Veritas Forum: Behe & Swamidass, "God and/or Evolution"

Watch the “God and/or Evolution” Veritas Forum presentation recorded at the Rudder Theater of Texas A & M University, February 20, 2020:


@cwhenderson and I enjoyed very brisk sales at our t-shirt stand before and after the presentation. The best-sellers expressed my general impressions of the evening while also reflecting Dr. Behe’s celebrity status as standard bearer of a movement:

“ID, therefore I am.”
— Michael Behe

“I’m looking over my notes from Dover.”
—Michael Behe

For those on Team Joshua, we did well with:

“Behe is not IC.”

“I’ve gone GAE and that’s OK.”

Of course, the old standby catch-phrases always sell well:

“My brother at Texas A&M attended Behe-Swamidass 2020 …
… but all I got was this lousy intelligently designed t-shirt.”

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Congratulations to Dr. Swamidass on a great presentation!


I enjoyed the debate. Great job @swamidass!

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@gbrooks9 a better version of the video is now up on YouTube!

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Interesting. I am always a bit surprised that nobody ever takes issue with Behe’s liberal use of the word “purposeful” as in a “purposeful arrangement of parts.” Whenever he uses that expression, it’s clear that he’s just smuggling the conclusion into the description, with no warrant for doing it at all. One cannot observe whether something in biology is “purposeful” without figuring out whether there was someone involved in making it who had a purpose. What he seems to be doing is substituting “purposeful” for “functional.” But the task of showing that functional arrangements are always “purposeful” is exactly what ID has to demonstrate.


I thoroughly enjoyed this video. I generally avoid “debates” as I don’t think they are particularly useful. They aren’t really designed for constructive dialog. I think this was a different kind of discussion, especially from @swamidass. Also, as a chemist I can really appreciate Jim Tour’s question. I think there are answers, but evolution and biology are, at times, quite opaque and non-intuitive to other scientists.

Who are you calling a nobody? :slightly_smiling_face: I pointed out Behe’s error twice while annotating the live discussion.

I’m sure Behe realizes he was doing a rather dishonest bait-n-switch but that doesn’t even slow him down.


Ach! I didn’t see the annotations. I am glad to hear it! This one drives me crazy and I am surprised at how seldom I see anyone take note of it.

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That was the topic of the dinner discussion. I said “purpose” presupposes agency and a mind, and “function” might be more neutral. I could not tell if he grasped the distinction…

By the way, dinner was just 4 people. The moderator, Jim Tour, Mike Behe, and myself. Very interesting conversation. The conversation with Tour the next day at Rice was equally interesting.


Did you, by the way, ask him anything about why Axe’s work isn’t cited in his latest book? I recognize that things may have been said in confidence, and certainly wouldn’t ask you to divulge anything that was – but if there’s anything you CAN tell us about that, I’d love to hear it.

On “purpose” versus “function,” I do recall a protracted argument I had over on Amazon about that with someone once, and it became clear that this fellow (not Behe) had a bit of a “Justice White on obscenity” view of it which was that he knew there was a difference between function and purpose, and that he couldn’t define it but knew it when he saw it. The difficulty, of course, in law and in science, is that if you cannot express what you think it is that makes the difference between function and purpose, or obscene and not-obscene, it cannot serve as much of a guide to others or generate a useful formulation to test by.

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For good reason I want to keep the contents of those private conversations largely private.

I can say that these private meetings are hugely important. It is because of one such meeting in 2016 that Tour changed his website regarding evolutionary science (stated here with his permission). Also others have changed their minds on important points too, in several surprising places including YEC contexts.

It will take some time for the effects to be publicly visible. In general, the kinder we can be in public the more likely private changes will happen, and the more likely this private changes will be made public.


Understood completely.

I think this is probably true in many cases. What do you think, however, about the situations where we really do have good reasons to attribute views to dishonesty? When somebody like Douglas Axe tells his audience that the mainstream view of evolutionary biology is that evolution has now perfected everything and stopped working, do you really think it is sufficient to let his audience think that we merely respectfully disagree? Pointing and laughing may not be a way to convince Axe, but nobody really wants to convince Axe anyhow, do they? Doesn’t it send the wrong message if we behave as though he has expressed a respectable minority position, when in fact he has completely misrepresented the situation?

Let’s be clear that Jim Tour’s question to me was 100% honest and genuine. He asked it in good faith and it reflects his genuine uncertainty as a totally legitimate and scientist.

He knows Axe on a personal level and has no personal reasons to doubt his trustworthiness. If there are concerns about Axe’s honesty, it needs to be presented in a way such that a scientist like Tour can see it for himself, and it is most likely to be received by a trusted source.

I’m not interested in mere public posturing. I want to make my case and win, because this is easily winnable if we take the time to build trust.


I don’t think I suggested anything to the contrary, or indeed anything about Tour at all. I do suspect that Tour realizes that trying to recapitulate the evolution of an ancient complex feature by reverse-engineering something like a bacterial flagellum is enormously difficult, so I would assume that he understands that a detailed, fully mechanistic, almost deterministic model isn’t likely to emerge, so it is unclear to me what sort of specificity he thinks can be or should be supplied. But there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the question. If the details don’t work, the summary doesn’t work, either. It is, however, possible that the analytical tools we have will not get you to the details.

I knew a police officer very well, years ago. He was a delightful fellow, fun to spend time with, a great witness, all that. When he was on a call to a domestic dispute, according to a fellow officer, he beat the suspect unconscious, without provocation, and then attempted to throw him down a flight of stairs. He denied all of this. He was a pleasant guy with a good sense of humor and a deferential personality. I represented him in the civil rights lawsuit that followed, and so as far as I was concerned professionally, he was a man of the highest moral character and a superb police officer. But I also knew something of his work, and if I had to make an honest assessment, it would be less glowing.

Perhaps Tour should read Axe’s book. I can think of very few suggestions more dishonouring to Axe than the suggestion that he actually wrote the words contained in that book. If Tour read it, I suspect it would be a bit like my reading the testimony of my client’s fellow officers.

But if you build trust with the audience by being receptive and friendly to nonsense, you do it at the cost of conceding the argument itself. All these people need, in order to keep the revenue stream running, is the whiff of credibility. Credibility itself is not what they need; but when we respectfully disagree with statements we know are utter tosh, we give the ID Creationists everything they want.


I’ve never been receptive to nonsense and will publicly call it out, but I have always sought to be friendly to those I’m convinced are purveying nonsense. That distinction is important.


That is indeed an important distinction. But I am not sure that it is possible to be “friendly” to the person while pointing out that his views are consistent neither with honesty nor with competence. Yet, to allow his audience to understand just what sort of a thing they are dealing with, you need to express exactly that.

The problem is this: if you have a purely professional disagreement with someone about some issue within science, you have no reason to attack the other’s credibility. Only the underlying substance will do, and you are in an argument with someone who observes the same basic ground rules you do. You disagree about something; but it is very unlikely that you disagree profoundly about everything. You would expect that if your counterpart in this argument expressed his views in writing, you could endorse the great majority of what he said as being true, and confine your argument to the question whether the evidence warrants the conclusion he reaches.

Dishonesty and incompetence are not like that – not at all. Axe, Meyer, and their ilk are writing books for a popular audience. The important message to get across is not that Axe has made a small mistake on p. 227 about the nature of the existing scientific consensus; the important message is that Axe is utterly undeserving of trust, and that before one assumes that he is truthful when he says the sky is blue, one had better check for oneself. When he cites a paper for a proposition, one should not assume it supports it. When he makes a statement about the scientific consensus, one should be very suspicious because this is a subject on which he lies.

Otherwise, what do you get? The casual reader of ID books says to himself, “well, yes, there were some quibbles, but nobody really showed me that he isn’t broadly correct. Nothing but arguing trivial details.” This is not a victory for science; it is an all-out rout, in favor of ID.


I think perhaps what @swamidass might be getting at is that often before you can tell someone that somebody is underserving of trust, you have to show yourself to be trustworthy. If you just go into it with “they’re lying to you!!”, there’s not necessarily a reason to believe you over them. By acknowledging points of agreement, by reassuring people of common ground, by giving time for private conversations to influence public ones, by giving his story without trying to tear down others, I think @swamidass is building trust with the public.

Ultimately, I don’t think you are going to convince ID/Creationist folks that Axe is a lier by shouting it louder and more aggressively. I think you’re mostly going to do it by giving people an alternative story that makes better sense, making Axe irrelevant.


No, indeed. But I didn’t suggest that one should merely allege dishonesty. One should point it out, specify it, and drive the point home.

Do understand: the subtext of all ID literature is that the public is being lied to by the biologists. That’s already on the table. That’s the viewpoint which they seek to legitimize by looking as though they have a place in the scientific conversation.



Wow! Words to live by!