Parody deity flies in face of Intelligent Design

Dogmatic concerns lead Oregonian to seek equal time

Ideas: Weird Science

August 21, 2005|By Carole Goldberg | Carole Goldberg,HARTFORD COURANT

Has the Flying Spaghetti Monster touched you with His Noodly Appendage? Bobby Henderson hopes so.

Henderson was honked off, to put it mildly, by those urging the teaching of Intelligent Design in high-school science courses (as is being considered in Kansas), a position recently supported by President Bush.

After a 4 a.m. stroke of inspiration, the 25-year-old, who has a degree in physics from Oregon State University, conceived the Flying Spaghetti Monster as the fount of a new religion. Now, his parody deity is gaining eager adherents through the Internet.

Henderson reasoned that if the nonscientific, faith-based concept known as ID - which says Darwin's Theory of Evolution cannot explain the complexity of creation and instead posits the existence of a supernatural intelligence - can be made part of a science class, then why not demand that Flying Spaghetti Monsterism's concept of creation be taught as well?

He drew the FSM, a squiggly tangle of spaghetti strands with two meatballs and eyestalks, and created an entire cosmology, with exhortations to the faithful to "Bask in His noodlyness and stare agape at His meatitude."

He also threw in a chart "proving" a correlation between the decrease in pirates and the increase in global warming. (Pirate garb is the preferred dress of the FSM faithful, it turns out, and parrots also are involved, as are references to The X-Files.) The religion also boasts "flimsy moral standards," a holiday every Friday and a heaven with a stripper factory and a beer volcano.

And he wrote to the Kansas Board of Education requesting equal time for FSMism.

Then Henderson looked at his work and saw that it was good. And so he posted the satire on the Internet, where it can be found at www.venganza.org.

And lo, the thing took off like ... a Flying Spaghetti Monster.

"It exploded in popularity over the last few months," Henderson says via e-mail from his Oregon home. His fans have elaborated on the concept - many call themselves Pastafarians - and he has received more than 3,500 e-mails, about 150 a day.

"Of these, I would say about 90 percent `get it.' I get relatively few hate mails, but they are my favorite," he says. The venganza.com site has logged more than 4 million hits and is averaging about 400 a day.

The site includes a version of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling, with the Noodly Appendage reaching out to touch Adam's forefinger; a poster for the Kansas Museum of Science; and a take-off of The X-Files' "I Want to Believe" poster," available with T shirts and mugs.

Behind the satirical - some would say silly and others sacrilegious - cosmology lies a sincere concern, Henderson says. That comes through in his letter to the Kansas School Board, which goes so far as to suggest he might take legal action if the board refuses his request.

"I don't have anything against the board, or even against Intelligent Design, for that matter," Henderson explains via e-mail. "But allowing supernatural theories in science courses such as biology is a threat to all of us."

"Dogma destroys the world, and it makes all of us stupider," he says. "And I don't mean strictly religious dogma. Anytime you come up with an idea first and then attach some supporting facts around it secondly, you're being dishonest.

"Science is by no means immune from this, either," he writes. "It is very easy to substitute correlation for causation to `prove' anything you like - i.e., that the declining pirate population is causing global warming. Preconceived notions have no place in science.

"Intelligent Design is not science; not so much because of what it is saying, but because of how it was constructed. The conclusion was created first [God created everything the way it is], and then supporting facts were attached to it. That's not science, and it has no place in a science classroom," Henderson writes.

He received two replies from members of the Kansas Board of Education before it voted 6-4 earlier this month to add criticism of evolution to school science standards. It will take a final vote this fall after an outside academic review takes place.

The new standards say the board is not promoting intelligent design, but the language favored by the board comes from advocates of that theory. One response, from Janet Waugh, says: "I am supporting the recommendations of the science committee and am currently in the minority. I think your theory is wonderful and possibly some of the majority members will be willing to support it."

The other, from Sue Gamble, says: "Thanks for the laugh. Your Web site is fascinating. I will add your theory to a long list of alternative theories I intend to introduce when it is appropriate. I am practicing how to do this with a straight face, which is difficult since it's such a ridiculous subject; it is also very sad that we are even having the discussion."

So far, Henderson says, he has had no responses from the board's six-member majority, nor from President Bush, to whom he wrote to thank "for supporting alternate theories of our origins, specifically (albeit unknown to him) FSMism."

And would he actually launch a lawsuit if Kansas just says no to the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

That would require a certain number of Kansans to swear faith in FSMism and show their rights were being suppressed by the inclusion of one Intelligent Design theory but not theirs. He says the suit would be "purely for principle and amusement," but "if it would hurt the actual cause of protecting science standards, I won't go through with it.

News services contributed to this report. The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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