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Intelligent-design backer fires back at critics

During a federal trial over a school district's "intelligent design" policy, a leading proponent of the idea says his views are opposed on political rather than scientific grounds.
Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe faces reporters Monday after his first day of testimony in federal court in Harrisburg, Pa.Bradley C Bower / AP
/ Source: news services

A leading proponent of "intelligent design" acknowledged Tuesday in a trial over the concept's place in public schools that major scientific organizations and even his own colleagues oppose his ideas.

However, "not every statement issued by a scientific organization, even on science, is a scientific statement," biochemistry professor Michael Behe said, testifying Tuesday in the case of a school board being sued for requiring high-school biology students to hear about the intelligent-design concept.

The landmark U.S. trial could decide whether the concept can be mentioned in science classes of taxpayer-funded schools as an alternative to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Behe contends that evolution cannot fully explain the biological complexities of life, suggesting the work of an intelligent force. The intelligent-design concept does not name the designer, although Behe, a Roman Catholic, has said he personally believes it to be God.

The eight Pennsylvania families suing to have intelligent design removed from the Dover Area School District's curriculum say that the teaching essentially promotes the Bible's view of creation, and therefore violates constitutional restrictions on the establishment of religion.

Science disputed
Behe teaches at the Lehigh University — which has distanced itself from his views on intelligent design. He claimed that Lehigh's biology department gave no scientific evidence in its Web site statement that says intelligent design "has no basis in science."

"It doesn't carry the weight of a single (scientific) journal paper," Behe said.

Behe also took aim at scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences, which have spoken out against teaching intelligent design in science classes.

“The National Academy of Sciences treats intelligent design in a way what I consider utterly misleading. Talk about scholarly malfeasance!” Behe complained.

He disputed the academy’s statement that the intelligent-design concept attributed the complexity of nature to “the hand of God.”

“I advocated none of those ideas,” Behe said. “I take this as a political statement unsupported by any references.”

Behe also accused the AAAS of issuing a “political document” when it stated that intelligent design should not be taught in high-school science classes.

The school board is defending its decision a year ago to require students to hear a statement on intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. The statement says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps," and it refers students to a textbook, "Of Pandas and People," for more information about the concept.

Observation rather than religion
Behe said intelligent design relies on observing the natural world, not on religious belief.

"Intelligent design requires no tenet of any specific religion," he said, "It does not rely on religious texts, messages from religious leaders or any such thing."

Behe claimed that teaching intelligent design would clear up what he said were students' misconceptions that evolution is fact and not a theory. Intelligent design, he said, provides students with another way of looking at the facts.

Earlier in the trial, witnesses for the plantiffs testified that they considered evolution to be a scientific theory in the rigorous sense, supported by facts.

The trial began Sept. 26 and could last through the end of October.

The plaintiffs are represented by a team put together by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The school district is being represented by the Thomas More Law Center, a public-interest law firm based in Michigan, that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and Reuters.