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Defense Begins Case in Evolution Trial

18 October 2005 (All day)
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Design defender. Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe speaks to reporters after testifying yesterday.

HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA--The star witness for Intelligent Design (ID) took the stand yesterday as the defense began its case in Kitzmiller et al. versus the Dover School District. Biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, explained that ID, unlike creationism, is "science," and emphasized that ID does not question all of evolutionary theory but only one aspect of it: natural selection.

The trial, now in its fourth week in a federal court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has attracted international attention as a test of whether public schools can require students to be informed about Intelligent Design as an "alternative" theory to Darwinian evolution (ScienceNOW, 27 September).

Under questioning by defense lawyer Robert Muise, Behe sought to persuade Judge John E. Jones III that ID is really more scientific than Darwin's theory of natural selection. Behe suggested that ID depends on two independent arguments. The "negative" argument, which aspires to debunk Darwin, is that natural selection can't explain a system that exhibits "irreducible complexity." A prime example for this, said Behe, is the bacterial flagellum--a minuscule "rotary motor" that bacteria use to propel themselves in search of food. Because it needs all its complex parts to function, Behe said the system could not have arisen through the usual Darwinian processes of random mutation and natural selection.

The "positive" argument claims that something exhibiting "purposeful arrangement of parts" is evidence for ID--the flagellum again being Exhibit A.

While scientists say ID is unscientific because there is no way of falsifying its tenets, Behe insists that the claim about the flagellum is "open to direct experimental rebuttal." If you grew tailless bacteria for 10,000 generations, it would only take a few years to find out if natural selection alone would be enough to recreate the flagellum, he said. If flagella appeared, this would cast ID in doubt, he noted. He added that the same experiment would not work as a test of natural selection because if no flagella appeared, scientists could always say there was something wrong with the methodology. Behe did not explain how the hand of a designer would be effectively excluded from his flagellum experiment.

While plaintiffs at the trial shook their heads at Behe's testimony, it did not fall on deaf ears. One attendee, Randy Tomasacci, who is a member of the school board in nearby Shickshinny, Pennsylvania, said his district is "looking into" the possibility of putting ID in the curriculum. Behe, he said, was very "persuasive."

Related sites
Behe's home page
Lehigh Behe disclaimer
Trial documents

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