From the quote mines: Behe quotes Coyne

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Coyne as quoted by Behe in Darwin’s Black Box:

We conclude-unexpectedly-that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view: its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak.

I decided to check the actual text and guess what? In the actual text the period is a comma and the text continues as follows:

and there is no doubt that mutations of large effects are sometimes important in adaptation.

Searching the web for the ‘quote’ I ran across Jerry Coyne’s rebuttal in the Boston review

I am painfully and personally acquainted with Behe’s penchant for fiddling with quotations. On page 29 of Darwin’s Black Box he writes:

Jerry Coyne, of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, arrives at an unanticipated verdict: “We conclude–unexpectedly–that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view: its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak.”

Apparently I am one of those faint-hearted biologists who see the errors of Darwinism but cannot admit it. This was news to me. I am surely numbered among the more orthodox evolutionists, and hardly see our field as fatally flawed. The paper in question (actually by Allen Orr and myself)3 addresses a technical debate among evolutionists: are adaptations based on a lot of small genetic mutations (the traditional neo-Darwinian view), a few big mutations, or some mixture of the two? We concluded that although there was not much evidence one way or the other, there were indications that mutations of large effect might occasionally be important. Our paper cast no doubt whatever on the existence of evolution or the ability of natural selection to explain adaptations.

I went back to see exactly what Orr and I had written. It turns out that, in the middle of our sentence, Behe found a period that wasn’t there. Here’s the full citation, placed in its context:

Although a few biologists have suggested an evolutionary role for mutations or large effect (Gould 1980; Maynard Smith 1983: Gottlieb, 1984; Turner, 1985), the neo-Darwinian view has largely triumphed, and the genetic basis of adaptation now receives little attention. Indeed, the question is considered so dead that few may know the evidence responsible for its demise. Here we review this evidence. We conclude–unexpectedly–that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view: its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak, and there is no doubt that mutations of large effect are sometimes important in adaptation. We hasten to add, however, that we are not “macromutationists” who believe that adaptations are nearly always based on major genes. The neo-Darwinian view could well be correct. It is almost certainly true, however, that some adaptations involve many genes of small effect and others involve major genes. The question we address is, How often does adaptation involve a major gene? We hope to encourage evolutionists to reexamine this neglected question and to provide the evidence to settle it.

By inserting the period (and removing the sentence from its neighbors), Behe has twisted our meaning. Our discussion of one aspect of Darwinism–the relative size of adaptive mutations–has suddenly become a critique of the entire Darwinian enterprise. This is not sloppy scholarship, but deliberate distortion.

Perhaps I unduly belabor this point, but we know what they say about God and the details. Can anyone who alters quotations be trusted to give an unbiased view of the scientific data?

Behe ‘responds’

After a few other people, I quote Coyne as saying, “We conclude–unexpectedly–that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view: its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak.” In Coyne’s paper, the sentence did not stop there; it continued with “and there is no doubt that mutations of large effect are sometimes important in adaptation.” I do not see, however, where that changes the sense of the sentence at all. In my manuscript I had his quote ending with an ellipsis, but the copy editor took out all ellipses in this section and put in periods, so I assume that it is in keeping with standard editorial practices. It is extremely difficult for me to understand why Coyne thinks his idea is anything other than a doubt about the efficacy of Darwinism, or what context could possibly change its plain meaning. Coyne goes on to quote the entire paragraph in which the sentence appeared, but that changes nothing of the basic thrust as far as I can see.

Other websites which misquote the text or quote is as ‘there is little evidence for the Neo-Darwinian view’ include

And that is just the first page of a Google search

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Behe "quotes" Coyne from stranger fruit on June 6, 2005 9:46 PM

Over at the Thumb, Pim discusses this quote from Behe's Darwin's Black Box: Jerry Coyne, of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, arrives at an unanticipated verdict: “We conclude—unexpectedly—that ther... Read More

47 Comments

Behe: … I do not see… It is extremely difficult for me to understand… as far as I can see.

Possibly someone will accuse me of a bit of mining (even with ellipses intact), but I think I’ve captured the essence of Behe’s entire thesis here.

It is, plainly, neither an argument from incredulity nor an argument from ignorance, but simply one of incomprehension.

Behe: … I do not see… It is extremely difficult for me to understand… as far as I can see.

Possibly someone will accuse me of a bit of mining (even with ellipses intact), but I think I’ve captured the essence of Behe’s entire thesis here.

It is, plainly, neither an argument from incredulity nor an argument from ignorance, but simply one of incomprehension.

I’ve said it before, and this excellent article is as good a place as any to make the point again:

Why do I believe there is no God? because any god worthy of the title would strike down mendacious ignorami like Hovind and Behe for saying something as transparently silly as this, and doing it in his name.

If I’m wrong, may Yahweh strike Behe down with lightning before I finish typing this sentence.

Anything?

Only one problem, why do you think Yahweh would take your challenge seriously? And as far as Christians are concerned, death is hardly the worst that can happen to a Christian. Perhaps we all serve a greater purpose…

The meaing in the original context might as well be day to the night of Behe’s carefully stripped down quotation. Any semi-literate person can see the difference. Behe’s original misquote could be error but his shameless defense reveals his malevolent intent to distort Coyne’s meaning. To me it’s the moral equal of plagarizing another’s work.

The Quote Mine Project that debunks evolution quotes of creationists has also done Behe:

Behe’s Coyne quote

Behe had a quote on McDonald. Ee i ee io

– Anti-spam: Replace “user” with “harlequin2”

Exodus 20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Mathew:19:18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness

Mark 10:19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honor thy father and mother.

Luke 18:20 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother.

It would seem tobe that they are quilty of selective reading in general. Admitedly the first instnace specifies that it’s your neighbour that you can’t lie about, but he others would seem to be unequivocable :) I’m fairly sure I’m not taking anything out of context either. There’s no qulifiers or is there?

Exodus 20:16B “Thou shalt not bear false witness except when your neighbour is a Satan deceived Evilutionist, in which case thou shalt feel free to slander and misrepresent to thou heart’s content”

I’m hardly surprised what these fellows do or claim anymore.

Behe had a quote on McDonald. Ee i ee io

That was going to be my next posting… You owe me a topic :-)

#

Don’t Be Flanked: A response to Lenny Flank’s article “Is the ‘Intelligent Designer’ argument a Scientific One?” by Michael Licona

I note with amusement that, nowhere in this article do they offer any scientific argument for ID. Not a one.

By the way, the version of the web page that they, uh, criticize, is an old one. The latest one is at:

http://www.geocities.com/lflank/design.htm

Well there is always Endler’s quote… Stay tuned… And that’s just the first two chapters…

In reference to Scott Davidson’s correct citing of the Bible, can anyone identify the YEC who claimed that it is OK to lie for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Michael Roberts Wrote:

can anyone identify the YEC who claimed that it is OK to lie for the sake of the Kingdom of God

There have been a couple of them on the BBC MBs who’ve come right out and admitted it when under pressure for repeated obvious lies, eg Margaret Trotter. However, they are probably not the YECs you’re looking for. ;-)

What you need is something like the bank/loan TV adverts running in the UK where they say “some people say you have to keep switching” and then pretend to go looking for these people, single them out or line them up and allegedly refute their view (except it is all pretty feeble and you’d have to be a halfwit to fall for the advert’s refutations). So an equivalent one would be “which YEC first said it was OK to lie” and then cut to a shot of some reporter homing in on someone … except the first one to do so is probably a long dead one.

Meanwhile, is the current betting that Behe really is that incompetent at reading comprehension (certainly a common enough problem with only 4% of college/university level people being regarded as proficient at critical thinking according to some US study I found) or that he is more likely to be being dishonest (again a common problem)?

Behe obviously believes that *any* criticism of *any* aspect of “Darwinism” brings the whole thing into disrepute. Coyne obviously feels that he wasn’t doing that, rather he was critiquing a certain mechanism of evolutionary theory. However, you can see why Coyne’s wording is so attractive to people with an axe to grind.

Behe’s reaction mirrors that of Dembski when he was caught indulging in sloppy scholarship. These IDists simply cannot get their head around the fact that just because a sentence or paragraph appears to support their position, it often does not. They view any sentence or passage that appears to critique evolution as some kind of “Freudian Slip” that reveals the real “controversy/crisis” amongst the scientific community.

Such a mentality is borne of ID’s glaring inability to come up with original research. Instead of publishing their own papers for peer review, IDists scour the literature, hoping to turn up apparent “gems” from Coyne or Ward who they can quote as an authority to make their popular books or simplistic rhetorical essays appear to carry more scientific clout. It’s a win/win situation. If no one notices then the ID lobby appear to have more credibility, and if a fuss is kicked up, then they can resort to the tried and tested “cover-up!” or “oppression!” pleas.

Andrew

So not only was Behe quoting out of context to give an erroneous impression of what Coyne meant, he had an incompetent copy editor who for no good reason changes ellipses to a period.

Behe’s argument over time has become much clearer and as such also less and less scientific. He truly believes that eliminating direct Darwinian pathways, some leads to an intelligent design inference, ignoring that such “God of the Gaps” ignores for instance non-Darwinian pathways or indirect pathways (which are considered ‘too unlikely’ in a rather ad hoc fashion). Indeed, any criticism of expressed doubt of the sufficiency of Darwinian theory or natural selection is grasped by ID as evidence for an intelligent designer. i am re-reading Darwin’s Black Box and I find Behe’s words more and more hollow and this does not even address the revisions to IC which have made it for all practical purposes totally useless.

What a waste… Since 1996, ID seems to have been unable to shed the literature mining approach. Meyer can be ‘forgiven’ since he ‘grew up’ in a movement that did not know better… But do we want our kids to be exposed to such vacuous science? What about the theological risks?

Behe: Coyne said this! Coyne: I did not! Behe: Oh, but you meant it! Coyne: Certainly not! Behe: Well, I don’t understand why you say that. I know what you mean far better than you do!

What can you do in the face of such an argument? It’s the logic of the schoolyard, and as far from science as sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting “I can’t HEAR you!”.

If this is the new age of science, I’m Pope Joan. And so is my wife.

R

I read somewhere that it was Martin Luther who originally (or was one of the first) argued that lying for Christ is a virtue if it strengthens the Church. The implication, that the Church derives most of its strength from this same foundation, is apparently entirely acceptable. As Behe and really all creationists demonstrate, once the “faith parasite” has infected a mind, it is damn near impossible to dislodge. Behe is following standard practice here: starting with an unjustifiable foregone conclusion, and fabricating support wherever it can be extracted, even if he must plead stupidity rather than retract what the parasite leaves him no choice but to believe.

I just can’t comprehend how Behe could honestly believe what he says in the defense. To any reader of that paper with even a cursory knowledge of the history of the field, what Coyne is arguing is clear: the original pioneers of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, in eradicating the false view that evolution happens by a series of huge saltations, went too far and declared that large jumps NEVER happened: it’s single simple mutations all the way down. Coyne’s paper corrects this view, showing that the general model doesn’t rule this out (large mutations do happen: usually they are very harmful and never even get to the reproductive stage, but nothing prevents a useful one from happening once and awhile). There’s nothing in his paper about how evolution cannot work _without_ large jumps: it’s just that nothing in the model says that we should expect to find evolutionary history to be completely devoid of them. Instead, there is a wider range of small to large mutations that all play a role to different degrees.

In short, Behe is either ignorant of the field, or flat out lying when he says that he can’t see how presenting Coyne as questioning the general model is a honest portrayal. Coyne’s paper, if anything, strengthens the model by removing an unecessary and overbroad constraint.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 4, column 2, byte 133 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

… as far as I can see.

This must refer to irreducible complexity.

I think Behe’s hoping his followers are confused and side with him. Just today, for instance, some creationist demanded to know why on earth we think ID is creationism? So perhaps Behe’s counting on this sort of illogic and confusion.

This brings to mind a recent essay by Dawkins about how creationists jump on every possible statement of doubt of any kind about anything as somehow supporting their position.

Read it here.

You know, this really just clarifies some things for me a bit. I had been naive before in thinking that there were some IDists who were honest. While I disagreed with Behe’s arguments, I didn’t think he was being deceitful. But here we see him sinking to the level of Dembski–outright distortion, and arrogant, lying responses to being called on said distortion.

Behe could have issued a mea culpa and said that Coyne wasn’t saying what he thought. That would at least preserved his integrity, and he could then make the (correct) point that one scientist’s supposed doubt isn’t proof of anything in the first place. Now, this would have prevented future uses of the tactic of asserting “EVOLUTIONIST JONES SAYS HE DOUBTS ISSUE X, SO EVOLUTION IS WRONG!” But instead, he took the route of mendacity, preferring to preserve this fallacious line of attack for future use and sacrifice any shred of respect we’re meant to have for his honesty.

Maybe we *should* have ID taught in our schools.

The quote by Coyne is pretty clear and straightforward. I think that with a little explanation any high school science student should be able to understand what it means and see it as an example of how science progresses. And that the “artful rendition” of Coyne’s words is a shameless lie. If I had kids in school, I’d want them to see what the finest mind in all of Creationism is capable of.

There’s an interesting rhetorical shift going on here. I’ve just finished writing a response to Bill Reid, who is a strident though secular critic of what he calls the ‘modern synthesis’. His account of the synthesis is precisely the narrow gradualist version that Coyne was criticising in the abused quotation. The second step of Reid’s case is also identical to Behe’s: a bait-and-switch, in which he identifies this narrow, gradualist tradition within the modern synthesis with the entire shooting match. A cheap shot for sure, but so long as phrases like ‘the modern synthesis’ and ‘neo-Darwinism’ are used in both a narrow and a wide sense, it’s an obvious trick to try…

Behe could have issued a mea culpa and said that Coyne wasn’t saying what he thought.  That would at least preserved his integrity, and he could then make the (correct) point that one scientist’s supposed doubt isn’t proof of anything in the first place.  Now, this would have prevented future uses of the tactic of asserting  “EVOLUTIONIST JONES SAYS HE DOUBTS ISSUE X, SO EVOLUTION IS WRONG!”  But instead, he took the route of mendacity, preferring to preserve this fallacious line of attack for future use and sacrifice any shred of respect we’re meant to have for his honesty.

Except that keep in mind we are not Behe’s target audience. Behe’s true believers only want to be assured that he never says he’s wrong. They thrive best when disputes can be painted as nothing more than a “he said/she said” matter. Given how little IDers have, this whole ‘we are never wrong’ stance is very important to them.

I have decided to apply for the position of copy editor. How am I doing so far?

Michael J. Behe Wrote:

It is extremely difficult for me to understand.

Another cheap shot, I know, but I reckon its all a theological matter, since the devil is apparently in the details, and thus they have to avoid them at all cost.

I actually worked as a copyeditor for a while, and considering how anal-retentive most of them are, I’m stunned by the idea that one of them would think that it was acceptable – ‘house style’? – to convert all ellipses to simple periods. Such a policy sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, like it did here. (Unless we’re simply being lied to.)

Either way, it’s not ‘standard editorial practice’.

Behe’s response is typical of fundamentalist Christian thought patterns.

1. Fundamentalists frequently take the attitude that the admission of a single error implies the admission that one knows nothing at all. I once had a fundamentalist come up to me and show me that someone had discovered a new species of fish. This proved that carbon dating must be false — on the grounds that if you don’t know one thing (all species of fish) then you can’t know anything (i.e. carbon dating). The “logic” was described to me in precisely this way.

Such reasoning is basic to the fundamentalist mind. Blind faith is justified in that it provides absolute truth, which cannot be obtained by any other manner. The bible is claimed to be absolutely true and the interpretations of “my sect” are not really interpretations at all. To admit any error in either the text or interpretation is to admit the possible validity of other opinions. This cannot be countenanced. Thus there can never be any error at all. If one error is admitted then more might follow.

2. The fundamentalist Christian system is stuck with a single repository of “truth” which cannot be expanded. Thus the project is to re-read and re-process the text of the bible to “discover” new truths. You can’t look to the world, everything must be found in the existing text. So one gets in the practice of reading huge volumes into tiny nuances of detail, lifting sentences or parts of paragraphs and expounding on them ad infinitum. They try to do “science” the same way: lifting sections of text and processing them to identify hidden meanings.

3. Fundamentalist Christians belive that they are totally infallible while they are “witnessing.” Anything they say must be true, because it is really god talking, not they themselves. This logic is extended to the conclusion that any argument that achieves one’s goal must of necessity be correct.

In scientific writing, quotations are uncommon. Papers are generally cited with simply a brief summation of data and ideas. It’s very telling that the IDC camp is so fond of short quotations.

And Behe knows this, but what I can’t figure out is how he justifies his constant misrepresentation of the literature. From my limited interaction with him, I trust that he considers himself a moral and ethical man. So how can he justify this constant dishonesty with others’ views?

Dembski, I think I understand; he’s just a jack-ass.

In my manuscript I had his quote ending with an ellipsis, but the copy editor took out all ellipses in this section and put in periods, so I assume that it is in keeping with standard editorial practices.

Speaking as a copy editor with nearly 30 years of experience in the job, it isn’t in keeping with standard editorial practices at all, and a conscientious author would catch something like this in proof and correct it back to the original with a note that the copy editor had changed the meaning. It’s bad enough to change the meaning of original text when you’re editing - messing around with quoted material is one of the first things that copy editors of technical material are told not to do. Authors usually aren’t shy about demanding that copy editor changes be reversed, especially when the changes affect the sense of the text.

I suppose it would be considered impolite to mention that there are ellipses in quoted material all through Dr Behe’s book, including one on the same page as the Coyne quote. Perhaps Dr Behe is talking only about ellipses at the end of quotes, however. It would appear, in that case, that Dr Behe didn’t include the comma before the ellipses. I wonder why not.

In my manuscript I had his quote ending with an ellipsis, but the copy editor took out all ellipses in this section and put in periods, so I assume that it is in keeping with standard editorial practices.

I bet he’s lying. This is in keeping with standard ID practices.

Re “so I assume that it is in keeping with standard editorial practices.”

He assumes incompetence at their job is a standard practice of editors? That doesn’t make much sense.

Henry

To many, many Xians, lying (and every other crime and sin, except perhaps, in public at least, adultery) is permitted if one can persuade those around you it is a means of “praising,” rather than simply obeying and trusting the written word of, “God.” A believer, evidently, is ever forgiven, or can be. Pardon me for finding this far too convenient to accept, or respect.

Fundamentalists frequently take the attitude that the admission of a single error implies the admission that one knows nothing at all. I once had a fundamentalist come up to me and show me that someone had discovered a new species of fish. This proved that carbon dating must be false —- on the grounds that if you don’t know one thing (all species of fish) then you can’t know anything (i.e. carbon dating). The “logic” was described to me in precisely this way.

Such reasoning is basic to the fundamentalist mind.

Indeed, their entire gripe with evolution can eb summed up as (1) if evolution is true, then the account in Genesis is wrong, and (2) if anything in the Bible is wrong, then NONE of it can be accepted, therefore (3) if evolution is true, there is no God.

Silly, isn’t it.

Part of the cause of the “one error undermines the entire philosophy” argument inherent in fundamentalist Christianity is likely that they lack a history and tradition of Talmudic debate, which would have done away with such a dearth of logic long ago.

I’m not saying that one religion is better than another or anything of the sort, merely that the current attitudes are a result of history and tradition.

Rupert Goodwins Wrote:

Behe: Coyne said this! Coyne: I did not! Behe: Oh, but you meant it! Coyne: Certainly not! Behe: Well, I don’t understand why you say that. I know what you mean far better than you do!

What can you do in the face of such an argument? It’s the logic of the schoolyard, and as far from science as sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting “I can’t HEAR you!”.

If this is the new age of science, I’m Pope Joan. And so is my wife.

It’s spot on, it’s maddening, and it’s frightening. How does one even attempt to argue with “minds like these”? The only possible solution would be to argue points from their own Bible, yes? What other primary source has any other possible importance or credibility? Where are the sites that are trying to efficiently demolish Biblical inerrancy without hysteria(that are as respected as PT)? If they exist would THAT even matter to these people? GOD help us all!

I’m not saying that one religion is better than another or anything of the sort,…

No, that would be impolitic. And I won’t say it either, because that would presume a full understanding of the functions of religion - and how some accomplish those functions better than others. I will say, however, that some religions strike me as decidedly flakier than others.

Indeed, their entire gripe with evolution can eb summed up as (1) if evolution is true, then the account in Genesis is wrong, and (2) if anything in the Bible is wrong, then NONE of it can be accepted, therefore (3) if evolution is true, there is no God.

Silly, isn’t it.

No God, no purpose in life, no reason to get up in the morning, no life after death…

I’m sorry, I am meant,

No God, no purpose in life, no reason to get up in the morning, no life after death.

As Mike Hopkins noted, the Talk.Origins Archive also addresses this quote:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quo[…].html#quote4.10

What I find so remarkable is not merely the brazen dishonesty of the way its context was removed - it’s the way Behe reacted when this was pointed out. Rather than admit his distortion and offer a correction, he instead tried to maintain a facade of puzzled innocence, insisting that his interpretation was the correct one, even though anyone who reads the original paper can tell immediately what was meant.

Interesting that he’d be blaming the copy editor if he really didn’t think there was a problem.

He’s either too stupid to live or lying, but the lame and attempt to turn the copy editor into a totally implausable fall guy is a dead giveaway.

I think it is too simple (and potentially counter-productive) to dismiss Behe as simply dishonest. He had a tragically inane thought, expressed it, and his mistake has become a full-blown fuck-up. And I think he knows it. But he is being treated like a god for this. How do you turn away? I wish I had DI-level funding. And if my options were spurning the money AND publically conceeding my spectacular failure… I’d like to think I would do the right thing, but that is a very difficult step to make.

Behe is a scientist at some level, and he recognizes scientific arguments. I have seen him squirm, in person, in response to solid criticism. It’s just that his day-to-day experience is simply so tempting that the truth gets hazy. He is now well-funded. He is a hero and worshipped by one side and infamously notorious on the other.

He is far better off, and far better known (for better or worse), than he would be if he had continued working in actual science.

But I think he has a sense of guilt, and I think a part of him knows he is now lost in the wilderness. Behe can be brought to the side of sense and sanity and rationality. And that would be an immense blow to the anti-science IDC crusade.

(Aside: If anyone at DI is reading this, and has a huge chunk of money to throw my way, I can work some *very major* “legitimacy” headlines for you. If the price is right, I’m pretty sure I can get some high profile acquaintances on the Kansas science committee in your column next go-around. And it isn’t a given, but with the right figure even the potential for a nice cover on Science and Nature in support of IDC. It’s not out of the question, if you all you make the math work. If nothing else, some high dollar consulting fees will get you some serious science-ish sounding arguments to augment your team’s current level of banality. Hell, just making the folks at talk.origins have to write some new FAQs is worth a little bank, no?)

How many IDers used to write for Mad magazine? Remember their articles on “What They Really Said”–f’rinstance, Teddy Roosevelt really said “son, go down to the kitchen, SPEAK SOFTLY to the cook, AND CARRY A BIG STICKy gooey bowl of ice cream and syrup up to me.”

Please try this web site as well www.liberatingideals.org

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PvM published on June 6, 2005 8:36 PM.

Occam’s Hammer: Creationist Rhetoric and the Myth of Philosophical Naturalism was the previous entry in this blog.

ID in their own words: Paul Nelson is the next entry in this blog.

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