On those rare occasions that I write a column touching remotely on science, especially if I depart from the conventional wisdom of the greater scientific community, the contemptuous e-mails fill my inbox.
Such was the case a few columns ago when I broached the subject of Intelligent Design (ID) after President Bush indicated his receptiveness to ID theory being taught alongside evolution in the public schools. The hostile e-mailers pointed out what a consummate idiot and criminal trespasser I was for treading on their real estate.
They demanded I stick to law and politics, not because I know much more about them either, but by concentrating on those subjects at least I wouldn't be encroaching on their turf, which is reserved for the gifted. OK, they didn't really say that explicitly, but I divined, via supernatural intuition, that that's precisely what they meant.
The thrust of the e-mails was that ID is not science-based but is purely a matter of faith -- Biblical creationism in disguise. It cannot be tested in a lab (can macroevolution or any historical science be reproduced in a lab?). As such, ID should only be taught in public schools, if at all, under the rubric of philosophy or religion, not science. Besides, it is just one alternative theory. If you teach it, in fairness you must teach all other competing theories.
But not all scientists agree that ID lacks a scientific foundation. In the first place, ID uses science to confute certain tenets of Darwinism. In addition, ID proponents, such as Michael Behe and William Dembski, have developed criteria for testing design inferences.
Behe contends that irreducibly complex features are better explained by design because our knowledge and reason tell us that such features can only be produced by intelligent causes -- putting the lie, by the way, to the claim that ID is just one competing theory. Thus, ID advocates argue that design inference is testable: It could be refuted if someone could empirically demonstrate that unguided natural processes could produce irreducible complexity.
Moreover, ID theory is neither faith-based, nor results-oriented. It is not a concoction of Christians who were already convinced that God created the world but needed a scientific theory around which to wrap their unscientific faith.
It is not the slave of certain preordained conclusions. It examines the evidence and follows it to its logical conclusions, even if those conclusions -- such as that ID is the most plausible explanation for life's origin -- deviate from currently accepted science orthodoxy.