`Design' defended as science

Witness says creationism is `180 degrees different'

October 19, 2005|By LISA ANDERSON | LISA ANDERSON,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Although he denied that the concept of "intelligent design" advances any religious belief, a leading proponent of the idea has said it is less plausible to those who question or deny the existence of God, according to presentations made in federal court here yesterday.

Michael Behe, a tenured biochemist at Lehigh University, took the stand for a second day as the first expert witness called by the defense in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

Entering its fourth week, the suit was brought against the district and school board by 11 parents of Dover students over a requirement that ninth-grade biology students be informed of intelligent design as a scientific alternative to evolution and referred to an intelligent design textbook, Of Pandas and People.

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 parents are represented, at no charge, by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for the Separation of Church and State and a Philadelphia law firm, Pepper Hamilton.

Intelligent design is critical of Darwin's theory that all life - including humans - shares common ancestry and developed through random mutation and natural selection.

The plaintiffs argue that intelligent design - which posits that some aspects of life, yet unexplained by evolution, are best attributed to an unnamed and unseen intelligent designer - really is a disguised version of creationism, the adherence to the biblical account of creation.

Not so, said Behe, during often-heated exchanges with counsel for the plaintiffs during cross-examination. Creationism is "180 degrees different from intelligent design," he said. "Creationism is a theological concept. Intelligent design is a scientific theory that relies on physical, empirical, observable evidence in nature plus logical inferences."

Under direct examination, Behe underscored that intelligent design takes no position on key elements of creationism, such as an Earth age of less than 10,000 years believed by many creationists, and makes no reference to the Bible or a divine creator.

Behe, who identifies himself as a Roman Catholic, said that although intelligent design cannot scientifically identify the designer and does not rule out a natural cause, he believes it is God. Behe is the author of 1996's Darwin's Black Box, a touchstone of the intelligent design movement.

Intelligent design can infer there is a designer from the "purposeful arrangement of parts" in complex biochemical processes that evolution cannot explain, he said, and it doesn't matter that the designer is not named.

He compared this to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program, which searches for an electromagnetic signal that bespeaks some kind of intelligence in the universe. Should such a signal come, he said, even if the researchers had no clue as to the nature of the sender, "We could still be confident that an intelligent agent had designed the message."

The biggest problem with Darwinian theory and its reliance on natural selection and random mutation is that there is "no evidence that such processes can give rise to new, complex systems," he said.

However, nearly every major scientific association in the country has issued a statement supporting evolution and rejecting intelligent design, said Eric Rothschild, an attorney for the plaintiffs. Behe scoffed at such statements, dismissing them as "political."

Lisa Anderson writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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