There is an anti-intelligent design petition going wild in academic science circles -- I got e-mailed two copies of links to it within a couple of minutes. The text of the statement is actually fairly interesting:
We, as scientists trained in fields that utilize evolutionary theory, do not consider Intelligent Design to be a fact-based science appropriate for teaching in public schools because it is theistic in nature, not empirical, and therefore does not pass the rigors of scientific hypothesis testing and theory development. As such, we petition that Intelligent Design not be presented in public schools as a viable science within the scientific curriculum.
There are three things I think are interesting about this. First, it refers to intelligent design as being "theistic in nature, not empirical," as if the two must necessarily be mutually exclusive. Now, granted, many people believe that empirical science can have nothing to say about God, but it seems rather difficult to empirically prove that statement, so such a statement is going beyond "empirical" science.
Second, it makes an interesting thought experiment to ask, "What if there were a great deal of empirical evidence that intelligent design might be right?" According to this statement, it looks as if it should necessarily still be excluded from being taught in schools, since, according to the statement, it is theistic in nature, not empirical. I guess this also means any empirical evidence that might ever exist in favor of intelligent design actually isn't empirical. Let me put that another way: Whoever wrote the statement has defined "theistic" and "empirical" as two mutually exclusive categories. Anything that concerns God isn't empirical, and anything empirical must not have anything to do with God. Note that this statement is unproven.
Finally, I find it interesting that the statement is designed (see the site above) as a response to the Discovery Institute's collection of signatures on a statement reading the following:
We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.
Why is it interesting? Well, the Discovery Institute doesn't even suggest teaching Intelligent Design in schools. See, for example, this question and answer in their FAQ's:
3. Should public schools require the teaching of intelligent design?
No. Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute recommends that states and school districts focus on teaching students more about evolutionary theory, including telling them about some of the theory's problems that have been discussed in peer-reviewed science journals. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned. We believe this is a common-sense approach that will benefit students, teachers, and parents.
Well, make of it what you will. Some 5,000+ scientists have already signed the anti-Intelligent Design petition as I write this. It seems to me at least a little troubling that so many scientists are willing to state that theistic statements are inherently not empirical. I would have a lot less of a problem with the statement if the phrase in question read, "because it is not empirical, and therefore does not pass the rigors of scientific hypothesis testing." But to add, "it is theistic, not empirical" means that their objection isn't chiefly whether it's empirical or not, but that it's theistic. And that is alarming.
I'll be interested in your comments.