Atheists Don’t Swear Oaths On Darwin.

I’m a fan of Mike Peter’s Mother Goose & Grimm comic strip. I’ve been reading the adventures of Grimmy, Atilla the Cat, Mom, Ralph and the many other side characters featured in Mother Goose & Grimm since I was a little girl too young to understand the jokes. Also, I agree with a lot of Mike Peter’s political cartoons and editorials.

But I was disappointed with yesterday’s MG&G.

The comic presents the idea that atheists worship Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection as Christians worship the bible. The joke isn’t funny because I would bet that a lot of people have this misconception about atheists. If it’s taken as truth, then it’s not really a joke. As one lovely gentleman from the comic’s online comments section wrote in response to a man who said the comic wasn’t funny to him:

As an atheist I am frustrated by the connection of my lack of belief in gods to evolution; while of course related, the two have little to do with each other. I learned about and accepted evolution over a decade before I embraced atheism (for a long time I was a fan of the idea that God created the process of evolution). This comic muddies the water about the relationship between atheism and evolution, and has the potential to negatively influence public understanding of the relationship between the two.

While it’s true that atheists can decline to swear on a bible, so can anyone. Before testifying, a person must assure the court that they will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Traditionally people swear to Almighty God because we have a little (teensy tiny) issue with Christian privilege in this country. In that situation one is swearing under pain and penalty of God’s judgement that they will not tell a lie. If you chose to not swear an oath to God, you may solemnly and sincerely affirm, under the pains and penalties of perjury, that you won’t fib to judge and jury.

On a side note, the portrayal of the atheist as a middle-aged white male feeds into the stereotype that all atheists are…middle-aged white men (with lots of crazy facial hair). Not true.

And one more point: “Atheist” can be a scary word, and being known as an atheist is a scary idea for some people. There are notions that atheists are god-denying (we are), creation-denying (that one too) trouble-makers (not all of us) who would refuse to swear an oath on a bible in court (a lot of us in some situations might) just to cause a stir (but not for that reason). But I think that it would take some courage to refuse to “place a hand on the bible” in front of a room full of strangers who are expecting you to do just that. Swearing before god might make you look more trustworthy to a judge or jury, while refusing to swear before god might make you look less so, and could have serious outcomes for your case. The comic isn’t funny because we might be brave enough to ask for a secular affirmation before testifying. Or we might not. It’s a tough position to be in.

Putting out a comic strip that is published in over 800 newspapers which 1)encourages public misunderstanding about the connection between atheism and evolution and 2)makes light of atheists who are in the difficult position of having to either swear an oath they don’t believe in or ask for a secular affirmation which might damage their case – isn’t funny, it’s potentially damaging, thoughtless and cruel.

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8 Responses to “Atheists Don’t Swear Oaths On Darwin.”

  1. winonavampireDan Says:

    Although I am in that middle gray area, I have often thought about some of your points.

    Specifically swearing on the Bible. If you don’t believe (which I don’t) that it holds some magical powers, then what do I care if I lie after swearing on it?

    The point being that if a person who is atheist (damn political correctness making my english sound silly) doesn’t believe in a magical book from god, they aren’t going to believe in a magical book from not god.

    The whole swearing to tell the truth thing is just dumb anyway. If I am going to lie in court about doing or not doing something, I’m gonna lie about not lying.

  2. Nathan DST aka LucienBlack Says:

    Besides, if I was going to swear on anything, it would clearly be a Tim Minchin album.

  3. Jeremy Says:

    I’m going to go on a limb and disagree with you.

    “Nothing is sacred” is the comedy motto. I can see how the comic above is funny. There is a view that we view Darwin as “sacred” from a very popular view among Christians.

    If I get to laugh at Christian jokes that offend believers, this comic has every right to be funny.

    Perhaps it shows superiority and our ability to think more critically.

    A lot of the issues with comedy lately is that comics stand behind the “nothing is sacred” motto, and it gets them into trouble when people get bent out of shape.

    Just throwing this out there.

    It’s hot, and I’m a little loopy.

    • biodork Says:

      Hi Jeremy!

      I am all about jokes that make fun of atheists (or any group that can either appreciate the ribbing or defend itself), and I am always first in line to take potshots at myself.

      But if this comic had been presented to an all atheist audience I think it would get more shrugs than laughter.

      I agree with the creedo “nothing is sacred” – in fact, I think it’s especially relevant for an atheist. But jokes are funniest when there is a grain of truth to the joke, if you can look at the focus of the joke and giggle and say “Oh, he’s got your number!” If atheists did hold Origin of Species sacred, this joke would be funny. But we don’t, so it isn’t (to me).

      Do you suppose it’s only funny to people who believe that atheists hold Darwin sacred? If so, why was the joke put into the public realm, and not before a specific audience who might appreciate it? I have to think it’s because the author believes that a majority of readers think that atheists do hold Darwin sacred and thus would be in on the joke. In which case, it’s right for those of us who are the butt of the joke to speak up and say “Okay, I know that you meant this in jest, but you *are* aware that this isn’t true, right?”

      PS – Hi again! Good to “see” you!

  4. B-Lar Says:

    My father, a commited christian, once refused to swear upon the bible in court because it would be blasphemous. I was so proud of him, despite my own lack of belief. You can believe, and swear on what you like.

    So what if the swearing on the origin of species is compared to swearing on the bible? Perhaps this is one way of framing our Athiest beliefs in a way that christians can understand? They might be mistaken, but I think they are mistaken about so many more important things that this is small change…

  5. Mully410 Says:

    I recently swore to tell the truth “so help me god.” It was during an unemployment hearing conference call. I had my boss and the HR director in the room with me. I didn’t know what to say and figured the safest reaction would be to simply say “yes.” Now I feel a little uncomfortable about it. I’m confident there is no god and think it’s silly to swear on a bible…although we were on a conference call and I didn’t see any bibles in the area.

    In the future, what is the proper legal language to affirm rather than swear on to god?

    • biodork Says:

      Dave Silverman in one of the articles I linked to said, “I request a secular alternative” when the judge asked him to place his hand on the bible. Other articles I read mentioned that you can usually have your legal counsel request from the judge for you to give an affirmation prior to trial, so as to less influence a jury or observers.

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