I admit that I’m rather obtuse when it comes to religion. I do know enough to recognize that meatballs, pirates, and midgets probably aren’t the cornerstones of a thriving religion, yet these three items are vital to The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Participation in this church would involve worshipping an extraordinary being who reveals himself in the form of tangled noodles and russet-colored meatballs. You might think I am making this up. You’ll have to read on to find out.
Every Action Has a Reaction
At the heart of the ages-old struggle between science and religion is the theory of evolution, a concept that many devout religious worshippers don’t want to accept and that hard-core scientists fervently stand by. Ever since the Scopes Trial in 1925, school officials, teachers, parents, and students have been fighting over whether and how to teach evolution in public schools. This argument came to a head in 2005 when the Kansas State Board of Education decided to require the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) alongside evolution in science classrooms. The basis of ID is the proposition that features found in nature did not appear as a result of random processes such as natural selection, but instead were brought about by an intelligent agent—although this agent is not specifically named. ID advocates state that it is a scientific theory that can hold its own next to the theory of evolution. Needless to say, the idea of Intelligent Design, as well as the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education, drew serious criticism from the scientific community. It also caught the attention of Bobby Henderson, a physics graduate who thought ID had it all wrong.
In 2005, Henderson published an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education on his Web site. In this letter he stated that belief in Intelligent Design can take many forms. But the version to be taught in Kansas omitted an important scientific viewpoint, namely, the idea that the world was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster (or more commonly, the FSM). He requested that the Board consider teaching this theory alongside ID and evolution, and threatened legal action if they refused. The letter included an artistic rendition of the FSM creating the mountains, trees, and a “midgit” [sic] with His powerful Noodly Appendage.
Evidence for the Existence of Him
In his letter to the Board of Education, Henderson gave points of evidence that he believed imply the existence of the FSM. Even though no one was around to witness His creation of the universe, there was plenty of literature to implicate the FSM in the universe’s formation and this lack of observable evidence was enough to create a large following. The letter goes on to explain that “He built the world to make us think the earth is older than it really is.” The FSM does this, Henderson explained, by altering scientific data collected by researchers who seek to find the true age of the earth, because “the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage.” Furthermore, as pirates appear to be a crucial part of the FSM religion (more about this in a moment), the decrease in their numbers over the past 200 years can be used to explain the increase in global warming and natural disasters on Earth. The dwindling number of pirates is inversely proportional to the increase in average temperature, nicely displayed in the letter by a scientific-looking graph. With such substantial evidence, it’s hard to argue against the existence of Him.
Pasta + Rastafarian = Pastafarian
Anyone who decides this evidence is enough to become a follower will find many attractive features of the religion. First, followers call themselves Pastafarians, a very invigorating term guaranteed to bring about images of cuisine. There is even a Guide to Pastafarianism, easily located on the FSM Web site, which explains that every Friday is considered a religious holiday! Second, as mentioned earlier, pirates are considered “absolute divine beings.” What does this mean for Pastafarians? The right to wear full pirate regalia, of course! The guide even says that shouting “Yar” and wearing the religious head dress every day is totally acceptable and expected. And finally, following the simple rules of Pastafarianism can grant a ticket to heaven where “beer volcanoes as far as the eye can see” and “a stripper factory” await. But don’t take my word for it; you can read the entire guide on the FSM Web site and decide whether a conversion to Pastafarianism is right for you.
All Kidding Aside
If it hasn’t been clear up to this point, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is entirely a spoof on real religion and religious followers; Henderson was clearly taking advantage of the lack of methodological evidence supporting Intelligent Design in an attempt to expose its fallacies as a scientific theory. However, Henderson did receive real responses from Kansas State Board of Education members, including two who planned to vote against the teaching of Intelligent Design in Kansas classrooms. In late 2005, the Board voted 6 to 4 in favor of redefining science so that the search for scientific explanations was no longer limited to natural explanations, and this was viewed as a victory for Intelligent Design proponents. However, in August 2006, pro-evolution candidates took control of the board and emphasize their plan to continue to educate the public about the issue of evolution. As for Bobby Henderson, he has written a book titled The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He still runs the FSM Web site, where he posts the email he receives from various supporters and protestors as well as news updates and holiday greetings.
Evolution itself is still a touchy subject with respect to public schools. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a proponent of teaching evolution in schools, reports that Ohio’s Governor Taft plans to appoint four new members to the state Board of Education before he leaves, and these individuals will be supporters of the theory of evolution. And you might remember the 2004 fight in Dover, Pennsylvania, where it was decided the ninth-grade biology students must be read a statement mentioning Intelligent Design. Later, a federal judge decided that this decision was in violation of the Constitution, but board members who supported the statement had already been voted out. This fight between evolution and creationism even reaches beyond the borders of the United States. The United Kingdom is even taking a stand on the separation of science and speculation, as the government plans to inform schools that they cannot use teaching materials that promote creationism in the classroom. However, it is hard to believe that the fight between evolution and public schools will quietly fade anytime soon.
Henderson capitalized on an issue that is becoming paramount not only to our schools, but also to our society. More and more science finds itself under religious fire. But religion is extremely important to many individuals as it gives them a sense of meaning, while science is an essential component of the push to understand the world around us. In a perfect world, science and religion would find a common ground so that people wouldn’t feel disengaged from one side or the other. Perhaps Henderson’s underlying message is that by keeping religion and science separate, we protect both realms from each other and then absurd constructions like the Flying Spaghetti Monster aren’t necessary. But Henderson’s message may be much simpler: pirates are always cool. Yar! —Jillian Hardee
Guest author Jillian Hardee is a graduate student at West Virginia University studying cognitive neuroscience.