Home » Intelligent Design » Behe and McWhorter on Bloggingheads

Behe and McWhorter on Bloggingheads

Their chat is here.

I don’t think Bloggingheads science regulars Sean Carroll and Carl Zimmer (who complained publicly and behind the scenes about my Bloggingheads segment with Ron Numbers) are going to like this.

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32 Responses to Behe and McWhorter on Bloggingheads

  1. Which Sean Carroll? There rare two of them, one is a biologist and one is a cosmologist.

  2. “I don’t think Bloggingheads science regulars Sean Carroll and Carl Zimmer (who complained publicly and behind the scenes about my Bloggingheads segment with Ron Numbers) are going to like this.”

    Tough! Thanks for the link!

  3. Did they pull this? The link does not work but it did a couple hours ago.

  4. Jerry,

    From the forum:

    John McWhorter feels, with regret, that this interview represents neither himself, Professor Behe, nor Bloggingheads usefully, takes full responsibility for same, and has asked that it be taken down from the site. He apologizes to all who found its airing objectionable.

    Seems rather lame to take the video down.

  5. I wager it was “objectionable” to many because Behe made his case well…am I close?

  6. I wager it was “objectionable” to many because Behe made his case well…am I close?

    I watched the first few minutes. McWhorter was very receptive of Behe’s message, even saying The Edge of Evolution is “a very important book”. It was his request that the video be taken down, however, not BH’s.

  7. Right. He received missives from those that found it “objectionable” because there were nice/compelling things being said about Behe’s work, so he felt the heat (read: peer pressure) and removed it.

  8. Some guys in dark suits and sunglasses probably showed up at his door and “advised” him to take down the video. We all remember what happened to Stanley Meyer and his water powered car, right?

  9. Well, I actually had the chance to listen to John McWhorter interview Professor Behe. A few points, for those who didn’t get the chance to listen:

    (1) John McWhorter certainly has no religious axe to grind: he is a self-confessed atheist. (I’m using the word “atheist” here in its usual sense – i.e. someone who declares that he/she doesn’t believe in God.) I got the sense that McWhorter is somewhat ambivalent about God: at one point in the interview, he declared that he doesn’t want to believe in God, but later he said that “part of him” would like to believe in God.

    (2) I was impressed by McWhorter’s seemingly effortless ability to the summarize key points of Behe’s book, and express them in language amenable to laypeople. McWhorter was also quite at ease when talking about standard evolutionary explanations. I could tell that he had read a lot of books on both sides of the evolutionary debate. He struck me as a deeply intelligent individual, and quite a thinker.

    (3) During the interview, McWhorter described an incident several years ago, in which he was talking to a prominent scientist about Behe’s first book, Darwin’s Black Box. (McWhorter declined to reveal the identity or even the gender of the scientist, out of respect for their legitimate right to privacy.) Much to McWhorter’s amazement, the scientist refused to read Behe’s book, even when McWhorter offered the scientist a copy. Indeed, the scientist’s outrage against Behe was so vehement that the scientist literally threw Behe’s book across the room. So much for open-mindedness!

    (4) McWhorter did not pull any punches during the interview. He raised the standard objections: ID is arguing to a Designer on the basis of our present ignorance of how evolution might have happened; the irreducibly complex structures cited by Behe are not so irreducibly complex after all; other scientists who have examined the same material as Behe have come to very different conclusions; life might have self-organizing properties that we don’t know about yet, which explain the emergence of complex structures; postulating a Designer is boring and a science-stopper; and so on. Personally, I would have preferred a more detailed discussion of some of the more sophisticated scientific objections – for instance, the possibility of complex structures arising through a process of exaption (or co-option), or the argument that maybe the reason why parasites haven’t evolved much in the past 100 years is that their hosts haven’t evolved measurably during that time. To be fair, however, there is only so much that an interview can cover in an hour, and Behe and McWhorter did cover quite a lot of material, very well.

    (5) One thought that occurred to me during the interview was that ID would be finally able to nail the lid on the Darwinist coffin if it could formally demonstrate that large-scale evolutionary changes actually become less likely to occur over a very long interval of time (say, tens of millions of years) than over a shorter time interval (say, tens of thousands of years). In other words, it would need to be shown that the destructive effects of a large number of changes would tend to overwhelm the constructive ones, over time. But that’s another story.

    (6) Professor Behe remained calm, courteous and relaxed throughout the interview. He seemed utterly unfazed by McWhorter’s questions, and he responded to them in a very thoughtful, gracious manner.

    (7) At one point Professor Behe described one of his critics, Professor Sean Carroll, as a personal friend of his, and as a person with whom he could share a drink, despite their differences. (In response to jerry’s query in #1, the Sean Carroll we are talking about here is the Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics and an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Wisconsin.)

    (8) The awesome complexity of protein folding was also touched upon, in the course of the interview. McWhorter displayed a keen appreciation of Professor Behe’s key point that, contrary to what people imagine, the cell is not just a bag of chemical goo: it is a staggeringly complex mini-metropolis, whose secrets we are still unplumbing. This is the point missed by the “God of the gaps” objection: the gaps are growing, not shrinking, as our knowledge progresses.

    (9) During the interview, McWhorter made no secret of his dissatisfaction with conventional evolutionary textbook accounts of how an amoeba evolved into a Triceratops, for instance. What troubled him about these accounts was their lack of detail and their over-reliance on plausible-sounding mechanisms – as opposed to experimentally proven ones. McWhorter’s contempt for the inadequacy of these just-so stories was palpable, and he came across as someone who was thoroughly familiar with the standard evolutionary literature, yet was unimpressed with it. Coming from an atheist, this was powerful testimony to the fact that something is badly wrong with standard textbook accounts of how evolution is supposed to have happened.

    (10) McWhorter also asked Professor Behe what he was working on at the moment, and Behe responded that he was trying to figure out exactly what kinds of change evolution could and could not bring about – in other words, precisely where the edge of evolution lies. Behe apparently views this scientific enterprise as his life’s work.

    (11) Unfortunately, I missed the last three or four minutes of the interview, as I had to go out of the room briefly, but it seemed to be heading in a comfortable direction, and McWhorter and Behe definitely had a good personal rapport throughout the interview.

    (12) This is pure speculation on my part, but my guess is that some influential biologists sensed the damage that an interview like this could do if it became publicly available, and quietly brought pressure to bear on McWhorter to yank it off the air. However, I suspect we’ll never get to hear about that, as McWhorter is too much of a gentleman to name names.

  10. vjtorley,

    Thanks for the summary. But regarding your last point:

    (12) This is pure speculation on my part, but my guess is that some influential biologists sensed the damage that an interview like this could do if it became publicly available, and quietly brought pressure to bear on McWhorter to yank it off the air. However, I suspect we’ll never get to hear about that, as McWhorter is too much of a gentleman to name names.

    I’m interested to hear exactly what happened from Mr McWhorter himself, but from where I sit, this looks like an astonishing lack of integrity on his part. I don’t understand how an experienced journalist could think it’s wise or even possible to “disappear” a document such as this. And if I were Dr. Behe, I would be furious. We’ll see whether he deserves to be called a gentleman or not.

  11. Mr McWhorter live in fear or you will be EXPELLED.

  12. I fear he already has been expelled.

    I did download the video after streaming it. I’ll post it if I can find a place to do so.

  13. 13

    I too want to know exactly what happened.

    ——–

    Mr McWhorter, you owe it to the public that science is to serve.

  14. I listened to all 45 minutes of it, and enjoyed it immensely. McWhorter has now experienced not ‘peer pressure’, but political pressure. He erred, I feel, by pulling it, since now he is obligated to ether explain his stated position, renounce his stated position (“I was misquoted”), or keep silent. The mere act of pulling the video is abject evidence of imposed censorship, whether he admits it or not.

    This is tacit evidence of what ID advocates have stated all along, that there is conspiratorial censorship of the ID position, a form of ‘behind the scenes fascism’ that extends in various directions.

    Unfortunately for McWhorter and the Darwinists, this action brings this issue more into focus, impinges upon his creditability, honesty and fortitude, and resolutely makes the case for ID suppression.

  15. Johm McWhorter is a respected scientist. He is a linguist and has taught at Cornell and Stanford and last I looked was at a Think Tank in New York but Wikipedia has him now at Columbia. He was listed as a conservative but was a big Obama supporter.

    My guess is that a whole lot of pressure got put on him very quickly and he had no ideas what kind of firestorm he may have unleashed.

  16. Funny, imagine that. An atheist that is unaware of the toxic environment that the secular world places on people of faith. I dunno…

  17. Here, I had to reduce the quality a bit but it should work!

    http://cid-279eee3e1f797824.sk.....Whorter%20|0%20Michael%20Behe.wmv

  18. Bah! I think the formatting is messing things up. Ideas?

  19. 20

    I guess things happen fast on the internet. I didn’t get to see this, even though I check this site every day, and am very disappointed. :(

    Maybe Behe will post something on his blog about it.

  20. Look one post above you my dear tragic. :)

  21. Update. The video works. However you will need to rename it to whatever you want with the .wmv extension to get it to play.

    First time I’ve used my live drive so I wasn’t sure how to link it properly. But I won’t mess with it now.

  22. Did anyone download the video while it lasted?

  23. Oh, IRQ got it. I’m getting it now. thanks.

    (VJT, thanks for the play by play!)

  24. Thanks ShawnBoy. They can run but they cannot hide.

  25. Thanks for the link shawn.

    “… the legendary biochemist and ‘Darwin Slayer’, Michael Behe.”

    Love it!!

  26. If I figure out a way of getting the full ~95MB file uploaded, I will. The sound quality is terrible.

  27. I thought it was a fantastic interview. It was refreshing to hear another non-theist come to defense of the questions being raised by IDist.

    In McWhorter’s defense, I wonder if some of the objector’s told him that he was out of his element and was speaking from ignorance. And he may have legitimately agreed with them — as he stated in the interview that though he has a love for the subject, he’s not a biologist. It’s possible he didn’t just cave to pressure, but felt that he was too ignorant of the subject (though he didn’t sound like he was in the interview at all).

    Just a thought…

  28. vjtorley @ 9

    (3) During the interview, McWhorter described an incident several years ago, in which he was talking to a prominent scientist about Behe’s first book, Darwin’s Black Box. (McWhorter declined to reveal the identity or even the gender of the scientist, out of respect for their legitimate right to privacy.) Much to McWhorter’s amazement, the scientist refused to read Behe’s book, even when McWhorter offered the scientist a copy. Indeed, the scientist’s outrage against Behe was so vehement that the scientist literally threw Behe’s book across the room. So much for open-mindedness!

    If true, then it is only evidence for the case that scientists are actually human after all and prone to the same failings as the rest of us. We can find examples of Christians who are equally or more intolerant if we try.

    (5) One thought that occurred to me during the interview was that ID would be finally able to nail the lid on the Darwinist coffin if it could formally demonstrate that large-scale evolutionary changes actually become less likely to occur over a very long interval of time (say, tens of millions of years) than over a shorter time interval (say, tens of thousands of years). In other words, it would need to be shown that the destructive effects of a large number of changes would tend to overwhelm the constructive ones, over time. But that’s another story.

    a) If such a mechanism did exist then it is unlikely we would be here to discuss it.

    b) You could argue that Gc (the Christian God) intervenes continually to head off genetic catastrophe but then you would have to explain:

    c) Why a deity as powerful as Gc would design something so error-prone. Is He really that short of something to do?

    d) It would still not be evidence for design, unless you believe in an incompetent Designer.

    McWhorter’s contempt for the inadequacy of these just-so stories was palpable, and he came across as someone who was thoroughly familiar with the standard evolutionary literature, yet was unimpressed with it. Coming from an atheist, this was powerful testimony to the fact that something is badly wrong with standard textbook accounts of how evolution is supposed to have happened.

    Argumentum ad verecundiam McWhorter is a linguist not a biologist. No doubt he is intelligent and well-read but his opinions do not carry the weight of someone who is a full-time professional researcher in the field.

    (12) This is pure speculation on my part, but my guess is that some influential biologists sensed the damage that an interview like this could do if it became publicly available, and quietly brought pressure to bear on McWhorter to yank it off the air. However, I suspect we’ll never get to hear about that, as McWhorter is too much of a gentleman to name names.

    If that is true then those responsible should be exposed because they are no friends to science. Censorship is quite wrong and totally opposed to the spirit of free and open inquiry that is supposed to prevail in the Academy.

  29. Seversky,

    ——Argumentum ad verecundiam McWhorter is a linguist not a biologist. No doubt he is intelligent and well-read but his opinions do not carry the weight of someone who is a full-time professional researcher in the field.

    By this argument, nor do your opinions carry any weight, for you’re not a full-time professional researcher in the field. If McWhorter cannot critique evolution on the grounds of being unqualified, then neither can you defend or support it. I would say, probably, 95% of my comments here involve turning the mirror back on the commentor, and just letting them see that what they posit as an argument defeats their own argument, and thus, defeats themselves, and that is certainly not a valid way to make an argument against someone else.

  30. Clive Hayden @ 31

    By this argument, nor do your opinions carry any weight, for you’re not a full-time professional researcher in the field. If McWhorter cannot critique evolution on the grounds of being unqualified, then neither can you defend or support it. I would say, probably, 95% of my comments here involve turning the mirror back on the commentor, and just letting them see that what they posit as an argument defeats their own argument, and thus, defeats themselves, and that is certainly not a valid way to make an argument against someone else.

    As you say, I am not a full-time professional researcher in this field and I make no claim to any special authority for my opinions but, like everyone else here, I believe I am entitled to express them.

    McWhorter was fully entitled to discuss whatever reservations he has about evolutionary theory. That was not the problem. The issue was over the implication in vjtorley’s comment that McWhorter’s doubts were a significant criticism of evolutionary theory. Had he expressed similar concerns about Chomsky’s theories in linguistics I would have had no objection. In biology, however, Behe, as a professional biochemist, is more of an authority,

    I also happen to think he was mistaken in having the video of the debate taken down. Even if he thought he had acquitted himself badly in the debate, he should have left it alone and made any corrections he felt were needed through other channels.

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