Position statement—Creationism and intelligent design

8 March 2018

Summary of Position

“Intelligent design” and other forms of creationism should not be taught in a scientific context.

The theory of evolution has been extensively tested, and represents our best current understanding of the development of biodiversity around the globe. Intelligent design, and other forms of creationism that rely on supernatural explanations, are not scientific ideas.

Statement of Context

One of the fiercest societal debates witnessed in Europe in the second half of the 19th century was raised by the theory of evolution of species, expressed by Charles Darwin in his work On the Origin of Species (1859). By suggesting Homo sapiens arose not by special creation but by evolutionary development from simpler forms of life, and evolution was the product of rules which govern the inheritance and persistence of physical characteristics, the theory of evolution seemed to question traditional notions about divine guidance and whether Homo sapiens holds a supreme place in nature. Because the rules governing evolution were not seen as having any moral content, the theory of evolution did not acknowledge a moral component to the pattern of life.

The Academy’s Position

The value of science is in its capacity to explain and understand observable reality. The explanatory power of the theory of evolution is recognised by all biologists, and has been substantially expanded and developed since Darwin’s publication in 1859. In Australia, as in all developed countries, the theory of evolution has for many years been taught as the most powerful theory available of the origins of biodiversity and how organisms respond to ongoing environmental change.

The theory of evolution is still the subject of study and modification. This affirms that the theory is part of science. Many attempts to modify and expand the theory have been successful, showing (since Darwin's day) that genes in DNA are the basis of inheritance, that only parts of the genome are strongly influenced by natural selection (the rest evolves neutrally, through genetic drift), and so on. Many challenges to the fundamentals of the theory have failed empirical test. The theory has attracted enormous empirical testing and remains one of the most powerful of scientific ideas.

Creationist accounts of the origin of life are human cultural concepts and can have relevance in that context. However, creationism is not a scientific concept, in that it is not open to empirical test. The creationist account of the origin of life is not, therefore, appropriate to a course in the science of biology, and the claim that it is a viable scientific explanation of the diversity of life does not warrant support.

Statement of Authorisation

This position paper has been approved by the Council of the Australian Academy of Science.

Relevant links

Interacademy Partnership Statement on the Teaching of Evolution (2006)

Science, Evolution and Creationism (National Academies Press, 2008)

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