The Internet has brought us many wonderful things. This blog, for instance. And kittens.*
One of the wonderful things it has brought us is: Inspirational Quotes Written On Little Pictures.
Now, I'm up for a little bit of inspiration now and again. Especially if it is paired with a nice little picture of, say, a kitten. But the pithy-quote-on-a-picture thing has run rampant of late. Weirdly, it seems to have become the communication method of choice when it comes to discussing the most important of topics.
The formula is pretty simple:
1) Take a huge subject about which people have extremely strongly held and conflicting views.
2) Find a famous person who said something vaguely pertinent about it once.
3) Stick that quote on top of a picture.
4) Post it on Facebook.
5) Wait for everyone who agrees to hit the like button and share it.
6) Watch as people write millions of mindless comments underneath it savagely attacking anyone who disagrees with the quote.
This, it seems to me, is what now passes for debate in our society. Which is a pretty sad state of affairs. I've recently stumbled across a gold mine of these quotes-on-pictures, and for the good of all mankind I've decided to argue with some of them. Aren't I nice? I'm not trying to win any debates, I'm just trying to encourage some.
So, here is today's Quote Written On A Little Picture.
|That is indeed a very nice garden. Well done, BeautyOfAtheism.|
The quote, in case the picture is so beautiful you can't quite read it, is this: "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
I have so much to say about this that I've had to make a mug of camomile tea, don a fluffy dressing gown, and put on all my Carpenters albums**, in the hopes that these things will keep me calm enough to make my point without resorting to rabid polemic and mud-flinging. Let's see if it works...
Now, obviously, this is a quote promoting atheism. Atheists love Douglas Adams, because he was famous and funny and a fellow atheist.
Well, guess what? I also love Douglas Adams. He was a clever chap and an excellent writer. I'm sure he'd walk all over me in a debate. But he's not here to debate with me, and we're not dealing with the whole of his thinking on this issue. We're just dealing with the short quote that got stuck on a picture. And this quote is just nonsense.
The Sufficiency Of Beauty
We'll get to the fairies in a bit. Firstly, I'd like to look at the implications of the word "enough". You may disagree with me here, but I think this quote is proposing what I've just decided to call the doctrine of the sufficiency of beauty. The doctrine of the sufficiency of beauty goes a bit like this:
Oh look, this thing is beautiful.
Well, that's me satisfied.
Or, to put it another way:
|Ironically, I had to make this quote-on-a-picture-o-gram myself, since everyone|
else who had done it had used really ugly pictures. What's that about?
Isn't that just lovely? Well, hang on while I sip my tea and turn the Carpenters up a bit. Because this idea DRIVES ME MAD.
What we have here is a justification for ignorance. A justification for adultery. A justification for selfishness. A justification for shallowness. A justification for porn. A justification for photoshopping. A justification for bullying, segregation, laziness, complacency, and a philosophy that will tear our society into bloodied writhing chunks of horror.
Nope, need more tea and Carpenters.
|Ahhhhhhhhh, the calming stares of the calming Carpenters|
waving their calming flowery fairy wands. So very calming.
This is also, incidentally, an argument against science. Which is ironic, since most of the people who share and 'like' this quote are also of the opinion that science and faith are mutually exclusive.
Here's where the doctrine of the sufficiency of beauty gets you:
Argument against science: Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful, without having to understand how it works?
Argument for adultery: Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful, without having to worry about whose it is?
Argument for selfishness: Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful, without having to worry about other people who can't afford a house with a garden?
I could go on.
Isn't it enough to see that something is beautiful?
No. Because beauty is not truth, and truth is not beauty, and that is not all we know in life, and it is not all we need to know.
Let me tell you a story about a beautiful garden. This garden belonged to the mother of a friend of mine. The mother in question was not too well and couldn't mow her lawn, so I did it for her. Yes, I know, I'm the nicest guy in the universe. Anyway, a week or so after I'd mowed the lawn, my friend's mum got a letter from the council.
Dear Dave's friend's mum, it said.
We've just done some tests in your area, and have discovered that there are dangerously high levels of arsenic in the ground on which your house was built. We advise you not to spend too much time in your garden.
Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful?
No, because occasionally beautiful things turn out to be arsenic-filled death traps. True story. (I'm fine, by the way, thanks for asking.)
Actually, we all know this stuff about beauty. For example, in all of the Bond movies, how many of the super-deadly female super-spies have been uggos?
|Okay, one. But she hired a super-glamorous young spy to do her dirty work.|
Ironically, you can see this playing out in the garden too. Think of all the things in nature that look beautiful precisely because that's how they attract their prey.
So next time you look at the beauty of creation and think "Ah, this universe is so beautiful that I don't need to worry about whether or not there is a God", spare a thought for the hapless flies who, somewhere in the world, are thinking "Ah, this flower is so beautiful that I don't need to worry about whether or not I'm actually being lured into a sticky pit where I'll be slowly digested alive."
Not that beauty is a bad thing. But you can't trust it, and you can't make it your guiding principle. We can't afford to confuse good versus bad with beautiful versus ugly.
For example, according to Isaiah, Jesus had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. (Isaiah 53:2)
Conversely, we all know what happened here:
|Wait - Angela Lansbury? Samson and Delilah would make|
for an awesome episode of "Murder, She Wrote"...
Judge things according to their beauty, and you'd end up picking Delilah over Jesus. Which is a recipe for getting your head shaved, your eyes gouged out, and a Philistine temple landing on you.
Responding To Creation
Moving on from the whole question of beauty, what this quote-on-a-picture boils down to is this: "Look, a magnificent universe. Wow, I guess there can't be a God then."This stems from a view of divinity that people like to call "The God Of The Gaps": God is in charge of the inexplicable; science is in charge of the explicable. Science is inexorably marching into God's territory, leaving fewer and fewer things unexplained. God is out of a job, and belief in him is therefore stupid and unscientific.
Let me clarify that with a carefully-drawn, deeply scientific diagram:
|God as enemy of Science: Man gets cleverer, God gets smallerer.|
Anyone remember Paul Daniels? Probably England's most famous magician, and my childhood hero. I met him once. It was a bit of a shock, because since growing up I'd worked out how he did a lot of his tricks, and had therefore concluded that he couldn't exist.
That's my patented Paul Daniels Of The Gaps argument***.
The God revealed in the Bible is not a God of the Gaps. He's not threatened by science. He invented science. And the universe - explicable or inexplicable - is evidence for his existence. Paul puts it very strongly in Romans:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)
Or, in diagram form:
|God as creator of Science: Man gets cleverer, God gets biggerer.|
No evidence for the existence of God? Look around. And just think how much more we know about the universe than they knew back when Paul was writing. The more science opens up the wonders of the universe for us, the more evidence we have. And the more we are without excuse.
Jesus Versus Fairies
This final point is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. Is Christianity comparable to myths about tiny flying girls mucking about in the rhododendrons? To put it another way, what is there more evidence for: fairies or Jesus?
Actually, to be fair, I haven't really looked into the evidence for fairies. I'm sort of assuming they don't exist. Which is not terribly scientific of me, but time is short and I'm running out of Carpenters albums.
|No, I got quite excited too, but it turned out just to be a costume. Still, thank|
you Britney, for giving me the excuse to crowbar you into yet another post.
Tell you what, let's replace fairies with Plato. What is there more evidence for - Jesus or Plato?
Well, we're pretty sure Plato exists. We've got his writings. Not the originals, of course, since they were written around 400BC and haven't survived. But we've got copies - seven of them, which is reasonable. The earliest of those copies date from 900AD, a mere 1200 years after he wrote them. That's not bad. People seem generally happy to trust those documents.
Or how about Caesar, writing around 100-44BC. The earliest fragment from his writing dates from only 1000 years after the originals, and we have a pretty respectable ten copies, or bits of copies, of his writing.
Or Tacitus - famous historian, writing around 100AD. Everyone loves Tacitus. The earliest fragment we have of his writing also dates from 1000 years after the originals. And we have an eye-popping 20 copies of that. Brilliant.
What about the New Testament, containing the so-called eye-witness accounts of Jesus' life? Fairy stuff, compared to these famous historical people, right?
Well, the earliest copies of the New Testament date from about 125AD. That's, oooh, 25-50 years after the originals were written.
And there are twenty-four thousand of them.
What this means, of course, is that Christianity is not based on myth or legend. It's not a fairy tale. It's underpinned by a staggering amount of evidence. If you are going to put Christianity in the same category as fairies, then Plato, Tacitus, Caesar - in fact, all of classical antiquity - just became leprechauns.****
Putting It Together
I hope I've demonstrated that, at least in principle, it's very dangerous to sit around in a beautiful garden saying "Ah, this garden is beautiful, that's all I need to know".
The Bible tells us that our Universe points to a God. We're in his garden. We didn't create it, we don't own it, we're not in charge of it. And while we are indolently lounging on our recliners, sipping our margaritas and enjoying the scent of the honeysuckle, we have relegated the garden's rightful owner, ruler and sustainer to the status of mythical-being-down-by-the-compost-heap. I've done it, Douglas Adams did it, everyone has done it. So now we have a problem much bigger than arsenic poisoning: The Romans quote above tells us that God is angry... and we have no excuse. We can't plead ignorance, we can't make up for it by offering to mow the lawn, we can't make little puppy-dog eyes and wheedle our way out of it. How long do you think we'll get to enjoy the garden for if we've rejected the garden's ever-present, all-powerful owner, sustainer and ruler?
This is a problem we can't fix ourselves. It's a real problem, for which we need a real solution. A solution that isn't in the category of fairy, leprechaun, myth.
The eye-witness accounts of Jesus' life found in the New Testament are the best bibliographically attested documents of the ancient period by a staggering degree. The gospels are not legend, hagiography, fiction, or fairy tales.
Let's stop all this mucking around with inspirational quotes written on little pictures, and give them a read.
*Apparently we already had kittens, but who remembers that?
** Sequentially, that is. I don't want to consider the implications of playing six Carpenters albums simultaneously.
*** I genuinely did meet him. And Debbie McGee too. I couldn't think what to say to her, so I legged it.
**** There's quite a lot of evidence for the person of Julius Caesar, of course, since he managed to get himself onto a bunch of Roman coins, buildings, a brand of dog food and all that. But when it comes to his writings, they are about a gajillion times less well attested than the New Testament.