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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Column: Hate, in the name of science

“Baboons pretending to be scientists.”

“Keeping children in ignorance.”

“Sleazy.”

These are words used by Dr. PZ Myers to describe creationists. Myers is an evolutionary biologist and “militant atheist” from the University of Minnesota.

Creationists believe that God created the world sometime in the last 10,000 years. Creationists deny that fossils or genetic evidence demonstrate evolution. To explain the presence of dinosaurs, creationists believe humans and dinosaurs shared Earth for a while. Yeah, like the Flintstones. Creationists like the famous Ray Comfort vilify science, pointing out that Hitler believed in “survival of the fittest.”

Many Christians are not creationists.

Last Thursday, Myers came to UC Davis with the goal of refuting creationist claims. He lectured in Chem 194 with the aid of slides that showed whale fossils and fish anatomy – proof of evolution. It would have been a good lecture, a very scientific lecture, if Myers hadn’t been obsessed with attacking Christianity.

Myers called creationists “ignorant,” “obtuse” and “pretentious.” He then turned his attack to scientists who “inconsistently” accept evolution along with Christian beliefs like prayer. He accused scientists who are Christians of hindering science education.

“I do not respect those beliefs at all,” Myers said.

I was offended by Myers’ anti-religion rant, which is weird because I am also an atheist.

There are extremists on both sides of the science/religion debate. Between the nonsensical arguments of Comfort and Myers’, I wonder why there is a debate at all. Why is religion the opposite of science?

Myers accused creationists of having “knee-jerk reactions [to science] that shut down any intelligent response.”

Yet when asked how he reacts to creationists in his evolution course, Myers joked about being tempted to “kick them in the balls.” Myers can’t see that he’s stooped to the same level as a group he calls “stupid.”

Myers characterized Christians – not only creationists – as a brainwashed bunch clinging to the “crutch” of religion.

“[Christians] are perfectly happy to go along with what their pastor said,” Myers said.

Christians may refer to themselves as a “flock,” but they aren’t sheep. It takes courage to say you believe in something that can’t be proven. When scientists formulate hypotheses, they are vulnerable to critique, and they must conduct research to remove all doubt. Religious believers must deal with the same vulnerability, but with the knowledge that they can never prove the existence of a God. Religion takes bravery.

It also takes bravery to spend your life trying to figure out the natural world through science. We’ll never know everything about the world, so scientists just chip away at the mysteries. It seems like scientists and Christians could see the struggle to follow one’s convictions as a common ground, not a schism.

Myers saw no irony in bashing religious indoctrination while spewing his hate to a room full of students. His audience was clapping and howling at his jokes, so I bet few were skeptics of evolution. It takes no bravery to preach to the choir.

Myers displayed a slide showing the tenants of science: reason, evidence, critical thinking and naturalism. But he forgot a major theme that keeps science rolling forward: collaboration. Discourse between scientists strengthens experiments and tests theories. Scientists come from many different spiritual backgrounds. To characterize them all as ignorant is offensive and halts the scientific process.

I grew up Methodist, but now I’m an atheist. I’ve found magic in nature – in the craziness of evolution that has produced both grizzly bears and sea slugs. My beliefs led me away from Christianity. I never felt oppressed by Christianity, I just didn’t believe in a higher power. Science filled the void of understanding nicely, but I did not become an atheist because I believe in evolution. Scientists shouldn’t be afraid of religion.

Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The religion that is afraid of science dishonors God and commit suicide.”

I love these words. Emerson believed that science and religion could coexist and make each other stronger. Science is not the opposite of religion. There are many ways to marvel at the world.

MADELINE McCURRY-SCHMIDT thinks Weird Al’s words to “Luke Skywalker” apply to Myer’s attack on religion: “I know Darth Vader’s really got you annoyed / but remember, if you kill him then you’ll be unemployed.” E-mail her at memschmidt@ucdavis.edu.

23 COMMENTS

  1. “Religious believers must deal with the same vulnerability, but with the knowledge that they can never prove the existence of a God. Religion takes bravery.”

    That is about the most stupid quote I have ever seen.

  2. Okay, first off: just because something doesn’t have any evidence doesn’t mean it takes courage to believe it. See Asch’s conformity experiments.

    Second, professing a ridiculous belief as if you completely believe it is a common form of gaining status for humans. See this article on Professing and Cheering.

    And if it is courageous to believe in things with no evidence, then in order to be as brave as possible, shouldn’t we all pick the most ridiculous, least-supported belief to adhere to, in order to be as brave as possible? The problem is, you’ve started from your conclusion (it’s okay to believe in Christianity) and worked backwards to a justification (it’s brave to believe things with no evidence). Had you started from the justification, you wouldn’t have ended up at Christianity at all. You failed the bottom line test.

  3. “Angry people sound silly.” That’s your comment? Profound. I think you have brought an unspeakably intelligent concept to this debate. Herman, it’s close minded attitudes like yours that make Atheist cringe at the thought of carrying on an intellectual conversation with anyone who dismisses an opposing viewpoint as “sounding silly”. Again you misinterpret, we aren’t angry, we just pity you for your self imposed ignorance. We are sad to see you just plug your fingers in your ears and go “lalalalala” when someone has an idea different from your own. But you are right Herman, this conversation is silly. Only YOU can open you eyes and unplug your ears, and make sense this “silly” world around us. I really hope you can.

  4. First of all, last time I checked, I haven’t heard any cases of Atheists blowing up abortion clinics. Second, hate is a very strong word for you to use as your title, when in fact at no time did Meyers say he hated religious people.

    What you fail to understand, is that this “hate” that “you” felt is something that you have personalized and interpreted in the wrong way.

    The “hate” as you put it, that atheists have for religion, is something that you in fact probably share. A simple analogy would be, a starving child has a can of food in front of her. Her father tells him that opening the can is a Sin, and her mother wants to tell her child, that all she has to do is open the can and eat. So now, who do you “hate”? Why does the father want to can to remain sealed? I can’t hate either of them. The situation just makes me sad, and uneasy, and it makes me feel like I need to cry out INJUSTICE and let the world know about this ridiculousness, I feel I need convince the mother and the child that there is no Sin, and to live and be free from that bastard of a father. That’s the “pity, hate, contempt” that you thought you felt in that room. Like the earlier comment said. Real atheist don’t have time for hate. Real unadulterated hate is something that can only be manifested by dogma. That kind of hate I am proud to say is something Atheist’s are not capable of. I am not going to apologize for Meyers use of language, you’re an adult, and for you to take great offense at something that really wasn’t meant to be directly offensive to you is strange to say the least. Ear muffs! The key here is patience! As a new Atheist you are probably trying to find a nice spot in society that doesn’t separate you too from you former religious self. Meyers is old, he’s a scientist, sometimes it’s hard to talk to people who can’t seem to grasp concepts that you learned in middle school science class. It frustrates Atheist, and sometimes you need a little humor to vent the frustration. Trust me no one is getting kicked in the testicles.

  5. The New Atheism is nothing but a long series of circus performances (see DuckPhup stringing together long chains of invectives just for the emotional effect). One can state their nonbelief and criticize belief just as effectively without the New Atheism’s frat-boy antics. If you don’t believe in a god or Gods, the truth of your claims doesn’t change no matter how often you climb on top of the back of an elephant and scream it while juggling bowling pins in a court jester’s outfit.

    The New Atheism judges its utility based on how offensive it can be. I’m sorry, folks. But that sounds a lot like too many of the religious people I know. I think I’ll pass on that.

  6. Madeline wrote: “Christians may refer to themselves as a “flock,” but they aren’t sheep. It takes courage to say you believe in something that can’t be proven. When scientists formulate hypotheses, they are vulnerable to critique, and they must conduct research to remove all doubt. Religious believers must deal with the same vulnerability, but with the knowledge that they can never prove the existence of a God. Religion takes bravery.”

    With respect to Christians, (Christ-cult delusionists), I’m afraid that you seem to be unable to differentiate ‘courage’ and ‘bravery’ from gullibility, self-deception, self-delusion, irrationality, willful ignorance, intellectual dishonesty, credulity, lies, hypocrisy, and toxic, drooling stupidity.

    Madeline wrote: “It seems like scientists and Christians could see the struggle to follow one’s convictions as a common ground, not a schism.”

    Absolute codswallop. Scientists SEEK ‘truth’. Christians are foolishly certain that they are in POSSESSION of ‘truth’, in the form of the myths, superstitions, fairy-tales, fables, and fantastical delusions of an ignorant gaggle of Bronze Age fishermen and peripatetic, militant, marauding, murdering, genocidal goat-herders… along with later embellishments and midrashic scriptural updating spurred by ‘modern’ (2,000 years ago) Hellenistic philosophical thought (Stoic, and Cynic, mainly). That is what we call STUPID. Religion represents a series of roadblocks smack-dab in the middle of the path to knowledge.

    >>> “Any intellectually honest person will admit that he does not know why the universe exists. Scientists, of course, readily admit their ignorance on this point. Religious believers do not…. an average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse.” ~ Sam Harris

  7. Obviously this columnist is not much of an atheist yet, because she, like the majority of believers, has not understood the difference between pitiful contempt and hate.
    Real atheist don’t ‘hate’, that is the xian way. We see the xians for what they are, superstitious killjoys. To hate them is like hating a brick.

  8. A classic example of defining a debate by its tone, rather than the merits of the arguments. “This scientist was, like, so totally mean to Christians, of which I am certainly not one. Anymore. Therefore, his arguments are invalid, and he’s equivalent to nutjobs like Ray “bananaman” Comfort.”

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