Curriculum design as intelligent as flying spaghetti monsters

Emma Tom

Originally published in the Australian Newspaper on November 16, 2005.  Published here with the kind permission of the author.

There are at least two big problems with the whole intelligent design versus evolution thing. The first is the way it's presented: ID versus E - as if both points of view are equally researched, equally scientific and equally based on, you know, old-fashioned stuff like material evidence.

Charles Darwin's case may not be incontrovertible, but at least he had a spot of university training, fossil foraging and exploratory boating behind his ideas. In fact, the bloke with the brainy-looking beard was so obsessed with scientific method he even adopted rigorous investigative techniques in his personal life.

In 1838, for instance, he gave some thought to the evolution of his marital status and compiled a list with columns headed Marry and Not Marry. After discovering there were more bullet points beneath the former, he headed off to propose to his Sunday school teaching cousin Emma Wedgwood but got distracted and revealed his theory of species transmutation instead (don't you hate it when that happens?).

The good news is that Wedgwood did eventually agree to become Mrs Survival of the Fittest despite her fear that Chuck's revolutionary beliefs about skate leeches, gigantic sloths and Galapagos finches would prevent their reunion in the afterlife. So far there's been no word on how this particular part of their union is proceeding.

The second big problem with intelligent design is that proponents race straight from "I'm not so sure about Darwin's theory" to "therefore the world is obviously the result of supernatural intervention by an invisible uber inventor". Talk about a leap of faith. Imagine moving straight from "I'm not so sure about Darwin's theory" to "therefore the world is clearly the work of a flying spaghetti monster whose chosen outfit is full pirate regalia"? Maybe it's true, but surely there should be a few provable steps between statement one and statement two before the theory is taught as science in high schools.

(Incidentally, to read more about the church of the flying spaghetti monster and worship of the noodly appendage, visit where followers are promised the holy rewards of both a stripper factory and a beer volcano.)

Unfortunately many educational institutions are either unable or unwilling to accept that there's a difference between theories based in science and theories nested in theology or pasta. According to media reports this week, more than 100 Australian schools are teaching intelligent design as science, while a group called Campus Crusade for Christ has furnished up to 3000 schools with a free copy of an evolution schmevolution DVD called Unlocking the Mystery of Life.

In an ideal world, the logical response to such silliness would be to rise up in mirth. But Christians' insistence on putting the hard word on inappropriate areas of high school curriculums means evolutionists must take them seriously and argue on their terms. As a result we see the IDers raising the flagellum (a smarty pants propeller used to turbo bacteria), while the E squad respond with the box jellyfish (reported to have 24 eyes, four rudimentary brains and 60 not very intelligent anuses).

Biological tit for tat is very entertaining, especially given the widespread evidence of lesser-known design theories such as forgetful design (vestigial tails), bitchy design (thigh cellulite), whimsical design (cattle dogs that look like they're wearing eyeliner), holy-crap-I-drank-too-much-at-the-pub-last-night design (rising nausea), Benny Hill design (Kylie Minogue's bum) and incredibly freaking stupid design (competing religions whose followers continue revelling in bellicosity despite countless centuries of evidence proving this is absolutely bloody futile).

The trouble with the he said/she said approach is that it ignores the fact that evolution and intelligent design are totally different disciplines: one belongs in the science department while the other belongs down the corridor in the "why-are-we-here-and-what does-it-all-mean?" faculty. When contamination of these two areas occurs, logic is not the only loser. ID may look perfectly reasonable in a theology class, but in the harsh light of a science lab, it will draw inevitable comparisons with tea leaf sloshing, tarot card reading and flying spaghetti monstering.

So let's keep the pirate costumes and stripper factories at bay and corral Christians into the correct classroom.