One argument often heard against Intelligent Design is that allowing it into science would put pressure on people to believe in God, to the detriment of faith. In its most extreme expression, one blogger said that a scientific proof of God would put our generation at an unfair advantage over all the previous generations, who did not have that proof.
Such a position rather presupposes the success of the ID programme – if its gainsayers are correct, then it is bound to fail because there is no evidence for design in nature. Let the contest begin! It also over-estimates what the design hypothesis could prove, though that’s par for the course in the torrent of hyped up criticism of ID. In truth, confirming design in nature would exclude the hypothesis of ateleology alone, leaving the way for everything from multiverse aliens to Platonic forms to replace it.
However, the idea that this would somehow load the dice by proving theism is both to overestimate the authority of science and, more importantly, to forget history. Before Darwin’s theory of 1859 paved the way for naturalism, by suggesting a plausible but unproven mechanism of illusory design, design was axiomatic not only within the scientific community, but throughout the human race. For most of the latter it still is.
For science, however, there has been a brief historical hiccup during which the intellectual world managed to sustain an aberrant, and finally unsustainable, belief in purposelessness. Philosophy began to free itself from materialism in the second half of the last century. Sociology soon started to follow. Theology, in its academic guise, actually seems to be lagging behind, though on the ground the scholarly attempts to accommodate faith to secularism are now less relevant than ever to the common man, despite the damage they have done.
Phlogiston theory took chemistry off course for a comparable period of time, but the world survived. The return to accepting that our world is designed would simply be a long-overdue redressing of the balance. And it wouldn’t make the world more religious, either. Lack of proof for the existence of God hasn’t been mankind’s problem down the millennia.
The problem has been the need for salvation.