textbook fundamentalist

Salon, I guess trying to make the point that you don’t have to be a religious fundamentalist to be an asshole, has an article today on scientist PZ Meyers. Here’s how it begins…

PZ Myers is a true believer, a science crusader with the singled-minded enthusiasm of a televangelist. A biologist at the University of Minnesota at Morris and a columnist for Seed magazine, Myers has earned notoriety with his blog, Pharyngula, in which he reports on new developments in biology and indiscriminately excoriates those he views as hostile to science, a pantheon of straw men and women that includes theologians, journalists and churchgoers. He is Richard Dawkins without the fame or felicitous prose style.

Currently, Myers is under fire from his university and an army of righteous Catholics over his self-proclaimed “Great Desecration” caper. On July 24, he pierced a Communion wafer with a rusty nail (“I hope Jesus’ tetanus shots are up to date,” he quipped) and threw it in the trash with coffee grounds and a banana peel. The nail also cut through pages of the Quran and Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.” He featured a photo of the “desecration” on his blog, and wrote, “Nothing must be held sacred. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet.”

Religion is dangerous, he wrote; it breeds hatred and idiocy. It is our job to advance humanity’s knowledge “by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality.” There is no wisdom in our dogmas, Myers warned, just “self-satisfied ignorance.” We find truth only in science, looking at the world “with fresh eyes and a questioning mind”….

I suppose it’s necessary to have someone out there representing the radical, Bible-burning scientists among us. This guy, however, sounds to me more like an asshole who wants to make a name for himself than a person who really wants to bring people to science, and sow the seeds of tolerance in the hearts of the fundamentalists. Maybe that’s necessary, though. Maybe every cause needs their radicals out there, scaring the shit out of people on the other side, making the moderates look more appealing. Would Martin Luther King have been as effective if not for Malcolm X? It’s hard to say. I still think this guy sounds like a load, though.

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  1. Deadhand Dan
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    That desecration “caper” reminds me of artwork like “Piss Christ.” Coming from such a strict scientist, isn’t it just a sensationalistic and over-emotional way to try to make the point for rationalism?

    Also, I can fully imagine you in your twenties having done some piece of art almost exactly like his caper. It seems as an older professor one might grow out of such immature reaches for shock value.

  2. Jim
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Myers’ response here:

  3. Posted July 31, 2008 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Truth is found where good meets evil. Only the perceptions are individually different. By the way, someone told me today that you can never waste water, because there will always be the same amount in the world.

  4. Anonymatt
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    PZ’s stunt was highly provocative but I agree with the general point: nothing’s sacred to everyone in this country. This all started when a student in Florida took a wafer instead of eating it. I don’t think that was the right thing to do, but I don’t think it’s something for which he should be disciplined by his college nor should he be subjected to death threats. PZ originally brought up the topic in response to the disproportinate treatment to a (at worst) culturally insensitive college student.

    I’d recommend reading the account at Pharyngula to get his own words rather than rely on the article in Salon by a guy whose book PZ previously trashed.

    You don’t have to be a blogger to be an asshole, but it sure seems to help.

  5. Posted August 1, 2008 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I took a look at Pharyngula; not surprisingly, Myers feels he’s misrepresented.

    There is, by the way, somewhat of a controversy in Canada over communion wafers. For centuries, nuns and monks have collected the dough scraps left over from making communion wafers, and sold them in bags to visitors. Waste not, want not, after all; and tha scraps are unconsecrated. A friend once brought me back some from Quebec; they’re good with guacamole.

    Some bakeries have started selling imitation wafer scraps, and even imitation wafers. And some Catholics feel that it’s blasphemous to sell unofficial, unconsecrated wafers. Others point out that it’s no more blasphemous than selling unconsecrated wine.

    If you’re curious about this, googling “retailles d’hosties” will turn up more info.

  6. Arun
    Posted August 1, 2008 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m a big fan of Myers’ blog and in his defense – though he hardly needs me to defend him – even if you find his actions offensive, his involvement came after that Catholic League *sswipe Bill Donohue got thousands of people to email the president of the school that kid went to and demanded he be expelled.

  7. Mark H.
    Posted August 2, 2008 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    How anyone of intelligence can think that science can be advanced, or any worthy purpose, by gratuitous public insults directed at the core beliefs of other people, is beyond me. This guy is needlessly deepening the divide between science and religion — rather than wisely recognizing the virtue in Stephen Jay Gould, the late scientist who noted that religion and science deal with separate “realms” and fundamentally engage different issues.

  8. mark
    Posted August 2, 2008 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    OK, I’ll admit that I didn’t know the context when I posted this. Now that I know it, I’m not as outraged. I do, however, still find myself on Mark H’s side of the fence. This may be clever – it may ever be, as Dan says, something that I myself would have done at one point in my life – but I don’t find it at all constructive.

  9. mark
    Posted August 2, 2008 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    And thank you, Mr. Skinner – I now know what all of my friends will be receiving for Xmas.

  10. Ted
    Posted August 4, 2008 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Before you throw him under the bus, you should know that PZ is like you in that he finds Natalie Portman hot.


  11. Brackache
    Posted August 4, 2008 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    …because overbearing legalistic church-worshippers need another blasphemous strawman to help make their case for political/social control.

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