MICHAEL BEHE ON THE WITNESS STAND

As most people are aware, Michael Behe championed the design-inspired ID Theory hypothesis of Irreducible Complexity.  Michael Behe testified as an expert witness in Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005). 

behe-smile

Transcripts of all the testimony and proceedings of the Dover trial are available hereWhile under oath, he testified that his argument was:

“[T]hat the [scientific] literature has no detailed rigorous explanations for how complex biochemical systems could arise by a random mutation or natural selection.”

Behe was specifically referencing origin of life, molecular and cellular machinery. The cases in point were specifically the bacterial flagellum, cilia, blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system because that’s what Behe wrote about in his book, “Darwin’s Black Box” (1996).

The attorneys piled up a stack of publications regarding the evolution of the immune system just in front of Behe on the witness stand while he was under oath. Behe is criticized by anti-ID antagonists for dismissing the books.

Michael Behe testifies as an expert witness in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Illustration is by Steve Brodner, published in The New Yorker on Dec. 5, 2005.

The books were essentially how the immune system developed in vertebrates.  But, that isn’t what Intelligent Design theory is based upon. ID Theory is based upon complexity appearing at the outset of life when life first arose, and the complexity that appears during the Cambrian Explosion.

The biochemical structures Behe predicted to be irreducibly complex (bacterial flagellum, cilium, blood-clotting, and immune system) arose during the development of the first cell.  These biochemical systems occur at the molecular level in unicellular eukarya organisms, as evidenced by the fact that retroviruses are in the DNA of these most primitive life forms.  They are complex, highly conserved, and are irreducibly complex.  You can stack a mountain of books and scientific literature on top of this in re how these biochemical systems morphed from that juncture and forward into time, but that has nothing to do with the irreducible complexity of the original molecular machinery. 

The issue regarding irreducible complexity is the source of the original information that produced the irreducibly complex system in the first place.  The scientific literature on the immune system only addresses changes in the immune system after the system already existed and was in place.  For example, the Type III Secretion System Injector (T3SS) is often used to refute the irreducible complexity of flagellar bacteria.  But, the T3SS is not an evolutionary precursor of a bacteria flagella; it was derived subsequently and is evidence of a decrease in information.

The examining attorney, Eric Rothschild, stacked up those books one on top the other for courtroom theatrics.

Behe testified:

“These articles are excellent articles I assume. However, they do not address the question that I am posing. So it’s not that they aren’t good enough. It’s simply that they are addressed to a different subject.”

Those who reject ID Theory and dislike Michael Behe emphasize that since Behe is the one making the claim that the immune system is Irreducibly Complex, then Behe owns the burden to maintain a level of knowledge as what other scientists write on the subject.  It should be noted that there indeed has been a wealth of research on the immune system and the collective whole of the papers published gives us a picture of how the immune system evolved. But, the point that Behe made was there is very little knowledge available, if any, as to how the immune system first arose.

The burden was on the ACLU attorneys representing Kitzmiller to cure the defects of foundation and relevance. But, they never did. But, somehow anti-ID antagonists spin this around to make it look like somehow Behe was in the wrong here, which is entirely unfounded.  Michael Behe responded to the Dover opinion written by John E. Jones III hereOne comment in particular Behe had to say is this:

“I said in my testimony that the studies may have been fine as far as they went, but that they certainly did not present detailed, rigorous explanations for the evolution of the immune system by random mutation and natural selection — if they had, that knowledge would be reflected in more recent studies that I had had a chance to read.

In a live PowerPoint presentation, Behe had additional comments to make about how the opinion of judge John E. Jones III was not authored by the judge at all, but by an ACLU attorney.  You can see that lecture here.

Immunology

Piling up a stack of books in front of a witness without notice or providing a chance to review the literature before they can provide an educated comment has no value other than courtroom theatrics.

The subject was clear that the issue was biological complexity appearing suddenly at the dawn of life. Behe had no burden to go on a fishing expedition through that material. It was up to the examining attorney to direct Behe’s attention to the specific topic and ask direct questions. But, the attorney never did that.

One of the members on the opposition for Kitzmiller is Nicholas Matzke, who is employed by the NCSEThe NCSE was originally called upon early by the Kitzmiller plaintiffs, and later the ACLU retained to represent Kitzmiller.  Nick Matzke had been handling the evolution curriculum conflict at Dover as early as the summer of 2004.  Matzke tells the story as to how he worked with Barbara Forrest, on the history of ID, and with Kenneth Miller, their anti-Behe expert.  Matzke writes,

“Eric Rothschild and I knew that defense expert Michael Behe was the scientific centerpoint of the whole case — if Behe was found to be credible, then the defense had at least a chance of prevailing. But if we could debunk Behe and the “irreducible complexity” argument — the best argument that ID had — then the defense’s positive case would be sunk.”

Matzke offered guidance on the deposition questions for Michael Behe and Scott Minnich, and was present when Behe and Minnich were deposed.  When Eric Rothschild, the attorney who cross-examined Behe in the trial, flew out to Berkeley for Kevin Padian’s deposition, the NCSE discussed with Rothschild how to deal with Behe.  Matzke describes their strategy:

“One key result was convincing Rothschild that Behe’s biggest weakness was the evolution of the immune system. This developed into the “immune system episode” of the Behe cross-examination at trial, where we stacked up books and articles on the evolution of the immune system on Behe’s witness stand, and he dismissed them all with a wave of his hand.”

It should be noted that as detailed and involved as the topic on the evolution of the vertebrate immune system is, the fact remains that to this day Michael Behe’s 1996 prediction that the immune system is irreducibly complex has not yet been falsified even though it is very much falsifiable.  I had the opportunity to personally debate Nick Matzke on this very issue myself.  The Facebook thread in which this discussion took place is here, in the ID group called Intelligent Design – Official Page.

Again, to repeat the point I made above in regarding the courtroom theatrics with the stacking of the pile of books in front of Behe, the burden was not on Behe to sift through the material to find evidence that would support Kitzmiller. It is up to the ACLU attorneys to direct Behe’s attention in those books and publications where complex biochemical life and the immune system first arose, and then ask questions specifically to that topic. But, since Behe was correct in that the material was not responsive to the issue in the examination, there was nothing left for the attorneys to do except engage in theatrics.

There is also a related Facebook discussion thread regarding this topic.

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2 Responses to MICHAEL BEHE ON THE WITNESS STAND

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  2. Mr. Thinker, You’re speaking in extreme ignorance in that you have no idea about the subject you are commenting on. First of all, the “TTS” is better abbreviated T3SS, which refers to a Type III Secretion System. The T3SS arose subsequent to a bacterial flagellum. The bacterial flagellum does not have any known evolutionary pathway or precursors. The bacterial flagellum enables motility to a bacterium so that it can swim as a result of the jet propulsion generated by the flagellum, and it’s whip-like appendage called a filament that functions as a propeller, which spins at a thousand revolutions per second.

    In contrast to the bacterial flagellum, the T3SS is a toxic syringe that injects pathogens into a eukaryote host. The domain eukarya didn’t exist until after bacterial were swimming around with their flagella millions of years earlier. So, the homology between a T3SS and flagellar bacteria does absolutely nothing to refute the hypothesis of irreducible complexity. The original prediction by Michael Behe uses a mousetrap to explain that the removal of any part makes the mousetrap useless to kill a mouse. So likewise, the removal of a part from a bacterial flagellum renders the machine inoperable to enable the bacterium to swim. The fact that a T3SS can be derived is meaningless to Michael Behe’s predictions, and has nothing to do with the definition of irreducible complexity.

    You claim that scientists have shown that an “irreducibly complex structure can evolve.” Sure, it’s been SPECULATED as to how an irreducibly complex system might have evolved, but so what? The question remains how did it actually evolve, and after 17 years of experimentation and analysis since the prediction in “Darwin’s Black Box” (1996) the researchers have confirmed that the bacterial flagellum does not have an evolutionary precursor.

    It should be noted that you did not reference any scientific literature to support your position, but instead linked to a blog. In contrast to your claims, the research shows just the opposite:

    Christina Toft and Mario A. Fares (2008) “The Evolution of the Flagellar Assembly Pathway in Endosymbiotic Bacterial Genomes,” Mol Biol Evol 25 (9): 2069-2076. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msn153; http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/25/9/2069.abstract.

    Abby, S. S., & Rocha, E. P. C. (2012). “The Non-Flagellar Type III Secretion System Evolved from the Bacterial Flagellum and Diversified into Host-Cell Adapted Systems,” PLoS Genetics, 8 (9), e1002983; http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pgen.1002983. This paper just outright concludes that the T3SS did not evolve from flagallar bacteria, and based upon homology, the T3SS and its subparts are the only possible candidate for a precursor. Hence, there is no evolutionary pathway.

    Jonathan McLatchie’s Sept. 2012 article on the bacterial flagellum as IC, http://www.scribd.com/doc/106728402/The-Bacterial-Flagellum.

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