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February 24, 2009

Flying Spaghetti Monster

Niklas Jansson’s adaptation of Michelangelo‘s The Creation of Adam depicts the Flying Spaghetti Monster in its typical guise as a clump of tangled spaghetti with two eyestalks, two meatballs, and many “noodly appendages“.

Logo of the Flying Spaghetti Monster on a car bumper evoking the Ichthys.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is the deity of the parody religion The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, created in 2005 by Bobby Henderson as a satirical protest to the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to biological evolution. Since the intelligent design movement used ambiguous references to an unspecified ‘Intelligent Designer’ to avoid court rulings prohibiting the teaching of creationism as a science, this presumably left open the possibility that any imaginable thing could fill that role.

In an open letter sent to the education board, Henderson parodies the concept of intelligent design by professing belief in a supernatural creator, which closely resembles spaghetti and meatballs. He furthermore calls for the “Pastafarian” theory of creation to be taught in science classrooms.

Due to its recent popularity and media exposure, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is often used by atheists, agnostics (known by Pastafarians as “spagnostics”), and others as a modern version of Russell’s teapot and the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

Origins

The first public exposure of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (CoFSM) can be dated to January 2005, when Bobby Henderson, describing himself as a concerned citizen, sent an open letter regarding the FSM to the Kansas State Board of Education. The letter was sent prior to the Kansas evolution hearings as an argument against the teaching of intelligent design in biology classes. Intelligent design was thought of as a way to teach creationism in the public school system without mentioning the word “God”. Henderson stated that both his theory and intelligent design had equal validity; saying

“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.”

Henderson explained, “I don’t have a problem with religion. 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.”

The Board only responded after Henderson posted the letter on his website, gaining significant public interest. Henderson subsequently published the responses he received from Board members.

As word of Henderson’s challenge to the Board spread, the website and Henderson’s cause gathered more attention and support. The satiric nature of Henderson’s argument made the Flying Spaghetti Monster popular with bloggers as well as humor and Internet culture websites. The Flying Spaghetti Monster was featured on websites such as Boing Boing, Something Awful, Uncyclopedia, and Fark.com. Even recent fan sites, such as fsmawareness.com have sprung up to spread its existence. The mainstream media quickly picked up on the phenomenon as the Flying Spaghetti Monster became a symbol for the case against intelligent design theory in public education. Henderson himself was surprised by its success, stating that he “wrote the letter for [his] own amusement as much as anything.”

 Later developments

In August 2005, in response to a challenge from a reader, BoingBoing.net announced a $250,000 challenge, later raised to $1,000,000, for “Intelligently Designed currency” by other bloggers, payable to any individual who could produce empirical evidence proving that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The challenge is modeled after a similar challenge issued by young-Earth creationist Kent Hovind (an award of $250,000 to anyone who can prove evolution “is the only possible way” that the Universe and life arose).

In November 2005, the Kansas State Board of Education voted to allow criticisms of evolution, including language about creative design, as part of testing standards. On February 13, 2007, the Board voted 6 to 4 to reject the amended science standards enacted in 2005. This was the fifth time in eight years that the Board had rewritten the standards concerning evolution.

Bobby Henderson, a 25-year-old Oregon State University physics graduate, had stated on his website that he was desperately trying to avoid taking a job programming slot machines in Las Vegas. On November 15 the Dallas Morning News described him as an unemployed slot-machine engineer, and on the following day the New York Magazine described an advance from Villard to write The Gospel of The Flying Spaghetti Monster with the subheading “Jackpot for unemployed slot-machine engineer and heretic”. As of February 2008, Henderson describes himself as spending “a lot of time trying to avoid a Real Job”, saying that “it’s not just about the money. Speculative work is more interesting. Specifically, I’m interested in random stupid projects.” He cites as a successful example his “taco-art project” which took him one day, and orders for prints had made him over $2,000, though many other “stupid (but interesting) projects” didn’t work out.

In November 2007, three talks involving the Flying Spaghetti Monster were scheduled to be delivered at the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting in San Diego. The talks included titles such as, “Holy Pasta and Authentic Sauce: The Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Messy Implications for Theorizing Religion”. Academics say while its inclusion in the program may get laughs, it is a serious debate on the essence of religion exploring questions such as “does religion require a genuine theological belief or simply a set of rituals and a community joining together as a way of signaling their cultural alliances to others?” or in short, “is an anti-religion like Flying Spaghetti Monsterism actually a religion?”

In December 2007, The Ledger reported that members of venganza website, Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, sent emails to School Board members in Polk County, Florida, on the issue of intelligent design.

Beliefs

Henderson proposed many of the beliefs in reaction to common arguments by proponents of intelligent design.

The canonical beliefs of Flying Spaghetti Monsterism are set forth by Henderson in the Open Letter, the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and on Henderson’s web site, where he is described as a prophet.

The central belief is that there is an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster, who created the entire universe “after drinking heavily.” The Monster’s intoxication was supposedly the cause for a flawed Earth. All “evidence” for evolution was planted by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, in an effort to test Pastafarians’ faith — a form of the Omphalos hypothesis. When scientific measurements, such as radiocarbon dating, are made, the Flying Spaghetti Monster “is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage.”

The Pastafarian belief of heaven stresses that it contains beer volcanoes and a stripper factory. Hell is similar, except that the beer is stale, and the strippers have STDs.

Henderson uses parallel concepts from religious texts when describing the FSM, poking fun at those who literally interpret the Bible. The religious text of the Pastafarian religion is called the Loose Canon instead of the formal Canon. In place of the Ten Commandments, it contains the Eight I’d Really Rather You Didn’ts.

The official conclusion to prayers is “RAmen”, contained in certain sections of The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and so on. It is a portmanteau of the Semitic term “Amen” (used in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam); and Ramen, a type of noodle. While it is typically spelled with both a capital “R” and “A”, it is also acceptable to spell it with only a capital R.

Pirates and global warming

Chart comparing Number of Pirates versus Global Warming. This chart, a version of which was included with Bobby Henderson’s original letter to the Kansas School Board, illustrates the absurdity of assuming that correlation implies causation. Note the inversion of 45,000 and 35,000 on the Number of Pirates-axis, implying that the strength of the intelligent design argument lies in the misrepresentation of data.

According to the Pastafarian belief system, pirates are “absolute divine beings” and the original Pastafarians. Their image as “thieves and outcasts” is misinformation spread by Christian theologians in the Middle Ages and by Hare Krishnas. Pastafarianism says that they were in fact “peace-loving explorers and spreaders of good will” who distributed candy to small children, and adds that modern pirates are in no way similar to “the fun-loving buccaneers from history.” Pastafarians celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19.

The inclusion of pirates in Pastafarianism was part of Henderson’s original letter to the Kansas School Board. It illustrated that correlation does not imply causation. Henderson put forth the argument that “global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of pirates since the 1800s.” A chart accompanying the letter shows that as the number of pirates decreased, global temperatures increased. This is akin to the suggestion from some religious groups that the high numbers of disasters, famines and wars in the world is due to the lack of respect and worship towards a deity.

In 2008, Henderson has interpreted the growing pirate activities at the Gulf of Aden as an additional empirical support, pointing out that Somalia has “the highest number of Pirates AND the lowest Carbon emissions of any country.”

 Holiday

Around the time of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, Pastafarians celebrate a vaguely-defined holiday named “Holiday”, which doesn’t take place on “a specific date so much as it is the Holiday season, itself.” Because Pastafarians “reject dogma and formalism”, there are no specific requirements for the holiday.[29]

Pastafarians note the increasing popularity of their holiday at the expense of others, with stores and shops now wishing people “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” — even George W. Bush’s White House Christmas cards wished people a happy Holiday season, leading Henderson to write the President a note of thanks, including an FSM “fish” emblem for his limo or plane.

 The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

The Gospel of The Flying Spaghetti Monster

In December 2005, Bobby Henderson received a reported USD $80,000 advance from Villard to pen The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Henderson said he plans to use the proceeds from the sale of the book to build a pirate ship, with which he may travel the world in order to convert heathens to the Pastafarian religion. The book was released on March 28, 2006 (ISBN 0-8129-7656-8).

The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster parodies biblical figures with characters such as Captain Mosey, a pirate and the FSM equivalent of Moses. The Gospel contains the aforementioned Eight “I’d Really Rather You Didn’ts.” It also provides information on how to convert non-“Pastafarians” and explains many of the religion’s beliefs (for example, that lack of pirates causes global warming).

 Notable use in other religious disputes

In December 2007, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was credited with being at the forefront of successful efforts in Polk County, Florida to persuade Polk County School Board to withdraw from a potential challenge to new science standards mentioning evolution. The issue was raised after five of the seven board members declared a personal belief in the concept of intelligent design. Opponents describing themselves as Pastafarians sent e-mails to Polk school board members, demanding equal time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism. Board member Margaret Lofton, who supported intelligent design, dismissed the e-mail as ridiculous and insulting, and said, “They’ve made us the laughing stock of the world”. As the controversy developed, scientists expressed their opposition to the claims of intelligent design. Hopes for a new applied science-focused campus of the University of South Florida in northeast Lakeland were reportedly in question, but University Vice President Marshall Goodman expressed surprise and said of intelligent design that, “It’s not science. You can’t even call it pseudo-science.” Lofton then stated that she had no interest in engaging with the Pastafarians or anyone else seeking to discredit intelligent design. While unhappy with the outcome, Lofton chose not to resign over the issue. She and the other board members expressed a desire to return to the day-to-day work of running the school district.

There are some North American universities that, in addition to having various long-standing religious organizations, also have organizations dedicated to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Bryan Killian, a high school student in Buncombe County in North Carolina, was suspended for wearing “pirate regalia”, which he said was part of his faith. Killian protested the suspension, saying it violated his right to religious freedom.

In March 2008, Pastafarians in Crossville, Tennessee successfully won city approval to place a Flying Spaghetti Monster statue next to the Courthouse, and proceeded to do so. The statue was later evicted, as part of a removal of all long-term statues from the premises, caused mainly by controversy over the statue.

 The Flying Spaghetti Monster in media

  • In August 2005, the Swedish concept designer Niklas Jansson created, “pretty much free to use for press and such as far as I’m concerned”, an adaptation of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam (superimposing the Flying Spaghetti Monster over God) which became and remains today the FSM’s de facto brand image.
  • The Hunger Artists Theatre Company produced a comedy called The Flying Spaghetti Monster Holiday Pageant in December 2006, detailing the history of Pastafarianism. The production has spawned a sequel called Flying Spaghetti Monster Holy Mug of Grog, to be performed in December 2008.
  • The Flying Spaghetti Monster was discussed by Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion. It has also been featured in several other media outlets, including The Colbert Report and Science Friday.
  • The Flying Spaghetti Monster was mentioned by Dimitris Xygalatas in his introduction to the Greek translation of Daniel Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell, to demonstrate what the author views as the absurdity of Intelligent Design, which he claims is equal to that of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The FSM also features on the cover of the book.
  • In the British television series, The IT Crowd, the sympathetic character Maurice Moss has a picture of the Flying Spaghetti Monster above his desk.
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