The Guardian 7 September, 2005


New attempt to marry science and god

The offensive by the religious right moved up another notch last week as a proposal was advanced to introduce into schools a text-book which attempts to marry concepts of god with science. The theory is being sold under the label of "intelligent design".

In justification of this theory we are being told that the human eye is so complex that it could not have evolved over millions of years by natural selection and, therefore, must have been created by a designer. Hence the concepts of "intelligent design" and an "intelligent designer" are introduced. The "intelligent designer" is, of course, god the creator.

It is a tribute to the fantastic achievements of the many branches of science (including the widespread understanding and acceptance of evolution) that the creationists have been forced to attempt to find a way to simultaneously retain god as the creator while, at the same time, acknowledging the achievements of science and the scientific method.

This latest attempt by the creationists is not new. Some years ago the Catholic hierarchy invited a team of scientists to the Vatican with the same quest in mind. One of the scientists who fell for this ploy by the creationists is Australian Paul Davies. He proclaimed more than 10 years ago that "Materialism is dead" and claimed that "Many people have rejected scientific values because they regard materialism as a sterile and bleak philosophy, which reduces human beings to automata and leaves no room for free will or creativity…" He quoted an American scientist, Frank Tipler with approval. Tipler envisaged that not just the solar system or our galaxy but the entire universe would come under the control of a "manipulative intelligence". This is but another term for the "intelligent design" now being made fashionable.

The most recent offensive by the creationists has been stimulated by the election of George Bush as US President and by John Howard in Australia. Both are strongly committed protagonists of religious fundamentalism and take every opportunity to strengthen religious organisations — particularly by pouring money into church schools and by giving contracts to church organisations to do certain jobs for government departments such as Centrelink.

However, no matter what they do, they cannot stop the rapid expansion of scientific research and knowledge for the simple reason that scientific endeavour is, by its very nature, a search for truth, whereas the creationists are unable to produce a single scrap of evidence to back their claim that an "individual designer" is at work.

If an "individual designer" created the eye, is the same designer also responsible for "designing" the hurricane that caused such loss of life and devastation in the southern states of the US last week or for the horrendous tragedy that hit the Shiite pilgrims in Iraq? The ultra-Right fundamentalist US preacher tells us so, his god bringing punishment on the sinners of the world.

Everyone knows, however, that weather forecasters, as a result of the steady accumulation of knowledge, make accurate predictions of the unfolding weather pattern and never call up an "intelligent designer" to explain their forecasts. The weather forecasters of the US accurately predicted the intensity and the possible consequence of hurricane Katrina — more or less exactly what happened.

In the face of the pressure and campaigning of the creationists the Federal Minister for Education, Brendan Nelson, has excused his failure to fight for truth being taught in Australian schools by hiding behind the slogan of "choice". He shifts responsibility from his Ministry to the shoulders of parents who are "free" to have their children taught the theory of evolution and scientific achievement and truth or to have their children brought up on suppositions which have no evidence to support them.

"Choice" opens the door for the creationists to introduce their text books into schools and, thereby, undermine the years of teaching of science, the theory of evolution and the search for truth that is the objective of most teachers.

The creationists may be fighting a rearguard action against the steady advance of scientific research and knowledge but the present offensive should not be shrugged off.

The fight for truth can never be relaxed and every attempt to push society back into ignorance must be defeated if scientific advance is to continue.

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