`Intelligent design' defended

Biochemist in Pa. school trial testifies that it is a `rationally justified' scientific theory

October 18, 2005|By LISA ANDERSON | LISA ANDERSON,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

HARRISBURG, PA. -- A Pennsylvania biochemist testified in federal court yesterday that "intelligent design," a view critical of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, is a scientific theory that doesn't require involvement of a supernatural agent, although he said he believes the intelligent designer was God.

With Matthew Chapman, a great-great-grandson of Darwin looking on, Lehigh University professor Michael Behe testified as the first witness for the defense as the landmark case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District entered its fourth week.

An outspoken advocate of intelligent design, Behe wrote the 1996 book Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, considered one of the guiding documents of the intelligent design movement.

Intelligent design, which posits that some aspects of life, yet unexplained by evolution, are best attributed to an unnamed and unseen designer, is at the heart of the case.

Eleven parents of Dover students sued the district and school board over a requirement that ninth-grade biology students be informed of intelligent design as a scientific alternative to evolution and be referred to an intelligent design textbook, Of Pandas and People.

Represented pro bono by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Separation of Church and State and the Philadelphia law firm of Pepper Hamilton, the parents contend that the requirement is religiously motivated, thus violating the constitutional separation of church and state, and breaches the Supreme Court's ban on teaching creationism in public schools.

The plaintiffs argue that intelligent design, which began acquiring a public profile in the past decade, really is creationism in disguise.

The defense concentrated yesterday on establishing the validity of intelligent design as a scientific theory and refuting any religious connections with it. The school district is represented, for no charge, by the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which describes its mission as "to defend and protect Christians and their religious beliefs in the public square."

Behe, who said he is a Roman Catholic and has nine children, testified at length yesterday. A fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which champions research on intelligent design, Behe often apologized for the amount of detail he felt he had to include in presenting what he said were exhaustive and conclusive scientific justifications for intelligent design.

Behe said intelligent design doesn't dismiss the theory of evolution, which posits that all life shares common ancestry and developed through random mutation and natural selection.

However, he said, intelligent design considers evolutionary theory incomplete and flawed, particularly on random mutation and natural selection.

Contradicting earlier testimony that intelligent design is based on things that cannot be observed or tested, Behe said, "Intelligent design relies on physical, empirical, observable evidence from nature plus logical inferences."

"We infer design when parts appear to be arranged for a purpose," he said, noting that the more parts involved, in a process such as blood clotting, for example, the more confidence there is in a design component.

"The appearance of design in aspects of biology is overwhelming," he said, adding that because nothing other than an intelligent cause has been able to yield such a strong appearance of design, the concept of design is "rationally justified."

Lisa Anderson writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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