On Monday 21st November, I was invited to speak at an event in Maynooth University, as an ordained minister in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of Ireland. The topic related to faith, and how reliable or otherwise this is, as a method of understanding the truth about the world. The transcript for the talk is below.
I was raised as a Roman Catholic. My parents are devout people, who ensured that their kids never missed Mass. I was educated by the Christian Brothers, who ensured that I received comprehensive instruction in Catholicism. In my twenties, I had as much faith in Catholicism as anyone here in Maynooth. I had faith in scripture as the inerrant word of god and I had faith in the authority of teachings from the Roman Catholic Magisterium. Together, these two sources of revelation, scripture and authority, are referred to within Catholicism as the “Deposit of Faith” or the “fidei depositum”. As I grew older though, I realised that faith in scripture and faith in authority, are unreliable ways to learn about what is true in the world. That is why I defected from the Roman Catholic Church and became an ordained minister in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
For example, the doctrine of Original Sin is described in the New Testament within the Epistles of Paul to the Romans and the Corinthians. The scriptures insist that the Fall of Man (when Eve disobeyed god) was an actual historic event and that Adam was an actual historic character, who was the direct ancestor of all subsequent humans. This proposed historical context for humanity, whereby all people are descended from a single couple (Adam and Eve) is simply not consistent with evolutionary biology or with genetics. In every single cell of every single person in this room, there is conclusive proof that faith in this scriptural doctrine, is faith in a falsehood.
Faith in the teaching of the Roman Catholic Magisterium on this same topic, is also demonstrably misplaced. In 1950, a papal encyclical called Humani Generis addressed human evolution explicitly, and this remains the most contemporary teaching from the Magisterium on the subject. While this document accepts the naturalistic evolution of all other life on earth, it continues to insist that that the Fall of Man was an actual historic event and that Adam was an actual historic character, who was the direct ancestor of all subsequent humans. It also describes the reason for this teaching, which is, that if the Book of Genesis is purely allegorical, then Jesus would have sacrificed his life for a metaphor. This would clearly be a poor way for the divine to have invested his time. So again, in every single cell of every single person in this room, there is conclusive proof that faith in this teaching of the Roman Catholic Magisterium, is faith in a falsehood.
That means that both aspects of the Catholic “Deposit of Faith” are demonstrably unreliable. The revelations from both the scriptures and from the Magisterium, give us teachings that are clearly false. Faith in revelation, faith in scripture and faith in authority are all patently misplaced. I came across many such examples of where the Catholic faith could not be reconciled with the physical sciences. Faith in Original Sin cannot be reconciled with evolutionary biology or genetics. Faith in transubstantiation cannot be reconciled with chemistry or the atomic theory of matter. Faith in an eternal immortal soul cannot be reconciled with physics or neuroscience.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that when I am tempted to commit a sin, my decision is not made by my physical brain alone but also involves my incorporeal, ethereal, immortal soul. This teaching contradicts both the known aspects of brain function that have been demonstrated by neuroscientists and also the laws of physics. For example, particle physics tells us that some kinds of particle interact with each other and some don’t. Anyone with two torches can demonstrate that two photons of light will not interact with each other but instead, beams of light will just pass right through one another. However, where any two particles do interact, let’s call them an X particle and a Y particle, there is a very fundamental law of physics that applies. If an X particle and a Y particle interact, then you can also smash two X particles together to create a Y particle, or smash two Y particles together to create an X particle.
This was relevant when physicists tried to understand why the protons and neutrons at the centre of atoms were so much heavier than electrons. Protons and neutrons are both examples of a class of particle called a hadron and they are around 2,000 times heavier than an electron. Peter Higgs proposed that this difference in mass was explained by hadrons interacting more strongly, with a then undiscovered new boson particle. So, according to the laws of physics, if a hadron interacts with a proposed new kind of boson particle, then it should be possible to collide hadrons together to create the theoretical new bosons that Peter Higgs had imagined. After $9 billion dollars was spent to build the biggest and most complex machine in the history of humanity, the clever people working at the Large Hadron Collider were able to smash protons together fast enough, in order to create the Higgs boson. Both Peter Higgs and the laws of physics were able to make accurate predictions about which particles interact with which other particles.
The point of this story is that these same laws of physics, have also given us a full inventory of all of the possible particles that can interact with the atoms in our brains as we make decisions. If the laws of physics underlying the LHC are correct, then there can be no other particles or forces that participate in human decision making outside of this inventory. It is important to note that this inventory of particles does not contain any soul-stuff. So either I don’t have a soul, or else my soul doesn’t interact with my body in any way and therefore can’t be responsible for my decisions, or else the many thousands of scientists working in CERN have all wasted their lives on a shared delusion about how the universe works.
The view of the Pope about the human soul, cannot be reconciled with the view of the scientists at CERN about the atoms that humans are made of. One of these opinions must be wrong. They cannot both be correct. You must choose either the people wearing white lab coats in CERN, or the man wearing a white dress in the Vatican. You must choose to accept either the objective evidence of repeatable experiments, or else you can reject that evidence in favour of faith in the Bishop of Rome and his silly hat.
This is why I defected from the Roman Catholic Church. I felt that it would be completely ridiculous for me to continue to put my faith, in a set of beliefs about the world, which could easily be demonstrated to be objectively wrong. Having faith in teachings that are inconsistent with evidence is not a virtue. It’s just plan silly. As a consequence, I became an ordained minister in a much less silly Church. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is much more sensible than the Roman Catholic Church.
For example, Pastafarians do not believe that humans were created in the image of an invisible character called Yahweh. Instead, we believe that the entire universe and everyone in it, was created by an invisible Flying Spaghetti Monster. Pastafarians don’t insist on faith in the omnipotence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. We don’t even insist on faith in the benevolence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Consider the terrible earthquakes that we see causing so much devastation across the world almost every year. This is easily explained by Pastafarians since our god is not always benevolent. Rather, he is sometimes a total jackass, just like me and just like everyone else in this room. If you ask me why my god created a world, which so often seems designed to kill people arbitrarily in earthquakes and volcanos, I would respond by describing the teaching of my Church about the profound drunkiness of my god while he created the universe. Being drunk on the job seems like just the kind of thing that a total jackass might do from time to time.
If asked the same question though, Catholicism offers some much more ridiculous responses than ideas about a pasta-based deity who frequently drinks a little too much chianti. During previous earthquakes, just as the tremors began, there have undoubtedly been many innocent young children who started praying to the all-loving Catholic god to be spared. Catholicism teaches that their all-loving god heard those prayers, listened carefully, considered that he might use his omnipotent powers of earthly intercession, but decided instead that many of those young children should suffer a slow and agonising death in absolute terror. That god sounds like a total jackass to me. However, Catholicism seeks a different reason to explain why god intercedes on earth to appear as a lamb on a gable wall in Knock, but lets innocent children suffer pointless agonies in earthquakes.
I’m sure that with regard to theodicy, we have all heard Catholic apologists offer obfuscation and sophistry about the mind of god being mysterious and beyond our understanding. These are the same Catholic apologists who claim to have a very finely tuned understanding of the mind of god in a different context. With regard to women managing their reproductive cycle using a calendar and a thermometer for example, they claim to know that god is perfectly sanguine about this behaviour. However, where women seek to achieve exactly the same thing with some hormone tablets instead, they claim such a high fidelity perception of god’s opinions, that they chastise women about such behaviour making god really quite upset. Catholics ask young women to have faith in the almighty authority of the Magisterium to tell them what god wants them to do in the privacy of their own bedroom. Yet those same Catholics also ask the same young women to have faith in the total and abject ignorance of the Magisterium, about why god lets earthquakes kill them as they pray in their bedrooms.
So this is the kind of problem that arises when we continue to recommend faith in beliefs that clearly cannot be reconciled with the world that we are living in. Catholics demand faith that god wants to see a prohibition on condoms across AIDS-riven Africa. Catholics demand faith that god requires discrimination against women in ordinations. Catholics demand faith that god requires discrimination against gay people in marriages. Faith in demonic possession and the power of priests to expel devils. Faith that god creates both an immortal soul and also a guardian angel for every fertilised egg, even though more than half of them are flushed down the toilet before a woman even becomes pregnant. Faith that the creator of the universe gives special men the power to turn a glass of wine into the blood of a 2,000 year-old Palestinian carpenter. Faith that diseases which display spontaneous remission, are miraculous indications of sainthood for specific deceased individuals. Faith that Adam and Eve were actual historic characters and that the Fall of Man was an actual historic event. Faith that the laws of physics are suspended inside the human skull to allow for our ethereal, immaterial souls to make our decisions.
This kind of faith is patently absurd but if I’m honest with myself, it also gives rise to an uncomfortable question for me. That is, if faith is such an unreliable way for Catholics to understand the truth about the world, can Pastafarian faith be any more reliable? Well, the first thing to say about that is that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is objectively more sensible than the Roman Catholic Church. We can state that with confidence, because both Churches make very specific claims about the world that we live in and we have objective ways to measure which claims about our world are correct and which are not. For example, both of our Churches have faith in the efficacy of intercessionary prayers that are answered by our respective omnipotent deities. The only difference is that my Church believes that god is quite often a total jackass, who ignores prayers or gets too drunk to answer them competently. In contrast, Catholics have faith in an omniscient and omni-benevolent god. So for example, we could each pray to our gods for an end to all pointless suffering from natural disasters during 2017. We could then observe whether the results are best explained by a diligent and benevolent god, or by a drunken incompetent god. Of course, others might make the atheistic observation that a drunken absentee god is practically indistinguishable from no god at all. I can guarantee that whatever doctrine that we decide to examine though, and however we decide to measure it, my faith comports with reality much more closely than Catholicism does because my Church prioritises evidence over faith. Pastafarianism is objectively much more sensible than Catholicism.
In conclusion then, Pastafarian beliefs about an invisible Flying Spaghetti Monster are based on both faith and logic. I have faith that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe and I logically know that He’s invisible because I can’t see Him. However, in the final analysis I would have to admit that faith in general is an unreliable way to discover the truth about the world. Just because my faith is objectively much more sensible than Catholicism, doesn’t mean that my faith is itself reliable. So I would have to accept that faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster is completely irrational. As a matter of objective truth though, while it is very silly to be a Pastafarian … it is certainly much more silly again to be a Roman Catholic.
Roman Catholic bishops even have much sillier hats than mine.
National Committee, Atheist Ireland
Secretary, Atheist Alliance International
Ordained Minister, Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of Ireland