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Intelligent design debate hits Aussie news stands

And the Pennsylvania trial continues

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The argument about whether or not the so-called "intelligent design theory" (ID) of evolution should be taught in schools has spilled out of the Pennsylvania courtroom and into the Australian media.

Australian federal education minister Dr. Brendan Nelson yesterday restated his view that he has no problem with ID being taught in Australia's schools, while more than 70,000 Australian scientists endorsed an open letter condemning ID as "unscientific", and calling on schools to ban it from their classrooms.

Dr. Nelson has not gone so far as to suggest ID has a place in science classes, but some independent school in the country have already begun teaching it as an alternative to evolution.

Intelligent design holds that life is too complex to have arisen without some unnamed intelligent creator somehow guiding its evolution. Supporters point to gaps in the fossil record and aspects of evolution not yet fully explained by researchers as proof that an intelligent agent must have been involved.

However, scientists argue that ID fails the most basic test of whether or not something should be considered a scientific theory.

According to evidence given this week in the Pennsylvania ID trial, the US National Academies of Science (NAS) define a theory as: "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses."

The trial was brought by a group of parents who argue that their local school board's decision to allow ID to be taught in science classes is an attempt to introduce creationism into the curriculum.

A key witness for the defence (the pro-intelligent design camp) conceded this week that ID does not meet the criteria, New Scientist reports.

Instead, Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, proposed a definition of theory that he had to admit was so broad, it would include astrology. Under cross examination, he also conceded that his definition of a theory was almost identical to the NAS' definition of a hypothesis.

ID's lack of scientific credibility is central to the argument put forward by Australia's scientists. In their open letter, they say that the core of the intelligent design argument relies on a belief in a supernatural entity of some form. This, they say, cannot be observed, tested validated or falsified.

Australia's News.com quotes the letter as saying: "They are free to believe or profess whatever they like. But 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 science: that is a theological or philosophical notion." ®

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