Unfortunately I spent much of July at home feeling sick and miserable. For part of that time, all I could do was sit and catch up on episodes of the comedy cartoon, South Park. Before elaborating, I must first note that I don’t recommend watching South Park if you have squeamish ears or a distaste for shock humor. And if you’re a kid, ask your parents before watching it; South Park may be a cartoon but it is not intended for kids. But I confess that I find South Park quite entertaining, largely because they poke fun of all sides of controversial social, political, and scientific issues. It thus seems fitting that South Park would inspire me to blog about the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). In fact, the only truly appropriate way to respond to something like the Flying Spaghetti Monster is to invoke something as brilliantly absurd as the comedy of South Park.
There are Darwinists who actually think that by mentioning the “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” they have made an argument. (In fact, the popularity of FSM cannot be explained apart from the fact that many of its fans view FSM as a real argument against ID.) I probably get about one e-mail per month from a Darwinist who says, “If we are going to invoke or teach ID, we might as well invoke or teach the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Has intellectual discourse stooped to such a low level? Such non-arguments deserve only one form of rebuttal: South Park.
The producers of South Park seem to understand that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a non-argument. In rather raunchy episode titled “Go God Go” (Part 1), South Park’s teacher, Mrs. Garrison, is sanctioned after she mocks evolution to her students (the episode also makes fun of Darwin-skeptics). Richard Dawkins is then brought in (in cartoon form) to teach the students about evolution. In a plot twist, Dawkins then asks Mrs. Garrison out on a date.
Unlike Dawkins, Mrs. Garrison doesn’t believe in evolution and she also believes in God. This distresses Dawkins, who during their date tries to convince her to become an atheist. Dawkins’ main argument is that believing in God is no better than believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, so you might as well be an atheist. While this may sound like an unfair parody, it isn’t: that’s precisely the argument Dawkins uses in his public writings:
We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can’t disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can’t disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.
(Richard Dawkins, “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God,” The Huffington Post, (October 23, 2006).)
South Park’s insightful creators then spoof Dawkins’ popular argumentum ad Flying Spaghetti Monster, and use Mrs. Garrison’s feigned conversion to atheism to mock the fact that the FSM is not any kind of an argument for evolution or atheism whatsoever:
Dawkins: “Why is someone as outspoken as you given themselves over to the whole God thing?”
Mrs. Garrison: “I’m not totally into the whole God thing, I just think you can’t disprove God.”
Dawkins: “Well, what if I told you there was a Flying Spaghetti Monster, would you believe it simply because it can’t be disproven?”
Mrs. Garrison: “You’re right. It’s so simple. God is a spaghetti monster. Oh thank you. Gees. My eyes are open. Hey everyone, I’m an atheist.”
Dawkins: “Really? Oh that’s wonderful!”
Mrs. Garrison: “No, I totally get it now. Evolution explains everything. There’s no great mystery to life. Just evolution. And God’s a spaghetti monster. Thank you Richard.”
Dawkins: “You’re so welcome.”
Mrs. Garrison: “Would you like to head over to my place for dessert?”
(South Park, “Go God Go” (Part 1), Season 10, Original Air Date: 11/1/06.)
I won’t discuss the vulgar scene that happens next, but South Park’s mockery of FSM makes its point loud and clear: the Flying Spaghetti Monster is just a silly cartoon character and it does not imply that “evolution explains everything” nor does it imply there is no God. In fact, FSM really says nothing about the scientific debate over intelligent design and evolution. But for some Darwinists, further explanation why FSM makes a poor argument is apparently required.
The logical rebuttal to FSM is simple. FSM fans want to cast ID as an arbitrary explanation that has no logical force behind it, i.e. they argue that invoking ID is no better than invoking something as silly as the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The problem for their logic is that ID is not an arbitrary explanation, because we have much experience with intelligent agents producing the type of informational complexity we see in nature. Stephen C. Meyer, who holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science from Cambridge, explains this point clearly:
[W]e have repeated experience of rational and conscious agents-in particular ourselves-generating or causing increases in complex specified information, both in the form of sequence-specific lines of code and in the form of hierarchically arranged systems of parts. … Our experience-based knowledge of information-flow confirms that systems with large amounts of specified complexity (especially codes and languages) invariably originate from an intelligent source from a mind or personal agent.
(Stephen C. Meyer, “The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Vol. 117(2):213-239 (2004).)
Elsewhere, Meyer and microbiologist Scott Minnich explain that invoking intelligent causes is not arbitrary because “[i]n all irreducibly complex systems in which the cause of the system is known by experience or observation, intelligent design or engineering played a role the origin of the system,” and therefore, “[a]lthough some may argue [ID] is a merely an argument from ignorance, we regard it as an inference to the best explanation, given what we know about the powers of intelligent as opposed to strictly natural or material causes.”
To invoke the Flying Spaghetti Monster is to invoke an arbitrary, silly, and unscientific cause. But in science, to invoke intelligent causation is not to invoke an arbitrary explanation. We have observation-based experience with intelligent agents which shows that they are the only known causes of high levels of specified complexity — the very type of specified complexity we find in natural structures. Using uniformitarian reasoning, a common form of scientific reasoning which invokes causes that we observe in nature that are sufficient to account for the observed data, we can use our observations about the power of intelligent agents to infer the prior action of intelligent causes.
There’s nothing arbitrary about it.
Something inside me keeps saying that such logical rebuttals give far too much dignity to FSMism. Given that FSM is merely a funny non-argument in cartoon form, the only real antidote for FSMism is to expose its illogic by invoking other funny non-arguments satirized in cartoon form. So if you’re a Darwinist and you still don’t get the point, then my only suggestion is this: Go watch more South Park.