Intelligent Design

ID Slammed in Aussie Media

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From a contact in Australia:

Last night on TV and today in all newspapers ID was derided as “not science.” See below the transcript of our ABC National Broadcaster’s treatment of ID in the program “Catalyst” last night:\cayalyst. It is followed by a specially timed letter for all Australian Newspapers today proclaiming “It’s not Science”


Paul Willis, reporter: As a palaeontologist I’ve spent most of my life looking at evidence of evolution. Now there’s a new kid on the block. It’s a theory that says Darwin got it wrong. In which case, I got all this stuff wrong. It’s called Intelligent Design. The President of the United States thinks it ought to be taught in schools. And, here in Australia, the Federal Minister for Science and Education has given it his qualified approval.

Brendan Nelson: If schools also want to present students with Intelligent Design, I don’t have any difficulty with that.

Paul Willis: Scientists across the country are outraged. So what’s all the fuss about Intelligent Design? Intelligent Design or ID, is being put forward as a serious scientific theory. It’s even found it’s way into some high schools. This is the Pacific Hills Christian School in New South Wales. It’s the first school in Australia to announce that it’s going to teach Intelligent Design in its’ science rooms. Let’s go and have a look This is a year ten science class and the students are being taught Intelligent Design alongside evolutionary theory.

Teacher to class: Evolution. Intelligent Design. We need to give a good treatment of each of those ideas so that we can weigh them up fairly.

Paul Willis: Ted Boyce is the Principal and he has no problem with Intelligent Design in his science classes.

Ted Boyce: We believe that our students need to know what different theories there are available for them to understand so that they can then make up their own minds what they believe and why they believe it.

Paul Willis: Put simply, Intelligent Design says that there are some things in nature that are so complex they couldn’t have evolved gradually. Therefore they must have been designed by an intelligent designer. One of the originators of ID is this man, Prof Michael Behe, a molecular biologist at Lehigh university in Ohio.

Prof. Michael Behe: The theory of evolution is widely accepted amongst the scientific community but it turns out that there really are huge holes in the theory and we’re trying to probe those holes and see what they imply.

Paul Willis: A favourite example of a complex structure in nature is the flagellum of bacteria.

Prof. Michael Behe: It’s got pieces that act as the propeller of the outboard motor. There’s a drive shaft, there are bushing materials to allow the drive shaft to poke up through bacterial membrane. And it’s got dozens of different very complex parts.

Paul Willis: Behe argues that all these parts must be present and functioning together; a simpler flagellum with less parts would not work. It’s concept called Irreducible Complexity.

Paul Willis: Behe uses the mousetrap as an example of irreducible complexity. It’s made up of a number of individual components and if one of them is missing, you don’t have a mousetrap that works a little bit, you don’t have a mousetrap at all.

Prof. Michael Behe: It’s very hard to see how something like a mousetrap could be put together by the tiny steps that Darwin envisioned with each step being better than the last.

Paul Willis: So irreducibly complex structures in nature indicate that something other than evolution is going on. Behe argues they are the signature of an Intelligent Designer.

Paul Willis: It sounds eminently plausible but just how good an argument is irreducible complexity and is it really the equal of evolutionary theory? Professor Mike Archer is my former PhD supervisor and now he’s Dean of Science at the University of New South Wales.

Prof. Mike Archer: I’ve looked at the evidence that Michael Behe has put forward for his irreducible complexity. It’s a very interesting concept. The failure of that kind of thinking is that there is no such thing really as irreducible complexity.

Paul Willis: So what about that bacterial flagellum?

Prof. Mike Archer: What we know for example is that it doesn’t require as he claims 40 unique proteins to make this whole thing work there are many other kinds of bacteria out there that have flagella and they have far fewer than that. So it’s already reducible.

Paul Willis: Intelligent Design thinks it is so good at explaining complex structures, it claims to explain the origin of life itself. According to ID, even the simplest cell is so complex, it must have been designed from scratch.

But Professor Paul Davies at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology disagrees.

Prof. Paul Davies: We may never have all the details but I’m sure that there is a physical pathway leading from a mixture of mindless molecules to something as wonderful as a simple living cell. I don’t know what that pathway is. I don’t believe anyone else does at this stage but that doesn’t mean it was a miracle just because this is a big gap in our understanding.

Paul Willis: While the scientists can argue out the details, let’s cut to the chase.

Is Intelligent Design Science?

This DVD is the main promotional tool for Intelligent Design in Australia.

To most people it looks like cutting edge science.

There’s lots of people in white coats, an authoritative narrator, and very spiffy graphics.

But is it really science?

Rachel Ankeny at University of Sydney specialises in the Philosophy of Science

Paul Willis, reporter: Is there a simple working definition for what science is?

Rachel Ankeny: Basically there’s two working ideas. One would be science is what scientists say it is. The second would be that science involves testable hypotheses.

Paul Willis, reporter: Can you say that evolution is testable science?

Rachel Ankeny: Sure. Many of the parts or hypotheses or parts that make up evolution are testable. All of those things help to support evolution by natural selection.

Paul Willis: So patterns found in nature are tests of the theory that life has evolved.

But can Intelligent Design be tested?

Rachel Ankeny: Intelligent design isn’t testable in the way that we normally think about scientific hypothesis being testable. They don’t provide the details by which that design happened because they couldn’t. They couldn’t possibly show us the designer

Paul Willis: Intelligent Design has been rejected by all scientific institutions, academies and societies around the world.

It’s simply not science.

And the ‘claimed’ scientific clout behind Intelligent Design is very small.

Prof. Michael Behe: There are not that many people who are actively involved in it. Probably, oh maybe a handful you know, five to ten, something like that.

Paul Willis: And this handful of scientists have a good idea just who the Intelligent Designer is.

Paul Willis, reporter: So who or what is the intelligent designer?

Prof. Michael Behe: Well that is a good question I am happy to think the designer is God.

Paul Willis: It’s not surprising that the DVDs, books and other promotional material supporting ID are produced and distributed, not by scientific organisations, but by fundamentalist Christian groups.

Michael Behe is a Research Fellow of The Discovery Institute, a right wing think tank based in Seattle.

In the late 1990’s the Discovery Institute produced a revealing document.

Paul Willis, reporter: This is known as the Wedge Document. It outlines a strategy to over throw science. Why is it called the wedge?

(Reads) “Our strategy is intended to function as a “wedge” that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points.”

Paul Willis, reporter: And what do they intend to use as a wedge?

(Reads) “Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

Paul Willis: Having created a debate, the Discovery Institute want that controversy taught in schools.

They call it “teaching the choice”.

Brendan Nelson: It’s about choice, reasonable choice.

Paul Willis: It looks like the strategy is working.

Now Australian scientists are fighting back.

They’re producing an open letter that unequivocally states Intelligent Design is not science and must not be taught in science classrooms.

Prof. Mike Archer: If you open up the door to that then why not open up the science class door to creation science, to fork bending, to flat earth. Why just teach astronomy? Let’s teach astrology. All of these things would have equal right to claim time in the science classroom. What would bother me is even if you just give each of these sort of slightly cute and you know fun but a bit nutsy zones there’s simply going to be no time left for teaching real science. That’s the worry I have.

Paul Willis: The open letter, signed by a host of Australian scientists and science educators, will appear in national newspapers tomorrow.

For the scientists, the case is closed. But what do you think?

Story Contacts

Ted Boyce


Pacific Hills Christian School

Professor Michael Behe

Molecular Biologist

Lehigh University


Professor Michael Archer

Dean of Science

University of New South Wales

Professor Paul Davies


Australian Centre for Astrobiology

Rachel Ankeny


Sydney University

Intelligent design makes mockery of science teaching Australian Newspaper Letters section 21 October 2005

AS Australian scientists and science educators, we are gravely concerned that so-called “intelligent design” might be taught in any school as a valid scientific alternative to evolution. While science is a work in progress, a vast and growing body of factual knowledge supports the hypothesis that biological complexity is the result of natural processes of evolution.

Proponents of ID assert that some living structures are so complex that they are explicable only by the agency of an imagined and unspecified “intelligent designer”. They are free to believe and 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 any science: that is a theological or philosophical notion.

For a theory to be considered scientific it must be testable – either directly or indirectly – by experiment or observation. The results of such tests should be able to be reproduced by others as a check on their accuracy (and, importantly, if repeated testing falsifies the theory it should be rejected rather than taught as part of the accumulating body of scientific understanding). Finally, a scientific theory should explain more than what is already known: it should be able to predict outcomes in novel situations. Evolution meets all of these criteria but ID meets none of them: it is not science.

We therefore urge all Australian governments and educators not to permit the teaching or promulgation of ID as science. To do so would make a mockery of Australian science teaching and throw open the door of science classes to similarly unscientific world views – be they astrology, spoon-bending, flat-earth cosmology or alien abductions – and crowd out the teaching of real science.

Mike Archer

Dean of Science, University of NSW

Bradley Smith

Executive director,

Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies

Sue Serjeantson

Executive secretary,

Australian Academy of Science, Canberra

Paul Carnemolla


Australian Science Teachers Association (The signatories head organisations representing about 70,000 Australians who work in science and science teaching)

7 Replies to “ID Slammed in Aussie Media

  1. 1
    Bombadill says:

    “Prof. Mike Archer: What we know for example is that it doesn’t require as he claims 40 unique proteins to make this whole thing work there are many other kinds of bacteria out there that have flagella and they have far fewer than that. So it’s already reducible.”

    ummmm… did he really say that? Did I really just read that? With intellectual dynamos like this criticizing ID, ID will surely triumph.

  2. 2

    I comment on a few simplifications of the flagellum in chapter 5 of my book No Free Lunch. Suffice it to say that the simplifications are minor (e.g., reducing the number of disks to mount the flagellum on the cell membrane). The other side still has a lot of explaining to do. –WmAD

  3. 3
    Bombadill says:

    Somewhat related, I was just reading your treatment here:
    because of some claims I recently read regarding the TTSS.

    I found this to be a particularly powerful point:

    “Accordingly, the TTSS may be thought of as a possible subsystem of the flagellum that performs a function distinct from the flagellum. Nevertheless, finding a subsystem of a functional system that performs some other function is hardly an argument for the original system evolving from that other system. One might just as well say that because the motor of a motorcycle can be used as a blender, therefore the motor evolved into the motorcycle. Perhaps, but not without intelligent design. Indeed, multipart, tightly integrated functional systems almost invariably contain multipart subsystems that serve some different function.”

  4. 4
    jimbo says:

    The whole “simpler flagella exist in other bacteria” is a red herring argument if I ever heard one. The point is not whether or not there is a theoretically simpler way to make a flagellum; it’s whether or not a specific flagellum can retain function with missing parts. My Toyota is a simpler car than my neighbor’s Mercedes, but neither will work if you remove the ignition cables.

  5. 5
    dodgingcars says:

    Interesting how they let ID opponents respond the Behe, but they don’t let Behe respond back. No rebuttals? What are they afraid of? I think they’re afraid that Behe has a valid rebuttal…

    Did anyone see the ID v Evolution on CBS’s Sunday Morning this last Sunday (a show I love). ID didn’t get much of fair treatment there either. For one, they were interviewing some YEC who is building a museum that shows that Dinosaurs and humans lived side-by-side together… This guy was a Biblical, Young-Earth, creationist. Why was he on a show about ID? They also did the same thing as they did here — they didn’t let ID respond to the criticism.

  6. 6
    Mike Evans says:

    Paul Willis is not only a journalist for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), and a paleaontologist, he was also Australian Skeptic of the Year a few years ago. He will push his faith in evolutionary dogma wherever Australia’s unwitting taxpayers will allow him. Ironically, I think it may have been in this same year that Paul and Dr. Carl Weiland of Answers in Genesis had a public debate. Paul Willis being evolution’s apologist, while Carl defended Young Earth Creationism. I am sure that the DVD of this debate is available through AiG’s website.

  7. 7
    dodgingcars says:

    I found the CBS Sunday Morning piece on ID.

    You can email Sunday Morning at: if you have any comments.

    Please try to keep email comments civil and interesting though.

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