Monday, October 09, 2006

ID presentation at Australian Association for Religious Education 2006 National Conference

Dr. Mark Fitzmaurice of Intelligent Design Network Australia, made a presentation of ID at the Australian Association for Religious Education 2006 National Conference,

[Graphic, Conference logo]

in Fremantle, Western Australia, on 3rd October 2006.

Mark had invited me to attend and I met him and his wife Judy (who are both Sydney medical doctors) for the first time before the conference.

[Graphic: "Unlocking the Mystery of Life,"]

While Mark set up for his talk, Judy and I distributed about 140 copies of the DVD, "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" among the 20 tables.

The first session at 1:30pm was contemporaneous with three other sessions, so it was attended mostly by those who were interested in ID. Mark spoke on the topic: "Intelligent Design - Do Religion and Science intersect?" and made the following main points:

  • Gould regarded science and religion as mutually exclusive disciplines (Non-Overlapping Magisteria). Dawkins, Sagan and Provine say scientific evidence points to a meaningless and purposeless cosmos without a god.
  • ID, dubbed by Dawkins the American Taliban, claims that science posesses the tools to detect design in nature. ID presents evidence for design before intelligence appeared on earth.
  • The history and main ideas of Johnson, Behe and Dembski on ID were outlined with examples, followed by recent quotes from Dawkins and Dennett demonstrating the "faith" required to explain design without intelligence.
  • Richard Dawkin's recent statement that "A universe with a god would be a completely different kind of universe from one without, and it would be a scientific difference," confirmed Owen Gingerich's observation that "Richard Dawkins single handedly makes more converts to ID than any of the leading ID theorists."
  • It was concluded that ID has religious implications and that science and religion should kiss and make up.

This was followed by a question and answer session at which I was invited by Mark to join him on the dais to help in answering the questions.

The second session at 2:15pm was a forum which the entire conference attended. Mark was joined on the dais by a panel consisting of Canon Frank Sheehan, Director of the Centre for Ethics at Christ Church[Anglican] Grammar School; Dr Ian Barns, Senior Lecturer in Ethics and Technology Policy at Murdoch University; and Rev Dr Peter Sellick, Senior Research Officer, Department of Physiology, University of Western Australia.

Mark spoke on the topic "Intelligent Design and whether it has a place in the classroom," and emphasised that:

  • ID is the study of patterns using ordinary observations. Available causal mechanisms were discussed. ID's role in forensics and archaeology demonstrate the scientific validity of ID. Objections to ID were addressed.
  • The main "problem" with ID was identified as the implication of an unevolved Generator Of Design (GOD).
  • It was observed that Bill Gates does not employ time, chance and necessity to generate his software.
  • As this was a conference of religious educators, some theological implications of ID and their limitations were discussed. Recent quotes from Pope Benedict XVI and Richard Dawkins demonstrated that they both agree that some science seeks to make God unnecessary.
  • The opinion was that science class is not yet the right place for ID to be taught was expressed. It will take time for the science consensus to evolve to accommodate ID.

The panelists then critiqued Mark's talk and gave their views on ID. Much of their critiques was merely media stereotypes, which indicated that they had not done their homework and studied ID's primary literature. However, Dr Barns, a sociologist of science, left open the possibility that ID might turn out to be true, saying that if ID did prove its case the impact on science and society would be "momentous"!

I also spoke from the floor in answer to a question, that the ID movement was not trying to force ID to be taught in schools, and that in the Dover trial a school board of Young-Earth Creationists who had no previous connection with the ID movement (indeed the judge found board members to have a "striking ignorance concerning the concept of ID ... utterly no grasp of ID"), mandated (over some parents' and teachers' objections) that a statement about ID be read at the start of a science class, which was against the policy of the ID movement.

I pointed out that the judge's ruling that ID was not science was merely a legal definition, which is evident in that Australia's Constitution has almost identical wording to the USA Constitution's Establishment Clause and yet there is no history of Australian courts enforcing such an extreme separation of Church and State. As Michael Behe pointed out after the judge's decision:

"... the realities of biology ... are not amenable to adjudication. On the day after the judge's opinion, December 21, 2005, as before, the cell is run by amazingly complex, functional machinery that in any other context would immediately be recognized as designed. On December 21, 2005, as before, there are no non-design explanations for the molecular machinery of life, only wishful speculations and Just-So stories." (Behe, M.J., "Whether Intelligent Design is Science: A Response to the Opinion of the Court in Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District," Center for Science & Culture, Discovery Institute, Seattle WA, 2006).

Although the three panelists were, as expected, to varying degrees opposed to ID, the audience of religious educators seemed more positive, and a number came up afterwards to Mark, Judy and myself, expressing interest and support for ID, and some asked for extra copies of the DVD.

Overall, I felt the presentation went very well, and since this was a national conference with delegates from other states of Australia taking their impressions and DVDs back to their schools, it represented an important step forward for ID in Australia.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).

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