Last night Catalyst, the ABC science program, ran a piece on Intelligent Design. Presented by a palaeontologist who noted from the outset that if evolution is wrong, his life's work is also wrong, it seemed to be a fairly balanced report. I thought it gave way too much time to Michael Behe, one of ID's main apologists, without actually challenging him or his presumptions directly. This may have been because they were using footage from another provider (I doubt the ABC budget would stretch to sending a reporter to Lehigh University for a 15 minute program segment). He trotted out the "irreducible complexity" argument using the example of a bacterial flagellum. An Aussie academic was happy to point out the flaws in this argument, although the point was rather glossed over, probably due to lack of time.
Today, scientists in Australia have released an open letter entitled "It's Not Science" (see this report in today's SMH). A friend copied me in on a letter he sent to his local newspaper after watching the Catalyst report last night. In a nutshell, his argument is that scientists do science under the auspices of their internal moral compass, and without an Intelligent Designer or God -- whatever you like to call it -- where do you find the lodestone for your moral compass?
My response is that science is empirical. Whether the morality that guides your inner compass is Christian, Hindu, atheist or even Pastafarian, when you put together two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom you get water. The question of whether the joining of the atoms is random chance, or because someone glued them together with cosmic glue, is not science -- it's philosophy. It may even be called the philosophy of science. But in most universities, that's a separate course, in the philosophy department, in the Arts faculty.
The other day I had the misfortune to watch part of a TV show called "Australia's Brainiest Kid" or something like that. In one part of the show, six children had to choose a subject in turn and answer questions on that subject. As a subject was chosen, it was deleted from the board. Guess which subject was left until last (12th pick)? Science. This shows that we have enough trouble teaching science to children, even to these "brainy" kids, without introducing elements of philosophy into the science curriculum.
Teaching ID in science classes is like teaching history in maths classes, because you believe that Pythagoras' theorem can't be properly proven without an understanding of Pythagoras' stint as a priest in Egypt and the formation of his school of the mathematikoi in Croton. And any maths teacher (especially mine, poor souls) will tell you it's hard enough getting calculus through to a class full of teenagers without having to put it into a historical and philosophical context. (I'm really sorry, Mr Verhoeven.)
So I agree with 70,000 Australian scientists: it's NOT science. Teach it at home, teach it at church, teach it in philosophy or religion classes, but keep it out of the science labs.