Thomas Aquinas Meets The Flying Spaghetti Monster

As the League’s resident theological student, I have been a bit loathe to enter the atheism/spaghetti monster/god or no god (non)debate.  Perhaps the best comment (imo) came from James Williams  in the original thread who said that the Flying Spaghetti Monster (delicious be his name forever and ever) grows out of the intelligent (or lack thereof) design versus darwinian, er food fight.

Which is too bad in my opinion since, though it may seem strange to some, I’m hugely in favor of atheist religion creation.  Just done well and one that need not be anti-religious.   I generally agree with Freddie’s original point that the so-called New Atheists are in many ways uncivil and worse at times illiberal.  But so far as pastafarianism goes (Jah Pastafarai!!!) I think it’s too bad it doesn’t learn or rather practice a deeper atheist spirituality.

Atheism as such simply means not having the gods (theos) that everybody else worships at a certain time.  When Christians first came on the scene, they were called atheists because they didn’t worship the Greco-Roman-Near Eastern polytheistic pantheon.

The real question is what god(s) those who are a-theos don’t have.  What theos are they “a”-ing in other words? 

And in that regard the “New” Atheists–who are at least in their thinking 300 years old…not exactly new–they mean the theistic/deistic god of classical Protestantism from the 17th century onwards.  A God (or god) who is a being, a thing of some sort who either gets the whole universe-thing going and stays out (deism) or has super-powers to get involved at certain key points and do some super-magic:  rise from graves, zap baddies, presto chango healings, etc.

If that is the God that one either has to believe in or not, then I’m an atheist.  Of course that isn’t the only god around but don’t tell that to our (not so) new atheist friends.  They will have none of that.   This is why when I find myself sitting on the bus like last night reading an ad for ULTIMATE QUESTIONS—DOES GOD EXIST?, I become frustrated and just roll my eyes.

If you have ever read James Fowler’s work on the Stages of Faith, he shows (rather conclusively I think) that every person has a line of development that deals with the question What is Ultimate?  What is of Ultimate Care and Concern?  Theist, atheist or otherwise.  That journey goes through general basic patterns–again regardless of whether one is theistic, atheistic or otherwise.  There are degrees of depth to atheism as well as religious belief in other words.  [Freddie’s being a classic deeper atheist path than the New Atheists who are quite superficial].

The upshot of which is that there is no such thing as a non-believer.   Whether or not God exists is actually to me a secondary question–and one that is entirely dependent on what station of the journey one is at.  Since the referent God changes dramatically through that journey as well as the understanding of what existing means–and whether or not it is properly applied to God (or neither applicable nor inapplicable as I will argue in a moment).

The Does God Exist Battle Royale being held a local university here in Vancouver will be like so many of these–fairly stupid and pointless.  With each side coming in armed with the variations on the same arguments–I s–t you not–both sides have been making since the 1700s.  Everyone will basically go home further convinced of the superiority of their various side, further entrenched in their own self-sense, looking down their nose at their opponents then when they entered.

I could put money down and guarantee that no one will ever approach the idea that faith is not a set of dogmas (atheist, religious or otherwise) but rather what one ultimately puts one’s trust in.  Rather than the stupid inane question of whether God exists or not (easy answer: Who Cares?) why not people share what is of deepest value to them.  What they ultimately put their trust and their hope in?  What gives them strength in their darkest days, what gets them out of the bed in the morning?  That would at least serve some function and could bring some spirit to the event.

Since faith=trust, then calling someone an unbeliever is saying they are un-trusting.  I’ve never met a human who does not trust in something or someone, even if they be (imo) the idols of money, sex, food, their own ego, status, or whatever.  Everybody trusts that something will bring them salvation of one kind or another.  As a guy studying to be a priest, it’s just my general sense that msot of those ones we put our faith in ultimately let us down.   This is related to but distinct from Scott’s (also valid) point that there is the question of transcendental/spiritual experience whether or not there is a god or not (also generally ignored by New Atheists with the possible exception on this point of Sam Harris who practices Buddhist meditation).

Which brings us back to ye Old Monster du Flying espagetti.  Obviously no one is going to go this route, but it would be better to learn the analogic way of theology, even an atheist variety.  Fowler shows that as one deepens in faith–again of whatever kind–there is an increasing “As if” sense that one takes to myths, religious dogmas, stories, ideologies, worldviews, assertions, dogmas and the like.  They are both true and not true simultaneously.   There is what Ricoeur called a “second naivete.”  A naivete on the far side of suspicion and criticism.  Where we become suspicious of our suspicions.  Not like the original naivete of say a fundamentalism.

The Analogical Theological path works by taking classic attributions of the character of God and saying how they are true but not in a way we generally imagine and certainly not literally true.   e.g. God is not actually a Fortress.  God does not have ramparts and towers.  Nor a moat (though the divine alligator would probably be pretty cool I imagine).  To say that is to depict the Divine as unmoved, a place of safety against the arrows and the weapons (literal and metaphoric) of our world.

Entering the metaphor brings clarity and softness to the soul, again regardless of the ontological existence (or not) of God.  [Again which God? But for now assume whichever variety you like].

To add one more beef then finally with The New Atheists is that they don’t get literature from my viewpoint.  Certainly not the literature, the symbolism of religion, but literature of any kind.

Though this will seem like I’m being silly (and perhaps partly I am), in one way I’m being very serious when I say The Analogical Path should be applied to the Spaghetti Monster.   Because this is a practice that leads to depth, whether or not God is real or whatever ontological argument is to be had.

It’s a little harder with The Monster, but I’ll give it a try.  Again at least half-seriously.  The Spaghetti Monster is one who feeds us.  Upon whom we nourish.  His (Her?)  “noodles” extend out. They are al dente upon whom we can grasp and cling to.  When we “throw” the meaning of his name to the unresponsive walls of our world, when he has been cooked to the right temperature in the soul of the believer, he sticks.  He holds a place that can not be un-stuck to those upon whom he melds.

Like I said it’s kinda hard. [Insert you favorite joke about Flying Monsterish meat and balls here…]

For a more classic theological take on this subject re: why the question of whether God exists or not is the wrong question, here goes.  God existing assumes a separate Be-ing called God, who would be something like a giant ego in the Sky.  Or out there somewhere. The traditional (i.e. non-Intelligent Design, non-fundamentalist Protestant) view is that everything exists in God.  There is a similar argument made in Christianity that only God is truly personal whereas we are less than persons–sin being understood as de-humanization.  [This connects with Larison’s point on alternative meanings of dogma to ED].

To ex-ist is to stand out.  God in the classic view (the one I hold) is that which can neither stand out nor be understood be absent from standing out.  God is that from which and within which everything that arises and then expires (which comes into and then goes out of existence) comes to be.

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27 thoughts on “Thomas Aquinas Meets The Flying Spaghetti Monster

  1. The Does God Exist Battle Royale being held a local university here in Vancouver will be like so many of these–fairly stupid and pointless.

    What is this? Do you have a link?

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  2. I think you embarrass Aquinas here.
    Atheism is simply not an alternative religion, it is the absence of religion.
    Or rather the acknowledgement of the biological basis of behavior.

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  3. I don’t understand why this is so difficult to understand. Religion is science-substitute for homo sap. without the substrate to “get” actual science. The attempts to push IDT into high school curriculae are attemts to force respect for IDT as the peer of evolution.
    It’s all about teh Respect.

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  4. Chris,

    I find the oogedy-boogedy quotient of your post high. Talk about living in an ivory tower, grad students obviously don’t put their pants on one leg at a time, perhaps not even bothering with pants, just to busy contemplating “pantness.”

    But some specifics.

    You write, “Rather than the stupid inane question of whether God exists or not (easy answer: Who Cares?) why not people share what is of deepest value to them. What they ultimately put their trust and their hope in? What gives them strength in their darkest days, what gets them out of the bed in the morning? That would at least serve some function and could bring some spirit to the event.”

    1. What do you mean, “Who Cares?” I care because belief in god motivates actions, good and bad. But it is obviously the bad religious actors that I care about. I know, I know, I’m just being silly. Nineteen Allah worshiping nuts don’t really high jack plains all that often. And when was the last time we had videos posted of religious motivated be headings. Ages ago. Pat Robertson has seemingly given up blaming bad weather on gays. And you are correct, who cares that the Pope has lifted the excommunication of a Holocaust denying bishop. The only people that might care are ones that worry about something other than their seminar, “The Greek Influence on Calvin.”

    2. ‘…what gets them out of bed in the morning?” You mean other than that seminar? Oh, I don’t know. Getting the kids off to school, no, can’t be that. Going to work, or maybe looking for work, no, that is so middle class, even low brow. Forget that one. Flying planes into buildings, sounds right. I’ll vote for mas murder. It’s good to have a reason to get out of bed, especially one so edifying.

    Perhaps if the existence of gods could somehow be shown false flying planes into buildings, and other religiously motivated acts, would no longer get people out of bed. I’m with Chris Hitchens on this, “religion poisons everything.”

    You write, “And in that regard the “New” Atheists–who are at least in their thinking 300 years old…not exactly new–they mean the theistic/deistic god of classical Protestantism from the 17th century onwards. A God (or god) who is a being, a thing of some sort who either gets the whole universe-thing going and stays out (deism) or has super-powers to get involved at certain key points and do some super-magic: rise from graves, zap baddies, presto chango healings, etc.”

    Is “New Atheists” your concept or one trotted around grad school? I ask only because it is new to me and just curious as to it’s origin. Regardless, the definition you offer above seems (how can I say this without giving offense?) wrong. No offense.
    I just have three words to offer to refute it, Charles Darwin evolution.

    Later this month will mark the 200 year birthday of Darwin. His book was published about 1859 – 1860, I should look that up but I think the time frame is accurate. I find your assertion that nothing has changed in the last 300 years odd. Darwin changed everything. And the more science discovers about the evolution of the earth and life the more we have reason to question Iron Age myths. Now “young earth” advocates will just ignore or condemn Darwin. Creationists and intelligent design theorists will just fall back on some type of god, talk about nothing new.

    Any way I have gone on way too long for a comment, but just had to say it. And I am sorry for the snarky comments on grad school, kind’a, I have been there.

    Thanks

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  5. Cascadian,

    The link for Ultimate Questions is the one u want. It’s some on-going series I gather and they had one stop on the tour or whatever here recently. I’ve been to like a hundred of these and even participated in a few myself and I just think they never go anywhere. But maybe you think differently.

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  6. Bob,

    First off, I don’t mind the ripping grad school stuff. If I did anything I’d probably pile on with you.

    The so-called New Atheists is the term for writers like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, Michele Onfrey, and some others. They are more supposedly militant in their atheism. There are lots of differences between that crew with Hitchens probably the mostly virulently anti-religious. Dennett works more in philosophy of science, and Onfrey is actually building a de facto atheist religion–they meet on Sunday in a former church, have a lecture for an hour or two (don’t know if they sing songs??) and then quote his books.

    The reason I said they haven’t changed much in 300 years or so is that both sides are basically using the same arguments both and for an against–the logic is roughly similar. But yes there are new pieces of evidence, but that evidence is generally fit within the already existing mindframe of whoever is deploying it.

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  7. (con’t)

    And as far as Darwin, I have no real problem with Darwin. I have no time or space for Intelligent Design or Creationism. The question about God presumes certain philosophical positions (or metaphysics if you like)–again both sides have them. This is what Scott was getting at in his post on consciousness. If there ever were to be a God it would require consciousness to be real (whatever we mean by real).

    Generally the arguments on both sides about God or no God are really proxy arguments about their metaphysics. With one side claiming scientific fact (which nicely hides their own metaphysical assumptions) and the other side claiming divine inspiration or revelation (again hiding their own view).

    Which is why I say on that debate-front who cares? Because they aren’t getting to the heart of the issue it seems to me. On the political consequences of belief in God, which I wasn’t talking about but it’s fair you raised it, yes that obviously has huge ramifications. Does that make sense?

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  8. they haven’t changed much in 300 years

    Lies, Chris.
    Sir Richard’s foundation is the biological basis of behavior.
    The selfish genes code for only three things: reproduction, survival, and death. We know more about the biological basis for religion every day.

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  9. Matoko,

    First off, there are alternative biological analysis/theories going around. Some that emphasize more co-operation than Dawkins’ selfishness. I would imagine it’s some of both. But that’s not my main rebuttal.

    Second (and related): the “biological basis of behavior.” I don’t have any problem with those theories describing the biological basis of behavior. I think they do that very well.

    I think however there are things missing. Because I’m describing consciousness which is not equatable with behavior. I don’t think a biological study will reveal those dimensions of our being, which is fine, it doesn’t need to. It just might need to leave a little room for someone else or some other form of inquiry to fill in the rest of the picture.

    So Sir Richard or whoever is not wrong but rather only dealing with one slice of the larger pie (as it were) and calling his piece the whole enchilada–to mix my food metaphors.

    I don’t deny there are potentially biological/evolutionary adaptive reasons for religious belief. The problem I have is the de facto philosophical/metaphysical assumption that what constitutes all importance is adaptation/functionality. i.e. So if you can show that there are biological/evolutionary reasons for belief then you have exhausted and explained the whole enterprise.

    Certainly function and adaptation are a crucial aspect–if you can’t adapt you die. But is that all there is? Only if you already assume–for I would say philosophical and non-scientific reasons–that adaptation is the supreme value.

    Which gets back to my point about ultimacy/concern.

    Science requires approaching certain beings in a certain manner which reveals certain kinds of information. All to the good. But then to turn around and forget that what you see is dependent in part on how you approach and declare that what you have discovered is how it all really is for ever and ever–well that is just plain dumb in my book.

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  10. iow,

    the “hasn’t changed in 300 years line” is not about the science but about the structure of the logic of the argument. the philosophical viewpoint. namely in a humean empiricist sense–that if you can explain material causal links, then you have explained it all.

    Dennett wrote a book called Consciousness Explained. I think that is roughly what he did. I think explanation is the wrong guiding metaphor for consciousness.

    I would have preferred a book called Consciousness Revealed.

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  11. I’m reminded of the old – and classic – Simpsons episode with Stephen Jay Gould, in which the judge orders “religion to stay five hundred yards away from science,” but in which Gould acknowledges that he was unwilling to test whether the apparent bones of an angel were real or fake. I’ve long thought this was one of the most poignant Simpsons episodes; I also think it (ie, the episode as a whole) does a good job illustrating the way in which faith (which as you correctly note is synonymous in many ways with trust) should not – and cannot – attempt to masquerade as science, even as science should not – and cannot -seek to take the place of religion. I’m not sure if that fully makes sense in the context of this post, but as I said, that’s what this post reminded me of.

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  12. More lies….or just ignorance.
    The Evolution of Cooperation only supports the biological basis of behavior. I suggest Maynard-Smith’s excellent book, Evolution and the Theory of Games.
    Dawkins is referenced in that book for his mapping of ESSs (evolutionary stable strategies) to CSSs (culturally stable strategies).

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  13. Rather than the stupid inane question of whether God exists or not (easy answer: Who Cares?) why not people share what is of deepest value to them. What they ultimately put their trust and their hope in? What gives them strength in their darkest days, what gets them out of the bed in the morning?

    I’m agnostic, but one reason I’m kind of sympathetic to the New Atheists is that their victory would increase the number of people asking the latter questions. God as most theists believe in Him is the monoculture that chokes off every other question of value–so long as you believe that a benevolent God exists, you don’t have to ask any other questions. You don’t even have to ask what benevolence really means.

    To add one more beef then finally with The New Atheists is that they don’t get literature from my viewpoint. Certainly not the literature, the symbolism of religion, but literature of any kind.

    But that’s silly–one can certainly observe the deeper truths about the human condition within a literary work while simultaneously knowing that the work is fiction. And I think that’s exactly what atheists do when they argue how religion could be be explained by memes or evolutionary psychology.

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  14. Casc.,

    My understanding is the Campus Crusade for Christ (whose theology is typically of the variety I’m critiquing) held an event with a person arguing for God’s existence and another arguing against with reference to scientific/philosophical arguments here in Vancouver (BC). It was I think last week. I don’t know if there is another one or if that was it.

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  15. Consum.,

    I get what you are saying (at least I think I do) but I don’t think evolutionary psych is on the level of literature. Certainly there is a narrative or story or imaginative element to it in a way, but in another way not really.

    Steven Pinker is pushing something he calls Darwinian Literary Criticism which reads stories for evidence of evolutionary psych. e.g. The way the women fight over men in Jane Austen novels or whatever. Which to me is pretty superficial and imports another theory onto something and discovers evidence for what it already believes. It reveals something but I don’t think it’s the deepest, truest way of approaching the texts.

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  16. Sorry Chris, I completely missed your first answer to my question. Thanks for the info. I’ve never been to one and am usually looking for interesting things to do in Van on the weekends.

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  17. Dang, I do have to admit that Pinker can be a bit shallow at times. I’m still not sure that’s a problem with evolutionary psych or just bad evolutionary psych. In particular, it fails to explain why Austen novels stand out from other stories in which women fight over men.

    And more generally, I’d even concede that the New Atheists are doing a bad job analyzing religion in general–especially when they start blaming religion for everything bad that happened ever.

    OTOH, I do think evolutionary aesthetics is a worthy project, generally speaking. Consider Paul Ekman’s building on Charles Darwin’s work in emotions and facial expressions, or David Deutsch’s <A href=”http://www.qubit.org/people/david/index.php?path=Video/Why%20Are%20Flowers%20Beautiful”speculations on flowers and possible evidence for the existence of objective beauty. Evolutionary psychology, aesthetics, and theology are all still in their infancy–but I hope that artists and mystics will participate in the dialog as new discoveries are made and new data is observed–at the very least, it might curtail some overambitious reductionism.

    And more generally, even if there is an unbridgeable gulf between explaining something and experiencing something, I still think the explanation serves a deep purpose of it’s own. For the individual, each repetition of an experience tends to be less significant than those prior. The first time we learn a skill or notice an interesting feature in the landscape, we are most conscious of it, but after many repetitions of the skill we can perform it without realizing it, and after many observations a feature of the environment fades to the background and becomes invisible to us. This allows us to focus on new stimuli. I would argue that the process of automating our tasks with technology and explaining our experiences with science accomplishes the same thing collectively–“solving” the old mysteries leaves more room for new mysteries.

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  18. It must be very nice to be a graduate student of theology, living happily above the smoke and stir of this dim spot that men call earth in a state of higher vacuousness, quite beyond any historically conditioned ‘mind-set’, and in a position to refer so familiarly and immediately, and with such unexamined arrogance, to the ineffable in order to airily dismiss actual arguments that your intellectual betters have made without ever addressing them. Could Mr Dierkes explain what the metaphysical assumptions are that underlie the arguments of atheistical scientists and that they never broach? Could he explain what the metaphysical assumptions are of those benighted believers, whose inferior ways of thinking his own thinking so hugely transcends? Could he perhaps begin to examine his own metaphysical assumptions and attempt to explain clearly what they are and how they influence his thinking? I realise that it must be wonderful to be in a position where it seems that everyone else’s thinking is determined by extraneous factors but one’s own is not, but, then, I understand that taking LSD can be wonderful. Stripped of the chat about faith, James Fowler’s stages are the stages of growing up. I suggest that Mr Dierkes might try going through a few of them.

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