If you've been following the Intelligent Design debate recently you've got plenty to read. The New Yorker
had a long and interesting piece on the Dover trial last week. The Pope went on record in favor of an "intelligent project" interpretation--unknowingly entering a predominately American debate. Our President thinks that "both sides" of the issue should be taught. U. of Kansas promoted and then withdrew a course on popular "mythologies" of life, including ID, just after their state school board stretched the rules of science to include that mythology. Cardinal Schoenborn mixed things up in a piece challenging Darwinianism. It seems to never end.
But what are we really arguing about? Well, it depends on who you ask. If you look at the Dover trial, the high-stakes challenge to the theory of an intelligent designer, you'll find two arguments that intersect in one question--Should we teach ID in public school science classrooms?
For many proponents of ID, this is precisely the wrong question to ask because the answer is no. These folks are the ones running experiments and collecting data to bolster the theory, a theory they would argue is purely scientific. Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box
and the expert witness for the defense at the Dover trial, told reporters that he doesn't think the theory should be taught in high school classrooms. Not yet, at least--it's too young and immature. The Discovery Institute in Seattle--leading the ID charge--came down against the Dover school board's actions long before the trial ever began. Reason: too much politicking in a scientific debate. I even heard Charles Townes--crazy old man that he seems to be, but nonetheless recipient of the Templeton Prize and a Nobel for co-inventing the laser--hesitating to state his appreciation for the theory because of its political nature.
The Dover case has done nothing but exacerbate that issue. In trying to wedge ID into the public school science curriculum they hijacked the rules. If you kept up with the trial, you remember the media reporting centered on the creationism of school board leaders, comments made that "someone died on a cross," and the word-for-word substitution of "Intelligent Design" for "creationism" in the textbook Of Pandas and People
. You probably didn't catch much about the impossibility of bacterial flagellum popping up through natural selection and other such supporting evidence. That's because in the popular mind the scientific question has been outstripped by the politics.
But if the trial came too soon for ID to put up a solid front, Judge John Raulston has at least allowed its supporters to play by their own rules. For months in Harrisburg he gave both sides the chance to provide expert scientific testimony and even vowed to deliver a verdict in the case despite the ousting of the entire pro-ID school board.
His decision, expected in January, will have one of three possible outcomes. First, he could rule in favor of the school board, greasing the wheel for school boards around the country to let ID in. Second, he could rule against the board on the grounds that they violated the establishment clause in the way that they acted. This would be a local solution, a warning to other schools. Finally, he might rule against the theory qua theory, deciding it is religious in nature and not to be taught as science. This would really stack the odds against schools doing anything with ID.
Let's assume he rules against the board for reason number two, the only negative decision that would leave the issue ambiguous. If a school takes the idea of "teaching the controversy" seriously, how are they to include ID in the curriculum. Well, a philosophy/worldviews class perhaps? Perhaps. But you have to remember the Michael Behes and Discovery Institutes of the world. Relegating their theory to a philosophy class would paralyze the very assumptions that support it. You would, in effect, be saying to a group of scientists, "This is not science."
Is this fair? I think so. As yet, the idea of ID is far too contentious to consider scientifically. There is very little evidence supporting it and very few scientists attempting to come up with more. While I don't think religion and science are "non-overlapping magisterium," I do think that right now, there is far too little science to balance far too much religion in this issue. Maybe the world will eventually come around to let a modern-day Galileo off the hook, but for the moment I'm sticking with Darwin.