Just a quick follow-up to the previous post, as I finished watching the whole Behe-McWhorter exchange. Notes:
1) McWhorter is an atheist, and implies he’s always been an atheist (or at least not a theist).
2) He’s really impressed by Michael Behe’s arguments, to the point where he might assent to Michael Behe being the Isaac Newton of evolutionary genetics (though his summation of some of the jaw-dropping talking points in The Edge of Evolution leaves me a bit skeptical as to McWhorter’s deep knowledge of basic evolutionary ideas).
3) Part of the issue really has to do with the impenetrability of “scientese.” More clearly, I remember years ago a friend with a legal degree admitting that the Creationist talking point about The Second Law of Thermodynamics would have left him at a loss, as he didn’t have the scientific background to parse such issues. Behe is a much more sophisticated and slick player at that particular game.
4) McWhorter was also impressed enough by Darwin’s Black Box to offer it to a friend who happened to be a biologist at Berkeley (when McWhorter was a professor of linguistics there). The friend apparently threw the book across the room, leaving McWhorter somewhat bemused. I’m somewhat appalled that McWhorter would repeat this anecdote, as it I can imagine how irritating a biologist at Berkeley would have felt to be gifted a work by one of the luminaries of a neo-Creationist movement as if it was a signal contribution to biological science. I don’t think McWhorter understands the implicit insult entailed by his action.
5) By the end of the diavlog John McWhorter does not seem to be one who accepts Intelligent Design, or is convinced into being a religious believer. Rather, he’s intrigued and provoked by the arguments which Michael Behe has put into the public domain. This is in the area of the demarcation problem, and though McWhorter has implicitly disavowed this diavlog after seeing him discuss his long-standing familiarity with Behe’s ouvre, as well as some glib dismissals of skepticism as to the admissibility of the ideas of Intelligent Design, I am of the suspicion that this was most definitely not a profile in courage, and that John McWhorter likely does believe that he is a victim of a witch-hunt of sorts. Instead of entreaties by his more scientifically inclined friends convincing him of the mendacious nature of Michael Behe’s contentions, I suspect that John McWhorter is simply attempting to dampen the embarrassment which will ensue as his openness to Intelligent Design becomes common knowledge in his social circles. He admits familiarity with Sean Carroll’s book Endless Forms Most Beautiful, so his knowledge of the field isn’t constrained to Intelligent Design. Rather, he has surveyed the arguments and deep in his bones he does not feel that the standard model of evolutionary science can explain reality as well see it to his satisfaction.
But that’s irrelevant. Deep in their bones to most people quantum theories do not really make sense either; they defy and contradict our intuitions, but robust testaments to the predictive power of science they remain. From the comments made in this diavlog I suspect John McWhorter believes that keeping an open mind is the decent thing to do, and he does not find the arguments of Michael Behe et al. implausible on the face. I believe that John McWhorter should perhaps trust his no doubt numerous acquaintances of scientific education, training and vocation who will attest to the fact that Behe’s work is riddled with error, misrepresentation and distortion.
You can watch the exchange here. Discussion of Behe’s most recent book here.