Behe backs off 'mechanisms'
Behe backs off 'mechanisms'
Defense witness, plaintiffs' lawyer spar over what leads to the concept of an intelligent designer.
By LAURI LEBO, Daily Record Sunday News, Wednesday, Oct 19, 2005

HARRISBURG One of intelligent design's leading experts could not identify the driving force behind the concept.

In his writings supporting intelligent design, Michael Behe, a Lehigh University biochemistry professor and author of Darwin's Black Box, said that "intelligent design theory focuses exclusively on proposed mechanisms of how complex biological structures arose."

But during cross examination Tuesday, when plaintiffs' attorney Eric Rothschild asked Behe to identify those mechanisms, he couldn't.

When pressed, Behe said intelligent design does not propose a step-by-step mechanism, but one can still infer intelligent cause was involved by the "purposeful arrangement of parts."

Behe is the leading expert in the Dover Area School District's defense of its biology curriculum, which requires students to be made aware of intelligent design.

The First Amendment trial in U.S. Middle District Court is the first legal challenge to the inclusion of intelligent design in science class. At issue is whether it belongs in public school along with evolutionary theory.

In his work, On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin identified natural selection as the force driving evolutionary change in living organisms.

But Behe argued that natural selection alone cannot account for the complexity of life.

After Behe could not identify intelligent design's mechanism for change, Rothschild asked him if intelligent design then isn't just a negative argument against natural selection.

Behe disagreed, reiterating his statement that intelligent design is the purposeful arrangement of parts.

The bulk of Behe's testimony Monday and Tuesday had been on his concept of "irreducible complexity," the idea that in order for many organisms to evolve at the cellular level, multiple systems would have had to arise simultaneously. In many cases, he said, this is a mathematical impossibility.

He compared intelligent design to the Big Bang theory, in that when it was first proposed, some scientists dismissed it for its potential implications that God triggered the explosion.

He also said he is aware that the Big Bang theory was eventually accepted and has been peer-reviewed in scientific journals, and that intelligent design has been panned as revamped creationism by almost every mainstream scientific organization.

Rothschild asked Behe if he was aware that the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science both oppose its teaching in public school science classes, and even that Behe's colleagues have taken a position against it.

Behe knew of the academies' positions and said they misunderstand and mischaracterize intelligent design.

Behe also said he was aware that Lehigh University's Department of Biology faculty has posted a statement on its Web site that says, "While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific."

Earlier in the day, Behe had said under direct testimony that a creationist doesn't need any physical evidence to understand life's origins.

So creationism is "vastly 180 degrees different from intelligent design," he said.

Still, Behe said he believes that the intelligent designer is God.

In his article, A Response to Critics of Darwin's Black Box, Behe wrote that intelligent design is "less plausible to those for whom God's existence is in question and is much less plausible for those who deny God's existence."

After referring to the article, Rothschild asked, "That's a God-friendly theory, Mr. Behe. Isn't it?"

Behe argued he was speaking from a philosophical view, much as Oxford University scientist Richard Dawkins was when he said Darwin's theory made it possible to be "an intellectually fulfilled atheist."

"Arguing from the scientific data only takes you so far," Behe said.