Re: God...Sort Of -- Behe's Lie
Thu, 5 Aug 1999 10:14:40 EDT

Greetings to One and All:

This will be my fourth in depth reply to Steve's response. It deals with
Behe's lie.


> KO>My apologies; it was in the Weekly Standard, back on June 7th. I
> >had thought it had been posted to this listgroup, but I cannot find it in
> >the archive. Therefore, I will repost it separately.
> Thanks to Kevin for reposting it but now I know it was "the Weekly
> I already have this review. It has been posted on the ARN website at:
> It should be noted that this was just a one-page *book review* for a
> weekly magazine not a full-length article in a a scientific journal.

I don't recall claiming it was a science journal article. In fact, what I
said was that it was an editorial published in the Daily Telegraph. Science
journals do not publish editorials by scientists not on the journal editorial
staff, most don't do book reviews, and to my knowledge there is no science
journal called the Daily Telegraph. Steve is trying to create a smokescreen
here to hide Behe's indescretion.

> Behe no
> doubt had to keep it simple, because of space limitations and the level of
> knowledge of the average layman reader.

The problem is not that Behe's statement was simple. It is that it is so
simplistic it is misleading. Behe didn't say that some or most experiments
produce goo instead of cells; though inaccurate (the actual results are not
goo) that would have been close enough to the truth that I would have let it
slide. No, Behe claimed that ALL experiments produce goo and no cells. This
is simply not true. The need to be simple is no excuse for saying things
that are misleading or factually false. As a scientist Behe would know that,
and as a scientist -- as well as a Christian -- he should feel obligated to
as truthful and as accurate as his level knowledge and the level of knowledge
of his audience permit him to be. Or is Steve suggesting that Behe only
needs to be accurate in science journals, while in political magazines he can
be inaccurate if his audience is too ignorant to know the truth?

> Kevin is `scraping the bottom of the barrel' to accuse Behe of having
> "willfully lied" in such circumstances. If Kevin accused Behe of lying
> it is no wonder that Behe would have nothing more to do with Kevin!

In point of fact it is Steve who scrapping the bottom of the barrel, trying
to dream up an excuse to justify Behe's false statement.

Ans in fact, I never accussed Behe of being a liar. Steve is jumping to
conclusions here in an effort to vindicate Behe's reprehensible behavior.
When I first wrote to Behe I said his statement was inaccurate. I expected
one of four possible responses: silence; a request for references;
disgreement, with a statement of why the claim is accurate; or agreement. He
did none of these; instead, he acknowledged that I knew what I was talking
about and that he didn't want to argue the particulars; he then tried to
shift the subject away from his statement to the question of relevance.
Since he asked for no references, I took that to mean he was familiar with
the research, so I reminded him that everything I had said was experimentally
verifiable and asked him if he had any evidence to refute it. I then
reminded him that the relevance of proteinoid microspheres was immaterial to
whether his statement was factually correct. I also reminded him that I had
presented evidence that showed his statement was wrong, evidence he chose not
to dispute, then asked him if he would correct his article. Behe replied by
admitting that the experimental results are not in question; he then again
tried to shift the conversation away from his statement towards relevance.
He also refused point blank to correct his statement. At this point he
became belligerent, accusing me of harrassing him and claiming he had no time
to rehash objections made by others. The impression I got was that he was
looking for an excuse to terminate the discussion. I sent one last appeal,
though, reminding him that the issue was still whether his statement was
factual and not over relevance. I also reminded him that he not only chose
not to dispute the evidence, he had admitted the evidence was valid. I then
stated that this admission, plus his refusal to correct what he tacitly
admitted was a mistake, made it appear as if he knew that what he wrote was
wrong at the time he wrote it. I suggested that this was not the kind of
impression he would want to promote. I also asked him what objections there
could be if the experimental results were valid. Behe never replied.

Based on all that, I became convinced that the "appearance" that Behe had
lied was in fact a deliberate act on his on part. Consider the evidence.
Behe originally claimed that origin of life experiments produce goo instead
of cells. I described to Behe research that produces cells instead of goo.
Behe does not dispute this research and even admits that it is valid. This
indicates that, even if Behe disagrees that living cells have been produced,
he knows that some experiments have produced structures that resemble cells
instead of goo. Yet Behe's claim is that you always get goo; you never get
cellular structures. Therefore, he knew that what he wrote was wrong at the
time he wrote it. One way to lie is to deliberately write something you know
is not true. Another way to lie is to deliberately leave out details that
might contradict the meaning you are trying to get across. Since Behe knew
that there were experiments that produce cell-like structures instead of goo,
Behe lied when he said that all experiments produce goo instead of cells;
since Behe knew that there were scientists who believed that these structures
were not just cell-like, but true cellular structures, Behe lied when he left
out this inconvenient point. Had Behe instead wrote that some experiments
produced, instead of goo, structures that some scientists considered to be
cells, even though he did not agree with that assessment, I would have had no
quarrel with that. However, that would also have refuted the overall point
he was trying to make, which was that the same lawful regularity that
scientists use to exclude supernatural explanations also make a naturalistic
origin of life impossible. More about that below.


> >SJ>Without seeing the article, I would assume that what Behe meant by
> >>"origin-of-life experiment" resulting in "goo" was the *Miller-Urey*
> >>type of origin-of-life experiment.
> KO>As I stated above, Behe said "origin of life experiments"; he used the
> >plural, indicating that he was referring to experiments other than just
> >Miller-Urey.
> I said "Miller-Urey *type* of origin-of-life experiment"! Miller did his
> original experiments in *1953* and there have been plenty of similar
> experiments since then using the same research paradigm of applying
> various forms of energy to gases and chemicals to yield amino acids. Behe
> no doubt had in mind this mainstream line of research.

I know exactly what Steve said. What he is ignoring is that nothing in
Behe's statement qualifies what he said in a way that suggests he was
referring to only one type of experiment; he is also ignoring the fact that
the context of Behe's statement clearly indicates he is referring to all
types of origin of life experiments; more about this below. And as I have
already pointed out, Behe made no attempt to correct my assumption that he
was referring to all types of origin of life experiments.

> In any event, Fox's proteinoids *starts* with amino acids which would have
> had to be produced by Miller-Urey type chemical evolution processes. So
> the "goo" problem of Miller-Urey type chemical evolution experiments is
> still a problem for Fox's proteinoids which depend on such processes to
> produce their amino acids in the first place.

First of all, amino acids do not have to be produced by a Miller-Urey type of
experiment. There are in fact over two dozen different types of prebiotic
experiments, using different sources of energy, different mixtures of
different kinds of simple chemicals, in either gaseous or aqueous or solid
phase reactions, that can produce amino acids, and few produce anything that
could even remotely be called goo.

Secondly, a Miller-Urey type of experiment doesn't produce goo. Goo is a
very imprecise, inaccurate term, and is pejorative to boot. It is used to
indicate a failed experiment, in which the result is both unidentifiable and
worthless. The result of a Miller-Urey type of experiment is neither. What
Steve and Behe try to lable as goo are insoluble long-chain organic products
of various types that can themselves serve as raw material for other
abiogenic pathways.

Thirdly, since these organic polymers are insoluble, they are automatically
removed from any further pathway that depends upon aqueous dissolved
material, like proteinoid synthesis. The insoluble material will settle to
the bottom of whatever body of water it formed in, while the water itself --
containing the dissolved amino acids -- would be able to flow into shallow
basins free of insoluble material. Even if we allow Steve's use of the term
goo, it wouldn't interfere with the formation of proteinoids, because chances
would be excellent that it wouldn't even be around.

> There is a simple test of this. If it is so easy to make proteinoids
> naturally, it should be easy to find them forming in nature today.

As I have already explained in a separate reply, I cannot say that
proteinoids are not being made today, but since they make excellent bacteria
food, and since bacteria are likely to be found anywhere proteinoids can be
made, whatever proteinoids are made will be gobbled up by the bacteria and we
would never find them.

> The facts that Fox depends entirely on carefully contrived and
> intelligently controlled human *experiments* shows that they are
> unrealistic as a natural process.

Steve's bias against science is showing here. He is in essence claiming that
scientific experiments are unrealistic, that they cannot accurately recreate
natural processes because they are "carefully contrived and intelligently
controlled". Anyone who has ever done scientific research knows how
ludicrous this claim is. Yes, experiments are "contrived", but that's the
scientific method. To properly study a natural process you have to recreate
it under controled conditions where you can test each part of the process to
try to understand it. In his blind zeal to invalidate abiogenesis, Steve is
arguing that one of the profound strengths of the scientific method is
actually a crippling weakness.

Steve is also implying that Fox and his colleagues had god-like powers, in
that they were able to create processes that could never occur in nature.
This is self-evidently false, because a scientific experiment can never
create what cannot exist in nature; it can only recreate what already exists
or what can conceivably exist. The key to understanding why this is so is
that natural processes occur as a result of physiochemical forces operating
under specific sets of conditions. By manipulating conditions scientists can
cause natural processes to occur more quickly or more slowly than they do in
nature, or even to behave in ways that nature cannot currently duplicate
because the conditions do not currently exist in nature. But this is not the
same as creating novel natural processes that could never occur in nature
regardless of conditions. To do that requires something more than simply
being able to manipulate conditions; it requires the creation of whole new
physiochemical laws. Steve is implying that Fox managed to create in his lab
processes that could never exist in nature because the physiochemical laws
that permit those processes do not occur in nature, but only in Fox's lab.
If that is the case, then Fox has been able to accomplish something that no
scientist, natural philosopher or alchemist before him has been able to do.
If that is the case, then Fox not only deserves the Nobel Prize, but also our
veneration and worship.

Being as I am Christian, however, I hope Steve doesn't mind if I assume that,
rather than creating new physiochemical forces, Fox simply discovered a set
of conditions no one had noticed before, and thus was able to recreate a
natural process that can conceivably exist in nature if the conditions are
right. And considering the fact that the only condition preventing the
formation of proteinoids in the modern world is the presence of bacteria, a
prebiotic world without bacteria should have had no problems making all the
proteinoids it could hold.

> KO>Here is the relevant quote: "Isn't it 'the constraint of
> >lawful regularity' that turns chemicals in origin-of-life experiments
> >goo at the bottom of the test tube, rather than into primitive cells?"
> >context of this sentance indicates that Behe is talking about the
> >inevitable results of any experiment in general, not the results of one
> >or a few specific experiments.
> See above. I presume from the reference to "test tube" Behe was thinking
> of Miller-Urey type experiments, which take place in enclosed special
> containers.

Steve is equivocating here in a desperate attempt to vindicate Behe. There
is no reason to believe from Behe's statement that his reference to test tube
means anything more than just that, a test tube, or at best glassware in
general. Since all origin of life experiments use glassware, there is no
reason to believe that only one type is being referred to here. In fact,
since a Miller-Urey type experiment requires specialized glass containers,
whereas proteinoids can be made in regular test tubes, if anything it seems
more likely that Behe had proteinoids in mind when he said it.

However, if Steve wants to play the equivocation game, so can I. A
Miller-Urey type experiment is not an origin of life experiment, since life
did not result from it. Rather, it is an origin of amino acids experiments.
Fox's experiments are true origin of life experiments, however, because life
did result from it (whether Behe choses to believe that or not). So by the
rules of the equivocation game, Behe's choice of the words origin of life
experiments indicates that he had proteinoid microspheres in mind all along.

It should also be pointed out that Steve is ignoring the context of the
claim. Here is a longer excerpt that puts the claim into context:

"The second Philosophical objection in Tower of Babel is that design violates
'methodological naturalism,' which means roughly that science must act as
though the universe were a closed system of cause and effect, whether it
really is or not. 'Without the constraint of lawful regularity,' Pennock
lectures, 'inductive evidential inference cannot get off the ground.'

"But wasn't it an 'inductive evidential inference' that led the atheist Fred
Hoyle to conclude that nature doesn't follow merely blind forces? Isn't it
'the constraint of lawful regularity' that turns chemicals in origin-of-life
experiments into goo at the bottom of the test tube, rather than into
primitive cells? Pennock implies that our only choices are a cartoon world,
where genies and fairies swirl about endlessly dispensing magic, or a world
of relentless materialism where, say, the charitable work of a Mother Teresa
is explained only in terms of evolutionary selection coefficients."

It is plainly evident from this excerpt that Behe is arguing against what he
sees is a false dichotomy between a world run solely by magic or solely by
naturalistic forces. In other words, he is discussing world views. The
world view he objects to is the one that claims that "inductive evidential
inference" is only possible when we assume "the constraint of lawful
regularity", and one way he tries to object to it is by pointing out that
"the constraint of lawful regularity" also "turns chemicals in origin-of-life
experiments into goo ... rather than into primitive cells". In other words,
Behe is trying to claim that the universal regularity required by a
materialist world view would make abiogenesis impossible. It is clear that
Behe is speaking in generalities here, that in fact he is speaking of any
origin of life experiment, not just one particular type. So, unless Steve is
trying to argue that the only type of origin of life experiment that is
affected by "the constraint of lawful regularity" is a Miller-Urey type of
experiment, I believe it is safe to conclude that Behe is referring to all
types of experiments in general, not just the Miller-Urey type.

And I believe that Steve has realized this as well, because it is after this
point that he starts trying to argue that goo affects proteinoid microsphere
research as well.



> KO>Besides, Behe made no such correction as Steve suggest when I
> >asked him about it.
> Behe did not *need* to make a "correction".

Of course he did, but only if I was wrong. When I first wrote to him I all
but stated that he had included proteinoid research in his sweeping
generalization. All he had to do was say, "No, I was only referring only to
a Miller-Urey type of experiment," and the discussion would have ended,
because while Miller-Urey does not produce goo, it does not produce cells
either. Instead, Behe verified my assumption by discussing proteinoid
microspheres as if he had had them in mind all along.

> First, Fox's proteinoid
> experiments depend on amino acids produced by Miller-Urey type chemical
> evolution processe, which do produce mostly "goo".

And as I have already explained, proteinoid experiments do not depend upon a
Miller-Urey type experiment to make amino acids, Miller-Urey type experiments
do not produce "mostly 'goo'", and the insoluble material they do produce
would not interfere with proteinoid synthesis.

> And second, even
> Fox's proteinoid experiments produce "goo" unless they are unrealistically
> contrived not to by highly artificial types, quantities and purity of
> amino acids and human control of heating and cooling.

I will deal with the question of whether proteinoid synthesis produces goo
under any circumstances in an upcoming post. However, as I have already
explained in this post as well as in other posts, Fox's experiments were not
unrealistic, either in principle or in the "types, quantities and purity of
amino acids" or in "human control of heating and cooling". Steve is just
repeating mantras in the hope that if he says them often enough they will
become true; see below.


> KO>His responses to me indicated that he included proteinoid
> >microsphere research in with his "goo" statement.
> I doubt this is what Behe "indicated".

By not denying it or correcting me, but by actually discussing it as if my
assumption were correct, he in fact did indicate just that. Steve simply
doesn't want to admit it, because then he would have to admit to the
possibility that Behe lied.

> But even if he did, he is
> correct because: 1) "proteinoid microsphere research" depends on
> Miller-Urey type chemical evolution to produce its amino acids....

And as I have explained, this is not true.

> ...2) "proteinoid microsphere research" if it is realistic does produce
> "goo".

And as I will explain, this is also not true.

> KO>Since he knows that such research does not produce "goo" but in fact
> >living cellular structures
> Behe "knows" no such thing.

Of course he does; he admitted as much. He doesn't believe it is true, but
that does not mean he is ignorant of it.

> That Fox and Kevin might redefine "life" to
> fit what these so-called "proteinoids" do and then claim they are "living"
> is circular reasoning.

I find that funny, because in fact you cannot redefine a term that has no set
definition. As I have already explained in "Re: God...Sort Of -- Protocell
Characteristics", however, there is a generally accepted working definition
that is used by a large number of biologists and biochemists, including those
who would deny that proteinoid microspheres are alive. To summarize briefly,
the definition is based on fundamental characteristics common to all modern
forms of life. In other words, Fox and I are asking, "What are the
characteristics of life fundamental to all modern cellular organisms?" Once
we have a list that many other biologists and biochemists also agree upon, we
then ask, "Do proteinoid microspheres possess these characteristics?" If
they do, then we conclude, "They are alive." No circular reasoning is
involved. The only controversy is over which characteristics are truely
fundamental. Some scientists would claim that a nucleic acid genetic coding
system is fundamental to life, but Fox was able to demonstrate experimentally
that this is not true.

> If these were really "living cellular structures" Fox wouldn't need to
> produce any more proteinoids by experiments. All he would need to do is
> let them reproduce like *real* "living cellular structures".

And as I have already explained in a previous post, proteinoid microspheres
do reproduce, but since to study them you have to use them under less than
sterile conditions, they eventually get all eaten by bacteria and you have
start over again. The same thing happens when you do cell culture. Despite
the fact that cells are living structures, if you culture them for too long
they either spontaneously suicide (apoptosis) or they become contaminated
with bacteria and die.

> KO>he knew that his statement was factually incorrect when he wrote it.
> See above. Behe's "statement was" *not* "factually incorrect". First he
> probably had in mind the Miller-Urey type of experiment, which seems
> likely in view of is reference to "test tube" above.

And as I pointed out, all origin of life experiments are conducted in "test
tubes" (ie, laboratory glassware), and if we take Behe at his literal word,
proteinoid synthesis is the only origin of life experiment that can be
conducted in a real test tube. Even if we do not take Behe at his literal
word, the context of his claim establishes that he is speaking generally
rather than specifically, so Steve's first point is erroneous.

> Second, Fox's
> protenoids depend on a Miller-Urey type of chemical evolution process to
> produce the amino acids that they use in the first place.

And as I pointed out this is not true, and even if it was the "goo" produced
in a Miller-Urey type of experiments would not be present to interfere with
proteinoid synthesis, so Steve's second point is also erroneous.

> Third, even Fox's
> proteinoid experiments usually produce "goo" unless they are artificially
> contrived and controlled not to.

This will be dealt with in an upcoming post. For now, however, as I have
pointed out, the fact that Fox's experiments were "contrived and controlled"
is no critique of proteinoid research, except to blind zealots like Steve.

> KO>What would Steve call the deliberate writing of a statement that the
> >writer knows is incorrect, if Steve doesn't call it a lie?
> The point is that Kevin has not shown that Behe has deliberately written a
> statement that Behe *knows* is incorrect.

See earlier. Only someone who venerates Behe and intelligent design theory
more than the truth would seriously suggest that Behe did not lie in this one

> If Behe was thinking of Miller-
> Urey type of experiments, then he truthfully wrote what he thought was
> correct.

Except that what he wrote was not correct even on the basis of a Miller-Urey
type of experiment. Besides, another way to lie is to write what you believe
to be true simply because it says what you want to believe instead of trying
to find out what the truth really is before writing. It's called willful
blindness. And in any event, the context of the claim establishes that Behe
was speaking generally.

> And even if Behe was thinking of Fox's proteinoid experiments,
> then Behe was still not "incorrect" because proteinoid experiments, to the
> extent they are realistic, do either depend on the chemical evolution of
> amino acids which produces much "goo"....

Which as I have explained many times above is not true.

> ...or they make "goo" themselves.

Which I shall show in an upcoming post is inaccurate and misleading.

> I find it interesting and significant that Kevin appears to have a need to
> find Behe guilty of HAVING "willfully lied" in order to discredit him
> personally.

My only need is to point out when someone who should be dedicated to the
truth willfully distorts known scientific fact to promote a political and
freligious agenda. As for discrediting him personally, he did that himself
by lying, but since this is the only instance in which I have caught him in a
lie, I cannot say that Behe is an habitual liar. It does, however, raise
suspicions regarding his overall honesty and integrity.

> This to me is evidence that Kevin's case is weak and he
> needs to `shoot the messenger' so he doesn't have to listen to the
> message.

Which is ridiculous. If I didn't want to "listen to the messenger" all I
have to do is simply not read what Behe has written. In other words, it
would be easier for me to ignore Behe than to try to discredit him. It is
because I want know his point of view that I listen to him, but that doesn't
mean I will blind and deafen myself when he says things that are wrong or
when he lies.


Kevin L. O'Brien