Friday, 15 June 2007

Behe and Astrology

Paul says that this didn't happen.

I can think of a few explanations for your post Paul;

  • You haven't read Behe's testimony - so giving the impression you have is a bit sinful.
  • You have read it and have forgotten what he says - a bit sloppy of you not to refresh your memory.
  • You are making this up.

So here are the facts.

There was a trial in the US which centred around the issue of whether or not ID should be taught in public (government funded) schools. This is only legal in the US if ID is science. It is prohibited in the US constitution for religion to be taught in such schools.

The judge ruled that ID is religion and called the various ID proponents lots of names including liars. I cover this in detail here.

During the trial Michael Behe maintained that ID is a scientific theory - he manages to do this by the unusual method of inventing his own definition of "scientific theory", one which contradicts the one used by scientists. But hey, it makes his point doesn't it?

Behe's definition of science includes Astrology in his own words ( shown below ).

So in the context of a discussion about "what science should be taught in science classes" Behe says yes ID should be taught in science classes because it meets his own definition. He agrees that Astrology meets this same criteria. He gives no reason why Astrology should not be taught.

Paul and Behe both then mention Astrology in its historical context. The overall context however is "IS ID SCIENCE AND SO CAN IT BE TAUGHT IN US PUBLIC SCHOOLS?". The court case was not about History or even History of Science classes.

In the court extract given below the lawyer pulls Behe up on this.

Behe wants ID taught in today's classrooms as science - do you agree with him Paul?

Behe agrees that Astrology meets the definition of a scientific theory - do you agree Paul.

Behe gives us no reason why Astrology should not be taught in science. What do you think Paul?

BTW - in my opinion Astrology would be able to be used in science classes.

I say this simply because you can do experiments to show Astrology is false. Being able to test something is integral to it actually being a scientific hypothesis, if it passes all tests then it can become a scientific theory. (I should point out that I am using the dictionary definitions as used by all other scientists apart from Behe here)

More on this topic in my "Think Critical - How to Evaluate Evidence" page.

Yes you can do this with Astrology. Astrology does actually make certain claims which can be tested. You can even do it in science class, perhaps while covering what the scientific method actually is.

Here is one example of how this might be done;



No you can't do this with ID. You can't do it in classrooms or laboratories. You can't test it because it doesn't tell you anything - god after all (oops - the "Intelligent Designer") can do anything they like, therefore whatever you measure observe or test can always be explained by - "God did it" (oops - the "Intelligent Designer" did it).

This topic is covered in more detail in my blog Truth In Science Revealed - which exposes a group of creationist/ID supporters in the UK who are so well funded they sent sets of DVD's which include Behe to every single UK School & College last year.

They seem to like making up their own defintions, taking quotes out of context and misrepresenting things as well.

- - -

So Paul, for the benefit of your memory, and for the benefit of any casual readers of your blog who might be interested in the full facts, here is "exactly" what Behe said in the trial rather than your "pretty much".

A "pretty much" which misses out both the key points and substance of Behe's testimony and the context in which he made it.

Don't you think that the context and substance of quotes is important?

This is the extract from the infamous Dover Trial - from here;
Q Okay. And I said, "Intelligent design does meet that?" And you said, "It's well substantiated, yes." And I said, "Let's be clear here, I'm asking -- looking at the definition of a scientific theory in its entirety, is it your position that intelligent design is a scientific theory?" And you said, going down to line 23, "I think one can argue these a variety of ways. For purposes of an answer to the -- relatively brief answer to the question, I will say that I don't think it falls under this." And I asked you, "What about this definition; what is it in this definition that ID can't satisfy to be called a scientific theory under these terms?" And you answer, "Well, implicit in this definition it seems to me that there would be an agreed upon way to decide something was well substantiated. And although I do think that intelligent design is well substantiated, I think there's not -- I can't point to external -- an external community that would agree that it was well substantiated."

A Yes.

Q So for those reasons you said it's not -- doesn't meet the National Academy of Sciences definition.

A I think this text makes clear what I just said a minute or two ago, that I'm of several minds on this question. I started off saying one thing and changing my mind and then I explicitly said, "I think one can argue these things a variety of ways. For purposes of a relatively brief answer to the question, I'll say this." But I think if I were going to give a more complete answer, I would go into a lot more issues about this.

So I disagree that that's what I said -- or that's what I intended to say.

Q In any event, in your expert report, and in your testimony over the last two days, you used a looser definition of "theory," correct?

A I think I used a broader definition, which is more reflective of how the word is actually used in the scientific community.

Q But the way you define scientific theory, you said it's just based on your own experience; it's not a dictionary definition, it's not one issued by a scientific organization.

A It is based on my experience of how the word is used in the scientific community.

Q And as you said, your definition is a lot broader than the NAS definition?

A That's right, intentionally broader to encompass the way that the word is used in the scientific community.

Q Sweeps in a lot more propositions.

A It recognizes that the word is used a lot more broadly than the National Academy of Sciences defined it.

Q In fact, your definition of scientific theory is synonymous with hypothesis, correct?

A Partly -- it can be synonymous with hypothesis, it can also include the National Academy's definition. But in fact, the scientific community uses the word "theory" in many times as synonymous with the word "hypothesis," other times it uses the word as a synonym for the definition reached by the National Academy, and at other times it uses it in other ways.

Q But the way you are using it is synonymous with the definition of hypothesis?

A No, I would disagree. It can be used to cover hypotheses, but it can also include ideas that are in fact well substantiated and so on. So while it does include ideas that are synonymous or in fact are hypotheses, it also includes stronger senses of that term.

Q And using your definition, intelligent design is a scientific theory, correct?

A Yes.

Q Under that same definition astrology is a scientific theory under your definition, correct?

A Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences. There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that -- which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other -- many other theories as well.

Q The ether theory of light has been discarded, correct?

A That is correct.

Q But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?

A Yes, that's correct. And let me explain under my definition of the word "theory," it is -- a sense of the word "theory" does not include the theory being true, it means a proposition based on physical evidence to explain some facts by logical inferences. There have been many theories throughout the history of science which looked good at the time which further progress has shown to be incorrect. Nonetheless, we can't go back and say that because they were incorrect they were not theories. So many many things that we now realized to be incorrect, incorrect theories, are nonetheless theories.

Q Has there ever been a time when astrology has been accepted as a correct or valid scientific theory, Professor Behe?

A Well, I am not a historian of science. And certainly nobody -- well, not nobody, but certainly the educated community has not accepted astrology as a science for a long long time. But if you go back, you know, Middle Ages and before that, when people were struggling to describe the natural world, some people might indeed think that it is not a priori -- a priori ruled out that what we -- that motions in the earth could affect things on the earth, or motions in the sky could affect things on the earth.

Q And just to be clear, why don't we pull up the definition of astrology from Merriam-Webster.

MR. ROTHSCHILD: If you would highlight that.

BY MR. ROTHSCHILD:

Q And archaically it was astronomy; right, that's what it says there?

A Yes.

Q And now the term is used, "The divination of the supposed influences of the stars and planets on human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions and aspects."

That's the scientific theory of astrology?

A That's what it says right there, but let me direct your attention to the archaic definition, because the archaic definition is the one which was in effect when astrology was actually thought to perhaps describe real events, at least by the educated community.

Astrology -- I think astronomy began in, and things like astrology, and the history of science is replete with ideas that we now think to be wrong headed, nonetheless giving way to better ways or more accurate ways of describing the world.

And simply because an idea is old, and simply because in our time we see it to be foolish, does not mean when it was being discussed as a live possibility, that it was not actually a real scientific theory.

Q I didn't take your deposition in the 1500s, correct?

A I'm sorry?

Q I did not take your deposition in the 1500s, correct?

A It seems like that.

Q Okay. It seems like that since we started yesterday. But could you turn to page 132 of your deposition?

A Yes.

Q And if you could turn to the bottom of the page 132, to line 23.

A I'm sorry, could you repeat that?

Q Page 132, line 23.

A Yes.

Q And I asked you, "Is astrology a theory under that definition?" And you answered, "Is astrology? It could be, yes." Right?

A That's correct.

Q Not, it used to be, right?

A Well, that's what I was thinking. I was thinking of astrology when it was first proposed. I'm not thinking of tarot cards and little mind readers and so on that you might see along the highway. I was thinking of it in its historical sense.

Q I couldn't be a mind reader either.

A I'm sorry?

Q I couldn't be a mind reader either, correct?

A Yes, yes, but I'm sure it would be useful.

Q It would make this exchange go much more quickly.

11 comments:

  1. You are completely wrong.

    So in the context of a discussion about "what science should be taught in science classes" Behe says yes ID should be taught in science classes because it meets his own definition. He agrees that Astrology meets this same criteria. He gives no reason why Astrology should not be taught.

    Wrong. He does give reasons. It is strongly implicit in his testimony. Were this discussion taking place in the 1500's, Behe says, when people believed that astrology provided a meaningful explanation of phenomena, then it could have been taught in science classes. And indeed it was considered a part of science - did you bother listening to "In Our Time"? Furthermore, those reasons were accepted by the opposing counsel - who said, "I didn't take your deposition in the 1500's" - he accepted that what Behe said didn't have a bearing on the debate today. Unfortunately, the opponents of ID are less able to follow logical implications, and are more intent on presenting absurd allegations.

    # You haven't read Behe's testimony - so giving the impression you have is a bit sinful.
    # You have read it and have forgotten what he says - a bit sloppy of you not to refresh your memory.
    # You are making this up


    You are doing all the things you accuse me of. If you followed the link, you would see I had quoted exactly the same section of transcript that you did.

    So in the context of a discussion about "what science should be taught in science classes" Behe says yes ID should be taught in science classes because it meets his own definition. He agrees that Astrology meets this same criteria. He gives no reason why Astrology should not be taught.

    Did Behe say that anything that is or has been a scientific theory ought to be taught as fact? No. He pointed out that many things that count as scientific theories have since been discredited.

    Does he give no reasons why it should not be taught? Which in any case would be very far removed from believing it should be taught! Well, actually, yes he does. Because certainly the educated community has not accepted astrology as a science for a long long time.

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  2. And I didn't say, "This didn't happen". That is a blatant misrepresentation of what I said. I neither said that explicitly, nor did I imply that it hadn't happened.

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  3. So what did you mean by this;

    "Michael Behe believes that astrology ought to be taught in classrooms. Actually, he doesn't. I wrote about this some time ago. However, it still suits various people, including commenters here, to believe that he does."

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  4. Actually Paul it is the cross-examining counsel who asks him if his previous deposition had been made in the 1500's.

    Behe said that Astrology counts as a scientific theory.

    The counsel gets the clarification that it isn't a theory now - because it is held by the scientific community to be false.

    Here you are again - remember this;

    "Q And I asked you, "Is astrology a theory under that definition?" And you answered, "Is astrology? It could be, yes." Right?

    A That's correct.

    Q Not, it used to be, right?

    A Well, that's what I was thinking. I was thinking of astrology when it was first proposed. I'm not thinking of tarot cards and little mind readers and so on that you might see along the highway. I was thinking of it in its historical sense.

    Q I couldn't be a mind reader either.

    A I'm sorry?

    Q I couldn't be a mind reader either, correct?

    A Yes, yes, but I'm sure it would be useful.

    Q It would make this exchange go much more quickly."

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  5. What do you think of Behe having a defintion of theory which is different to scientists?

    Don't you see the distinction between hypothesis and theory?

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  6. That has also been discussed extensively elsewhere - albeit not by me. See here.

    "Actually Paul it is the cross-examining counsel who asks him if his previous deposition had been made in the 1500's."

    Yes - because he could see that this was the force of Behe's argument.

    Look, do you really think that if this was a fact rather than a matter of spin, Behe would have been left alone at this point? The counsel stopped there because he could see this was a dead end. If it wasn't a dead end, what would have happened next?

    Q. So, let me make sure we have this absolutely straight. You are saying that astrology is a scientific theory.

    A. Yes.

    Q. And that it should be taught in school.

    A. Yes.

    Q. And on this basis, ID ought to be taught in school, because it is also a scientific theory.

    A. Yes.

    At this point, Behe would have been completely discredited as a witness, and the defence would have curled up into an embarrassed ball.

    But that wasn't what happened, and there was no more mileage in pursuing this line of questioning!

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  7. The link you provided is to the Discovery Institute. This is the organisation which produced the DVD's sent to all british schools and colleges last year by TiS.

    I have comprehensively discredited this material piece by piece - pointing out the errors and distortions which they peddle. I have invited TiS themselves and several other UK based ID proponents to provide me with any kind of a substantial answer to my analysis of their litany of fibs and so far no salient points at all have been made.

    I think that the DI have shown themselves to be at best unreliable and error prone whilst at worst deliberately bending the truth, distorting the evidence and even downright fibbing for the sake of their particular religious agenda.

    You haven't answered my questions.

    - - -

    Go and have a read of the transcript from the link I provided. You can see what happened next.

    The counsel actually went on to question Behe about the fact that ID was based upon the appearance of design (i.e.. Paley).

    He then discussed the fact that the book "panda's" contained a contribution from Behe in which he refers to a list of scientists, in support of ID, without being honest enough to point out that they don't support it.

    This isn't a TV drama Paul - the counsel works through lots of subjects toting up points which can later be considered for inclusion in summary arguments etc.

    You can't say that because the guy didn't follow your script the point does not stand.

    Behe was part of the case arguing that ID should be taught in science classes because it was a scientific theory. His own personal defintion of which was so loose that it also included Astrology as a scientific theory. Fullstop end of testimony.

    But hang on! When questioned the next day then OK yes he admitted that he had meant in the 1500's when questioned about this. He hadn't said so in his original evidence - he just left it hanging. Both the counsel and the judge pointed out that they can't read minds.

    Did you know that this exchange had prompted laughter form the court?

    Have a look at New Scientist.

    I think it very likely that the counsel may very well have thought that the laughter had made his point for him.

    So how do you defend Behe using his own definiton of "theory" which is at odds to that used in the real scientific world? To answer this all you did was give me a link to organisation which is known to be extremely unreliable.

    I want to know what you think.

    I guess you will ignore this question so here are some more. . .

    - - -

    Have you nothing at all to say to the Judges summing up?

    You do realise that he ruled that ID is Creationism?

    That members of the ID side had lied to the court?

    That ID is not science because it relies upon the supernatural?

    Don't you see a distinction between a hypothesis and a theory?

    You really have no counter argument to any of this?

    You really can't tell me where the TiS analysis I have completed is in error?

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  8. What you think of the organisation is really irrelevant. I could copy out their research from PubMed and claim it for my own - would that make it more reliable? The fact is that there may be a formal meaning for "scientific theory", but it is widely used as a synonym for hypothesis.

    I read the New Scientist "special" on ID - and I have to tell you that it was every bit as unreliable as you claim DI is. They were deceptive in the way they obtained material from William Dembski, and they presented responses to ID which failed to reflect the challenge that ID presents in scientific terms. Same goes for the BBC Horizon programme on it.

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  9. Have you nothing at all to say to the Judges summing up? Yes. He went way beyond his remit, and relied on one of the submissions, not even bothering in his summing up to correct errors in it.

    You do realise that he ruled that ID is Creationism? Do you really think that because a judge says something, this makes it more so? What about if a government decides that pi is 3.2? What about when the communist government outlawed God? Do you think it actually makes any difference?

    That members of the ID side had lied to the court? Did they?

    That ID is not science because it relies upon the supernatural? Wrong. ID is not philosophical naturalism - but PN is not science.

    Don't you see a distinction between a hypothesis and a theory? Dealt with elsewhere.

    You really have no counter argument to any of this? Evidently not one that you are prepared to take any notice of.

    You really can't tell me where the TiS analysis I have completed is in error? I haven't taken much notice either of your analysis, or TiS itself.

    Because, actually, I don't think ID ought to be taught in schools either. So there.

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  10. Thanks for this answer (two comments above this one) - it means we can get into some detail.

    I say that DI are unreliable. I list many examples of this in the TiS Revealed Blog.

    Please feel free to point out where I have gone wrong in this analysis.

    You say that Horizon and New Scientist are unreliable - will you give me some evidence for this?

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  11. No Paul I don't go by personal authority. I go by a six week trial when the ID proponents had every chance to present whatever evidence they had and I do take some notice of the judges comments when they make such damning statements about the ID side based upon that evidence - which is available for all to see.

    So you can say "did they" and "wrong" but the evidence given in court showed otherwise.

    Are you saying that the judge was dishonest?

    In what way did he go beyond his remit? What did you think his remit was?

    You don't want ID taught in school either - excellent!

    What challenges do you think it presents?

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