Over on Uncommon Descent, “BarryA” expresses his disappointment in Judge Jones. Specifically, “BarryA” thinks that Michael Behe got a raw deal during the Kitzmiller v. DASD trial last year when the topic of the immune system came up. Jones, according to “BarryA”, should not have permitted the plaintiffs’ attorneys to present the stack of papers and textbooks containing discussion of the evolution of the immune system, at least not without reading the contents of each item into the record.
Here is the passage from Jones’s decision that seems to have upset “BarryA”:
The immune system is the third system to which Professor Behe has applied the definition of irreducible complexity. Although in Darwin’s Black Box, Professor Behe wrote that not only were there no natural explanations for the immune system at the time, but that natural explanations were impossible regarding its origin. (P-647 at 139; 2:26-27 (Miller)). However, Dr. Miller presented peer-reviewed studies refuting Professor Behe’s claim that the immune system was irreducibly complex. Between 1996 and 2002, various studies confirmed each element of the evolutionary hypothesis explaining the origin of the immune system. (2:31 (Miller)). In fact, 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)).
Tom English pointed out in comments that Behe’s unfamiliarity with the material seemed to be the point of the exercize. Here’s how “BarryA” responded to that:
Thank you for your quotations from the record. It now seems that I gave Judge Jones too much credit. If no expert testified that the books and articles were authoritative that should have been the end of it. The judge should have stopped them right there. In other words, the plaintiffs did not even make it through the first Rule 803(18) hoop, much less the second. Maybe I also gave the defendants’ lawyers too much credit. Once Behe testified that he was unfamiliar with a particular book or article they should have objected to any further reference to it or use of it.
Excuse me? “BarryA” had already in his main post stipulated that Behe had admitted that the materials presented met that hurdle:
Based on the quotes from Behe’s testimony, it is fairly clear that this step was met. Behe admitted the books and articles were learned treatises.
As to how the articles came into the record, and how familiar Behe was with them, let’s look at the trial transcript.
Q. We’ll return to that in a little while. Let’s turn back to Darwin’s Black Box and continue discussing the immune system. If you could turn to page 138? Matt, if you could highlight the second full paragraph on page 138? What you say is, “We can look high or we can look low in books or in journals, but the result is the same. The scientific literature has no answers to the question of the origin of the immune system.” That’s what you wrote, correct?
A. And in the context that means that the scientific literature has no detailed testable answers to the question of how the immune system could have arisen by random mutation and natural selection.
Q. Now, you were here when Professor Miller testified?
Q. And he discussed a number of articles on the immune system, correct?
A. Yes, he did.
Q. And these are not the only articles on the evolution of vertebrate immune system?
A. There are many articles.
Q. May I approach?
THE COURT: You may.
Q. Professor Behe, what I have given you has been marked Plaintiff’s Exhibit 743. It actually has a title, “Behe immune system articles,” but I think we can agree you didn’t write these?
A. I’ll have to look through. No, I did not.
Q. And there are fifty-eight articles in here on the evolution of the immune system?
A. Yes. That’s what it seems to say.
Q. I’m going to read some titles here. We have Evolution of Immune Reactions by Sima and Vetvicka, are you familiar with that?
A. No, I’m not.
Q. You haven’t read those chapters?
A. No, I haven’t.
Q. You haven’t read the books that I gave you?
A. No, I haven’t. I have read those papers that I presented though yesterday on the immune system.
Q. And the fifty-eight articles, some yes, some no?
A. Well, the nice thing about science is that often times when you read the latest articles, or a sampling of the latest articles, they certainly include earlier results. So you get up to speed pretty quickly. You don’t have to go back and read every article on a particular topic for the last fifty years or so.
Q. And all of these materials I gave you and, you know, those, including those you’ve read, none of them in your view meet the standard you set for literature on the evolution of the immune system? No scientific literature has no answers to the question of the origin of the immune system?
A. Again in the context of that chapter, I meant no answers, no detailed rigorous answers to the question of how the immune system could arise by random mutation and natural selection, and yes, in my, in the reading I have done I have not found any such studies.
What Eric Rothschild was going after in the cross-examination was Behe’s claim that the scientific literature didn’t discuss the evolution of the immune system. Here at the trial, Behe hedged on his earlier years of going around the country and popping up a slide with a big numeral zero on it, saying that’s how many articles in the scientific literature dealt with the evolution of any irreducibly complex system Behe listed in “Darwin’s Black Box”.
Now, impeaching a witness apparently can take many forms, but it seems obvious that the sort of thinking “BarryA” brings to this just cannot work in real life. If someone were presented as an expert witness who actually was completely ignorant of some relevant sub-field of knowledge, “BarryA”‘s approach would completely insulate that person from the bad consequences of being ignorant: ‘I’m sorry, I have no knowledge of this textbook that is basic to this field.’ ‘Your honor, move to exclude this on the grounds that my expert doesn’t know a thing about it.’ ‘Granted.’ If that were actually the case, I think I’d rely on Dickens: “[T]he law is an ass.” Ignorant experts should be impeached, not the materials that demonstrate their ignorance.
And this is what shows “BarryA”‘s commentary to be emanating from some bizarro world, for it is Behe who has been bluffing all these years, trying to say that the scientific literature doesn’t include stuff, when Behe actually couldn’t even be bothered to go and read the material that was there and was relevant to his claims. It is Behe whose bluff was called by Eric Rothschild, and who was shown to be holding… nothing. Behe’s only defense was his ignorance, and “BarryA” seems to think that ignorance should be made the ultimate arbiter of what can or cannot be admitted in impeaching a witness, such that only knowledgeable witnesses need fear impeachment, and only ignoramuses — like Michael Behe in this context — should have their testimony accorded the full respect of the court.