09 Apr 2017

Internet Atheists on Science vs. Religion and Women’s Rights

Religious 26 Comments

I recently came across this meme on Twitter, from the “Atheist Republic” account:

Science vs Religion

Now I grant you this is somewhat untestable, since I probably don’t think to tell you all the times my hunches are wrong, but for what it’s worth, I had a very strong suspicion when I saw this picture, that the woman on the left would be religious.

And sure enough, it looks like I was right. First, through some amazing sleuthing that would have impressed Bruce Wayne, I identified the woman as Dr. Tracy Caldwell Dyson. (She has a PhD in physical chemistry from UC Davis.) If you check out her Wikipedia entry, you’ll see that her image is the one they used for the meme above.

Then I found a short statement from her (total of 10 paragraphs) from her bio on NASA’s website. Here are the final two paragraphs:

Through the ten years astronauts have been living in space, NASA has gotten smarter about how to keep them happy and healthy. Much of that involves keeping in touch with family. Naturally, it’s a greater challenge from orbit, even greater when your husband is at the same time deployed on a naval carrier, flying jets, and helping to defend our country. Though we made contact almost every other weekend, there were often long periods of time when we didn’t hear from each other. With jobs like ours, we just kept faith in God that each other were safe. Time spent with him during family conferences certainly made for some of the most personally meaningful moments of my life on orbit.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned on my journey of becoming and serving as an astronaut for NASA, is to not give away my self-confidence. I believe it’s a lesson I’m still learning. You come into this world with a set of God-given talents, and who are you to shy away from them? It’s a strange fear that you’re not good enough. Add on top of that whatever experience you’ve gained in life to complement your set of skills and personality, and it’s the tumbles you make on the path of life that seem to stand beside you like a coach yelling from the sidelines. I’ve learned there’s a way to deafen that voice in your head that chips away self esteem and makes you hesitate. The easy road shelters you from failure so you don’t make a mistake. The road you want, though, takes belief, determination, and balance (there’s such a thing as too much confidence). Best course is to know yourself and like who you are. Understand what it is you enjoy doing and don’t worry if it doesn’t match what motivates “everyone else”. You are the best at being you (and not someone else) and are at your best when what you do makes you happy. Great is what you’ll be and confidence is the bag you carry it in. [Bold added.]

So notice, not only is the Atheist meme totally wrong, but it has things backwards. Dr. Caldwell is who she is, in part because of her faith in God. Yes, there are barriers to women in science (and the business world, etc.), even in “liberal” Western societies. But if you believe that you are a daughter of an omnipotent Father who loves you infinitely, then it’s easier to stand up to jerk bosses or crude colleagues.

I will also point out that someone in the comments at the original tweet complained: “Don’t use Abrahamic religions as representative of all religion.”

Well, boatloads of very accomplished women in science and other fields have come from Judeo-Christian societies. So really what this person should be saying is, “Don’t conflate Islam with all religion.” But of course that sounds too close to Fox News, so the person I’m sure sincerely believes that the problem is the God of Abraham.

People are horrible sinners, and men have done terrible things to women over the ages. Yet in response to these awful abuses, certain versions of modern feminism and progressivism teach that men are literally equal to women, in all respects, and that we must wipe out any specialized rules from our institutions and social norms. This extreme view of “equality” is clearly wrong. If you start with this notion of equality as your foundation, everything will fall apart.

The strongest women I know are Christians, and have very “old fashioned and patriarchal” views on marriage. The reason they are so strong is that they fear God, not men.

26 Responses to “Internet Atheists on Science vs. Religion and Women’s Rights”

  1. Tel says:

    Just release the meme again with a little arrow pointing saying “Christian”.

    I would probably label it along the lines of “Individualist Religion” on the left, and “State Controlled Religion” on the right.

    • Craw says:

      Indeed, that fits very well.

  2. E. Harding says:

    Religion’s bad, mmkay? I typically view it as an infinitely malleable smokescreen.

  3. Josiah says:


    When I saw this meme I had the same reaction as you. FWIW.

  4. ThomasL says:

    Old atheists, though I believe wrong, were the real deal; the “New Atheists” lack depth and rigor. Culturally they need engaged, but what has been substituted for argument, like this meme, is frustratingly poor.

    Sartre easily eclipses Dawkins.

  5. Craw says:

    You don’t understand the meme so of course you think it’s wrong. But it’s easy to see your point, the astronaut is a believer, is totally irrelevant. Would it matter if the woman in the burka were an atheist? If the juxtaposition had shown an atheist female rocket scientist instead would you be nodding in agreement?

    The meme is about the *effect of religion on society* and how that translates into the treatment of women. It is NOT a comparison of the particular woman on the left with the woman on the right.

    • Dan says:

      “The meme is about the *effect of religion on society* and how that translates into the treatment of women.”

      OK, but that is why it is weird to show a Christian scientist. I mean, you’re showing a woman Christian scientist from a largely Christian society to demonstrate the negative effects religion has on society in regards to the treatment of women? Even if you think religion has deleterious effects on society that seems like a piss poor way of showing it.

    • Josiah says:

      The meme is about the *effect of religion on society* and how that translates into the treatment of women.

      Then that’s even more odd, given how religious a society the United States is.

      • Craw says:

        The USA is not religiously governed nor religiously regulated. But in any case, Murphy still *misunderstood* the point.

  6. Darien says:

    Whereas my first reaction to the meme was to conclude that “science” apparently involves dressing up in a government costume festooned with government logos and posing in front of a government idol.

  7. Mark says:

    What do you expect from atheists? They are liars, deceivers, and murderers – they get it from their father. Would you expect honest memes? Christianity (not religion) is the best thing that ever happened to women. Christianity holds women in high regard. Many religions (Islam is a great example) typically have no respect for women.


    There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

    • Craw says:

      I sometimes go weeks without murdering. Weeks.

  8. Harold says:

    The problem with this sort of meme is that it is stereotyping. There is often some truth in stereotypes, but often there is more harm than good in portraying groups as monolithic institutions.

    I think it is bad form for atheist publicists to be indulging in this sort of lazy publicity, just as it is bad form to use images of black youths to represent crime and danger in the movies.

    The Burka type dress is more cultural than religious. Most Muslim women do not wear such things.

    However, it is true that religions generally, maybe exclusively, specifically keep women limited to certain roles and encourage unequal treatment of women. Christianity is no exception. Women do not have the same opportunities as men in the vast majority of Christian institutions.

    The discussion of equality is interesting. Whilst the one example of the soccer match is not proof, I don’t think we really need a particular example to demonstrate that men and women are physically different. Men are on average stronger physically than women. In most sports the elite men will out-perform the elite women. As a believer in evolution it is also a virtual certainty that men and women will inherently think and behave differently. Given that women bear children they must have a different strategy from men for their genes to be successful.

    However, equality does not mean being identical. I don’t think anyone can deny that historically women were prevented from pursuing many opportunities not because they were less capable but simply because they were women. Other opportunities are denied because of an arbitrary requirement to be able to perform as well as men or an indoctrination that women should not do certain activities, backed up by societal disapproval. This denies the woman the benefits of the opportunity, but also denies the rest of us the benefits of their contribution.

    The same is true of men. They are discouraged from certain activities because they are considered women’s roles. Thus many men are dissuaded from pursuing opportunities in field that might suit them very well, such as nursing. Can any man really say that playing “girly” games as a boy was not met with quite strong disapproval from many elements of society? This denies both the individual and society from the benefits.

    Equality means that this should not happen.

    Given that it is all but undeniable that this did occur in the recent past, it strikes me as very odd to think that we have just now removed all such aspects. We have certainly come a long way, but we are not there yet. There is still a long way to go before we have equality.

    • Amber says:

      Given this…

      “As a believer in evolution it is also a virtual certainty that men and women will inherently think and behave differently. Given that women bear children they must have a different strategy from men for their genes to be successful.”

      …why do you assume that the unequal representation of the sexes in certain occupations is based on some nebulous idea of societal disapproval, rather than being a natural consequence of men and women being biologically different?

      • Tel says:

        Lol yeah, and this one…

        Can any man really say that playing “girly” games as a boy was not met with quite strong disapproval from many elements of society? This denies both the individual and society from the benefits.

        It would seem that despite an extraordinarily simple Harold Optimization being available (apparently just doing nothing would already be better than what we have been doing) yet several thousand years of social and religious development failed to find what Harold can see easily.

        You do have to wonder sometimes.

        • Craw says:

          Evolution was thwarted.

          • Harold says:

            On the contrary, evolution progresses as it always must. Humans are currently in a period of increasing genetic diversity. Who knows which of these diverse genes may come in useful later?

            • Craw says:

              I always knew you misunderstood irony. Reassuring to know you misunderstand evolution too.

              • Harold says:

                Irony is tricky in writing, I do confess I do get it wrong sometimes. Poe’s law goes some way to explaining why.

                What have I misunderstand about evolution? It is a complicated subject and I may have misunderstood something, so I look forward to you enlightening me.

        • Harold says:

          Tel, what is it that you don’t agree with? What is this extraordinarily simple optimization that is available? It is extremely complex. Is there any reason why equality should be optimized? Have I said it would be?

          No, of course not. Very clearly equality has not been optimized by societies in the past. That is why we are not equal today. It is a very difficult and complex process to remove these inequalities.

          You could argue that equality does not matter, and we should not even strive for equality. Your argument seems to be that since society has not produced equality up to now it is clearly something we should not value. That argument has nothing at all to do with whether we actually have equality.

          To demonstrate this, apply it to the recent past. Say I had proposed in 1850 that we were not equal because women were not allowed into medical school, and we would be a more equal society if women were admitted. You then say that Harold offers an extraordinarily simple optimization that thousands of years of social and religious development has failed to find.

          This appears to be exactly the argument you have used here.

      • Harold says:

        Amber, follow my argument and you will see. I assumed nothing. Do you agree that under representation of say doctors in the 1800’s had something to do with the fact that women were no allowed in medical school? That is fact.

        Follow that forward a few years – why were women massively under-represented as astronauts in the latter half of the 20th century? It can’t possibly be due to biological differences, because that gap has closed to a significant extent in just a few years.

        Why are men under-represented in nursing? “Men’s representation among licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses grew from 3.9 percent in 1970 to 8.1 percent in 2011.” In the UK “Latest figures show more than one in ten nurses are men, compared with one in a hundred in the earliest days of the NHS more than 50 years ago.”

        That is a ten-fold change in 50 years, it cannot possibly be biological.

        So we have pretty firm evidence that gender representation until now was affected by society in some way. It is a huge assumption to think that we have just now reached the point where this has ceased.

        Add to that our own personal experience of gender stereotyping and societal disapproval of people who move across traditional gender roles and we are left with a virtual certainty with no necessity for any assumptions at all.

        Please note that this is not the same as saying that all professions would be 50% in the absence of unequal treatment. Given that I believe men and women are biologically and psychologically different it is almost certain that they will have different preferences for jobs. It is just that the evidence is pretty clear that we have not yet reached this position.

    • Darien says:

      (1) : of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as another
      (2) : identical in mathematical value or logical denotation : equivalent

      I’m not 100% sure the data agrees that “equality does not mean being identical.” Sure looks like a synonym for “identity” to me.

      • Harold says:

        Darien, that is just nonsense. If you have such little awareness of equality issues I suggest you do some background reading. You might like to start with equality of outcome vs equality of opportunity, just to get you into the right framework.

        • Darien says:

          You may wish to start with dictionaries, Harold. That was Merriam-Webster I gave you there. If you can’t keep up with the meaning of words, perhaps you’re not in a good position to presume to speak with authority on any subject.

          • Harold says:


            You must use an appropriate definition, such as

            The full citation for Websters dictionary is

            1 a (1) : of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as another (2) : identical in mathematical value or logical denotation : equivalent
            b : like in quality, nature, or status
            c : like for each member of a group, class, or society provide equal employment opportunities

            2: regarding or affecting all objects in the same way : impartial

            Other definitions:

            “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities”

            “the quality or state of being equal : the quality or state of having the same rights, social status, etc.”

            See – especially in status, rights and opportunities.

            We never say that blacks cannot be equal to whites because their pigmentation is different, so they can never be exactly the same. That would simply be an absurd distraction.

            So in this context equality does not mean being identical, even if the word can mean that in some contexts. That is clear. It means having equal status, rights and opportunities and not being treated differently as a group.

  9. Harold says:

    It struck me as slightly odd that astronaut was used as an example because I thought this was still a male dominated area. According to wikipedia “As of July 2016, of the 537 total space travelers, 60 have been women”. or just over 10% It is more interesting to see how many of the more recent astronauts were women, say the last 10 years. I counted 27 since 2006, or nearly half of all female astronauts flew in the last decade. At least one class of trainees in 2016 was 50% women. That certainly suggests things are getting much more even and women can as realistically aspire to be an astronaut as men.

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