A couple people told me they found my last run at this meme too cryptic. So I decided to delete my cryptic post and take another run at the meme to explain the problem. Let’s start with the meme:
— Atheist Republic (@AtheistRepublic) September 9, 2017
Interpreting the Meme
Let’s begin with the church sign. What, according to the meme, is the problem with it?
One possible interpretation is that the meme is objecting to the way faith is defined on the church sign. In other words, the meme is saying:
“That definition of faith right there is the problem.”
But I don’t think that’s a plausible interpretation of the meme for one simple reason: atheists are not typically interested in parsing out nuanced definitions of faith … especially when it comes to tweetable memes.
This brings me to the second interpretation. According to this interpretation the meme accepts the definition of faith provided by the church sign. In addition, the meme assumes that the church sign is commending faith as defined as a good way to go about believing things.
It is this latter point — the point at which faith, as defined, is commended to passerby — with which the meme takes issue. In other words, the meme is saying:
“That idea that faith should be preferred over common sense is the problem.”
And it is this latter point with which the meme takes issue. Contrary to the church sign, the meme insists that it is not commendable to believe something when common sense tells you not to believe it.
However, there is a problem with this interpretation: it appears to be a grossly uncharitable read of the church sign. Why? Because that would imply that the church sign commends always and in all cases the practice of favoring faith, as defined, over common sense.
But surely the church sign cannot mean that because that would be patently absurd, and thus that reading would equate to a base strawman of the church sign.
Since it seems equally uncharitable to believe the meme would strawman the church sign so egregiously, we must modify our interpretation of the meme. On this slightly modified reading, the church sign is commending the preference of faith over common sense in some (but clearly not all) circumstances. Meanwhile, the meme is taking issue with that advice by eschewing faith over reason in all circumstances. Hence, I arrive at the final interpretation of the meme:
“That idea that faith should EVER be preferred over common sense is the problem.”
Repudiating the Meme
And this brings me to the real problem: the meme has it quite wrong. To see why, I gave some examples in my original overly-cryptic article where it is surely proper to favor faith to common sense. I have reworded the examples to make it maximally clear what I’m saying:
When common sense tells you the water is good to drink (after all, it’s perfectly clear), but an environmental scientist tell you the water is infected with something called “cryptosporidium,” you should have faith in the scientist’s testimony rather than your common sense.
When common sense tells you the earth is getting cooler (after all, it was rainy and cold all summer), but a respected climatologist tell you the earth is in fact warming due in part to human cased factors, you should have faith in the scientist’s testimony rather than your common sense.
When common sense tells you you’re healthy (after all, you feel fine), but your doctor tells you that you have a tumor requiring treatment, you should have faith in the scientist’s testimony rather than your common sense.
When common sense tells you the earth is flat (seriously, just look around!), but your kindergarten teacher tells you that it’s an “oblate spheroid” you should trust your kindergarten teacher.
I suspect that the meme (or the memer — is that a thing?) would agree that common sense can be trumped by faith in many circumstances including the instances of testimony cited above. Consequently, I also suspect that there may be more common agreement among the memer and the church than the memer realizes. Both recognize that common sense is fallible and can be trumped, not least by respected testimonial authorities.
Where they differ is not in the basic analysis of faith and common sense, but rather in the range of authorities to which they are willing to defer.