I Don’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry at This Cartoon

Bob Englehart of the Hartford Courant drew this cartoon yesterday discussing religion and dark matter:

Initially, I laughed. Suck it, religion, right?

But the science wasn’t accurate… and Englehart’s description didn’t help the matter:

I was inspired to draw this cartoon by a comment scientist and Nobel prize-winning physicist Samuel Ting made. When asked to give a stronger conclusion to his possible discovery of dark matter, he said, “We, of course, have a feeling what is happening”…

Dark matter is still a theory. It’s also invisible. So the proof that it exists is the fact it can’t be seen. The more you can’t see, the more there is. This involves anti-matter, which is not a friend of matter. In fact, it’s the suicide bomber of sub-atomic particles. When anti-matter hits matter, they both cease to exist.

That’s just not true. Check out this image and description from theoretical cosmologist Sean Carroll, author of The Particle at the End of the Universe:

That ghostly haze is dark matter — or at least, an impression of the gravitational field created by the dark matter. This is galaxy cluster Abell 1689, in the constellation Virgo… It’s easy to see that the images of many of the galaxies have been noticeably warped by passing through the gravitational field of the cluster, a phenomenon known as strong gravitational lensing. This cluster has been studied for a while using strong lensing.

There are a number of ways that we know dark matter exists and none of them involve a “gut feeling.”

I asked Carroll what he thought of the cartoon and his response came quick:

We definitely have lots of evidence for dark matter — multiple kinds of evidence, from completely different sources, all fitting the same basic picture. The “feeling” to which Sam Ting is referring is a judgment about what model best fits his new data, perfectly analogous to someone saying “I have a feeling the Eagles are going to win the Super Bowl this year.”

In short, Englehart needs to go back to the drawing board. His heart’s in the right place — Yay science! Boo religion! — but his brain was on a break when he drew this.

(Thanks to Luther for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • TheBlackCat13
    • Drew M.

      Very cool. Thanks for sharing that!

  • Stev84

    And of course he confused “hypothesis” with “theory”

  • C Peterson

    When I see evidence of God affecting the orbits and rotation of galaxies, I’ll start paying attention. Not before.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      If I remember God did stop the earth from rotating for a day and we are talking about God so it must be true.

      • C Peterson

        Read about it. Don’t know anybody who saw it happen, though. Kind of how miracles work, isn’t it?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

          Other than the question of were you there? That pretty much sums it up.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    The only thing my “gut feeling” ever indicated was that I shouldn’t have had that third helping of spicy food. Confirming evidence came up later.

  • more compost

    This is highly offensive. This cartoon is an attempt to delegitimize science by equating it with religion. It’s the sort of nonsense that would appeal to Kent Hovind or Ray Comfort or Ken Ham.

    Oh, and it is a lie.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    What I find strange is the connection Bob makes between dark matter, id est matter not interacting with light so probably having no interaction with electromagnetism, and antimatter, id est matter which interacts with at the very least electromagnetism and weak nuclear forces in exactly the opposite manner as ordinary matter does, though certainly interacting with them. They are nothing like each other except that they’re both called matter.

    It only gets more confusing when he imagines as an application for dark matter making things invisible and making it possible to walk through walls. Of course, dark matter could quite conceivably pass through walls as if it’s nothing, if it has no interaction with electromagnetism at all, but that’s not a property it can give to other things, nor its invisibility. It seems as though he can’t think of what can be done with antimatter, presumably because they’re in the same category to him. Incidentally, antimatter has an application in Positron Emission Tomography (PET).

    I recommend Bob not to publish cartoons about science before asking a scientist about the subject, preferably more than one though one with experience in relevant fields should suffice, or at least not publishing the description going with it unless he likes being embarrassed for comments about things he hasn’t the slightest clue about.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

    I read that the opposite way; I see the arrogant scientist realizing that his faith in dark matter is actually the same as the preacher’s faith in God. They’re both just going with their feelings, after all. Check out their expressions in the last panel.

    • Philbert

      Dark matter isn’t about feelings. No science is about feelings. Looking through the telescope, you won’t see dark matter but you will see visible matter behaving in a way that suggests the existence of dark matter.

      We can’t see gravity but we know it exists. And it provides very strong evidence that dark matter is out there.

    • Stev84

      Scientists can indirectly observe dark matter because although it can’t be seen, its mass and thus gravity interacts with the universe. Objects, such as galaxies, don’t act like they should if the visible matter were all there is. They know something is there, but they don’t know its exact properties.

    • dan davis

      yeah, the feeling that matter interacts with gravity in predictable ways based on prior data, and that something interesting is affecting the movement of the galaxies that hasn’t been “seen” directly yet.

    • The Captain

      What’s more “arrogant”, completing years of training in, and spending decades studying a subject and coming to a conclusion based on that, or having no education/experience with said subject and thinking you are right and other person wring because your invisible friend says so?

  • Philbert

    The quote from Ting, in context:

    http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-03/national/38238362_1_much-antimatter-dark-matter-positrons

    He says he “has a feeling” about new and as-yet unproven ideas about what dark matter is. That’s completely different from “feeling” dark matter exists.

    In any case, the term “feeling” isn’t anything to do with personal revelation, but rather a preliminary interpretation of the evidence.

  • Edmond

    The cartoon is wrong from the very first frame. You don’t point a telescope at something invisible, and then say “Look!”. Duh.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Bob Englehart also can’t see the elementary particles that constitute matter, but does that mean they don’t exist? Or that scientists are taking their existence merely on faith?

  • Thackerie

    I don’t know how this stupid cartoon left you not knowing whether to laugh or cry. I don’t see anything to laugh about in someone who is obviously ignorant of the scientific method insulting science by equating it with “faith.” I agree with a previous commentator (more compost) that “This is highly obnoxious.”

  • John

    Great, yet another person who doesn’t know what “theory” means.


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