The argument goes like this: There weren’t actually any dinosaurs. They didn’t exist. Couldn’t have. Archeological science puts the age of the oldest dinosaur at about 250 million years; the Earth itself, 4.5 billion. Yet, according to the writings in The Holy Bible, the Earth was created only about 6,000 years ago. That’s a discrepancy of about 4,499,994,000 years, give or take, putting the creation of the Earth well after the supposed dinosaurs allegedly lived. Therefore, the theory goes, they didn’t exist.
It’s not science, exactly, but it’s what a great many people believe, and that belief matters more to them than whether or not it can be scientifically proven. They believe there were no dinosaurs the same way people believe in ghosts, UFOs and that their case on Deal or No Deal actually contains the $1 million. Not based on provable facts, but on faith. Good luck changing their minds.
You may think you’ve seen dinosaur fossils, but you didn’t. Not really. Not according to the adherents of faith-based beliefs. What you saw were clever fakes put in the ground by God to give you a plausible reason to doubt his existence. Do you believe in dinosaurs and not God? Gotcha! You’re going to hell. Not fair, perhaps, but we’re talking about the same guy who flooded the Earth, wiping it clean in order to start over, and leveled an entire city because a few bad apples were sexual deviants. Fairness isn’t a priority when you’re omnipotent.
So, the Earth is really 6,000 years old instead of 4.5 billion and there were no dinosaurs. Got it? Also, humans did not evolve from an ape-like ancestor. We were created out of whole cloth, from clay, in the form of Adam, the first man. His mate, Eve, came from his spare rib. And then the rest of us issued forth from their loins. This is the faith-based theory of Creationism in a nut shell. It’s also known as “intelligent design,” and as far as some adherents are concerned, it should replace the chapters in science textbooks about evolution.
“A Lot of Dogma”
In 2005, the Kansas Board of Education was at a crossroads. For years, Kansas schools had been teaching the science-based theory of evolution, filling the heads of little Kansans with Darwin’s concept of the origin of the species, and some lawmakers, fed up with this travesty against the teachings of The Bible, had had enough. They wanted equal time given in the classroom to alternate theories, namely intelligent design.
The problem? Intelligent design isn’t science-based – you can’t prove or disprove it – making it a tough sell for inclusion in a science class. The solution? Change the definition of science. Starting in 2005, after a 6-4 vote of the Board of Education, Kansas schools began teaching scientific theories based not only on direct observation and experimentation, but also on “logical argument and theory building.” In other words, faith.
“[The decision] gets rid of a lot of dogma that’s being taught in the classroom today,” said board member John Bacon, a Republican, and a believer in intelligent design. Bacon and other members of the Board believed the theory of evolution was “unproven,” and that intelligent design, although based on improvable hypotheses, was a better fit for the science curriculum of Kansas. The world reacted in horror: Scientists across the nation were outraged, and Bobby Henderson, an out-of-work physicist, was spurred to action. You could say he heard his calling.
“Touched By His Noodly Appendage”
“I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster,” Henderson says in an open letter to the Kansas Board of Education. “It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.”
Henderson’s letter goes on to explain that although a scientist can use carbon dating analysis to determine the age of, for example, a fossil in the ground, the results he gathers are altered as he gathers them by the “noodly appendage” of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an omnipotent, invisible deity Henderson and the “many others” of his faith profess to believe in. Not because He has been scientifically proven to exist, mind you. But because they believe he does. They have faith.
The letter goes on: “It is for this reason that I’m writing you today, to formally request that this alternative theory be taught in your schools, along with the other two theories. In fact, I will go so far as to say, if you do not agree to do this, we will be forced to proceed with legal action. I’m sure you see where we are coming from. If the Intelligent Design theory is not based on faith, but instead another scientific theory, as is claimed, then you must also allow our theory to be taught, as it is also based on science, not on faith.”
Henderson provides an example of the brand of science adhered to by the practitioners of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, recently dubbed Pastafarians, by showing how the yearly rise in average global temperatures since the 1800s until the present is in inverse proportion to the number of pirates worldwide. He even provided a graph.
Henderson’s letter drew national attention, highlighting the irony of teaching faith as science. Visits to his website skyrocketed. Those in a similar state of disbelief over the ordeal in Kansas took up Henderson’s proclamation of belief in a Flying Spaghetti Monster as a call to arms, rejecting the notion of faith-based science by professing belief in a deity whose existence could neither be proved, nor disproved; one made of pasta with a side of meatballs. T-shirts were made. The Church, at first proposed only in jest, became real.
Part cult, part satire, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster now exists in its own world, where science is only as real as we believe it to be; where, according to The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a book by Henderson published in 2006, heaven is a place with a beer volcano and a stripper factory; where the Pastafarians dress up in “full pirate regalia” at the directive of Him, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, because “He becomes angry if we don’t”; and the devout end their prayers with the exclamation “ramen.”
Henderson rejects the notion that Pastafarianism is satire, but coming from a man who takes fine art photographs of tacos, the proclamation sounds a bit muffled, as if his tongue were firmly planted in his cheek. Nevertheless, people believe.
“A Profound Kind of Religious Activity”
Since its inception in 2005, The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has taken on a life of its own: Pastafarians now rally to protest further injustices against common sense (Scientology being a favorite target); FSM sightings are pouring in, and children are instigating religious debate by insisting on their constitutional right to wear the garb prescribed by their religious beliefs, which, in the case of Pastafarianism, is an eye patch.
“If this is what I believe in, no matter how stupid it might sound, I should be able to express myself however I want to,” said Weaverville, North Carolina, high school student Bryan Killian. His school’s administrators disagreed, refusing to recognize his eye patch as a protected religious article. Killian was suspended from school until he agreed to return sans the Pastafarian accoutrement.
Although easily dismissed as an attack against organized religion, leading scholars suggest The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster may be something else; something as justifiably religious as the religion it seems to be rebelling against. Late last year, The American Academy of Religion met in San Diego to convene its annual theological conference. On the menu: Pastafarianism.
“Though many monsters may inspire terror or serve as scapegoats for psychological or cultural conflicts, monsters can also inspire laughter,” reads the lead-in to the discussion based on the paper “Evolutionary Controversy and a Side of Pasta: The Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Subversive Function of Religious Parody.” “This laughter may be no less subversive than terror, calling attention to and mischievously ridiculing mythic narratives, beliefs, and widespread cultural faiths that are held sacred. As ‘Pastafarians’ (loyal followers of the FSM) pledge their religious allegiance to an alternative creation myth inspired by a tangled amalgam of noodles, they seek to confound those who believe metaphysical cosmologies should be actively taught in science classrooms alongside evolutionary theory, offering a potent example of how monstrous humor can be used as a popular tool of carnivalesque subversion.”
The paper’s author suggested The Church of FSM was created intentionally to be rejected, prompting broader debate on the nature of religion in the process. He praised the church for its “epistemological humility.”
“[Pastafarianism is] quite clearly confronting order with disorder,” suggested another panelist, religious scholar and author David Chidester, “a profound kind of religious activity that we often overlook.”
“Even fake religions do authentically religious work,” said Samuel Snyder, author of the paper “Holy Pasta, and Authentic Sauce: The Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Messy Implications for Theorizing Religion.” He referred to community-forming activities, facilitating exchange of ideas and beliefs and spiritually bolstering their members. Likening, in effect, the wearing of a T-shirt embroidered with the phrase “WWFSMD?” (What Would Flying Spaghetti Monster Do?) to attending mass. A bit of a stretch? Perhaps. But the Pastafarians weren’t the first to suggest science was simply God’s practical joke.
“Decreased Piracy Contributes to Increased Tropical Cyclone Intensity”
In 2006, the Science Creative Quarterly hosted a competition to provide tangible, scientifically proven evidence of the Flying Spaghetti monster. Entries included such topics as “Piracy as a Preventor of Tropical Cyclones“:
We have demonstrated that pirate activity produces upwelling. It is thus obvious that a decreasing pirate population will result in less oceanic upwelling, especially in the Atlantic basin.
As evidenced by the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, decreased upwelling results in increased SST’s and more intense tropical cyclones. Our PARROT model predicts that if the downward trend in piracy continues tropical cyclones will intensify.
Sarah Sargent’s “Yes, Virginia, There is a Flying Spaghetti Monster“:
And yes, Virginia, there are pirates in Kansas. Pirates are everywhere, and they help spread the word of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The recent snowstorms in Kansas are proof of the valiant fight against global warming. It has not snowed because it is winter. Global warming does not respect calendars. No, it has snowed because the number of pirates in Kansas has increased.
And “Heads Up: Ramen“:
With recent research done in string theory, we can prove that we all have been constructed – on a very basic level – to look like Our Dish Most Holy. Super strings reveal to us the unifying and binding miracle of life that He has breathed into us. Every atom of our being is made of quarks which are in turn made of tiny strings vibrating towards spaghettidom.
The yet-to-be-declared winner will receive $100 worth of the Holy Noodles, Ramen.
As if the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster couldn’t support any more levity, it has also spawned a number of apocryphal additions to The Gospel. Encouraged by Henderson himself, these additions make up what’s called the “Loose Canon.” There are also a number of splinter churches, one of the most notable being The Reformed Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
“Most breakaway churches have focused on relatively superficial issues, such as clothing, the role of pirates, the characteristics of meatballs, etc,” reads the Reformed Church’s manifesto. “However, one recent reformation movement has addressed what it sees as a core issue in the original Church of the FSM. … The Reformed Church has a positive mission. Its goal is to target features of all religion (not just Christianity) that may get in the way of deeper spirituality. Laugh at what is superficial in your religion, and pay serious attention to what matters.”
“It’s a Serious Offense to Mock God”
After posting his letter, Henderson has heard from a number of representatives of the State of Kansas, most of whom applauded his efforts.
“Thanks for your comments about the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” wrote Janet Waugh, a representative from Kansas’ District 1. “I think your theory is wonderful and possibly some of the majority members will be willing to support it.”
“We have received thousands of emails from scientists around the world,” wrote Carol Rupe, a representative of District 8. “At first, they all tried to explain good science to us. After the vote last week, however, they have resorted to calling us hillbillies and morons. And those are the nice letters!”
But not all the responses were so positive. Kathy Martin, of District 6 had this to say: “It is a serious offense to mock God.”
Henderson, who said he wrote his letter for his own amusement as much as anything else, doesn’t believe he is mocking God. He’s mocking the ignorant. “I don’t have a problem with religion,” Henderson says. “What I have a problem with is religion posing as science. If there is a God and he’s intelligent, then I would guess he has a sense of humor.”
Henderson’s open letter concludes: “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, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.”
Unfortunately, he didn’t get his wish. Following a 2007 vote to again alter the definition of science in Kansas, there is only one version of the origin of the human species being taught in Kansas public schools: Darwin’s. No word yet on whether the Pastafarians intend to follow through with their threat of legal action.
Russ Pitts doesn’t believe in isms. His blog can be found at www.falsegravity.com.