It's difficult for many people, including people in the media, to grasp the idea that intelligent design is not a theory held solely by theists. To be sure, most of its adherents are theists of one sort or another, but there are also a number of atheists who find themselves charmed by the idea that intelligence is somehow responsible for the universe. One example is the philosopher Bradley Monton author of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. Mike Gene talks about an exchange Monton had with another atheist philosopher in which Monton says this:
...atheist-minded philosophers are unhappy with how some intelligent design opponents seem more focused on emotion and rhetoric than argument - they expect better of people (especially philosophers) who are engaging in this debate. For example, I recently got an email from a philosopher of science at a top philosophy program, which read in part:
"I'm also an atheist who thinks that the arguments for ID are far more interesting than philosophers tend to appreciate. I think it's lamentable that the climate now is such that you can't seriously discuss such things without attracting ill will from well-meaning opponents of the religious right.... Writing a book like yours is a brave thing to do and it might make the world a better place."
Gene goes on to discuss the constraints scientists are placing upon themselves in their writing and research in order to avoid giving credence to intelligent design. It's a fascinating post.
Part of the reason why, perhaps, so many think that ID is a religious hypothesis is that they don't understand what a religious claim is. To be religious a claim about reality must go beyond existential assertions about what exists ultimately and assert certain obligations toward that ultimate reality (i.e. worship, devotion, fealty, etc). In other words, the claim that God exists is a metaphysical claim as is the Darwinian claim that whether He exists or not, God is irrelevant to the diversification of life. Both of these claims have religious implications but neither of them is itself a religious assertion.
Philosopher Roy Clouser in his book The Myth of Religious Neutrality puts it differently. He says that what all religions share in common, the core that makes them "religious," is that they all hold that there is something ultimate which depends upon nothing else for its existence and upon which all else depends. According to this definition every thinking person has a religion. For most atheists the religion is materialism, the belief that matter is the self-existent primal source of all that is. For many others it's theism, the belief that the ultimately real is an intelligent, personal mind.
So, here's the point: either ID is not religious because it imposes no duties toward the Designer upon anyone, or, if Clouser's definition be accepted, it's no more religious than is its rival, materialistic Darwinism. Either way, the claim that ID doesn't belong in public school classrooms because it's religious (there may be other legitimate reasons for excluding it, though I can't think of any) is a canard that few who think about the issue in an unbiased fashion will find tenable.
Thanks to Bradford at Telic Thoughts for the links.RLC