WHEN CREATIONISTS refer to the “growing number” of “leading scientists” who are “flocking” to intelligent design “theory” (ID), the only one most of them can name is Michael Behe. He’s a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University with the remarkable distinction of having his colleagues publicly disassociate themselves from him. See: Department Position on Evolution and “Intelligent Design”. It’s a short statement, so we’ll quote it in full:
The faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity and academic function. This commitment carries with it unwavering support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. It also demands the utmost respect for the scientific method, integrity in the conduct of research, and recognition that the validity of any scientific model comes only as a result of rational hypothesis testing, sound experimentation, and findings that can be replicated by others.
The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory, which has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been supported by findings accumulated over 140 years. The sole dissenter from this position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of “intelligent design.” 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.
With that as an introduction, here are some excerpts from Intelligent design speaker Behe draws packed house at UNCW [the University of North Carolina Wilmington], which appears at the website of the Wilmington Star-News (“committed to making a difference in Southeastern North Carolina”).
Most of the article is boring, but we found one remark made by Behe that you may find interesting. Let’s start with some standard fluff from the article’s introductory material. The bold font was added by us:
[We’d like to give you a few excerpts from the news story, but that paper is being acquired by Stephens Media, and they’re suing bloggers who excerpt their content without permission. So you’ll have to click over there to read it for yourself.]
Here’s Behe’s answer to a question about the testable predictions of his theory:
“I don’t have a mechanism to substitute for the Darwinian mechanism, that’s true. But the same was true for Newton or the Big Bang Theory,” Behe answered. “I don’t think you need a mechanism all the time in science.”
Think about that. Behe admits what we’ve always known — that he has no mechanism. But such mechanisms — explanatory mechanisms — are what scientific theories are all about. Darwin had a mechanism to explain the origin of species — variation and natural selection. Any competing theory should do at least as well, because scientific theories are explanations — testable explanations. But Behe has no theory, and although he probably doesn’t realize it, he just said so.
As for Behe’s mention of Newton, that’s a sleazy bit of bait and switch. Newton didn’t propose a theory. He’s famous for the law of universal gravitation. His nifty formula, shown here, described the effects of gravity. Similarly, his laws of motion described motion. He never explained these phenomena. That’s the difference — in science — between laws and theories. The former are descriptions, the latter are explanations.
Then there’s Behe’s mention of the Big Bang. That’s sneakier, because it really is a theory — of limited scope. What Big Bang theory purports to explain is the observation that the universe appears to be expanding. The explanation is that the universe began with expansion of a singularity. This makes predictions that are testable by reference to various observations. See: Foundations of Big Bang Cosmology.
But this is where Behe gets super-sneaky. In Big Bang theory, the cause of the initial expansion is unexplained. It really isn’t part of Big Bang theory — indeed, such a cause may be beyond scientific investigation. But this is irrelevant to the almost unanimous acceptance of Big Bang theory, which does explain observable phenomena following the initial moment.
Okay, let’s try to tie this all up to see where Behe’s ID fits in. Newton (like Behe) had no mechanism — but he had a law of gravity. It still works splendidly, in all cases except those extreme conditions where relativity takes over. Behe’s reference to Newton is utterly foolish.
Then there’s the Big Bang. True, it doesn’t have a mechanism for the origin of all things. But cosmological observations are indeed explained by the mechanism of the expansion — that’s the Big Bang theory.
Now what of ID? Behe has no mechanism — which means he has no explanation, no theory. What does have have? Surely he has no law — no tidy description of biological phenomena.
So Behe has no theory, and he has no law. There’s not much left of ID, is there? A bit of smoke, a few mirrors, and that’s about it.
Update — we have a follow-up post: Behe’s North Carolina Fiasco: Part 2
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