On November 11, most of us will pause for a minute's silence to mark the end of the First World War.

It is an oddly inauspicious day, then, for a prickly petition to be heard at Holyrood from the Scottish Secular Society. The subject of this plea, whose signatories include three Nobel-winning British scientists, is so inflammatory that, were we living in another culture, or a previous age, it could easily spark a war of its own.

Following the news last year that pupils in an East Kilbride primary school had been given books by a US religious sect debunking evolution, secularists and scientists are alarmed. They fear that creationism, under the label of Intelligent Design, might be taught during science lessons rather than as part of the religious education curriculum. This would give "flat earth" ideas the same credibility as scientific fact and seriously misinform pupils.

Meanwhile, members of the Glasgow-based Centre for Intelligent Design say that, since the principles behind "major mutations" are not yet fully known, and much about evolution remains mysterious, it is reasonable to advance their theories of an intelligent presence having a hand in creation during science lessons. Questions that are open to speculation, they insist, should be highlighted along with the verities.

Like me, many will not have realised that it is possible to teach anything so contentious under the name of science. Most of us probably assumed such a practice must be illegal, as it is in England and Wales. But seemingly our rules are not as strict. Hence the existence of a worryingly unregulated grey area, which secularists wish to see clarified.

I doubt they will be the only ones. There are countless religious believers who respect the findings of science. Darwin's discovery of fossils briefly threatened to shake the bedrock of Christianity by overturning the Bible's assertion that God created the world in seven days. Since then, however, scientists' revelations have been absorbed with astonishing ease by those who think there is an omnipotent God.

Faced as we are today with explanations for marvels and horrors that were once attributed to the divine - shooting stars, solar eclipses, floods and plagues and famines - modern devotees have a much harder job suspending disbelief. It is either testimony to the unquenchable human need to believe in a higher authority, or a sign that such a being actually exists, that no amount of evidence about the universe's godless origins and development seems able to derail religion. Thus, when even Pope Francis accepts the Big Bang theory, and sensibly says that God was not "a magician with a magic wand able to do everything", the Intelligent Design cause has surely lost all credibility, at least as a counter-argument to evolution.

The creeds of this minority group are, of course, inoffensive when aired as part of a philosophical or religious discussion. You need not agree with them to accept that, Luddite as their perspective may seem, these so-called neo-creationists are entitled to hold whatever views they like. Nor does their lack of scientific credibility mean that the biologist's lab, or the observatory, or the Hadron Collider hold all the answers. Many spheres of life have yet to be illuminated by the laws of physics or chemistry, leaving plenty of room for the imagination and the spirit to flourish.

It is galling, however, when believers of whatever persuasion are too blinkered to see the distinction between faith and fact. Trying to posit Intelligent Design as a viable theory when teaching evolution is like a biologist's lesson on reproduction including virgin births, or a physicist deviating from discussing anti-matter to contemplate the resurrection of the dead. Some issues are just not for the science class.

A church-goer would not like a chemist declaring at a funeral that he can prove there is no afterlife. Nor would a mathematician tolerate a fundamentalist stating that it is statistically proven that God exists. Proponents of Intelligent Design, however, are making the mistake of trying to fuse two mutually exclusive realms, each of which is valid. The essence of faith is accepting as true something that can never be proved or disproved. Therein lies its power. Yet where religion is shrouded in doubt, science is exact. You might say it is a miracle that so many people manage to believe in both.