Casual observers of the Dover, PA Intelligent Design controversy, which has occupied the op/ed pages of our local newspapers for some months now, may be forgiven for thinking that the conflict is one between science and creationism (i.e. religion).
This is the way that the controversy has been framed by adversaries on both sides, and both sides are wrong. Here's why:
1] The debate is not between science and religion. It's between two disparate ways of explaining or interpreting scientific data. The findings of scientists are not in question. What's in question is the philosophical framework upon which those findings are hung.
Darwinians argue that the data are best interpreted in terms of purposeless, unguided physical processes. ID proponents say that whatever role physical processes may have played in the development of life they are inadequate by themselves to account for biological information. Information, as far as we've been able to ascertain, is the product of minds. The debate is thus a philosophical debate about whether the evidence suggests that purposeful intelligence should be included as one of the congeries of factors responsible for the apparent design of biological structures, or not.
Thus claims like the following from a group of biologists at the University of Pennsylvania, writing to the Dover, PA school board to urge that they change their minds about introducing ID into the curriculum, are really irrelevant:
It doesn't matter, however, how much evidence there is for evolution, that evidence doesn't begin to address the question at issue, which is whether life could have emerged as it has apart from intelligent input.
2] ID is accused of not being scientific because it can't be tested and therefore has no legitimate place in a science classroom. Scientific theories are capable of being refuted, at least in principle, and, objectors assert, there is no imaginable way that the claim that biological structures are the product of an intelligent mind can be refuted.
In the strict sense this is no doubt true, but what needs to be mentioned is that Darwinism falls victim to the same flaw. There is no test which would confirm or deny that blind forces and random chance can produce complex biological structures.
Any experiment conducted by a scientist that seeks to show that bio-machines and processes either could, or could not, have arisen apart from intelligent input is ipso facto inconclusive. The very fact that the experiment is set up, conducted, and monitored by an intelligent agent renders it so. This is not to say that there aren't ways to test both theories, it is only to say that neither can be falsified.
This, parenthetically, is ironic in light of claims by ID opponents that ID has been shown to be false. Indeed, to believe that ID has been refuted is to tacitly admit that it meets the falsifiability criterion of good science. For a Darwinian to argue that ID has been falsified when his own view is not capable of being falsified is to inadvertently acknowledge that ID is scientific (even if wrong) and that Darwinism is not.
ID proponents, of course, do not allege that mutation and natural selection aren't scientific mechanisms. What they say is that the claim that these processes act solely by themselves apart from any telic input can't be tested. The insistence that that claim is nevertheless true is an expression of a metaphysical preference that Darwinians want to be free to promote in public schools without having to tolerate competition from any contrary view.
Neither of the two competing views are science in the strict sense, but they are legitimate hypotheses in the philosophy of science. As such there is no reason why they can't both be discussed in an appropriate science class, just as it is proper to address many other matters from the philosophy of science in certain science classes (e.g. the definition of science, the nature of the scientific method, the assumptions of uniformity, sufficient cause, parsimony, other universes, etc.). To allow one to masquerade as science while banishing the other as religion is as unfair to students as it is to truth.