I've returned from a research conference and another meeting, but I'll be traveling again next week.
I keep hearing talks at conferences that I find rather amazing. For example, in the areas of systems biology and biological networks, I've heard several talks about how these systems are "designed". Sometimes (as in the talk I just heard) speakers will go beyond saying that the systems "appear designed", and state that the evidence shows that they are designed. This seems scientifically well-received as long as the speakers avoid suggesting that there was actually an intelligent designer who did the designing (and perhaps instead suggest that natural selection was the designer). I find it remarkable that it is scientifically accepted to talk about design in biological systems, as long the designer is left out of the picture or assumed to be unintelligent. But many scientists vehemently oppose any suggestion of an intelligent designer.
I've heard several talks along these lines in the last year. One was by John Doyle (Caltech) and the more recent talk was Chao Tang (now at UC San Francisco). Chao Tang has done some excellent work looking at a particular biological network involved with yeast cell cycles, if I remember correctly. He has done some modeling of the network and discovered that it differs rather dramatically from random networks which could have the same function. The way he put it was that the network is designed to have a robust "superhighway" which leads the network from state to state along the biological cell cycle. If the cell ends up in a state that doesn't correspond to a state in the cell cycle (in his models), it seems able to easily find its way back to the nearest position on the cell cycle. To go back to his analogy, if one gets off the superhighway, there are lots of onramps which allow one to get back on quickly. This is a feature of designed networks, but not one of random networks.
By this, I don't mean to suggest that the majority of scientists are warming to the idea of an intelligent designer. Rather, I find it startling that so many scientists will talk about, or listen with excitement to, evidence of design in nature -- as long as there is no suggestion of an intelligent designer. The evidence of design is so compelling that many scientists find it necessary to talk about how biological systems are designed, even though the word "design" carries connotations of purpose, and natural selection is generally seen as purposeless.
I think this sheds a little light on the Intelligent Design debate. Some scientists still have a problem with even admitting that there is evidence of design in biology. But there is an increasingly large body who are willing to admit that lots of aspects of biology look designed. So the debate is more and more about whether this design is intelligent, or rather unintelligent. The interesting observation, of course, is that if it's unintelligent, it's not really design: It just appears designed, but isn't, because design involves purpose.