Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University, and one of the leading proponents of Intelligent Design, has been on the witness stand in the Dover ID trial. And it looks as though he had his ass handed to him.
The York Daily Record writes:
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.
I think what this really boils down to is “ID is the answer, but only if you ask the question in a very specific manner”, and the lawyer isn’t playing along and asking the correct questions.
I had actually expected Behe to do better than this. He’s the sanest of the big ID proponents, and the one most likely to convince a jury that ID really is science. Maybe he ate his brain when he got tenure, because from the excerpt above, it really looks to me as if he’s spent so long squinting at gaps in evolution that he’s managed to convince himself that there’s some there, there.
New Scientist is less kind in its description of how Behe tried to redefine “theory”:
Rothschild told the court that the US National Academy of Sciences supplies a definition for what constitutes a scientific theory: “Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.”
Behe said he had come up with his own “broader” definition of a theory, claiming that this more accurately describes the way theories are actually used by scientists. “The word is used a lot more loosely than the NAS defined it,” he says.
Rothschild suggested that Behe’s definition was so loose that astrology would come under this definition as well. He also pointed out that Behe’s definition of theory was almost identical to the NAS’s definition of a hypothesis. Behe agreed with both assertions.
The exchange prompted laughter from the court, which was packed with local members of the public and the school board.
Yes, I know, they laughed at Galileo. But they also laughed at Bozo the clown.
I don’t know what would lead Behe to be made a fool of in public this way. It’s possible that he’s not familiar with courtroom proceedings and was tricked into saying something that looked bad for his side. But I doubt that. From what I’ve read, it looks more as if he’s been soaking in ID for so long that he doesn’t even realize how ridiculous it is if you take a critical look at it.
Finally, Mike Argento at the York Daily Record has some mordant observations:
After a while, he [Behe] set into a pattern.
He’d say critics of his idea always misunderstand him, take things out of context and misrepresent what he means.
And then, to respond to them, he misunderstood what they said, took their words out of context and misrepresented what they said.
He’d expound at great length and then, as he would wind down, he’d say, “Now, here’s the point …”
And whatever his point was would be wrapped in so much verbiage you needed a backhoe to get to it.
In other words, if you can’t dazzle them with science, baffle them with bullshit. After all, if he wears a neat suit and tie, and has letters after his name, and uses all manner of fancy words, he must be right, mustn’t he?
At one point during Rothschild’s cross-examination, the lawyer asked the scientist whether he was co-authoring a book, a follow-up to “Of Pandas and People,” with several other intelligent [design mullahs]. He said he wasn’t.
The lawyer showed him depositions and reports to the court, quoting two of the other authors as saying he was a co-author.
Behe said that he wasn’t a co-author of the book but that the statements by those guys weren’t false. He said one of the authors was “seeing into the future.”
If this is the best the ID side can do, then the question is not whether the creationists will lose in Dover, but how badly. I don’t think they have any other scientists on their side. If Behe can’t convince the jury that ID is science — and after admitting that ID is on a par with astrology, and that it doesn’t even qualify as a theory, how could he? — then I doubt any of the other witnesses will.
It’s still possible that the jury will fall for Behe’s bullshit, or that the creationists’ lawyer will pull a Jedi mind trick. But in the meantime, I can’t help grinning with schadenfreude.
For some reason, it would appear that William Dembski has nothing to say. Odd, that.
Correction, Oct. 25, 2005: apparently this is not a jury trial, so Behe only needs to convince the judge. But from the reports and transcripts I’ve read so far, that doesn’t seem likely.