IMAGINE A NANOTECHNOLOGY MACHINE far beyond the state of the art: a microminiaturized rotary motor and propeller system that drives a tiny vessel through liquid. The engine and drive mechanism are composed of 40 parts, including a rotor, stator, driveshaft, bushings, universal joint, and flexible propeller. The engine is powered by a flow of ions, can rotate at up to 100,000 rpm (ten times faster than a NASCAR racing engine), and can reverse direction in a quarter of a rotation. The system comes with an automatic feedback control mechanism. The engine itself is about 1/100,000th of an inch wide -- far smaller than can be seen by the human eye.
Most of us would be pleasantly surprised to learn that some genius had designed such an engineering triumph. What might come as a greater surprise is that there is a dominant faction in the scientific community that is prepared to defend, at all costs, the assertion that this marvelous device could not possibly have been designed, must have been produced blindly by unintelligent material forces, and only gives the appearance -- we said appearance! -- of being designed.
As you may have guessed, these astonishingly complex, tiny, and efficient engines exist. Millions of them exist inside you, in fact. They are true rotary motors that drive the "bacterial flagellum," a whip-like propulsion device for certain bacteria, including the famous E. coli that lives in your digestive system.
Oddly enough, this intricate high-speed motor is at the center of a controversy that has been kindling in scientific circles for a decade, and is now igniting hot debate outside those circles. That's because, even more oddly, the implications of whether this little engine was designed are incalculably profound. They involve questions such as: What constitutes science? Did living things "just happen" by natural causes or were they designed by an intelligence? And what follows from those two competing alternatives -- in morality, education, culture, and science itself?
Update: See also this.