Opinions Re. What M. Behe May Believe About Common Descent


(Edward Robinson) #21

Well, Paul Nelson and Michael Behe accept very different levels of common descent – that was my point. I don’t know how much common descent Paul accepts, but it’s not a great deal. I doubt, for example, that Paul thinks that all mammals sprang from one common progenitor, and I doubt even more that he thinks that all vertebrates sprang from one common progenitor. Behe, on the other hand, seems to accept common descent almost all the way – perhaps not back to a single progenitor of all living things, but at least back to a few very simple progenitors.

In terms of the distinction between “microevolution” and “macroevolution”, Behe definitely accepts “macroevolution” in precisely the sense that YEC folks have always rejected. The way you worded things, it sounded as if you thought that Behe was only granting macroevolution “for the sake of argument” rather than because he believed it actually happened. But I’ve always read Behe as saying that, in his view, macroevolution really happened; his dispute with conventional evolutionary theory is not over whether it happened, but over how it happened.

If you are in agreement with my description of Behe’s position here, then we can chalk up my confusion about your meaning to a communications breakdown, but if not, then you will have to state how far you think Behe goes with common descent, and where he backs off from it.

(Bill Cole) #22

I think you are missing a very big point. Paul is focused on common descent as a discussion point and Mike is not. I look to Mike for descriptions of irreducibly complex structures and look to Paul for evidence for and against common descent.

I have discussed alternative splicing evidence related to common descent with both. Paul was interested Mike was not. When the discussion was about irreducibly complex biochemical structures Mike was all in.

(Edward Robinson) #23


I agree with all that you just wrote. I’ve discussed a number of things with those two people as well. But I’m trying to get a clear picture of “What Bill Cole thinks that Michael Behe thinks about the descent of all animals and plants from a few very simple forms.” Is it your position that Mike Behe is pretty confident that all animals and plants descended from a few simple forms, or is it your position that Mike Behe entertains serious doubts about common descent to that degree?

(Bill Cole) #24

When I brought up an issue with non guided common descent (alternative splicing data) he said to me that I might be right. He did not appear to have a hard position. If you listen to our discussion you will hear him say this.

I think his official position is that common descent plus design explains things but his commitment to common descent is way more tentative then his commitment to design.

Regarding universal common descent he would struggle explaining the prokaryotic to eukaryotic transition but more importantly he has no desire to defend universal common descent here or debate against it.

It will be interesting to discuss this after reading his next book when we get insight into his current focus. From what he told me recently it will be at least partially about more irreducibly complex structures.

(George) #25


Perfect explanation. I agree with every word!

(George) #26


And i would accept your view of Behe if you could produce a solid few sentences that indicates wjich time period or which animal group was. Most likely produced by special creation … instead of by God-Guided mutation!

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #27

On this part you are wrong. Here he has stated his view that there is strong evidence for CD.

(Neil Rickert) #28

I don’t claim to know what Behe believes about common descent. However, I noticed a new thread started here today:
Intelligent Design, Common Descent, and an Ascent of Mount Everest. And that links to an ENV post. Early in that ENV post, I see @pnelson writing

Intelligent Design, Common Descent, and an Ascent of Mount Everest
(Edward Robinson) #29

I don’t dispute this, except for the adverb “way”. Based on the total of his writings and oral statements over the past 20 years, I’d say his commitment to design is about 99%, and his commitment to common descent is about 90%. It appeared to me that you were underestimating his conception of the strength of the evidence for common descent.

See the statement by Paul Nelson (who knows Behe’s position as well as anyone), quoted by Neil Rickert below. I had not seen that statement until about two days ago, but it didn’t surprise me at all, as everything I have read since 2005 by Behe and about Behe (from his Discovery colleagues) is consistent with Nelson’s statement. And here, quite recently, Ann Gauger appears to have confirmed that Behe accepts common descent.

I grant you that Behe doesn’t dogmatize about common descent. He doesn’t make over-the-top statements such as those we often see on the internet in these debates, e.g., “common descent is as certain as the law of gravity or the germ theory of disease.” He is aware that there is some data that could be read as incompatible with common descent – the sort of data that Nelson and others point out. Not being a dogmatic sort of person by nature, he gives room for people to dissent re common descent. But he himself takes it as as his working hypothesis, i.e., he assumes it to be true until significant counter-evidence comes up.

Whether Behe affirms universal common descent (all life springing from one progenitor) is not as clear. Darwin gave the option of one or a few original forms. I think Behe is comfortable with that level of uncertainty. But Paul Nelson’s statement indicates that Behe goes all the way to one ancestor. Ann Gauger, on the other hand, in a recent statement here, backed away from insisting that Behe holds to UCD, after initially suggesting that he held to it. She does not seem as sure as Nelson regarding Behe’s view on a single common ancestor. So among those who know Behe best, there is uncertainty on whether he holds to a single ancestor, or multiple ancestors. But no ID leader I know of doubts that Behe takes common descent very far. Indeed, based on statements of his that I’ve read, he thinks that human beings, at least on the bodily side (leaving out the immortal soul) go back to one-celled antecedents, and if one goes that far, one clearly has broken with all forms of American “creationism”, even if one supposes that there were originally 30 or 40 distinct one-celled starting-points.

Of course, Behe doesn’t think this evolution could have happened without design somewhere in the process, either at the beginning, or inserted at points along the way. Where I find him non-committal is on the point where the design comes into the process. He gives the pool-shot analogy as a possibility, but elsewhere he clearly allows special interventions (tinkering with mutations subtly, for example) as a possibility. I think that he doesn’t dwell in the exact scenario for “design insertion” because to him it doesn’t come into the methods for detecting design. For him, just as you can show that something like Stonehenge or a pocket watch was designed without knowing exactly the steps by which the thing was made, so you can show that certain living systems are designed without knowing exactly where the design was inserted (at the Big Bang, at the start of life, or later on).

(Nathan H. Lents) #30

Josh - This is something I want to know for sure also. So far, there is nothing in Behe’s book expressing support or skepticism for common descent. I’m not done yet (I read slow because I’m always reading like three books at a time and, you know, day job, kids, life), but so far he’s only been questioning evolution of molecular machines and nothing on common descent whatsoever. Where does he really stand? So far, this book is as consistent with a theistic evolution viewpoint as an OEC viewpoint. (He explicitly accepts the age of the earth, so definitely not a YEC.)

(John Mercer) #31

Why is that important?

Why not ask Michael Behe? Is Behe some sort of reclusive oracle who only speaks his mind on special holidays?

(Paul A Nelson) #32

Hi Nathan,

Take a look at the first paragraph on p. 19 of the Darwin Devolves page proofs.

That seems to be pretty strong support for common descent.

(Nathan H. Lents) #33

Hi Paul. My version is EPUB and rendered on iBooks, so the pagination is totally different. If you can give me a quote, I can look for it. Thanks

(Nathan H. Lents) #34

Hi Paul - I just read a pretty strong endorsement/acceptance of common descent in the book, so yes, you were right. He fully accepts common descent, age of the earth. His only real difference with modern evolutionary theory (not that this is small) is that it can only account for genus- and species-level diversification, and that higher level phylogeny requires purposeful guidance/design due to IC and the inability of random mutation to get there. While I find this to be an intellectually weak position, it has the huge advantage of not having to quarrel with the majority of scientific evidence.