15. March 2010 16:35
Have you run across one of these lovely little gems on the back of someone’s car? The first time I saw one I asked: “What the heck is it?” But my question quickly changed to: “What sort of insult is this on the Christian worldview?” (It’s obviously meant to resemble the Ichthus.) So I looked it up and sure enough it is one of the atheist’s new parodies on religion. It originated in response to the Intelligent Design (ID) movement as a substitute to an ambiguous unspecified creator. Since ID focuses on design-detection instead of the attributes of the designer, why couldn’t the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) be an acceptable proxy? If teachers can invoke God as the unspecified Designer; why not the FSM? So goes the joke. In recent debates between theists and atheists I’ve noticed the FSM has been re-tasked. The argument goes something like this: “I do not need to present a case for the nonexistence of invisible pink unicorns or the flying spaghetti monster; therefore I do not need to present a case for the nonexistence of God.”
Let’s first deal with the intelligent design case since it’s relatively trivial to put to bed. ID focuses on the methodology of design-detection and not the designer. Dembski’s Design Inference (DI) is a mathematical filter to determine chance, necessity or design causation from its effects. I’ve read his works and as an engineer the filter makes sense to me and I just don’t see the controversy. ID may have their work cut out for them in showing how the DI filter is applicable to biology, but the idea design can be detected without knowledge of the designer’s attributes is straightforward. Many ID proponents are theists, so when asked to go off topic and speculate about the designer of the universe or complex cellular machinery, they look to God. Some teachers conflate ID with Creation Science giving the Darwinist an opening to draw attention away from the real debate. Can a design inference be drawn in biology or in cosmology? That’s what the ID community is trying to answer. When the Darwinist’s arguments are lacking, they turn to a somewhat humorous red herring.
In regards to the atheist-theist debate I believe the FSM is more interesting. Here the atheist argument is more likely to sound reasonable at face value. If a follower of the Greek gods were to demand I present a case for the nonexistence of Zeus, I might initially dismiss it on similar grounds. Why should I have to make a case for the nonexistence of such an entity? Now I could easily make a case against entities such as invisible pink unicorns and the flying spaghetti monster. We simply know these to be fictional characters. I could also make a case against Zeus, though requiring more effort than the FSM. It is an entirely different matter regarding God as atheists have tried for centuries and failed to make a lasting case for nonexistence. This has led them to philosophical positions like atheism as a default and silly arguments involving fictional entities.
If you were to ask the average atheist if he or she believed in the existence of the ajolote – a mysterious creature found under Mexico City that can regenerate most of its body parts; do you suppose he or she would say: “No way such a thing exists and I don’t need to make a case for its nonexistence any more than I have to prove the nonexistence of the flying spaghetti monster.” I doubt it. They would rather most likely ask: “What is an ajolote?” This sort of inquiry does not take place with the FSM because we know immediately it’s a fictional entity. If an atheist concludes the nonexistence of the ajolote after a case is made for its existence, one would expect his or her conclusion to be based on some sort of rational argument – not an a priori rejection because one need not disprove unicorns or ajolotes. Such an opting-out of the debate leads to ignorance. However unlike the ajolote, assuming incorrectly about God is far more significant.