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Intelligent design

On local elections, and slaying the Flying Spaghetti Monster


It's been so refreshing to hear the subject of intelligent design raised in our Wake County elections--and raised, against all odds, by our friends on the right side of the political spectrum. Here, apparently, is something on which progressives, regressives and nongressives can agree: Intelligent design is our friend in need (hence, our friend indeed).

So, am I saying that ID, as we in the trade call it, should be taught alongside evolution in science classes? That's the question that kept coming up in forums with the candidates for Wake school board, and of course the answer--notwithstanding that every candidate who was asked, with the single exception of Wanda Weeks Denning, said, "Uh, sure"--is absolutely not. I'm no scientist, but the people who are--who deal in experiments and observed phenomena, in other words--understand that evolution is a theory that has stood up to a century of testing and refinement, whereas ID as advanced by the "creation science" crowd is delusion at best, pure hokum at worst.

If you doubt this, I refer you to the Web site of the Triangle Association for the Science of Creation (, which was recommended to me by someone I met recently in a conservative church. There, the assertion is made, for instance, that carbon-dating methods showing that the earth is millions of years old are in error because--and this is declared without a shred of actual evidence--"radioactive decay was much faster in the past." I won't go on, but do check the footnotes of any papers you read there for places like Harvard, Caltech, N.C. State or anywhere else they do actual science. What you'll see instead is the "Institute for Creation Research" (in "California"--now that pins it down) and its various offspring and "international conferences."

Thus, if we start teaching creation science as an "alternative theory" to evolution, we'll have no choice but to teach another fast-growing alternative, developed by a young Oregon physics major and his followers in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which hypothesizes that the universe was created by, yes, the eponymous FSM. With a respectful bow to the other, "multiple theories" of intelligent design, these church members believe (and they claim to have many papers and accounts to show, although again, no observed data) that the monster is able to alter carbon-dating results on the fly--as it were--using "His Noodly Appendage" (details, and T-shirts, at

Well, fun's fun, and I mean no disrespect to people who believe in a creator, or a creative force of some kind, but that is a belief, and evolution is science, and since the two go perfectly well together, it puzzled me why the creation-science folks are so insistent that they don't.

Turns out it's the randomness of evolution that they reject, the idea that life as we know it is the result of "chance occurrence," as one TASC writer grumbles, and not an "ingenious design" that produced the atom, gravity and E=MC2 among other things, all with our wonderful human race in mind.

Good planning, in short, is what evolution lacks and humanity demands, in their view, because otherwise life is just a jumble of colliding neurons, amoeba cells and rat genes that could've combined (and might still) to give you a very bad, even ungodly, result. And that can't be right, because it's in the Bible that God created the Heavens and Earth and saw that they were very good; and He created Man in his own image.

And here's where our thinking converges--the creationists and mine. Because I don't really trust random results either, not when it comes to my county school system or to the growth of my city. I'd rather we do some good planning, employ intelligent design, and go for the best possible outcomes.

In recent years, however, good planning and intelligent design have been the subject of ridicule on the political right, where laissez-faire and free-market philosophies are espoused with near-religious conviction. Or they were until the levees broke in New Orleans, and even George W. Bush must've realized that a little foresight--and intelligent engineering--would've saved him a ton of heartache.

What does this have to do with our Wake County elections? Only everything. Are you reading the series in The News & Observer this week about the TTA rail line? Does it occur to you (as it seems not to have occurred to the N&O) that we might be able to plan something better than the sprawl our region presently displays? Or are we stuck forever with a development pattern that looks like the Flying Spaghetti Monster throwing his Noodly Subdivisions against the wall map?

On the other hand, the Wake school system is the product of intelligent design and good planning, which put it on the front page of The New York Times two Sundays ago as an exemplar of how a diverse, economically segregated area can work together to achieve top-flight results across the board of race and class.

That design, an intricate weave of magnet schools, base schools, year-round schools and some busing to balance student populations, is under attack by a small but determined band of parents and free-market politicos who argue that every family should choose its own schools the same way it chooses its laundry detergent.

"Choice" sounds good, and presumably it would work for the critics, since they live--virtually all of them--in the upscale neighborhoods of Cary, Apex, North Raleigh and Wake Forest. But it would break the system apart, leaving only a collection of better- and worse-neighborhood schools in its stead. And it would fail more students than it would help, as candidates like Eleanor Goettee (of Cary) understand. "I believe we are stronger as a whole than we could possibly be by breaking into smaller units," Goettee said in response to a question about splitting up the district. And to another she said: "I am committed to maintaining socio-economic diversity in every school. This is one of the hallmarks of the Wake County Public School System."

Amen to that, and to the candidates the Indy endorsed--Goettee, Denning, Lori Millberg and Board Chair Patti Head, as well as one we didn't, Bill Fletcher--who get it that intelligent design beats random choices when it comes to fashioning the best possible school system for the county as a whole.

And in the Raleigh City Council elections, there's a clear divide between candidates inclined toward good planning and those who think it's better to let developers build whatever, wherever. In the first category, I'd put two endorsed by the Indy, Mayor Charles Meeker and Russ Stephenson, an at-large candidate who is, as I've said before, a personal friend as well as the architect who did a great job for my wife and me a couple of years ago.

As far as the other candidates we endorsed, the recently appointed Joyce Kekas and Paul Anderson, I've got my fingers crossed. But the results are in on their opponents, John Odom and Tommy Craven, also a recent appointee: they're with the FSM school of non-planning.

When Raleigh (and Cary) was in its adolescent growth spurt, all gangling arms and random tentacles, the FSM school perhaps sufficed. But if it's to become a first-rate city, intelligent design will be required to allow a lot more people to live a lot closer together and still be in harmony--kind of like the universe is in harmony.

When people live so close together, everything from whether you can park on your front lawn to whether you can build so high it blocks your neighbors' sunlight is a question mark, and requires the application of intelligent design--and a good zoning ordinance--to reach harmonious results. That, and public officials with the intelligence to apply them.

Thank goodness, therefore, that conservatives are calling for intelligent design now too.

Is the Price Right?
For those following our congressional delegation and their views on the war, a big event next Monday, Oct. 10: Rep. David Price, D-Chapel Hill, debates ex-CIA official Ray McGovern, a national leader in the anti-war movement, and local scholars Sarah Shields, a UNC Middle East expert, and Bruce Jentleson, of Duke and national security renown. "Stay the Course" vs. "Out Now" is at Chapel Hill High School, 7:30-9:30 p.m., sponsored by the local Democratic Party organizations.

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