For those who thought the term “monkey trial” brought a little too much comedy to the otherwise-dead serious debate over the separation of church and state, a student from Oregon has brought it to a whole new level.

In response to the 2005 Kansas State Board of Education’s vote to require intelligent design to be taught in classrooms as an alternative theory to evolution, Bobby Henderson, a physics graduate from the University of Oregon, drafted a letter to the board claiming that his personal religious beliefs were not being represented.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe, Henderson attested, and every time a scientist takes a measurement of the natural world, the Flying Spaghetti Monster changes the results with his “noodly appendage.” The Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe after a night of heavy drinking, and looks like, well, a flying spaghetti monster. If intelligent design could be taught in classrooms, Henderson argued, Pastafarianism (the belief in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster), should be taught as well.

As ridiculous as this sounds, he’s got a point, and he’s getting some attention. His letter became an Internet hit, and his website gets millions of hits from people who claim to be devotees of the ragú religion, well-wishers, as well as the occasional death threat. Select members of the Kansas Board of Education even wrote to Henderson, thanking him for the laugh. The board also rejected the previous inclusion of intelligent design in a February 2007 vote of 6-4.

Most notably, the American Academy of Religion, an association of over 8,000 teachers and scholars, has recognized the popularity of this movement, and discussed it at its annual conference this November. One of several workshops on the subject of Pastafarianism was titled Evolutionary Controversy and a Side of Pasta: The Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Subversive Function of Religious Parody.

“In a carnivalesque fashion, the Flying Spaghetti Monster elevates the low (the bodily, the material, the inorganic) to bring down the high (the sacred, the religiously dogmatic, the culturally authoritative),” described the abstract of a workshop called Noodling around with Religion: Carnival Play, Monstrous Humor, and the Noodly Master. “Like historical forms of popular subversion, the Flying Spaghetti Monster plays its monstrous role well, mixing physical and narrative categories in order to spotlight particular cultural and educational conventions that ‘Pastafarians’ consider absurd.”

For what seems like a joke, Henderson’s delicious deity has a poignant argument. To say that intelligent design is scientifically based is absurd. It is faith-based, and should not be in the classroom. Since the hallmark Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, the separation of church and state continues to be threatened.

Whatever people wish to believe, preaching should not be part of a public school education, and intelligent design is simply the dressing up of a religious belief as a scientific theory, and nothing more. Intelligent design has no more scientific base than Pastafarianism, so who is to say which is more correct, or that the Flying Spaghetti Monster did not create the universe? Henderson is not saying that intelligent design is wrong, or that religion should not have a place in people’s lives.

Believe what you will, gentle readers, but let others have their own beliefs, and keep the long, noodly arm of religion out of our science classes.