Mark Shea advises readers to have a look at Cardinal Schonborn's article in this month's First Things dealing with the question of discerning the creation through 'natural philosophy'. It's an interesting article, and I'll write more on it shortly.
However, the main thing that seems to bother Shea about the intelligent design debate is: "Fine and dandy. It is not science. And that is cause for a judge to banish it from the classroom why?"
Well, the most immediate response that occurs to me is: Because it made the strategic mistake of pretending to be science in order to get into the classroom.
Remember, the Dover trial wasn't a grand showdown of elemental principles. It was a specific question of whether a school board had violated the Supreme Court's current understanding of the separation of church and state (which, of course, is a pretty idiotic understanding) in mandating the use of a science textbook called Of Pandas And People, which (from the selections I've read, I haven't read the whole thing) appears to contain a pretty broad brush version of the scientific form of 'Intelligent Design' exemplified by the Discovery Institute.
So the reason why intelligent design (as presented in Of Pandas And People) was banished for not being science is, at the most basic level, that it made the mistake of being presented as science, and rather badly done science at that.
The problem probably has a great deal to do with the historic roots of the scientific Intelligent Design movement (as distinguished from the philosophical points that Schonborn seeks to make). It's fairly clear that the Discover Institute and scientific intelligent design were developed in the late 80s and early 90s in order to provide a replacement for "scientific creationism" which had been ruled as too religious to be taught in public schools. ID used significantly more sophisticated scientific methods (most of them wrapped in the terminology of statistics and information science) than scientific creationism, and it remained studiously silent on the nature of the designer that is posited.
However, like scientific creationism, the strongest support for ID first came from the ranks of bible Christians -- a group not known for its philosophical chops. (Dang it if getting too far into philosophy didn't tend to lead bible Christians to become Catholics or Orthodox...) So instead of recognizing that polemicists who attempt to use the evolutionary narrative or Earth's history to "disprove" the existence of God are making very, very basic philosophical mistakes, the ID movement set out to prove that evolution was scientifically mistaken, and that God's "thumb print" could found "proved" scientifically.
If we want to try to provide public school students with arguments that will make them less likely to be seduced by the arguments of "scientific" materialists like Richard Dawkins, our goal should be to attack the philosophical roots of the problem, not evolutionary science. Additionally, if we want to play in the public school sand box, we need to play by their rules. Unless the last 50 years worth of "establishment clause" jurisprudence is overturned (and I don't see that happening real soon) any text that follows a straight through-line to "and that's how we know that God exists" is not going to make it. Nor need an introduction to philosophy book necessarily be so one sided in its assertions. If we are right in our understanding of the universe and of human nature, the arguments for God will naturally win out of the arguments against. We don't need to write the conclusion, many of the students will discover it just fine by themselves.
Indeed, if there's a target out there that we should replace, it's not the science curriculum, but rather the "Critical Thinking" texts that have become popular in many sectors -- including a number of public schools. The texts that I've seen definitely have a number of things to recommend them. They provide good lessons in addressing texts critically and the construction of logical syllogisms. However, many of them are written by skeptics or "brights" and have a bias towards materialistic philosophy. As such, they also ignore most of the great philosophers throughout history, starting with Plato and Aristotle.
What I would love to see if a good book on "Thinking About the World" which tackles basics like "How do we know about the world?", "What kinds of thought do we employ in making everyday decisions?" and "What do we mean by 'good'?" It could also deal with issues like efficient versus final causality, realism vs. nominalism, essence versus accidents, etc. All of these are tools which would allow students to put assertions such as "we know that human evolved from single-celled organisms and therefore there is no God" in their place, without explicitly teaching religious conclusions to major questions. And getting students to think about these kinds of philosophical issues will not only open a whole new world of understanding to them in later life, but set them on the road that has led countless souls to God.
The Ruling of Prudence
29 minutes ago