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Royal Society President slams "intelligent design"


Lord May of Oxford, the president of the Royal Society of London, criticized "intelligent design" -- which he described as a "disguised variant" of creationism -- in the course of his fifth and final anniversary address to the Society on November 30, 2005. His address was webcast [Link broken] and also posted in PDF form on the Royal Society's website. In the published version of his address, he wrote (pp. 21-22, notes omitted):

Today, however, fundamentalist forces are again on the march, West and East. Surveying this phenomenon, Debora MacKenzie has suggested that –- in remarkably similar ways across countries and cultures -– many people are scandalised by "pluralism and tolerance of other faiths, non-traditional gender roles and sexual behaviour, reliance on human reason rather than divine revelation, and democracy, which grants power to people rather than God." She adds that in the US evangelical Christians have successfully fostered a belief that science is anti-religious, and that a balance must be restored, citing a survey which found 37% of Americans (many of them not evangelicals) wanted Creationism taught in schools. Fundamentalist Islam offers a similar threat to science according to Ziauddin Sardar, who notes that a rise in literalist religious thinking in the Islamic world in the 1990s seriously damaged science there, seeing the Koran as the font of all knowledge.

In the US, the aim of a growing network of fundamentalist foundations and lobby groups reaches well beyond "equal time" for creationism, or its disguised variant "intelligent design", in the science classroom. Rather, the ultimate aim is the overthrow of "scientific materialism", in all its manifestations. One major planning document from the movement's Discovery Institute tells us that "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist world view, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions". George Gilder, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, has indicated that this new, faith-based science will rid us of the "chimeras of popular science", which turn out to be ideas such as global warming, pollution problems, and ozone depletion.

Lord May has won a number of international awards, including the 1996 Crafoord Prize for "pioneering ecological research in theoretical analysis of the dynamics of populations, communities and ecosystems". Between 1995 and 2000 he was Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and Head of the Office of Science and Technology. He became a member of the House of Lords in 2001 and was appointed to be a member of the Order of Merit in 2002. Founded in the 1660s, the Royal Society is one of the most prestigious scientific societies in the world.