- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

SYDNEY, Australia — The U.S. debate over the teaching of “intelligent design” has reached around the world to Australia, where the concept has gotten a foothold despite a highly secular population, one in 10 of which goes regularly to church.

The spat began in August when Education Minister Brendan Nelson, a physician, said at the National Press Club in Canberra that he had no objection to parochial schools introducing the subject into philosophy or religious studies classes.

“Do I think that parents in schools should have the opportunity, if they wish to, for students also to be exposed to [intelligent design] and to be taught about it? Yes, I think that’s fine,” said Mr. Nelson, a self-described Christian.

In a nation where professional sports seems to evoke deeper emotions that religion, few paid heed at first. But then, scientists and teachers jumped in, with about 70,000 of them attaching their names to an open letter repudiating any teaching of the subject.

“We urge all Australian governments and educators not to permit the teaching or promulgation of intelligent design as science,” they wrote.

“To do so, would make a mockery of Australian science teaching and throw open the door of science classes to similarly unscientific views, be they astrology, spoon-bending, flat-Earth cosmology or alien abductions.”

The teaching of intelligent design has been restricted to private church-based schools, which have been taking on increased responsibility under deregulation policies put forward by conservative Prime Minister John Howard, said Carole Cusack, head of the department of religion at the University of Sydney.

The schools have been showing students a DVD titled “Unlocking the Mystery of Life,” which argues that the complexity of life cannot be merely the result of the random selection described by Charles Darwin. As a result, the video concludes, an intelligent being must be involved.

That is alarming to Bradley Smith, executive director of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, which represents 60,000 scientists.

“There is a small but growing group of fundamentalist Christians who are gaining a political base and whose votes are valued by the government,” Mr. Smith said.

“Frighteningly enough, we also know of a school in New South Wales called Pacific Hills which teaches [intelligent design] as a part of the science curriculum.”

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