An "Intelligent Design" theory I am willing to support

On my official blog, I try to steer clear of direct and overt politics and such. I don’t agree with the right’s argument that academia is too liberal to be fair to conservative students and I’ve voiced my opinions about all that here, but generally, I save my expressions of my politics and religious beliefs for my unofficial blog.

But I want to come out here all in favor of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or, as it has also been called, Pastafarianism.

A friend of mine sent me a link to an August 29 New York Times article, “But Is There Intelligent Spaghetti Out There?” As the article reports, the Kansas State Board of Education is giving preliminary approval for the teaching of alternatives to evolution like “Intelligent Design” in science classes. Bobby Henderson, “a 25-year-old with a physics degree from Oregon State University,” has some problems with this, which he shared in an “Open Letter to the Kansas School Board” in which he explains that if they are not willing to include the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s teachings about the origins of life in their “Intellifent Design” curriculum, he would take legal action. To quote from the New York Times piece:

In perfect deadpan he wrote that although he agreed that science students should “hear multiple viewpoints” of how the universe came to be, he was worried that they would be hearing only one theory of intelligent design. After all, he noted, there are many such theories, including his own fervent belief that “the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster.” He demanded equal time in the classroom and threatened a lawsuit.

Soon he was flooded with e-mail messages. Ninety-five percent of those who wrote to him, he said on his Web site, were “in favor of teaching Flying Spaghetti Monsterism in schools.” Five percent suggested that he would be going to hell. Lawyers contacted him inquiring how serious he was about a lawsuit against the Kansas board. His answer: “Very.”

I think this is interesting for a whole variety of different reasons, but I will limit myself to two for the time-being:

  • The “Intelligent Design” movement is a fantastic example (maybe the best example ever) of how simply renaming something changes the values assigned to it by an audience. These folks were getting nowhere with the term “creationism,” largely because of the overt religious connotations. But “Intelligent Design:” well, who could be against that? It’s the same tactic we’ve seen with “The Death Tax” (which is a name that tested significantly better than what it really is, “The Estate Tax”), “Personal Savings Accounts” as they connect to Social Security, and so forth. But somehow, the language and approach of “Intelligent Design” seems unusually persuasive, perhaps beause the words “intelligent” and “design” so often have positive connotations.
  • The “Intelligent Design” movement is another example of what I see as a sort of re-emergence of religiosity into the public sphere. This is perhaps the most overt example, but I think that there are subtle ways in which the line that has traditionally separated “church” from “state” has become quite a bit more porous in recent years. Part of it is the Bush administration of course, but I also think a lot of it is a response to 9/11. Personally, I have nothing against religion per se, but a) I’m not a religious person and I don’t want to be compelled to be a religious person by the state, and b) we shouldn’t be teaching religious concepts of origin (or just about anything else, for that matter) as “science” or even as “scholarly,” and c) we shouldn’t be doing these things in publicly funded institutions.

Unless we do go down the Spaghetti Monster path. I’m all for that.

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