Re: Behe testimony at Dover trial

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Thu Oct 20 2005 - 15:52:01 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: "Denyse O'Leary" <>
To: "'Pim van Meurs'" <>; "'Charles Carrigan'"
<>; <>
Sent: Thursday, October 20, 2005 11:30 AM
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."
> 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.

I have to agree that the NAS definition of "theory" represents a stricter
view of the word than that used (usually implicitly) by scientists, &
especially by theoretical physics - the tribe I'm most familiar with. We
don't have any problem with referring to "Einstein's last unified field
theory" in spite of the fact that there have been NO observational
confirmations of the distinctive claims of the theory (i.e., beyond those
that apply to its limiting cases in general relativity for vacuum and
Maxwell's electrodynamics), & in fact there are some serious challenges to
it. Similarly, no cosmologist that I know of 50 years ago objected to
talking about the big bang "theory" or steady state "theory" even if they
were strongly opposed to one or the other, & in spite of the fact that
neither at that time could be called "well-substantiated."

This problem doesn't really come up in discourse among scientists - at least
in my experience. I.e., no scientist objects to calling someone else's
views a "theory" even if he/she considers them wrong. Where the problem
occurs is at the popular level where "theory" is sometimes taken to mean -
especially by anti-evolutionists - to mean pure guesswork or speculation.
That's why it's usually accompanied with the word "just" - i.e., "evolution
is just a theory." & the implication is that one guess is as good as
another. & evolution is not "just a theory" in that sense.


Received on Thu Oct 20 15:53:31 2005

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