A few days back a collection of important scientific type people issued a statement condemning the so-called theory of 'Intelligent Design'. As their letter appeared in El Pais de Murdoch, it was followed by a postscript saying that they headed societies representing 70,000 scientific type people, including, er, me. Was issuing this statement really a scientific thing for them to do?
Let's say that we keep probing the origins of life, and every possible mechanism for kicking the process off requires some fantastically entropically unfavourable combination of highly complicated molecules that we can easily produce in a test tube, but can't envision surviving long enough to reach the required concentrations in any plausible environment on the primitive earth. Do we:
(a) Keep on asserting that this highly thermodynamically-disfavoured process must have happened, nevertheless, in some highly implausible and forever unobservable environment?
(b) Apply Ockham's Razor and say that if we can make life in a test tube, then, maybe, life as we know it was made in a test tube?
Maybe it was Trurl and Klapaucius after all.
This is not what the Intelligent Design people really mean by Intelligent Design, but it is perfectly consistent with what they say they mean, so we shouldn't just jump up and down and say that Inteligent Design is pseudo-scientific rubbish. It is many orders of magnitude more scientific than homeopathy, which my blinkered, insane-with-greed univeristy prostitutes its good name to support.
Everything we have discovered over the last 500 years has taken us further and further from the idea that the Earth is the centre of the Universe. We are nowhere special; why should life have happened to start here? There might be all sorts of chemistries that are not at all like the life we know that started out in environments not at all like the ones we know: you just need to get life started somewhere, sometime, and sooner or later it will come up with iPods and weird new organisms based on different chemistry than itself.
This version of Intelligent Design is a perfectly valid scientific theory. We can think of things we could do to test it. For instance, we could search for the aliens' fossilised iPods.