Behe the Expert Again

“Intelligent design” creationism advocate Michael J. Behe is once again an expert witness in a court case, this time appearing on behalf of Wendell Bird’s side in ACSI v Stearns. So far, there are two documents available detailing his participation, his expert report, and his deposition by opposing counsel.

I haven’t had a look yet; I’ll try to get back to these later. In the meantime, you may want to have a look of your own.

Update: I’m looking at the deposition, so I’ll make some notes here as I go.

Behe was brought into the case by Wendell Bird. Bird was the guy who wrote a draft “balanced treatment” bill that was modified a bit by Paul Ellwanger, then became Act 590 in Arkansas in 1981, leading to the McLean v. Arkansas case. Another version of Bird’s proposed bill became law in Louisiana, eventually leading to the SCOTUS decision in Edwards v. Aguillard. Bird argued that case before the Supreme Court, IIRC.

Behe’s job assigned by Bird was to show that the textbooks on biology and physics met the educational standards of the state of California. This puts him behind the eight-ball three ways: Behe is not a biologist, is not a physicist, and is not credentialed in education. I wonder if the rest of the deposition will bring that out.

Behe notes that biochemistry students often do not have a biology background, since the biology courses are not required of chemistry students who are the typical people enrolled there.

Bird has to rescue Behe on distinguishing between the documents that cover high school criteria and those for UC admission.

Behe’s method for comparing texts and declaring them satisfactory was simply that they addressed, in some form, the majority of items in the standards. In other words, pretty much completely a subjective evaluation, only as good as Behe’s own credibility in this task.

Behe also states that he expects to offer testimony significantly beyond the content of his expert report.

Behe states that his method of comparison was not completely presented in his expert report, which says that he looked for, essentially, the mention of a concept in each textbook. Behe says that he actually did evaluate the presentation as to whether a high school biology student would understand it from its presentation in the textbook at hand.

Behe has not taught high school biology. His understanding of what high school students understand, or don’t, comes from haphazard experience in teaching college freshman.

Behe was asked about having looked at high school textbooks previously. He says he did, and that he looked at entire books, not just sections of particular interest. He also says he gave testimony before the Texas state board of education about 5 or 6 years ago, and may have said something about his opinions of them at that time. I think that deserves some digging to see if his exact testimony can be located.

Behe’s experience in learning the limits of knowledge of former high school students was limited to his “popular arguments on evolution” course and a technical writing course.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

56 thoughts on “Behe the Expert Again

  • 2007/09/20 at 9:42 am
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    Actually, the “junk DNA is designed” folks have to look out for data from both directions: why do some organisms have much, much more DNA than humans, and why do some organisms have much, much less DNA than humans? If “junk DNA” fulfills a lot of unknown functional roles, why is it that mice with large swaths of their non-coding DNA deleted are still viable? And why does another vertebrate organism, the puffer fish, only have about one-eight the number of DNA bases that humans have, even though it develops the typical vertebrate ensemble of tissues and organs?

    Now, what would be amusing is an utilitarian argument deployed to explain the 670,000,000 base pairs of DNA in the Amoeba dubia genome. Last I heard, these organisms were not exactly recommended for human consumption, even though they each have over 200x the number of base pairs of DNA found in humans. Tasty? I don’t think so.

  • 2007/09/20 at 10:00 am
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    Exactly Wes. When you actually try to use the ID arguments re. ‘junk’ DNA on real organisms, you very quickly run into problems like these where it makes no sense at all.

    The ironic part of this is, if you look at the design argument, its actually strongly adaptionist, dare I say Darwinian to the extreme, in scope.

    I dunno though. Maybe the human genome makes up for in the quality of the genes rather than in the quantity of the genome. :)

  • 2007/09/20 at 4:06 pm
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    I never said I supported arguments of ID – never! Will be back soon.

  • 2007/09/21 at 5:36 am
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    Tina –

    You’re using ID arguments like the old junk DNA canard. You’re using your own private ‘definitions’ and connotations of evolution, just like the IDers do. You think Behe’s ideas are scientifically tenable, ideas which form an important component of the ID movement.

    Sorry, but if it’s quacking like a duck, I think we can reasonably assume its a duck until demonstrated otherwise.

  • 2007/09/22 at 7:43 am
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    Quack quack!

  • 2007/09/24 at 8:47 am
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    I’ll take that as confirmation. :)

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