Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Michael Behe believes in astrology!

Shock horror! Dr. Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box and leading exponent of intelligent design, believes in astrology.

Well, not quite. It's probably only a matter of time before somebody says that, but to be fair, they haven't yet. What they have said is that Michael Behe has a "connection to the science of astrology". Look at this quote supposedly demonstrating this from Red State Rabble, a blog quoted approvingly by a much-beloved commenter.
Question: And using your definition, intelligent design is a scientific theory, correct?

Answer: 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…
So he believes that astrology is scientific.

Well, not quite. Look at the next section of the transcript - which Red State Rabble could have quoted, since it comes from the source they used, had they been concerned to present facts rather than spin. In fact, the ellipsis they inserted substitutes for the following continuation of Behe's reply!
... 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.


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.
So, no, Michael Behe doesn't believe in astrology. He thinks it is "foolish" and points out that "the educated community has not accepted astrology as a science for a long long time". No, he doesn't think it has any scientific standing today. Which means that people who suggest otherwise when they have access to the facts - for example, New Scientist, Red State Rabble and Panda's Thumb - are all wilfully distorting the truth.

Question. If somebody is demonstrably distorting the truth in this way in support of an argument, to what extent should we be prepared to trust their other arguments?