With some courts deciding that ID cannot be taught in public schools, a gross misconception has been absorbed by the public. The courts have not determined that ID is wrong. Our courts do not adjudicate the truthfulness or falseness of theories, be they scientific, philosophic or theologic. What has been decided is that, correct or incorrect, true or false, teaching ID as a purely scientific theory is unconstitutional. The debate over the validity of ID is still very much alive.
For clarity, we'd best define the claims of ID. The soft version of ID avers that the hand of a designer can be seen in the complexity of life and in the laws of nature that are so perfect for nurturing it.
The more strict version of ID claims that there are processes active in our lives woven of such intricately interlocking steps that they could not have evolved sequentially. They must have been fabricated as a unit by an intelligent designer since the elimination of any one step would render the entire process ineffective and possibly deadly.
Irreducibly complex is the term applied to such processes. The clotting of blood is a classic example brought by ID'ers. However, as with most of these procedures, examples can be found in nature where only part of the weave is present and still the function is effective. For example, dolphins' blood clots even though dolphins lack one of the factors active in human blood clotting (Robinson et al, Science 166 : 1420, 1969; Davidson et al , J. of Thrombosis and Heamostasis 1 , 1487, 2003).
Apparently blood clotting as found in humans is not irreducibly complex. Dolphins have reduced the complexity.
The soft version of ID is more robust.
The complexity of life and the beautifully balanced laws of nature that allow for such variety to flourish call out for an explanation of their origins. And by demanding an explanation, ID has performed a great service. Aspects of existence that had been taken for granted by the populace are now being seen as wonders. Scientific discoveries of the past hundred years have explained the mechanisms behind many of these wonders of nature. But the explanation in no way diminishes the marvel of their and our existence. Science has filled in many of the gaps formerly explained by 'the God of the gaps.' But those scientifically discovered bridges, more often than not, lead to more marvel and mystery.
Though ID cannot be taught in public schools, the wonders of the world can and should be taught. Unfortunately, these wonders are often ignored.
Let's start at the beginning of the evolutionary process. We would do well to ponder in our schools the puzzle of why there is existence. We just take the fact of existence for granted. But think about it. Why is there anything, why is there a universe within which life may or may not have evolved, developed, rather than nothing? Why was there a big bang, a creation of the universe?
With that conundrum in place, we can address the next stage. Just what did the big bang produce? We know science thinks it was the beginning of time and space. But what about matter? The answer to that is considerably more enlightening, literally.
The big bang did not produce matter as we know it, not any of the 92 elements such as carbon and oxygen, and not the protons, neutrons or electrons that would eventually combine to make the 92 elements. The only material product of the big bang was exquisitely intense energy, something akin to super powerful light beams. Over eons of time, thanks to a transition discovered by Albert Einstein (that famous equation E = mc2 ), those light beams changed form, metamorphosed, and became solid matter and finally life itself.
Now that is a cause for wonder. It is science that discovered this reality, so we can teach it in the classroom. Light beams became alive, and not only became alive, but learned to feel joy, love, and self awareness. Of that fact there is no debate in science.
To elucidate the awesome and humbling implications of this incredible transition, consider the following, better understood, transition. In one hand I hold a clear glass jar containing oxygen gas. In my other hand I hold a jar of hydrogen gas.
I study the chemistry of these two gases and discover that under the correct conditions, they can combine to make water, H2O. Water looks nothing like oxygen and hydrogen, but it is. In parallel, we humans and all the matter we see about us may not look like light beams, but we are. We are made of the energy, the light beams, of the big bang creation, and no scientist will argue against this. It's not new age flaky talk, or guru wishing. It's established scientific reality. We are the condensed energy of the big bang creation. We witnessed that creation.
Our cosmic genesis began billions of years ago, first as beams of energy, then as parts of stars and the star dust of supernovae, then as the rocks and water and a few simple molecules on the surface of the earth, which in a geological blink of the eye became alive. We were not just observers to this fantastic flow toward life—we were part of it! And unlike the formerly accepted catechism that billions of years passed between the formation of the earth and the origin of life on earth, billions of years during which random reactions in fertile pools of water brimming with energy might have allowed life to evolve, the discoveries of Elso Barghoorn of Harvard University demonstrated that the oldest rocks that can bear fossils already have fossils of microbes, some caught in the act of mitosis. Life was invented in a snap.
We have been intimately within this magnificent universe since its inception. That is a fact worth pondering.
The wonder of life doesn't start with how a fish may or may not have become a frog. The wonder of life starts long before that, with the forming of a finely tuned stage on which life might play out its role.
The error of ID is that it limits the way a metaphysical reality, call it God, might interact with the physical. All our thoughts are couched within the box of the physical aspects of time space matter. There is no way we can think outside that box. The greatest of poets, philosophers, scientists all face this same limitation. How the metaphysical might or might not interact with the physical universe is not limited to the mechanisms we can conceive from within the box of our existence. Let's not confine God's power to what we can imagine.
The great value of the ID controversy is that it has forced upon the public an awareness of the magnificent wonder of life. The National Academy of Sciences recently referred to evolution as the best theory to explain how life developed. Since it is a theory, it would be best taught as such and not, as is so often the case, presented in the classroom as if it were a proven fact.
Teach evolution? No problem, just give all the facts. Including those for which there are no facile explanations. These might include discussions as to why there is existence rather than nothing at all, or, how could life filled with consciousness and the ability to feel love, joy, wonder arise from non-lining matter and even more alarmingly from the energy of the big bang creation. The basic problem in teaching evolution is that we get so involved with the minutiae, how a fish may or may not have become a frog, that we neglect the really crucial questions. Students aren't dumb. When all the facts are given, especially those for which there are no facile explanations, the students, and perhaps even teachers, will ask the questions for which there are no facile answers.