Tuesday, September 18, 2012

About an annoying anti-religious Facebook meme

Original version of the anti-religious Facebook meme.
Take a look at this anti-religious meme that is being spread on Facebook by a page called "Rationalist". As I write, the image has been liked well over 500 times and over 800 people thought it was so great that they decided to share it with all their social network friends.

Lets just skip past the appalling grammar in the second paragraph and the fact that it jumps between gender specific in the first paragraph and gender neutral in the second paragraph, to investigate exactly how rational the statement is. After all it bloody well should be rational if the originator is a page called "Rationalist" shouldn't it?

The first and most obvious flaw is that the whole statement is based upon a glaringly obvious false duality. People cannot be crudely divided into the mutually exclusive sets; "scientist" and "religious person" since many scientists are in fact religious. Believing in God and believing in the validity of the scientific method are by no means mutually exclusive.

Just in case you are uncertain about this false duality, here is a short list of just a few of the many Christians that have made notable contributions to science:

Roger Bacon: Franciscan friar that emphasised empiricism as the foundation of knowledge.
William of Ockham: Franciscan friar who worked on logic and physics and famously described the principle of parsimony that bears his name (Occam's razor).
Nicolas Copernicus:  A Catholic that introduced the heliocentric worldview.
John Napier: Protestant inventor of logarithms.
René Descartes: A staunch Catholic and a key thinker of the scientific revolution.
Blaise Pascal: Jansenist who did pioneering work in physics and mathematics.
Robert Boyle: Scottish chemist, physicist and inventor who argued that the study of science could improve the glorification of God.
Isaac Newton: Widely regarded as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, however he actually produced a much greater quantity of theological papers than mathematical works!
Carrolus Linnaeus: Lutherian theologian and the father of modern taxonomy.
Gregor Mendel: The Augustinian abbot who is known as the father of modern genetics for his painstaking work on inherited traits in pea plants.
Michael Faraday: Glasite church elder and famous English physicist who did pioneering work in the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry.
Louis Pasteur: Catholic inventor of the pasteurisation method and pioneer in the field of vaccination.
Max Planck: Observant Lutherian and founder of Quantum Mechanics.
Otto Hahn: Lutherian that won the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of the fission of heavy atomic nuclei.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell: British Quaker and astrophysicist that discovered the first radio pulsars.

Devout people of other faiths have also made huge contributions to science too, however I've just offered this short list of some of the many notable Christian scientists in order to back my assertion that "scientist" and "religious person" are not mutually exclusive sets. Interestingly, Georg Cantor (the man that developed set theory) was a Christian mathematician that maintained that his mathematical views were intrinsically linked to their philosophical and theological implications and identified the Absolute Infinite with God.

Returning to the Facebook meme; another obvious flaw is the fact that it relies so heavily on facile generalisations. As I've said before, if your argument relies on simplistic generalisations, you're better off either keeping your childish ideas to yourself, or failing that, pursuing a career in right-wing politics.

The generalisations are painfully obvious. Many distinguished scientists have lamented that the sheer volume of academic reading they must do in order to stay at the forefront of their field has prevented them from reading other stuff that they would have liked to, such as work in other scientific fields, philosophy, mathematics, theology, poetry or even just a lightweight novel or two, whilst anyone that has ever had the chance to peruse a vicar's personal library has probably been surprised to find all kinds of unexpected non-theological works within their collection. This is not to assert that all scientists are completely locked into their own specific field or that all vicars are particularly widely read, just that the generalisation that all scientists are widely read is as facile as the idea that all religious people only ever read their one specific religious text.

Amended version of the anti-religious Facebook meme.
To me the most absurd thing about this bigoted anti-religious meme is the fact that it has been disseminated by a Facebook page called "Rationalist", when it is such an utterly irrational construct. It is such a display of abject prejudice and philosophical incoherence, I'd say that anyone that shares the image is brazenly displaying their own lack of intellectual rigour and rationality.

It always amuses me when obnoxious atheists try to smugly display their "higher rationality" by endorsing moronically simplistic anti-religious propaganda like this. When "shouty atheists" endorse such irrational and incoherent rubbish, it actually demonstrates a hell of a lot more about their own lack of critical faculties than it does about the failings of the religiously minded folk they are attempting to smear.

In conclusion: When "normal" people see a Facebook meme that annoys them, they either ignore it, or leave a critical comment. I'm certainly not "normal" so I created an amended version of the image with red text explaining how stupid I think it is in order to share via my Facebook page and then wrote a lengthy blog post about the subject.

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