Thursday, November 17, 2005

In a class of their own, etc

Excerpts from two news items about ID in Australia with my comments bold and in square brackets.

In a class of their own, Sydney Morning Herald, November 15, 2005 ... Intelligent design has been described as "advanced creationism". Even so, it is taught alongside Darwin in the science classes of more than 100 Christian and Seventh Day Adventist schools, and discussed in the religion and philosophy classes of many others, writes Linda Doherty. Sandpipers paddle on the seashore, a butterfly flutters and an eagle soars above the clouds in the opening frames of Unlocking the Mystery of Life. Part nature documentary, with a dash of scientific thriller, the 67-minute American-produced DVD has caught the attention of principals who are screening it in science classes as an alternative to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. There are finches and flagella, proteins and computer-animated cells and interviews with the pin-up boys of the intelligent design movement as evidence of the "growing number of scientists and scholars [who] now challenge key aspects of Darwin's theory". "One hundred and fifty years ago, Charles Darwin transformed science with his theory of natural selection. Today, that theory faces a formidable challenge," the narrator intones. "Intelligent design has sparked both discovery and intense debate over the origin of life on Earth." Intense debate, that's for sure - in the classrooms of Australia, the scientific fraternity and between churches. Fundamental to the furore is whether intelligent design should be taught in science classes or be restricted to religion lessons. Secular public schools won't have a bar of it, but it has strong support in about 80 Christian community schools in NSW and 23 Seventh Day Adventist schools. Catholic schools and many Anglican schools say it can be discussed in religion or philosophy classes, which deal in the exchange of ideas. Its followers say some organisms are so complex they can only be explained by the hand of an intelligent designer. Some explicitly say God is the designer, but most advocates steer clear of religion and portray it as legitimate science that deserves to be on the science curriculum. Unlocking the Mystery of Life is among scores of intelligent design videos and books in the United States but it is virtually the only teaching resource available in Australia, selling through Focus on the Family for $21.95. Another Christian group, Campus Crusade for Christ, is providing a free copy to every school in Australia. The federal Minister for Education, Brendan Nelson, put the DVD on the map when he revealed on August 10 that he had seen it. His comments that intelligent design could be taught in schools if parents so requested set off alarm bells with science teachers and scientists who compared it with fork-bending and flat earth theory. "It's about choice, reasonable choice," Nelson said. But he later clarified his position to say that it should be taught only in religion or philosophy classes. But it has high-profile supporters for inclusion in science classes, including Tim Hawkes, the headmaster of the Anglican King's School, who says the DVD has "a legitimate case to put to students, and indeed, to humankind". The Greens have called for government funding to be stripped from any private school that teaches religious "fables" masquerading as scientific discovery. Public school teachers are similarly horrified. Chris Bonnor, the president of the NSW Secondary Principals Council, said intelligent design was as wacky as "Holocaust revisionism, the 1996 interview with Elvis, the Bermuda triangle and the shopping list of people who were seen on the grassy knoll in 1963". Stephen O'Doherty, the head of Christian Schools Australia, which has 56 affiliated schools in NSW, says students should be able to discuss the notion that there is an "unexplained scientific hole in evolutionary theory". "To have that discussion in class is good and leads to questions like 'how does scientific method work?' and 'what is science?'," he says. Intelligent design is a natural fit for Christian community schools, which claim that God is the intelligent designer, says Cam Stewart, the principal of Bega Valley Christian School. Evolution is taught in his school, but so is intelligent design. To deny Darwin in the science classroom would risk deregistration by the Board of Studies and disadvantage students in public examinations. This is because evolution is well-entrenched in high school science. Last month's HSC biology paper included questions on the Flores "hobbit" people, a discovery which scientists say lends further credence to the theory of evolution. Stewart defends the right of his school to develop students' powers of reasoning by providing them with opposing viewpoints. He recalls a similar debate 20 years ago when textbooks about uranium "were removed from schools" at the height of the anti-nuclear movement. "The aim of educators is to develop critical thinking in our students, not indoctrination of any viewpoint," he says. "Both evolutionists and intelligent design proponents draw on the same evidence but interpret through different assumptions." William Gardner, the principal of the Southern Highlands Christian School, says a good education is about developing students to "ask good analytical questions" whether in visual arts or science. "It's not a dogmatic position," he says. "We would say, certainly, that the biblical position is that God created the world but how he did that is for you [the students] to ask the questions. "Science has never been divorced from philosophy. It's been a moveable feast over the centuries. It would be unsound, educationally, to divorce it." Seventh Day Adventist schools teach intelligent design in both science and religion classes, but students are told it is not approved by curriculum authorities. John Hammond, the national director of Adventist Schools Australia, says intelligent design provides a bridge between science and theology. "Intelligent design is a very logical way of approaching these things and the students appreciate getting both sides of the argument," he says. "We believe we are created beings we don't shrink from our beliefs." The official view from the curriculum authority, the NSW Board of Studies, is that intelligent design has no place on the science curriculum, because it simply is not science. Gordon Stanley, the board's president, says: "If non-government schools choose to teach aspects of intelligent design in a science class it must be in addition to, not instead of, the board's full program of science courses." He has suggested that schools are wasting their time teaching intelligent design because "it will not be tested in any public examination". Even if students espoused the theory in their HSC biology paper, for example, "it would not be considered relevant". The state education minister, Carmel Tebbutt, who has statutory authority over both public and private schools, dismisses it as "not scientific, not evidence-based". The only avenue for teaching it in public schools is in scripture lessons run by religious organisations. Intelligent design does not even feature in the HSC subject Studies of Religion. Religion class is where many Catholic school senior students will find intelligent design from next year. It will be included in one chapter of a new textbook dealing with the history of science and the church. But it will "definitely not" be taught in science, says Seamus O'Grady, the director of religious education and curriculum for the Sydney Catholic Education Office. The year 11 and 12 editions of the textbook, To Know, Worship and Love, say intelligent design is a philosophy that "relies on argument that may use, but do not depend on, scientific methods". "We follow the Board of Studies curriculum and we do not accept it is part of mainstream science," O'Grady says. The Catholics are not the only sceptics among religious schools. Bryan Cowling, the principal of Thomas Hassall Anglican College at West Hoxton, says it is a "mischievous" attempt to reopen the evolution versus creationism argument. His teachers are committed Christians and he expects them to be aware of the issue so they can answer students' questions. But he won't sanction the teaching of intelligent design in science lessons. "I simply work on the premise that God is the creator but how he did it, well that's an issue for science," Cowling says. "It's mischievous really in trying to distort science by trying to blur it into philosophy or religion." And to put this new movement into context, Cowling says that "not one" parent of his 1000 students has asked for intelligent design to be taught, or requested that the school screen Unlocking the Mystery of Life When it turns up at his school, courtesy of Campus Crusade for Christ, he will tell teachers to have a look and see if it is "any use" for religion lessons. "If it simply becomes a propaganda tool then I'd be very sceptical," he says. ... [A comphehensive summary of ID's percolation through the educational system of New South Wales (Australia's most populous State). It is encouraging to see how many are supportive of ID. I would be surprised if any of these critics had actually read any ID literature for themselves. The Greens are the extreme left-wing party in Australia, whose anti-Christian prejudice is evident in their false claim that ID is based on "religious `fables'". As I have said, I expect that those opposed to ID (which includes some in Christian schools-either through ignorance or having a theistic naturalistic/gnostic position), will be forced to change their tune in order to avoid being left behind. As I may have said before, unlike the USA, in Australia there is no legal reason why ID (or creationism for that matter) cannot be taught in either public (or publicly subsidized private), schools. While Australia has a similar `establishment clause' to the USA's First Amendment, in section 116 of the Australian Constitution:

116. The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
it has been interpreted fairly literally by the High Court of Australia. For example, it has been upheld that Federal and State governments may subsidise private religious schools as long as they don't favour any particular religion.]

Christian schools hit back over origin of life, Sydney Morning Herald, Linda Doherty, November 1, 2005 Christian schools have defended their right to teach intelligent design in science classes to explain the origin of life, accusing sceptical scientists and teachers of "ideological conservatism". In the latest salvo over the theory emanating from the United States, Christian educators said no approach to science was "value-neutral" and that both Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and intelligent design "have their own strong ideological foundations". Intelligent design says that some forms of life are so complex they can be explained only by the actions of an "intelligent designer". Carolyn Kelshaw, chief executive officer of Christian parent-controlled schools, and Richard Edlin, principal of the National Institute for Christian Education, said "intolerant" opponents of intelligent design were holding back "the genuine exploration of alternative approaches within science teaching in Australian schools". "We are dismayed that some science educators appear to be committed to their own ideological conservatism," they said in a statement. There are 24 parent-controlled Christian schools in NSW and another 56 schools represented by Christian Schools Australia. More than 70,000 Australian scientists and science teachers this month criticised the infiltration into schools of intelligent design, saying that it was a belief, not a scientific theory. Nobel prize-winning scientist Peter Doherty said it was "a ridiculous idea and has no place in science teaching". The Dean of Sciences at the University of NSW, Mike Archer, told ABC Radio that equating intelligent design with science could lead to teaching "astrology instead of astronomy" and "flat earth [theory] and fork bending". But the chief executive of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, said he was happy to "take on" the scientists and teachers, who were "dogmatic and close-minded". He said intelligent design was "a debate among scientists" using the scientific record and complexity of biological systems "as evidence of an intelligent designer". "But there is no such thing in Australia as an intelligent design curriculum that takes Darwin off the shelf," he said. In the past two months, Australian schools have snapped up a US-funded intelligent design DVD called Unlocking the Mystery of Life after the federal Minister for Education, Brendan Nelson, said he supported intelligent design being taught in religion or philosophy classes. Mr O'Doherty said it was appropriate that students questioned scientific processes and theories but "there is a point where science stops and faith begins". Both Christian Schools Australia and the parent-controlled Christian schools say they teach the NSW Board of Studies science curriculum, which includes evolution but not intelligent design. The president of the board, Gordon Stanley, said intelligent design was not in the curriculum "because it is not scientific and not evidence based". "Schools teaching intelligent design should make it clear to students that this material is not part of the board's syllabus and that it will not be tested in any public examination," he said. The president-elect of the Australian Science Teachers Association, Paul Carnemolla, said the Christian educators were confusing the scientific meaning of "theory", which was something that had to be measured and tested. "There is not a single research paper on intelligent design - no empirical evidence," he said. "This is a belief system and it's based on faith. It can't stand up to scientific scrutiny." ... [It is good to see those against ID being counter-criticised for "ideological conservatism" and for being "dogmatic and close-minded"! Hysterical comparisons of ID with "fork-bending and flat earth theory", not to mention "Holocaust revisionism, the 1996 interview with Elvis, the Bermuda triangle" will backfire on those who make them, as the public become increasingly aware of what ID is and its evidence. It is moreover a falsehood to claim that "More than 70,000 Australian scientists and science teachers ... criticised the infiltration into schools of intelligent design", when what really happened is that the tiny minority at the top echelon of Australia's science and teacher organizations, let by atheist Mike Archer, presumed to speak for all their "70,000" members. But as Bill Dembski pointed out, "the claim that 70,000 Australian scientists oppose ID is comparable to saying that hundreds of thousands of U.S. scientists oppose ID because the AAAS has formally denounced it." These Australian science educators have now foolishly committed themselves to the same policy of dogmatic opposition to ID as in the USA, which policy Phil Johnson has called "the science educators' `Vietnam'":

"The first New York Times story on the Kansas decision quoted me as saying that this is the science educators' `Vietnam.' What I meant by this is that in the first place they have a determined adversary who is not going to surrender. They're not gaining ground. That's what the polls show, and that is why there is so much worry. If the enemy keeps on fighting, he wears you down. The second thing is that it is an adversary--that is, the anti-Darwinists--that can appeal to the liberal values of a lot of their opponents, just as the Viet Cong appealed to the anti-imperialist sentiments of the American public. The adversary can say, Let's hear both sides, let's have an open discussion, you don't know the majority position unless you have heard it effectively challenged, and so on. Already the polls show that two-thirds of the public favors something of the `teach both sides, teach the controversy' direction." (Johnson P.E., "Evolution and the Curriculum: A Conversation with Phillip Johnson and Gregg Easterbrook," Center Conversations No. 4, Ethics and Public Policy Center: Washington DC, September 1999)
because in ID they have an "enemy" who believes he has right on his side and so he "keeps on fighting", knowing that the anti-IDists will eventually have to abandon "the dishonorable methods of power politics":
"In the final analysis, it is not any specific scientific evidence that convinces me that Darwinism is a pseudoscience that will collapse once it becomes possible for critics to get a fair hearing. It is the way the Darwinists argue their case that makes it apparent that they are afraid to encounter the best arguments against their theory. A real science does not employ propaganda and legal barriers to prevent relevant questions from being asked, nor does it rely on enforcing rules of reasoning that allow no alternative to the official story. If the Darwinists had a good case to make, they would welcome the critics to an academic forum for open debate, and they would want to confront the best critical arguments rather than to caricature them as straw men. Instead they have chosen to rely on the dishonorable methods of power politics." (Johnson P.E., "The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism," Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2000, p.141)
and either refute ID's arguments fair and square, or else agree to a co-existence of ID within science.]

PS: See tagline quote for my next installment of Paley's design argument.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"To reckon up a few of the plainest of these parts, and of their offices, all tending to one result:-we see a cylindrical box containing a coiled elastic spring, which, by its endeavour to relax itself, turns round the box. We next observe a flexible chain (artificially wrought for the sake of flexure) communicating the action of the spring from the box to the fusee. We then find a series of wheels, the teeth of which, catch in, and apply to, each other, conducting the motion from the fusee to the balance, and from the balance to the pointer; and at the same time, by the size and shape of those wheels, so regulating that motion, as to terminate in causing an index, by an equable and measured progression, to pass over a given space in a given time. We take notice that the wheels are made of brass, in order to keep them from rust; the springs of steel, no other metal being. so elastic; that over the face of the watch there is placed a glass, a material) employed in no other part of the work, but, in the room of which, if there had been any other than a transparent substance, the hour could not be seen without opening the case. This mechanism being observed (it requires indeed an examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it but being once, as we have said, observed and understood), the inference, we think, is inevitable; that the watch must have had a maker; that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction and designed its use." (Paley W., "Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature," [1802], St. Thomas Press: Houston TX, 1972, reprint, pp.2-3)


Matteo said...

Please take this as well-meaning constructive criticism, but the lack of paragraph breaks in your blog posts makes your blog just about unreadable. I've stopped by several times, but haven't really been able to give the content the reading it deserves for this reason...

Stephen E. Jones said...


Thanks for your feedback.

I had considered using paragraphs but they would create other problems in that my posts would become even longer than they are, and the separation between each article would then be less clear.

So I will continue posting each article and my comments in one block and if that then means some (like yourself) don't read my blog, then so be it.

Stephen E. Jones