Science feeds on mystery. As my colleague Matt Ridley has put it, “Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance that drives them on.” Science mines ignorance. Mystery – that which we don’t yet know; that which we don’t yet understand – is the mother lode that scientists seek out. Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in mystery for a very different reason: it gives them something to do. Maybe we don’t understand yet, but we’re working on it! Each mystery solved opens up vistas of unsolved problems, and the scientist eagerly moves in.
Admissions of ignorance and mystification are vital to good science. It is therefore galling, to say the least, when enemies of science turn those constructive admissions around and abuse them for political advantage. It is worse than galling. It threatens the enterprise of science itself. This is exactly the effect creationism or ‘intelligent design theory’ (ID) is having, especially because its propagandists are slick, superficially plausible and, above all, well-financed. ID, by the way, is not a new form of creationism. It simply is creationism disguised, for political reasons, under a new name.