The latest flap over Intelligent Design is another wrinkle in the old struggle of Creation and Evolution, which is itself but a wrinkle in the older struggle of Religion and Science, or (even worse), Faith and Reason.
I think the whole fight is a fraud. There is no conflict between faith and reason, or religion and science, or creation and evolution. Intelligent design is one possibility of the larger metaphysic of how the universe works, which is equally compatible with creation or evolution theories.
Evolution is a theory. The part of the theory which explores how living forms develop over time by adapting to their environments is well supported by the empirical record. The theory of evolution is a scientific theory. As such, it can always be tested, but can never be proven. Scientific theories are in principle always falsifiable by new empirical evidence, and can be displaced by a more comprehensive theory.
Darwin thought that one part of the mechanism of the development of new forms was random mutation. This part of evolutionary theory is much less well established than development through environmental adaptation. Mutations happen, and new forms do appear, but random mutation does not appear to happen on the scale necessary to produce all the evolution that we appear to see. The idea that new forms appear at random, and that their appearance is not part of a design, is not a scientific idea, because it cannot be falsified. It is one theory, but only one. Random mutation is essentially a theological theory.
Natural science starts with a choice of method to only make theories about what can be observed in the material world, preferably from material processes which are or can be repeated. As a methodological convention, materialism has proven a very powerful tool. It means, though, that science simply cannot say anything, one way or the other, about whether material phenomena are the only kind which exist. Science can neither prove nor disprove the claim that materialism is the true metaphysic. Some people think that the universe is only material. That is not a scientific idea, either. Materialism is essentially a theological theory, too.
I have done surveys of Presbyterian ministers, who are among the most educated and reason-oriented of Christians. If you give them a forced choice between Creation and Evolution, naturally most of them will have to choose Creation, or deny God and the Bible. If, though, you give them a middle option – God created the world and has guided evolution – most Presbyterian ministers will choose this option.
We can and should have a debate about how to understand this middle position – theistic evolution, or adaptive creation, or what have you. But we should be clear that there are many middle positions in the creation/evolution discussion.
So why do we keep having this polarized debate? Because ideologues on both sides see the world as polarized, and they have more power in the world if other people can be made to see it as polarized, too.
Refuse the false dichotomy. Choose faith and reason, God and science, creation and evolution.