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Backer of Theory Never Contradicted Self, Truth Shows

Casey Luskin

Writing about Michael Behe’s cross-examination, the Philadelphia Inquirer has alleged that “Backer of theory contradicted self, lawyer suggests.”

(Nevermind that the news media didn’t write such headlines about Dr. Kenneth Miller when he testified on direct that his textbooks contained NO religious discussions [see Day 1 AM transcript, page 104], but then the next day admitted under cross-examination that some versions of his textbook had religious descriptions of evolution [see Day 2 AM transcript, page 4-5]).

The question remains, did Behe contradict himself on the stand while under intense cross examination? A factual examination reveals the answer is no! Let’s dig in!

Does the scientific theory of intelligent design identify the designer?
Firstly, the article claims that Behe contradicted his claim that ID theory cannot identify the designer. According to Worden, plaintiffs’ counsel Mr. Eric Rothschild found that Behe had written “that intelligent design is ‘much less plausible for those that deny God’s existence.'”

Behe’s statements were taken from an article he wrote in “Reply to my critics: A response to reviews of Darwin’s Black Box: The biochemical challenge to evolution,” a peer-reviewed article published in Biology and Philosophy (Vol 16 (5): 685-709, Nov. 2001). Let’s read a more complete version of the text of what Behe wrote:

“As a matter of my own experience the answer is clearly yes, the argument is less plausible to those for whom God’s existence is in question, and is much less plausible for those who deny God’s existence. People I speak with who already believe in God generally agree with the idea of design in biology (although there are certainly exceptions), those who are in doubt are interested in the argument but often are skeptical, and as a rule those who actively deny God’s existence are either very skeptical or wholly disbelieving (Apparently, the idea of a natural intelligent designer of terrestrial life is not entertained by a large percentage of people).”

Michael J. Behe, “Reply to my critics: A response to reviews of Darwin’s Black Box: The biochemical challenge to evolution,” published in Biology and Philosophy (Vol 16 (5): 685-709, Nov. 2001)

As can be seen, Behe here was talking about the general psychology of how people deal with accepting intelligent design theory. This is appropriate for a philosophy journal, which looks at how people accept the philosophical implications of various scientific theories. All Behe is saying is that for those who already believe in God, it’s often easier for them to accept intelligent design. And Behe qualifies his statements by noting that there are “exceptions” to his experience–showing that he’s not talking about hard-and-fast conclusions from ID theory, but the general psychology and philosophical implications that people often find from it. This does not mean that the scientific theory of ID mandates that the designer is God.

If this is the best quote that can be dredged up to try to claim that Behe believes that ID theory identifies the designer, then the plaintiffs’ case is indeed very weak.

To see just how weak the plaintiffs’ case actually is, consider how Behe has repeatedly made it clear that the scientific theory of design does not tell you who the designer is:

“Although intelligent design fits comfortably with a belief in God, it doesn’t require it, because the scientific theory doesn’t tell you who the designer is. While most people – including myself – will think the designer is God, some people might think that the designer was a space alien or something odd like that.” (Michael Behe, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 02/08/01).

“Inferences to design do not require that we have a candidate for the role of designer. We can determine that a system was designed by examining the system itself, and we can hold the conviction of designer much more strongly than a conviction about the identity of the designer. In several of the examples above, the identity of the esigner is not obvisous. We have no idea who made the contraptionin the junkyard, or the vine trap, or why. Nonetheless, we know that all of these things were designed because of the ordering of independent components to achieve some end.” (Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, pg. 196)

“The conclusion that something was designed can be made quite independently of knowledge of the designer. As a matter of procedure, the design must first be apprehended before there can be any further question about the designer. The inference to design can be held with all the firmness that is possible in this world, without knowing anything about the designer.” (Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, pg. 197)

“The most important difference [between modern intelligent design theory and Paley’s arguments] is that [intelligent design] is limited to design itself; I strongly emphasize that it is not an argument for the existence of a benevolent God, as Paley’s was. I hasten to add that I myself do believe in a benevolent God, and I recognize that philosophy and theology may be able to extend the argument. But a scientific argument for design in biology does not reach that far. This while I argue for design, the question of the identity of the designer is left open. Possible candidates for the role of designer include: the God of Christianity; an angel–fallen or not; Plato’s demi-urge; some mystical new age force; space aliens from Alpha Centauri; time travelers; or some utterly unknown intelligent being. Of course, some of these possibilities may seem more plausible than others based on information from fields other than science. Nonetheless, as regards the identity of the designer, modern ID theory happily echoes Isaac Newton’s phrase hypothesis non fingo.” (Michael Behe, “The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis,” Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2001), pg. 165, emphasis added.)

Clearly Behe has made it unequivocally obvious that as far as the scientific theory of ID goes, it cannot identify the designer. Behe might find that, based upon “his experience,” philosophy or psychology might cause some people to be inclined towards believing the designer is God, but that doesn’t mean that the scientific theory of ID tells you who the designer is.

Behe has been ultra-consistent between his testimony and his writings. There was no contradiction.

Did Behe claim support for everything in Pandas?
The second alleged contradiction was that Behe supposedly contradicted himself in that he claimed that he was a reviewer of Pandas but yet disagreed with a statement in Pandas which defined ID as the claim that “various forms of life began abruptly…” Here’s what the article alleged:

Rothschild also showed a section of the intelligent design book Of Pandas and People, in which Behe contributed a chapter and was listed as a “critical reviewer,” stating that intelligent design means life forms “began abruptly.”

Behe said under questioning that he did not agree with that definition of intelligent design.

Behe, who defines intelligent design as “the purposeful arrangement of parts,” defended the concept as a “well-substantiated theory” that seeks to explain gaps in Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“The concern of intelligent design is to examine the empirical, physical and natural world,” he said. “It is no more religious than the big bang theory [of the origin of the universe] is religious. Both rely on observed evidence.”

The reporter here got confused. The definition of ID given by Pandas comes from Chapter 4, “The Fossil Record,” where it states “intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly…” Though Behe was a contributor to Pandas, it was on the blood clotting cascade section (found in Chapter 6, “Biochemical Similarities”)–not the fossil record section in which this notorious definition of ID as rejecting common ancestry dwells (pg. 99-100). Apparently this reporter wasn’t listening when Behe testified as to his limited role in Pandas.

Behe is a biochemist, and thus it is not likely that the authors of Pandas sought Behe’s input on sections dealing with paleontology. The fact that Behe was a “critical reviewer” of the book does not mean that he therefore endorsed everything in the book. Even if Behe did review the section on the fossil record, perhaps Behe even expressed disagreement with this definition of ID as “abrupt appearance” but then the actual authors of this section chose to ignore Behe’s criticisms, since his primary input was solicited for biochemistry issues.

Behe has made it clear that he supports ID, but also believes that ID could be consistent with common descent:

“[Eugenie] Scott refers to me as an intelligent design “creationist,” even though I clearly write in my book “Darwin’s Black Box” (which Scott cites) that I am not a creationist and have no reason to doubt common descent.” (Michael J. Behe, Intelligent Design Is Not Creationism, Science, Published E-Letter Responses for Scott, 288 (5467):813-815 (July 30, 2000).)

Showing that Pandas defines ID to include rejection of common ancestry in no way undermines Behe’s statement that ID does not necessarily reject common ancestry–unless you take Pandas to be the definitive manefesto of design theory, which we all know is far from true (after all, the book doesn’t even contain the phrase “irreducible complexity”). Thus Behe only expressed disagreement with Pandas.

Behe never claimed, nor implied, he endorsed 100% of everything in the textbook, and therefore he never contradicted himself when he acknowledged his long-standing position that he believes that ID does not require the rejection of common descent.

A sidenote on usage of “Abupt Apperance” language
I would also like to note that Pandas’ usage of “abrupt appearance” terminology does not link it to creationist thought, as “abrupt appearance” terminology is not uncommon in the mainstream paleontological literature:

“Many species remain virtually unchanged for millions of years, then suddenly disappear to be replaced by a quite different, but related, form. Moreover, most major groups of animals appear abruptly in the fossil record, fully formed, and with no fossils yet discovered that form a transition from their parent group. Thus, it has seldom been possible to piece together ancestor-dependent sequences from the fossil record that show gradual, smooth transitions between species.” (Hickman, C.P., L.S. Roberts, and F.M. Hickman. 1988. Integrated Principles of Zoology. Times Mirror/Moseby College Publishing, St. Louis, MO., pg. 866; emphasis added)

“Paleontologists had long been aware of a seeming contradiction between Darwin’s postulate of gradualism … and the actual findings of paleontology. Following phyletic lines through time seemed to reveal only minimal gradual changes but no clear evidence for any change of a species into a different genus or for the gradual origin of an evolutionary novelty. Anything truly novel always seemed to appear quite abruptly in the fossil record.” (Mayr, E., 1991, One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, p. 138; emphasis added)

“The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change. All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt.” (Stephen Jay Gould, Natural History, 86, June-July, 1977, pp. 22, 24; emphasis added)

“The gaps in the fossil record are real, however. The absence of a record of any important branching is quite phenomenal. Species are usually static, or nearly so, for long periods, species seldom and genera never show evolution into new species or genera but replacement of one by another, and change is more or less abrupt.” (Wesson, R., 1991, Beyond Natural Selection, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, p. 45; emphasis added)

“Phyla appear abruptly in the fossil record without intermediates to link them to their putative ancestors. This pattern presumably reflects derivation of most or all phyla from small, soft-bodied ancestors that had virtually no potential for fossilization. However, most classes and orders of durably skeletonized marine animals also appear abruptly, without obvious linkage to their durably skeletonized antecedents….” (Erwin D.H., Valentine J.W. & Sepkoski J.J., “A Comparative Study of Diversification Events: The Early Paleozoic Versus the Mesozoic,” Evolution, Vol. 41, No. 6, p1178; emphasis added)

“The Cambrian explosion is named for the geologically sudden appearance of numerous metazoan body plans (many of living phyla) between about 530 and 520 million years ago, only 1.7% of the duration of the fossil record of animals.”
“It is this relatively abrupt appearance of living phyla that has been dubbed the ‘Cambrian explosion.’”
(Valentine, Jablonski, Erwin, Development 126:851-859 (1999); emphasis added)

Finishing on a High Note
Finally, I would like to note a fair and accurate article by Martha Raffaele which, according to reports we received, accurately portrays Rothschild’s attempt to perform a “literature dump” upon the steadfast Michael Behe:

Eric Rothschild, a lawyer for eight families suing to have intelligent design removed from the Dover Area School District’s biology curriculum, presented Behe with a stack of more than a half-dozen books written about the evolution of the immune system.

“A lot of writing, huh?” Rothschild said.

But Behe was unmoved, noting that “evolution” has multiple meanings.

“I am quite skeptical that they present detailed, rigorous models of the evolution of the immune system through random mutation and natural selection,” he said.

A quick thank you to Logan Gage from Discovery’s Washington D.C office who attended the trial this week and provided us with thorough notes and descriptions of Michael Behe’s testimony.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District