Mad Scientist or Mad Creationist?

Our title was inspired by this article in the London Evening Standard: Law student hacked to death with machete after criticising Islam on Facebook.

We’ve seen headlines about events like that before. This one happened in Bangladesh. You can read the grisly details, but we want you to see this excerpt:

Before deactivating his Facebook account about a month ago after his family feared he may become the victim of an attack, he was said to have written: “Evolution is a scientific truth. Religion and race are invention of the savage and uncivil people.”

We don’t blog about Islam because we know nothing about it, so that’s not our purpose in mentioning this news. Rather, we want to raise a different point. We’re all familiar with the literary cliché of the Mad scientist. For two centuries, from Victor Frankenstein to Dr. Strangelove, the public has been exposed to a number of characters who explore things that “man was not meant to know.” They often seek world domination.

The problem is that one has ever met such a scientist in real life. If you know of one, we’d like to hear about it. On the other hand, dangerously depraved behavior is all too common among those who imagine that they’re on a divine mission. If you doubt that, think of the Inquisition in the Western world, and its Islamic counterparts in the Middle East today.

There are also contemporary creationists living among us who seek to establish a theocracy in which their vision of religion is mandatory for all. And let’s not forget to mention power-crazed politicians, motivated not so much by theology as by sociology.

But with all the genuinely insane and truly dangerous people running around in the world, the myth of the mad scientist is the one that persists in literature. Why? Think about it.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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11 responses to “Mad Scientist or Mad Creationist?

  1. I am a scientist and I am Mad as Hell that all of these ignoramuses are challenging science on the basis of bronze-age or iron-age books written by illiterates. Evolution? Pooh! Climate change? Pooh pooh! And their religious leaders are telling them this is so. Argh!!!!!

  2. Dr. Mengele gets pretty close.

  3. KeithB says: “Dr. Mengele gets pretty close.”

    I think those people were motivated by social science. In extreme cases, it’s like religion.

  4. The reason is that science creates power in the shape of weaponry and methods of destruction.
    The fear is still very much present in the world today: will the scientist go too far? will he lose control? does he really know what he is doing?

  5. With religion everybody, including the lay people and religious leaders, all drink the same Kool Aid and consequently they all have a stake in the inspired silliness. Plus religious leaders have dumbed the gospel down so even a simpleton can understand why they should grovel before their imaginary friend. Moreover; god appeals to a very primal aspect of the human condition: the concept of the ultimate alpha male. It’s bred in the bone as they say. That’s why misogyny is rampant in all major religions, it’s all about male power.

    However; science is not necessarily shared between scientists and lay people, rather it is far more select in its membership, done apart from the general populace and requires a mental investment that most lay people are not willing to make. Most people fear what they don’t understand.

  6. I once read a mystery novel (I can’t remember the author) involving a dead palaeontologist found in the foyer of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Alberta, and a mad creationist, but it was a rare sighting. I guess it’s partly because few people have scientist friends but many (especially in the US) have fundamentalist friends.

  7. Dave Luckett

    Um… Bert, you’re right about the Abrahamic religions and the other religions that they have influenced – and incidentally, also right about the fact that religions tend to borrow useful and advantageous elements (to themselves) from each other. The idea of God as the ultimate alpha male is such an element, which brings on the question of why it should be a feature and not a bug, because as you say, it almost implies misogyny. But that to one side. It’s a feature. Humans relate to that. Don’t know why, but they do.

    You’re also right that the mostly ludicrous caricature of scientists that permeates even Western culture is an outgrowth of ignorance, and ignorance breeds fear.

    But I’m afraid that I must differ with you on this:

    “With religion everybody… all drink the same Kool Aid”.

    Maybe there is Kool Aid being drunk, but it isn’t the same Kool Aid. None of it might be good for you, being mostly sugar, with tartrazine and acetic acid and stuff, but some kinds of Kool Aid, as drunk by some religions, is much more highly toxic than others. It sends those who drink it murderously insane.

    I think we have trouble enough with that kind of Kool Aid, without going after everyone who finds a cold sweet drink a comfort on a hot day.

  8. Maybe there is Kool Aid being drunk, but it isn’t the same Kool Aid. -Dave Luckett
    I wasn’t implying that all religions were the same but rather the lay people of a given sect were more likely to be in line with their leadership than what you would see among devotees of science. Despite pronouncements by creationists that science is also a religion that doesn’t happen. There isn’t an en masse engagement among scientists and lay people for example.

    As to the more highly toxic Kool Aid there are many fundamentalist sects that preach intolerance as their golden rule and in some cases demanding the death of the apostate. All religions to some degree ask the question, “Are you one of us?” That sense of belonging combined with the symbolic Alpha male is the glue that binds people to a given religion.

    The fundies take that solidarity to an extreme and are willing to violently purge themselves of non-complying members. Group think becomes a powerful tool. Rather than a humanist approach to other human beings they are forever watchful of their flock for potential heretics.

    That said, if you take away a religion’s ability to indoctrinate the young I seriously question as how well they would be able to recruit adults into their fold, Science is perhaps another matter altogether but I haven’t solid information one way or the other regarding this topic.

  9. Dave Luckett

    As Douglas Murray (who is gay) remarks, (I paraphrase) “Yes, you’re right about various religions disapproving of me, but give me a break – I’m mainly concerned about the ones that want to throw me off a cliff”.

    Those religions that demand the death of an apostate are Islam and… help me out, I’m drawing a blank here.

    Yes, of course, any religion with a creed and a leader/follower divide will exhibit a tendency to follow the creed and the leadership. So does any group with those characteristics. Political parties, for example. Schools of historical thought, as I know to my chagrin. (There are places in academe where to vouchsafe the opinion that Churchill was not an monster, or that Richard III was not a verray parfit gentil knight, is to find oneself assailed as heretic and traitor.) Even science has its schools and its followings, its orthodoxy and iconoclasts, but it is ultimately restrained by the necessity to come up with the goods – empirically derived evidence. Religion does not have this saving grace, true.

    But overall, I think you sell the toxicity of the worst kinds of religious Kool Aid short, if you think that preaching intolerance is what it inspires. What that kind of Kool Aid inspires is mass murder.

  10. Far be it for me to sell short the challenges of fundamentalist Islam or give any religion a pass. The Pew study of Muslims from 2013 indicated that 30% of Muslims adhere to Sharia and the more draconian aspects of the religion including death to the apostates, death to homosexuals, adulterers and to those that deface the Quran. Again, these are fundamentalists that embrace this view out of ignorance or because of a radical Jihadist agenda. That’s about 300 million out of 1.3 billion Muslims. We can neither disparage an entire religion because of these fundy troglodytes among their midst nor give moderate Muslims a pass and absolve them of responsibility for addressing those that would hijack their religion.

    Is religion good or bad? It’s a wash because it’s basically human beings behaving like humans. If we didn’t kill one another over religion we would quickly find some other distinction among our own to draw up sides and continue the carnage. I mentioned that the concept of the alpha male was bred in the bone but so is the primate characteristic of wanting to belong to a specific group along with the inherent distrust and hate of others that are outside the group. That’s not unique to religious groups at all.

    Are some of the various flavors of Kool Aid being offered more toxic than others for consumption? Of course, but the mechanism for indoctrination is the same among all religions and all have the potential of spiraling towards some very dark behaviors if left unchecked. That’s the nature of the individual giving in to group think whether it be a jihadist, cult member or a Catholic mother remaining quiet about the abuse her child suffered from a priest.