Saturday, October 22, 2005


Theory Is As Theory Does

Is it too early to conclude that the testimony of Michael Behe at the Dover intelligent design trial in U.S. District Court has been a disaster of unimaginable proportions for the Dover School Board, Discovery Institute, and the ID movement? When the dust settles, supporters of science education in the U.S. may conclude that with enemies like Behe, we don't really need friends.

Here's a tasty little excerpt from the official transcript where Dr. Behe is forced to own up to the fact that the definition of "scientific theory" employed by intelligent design "theorists" opens the door to such sciences as astrology.

PLAINTIFF ATTORNEY ERIC ROTHSCHILD: But the way you are using it [Defining scientific theory, RSR] is synonymous with the definition of hypothesis?

MICHAEL BEHE: No, I would disagree. It can be used to cover hypotheses, but it can also include ideas that are in fact well substantiated and so on. So while it does include ideas that are synonymous or in fact are hypotheses, it also includes stronger senses of that term.

Q: And using your definition, intelligent design is a scientific theory, correct?

A: Yes.

Q: Under that same definition astrology is a scientific theory under your definition, correct?

A: Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences. There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that – which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other -- many other theories as well.

Q: The ether theory of light has been discarded, correct?

A: That is correct.

Q: But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?

A: Yes, that’s correct. And let me explain under my definition of the word "theory," it is -- a sense of the word "theory" does not include the theory being true, it means a proposition based on physical evidence to explain some facts by logical inferences. There have been many theories throughout the history of science which looked good at the time which further progress has shown to be incorrect. Nonetheless, we can’t go back and say that because they were incorrect they were not theories. So many many things that we now realized to be incorrect, incorrect theories, are nonetheless theories.

Note: Here's how the American Association for the Advancement of Science defines "scientific theory:" A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not "guesses" but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than "just a theory." It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.


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