"If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."
- Charles Darwin

Aug 2, 2007

Behe admits ‘Intelligent Designer’ is God on The Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert, more than any other late night talk show host, has used his alter ego’s ditto-head spin-zone to bring evolutionary scientists to millions of viewers. His interview with Richard Dawkins is one of the best episodes I’ve seen (and I haven’t missed a single one). So I was acutely eager to watch Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe on Thursday night’s show.

In classic form Colbert opens up the interview by judging the book by its cover (he doesn't read books, he feels them). Reading from the subtitle The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, Colbert asked “Should all science begin by looking for where to limit a theory?”

Behe was naturally stunned. Because as a biochemist he knows (or at least he should) that science only operates when it pushes boundaries and asks tough questions that can be tested experimentally. Behe, instead, waffled by suggesting that because no one in Darwin’s era understood the workings of the cell that, therefore, Darwin is incomplete.

That may be the first thing that Behe has been right about. Darwin, by himself, is incomplete. Without Mendel, without Fisher, without Dobzhansky and Haldane and Mayr Darwin’s theory wouldn’t be valid. These researchers, and many more in the 150 years since Darwin, have stood on the shoulders of a giant in order to see further than Darwin could alone. That is the process by which science operates.

Behe then suggested that Darwin will be overthrown by a new theorist the same way that Newton was by Einstein. This would make Behe a poor physicist the same way he’s a poor biologist. Einstein didn’t overthrow Newton, he refined Newton. Newton’s laws continue to be valid. Einstein was able to construct a testable hypothesis to demonstrate what gravity was, rather than just how it operated (i.e. Newton’s laws of motion). That’s how all great science operates.

What Behe did not show, and what none of the Intelligent Design proponents show, are the testable hypotheses they’ve constructed to demonstrate the existence of a designer. It’s not enough to find some collection of molecules somewhere that evolutionary biologists haven’t looked at yet and declare, without evidence, that evolution couldn’t have constructed them. You design an experiment and you show that you’re right. Spewing hot air may be enough for the pundits that Colbert is mocking, but it’s not enough for the scientific method.

In the end Colbert cleverly voiced the reasons why those who believe in God want Intelligent Design to be true. As science has progressed over the centuries it has explained away the great mysteries of the unknown, the traditional domain of God (or the gods), making His kingdom smaller and smaller.

“It’s time for God to fight back,” Colbert demanded, knowing that we’re in on his joke. Behe took the bait and responded, “It turns out He has,” thus admitting that he’s always had a theological purpose behind his crusade against evolution. Unfortunately, if God did select Behe to be the crusader for this cause, His powers of omnipotence have been greatly exaggerated.

Update: Other reviews can be found here, here and here.

Behe admits ‘Intelligent Designer’ is God on The Colbert ReportSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend


Chris Harrison said...

Thanks for the write up. I didn't catch the beginning, but the ending had to be one of the most hilarious interview terminations ever. Behe's babbling on and then all of a sudden: "THANKS FOR COMING ON THE SHOW". Behe, confused and annoyed, forces a smile.


Oh, and that dude is distractingly short.

neuralsmith said...

Great post, so I hate to bring this up. Einstein really did overthrow Newton. Newton was not right, he was accurate to within the limits of measurement at his time. Newtonian mechanics is not an accurate description of the data available today.

Eric Michael Johnson said...

Neuralsmith -

I agree with you. Newtonian mechanics breaks down under extreme conditions. But this doesn't represent an "overthrow" of Newton the way Behe asserts.

According to physicist Arthur R. Smith here, “Einstein's theory is actually exactly equivalent to Newton's theory for very weak gravitational forces of normal slow-moving bodies. What happens is that in Einstein's theory the sun (or other heavy body) distorts space time around it, in a way that mimics Newton's gravity.”

And the way Einstein refined Newton (and radically changed our understanding of the universe) was by setting up several testable hypotheses to prove his theory (for example, perturbations in Mercury's orbit and light deflected by Earth's gravity). These were later verified. Where are Behe's testable hypotheses? Without them his ideas aren't science, making Intelligent Design nothing but creationism wrapped in technical language.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Behe didn't really claim that Einstein overthrew Newton; he said that Einstein showed the "limits" of Newton. Most physicists and philosophers of science agree.

What Colbert replied to Behe (that was rhetorically beautiful) was: So you are to Darwin as Einstein was to Newton?

Even Behe had to blush at the implied hubris of his position. He tried to fob off the "glory" onto the work of contemporary scientists, but that's just nonsense, since the vast majority of scientists are (neo-) Darwinians.

neuralsmith said...

I agree. But again, I would not say Einstein refined Newton. There is no way to get relativity out of Newtonian mechanics. The two theories fundamentally contradict each other. It just so happens that to the limits of measurement Newton is a good approximation.

By the way, great blog.

JKMcKee said...

Anybody notice that the Discovery Institute did NOT tout Behe's performance on its weblog? It was a major appearance by their biggest star, and they neglected to even mention it.