Ben Stein's documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, opened this weekend nationwide.
I have not seen it, but supposedly one of its central complaints is that that "intelligent design" is not allowed in America's public schools and institutions of higher education. This, he alleges, is censorship, injustice, oppression.
This seems to me a clear case of whining about nothing. Let me explain why. [Here I will be ignoring his allegation, which I see as a separate matter, that a pro-ID professor was denied tenure because of his religious views.]
ID is simply a version of the traditional "argument from design." This is the familiar watchmaker analogy, which says that just as a watch found on a beach would be evidence that there once was a watchmaker who designed it (watches don't grow on trees after all), so order in nature is evidence that there must be a supernatural intelligence that designed it. An early version of this argument is the fifth of Thomas Aquinas' "five ways" of proving the existence of God (you can find it here if you scroll down the page).
The only thing ID adds to this ancient tradition consists in simply applying the argument from design to specific issues in evolutionary theory. The Cambrian explosion of new species happened too fast (about 80 million years in one account) to be explained by natural selection, therefore a supernatural intelligence brought it about. Or some specific organ or organelle (such as the "motor" that drives the flagellum -- hat tip to Nat Hunt here) could not have evolved from an earlier, simpler structure that itself had some adaptive function that could have been selected for.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with trying to show that Darwinian mechanisms cannot explain various forms of natural order. Scientists have been discussing issues like these since Darwin's book was first published. This is just the sort of thing that scientists do.
But of course this is only half of what the IDer is talking about. The critics of ID point out that the rest of these arguments -- the supernaturalist conclusions -- transform the whole argument into non-science. It's just "religion masquerading as science." That explains why it isn't found in forums like public schools or secular universities.
These critics are right about one thing: these arguments are indeed not scientific in nature, because they deal with an Entity that is radically different from those with which science deals. But they are wrong about the other two points. These arguments are not merely religious and they are found in these forums. They are philosophical arguments. They are discussed in philosophy departments, where they belong. I myself have taught the classic argument from design a number of times. Of course, that is not quite the same thing as ID, which tends to focus on gritty micro-issues. But I'm sure my colleague Eliott Sober discusses such micro-arguments in his courses on the philosophy of biology all the time.
Given that fact, one has to wonder what Ben is whining about. Why should he and his comrades want to move this discussion from the philosophy department to the department of botany? What on Earth is the point? I suspect the only possible answer is what I call "epistemic hitchhiking". They want a ride on the science choo-choo without paying for a ticket to knowledge-town. They don't want to admit that they are just philosophizing. They want to be seen as doing science.
But they just don't qualify. Sorry Ben. Get a life.