70,000 unite over 'intelligent design'
by PAUL LLOYD
WHEN 70,000 scientists unite, it's heavy artillery.
Organisations representing that number of Australia's science researchers,academics and teacher last week took united aim at "intelligent design".
The 70,000 include the state's Science Teachers Association president Peter Turnbull, who said the group had "grave concerns" the theory was being presented as a valid alternative to evolution.
It's not science, the group argues.
It's more like spoon bending and astrology.
This is a new phase of a war between so-called creationists and evolutionists.
What's different is that proponents of intelligent design - ID, as it is known
- are pushing their case with unprecedented money and media-savvy. They are, in short, demanding creationism be accepted as a science.
Creationists have a classical argument for the existence of God. It says the universe is so complex that it could not possibly have come about by evolution. Evolutionists say random mutations equip some organisms to flourish better than others.
Andrew Dutney, associate professor of theology at Flinders University, likens it to "a computer virus".
Ian Plimer, University of Melbourne geology professor, goes further: "Incompetent design, as I call it, is an anti-intellectual post-modernist mechanism for snaring the ill-educated into Protestant fundamentalism."
But proponents want their views put alongside evolution in science classes. They are finding support from federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson, some church leaders and the Anglican King's School near Sydney.
At least one NSW fundamentalist Christian school has ID in the curriculum. The Campus Crusade for Christ is distributing thousands of copies of a video called Unlocking the Mystery of Life.
In front bars they're talking about archbishops and politicians "running scared" and not condemning this "Christian Wahabbism" the same way that moderate Muslim leaders don't condemn Islamic terrorists.
And all this from a simple, time-honoured creation story?
The new push for this story can be traced to the Discovery Institute. This is a conservative Christian think-tank founded in 1990 in Seattle in the U.S. It has a $5.5 million budget.
The centre opposes euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, animal rights and high taxation. Its number-one project is what it calls the Wedge.
This finances publications and DVDs (including Unlocking the Mystery of Life), research, buying academics, political lobbying and stacking school boards. The aim is to get ID taught as a science subject. By the Wedge principle, evolution can then be subverted, portrayed as a "theory in crisis", and scientists made to seem closed-minded. The kingdom of the Intelligent Designer will be nigh.
One scientist concerned is Jack da Silva, a lecturer in genetics at the University of Adelaide. He says ID is "not a scientific view. It's arguing that things happen by magic. It's also a rather silly idea to try explaining complexity by positing that there exists something even more complex."
According to Associate Professor Dutney: "As a comment about where we're up to as a Western capitalist nation, ID belongs with a host of issues being contested at the moment, including whether we are a society or an economy; the limits of the rights of the individual; the questioning of cultural diversity; and relations with other cultures, especially Islamic cultures.
"The religious right is making evolution some kind of test case for its complaints about modernity in general. It is politically tainted."
He accepts it may have some place in school curriculums, perhaps in critical thinking courses, but he says it "ought to be handled with great care".
"You don't want to import it like a computer virus that is likely to, and is probably intended to, destabilise the rest of the curriculum," he said.
This is not a question of religious faith, which such great scientists as Newton and Einstein have comfortably accepted.
And the scientists don't see it as a question of science. The IDers push it as a question of education, whether it's viral marketing or simply trying to open minds to possibilities other than evolution.
That's the Wedge.
Nice to see that we were able to get some numbers to speak out against Intelligent Design in Australia. I liked the bolded bit, partly because Ian Pilmer is coming to my uni next year, in the Geology department.