Behe and Astrology

Over on Ed Brayton’s “Dispatches from the Culture Wars”, Ed comments on NOVA’s attention paid to Behe saying that astrology qualifies as science under his definition of science. This is a comment I left there:

At the time when astrology was of a similar status to other live theories, it wasn’t called “science”, it was just a branch of philosophy. The philosophy of science has changed over time, which means that the things that once qualified as fitting within science may not do so at a later time.

It is within this understanding of science that Behe’s re-definition of science itself and the discussion of astrology can be usefully approached. Whether astrology might have been considered a live option historically doesn’t change the basic facts: a modern definition of science has no place for a mechanism-less “theory”, and Behe’s re-definition of science essentially reverts us back to a pre-19th century natural philosophy that can’t distinguish between explanations with testable mechanisms and those without.

IMO, that’s the real problem with the Behe/astrology issue, and I don’t think that it is readily amenable to sound-bite presentation on TV. It certainly wasn’t explained adequately in the program, judging by the commentary that has resulted.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

4 thoughts on “Behe and Astrology

  • 2007/11/22 at 6:49 am

    One problem with ID (and yes, I know its only one of many!) is that not only is there currently no mechanism, there can never be a mechanism – even in principle. Since DISCO style ID is defined solely in reference to the alledged inabilty of evolution (setting aside the subjective and useless ‘appearance of design = design’ notion), it can never stand as a theory on its own. In the immortal words of Dembski, ID doesn’t aspire to that pathetic level of detail.

  • 2007/11/22 at 1:13 pm

    The point about astrology as science was more subtle than shown in the Nova show, and perhaps more subtle than could have been shown in such a show, but, c’mon Wes, we’re entitled to our bit of fun at Behe’s expense. Afterall, we didn’t get to see ‘Behe’ squirm as he admitted that ‘peer review’ of Darwin’s Black Box amounted to a brief phone conversation with someone who’d never seen the book (and was surprised to find he was considered to have done ‘peer review’). We didn’t get to see ‘Behe’ try to wriggle out of admitting that his role as a ‘critical reviewer’ of Of Pandas and People meant he’d critically reviewed only the chapter he himself wrote.

    BTW, just a couple days ago, CBC Newsworld ran a BBC Horizon program on Dover trial and, after seeing the Nova show, the BBC show was garbage by comparison, giving far too much credit to the cdesign proponentsists. It made them look like innocent seekers after truth, where they are the farthest things from it. The poor folk who get conned by the DI and its creatures are one thing, the leader of the IDC movement another. Even the Nova show didn’t hit them nearly hard enough.

  • 2007/11/22 at 1:38 pm

    It’s my understanding that in the 18th century “science” just meant “knowledge”, while the predecessor of what we think of as science was “natural philosophy” which in England was linked to “natural theology” with the expectation that investigations and research would find evidence of the deity. When it didn’t they had the honesty to reconsider their Bible based ideas to try to accommodate the facts of geology. This happened about the same time that the reverend William Whewell coined the term “scientist”. At the same time, the Evangelicals who had started in the late 18th century took a new literal view of the Bible while also believing that doubt itself was sinful, so they tried not to think of the problems and appeared increasingly dishonest to the educated layman. After a series of crises of theology, including the relatively minor uproar over Darwin’s ”On the Origin of Species””, science and theology became separate domains. Until the Fundamentalists formed in the US around 1911 then decided children should be sheltered from the immoral influence of the idea of evolution in the 1920s…. and a new dishonesty started..

  • 2007/11/23 at 4:11 am

    While Mike is of course entitled to feel that the BBC show was garbage by comparison, giving far too much credit to the cdesign proponentsists, he should appreciate that Horizon: A War on Science was broadcast on BBC Two at 2100GMT on Thursday, 26 January 2006, and evidently was made during the trial, before Judge Jones issued his opinion which is briefly featured as the climax. From my viewpoint the programme was excellent, giving the cdesigniots plenty of rope to hang themselves, which they did, and having the science side promoted strongly by the eminent Sir David Attenborough, who is probably the most famous and best regarded BBC broadcaster in this country, though probably less well known in the US or Canada. I’ve read the transcript of the NOVA show and it looks excellent, reflecting the way that ID has increasingly been exposed since the trial.

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