Sunday, October 02, 2005

Stoned Design?

Latest Newspaper Column:

The 21st-century equivalent of the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial” is going on in Pennsylvania.

A group of parents, backed by the ACLU, are taking the Dover, Pa., School District to court because the district had mandated the teaching of the theory of “Intelligent Design.” Intelligent Design, or ID as it’s known for short, basically states that life is too complex for it to be the product of either random mutation or natural selection. Something, the theory goes, has to be behind all of this.

As one ID supporter put it, “if I find something as complex as a watch in the middle of the road, logic tells me that there must be a watchmaker.”

Parents have objected that this is, at its core, a religious belief, and that mandating its teaching in state-run schools violates the separation of church and state. ID, they say, is just creationism in disguise.

ID proponents defend the school board’s decision, saying, in effect, that since ID doesn’t stipulate what the force behind creation might be, then it’s not a religion. In other words, what’s driving creation may be a super-powerful, super-intelligent invisible being, but it’s not necessarily God.

Seriously. This is their argument.

Of course this argument is weakened even further by the statements of board member Bill Buckingham, who ramrodded the ID mandate into school board policy while wearing a red, white and blue crucifix on his lapel and declaiming that “this country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as such.”

Nope, no religious ideology here, not us.

I have to confess to some mixed emotions here, because ID is actually very close to what I personally believe. For some time now, I’ve felt that evolution is God’s lathe, and that all life is being constantly created (and hopefully improved) on it. The first time I finally understood how DNA replicates itself, I exclaimed out loud, “No way did that happen randomly!”

This really annoyed the guy in the desk next to me, who I apparently awakened out of a really cool dream involving a waterbed filled with Jell-O, “Wonder Woman” Lynda Carter and Catherine Bach from the original “Dukes of Hazzard.” I can’t say as I blame him. I’d have been mad, too. I mean, talk about your intelligent design. But I digress.

Anyway, here’s the thing. While ID is close to my own belief, I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s essentially a religious belief, and that for me to mandate that as the truth that has to be taught to everyone else’s children would be the height of arrogance. Not that I’m not arrogant, mind you, but even I have my limits.

But let me suggest a compromise. Proponents of creationism want, at the very least, for schools to teach a “critical analysis” of evolution theory. They want students to ask certain questions, such as “If we descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” And “Why are there gaps in the fossil record?”

Actually, I know the answer to those questions: “Evolution doesn’t say we descended from monkeys, it says we and monkeys share common ancestors” and “We haven’t dug up all the fossils yet, have we?” (I often add “you doofus” to the beginning or end of these sentences, for extra spice).

All that said, there’s certainly nothing wrong with teaching our youth to think critically about any theory, whether that theory be evolution, creationism or ID. It’s only fair then, that the kids hear about some things that call the alleged intelligence of the alleged Designer into question, such as:

— The human appendix: This little dead-end side street branches off of the main drag of the large intestine, aka Colon Boulevard. It’s a useless pouch of flesh that’ s not good for anything much except getting infected and providing dramatic medical emergencies on bad TV shows.

— The human reproductive system: Ladies, can I get an “Amen” on this one? Childbirth isn’t killing nearly as many of you as it used to, but that’s because humanity has developed various workarounds for the system of baby delivery. But let’s face it: If the design of the way humans give birth had been developed by a corporation, that design would have resulted in more product liability and wrongful death lawsuits than breast implants made out of asbestos, coated with Vioxx, and implanted via Lawn Dart.

— And last but not least, I give you the duck-billed platypus. It’s a mammal! But it lays eggs! And did you know that the female platypus has two ovaries — but only the left one works? I mean, what is up with this critter?

Robin Williams once did a routine in which God was designing the platypus as a goof while stoned. Hmmm. Maybe Robin has something there. Maybe Stoned Design should be taught in schools as well.

After all, it fits the available data — and it’s equally unprovable.