That “semantic subterfuge” was soon undermined by pronouncements of the ID founders themselves. Forrest pointed to the movement’s strategic plan and main fundraising tool, known as The Wedge Strategy. “The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built,” it began. The document, which appeared online in 1999, decries how science’s “materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture” and goes on to lay out the aim of the ID movement: “Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist world view and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”
At the trial, lawyers from the Thomas More Law Center put Dr. Michael Behe Gr’78, one of the movement’s leading lights, on the witness stand. His job was to convince the judge that intelligent design is backed by real science. Behe is a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, where he writes research papers on the structure of DNA. “Intelligent design is a scientific theory that relies on physical, empirical, observable evidence in nature, plus logical inferences,” he explained to the court.
Behe is the author of Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, an ID best-seller in which he maintains that living cells are packed with molecular machinery that is “irreducibly complex.” These intricate mechanisms, he argued, are made up of a “purposeful arrangement of parts” from which we can infer “design,” just as we assume that a human-made device was conceived by a designer who had intelligence.
A living structure whose complexity is irreducible has “well-matched, interacting parts,” he said. The bacterial flagellum, an irreducibly complex structure that was much discussed in the trial, is made up of roughly 30 precisely arranged protein parts. If just one is missing, the flagellum cannot spin like a motor-driven propeller whose purpose is to power the bacteria through water. Behe maintained that irreducible complexity presents “unbridgeable chasms” for evolutionary theory because living machinery with indispensable parts cannot evolve incrementally, as Darwin suggested. Organisms would need to emerge all at once, fully formed according to the designer’s blueprint.
Behe claimed that mainstream scientists had produced “no detailed, rigorous explanations for how complex biomedical systems could arise by random mutation and natural selection.” The biochemical intricacy of the immune system is one such purposeful arrangement of parts. “I see no Darwinian explanation for such things,” he stated.
During cross examination, Rothschild stacked up on the witness stand 58 articles from prestigious journals like Science, Nature, Molecular Cell, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. All of them described research on the evolution of the immune system. “Is your position today that these articles aren’t good enough?” Rothschild challenged. He then piled on 10 textbooks with titles like Origin and Evolution of the Vertebrate Immune System.
“What I strongly doubt is that any of these address the question in a rigorous fashion,” the star witness replied, adding later that “I haven’t read them [all].”
“It was the high point of the trial,” Harvey recalls. “Anyone who studies that cross examination would realize that Professor Behe’s work is bankrupt. Eric just took it to pieces and did it brilliantly.”
Behe was on the witness stand for three days. For half of it, Rothschild led the genial science professor through pointed, sometimes technical questions that picked apart his claims for the science of intelligent design. “I tried to show the lack of merit in his position from a lot of different angles,” the litigator says. At the end of one line of inquiry, Behe conceded that astrology qualified as science under the broadened definition he used to encompass ID. Another series of questions brought the biochemist up against an admission that intelligent design is “much less plausible for those who deny God’s existence”and more convincing to those who believe.
“Mr. Rothschild,” he said finally, lifting the mound of evidence his inquisitor had heaped on the witness stand, “Would you like your books back? They’re heavy.”
Steven Gey, an expert on church-state issues at the Florida State University College of Law, comments, “At the end of that day, [the defense had] just flat lost the case because as soon as they denied the ordinary definitions of science, which frankly a person walking down the sidewalk would accept, then I think everybody could see exactly what was going on.”
After six weeks of testimony from eight expert witnesses and 23 fact witnesses, Judge Jones agreed. “In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science,” he wrote in a long, closely reasoned, and sometimes sharply worded opinion. “We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.” Therefore, he ruled, it is “abundantly clear that the board’s ID policy violates the Establishment Clause.”
“This opinion is a complete victory,” Rothschild declared at a press conference following the judge’s decision. “The emperor of intelligent design had no clothes.”
The judge noted that not one scientific association recognizes ID as science, that the movement had not generated a research program or produced a body of peer-reviewed work, and that even experts for the defense admitted the movement sought to change the “ground rules” of science to allow for “non-natural” explanations. “The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view,” the judge concluded, “a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”
He singled out irreducible complexity, the “scientific centerpiece” of intelligent design, and ruled that it had been soundly refuted and rejected by the scientific community, and he called the inference to design “a completely subjective proposition.” Pandas too was thrashed for its “outdated concepts and badly flawed science.”
“I think if the judge thought this was a close call, he wouldn’t have made the assertion that [ID] was not science,” Rothschild says. “This wasn’t a close call.”
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©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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COVER STORY: Intelligent Demise