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Wednesday, October 20, 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. “Look up the difference between the words ‘tenant’ and ‘tenet’. Clue: a tenant rents a property or room. Good luck with all that!”

    Did you correct your fellow noxious mediocrity shonny when he/she/it wrote ‘sensored’ for censored on PZ’s blog?

    “First of all, last time I checked, I haven’t heard any cases of Atheists blowing up abortion clinics.”

    No, but atheists Stalin and Mao killed 60,000,000 between them, which is far more than any Christian pope, prince, potentate, or clinic shooter.

  2. Professor Myers linked to this article, ensuring a torrent of intellectually circumscribed comments from his vapid koojas. My advice to them: if you all are going to share a brain, then at least get one that works.

  3. This is an opinion piece? It’s just a string of largely unrelated declarative sentences, on par with an eighth grade English essay. It has neither imagination, substance, nor bite. Maybe you should stop worrying about how big a meanie P.Z. Myers is, and concentrate on becoming a better writer.

  4. Militant, adj. fighting: engaged in warfare: using violence: militaristic.

    Don’t try to excuse it with weaselly scare quotes. “Militant” is not an adjective that applies to PZ Myers. Call him outspoken, even strident if you like, but there’s nothing violent or militaristic about his methods.

  5. I guess Methodists don’t read the Gospel of John.

    25Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.

    It’s not an insult; it’s one of the oldest metaphors for Christians.

  6. I was raised a devout Christian. I have not forgotten what it was like to believe in God. Nonetheless – I much prefer the style used by PZ Myers to that used by, for example, Chris Mooney. It is far better to face a sincere disagreement than a huge pile of squirming amorphous sophistry. Likewise, it is better to know that someone considers you foolish or ignorant, than to have them tell you sweet little lies.

  7. Hello there. Might I suggest you do the following before you consider writing about atheism ever again, ever:

    * Learn what a “creationist” is.
    * Learn what “courage” is, and try to see that saying that “it takes courage to believe in something that can’t be proven,” is at best woefully devoid of context and at worse sheer idiocy.
    * Develop a sense of humor and try to understand there’s a difference between PZ Myers saying that he’s “tempted” to punch creationist students in the balls and, say, Scott Roeder being “tempted” to shoot abortion doctors in the head. Hint: PZ’s students still have their testicles; George Tiller no longer has a head.
    * So you might want to learn the meaning of the word “extremist” while you’re at it, too.
    * Look up the difference between the words “tenant” and “tenet”. Clue: a tenant rents a property or room.

    Good luck with all that!
    Pete

  8. “Many Christians are not creationists.”

    Wrong! All Christians are creationists. They may or may not be *young earth creationists, but they are creationists.

    A creationist, by definition believes that God created the world and the life on Earth. Name ONE Christian who does not believe that.

    “It takes courage to say you believe in something that can’t be proven.”

    Nah, it takes gullibility and strength in numbers. Courage is reserved for those who are actually facing opposition and persecution.

    But then again, Christians feel persecuted, so maybe it takes courage because of that delusion

    “I grew up Methodist, but now I’m an atheist.”

    I do not believe you. You sound pretty much like a Christian, not an atheist. It takes courage to be an atheist in the US where we have whopping Christian majority.

    “Scientists come from many different spiritual backgrounds. To characterize them all as ignorant is offensive and halts the scientific process.”

    a. He did not do so.
    b. Calling out the ignorance of the “spiritual” or the “relgious” accelerates scientific progress, it most certainly does not halt it. This is because religion is superstition based on no evidence. And there is nothing quite as important in science as evidence.

  9. ‘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.”‘

    After Myers has his initial reaction he explains to his students why evolution is science and why creationism isn’t.

    I’m a professional economist. Whenever I hear someone saying, for instance, that the country should return to the gold standard I get an initial urge to grab them by the collar and yell at them for being stupid. However I don’t do this. Instead I explain the reasons why in the 1930s every Western country abandoned the gold standard and why it would be a definitely bad idea to go back to it.* Myers does the same thing when he is confronted with creationism in his biology classes.

    *Here’s a practical reason for not going back to the gold standard. Assuming a gold price of $1,000 per ounce the total value of all the gold ever mined is estimated at $4.5 trillion. In the US there’s more than $8.3 trillion in circulation or in deposit.

  10. You don’t know the difference between science and religion? Religion starts with a conclusion and science starts with questions. Religion has crept into our daily culture carrying along its lack of critical thinking. Hard to believe people can be scammed by such stupid and obvious scams that we see every day. You need to look up the definition of the words ‘bravery’ and ‘courage’. If it takes courage to believe in a myth or the scientific method, then what words would you use for someone who risks life and limb to save someone’s life in a fire or any number of acts of bravery? It didn’t work to sit around and watch the right wing religious extremists take over the U.S. for the last 30 years, they just feel more and more justified to dismantle the Constitution and bring in their form of Sharia law. So, yes, atheists need to stand up and push back against backward thinking and move everyone into the 21st century. If we use more critical thinking we will reduce racism, sexism, money scams, health scams, and environmental destruction.

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