I am concerned by reports that education minister Andrew Adonis is considering changes to the rules which would permit "Intelligent Design" (ID) to be described in school philosophy and religious education lessons.
There is, fortunately, no suggestion that ID could be covered as part of biology or any other part of the science curriculum.
My initial reaction when I first read about the idea of ID was that here you have a philosophical and religious position masquerading as a scientific one. My objection to including it in science teaching is that scientific ideas should be subject to objective testing, verification and should be capable of being falsified if they are contrary to the facts, as Karl Popper described in his masterpiece "The logic of Scientific Discovery." Since I cannot see any way of conclusively falsifying the idea of "Intelligent Design" I cannot see how it belongs in a science class.
On further reflection, I am not yet convinced that the proponents of ID have demonstrated that it belongs in an RE or philosophy class either. Honest philosophy, and honest religion, both begin with an open-minded quest for truth. It does not begin by first establishing your starting position and then looking around to make the facts fit that position. And I fear that is exactly what those who promote ID appear to be doing.
We often want to ask people to provide evidence to support what they are telling us. A potential buyer is entitled to ask those who want to sell to him to demonstrate that their product is safe and fit for purpose. Our legal system is built on the principle that the defence is entitled to ask the prosecution to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt. And those who want to justify some course of action, be it the expenditure of public money or the passage of a new law, may reasonably be asked for some evidence that what they propose will bring benefits.
However, in any area other than mathematics or abstract logic, absolute proof is a very difficult thing to obtain.
In science, conclusive proof of any theory which claimed to have universal application, and particularly of any negative statement, is not usually possible. Disproof of such a theory or statement, however, is possible whenever we can find a single example where it doesn't work. So science proceeds by testing hypotheses which are capable of being disproved, and discarding or amending those which are. "God did it" falls at the first hurdle.
There are some circumstances where it is justified for the proponent or opponent of a course of action to say "The other side must prove their case or I must be assumed to be right." I have already mentioned that our legal system, presuming that the accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, is one: under the precautionary principle, we accept that if taking, or failing to take, a course of action may do serious and irreparable harm, the burden of proof may rest with those who wish to risk that harm.
However, there are other circumstances where demanding that your opponent prove his or her case amounts to intellectual bullying and neither those who are genuinely convinced that they are right, nor those who are engaged in an open-minded search for truth, should need to do so.
Science can tell us the facts about how the material universe works, and will do so best without anyone trying to pull it to favour one side, whichever side that is.
Religion has something to say to us about right and wrong, and I believe that it has something to say to us about why this world exists, how to treat one another, and what may come after this universe.
Looking for evidence to support your views about religion, rather than looking for the facts, does not sit well with science or religion. (And this is true for atheists as well as believers.)
Science and religion do not have to conflict. Indeed, many if not most of the greatest advances in science were made by religious believers - but they were the kind of believers who saw no contradiction between their faith and the need to look open-mindedly and honestly at the facts.
I shall finish this post with two quotes: one from an unbeliever which many of his fellow unbelievers would do well to remember, and one from Jesus which many Christians would also do well to ponder.
"My own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."
"They asked ... 'Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar?'
.. He said 'Show me the money for the tax.'
They brought him a coin, and he asked 'Whose likeness and inscription is this?'
They answered 'Caesars's.'
Then he said 'Render undo Caesar those things which belong to Caesar, and unto God those things which belong to God.'"
(From Matthew, chapter 22, vs 17-22.)
If there is a God, there is no doubt in my mind that He expects us to recognise the different intellectual spheres of science and religion in exactly the same way that Jesus told us to respect the different authority of church and state.