Friday, September 19, 2014

Punches Pulled: Michael Behe Doesn't Care

In his "Punches Pulled" extra for his film Flock of Dodos, Randy Olson goes through a list of things that he left out of the film supposedly to be nice (i.e. to appear less hostile) rather than to keep his film from becoming a schlockumentary.

I direct your attention to his coup-de-gras.  He admits that he talked so long to Dr. Michael Behe that he felt tired afterward.  Tired?  Was there a debate that didn't make it into the film?  (He stresses in the film that two other interviewees he didn't debate about evolution because they didn't have the background.  Maybe he engaged Michael Behe about his then-forthcoming book Edge of Evolution, a book that discussed the powers of mutation and selection in detail; Flock implies that Behe wasn't doing anything in 2006 other than glorying in the publishing success of Darwin's Black Box.)

In fact, there is almost nothing from his very long talk with Dr. Behe other than the Mt. Rushmore analogy.  Briefly the film dwells on the mousetrap analogy--something more central, but is completely weak on it; if the film had got some of Behe's responses to Ken Miller's criticisms, there might have been some substance to the segment.  But it's "Mt. Rushmore" that you hear from the lips of Behe.  There's a lot more to ID concepts than a Mt. Rushmore analogy, but it seems to be on the basis of that analogy that Olson anticlimactically dismisses ID at the end of the film.  Did they talk about Mt. Rushmore and mousetraps for hours, or did they get into mutation frequencies and malaria?  What tired out poor Randy?

But I digress. This coup-de-gras that Olson so graciously left out of his film is that Michael Behe doesn't care. That's right, folks, he doesn't give a scat, and Olson has the goods.  More specifically, at the end of what was for Olson a long, grueling interview (Behe appears as relaxed as he did at the beginning of the interview), Olson baits Behe on the politics with which Flock is so deeply concerned.  On how the politics affects him, Behe responds that he doesn't have a personal stake in what gets taught to kids in public school because, like so many teachers (here and here), he doesn't send his kids to public school.  Perhaps, as a devout Catholic, he would never consider that option anyway.  We don't know what followed that sound bite--perhaps a fuller explanation of his "yes and no" answer--nor do we have any idea what was so darn tiring about sitting around outdoors having a relaxed conversation.
So, because adding this soundbite to his film might have given the impression that Behe doesn't care about any kids but his own (an idea which easily seized upon by those who demonize "red state" politics), if Behe really cared for people, he'd be more interested in changing school policies (like evolutionist John Angus Campbell, who like Behe believes in common descent and natural selection) rather than focusing on merely disseminating his ideas in the public forum.

If Behe has involved himself less in the war over what say parents have (via the school boards they elect) over what their kids are taught, perhaps partly because of his less personal stake in school policy, I'm not sure it's because he doesn't care:
The most worrisome aspect [of the NAS's involvement in religious matters] is that a quasi-governmental agency with substantial influence on public policy has gotten heavily into the religion business. Not content to advise the public on mundane matters of how the physical world works, the academy is acting to promote a theology that causes the least trouble to Darwinism. While adults may be able to tell the academy that they will make up their own minds about their religious beliefs, thank you very much, the academy will help make up the minds of schoolchildren.  [from "Darwin's Hostages"]
Whereas the "Wedge Document" offered the promise of science that was "consonant with theism" the NAS publicly promotes the rewards of religion that is consonant with true evolutionary belief.  Behe manages to worry about this even though, as Olson restrained himself from misleadingly showing (until being forced to show it once "attacked"), he just doesn't care.

On a related note, there is another more pressing point upon which I am very skeptical that Olson pulled punches out of any personal need to avoid sensationalism.  I have in mind his interview with Kathy Martin.  PZ Myers, who hates theism and conservatism with equal measures--not that this biases his opinions about biology--sees Olson's message though he doesn't believe that Olson is being heavy-handed about it.
There’s something more subtle going on there. I mean, consider that scene where he’s chatting with Kathy Martin, and talking about them as just good folks, and the camera zooms in on the GW Bush calendar in the background. There’s a message there. He’s just delivering it with a very light touch.**
Yeah, very subtle!  PZ Myers has elsewhere discussed Olson's criticisms of the insulated community of evolutionary science, and has agreed with them since what Olson really means is simply that the Darwinists need snappier, more appealing ways of spreading the gospel of purposelessness.  They just aren't dumbing it down enough for us "flyover morons."  Gawrsh.

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