The first of Behe's talks was organized by the Copernicus Group who invited faculty and graduate students from the Dept. of Biochemistry and the Dept. of Molecular Genetics to a session at Hart House in the afternoon. Only eleven people showed up—four (five?) of them were from the Copernicus group. There were ten bottles of wine!
This was the first time I had a chance to meet Michael Behe in person. He's a lot shorter than I imagined but otherwise looks just like his photos.
His talk was quite brief so we had a chance to ask questions and discuss his views. His main focus is on the existence of molecular machines and why that is evidence of design. He also emphasized the "limitations" of random mutation, claiming that they can't possibly supply the required variation needed in order for Darwinism to be a viable explanation of the history of life.
He's quite proud of his review in The Quarterly Review of Biology (Behe, 2012) where he tries to show that all of the mutations discovered in long-term evolution experiments are just examples of "loss-of-function" mutations that break an existing gene. There are many flaws with this perspective—see Jerry Coyne's review from Dec. 2010 [Behe’s new paper]. Naturally, Behe "forgot" to mention any of these objections.
I was very disappointed with the way Behe misrepresented evolutionary theory by talking only about Darwinism and natural selection. He did mention, in response to a question, that there were other "theories." The three he named were facilitated variation (Kirschner and Gerhart), Stuart Kauffman's ideas about self organization,1 and Lynn Margulis' views on symbiosis as a pervasive mechanism of evolution.
I asked him why he didn't talk about modern evolutionary theory that includes random genetic drift and the fixation of nearly neutral mutations. I mentioned that this isn't Darwinism by any stretch of the imagination—especially Behe's imagined definition of Darwinism—and that by incorporating modern evolutionary theory many of his arguments become moot. Behe replied that random genetic drift was not a mechanism of evolution because all it does shuffle existing mutations. Furthermore only "Darwinism" can account for the adaptive evolution that leads to improved life forms. (This is mostly true but Behe's main criticism is that evolution can't supply enough variation to do the job required of it and Neutral Theory accounts for all the observed variation that Behe ignores in his talks.)
One of the Copernicus Group physicians picked up on this and asked if there were any scientists who had another explanation for the evolution of complexity. Behe said "no." I pointed out that Michael Lynch and others have advanced perfectly reasonable non-adpative explanations of complexity. Behe asked me to repeat the name (Michael Lynch) then nodded knowingly. I asked if he had read Lynch's book (The Origin of Genome Architecture) and he said "yes." I don't understand why he doesn't discuss this in his lectures since it answers many of his "problems" with Darwinism.2
At that point my respect for Behe dropped considerably. Up until then I had been inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and I had avoided calling him an IDiot. My respect soon dropped another notch when he said that he didn't accept endosymbiosis as the evolutionary explanation for the origin of mitochondria. Behe believes that evolution cannot explain how a primitive bacterium and a primitive eukaryotic cell could have co-adapted to form a cell with mitochondria. I think he means that mitochondria might have come from bacteria but that God had to tinker with the system quite a bit in order to come up with the required mutations for symbiosis.
I'm afraid the Michael Behe is no better than Jonathan Wells, Casey Luskin, Bill Dembski, and the rest of the bunch at the Discovery Institute.
1. The standard Whipping Boy of creationists and other kooks.
2. I'm being sarcastic. I know perfectly well why he doesn't mention it. It's because he doesn't know anything about Michael Lynch or nonadaptive evolution of complexity.
3. "But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown." Carl Sagan
Behe, M. (2010) Experimental evolution, loss-of-function mutations, and "the first rule of adaptive evolution." Quart. Rev. Biol. 85:419-445. [doi: 10.1086/656902]