Science leaders rage at 'design'

2nd December 2005 at 00:00

Calls for the teaching of "intelligent design" alongside evolution in science classes have triggered fierce debate in many western countries, and have now led to moves for it to be banned in Australia.

A Christian group called Campus Crusade for Christ, operating in Australian universities, wants to distribute a DVD on intelligent design to every Australian high school for use in the curriculum.

But the heads of organisations representing 70,000 science researchers, academics and teachers have called on Australian governments and educators to prohibit the teaching or promulgation of intelligent design as science in schools.

The groups represented include the Australian Academy of Science, the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies and the Australian Science Teachers' Association.

Proponents of intelligent design argue that life is too complex to have evolved solely through natural selection, and there must be a higher intelligence. Critics say the theory is simply Biblical creationism in another form.

Its supporters include US president George W Bush, the Catholic archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, and Australia's education minister, Brendan Nelson, who said he believed the theory should be taught in schools along with evolution if parents so wished.

Last August, while anti-evolution activists were lobbying to have intelligent design taught in American schools, and while officials in Kansas were considering allowing schools to teach criticism of evolution, president Bush said he believed students should be exposed to different ideas.

But in a letter to Australian newspapers, leaders of the scientific academies said that including intelligent design in the curriculum would make a mockery of science teaching.

It would throw open the door of science classes to similarly unscientific world views such as astrology, spoon-bending, flat-earth cosmology and alien abductions - and crowd out the teaching of real science.

"Not being able to imagine or explain how something happened - other than by making a leap of faith to supernatural intervention - is no basis for any science," the authors said.

For a theory to be considered scientific, it must be possible to test it by experiment or observation, the results should be able to be reproduced, and the theory should explain more than was already known.

"A scientific theory should also be able to predict outcomes in novel situations. Evolution meets all of these criteria but intelligent design meets none of them. It is not science," they said.

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