Michael Behe's testimony Monday afternoon

From: Ted Davis <tdavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Wed Oct 19 2005 - 14:30:49 EDT

I attended the afternoon portion of the trial Monday afternoon, morning
classes having prevented me from going for the whole day. Mike Behe, the
first defense expert witness, was on the stand the entire time-as also was
Tuesday, although I did not hear the rest of his testimony. According to
one reporter I spoke to, a lot of time in the morning was spent on
establishing Mike's scientific credentials-despite the fact that the
plaintiffs have not contested his status as an expert witness on scientific
issues. My guess is, that the defense wants to make darn sure that the
judge sees Behe as a real scientist, doing real science. Only about one of
the three hours was devoted to other testimony. According to the Harrisburg
paper Tuesday morning, that hour dealt partly with the Big Bang theory
(cover your ears, creationists, you mustn't hear this), which Mike fully
accepts-including the part about the universe being billions of years old.
Mike has often addressed this point in public talks, including the one he
gave in Dover High School last April. On this and all other points, he
represents the most "liberal" wing of the ID movement, something I will
return to below. At any rate, the point Mike apparently wanted to stress is
that "The Big Bang is a highly scientific proposal" that, like ID,
includes "logical inferences." And, like ID, the Big Bang was seen by
many scientists as entailing "philosophical and theological
explanation," yet (unlike ID) the Big Bang is now accepted as valid
science. So far, so good, in my opinion-this is a fair analogy and a fair
point. For more on this, see my commentary on another textbook controversy
in another PA school district a few years ago

Apparently Mike also said that evolution should be taught (ID advocates say
nothing other than that, pretty consistently), but that the book Of Pandas
and People should also be mentioned in biology classes. A Roman Catholic,
Mike also confessed his belief that God is the intelligent designer, but
pushed the view that this religious inference is separate from his view that
ID is scientific. To my ears this somewhat echoes the case being pushed by
the other side, namely that evolution is scientific and that one can also
hold religious views separately from evolution-as Ken Miller and Jack Haught
maintained on the stand earlier in the trial. Whose Science? and Whose
Religion? seem to be the big questions that are really under consideration

In the afternoon when I was present, the defense attorney led Mike through
a series of questions aimed at establishing an important and valid point:
"theory" as scientists use the word has a variety of meanings, not
simply the meaning given in the NAS booklet on evolution (which I do not
have at hand to quote), and some "theories" that have been universally
accepted in the past are no longer accepted today. On the latter point, he
offered the examples of geocentrism (an obvious choice) and ether theory.
He introduced into evidence James Clerk Maxwell's article on the
"Ether" from the 9th edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica,
quoting Maxwell to the effect that physicists had absolute confidence in the
reality of the ether, and illustrating Maxwell's own confidence in it with
a slide showing some of the quantitative values of physical properties of
the ether that Maxwell provided for his readers. I have in the past
sometimes used this article myself in lectures to make similar points, so it
was fun to see my esoteric lecture material coming into a court of law.
Indeed, as I've said before relative to Ken Miller's testimony, the
crucial discipline for the whole trial seems to be my own (history and
philosophy of science), even more than biochemistry or paleontology. I do
wonder how many colleges and universities actually have faculty whose
primary expertise is in HPS; I like to think that this trial might motivate
more schools to think about hiring someone who fits this description, but
what I like to think doesn't always correspond to reality. The plaintiffs
called two philosophers and a philosophically sophisticated theologian, and
the defense plans to call the radical social constructivist historian Steve
Fuller early next month. That should be very interesting, to say the least:
social constructivism, a strong form of postmodernism, is not exactly the
type of position that one would normally associate with ID, whose advocates
typically believe that the absolute truth of design in nature points
(eventually, if not right away) to the absolute truths revealed in the
Bible. But politics makes strange bedfellows, and this trial really is
about the politics of science. In the politics of science, the politics
dominates the science-and that axiom applies equally to both sides in this

Then the questioning got even more interesting. Mike referred to the five
different "theories" that, according to the late Ernst Mayr (arguably
the leading evolutionary biologist of his generation), actually make up the
larger "theory" of evolution. He took this analysis from Mayr's book,
One Long Argument, pp. 36-7, but our library copy is presently checked out
so I cannot give all of the details I'd like to. I can't remember one
of Mayr's five "theories" at all and I'm not completely sure about
some of the others, but my notes would indicate this is what they are:

(1) "Evolution as such," ie, change over time-Mike said that ID accepts
this fully; it might perhaps (my inference) be equated with what evolution
critics call "microevolution" rather than "macroevolution" (see
below). He even finds support for this in Pandas and People, though I
don't think he elaborated on that.

(2) Common descent, about which Mike said nothing specific that I can
recall. But he later stated (below) that ID accepts four of Mayr's five
theories, including this one. For Mike, that's an honest statement of his
own position; as he very often makes clear when he speaks, he accepts common
descent even for humans and other primates-the real sticking point for all
genuine "creationists," whether of the old or young earth variety. This
is absolutely not however an accurate generalization of what ID thinkers
think. Many (perhaps most) ID advocates do not accept common descent to the
degree that Behe does. Anyone who reads Phillip Johnson or Jonathan Wells
or Steven Meyer will come away with the overwhelming impression that Mike
Behe is the odd man out, on this issue.

(3) Gradualism (I think this is one of Mayr's theories but I rely on my
memory rather than my notes here), but nothing was said about this.

(4) The fifth and last of Mayr's "theories," and the fourth I list,
is Natural Selection. Here's the rub, according to Behe. This is the one
"theory" of Mayr's that ID contests. The others apparently are OK, at
least with Behe. NS has little evidential support, he claimed, indeed it is
"the most poorly supported" part of Darwin's theory. He also quoted
Stuart Kauffman on the inadequacy of NS as a single force in evolution.

[An interesting aside: Somewhere in here Behe denied that ID must involve
creation from nothing. He cites his own short letter to Reports of the
National Center for Science Education, May-Aug 2001, p. 15, which I have at
hand. In that article (I don't remember whether he said all this in
court) he endorses, as one possibility among others, the suggestion from Ken
Miller that God might have used indeterminate quantum events to "influence
events in ways that are profound, but scientifically undetectable to us."
Behe could accept that, but this is still ID in his view: even though the
means is not detectable, "the resultant design itself may be detected in
the structure of the irreducibly complex system." This is further
evidence that ID does not collapse into a "god of the gaps"
theology-please read all five of those words together, esp the last one-as
if often alleged. However, as I argued several years ago in The Christian
Century magazine, I think that ID does employ a "god of the gaps"
strategy. The distinction might be subtle, but I think it is not trivial.
I develop this point here: http://home.messiah.edu/~TDAVIS/gaps.htm]

At this point, counsel read out a litany of questions, all of the following
form: "Has the theory of evolution, particularly natural selection,
explained....?" For ..., insert perhaps as many as 15-20 different
things, all coming too fast for me to note them, but many taken from
biochemistry." To each question, Behe answered, "No," without
elaboration. Drama in the courtroom, effectively orchestrated and carried
out. Overall, Mike wanted to get across his view that the biggest problem
with Darwinian evolution is the absence of testable explanations for the
formation of complex structures.

In listening to all this, esp against the background of hearing Ken Miller
on the first day of the trial, I had the same impression that I've had
several times before-the first time a few years ago, when Behe and Miller
both spoke on my campus; then again when I heard them both speak at the same
conference; then again this past spring when my students and I read their
essays in Debating Design, ed. Bill Dembski and Michael Ruse (Cambridge Univ
Press, 2004). Each time, I get the feeling that this is a case of "he
said, he said," that will not be settled by listening to either of them
one more time. I lack the competence in the relevant science to sort it
out, and I doubt that Judge Jones knows any more biochemistry than I do.
Indeed, as quitting time neared and defense counsel advised his honor that a
lengthy section on hemoglobin was coming next, the judge made some humorous
remark to the effect that we were all anxious to hear it, but not until

[My overall view of this "he said, he said" situation is best captured
by something that philosopher Niall Shanks said last spring at a symposium
on ID at Elizabethtown College. The ID advocates and the mainstream
scientists are looking at a glass that is either half full (mainstream
science) or half empty (ID). Each side is placing their bets on a different
outcome. Shanks is no friend of ID, and I take his description as a tacit
admission that Behe and company are making some valid points about the
present state of knowledge-or lack thereof. At the same time, I'm more
than a little nervous about ID advocates floating an enormous, wide-ranging
program of cultural renewal on half a glass of water. This is related to my
comments below about a "god of the gaps" strategy.]

On Tuesday, judging from newspaper accounts, under cross examination Behe
admitted that most scientists do not agree with his view that ID is
scientific-not even his colleagues at Lehigh. (Let me take a moment to
praise those Lehigh scientists for promoting Mike to full professor a few
years ago, despite his highly controversial stance on this issue. It is
clear from this that Lehigh upholds academic freedom even for a professor
whose ideas are so very contentious.) And on Monday morning, apparently,
Behe had already talked about the difficulty (for him) of publishing
articles specifically mentioning ID in scientific journals-however, the
judge upheld a plaintiffs' objection that Behe not be allowed to discuss
his conversations with the editors of those journals, since it would be
hearsay. The plaintiffs are obviously trying to paint Behe into the
smallest corner possible on the floor of scientific discourse, so as to
uphold their main line of argument, namely that ID is not science but is
religion. This is the same strategy used in the Arkansas creationism trial
many years ago. Ironically, a key component of that case involved Michael
Ruse's testimony that creationism is not science, and not long afterwards
Ruse was castigated by fellow philosopher of science Larry Lauden for making
what Lauden rightly considered to be a bad argument: creationism is science,
Lauden said, it's just bad science that has been abundantly falsified.
Ruse has since admitted that he was in fact mistaken in his testimony, but
the legal precedent stands, and the plaintiffs are obviously going to appeal
to it here. It would be much more difficult IMO to apply Lauden's point
to ID, since ID does not really have a positive theory of its own (unlike
creationism) to falsify. It doesn't try to be a "theory of
everything" as evolution is; it doesn't spell out how things came to be,
rather it simply criticizes the mainstream scientific view of how things
came to be. This is a big reason why IMO ID cannot really hope for success
in the scientific community. I think Thomas Kuhn was right, that scientists
do not dump one paradigm without first seeing a better one out there to
embrace. In order for ID to become a "theory of everything," it will
need explicitly to answer questions that the ID advocates presently refuse
to answer, questions about the age of the earth and the universe, about the
truth or falsity of the big bang, about the geological efficacy (or lack
thereof) of the biblical flood, etc. Answering those questions will only
cause the ID movement to fly apart, as YECs and OECs and (a few) TEs start
to remove the paper veneer that presently covers the theological and
philosophical caverns that separate them. But without providing such a
theory of everything, or even trying to provide it, IMO ID remains simply a
philosophical critique of the explanatory efficacy of evolution. It's a
Hobson's choice for those who inhabit the Big Tent.

By insisting that ID is science and not simply a philosophical critique of
mainstream science, ID advocates are IMO missing the best opportunity they
have actually to introduce ID ideas into public school science classes.
There is an established professional literature-a small but growing
literature-about ID in the philosophy of science. Ken Miller's testimony
on the first day of the trial touched on this point when, during cross
examination, he acknowledged several publications by ID advocates in various
professional journals and books from academic presses such as Cambridge.
Mike Behe's testimony Monday afternoon actually emphasized this. In both
cases, however, defense counsel were trying to claim that this supports
their view that ID is science per se, not philosophy of science (which IMO
is what it actually is). Here is the missed opportunity: there *is* a
requirement in the PA state standards that the "nature of science" be
taught in high school science classes. The phrase, "nature of science"
is educationese for the philosophy of science-what counts as science, what
doesn't, how are scientific theories tested, what is the relationship
between theory and evidence, etc. My view on this is as follows: a science
teacher *by their own choice* (neither mandated nor prohibited, which is the
same view TDI takes) can legitimately discuss a few examples of arguments
from ID by way of discussing some philosophy of science, if they wish do.
To do so is not to bring religion into the science classroom, it is rather
to discuss a legitimate aspect of the philosophy of science related to
biology. A physics teacher with advanced students might choose to discuss
some philosophical aspects of the particle/wave duality or other parts of
modern physics (as I have done myself many years ago when I taught high
school chemistry and physics); if so, it is not teaching religion simply by
discussing Einstein's view that "God does not play dice" with the
universe, or Fred Hoyle's belief that what he derisively called the "big
bang" theory was not scientific because it seemed to have theological
implications that he did not like. For a court to rule that ID cannot be
mentioned because it would be an endorsement of religion, would IMO be like
saying that a physics teacher cannot tell students the truth about Isaac
Newton, simply b/c it involves religion: that his concept of an ever-active,
omnipresent God was closely linked with his own understanding of the nature
of gravitation. (It is standard practice for physics teachers to bring a
little history of science into their classes; it is not standard practice
for them to do it accurately, esp on matters like the one I just mentioned.
I blame their textbooks, not the teachers.)

Ironically, the ACLU lead attorney publicly stated last spring (at a
symposium on ID held at Elizabethtown College) that ID could be discussed in
public school classes devoted to religion or philosophy; he might also have
added history, I don't recall with certainty. But not science classes.
One finds similar wording in the recent declaration from the president of
the University of Idaho. Imagine that: a history or philosophy professor is
permitted to teach ID, but a science professor is not. I take the ACLU's
position as a tacit admission that ID is a philosophically interesting
position, such that it could legitimately discussed in a public school. But
what, I ask, is the subject that ID makes philosophical pronouncements
about, if not science? It strikes me as educationally backward to prevent
science teachers from discussing philosophical criticisms of science in
their own classes, while teachers down the hall are free to do so.
Something is rotten in Harrisburg, it seems. But both sides agree that ID
must either stand or fall as science, so there's enough rottenness for

Sorry for that overly long digression, but no one else seems to be noticing
this. Am I just imagining it? Returning to Behe's Monday testimony, he
spent several minutes talking about the controversy over the biological
origin of sexual reproduction. I don't have notes about the specifics
here (for which I apologize), but he was using the proliferation of theories
about this to show how theorizing sometimes goes on for decades before it is
possible to test some of the competing views. "Students should be
apprized of facts like these," he concluded. He also spent some time
underscoring the great mystery surrounding the origin of life. These lines
were aimed at showing the explanatory limits of current biological theories,
apparently to help create space to insert ID along with other speculative
views. Fair enough, IMO.

Mike said a few more things about "irreducible complexity" and what ID
is actually claiming, but it isn't new territory and I'll leave it aside
here. Overall, Mike was an impressive witness, just as impressive IMO as
Ken Miller on opening day. It remains to be seen which witness the judge
found more impressive.

Received on Wed Oct 19 14:32:05 2005

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