RE: Behe testimony at Dover trial

From: Denyse O'Leary <>
Date: Thu Oct 20 2005 - 11:30:45 EDT

"Seems that Behe indeed accepted astrology as a science under his
definitions.I can't wait to see the transcripts."

You don't need to wait to see the transcripts. You can ask for
clarification, as I have done:

- 0 -

Here is a link, with excerpts pasted below:

Reported: "Astrology would be considered a scientific theory if judged by
the same criteria used by a well-known advocate of Intelligent Design to
justify his claim that ID is science, a landmark US trial heard on Tuesday.
Under cross examination, ID proponent Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh
University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, admitted his definition of "theory"
was so broad it would also include astrology."

Factual background:

The line of questions came when Eric Rothschild, counsel for the plaintiffs,
asked Behe about the definition of the term "theory." Behe explained that
the National Academy of Science's (NAS) definition of a theory is not one
typically used by scientists. The NAS defines "theory" as:

"In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural
world that can incorporate facts, laws, and tested hypotheses. The
contention that evolution should be taught as "theory, not as fact" confuses
the common use of these words through the accumulation of evidence. Rather,
theories are the end points of science. They are understandings that develop
from extensive observation, experimentation, and creative reflection. They
incorporate a large body of scientific facts, laws, tested hypotheses, and
logical inferences."

(Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, 2nd
Ed. (1999), pg. 2)

This definition does not actually represent how scientists usually use the
word in their technical writing. To witness this fact, perform a PubMed
search for the phrase "new theory" (go to pub med and type " "new theory" "
[leave in the double quotes]) and you'll find hundreds of hits showing
scientists using the word "theory" to describe a "new" idea which can
explain a lot of things, but may not yet be "well-substantiated" and may not
yet enjoy evidentiary support from many scientific studies.

Many scientists who have used the phrase "new theory" use the term based
upon the new findings of a single study. The phrase "new theory" is
antithetical to the idea of "extensive observation, experimentation, and
creative reflection" and the phrase should not exist in scientific
literature if the NAS is correct in its definition.

Nonetheless, let's explore the implications of the NAS's definition.

About 500 years ago, most "scientists" believed (albeit incorrectly) that
the Earth was the center of the solar system. Had you asked an early
astronomer in the year 1500 if the geocentric model of the solar system was
"a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that
can incorporate facts, laws, and tested hypotheses ... that develop[ed] from
extensive observation, experimentation, and creative reflection ... [and]
incorporate[s] a large body of scientific facts, laws, tested hypotheses,
and logical inferences" she would have probably told you YES!

Put the NAS on the witness stand, and they would admit that 500 years ago,
some people would have said that geocentrism qualified under their
definition of "theory." In fact, 500 years ago, many of these same people
would have put "astrology" under the NAS definition (note: we find this
incredible today, but in his time, it was not scandalous that Newton was an
astrologer). Today we know both astrology and geocentrism are totally wrong,
and so nobody wants them taught as science in school.

But how does Behe define a scientific theory? Behe's testimony referenced
his definition from a paper he authored in Philosophy and Biology:

"Without getting into the difficult problem of trying to define science, I
will just say that I think any explanation which rests wholly on empirical
evidence and basic logic deserves the appellation 'scientific'.8"

[Footnote] "8 On the other hand, if an explanation depends critically on
specific tenets of a particular faith, such as the Trinity or Incarnation,
or on sacred texts, then that of course is not a scientific explanation."

(Behe M.J., "Reply to my critics: A response to reviews of Darwin's Black
Box: The biochemical challenge to evolution," Biology and Philosophy, 16
(5): 685-709, Nov, 2001)

Plaintiffs' attorney tried to twist Behe's statements into making it appear
that Behe believed that astrology was a scientific theory. Behe did say that
500 years or so ago, when people knew much much less about the world and
were trying to explain things, they had an idea that things on earth might
have been influenced by things on stars. This was a historical fact. But
Behe made it clear that today, astrology is known to be incorrect. This is
just like phlogiston theory of burning--people once thought it was true, and
once thought it was an empirically-based scientific theory, but today it
would not stand up to scientific scrutiny.

The problem with astrology is not that it could have fit the NAS or Behe's
definition of science 500 years ago. The problem is that it is not supported
by the evidence. That is why, unlike ID, no serious scientists are
advocating astrology as a good theory which could be presented to students
in science classrooms. Nor do serious academics reference the peer-reviewed
scientific literature in support of astrology, as serious scientists do for

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I agree that it is unwise to rely on the interpretation of a columnist who
may be unfamiliar with the issues and merely looking for an over-the-mast
plug from the headliner.

Cheers, Denyse

Read brief excerpts from my book, By Design or by Chance?: The Growing
Controversy On the Origins of Life in the Universe (Augsburg Fortress, 2004)
Study Guide:
My blog: 
(go to other blogs from here)
Denyse O'Leary
Tel: 416 485-2392
Fax: 416 485-2392
-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Pim van Meurs
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2005 7:51 PM
To: Charles Carrigan;
Subject: Re: Behe testimony at Dover trial
Seems that Behe indeed accepted astrology as a science
under his definitions.
I can't wait to see the transcripts.
His position on ID versus his statements on the big
bang show a certain misunderstanding as to why
scientists reject ID. 
The scientific vacuity of ID is self evident.
--- Charles Carrigan <> wrote:
> Dear All,
> I received this message from the Sigma Xi "Science
> in the News" daily email.  Does anyone have any
> additional knowledge of Behe's testimony?  The
> article leaves several puzzling questions
> unanswered.
> from the New York Times (Registration Required)
> HARRISBURG, Pa., Oct. 18 - A leading architect of
> the intelligent-design
> movement defended his ideas in a federal courtroom
> on Tuesday and
> acknowledged that under his definition of a
> scientific theory, astrology
> would fit as neatly as intelligent design.
> Prof. Michael J. Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh
> University, is the first
> expert witness for the school board of Dover, Pa.,
> which is requiring
> students to hear a statement about intelligent
> design in biology class.
> Under sharp cross-examination by a lawyer for
> parents who have sued the
> school district, he said he was untroubled by the
> broadness of his
> definition of science and likened intelligent design
> to the Big Bang theory
> of the origins of the universe because both
> initially faced rejection from
> scientists who objected for religious and
> philosophical reasons.
> Best Regards,
> Charles
> <><<><<><<><<><<><<><<><<><<><<><<><
> Charles W. Carrigan, Ph.D.
> Olivet Nazarene University
> Dept. of Geology
> One University Ave.
> Bourbonnais, IL  60914
> PH: (815) 939-5346
> FX: (815) 939-5071
Received on Thu Oct 20 11:31:21 2005

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