Is Intelligent Design any different from belief in a Flying Spaghetti Monster?
The Flying Spaghetti Monster (or FSM) is a fictitious deity invented in 2005 by Bobby Henderson, who penned a now infamous open letter to the Kansas School Board, in an attempt to weigh in on their controversial debate over whether to allow Intelligent Design (ID) theory to be taught alongside the more standard evolutionary perspective of how life originated. Henderson, who of course does not believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, invented the imaginary deity in order to ridicule the creationist complaint that only one side of the origins debate was being taught in public schools, despite there being substantial evidence that the universe was designed by an Intelligent Designer or Creator. In Henderson's own words, "I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism (Pastafarianism), and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence." In other words, Henderson's desire was to parody the attempt to have Intelligent Design theory taught in public schools, by arguing (satirically) that this opened the door for any number of ridiculous religions — like Flying Spaghetti Monsterism / Pastafarianism— to be taught in public schools as well.
This prompts the question, is Henderson correct in the implications of his satirical religion? Is it really the case that Intelligent Design theory and Flying Spaghetti Monsterism / Pastafarianism are completely equivalent, so that opening the door for one of them to be taught in the public school system necessarily implies bringing the other into the classroom as well? Is it really the case that both Intelligent Design theory and Flying Spaghetti Monsterism / Pastafarianism alike are distinct from "logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence"?
First, it's important to use the right standard for comparing Intelligent Design theory with Pastafarianism. In this case, it would be incorrect to respond to Henderson by pointing out that Pastafarians do not really believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster: although this may be true, there are many other world religions, whose adherents subscribe in total sincerity to their religion's beliefs, which creationists presumably would not want represented in the public school classroom. The point of Henderson's Pastafarianism is not to say that Pastafarians truly believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but to argue that including Intelligent Design theory in standard, public school science curriculum opens the door to every conceivable kind of belief system, no matter how ridiculous, to receive equal representation in the school system as well.
In fact, the best response to Henderson is to accept his argument, since his own satire backfires on him. Henderson is completely correct that, in principle, Flying Spaghetti Monsterism / Pastafarianism should be equally represented in the public school system, if Intelligent Design theory is also represented. However, what Henderson and other Pastafarians generally fail to appreciate is that even their satirical religion would, strictly speaking, be subsumed under the umbrella of Intelligent Design theory. Henderson himself sarcastically attributes the origin and diversification of life to the "intelligent design" of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, intending this as a slap in the face of Christian creationists. In reality, however, all he manages to demonstrate is that Intelligent Design theory alone is not exclusively Christian (since Christianity depends on more than solely the belief in an Intelligent Designer). Though a small subset equate Intelligent Design theory with biblical creationism, at its core, Intelligent Design theory is not about literal biblical creationism. Most Intelligent Design theory advocates simply want it to be taught that the complexity of biological life is too much to have occurred solely in a naturalistic vacuum. Intelligent Design theory is not intended to teach religion or discuss who the Intelligent Designer was; it is solely meant to point out that biological life demonstrates evidence of having been designed. Henderson's Pastafarianism would therefore automatically receive equal time if Intelligent Design theory were taught in public schools, even though it would not need to be taught explicitly. Pastafarianism, legitimate world religion or not, therefore offers no compelling reason not to teach Intelligent Design theory in public schools. Instead, Henderson's argument only proves that Intelligent Design theory should be taught in public schools.
This leads us to address the second component of Henderson's implicit criticism, namely, that both Intelligent Design theory and Pastafarianism are based on faith, not evidence, and are therefore antithetical to "logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence." However, Henderson's argument fails here as well, since Intelligent Design theory is by definition based on the available evidence that all of life was in fact designed by someone with extreme intelligence (whether that someone is the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the God of the Bible, or some other deity entirely). The current situation, in which public school students are taught that the only viable explanation for the origin and diversification of life on Earth is the standard evolutionary paradigm (which operates without the oversight of any kind of intelligent, designing influence) — this situation, therefore, unjustifiably contradicts belief in an Intelligent Designer, as well as the substantial evidence in favor of this belief.
In short, Henderson's argument does not require all world religions to be taught alongside one another in the public school science classroom. Rather, it demonstrates that public science education should include discussion of the real, physical evidence for the existence of an Intelligent Designer. It is because Intelligent Design theorists value logical inference from all available evidence that they argue for the inclusion of Intelligent Design theory in the science classroom; including only the evidence which is consistent with a naturalistic viewpoint is actually the worst kind of anti-intellectual indoctrination. All that Henderson's Flying Spaghetti Monster manages to demonstrate is what it was originally intended to disprove, namely, the need for the inclusion of Intelligent Design theory in public high school science curriculum.
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