited", he doesn't even attempt to support.

But the entire book is given to providing the evidence for this claim, and remarkably enough, after having excoriated Behe for not citing the evidence, Chu-Carroll acknowledges that very fact:

The rest of the book focuses an [sic] this alleged problem: that random mutation is somehow constrained, and can't produce the necessary changes to explain the diversity of life.

It's not clear that Chu-Carroll has even read himself, let alone Behe.

Anyway, being a mathematician, Chu-Carroll chooses to focus the bulk of his criticism on Behe's use of fitness landscapes in chapter three of The Edge. I have no expertise in such matters and don't know whether Chu-Carroll is being fair to him or not, but the previous passage doesn't inspire confidence that he is. Nor do I really know how crucial the landscape models are to Behe's overall argument, but Chu-Carroll evidently thinks that if he's mistaken about this the whole Edge argument falls apart. I'm not so sure, but I'll leave it to others to do the math.

Meanwhile, one of my favorite passages in Chu-Carroll's critique was one in which he blasts Behe for resorting to the huge improbabilities of mutations causing increasing and permanent fitness:

What's the favorite b******t mathematical argument of creationist a******s worldwide? Why big numbers, of course!

This is fun because it's a game two can play: What is the favorite [substitute your own pejorative here]reply of naturalists worldwide to the argument from cosmic fine-tuning? Why it's big numbers, of course! There must be a near infinite number of universes, we're told, which would mean that almost every possible universe would exist and ours would not then be unexpected no matter that it is so astonishingly unlikely.

And what is the Darwinian answer to critics like Behe who say that random mutation simply could not do the job of producing all the variety and complexity of life we see? Why big numbers, of course! Given billions of years and given uncountable trillions of mutations evolution from molecules to man is inevitable.

I wonder what epithets Chu-Carroll applies to people who employ big numbers in the service of naturalistic materialism. He probably calls them deep-thinkers.

The particular big number that has Chu-Carroll's adolescent juices flowing is Behe's calculation that the chances of mutations arising that would enable two proteins to bind together is 10 to the 20th power. Chu-Carroll thinks this is too high, but doesn't give us much of a reason for rejecting it. He then grants it for the sake of argument:

What's particularly astonishing about this is that even this rotten argument - taking an artifically inflated probability number based on the peculiarities of the biochemistry of one specific organism, and applying it to a completely different organism (waving hands furiously to try to distract from the fact that it's just nonsensical to cross that way), contains its own refutation. Yes, perhaps the odds of this happening are similar to the odds of winning at powerball. But the fact is someone wins the powerball lottery. He wants to pretend that it's unlikely by pointing at you specifically, and saying that it's like you winning the lottery. But in fact, the power of evolution is that it doesn't just try one thing. It's not a process of one mutation, wait and see if it works out and fixes in the population; it's not a process with a predetermined destination. It's a process of countless mutations happening at the some time - some propagate, some don't - and if any of them work, then they take over. The real chance of evolution producing something are like the chances of someone winning the lottery. The chances of them producing humanity taken a priori are like the chances of you winning the lottery; but since humanity was not a predestined result, the chances of the evolutionary sweepstakes producing something is like the chances of someone winning the lottery - i.e., virtually inevitable.

It's not exactly clear to me what Chu-Carroll is trying to say here, but I take him to be asserting that Behe is wrong because even though a double mutation might be highly improbable, the fact is that something will result from whatever mutations do occur.

Well, yes, but that hardly refutes Behe's point which is that beneficial double mutations are at the edge of what evolution can accomplish. The way to refute that claim is not by insisting that mutations produce genetic changes, it's by showing that Behe's figure of 10(20th) is unreasonable and this Chu-Carroll fails to do.

He continues:

Finally, I said that not just is Behe's book bad science and bad math, but it's bad theology. Behe claims to believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful God. But at the same time, his entire book is based on the argument that God created life on earth, and got it all going using an evolutionary process. But then, according to Behe, over and over again, his creation was woefully inadequate of facing [sic] the actual challenges that it would face, and so his all-powerful creator needs to constantly intervene, and tweak things in order to make them work. His God is a buffoon - a bumbling fool who isn't capable of creating worlds in a way that works. Reading his book, I'm actually shocked that he's a religious person: he's clearly never bothered to think through his beliefs, and what his theories say about them. Again and again, reading the book, I kept finding myself saying two things: "How can this guy call himself a scientist, when he argues so sloppily?", and "How can this guy be religious when he apparently believes that his creator isn't capable of getting anything right?" Following Behe's argument, it seems like it should be impossible for Behe's god to have done the things Behe claims that he did, because they're too hard for such a bumbler.

Aside from the silly, childish hubris of calling a being which could create a finely-tuned universe and the incredibly complex machinery of a cell "a bumbler," this criticism is completely unfair to Behe. Behe doesn't say that the Designer constantly intervenes. He allows for the possiblity that the Designer set the conditions necessary for evolution to proceed in the general direction it has at the outset, and that by bringing the universe into being He set the whole process going. In other words, Behe holds that some aspects of evolution could unfold along certain pre-selected paths from the initial conditions that the Designer established, but it is obvious to Behe that these conditions, and the phenomena they produce, would not exist were it not for the Designer's purposeful pre-planning.

Whatever its other merits and deficiencies might be, Behe's book will accomplish at least two things: It will expose as a canard the Darwinians' claim that one can believe in God and also in evolution. Behe believes in evolution. He believes that man evolved from primates, that the world is 4.5 billion years old, and all the rest. He also believes that natural selection plays a role in evolution. The only thing he rejects is that the emergence of living things and the appearance of higher life forms is the result of random, mechanistic chance. He believes the mutations that produced genetic variation were somehow intelligently planned. For this deviation from materialist orthodoxy he is flayed by emotionally stunted basket-cases like Chu-Carroll.

The second thing his book will surely accomplish is lay to rest the charge that Intelligent Design is the same thing as creationism. No creationist will agree with much of anything Behe believes except his claim that there is a limit to evolution and that life and the cosmos are intentionally designed.


Why We Can't Leave

Peter Rodman and William Shawcross make part of the same argument in the New York Times that we have been trying to make here at Viewpoint as to why we simply cannot do as some Democrats insist and leave Iraq. They write:

As in Indochina more than 30 years ago, millions of Iraqis today see the United States helping them defeat their murderous opponents as the only hope for their country. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have committed themselves to working with us and with their democratically elected government to enable their country to rejoin the world as a peaceful, moderate state that is a partner to its neighbors instead of a threat. If we accept defeat, these Iraqis will be at terrible risk. Thousands upon thousands of them will flee, as so many Vietnamese did after 1975.

The new strategy of the coalition and the Iraqis, ably directed by Gen. David Petraeus, offers the best prospect of reversing the direction of events - provided that we show staying power. Osama bin Laden said, a few months after 9/11, that "when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse." The United States, in his mind, is the weak horse. American defeat in Iraq would embolden the extremists in the Muslim world, demoralize and perhaps destabilize many moderate friendly governments, and accelerate the radicalization of every conflict in the Middle East.

Our conduct in Iraq is a crucial test of our credibility, especially with regard to the looming threat from revolutionary Iran. Our Arab and Israeli friends view Iraq in that wider context. They worry about our domestic debate, which had such a devastating impact on the outcome of the Vietnam War, and they want reassurance.

When government officials argued that American credibility was at stake in Indochina, critics ridiculed the notion. But when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, he and his colleagues invoked Vietnam as a reason not to take American warnings seriously. The United States cannot be strong against Iran - or anywhere - if we accept defeat in Iraq.

Of course, there are many more terrible consequences to pulling out than just those these writers mention in this column. You can read our thoughts on what would likely ensue from premature pullouthere.