Did Behe Deny Existence of Studies on Immune Evolution?

Irv Weissman, one of the senior authors, has been working on tunicates for decades, his purpose being to understand the evolution of the human immune system, work whose very existence is denied by Behe. The tone of this touting piece really misses that history.

You’re claiming that Behe denies the very existence of the work of Irv Weissman?

Please read more carefully before trying to pick a fight, Mung. Irv’s work is not limited to tunicates, so your question is blatantly fallacious. Were you just being sloppy, or was your fallacious framing deliberate?

Behe literally denied the existence of the tunicate work when he wrote:

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.
Darwin’s Black Box, p. 138


Just wondering what you meant. No need to get all defensive. Do you mean the tunicate work with regard to immune system evolution as published by Irv Weissman?

Because that’s something that could actually be fact-checked rather than relying on an inference based on something else he wrote. You’re not opposed to fact-checking are you?

For example, didn’t the immune system come up in the Dover trial?

Of course. That’s why I suggested you read more carefully.

There you go again.

It did indeed. Behe ran far away from what he wrote when questioned under oath.


Why would he do that if he was denying the very existence of relevant research? That makes no sense. It’s illogical.

I’m thinking he was talking about the human immune system, not the tunicate immune system. What do you think?

Because if so, I don’t think it’s very fair of you to take something Behe wrote about one thing and pretend as it was written about something completely different. Is it any wonder Behe doesn’t respond to his “critics”?

N.B. I’m not granting the truth of the claim that Behe doesn’t respond to his critics.

Many of us have thought the same. Yet this is what he did.


I see you failed to answer the question. What reason would Behe have to “run far away from what he wrote” if he was denying the very existence of any material contrary to what he wrote?

To me the answer is simple. He wasn’t denying the very existence of work on the evolution of the immune system. So Mercer got that wrong. And it’s my belief that if I go look at the trial transcript I’ll confirm the fact that Mercer got it wrong. What do you think?

And I’d love for you to produce from the actual trail transcripts Behe’s alleged denial of the very existence of such work. Or are you now saying that at the trial Behe acknowledged the existence of such work?

And I’d love for you to carefully read what I write before responding.

What I’m saying is that the book denied the existence of such work, while at the trial, Behe ran far away from that claim, acknowledging that such work exists, but that it doesn’t meet the absurd specifications he added while under oath.

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Another example of this type of avoidance is the creationist claim that there are no transitional fossils. When shown the actual transitional fossils the creationist then claims that they don’t count because the creationist does not believe they are transitional. Behe uses the same type of deception.

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Oh, but I did. You understand the use of the present tense, correct?

As in “work whose very existence is denied by Behe.

Yes. Your original claim was poorly worded. To put it kindly.

Behe, clearly, does not deny their existence.

49 6 Q. We’ll get back to that. Now, these
7 articles rebut your assertion that scientific
8 literature has no answers on the origin of the
9 vertebrate immune system?

10 A. No, they certainly do not. My answer,
11 or my argument is that the literature has no
12 detailed rigorous explanations for how complex
13 biochemical systems could arise by a random
14 mutation and natural selection and these
15 articles do not address that.

50 16 Q. So these are not good enough?

17 A. They’re wonderful articles. They’re very
18 interesting. They simply just don’t address
19 the question that I pose.

51 20 Q. And these are not the only articles on
21 the evolution of vertebrate immune system?

22 A. There are many articles.

At trail he does not deny their existence, he in fact admits they exist.

So now you want to move the goalposts and claim that at the time of writing of Darwin’s Black Box, back in 1996 and earlier, back then he denied the very existence of such articles? I’ve no reason to believe that either.

Read the transcript:

He specifically addresses what he meant when he wrote DBB. There’s no hint that he denied the very existence of work about immune system evolution, ever. None.


Mung, that is an incredibly lame attempt at a gotcha.

Behe is still selling that book without a correction, isn’t he? Then the present tense still applies.

Clearly, he denies it in the book, but he ran away from that under oath.

Just as clearly, he hasn’t changed the book to reflect his testimony in which he added absurd specifications to his sweeping false claim.

I’m not moving the goalposts. Behe did when pressed under oath.

His revision does not mean the same thing as what he wrote in DBB. If he’s any sort of a scholar, he would have written what he really meant, but he didn’t.

Behe’s massive revision of this claim under oath, changing it from objectively false to insignificantly true, showed that Behe didn’t bother to look before writing his book.

Do you really think you’re helping Behe by posting his testimony? Shall we discuss the part in which he demonstrated that he has no idea how to do a literature search?

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And that’s what i think about your comments about Behe. :smiley:

There is a difference though, and that is that my “gotcha” was factually accurate and not based upon some tortured inference that is little more than an argument from ignorance. You admit that you wrote in the present tense and now attempt to defend it by appealing to the fact that copies of his book can still be purchased. I’ve made my point.


Transcript from an invented interview . . .

Defense attorney: Since the prosecution has not brought any evidence against my client, I think all charges should be dropped.

Reporter: But sir, what about the DNA, fingerprint, fiber, and eye witness evidence that the prosecution presented?

Defense attorney: I don’t believe any of that evidence, so in my opinion there is no evidence against my client.

Would you say that the defense attorney is being honest?


You are misrepresenting the salient facts, Mung.

The latest printing is from 2006, after he made his great revision on the witness stand. It’s also revised in that it contains a new afterword that doesn’t address the “clarification” you claim he was making on the stand in 2005.

His denial of the existence of vast amounts of research is still there, so my use of the present tense is perfectly justified. He even reiterates his more general claim.

So, in summary, when Behe wrote in a book:
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.

you actually accept that what he really meant [my summary in single quotes] was:

‘I did a search only for "random mutation,’ and not even “mutation,” ignoring the fact that mutations are only random with respect to fitness, ignoring the following facts:

1) nearly all papers dealing with mutations don’t add “random,” and
2) biologists already know that transpositions (very important in the primary “answer to the question of the origin of the immune system”) are mutations and are random with respect to fitness,
3) and for this reason have zero reason to label them as “random mutations” in the title or abstract.’

Do you really think those statements are equivalent?

As for whether I have accurately summarized Behe’s shallow searching methods under oath, here’s the relevant testimony:

Q. I’m just going to quickly identify what these articles are. Exhibit P-256, “Transposition of HAT elements, links transposable elements, and VDJ recombination,” that’s an article in Nature by Zau, et al. P-279, an article in Science, “Similarities between initiation of VDJ recombination and retroviral integration,” Gent, et al.

"VDJ recombination and RAG mediated transposition in yeast," P-280, that’s in Molecular Cell by Platworthy, et al. P-281 in the EMBO Journal, “En vivo transposition mediated VDJ recombinates in human T lymphocytes,” Messier, et al, spelled like the hockey player. P-283, it says PLOS Biology, do you recognize that journal title?

A. Yes. It stands for Public Library of Science.

Q. And that’s an article by Kapitnov and Gerka, RAG 1-4 and VDJ recombination, signal sequences were derived from transposons." P-747, an article in Nature, “Implications of transposition mediated by VDJ recombination proteins, RAG 1 and RAG 2, for origins of antigen specific immunities,” Eglewall, et al. P-748 in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, “Molecular evolution of vertebrate immune system,” Bartle, et al., and now finally Exhibit P-755 in Blood , “VDJ recombinates mediated transposition with the BCL 2 gene to the IGH locus and follicular lymphoma.” Those were the articles in peer reviewed scientific journals that were discussed by Mr. Miller which you listened in on, correct?

A. I recognize most of them. Some of them I don’t recall, but that’s fine.

Q. They discuss the transposing hypothesis?

A. Yes, they do.

Q. And the kind of mutation being discussed in here is a transposition in most of these?

A. You have to – it depends on how you look at it. In many of them they’re not actually discussing mutation. They’re discussing similarities and sequences between parts of the immune system in vertebrates and some elements of transposons.

Q. But it does discuss the transpositions, correct?

A. It does, yes.

Q. In many of the articles, maybe all of them?

A. That’s correct.

Q. You indicated earlier when we were discussing your paper with Dr. Snoke that transpositions are a kind of mutation, correct?

A. Yes, they are.

Q. Now, you on Monday showed the court, or maybe it was Tuesday you showed the court that you had done a literature search of articles on the immune system looking for the words “random mutation,” correct?

A. Yes.

Q. But you didn’t search for transpositions, is that correct?

A. That’s correct.

Q. And that word appears in a number of the titles here?

A. It does, but the critical difference is the word random. There’s lots of mutations, and it’s entirely possible that intelligent design or some process of the development of life can occur by changes in DNA, but the critical factor is are such changes random, are they not random, so just there are also many occurrences of the word mutation, but it was not just mutation that is the critical element of Darwinian theory. It is random mutation.

Q. But in modern Darwinian theory transposition is one of the kind of mutations that natural selection acts upon, correct?

A. It is a mutation, and natural selection can act upon it.

Q. So the word mutation didn’t show up, or random mutation, but a form of mutation that natural selection can act upon appears throughout these articles, correct?

A. Yes, that is right.


Don’t you think it would be more honest to address the answers given in the scientific literature, even if he ultimately finds them lacking?

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Yes, one can’t even defend Behe’s claim by stating that Behe disagrees with the answers in the literature, since Behe simply denies the existence of any answers.

From my perspective as one who has done way too many literature searches, Behe appears to have designed his shallow search strategy to fail, so that he could use it to defend his claim from the book.


in general i think that behe is right. a spinning motor like the flagellum is evidence for design. and we know that a motor is evidence for design even if its self replicating.

The subject here is Behe’s ignorance of the studies on the evolution of the immune system, not his opinions on one of the multiple bacterial flagella.