Behe: “Common descent is true” (re: Texas TEKS science standards on evolution)

I have just read this on the TFN live blog from yesterday’s session of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE):

4:23 – McLeroy wants to amend the section on biology dealing with evolution, calling into question common descent through evolution. This is a very bad amendment. Good heavens. McLeroy is a dentist, and he’s trying to argue against the heart of evolution right here. He has absolutely no qualifications here.

4:32 – We’re reeling here at the absurdity. McLeroy has launched a broadside against a core concept of evolution — common descent. This is like an army losing a battle (”strengths and weaknesses”) and then launching a nuclear strike.

4:45 – Good God. It passed. Board members surely don’t understand what they’ve done here. Certainly not all of them. Strengths and weaknesses is out, but McLeroy has succeeded in using the standards to raise doubts about a core concept of biology.

If I was in Austin now, I would rush to the nearest bookstore or library to get a copy of Michael Behe’s book The Edge of Evolution, and make 15 copies of page 72 [page image now included at the bottom of this post], where Behe (as close as anyone at DI comes to having actually been a real scientist at some time in his life) says:

Despite some remaining puzzles,* there’s no  reason to doubt that Darwin had this point right, that all  creatures on earth are biological relatives.

The bottom line is this. Common descent is true; yet the explanation of common descent—even the common descent of humans and chimps—although fascinating, is in a  profound sense trivial. It says merely that commonalities were there from the start, present in a common ancestor. It  does not even begin to explain where those commonalities came from, or how humans subsequently acquired  remarkable differences. Something that is nonrandom must  account for the common descent of life.

*footnote omitted; Behe’s emphasis
(note that, unlike the common practice in some quarters, I have not “quote mined” just the concession on descent, omitting the argument which is its context.)

Without having the book in the room today (when the Board will take its final vote), maybe Casey Luskin could be called upon to verify the quote. On the DI blog, Luskin has cited Behe on this point to argue that common descent is no proof of evolution.

The point for today is NOT that dentists and insurance salesmen must accept common descent because Behe says it’s true. For today, the point is that they must concede that this is stuff that they don’t know enough about to override the consensus among scientists by interposing their own current opinions as the standard for Texas science education.

On November 19, SBOE chairman McLeroy said he read Ken Miller’s Only a Theory, but “I’m not convinced.” Wednesday, McLeroy asked Hillis about the origin of genetic information. After Hillis answered, McLeroy again said, “I’m not convinced” (playable/downloadable audio file here).

Is that really to be the test for what goes into Texas science standards?

================     added after the initial post above (I’m trying to catch up as I’m doing this)

In Josh Rosenau’s live blog segment for this, we find the language of the amendment:

7B: Describe the sufficiency or insufficiency of common descent to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of the fossil record.

Here’s what Dr. Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science wrote about this in his live blog for yesterday (Thursday Jan 22 2009):

The really bad language is the inclusion of the “sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry.” The fact of common ancestry of all living and fossil species is not in doubt. The problem is that common ancestry does not explain stasis, sudden appearance, gradual evolution, and other tempo and modes of evolution. Common ancestry is an inference from analysis of morphological and genetic information and the fact of genetic continuity of all life (life only comes from life, not non-life, except for the origin of life early in Earth’s history). The tempo and mode of evolution (i.e. sudden appearance, stasis, gradual change, transitional fossils, etc.) is explained by speciation, fossilization, fossil preservation, the completeness of stratigraphic and fossil records, and other considerations. So the new student expectation, which did pass, is poorly worded in an ignorant and unscientific way. Dr. McLeroy consulted all sorts of evolution books but failed to really understand them because he lacks a basic understanding of evolutionary theory and paleontology. If he had these two, he would have worded his student expectation better. I think the idea behind this new standard has merit, but it really needs to be reworded in a scientifically-acceptable fashion.

With the full language of the amendment, and the explanation from Dr. Schafersman, we can see now that this is not just a vague swipe at common descent. Instead, it’s an attempt to cast doubt on common descent because it’s not an explanation of things for which it’s not an explanation, as in Ben Stein’s brilliant attacks on Darwinism because

Darwinism cannot explain gravity, cannot explain thermodynamics. Most of all, it cannot explain how life began.

I should think that a HS student would get full credit for stating that Common Descent is completely insufficient to explain sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of the fossil record, just (exactly) as it is insufficient to explain gravity or thermodynamics.

But those insufficiencies provide no grounds for doubting common descent.

McLeroy’s amendment is so ridiculous that the Texas SBOE should have no problem getting rid of it when they meet again in March.


Audio files for this meeting are now available here. Based on the audio, it sounds like McLeroy’s amendment passed with this amended wording:

Describe Analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common descent to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of the fossil record.

It makes even less sense that way.

========= Added March 23, 2009 ========= Here’s the page image, which is linked to the book at

Behe, Edge of Evolution, p. 72

One Comment

  1. Posted April 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

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