Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins thinks they just might be, and she finds unorthodox support for that idea among both athletes and scientists, one of them my esteemed friend Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz. Her column is an extraordinary contribution to the debate over ID because, first of all, it firmly disentangles ID and creationism, which ID's opponents conflate for ideological-warfare reasons -- a trap that even ID's smartest proponents have fallen into by consorting with young-earth creationists (as Rick Heller of Transparent Eye and Centerfield pointed out in the comments -- I've updated this bit to acknowledge that he's right).
First, let's get rid of the idea that ID (intelligent design) is a form of sly creationism. It isn't. ID is unfairly confused with the movement to teach creationism in public schools. The most serious ID proponents are complexity theorists, legitimate scientists among them, who believe that strict Darwinism and especially neo-Darwinism (the notion that all of our qualities are the product of random mutation) is inadequate to explain the high level of organization at work in the world. . . . [Y]ou don't have to be a creationist to think there might be something to it . . .
And then, Jenkins quotes people like Jeff Schwartz who don't have a simplistic, extrinsic, anthropomorphic conception of the designing intelligence -- and who are, at long last, escaping the trap of outmoded language that makes it sound as if they do:
Athletes often talk of feeling an absolute fulfillment of purpose, of something powerful moving through them or in them that is not just the result of training. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, a neuroscientist and research professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, is a believer in ID, or as he prefers to call it, "intrinsic intelligence." Schwartz wants to launch a study of NASCAR drivers, to better understand their extraordinary focus. . . .
Schwartz theorizes that when a great athlete focuses, he or she may be "making a connection with something deep within nature itself, which lends itself to deepening our intelligence." It's fascinating thought. And Schwartz would like to prove it's scientifically justifiable. . . .
"Deep within the complexities of molecular organization lies an intrinsic intelligence that accounts for that deep organization, and is something that we can connect with through the willful focus of our minds," he theorizes.
"An intrinsic intelligence" . . . "deep within nature itself." Not supernatural, in other words, but profoundly intra- or ultranatural, in a new sense that quantum physicists have begun to conceptualize and that mystics have always intuited. This is thinking that can't be contained within conventional notions of either God or science. I think it imagines all inquiry as communication between intelligences, not supercilious examination of something mindless by a mind.
But let's get down to brass tacks: should it be taught in schools? Jenkins:
One of the things we learn in a grade school science class is a concrete way of thinking, a sound, systematic way of exploring the natural world.
But science class also teaches us how crucial it is to maintain adventurousness, and surely it's worthwhile to suggest that an athlete in motion conveys an inkling of something marvelous in nature that perhaps isn't explained by mere molecules.
UPDATE: In the Comments, lmeade says now we know where Intelligent Design should be taught: in gym class!! And The Modo Blog, a new centrist blog written by Jeff Fetter, a moderate Republican M.D. in Vermont, links to this modest proposal at The Swift Report for incorporating the role of the Creator into math class. It's called "Deometry," and I can't tell whether Jeff F. can tell it's a parody or not:
Now there are some legitimate quantum theorists who speculate that the ordering forces of elementary particles resemble something like 'intelligence.' But this is not the argument being used by proponents of Intelligent Design, or of Deometry, to promote their incorporation into curricula. They are quite explicit about using these theories to provide another avenue to talk about God in the classroom. Whether it's appropriate or not is separate from the question of whether this is back-door creationism, and the both the evidence and the rhetoric so far point to the answer being yes.
I think he needs to meet the other Jeff.