October 21, 2005

Among Michael Behe's many misunderstandings - The Big Bang

In his Dover trial testimony Dr. Behe is a pushing his Big Bang analogy at every possible turn, going so far as to admit that he mentions it every chance he gets (having read the transcripts, I can vouch for this).

His argument is that Big Bang theory is analogous to ID “theory” in that there is no currently understood mechanism for the events described in the Big Bang. By his lights, this absolves ID proponents of any requirement to identify the designer, or describe methods and motivations thereof.

From the transcript,
“Q. - I d like to ask you to turn to page 100 of Pandas. I want to continue down on that same section. And it says, quote, This alternative suggests that a reasonable, natural cause explanation for origins may never be found, and then intelligent design best fits the data, end quote. And I d like to get your reaction to that sentence.
A. - Well, it seems perfectly sensible to me. It seems quite correct. We currently don t have a natural cause explanation. We might never have one. But a natural cause explanation is not being ruled out. And the development of a natural cause explanation in the future is not being ruled out. And you know it’s, again, it’s likened to the Big Bang theory. The Big Bang theory did not postulate a natural cause explanation for the Big Bang. We don’t currently have a natural cause explanation for the Big Bang. We may never have a natural cause explanation for the Big Bang. But nonetheless, the Big Bang theory is thought by physicists to best fit the data that we currently have. And right now I think intelligent design also best fits data that we currently have.”
Let’s define terms here before we go on. As I understand it, “Big Bang” is a name for that set of physical and mathematical data that describes events which follow the moment of existence of the initial conditions that led to our universe. The “Big Bang” covers phenomena the happen following the earliest physical manifestation. It makes no statement about what may have preceded that moment. It says nothing about causal agency, it comes to no conclusions about antecedent sets of circumstances which could have led to the expansion. In other words, the theory describes natural (with an understanding that natural laws themselves were, at the time, coming into existence) events occurring in our observable reality. It neither requires nor makes reference of any kind to antecedent events or conditions.

The difficulty for Behe’s analogy here is plain. Any determination of “design” in an object/artifact/system implicitly posits an antedating causal event (this is inherent in the word "design," and is an obvious reason for its choice). And any “scientific theory” which trumpets an inference of “intelligent design” is methodologically obligated to address that event. Otherwise it is simply an assumed conclusion.

The comparison, then, with Big Bang theory is instructive. Had physicists called it the Big Blueprint or the Grand Design or even the Mother-of-all-purposeful-arrangements-of-parts Behe’s argument might have merit. But physicists, as they are methodologically bound to do, describe, by use of the phrase the “Big Bang,” only those phenomena which can be supported by the evidence, leaving the philosophical and religious implications for other epistemologies. ID “theorists” had could have simply attempted to outline their observations (e.g. irreducible complexity and specified complexity) without obvious and intentional reference (contrary to scientific standards) to theological concepts. Had this happened, the dispute would have come down to matters of detail decided among scientists, not lawyers and politicians. But asking this of proponents of "intelligent design" is, of course, equivalent to asking them not to be creationists.

So, far from being analogous support for Behe’s defense of ID, the Big Bang actually stands as an important example of the difference between science and ideology.

Behe goes on to say,
"The Big Bang might ultimately be beyond scientific explanation. We have no explanation for the Big Bang right now. Many people, including people who don t like it, see theological and philosophical implications in the Big Bang theory. I put intelligent design in the same category, as I've mentioned before in my testimony."
All of this, until his spurious comparison with ID, is correct and uncontroversial. The Big Bang may indeed by contstrued by some as having religious implications. But the theory demands no inference to exemplars of such. It stands on the evidence, and does not forge beyond the evidence. ID, by purposefully invoking an intelligent, causal agency of "design" as a scientific inference irrevocably commits itself to dealing with the empirical implications of that inference.

"Intelligent design" advocates don't admit this, of course, but that can only leave us to wonder whether this is a result of intelluctual incapacity, or lack of intellectual integrity, or both.


Blogger beajerry said...

That's right!
All hail The Flying Spaghetti Monster for causing the big bang!

6:20 AM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

It's interesting, but "Big Bang" was actually coined by Fred Hoyle, the primary architect of the now largely discredited Steady State theory. He referred to it sarcastically as "this 'big bang' idea."

The Scopes II Monkey trial in which Behe testified is just down the road from me. The principle characters are all from York, Pennsylvania. While that area provided us with embarrassment, it also produced some of the best commentary on the trial. I've collected it here.

4:11 PM  
Blogger JohnADavison said...

Michael Behe is a fine intellect and should not be disparaged. I now have my own blog at:


Come one, come all.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael Behe is a fool and richly deserves to be disparaged.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous ABDUL AZIZ KHAN said...

ovawtqi am a biologist. physjics facinate me but is not myspecialty.But, one can decide to comment from commonsense point of view.Dr.hawking chstised some questioner when he asked what was before big bang because space and time started with the big bang and the question becomes irreldevent. still how did all that mass of matter and energy, which exploded came to being and from where? i think the question is quite valid. if it is invalid, please somebody explain it to me why?

7:09 PM  

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