Professor tells court evolution is inadequate
Dover school district witness refers to gaps in Darwin's theory
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
BY BILL SULON Of The Patriot-News
Intelligent design is being met with the same skepticism that greeted the Big Bang theory when it was first offered as an idea of how the universe began -- an idea that has since become accepted in the scientific community -- a leading proponent of intelligent design testified in federal court yesterday.
Michael Behe, professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University and author of the book "Darwin's Black Box," said intelligent design is science and is not religious. He said the proposition that intelligent design can best explain the universe's complexities would not bring a halt to scientific inquiry, just as early speculation about the Big Bang did not end scientific inquiry.
The Big Bang theory holds that the universe originated about 20 billion years ago from an explosion of high-density, super-heated matter.
"The Big Bang is a highly scientific proposal" that, like intelligent design, includes "logical inferences," Behe said. He said many scientists as recently as the 1980s viewed the Big Bang theory as requiring "philosophical and theological explanation," but that the theory is now widely accepted as scientifically valid.
"This is similar to the debate I see going on with intelligent design," Behe testified in U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg.
Behe, the lead witness for the Dover Area School District in its defense of a policy on intelligent design, said Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is an important part of education that should continue to be part of a school's science curriculum. But he said intelligent design, as explained in the book "Of Pandas and People," should be mentioned as well to students.
Eleven parents suing the district want to bar administrators from reading a four-paragraph statement to ninth-grade students at the start of a unit on evolution. The statement, which Dover science teachers refuse to read, calls evolution "just a theory" with "gaps" and refers to intelligent design as an alternative theory, and suggests that students refer to "Pandas" as a resource on the subject.
The parents, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, allege the Dover policy violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which prohibits government from establishing a religion or preferring one religion over another.
Behe said intelligent design has been mislabeled as "creationism" by critics, including some of the professors who testified over the past three weeks on behalf of the parents opposed to the Dover policy.
Earlier in the trial, Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor and author of the book "Creationism's Trojan Horse," testified that the words "creationism" and "creator" in a draft version of "Pandas" were replaced with "intelligent design" and "intelligent designer" in 1987, months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that creation science can not be taught in public schools.
Behe, a Catholic, said he believes God is the intelligent designer, but that his religious belief is separate from his proposition that intelligent design is scientific. He said an intelligently designed system includes the molecular matter in a cell, which appears "to be arranged for a purpose" and for which evolution, particularly Darwin's theory on natural selection, is an inadequate explanation.
Behe said some biological structures, including bacterial flagellum, are irreducibly complex, meaning that they won't work as intended if one of the parts is removed. He said that he is among the scientists who have used mechanical terms to compare bacterial flagellum to a motor in need of all its parts to operate.
A cell is "chock-full of complex machinery" that is "poorly explained by Darwin's theory," Behe said. A better explanation, he said, is the intervention of "an intelligent designer."
Behe said his efforts to publish papers on irreducible complexity and intelligent design were met with reluctance by editors of publications. Judge John E. Jones III upheld an objection by the plaintiffs' lawyers that Behe not be permitted to recount what the editors told him on the grounds it was hearsay.
In an interview outside the courtroom, Behe said the editor of one journal accepted his paper on intelligent design but told him not to use the term "irreducible complexity" because the phrase was in his book, "Darwin's Black Box," and "was controversial" in the scientific community. He said the editor of another journal rejected his submission on intelligent design outright because the editor deemed intelligent design to be "philosophical and theological" but not scientific.
"He didn't believe it was science," Behe said.
Back in the courtroom, Behe said Kenneth Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, repeatedly mischaracterized or oversimplified his comments on irreducible complexity. The professors have criticized each other's work in seminars, articles, books and, now, a courtroom. Miller was the first witness for the opponents to policy on intelligent design in Dover.
As Behe testified, Darwin's great-great-grandson, Hollywood screenwriter Matthew Chapman, sat 10 feet away taking notes. Chapman may use material from the trial in a documentary.
Outside the courtroom, former Assemblies of God minister Randy Tomasacci, now a school board member at the Northwest Area School District in Shickshinny, said he listened to Behe's testimony to gain information for his effort to have intelligent design taught in his district's science classes.
"We would want it to be meaningful curriculum," not simply a statement read to students, Tomasacci said.
With his producer filming in the background, Chapman asked Tomasacci if that means he would consider opening up a history course to allow for the views of those who deny the Holocaust. Tomasacci replied that he would not in that case, because "the Holocaust happened."
During a separate break in the trial yesterday, Dover school board member Alan Bonsell said he agreed with Behe's testimony, and was undaunted by the fact Behe's views on intelligent design and irreducible complexity are not shared by most in the scientific community.
Behe may now hold a minority position, Bonsell said, but "so were the people who [first] espoused the Big Bang theory."
Behe's colleagues in Lehigh University's department of biological sciences distanced themselves from the professor and his views with a disclaimer stating that they are "unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory" and their position that "intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific."
Behe's testimony is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today.
BILL SULON: 255-8144 or firstname.lastname@example.org
©2005 The Patriot-News
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