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Michael J. Behe A (R)evolutionary Biologist

Response to Ian Musgrave’s “Open Letter to Dr. Michael Behe,” Part 1


This is the first of five posts in which I reply to Professor Ian Musgrave’s “Open Letter to Dr. Michael Behe” on the Panda’s Thumb blog.


Dear Dr. Behe

I have recently read your response to Abbie Smith’s article on the HIV-1 protein VPU. Ms Smith showed how Vpu’s recently evolved viroporin activity directly contradicts your statement that HIV has evolved no new biding sites since it entered humans (Edge of Evolution, page 143 and figure 7.4, page 144 ). I was greatly disappointed in your response. I must admit to having a special involvement in this case. Firstly, I drew the illustrations for Ms Smith’s article, and its follow up. But secondly, as a member of my professional association’s education committee, I am directly concerned with the support and nurturing of the new generations of enquiring minds, those that we will pass the torch of enquiry on to when we retire. It is in this regard that your response very disturbing. It is almost the exact opposite of what a concerned scientist and science communicator should have done.

It was bad enough that you chose to ignore her for over two months and then did not do her the courtesy of replying on her blog (1). It was bad enough that you chose to start by belittling her and playing the “I’m a Professor and she is a mere student” card (conveniently ignoring the fact that she actually works on HIV). `This is particularly egregious in science, where we pay attention to the evidence and logic of an argument, rather than the letters after an author’s name. Doubly so if we wish to guide young scientists into a demanding profession.


Dear Dr. Musgrave,

I find your letter disingenuous. The tone of Abbie Smith’s post was insulting, jut-jawed, and puerile:

C “I’m ERV. This is my dog, Arnold Schwarzenegger. And this is my friend, Vpu. I presume you and Vpu haven’t met, as you recently repeated in an interview with World magazine the same sentiment you gurgled ad nauseam in ‘Edge of Evolution’”

C “Ah, Michael Behe, you might try to talk your way around Vpu now … Sorry, you’ll find no escape with that limp-wristed, ad hoc parry.”

C “Ah, Michael Behe, you might try to talk your way around Vpu NOW by saying, “Vpu might be *new* new in HIV-1, but its not *NEW* *new* new.”

C “This is just one of a billion plus examples of lazy Creationists taking advantage of the ignorance of their followers.”

As far as I’m concerned, if a complete stranger sends me a message with a sneering tone like that, she can go soak her head. I had no intention of replying to Smith’s post at all; I did so only after I received requests from other folks who wanted me to reply.

At no point in my reply did I “belittl[e] her and play[…] the “I’m a Professor and she is a mere student card” as you allege. The only reference to Smith’s tone I made was the following sentence: “Although she calls herself a “pre-grad student” the tone of the post is decidedly junior high school, of someone who is trying hard to compete with all the other Mean Girls on that unpleasant website.” I think a re-reading of her post shows that my evaluation was quite judicious. After that passage I addressed only the science, not her sneering tone.

Frankly, Professor Musgrave, I find your concern “as a member of my professional association’s education committee” for “the support and nurturing of the new generations of enquiring minds” to be unconvincing. One of the very basic prerequisites for education is to be able to engage in civil discourse, especially with people whose views are different from your own. It is clear to me that Smith has not yet mastered that skill. To the extent that you consider yourself one of her professional mentors, you have failed in your responsibilities.

Michael J. Behe

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Michael J. Behe is Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978. Behe's current research involves delineation of design and natural selection in protein structures. In his career he has authored over 40 technical papers and three books, Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA that Challenges Evolution, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, and The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, which argue that living system at the molecular level are best explained as being the result of deliberate intelligent design.