EP 015: Monstrous Spaghetti

EP 015: MONSTROUS SPAGHETTI Historycal: Words that Shaped the World

What's squiggly, saucy, and digs a pirate patch? If Bobby Henderson's open letter to the Kansas School Board didn't spring to mind, this one is for you. If it did, ditto. 

In May 2005, the Kansas State Board of Education held the Kansas Evolution Hearings. Of course, both sides of the issues under debate were a little more complex than we have time to get into, but basically they aimed to introduce Intelligent Design into Science lessons, and to try and introduce a degree of skepticism to the teaching of evolution. 38 Nobel Laureates wrote a letter of objection, and the scientific community boycotted en masse. They were concerned, probably correctly, that the outcome of the hearings had pretty much been decided beforehand, and that the participation of the scientific community would lend a sense of legitimacy to something they considered was not going to be properly debated.

In the build up to these hearings, Bobby Henderson – a physics graduate from Oregon State University – wrote an open, satirical letter to the Kansas School Board. They, perhaps predictably, did not respond. So he did what any self-respecting person with strong views in the 21st Century would do, and posted it on the internet. Where, also predictably, it exploded.

Before we jump into it, and it’s too good not to have the whole thing, it’s important to point out something really crucial, but quite subtle, and easily missed in the parody. Henderson, and in fact, much of the Scientific community at the time, were not – and, in many cases, still are not – objecting to people of faith, or people with faith, or even – in certain contexts – to people being taught the tenants of those faiths. In large part, they’re not really even objecting to students being given alternative viewpoints and then making up their own minds. What they were objecting to was the way in which the board proposed to offer unverifiable, and sometimes just incorrect, scientific reasoning to promote one particular set of religious ideas, and then lumping that all under the banner of scientific enquiry.

So with that in the back of your mind, here’s Bobby Henderson:

I am writing you with much concern after having read of your hearing to decide whether the alternative theory of Intelligent Design should be taught along with the theory of Evolution. I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design.

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. 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.

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.

Some find that hard to believe, so it may be helpful to tell you a little more about our beliefs. We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it. We have several lengthy volumes explaining all details of His power. Also, you may be surprised to hear that there are over 10 million of us, and growing. We tend to be very secretive, as many people claim our beliefs are not substantiated by observable evidence.

What these people don’t understand is that He built the world to make us think the earth is older than it really is. For example, a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process on an artifact. He finds that approximately 75% of the Carbon-14 has decayed by electron emission to Nitrogen-14, and infers that this artifact is approximately 10,000 years old, as the half-life of Carbon-14 appears to be 5,730 years. But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage. We have numerous texts that describe in detail how this can be possible and the reasons why He does this. He is of course invisible and can pass through normal matter with ease.

I’m sure you now realize how important it is that your students are taught this alternate theory. It is absolutely imperative that they realize that observable evidence is at the discretion of a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Furthermore, it is disrespectful to teach our beliefs without wearing His chosen outfit, which of course is full pirate regalia. I cannot stress the importance of this enough, and unfortunately cannot describe in detail why this must be done as I fear this letter is already becoming too long. The concise explanation is that He becomes angry if we don’t.

You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s. For your interest, I have included a graph of the approximate number of pirates versus the average global temperature over the last 200 years. As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature.

(Here he includes a graph which does, indeed show a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature).

In conclusion, thank you for taking the time to hear our views and beliefs. I hope I was able to convey the importance of teaching this theory to your students. We will of course be able to train the teachers in this alternate theory. I am eagerly awaiting your response, and hope dearly that no legal action will need to be taken. 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 (Pastafarianism), and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.

Sincerely Yours,

Bobby Henderson, concerned citizen.

P.S. I have included an artistic drawing of Him creating a mountain and trees.

Remember, we are all His creatures.

The letter, upon arrival in The Internet, sparked such interest that The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Pastafarianism, gained enormous traction. It’s even received some recognition in certain parts of the world as a legitimate religion. It depends on your perspective – many people within the movement see it as a legitimate religion, but at the moment, It’s more commonly viewed by others as a social movement, that, amongst other things, aims to reject dogma. Bobby Henderson makes a really interesting point on the website, where he suggests that “Much of the transcendent experience of religion can be attributed to the community,” which Pastafarianism certainly has.

There’s an ongoing debate about this which I’d really encourage you to read more about. I’m not a Pastafarianist myself, so I might miss some of the nuances of this. But, for example, there’s been a lot of media attention around the world, when members of the Church have requested permission to wear their headgear in official photos – for things like driver’s licenses and passports. Just to clarify, the official headgear of Pastafarianism is a colander. I believe the colour is optional, but I stand corrected.

Now it all sounds very farcical and Monty Python at times, but the way I understand this is that they are trying to ask – or asking us to ask – a really important question. Namely, what is a religion, how does it start, and who gets to decide that it is one, once it’s happening? More importantly, who gets to decide which religions get protected, even promoted, in certain places, and which ones don’t.

If you’re interested, intrigued, or even amused, head over to their website. It’s like reading an extended version of the original letter, but with more pictures. And now, I for one, am going to find an enormous bowl of pasta, and a pirate suite.

Why not.

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