PZ Myers, a “godless liberal” and one of the Internet’s most popular bloggers was in Toronto on Halloween to talk about “Science Education: caught in the middle of the war between science and religion.”
Speaking to a friendly crowd
For the most part, the talk consisted of PZ rehashing his blog material to a crowd that seemed to be on the same page. Granted, this took place in Toronto — not exactly a hotbed of religious fundamentalism.
I got to cover the event for the Varsity:
For a personality that evokes such strong reactions on the Internet, Myers’ talk was a rather staid affair. A solitary moment of discord arose when a cry of “we’re here to hear PZ” rang out from an audience member frustrated by the stream of enthusiastic questions that had brought Myers’s talk to a near standstill.
A few angry picketers or at least a tough question or two would have made the evening feel less like a sermon to the congregation.
That isn’t to say it was boring — far from it. Lots of profanity was dropped:
“Religion ought to be like masturbation. It feels good, lots of people do it, yet we all agree public exhibitions are inappropriate.”
The next night, I had a chance to talk to PZ after a dinner with him and some people affiliated with the group that hosted the event, the Centre for Inquiry (thanks Justin). Unfortunately the recording got nuked but it was still an interesting chat.
PZ Myers has made a name for himself for not mincing words about his feelings about religion and what he sees as its negative impact on science, politics, and culture.
He’s been on the internet for ages. At first it was TalkOrigins, an early platform for the evolution-vs-creation wars. He moved on to blogging and apparently gets more than 75,000 visitors a day on Pharyngula. Though often billed as a science blog, the content these days is typically about politics, religion or the latest crazy Creationist exploits.
Two big controversies have put him on the Internet map.
Earlier this year, he was expelled from Expelled (simultaneously the best and worst PR move of the year), Ben Stein’s documentary that claims Intelligent Design is being persecuted by mainstream science. Myers was interviewed for it under false pretenses. Later, he signed up to see an early screening but was kicked out. Ironically, fellow atheist Richard Dawkins was allowed to stay in. It was all chronicled in real time.
Here he is showing us a clip from the documentary (his interview is on the screen):
And then there was the communion incident.
Someone smuggled him a consecrated wafer. He pierced “the body of Christ” with a rusty nail, unceremoniously dumped it in the garbage, and posted a picture to his blog. The response was incredible (including the adding of armed guards at local Catholic services).
Again from the article:
He received 18,000 outraged emails—before he stopped counting. So strong was the reaction that his university had a dedicated staff member to deal with outraged Catholics calling for his dismissal.
But when some went as far as to call his act worse than the Holocaust, it underscored to him that “religious beliefs are not only silly but deplorable.”
Unfortunately, I had 600 words so I didn’t have the space to talk about some of the other stuff he brought up in the talk.
For instance, he spent a lot of time on the characters on the Creationist side, particularly those who’ve used brief stints in academia to claim the status of being real scientists. One respondent in the Q&A session went as far as proposing that graduates in the science take a loyalty oath to evolution. Thankfully, PZ rejected this idea.
Does his style achieve anything?
It’s not controversial to say that people PZ Myers infuriate fundamentalists and religious conservatives. In turn, this reinforces their idea that they’re a persecuted minority which is itself a galvanizing idea.
But PZ knows this. They’re not the real target.
From my conclusion:
As Myers sees it, “[fundamentalists] don’t listen to you anyways.” The important thing is to dislodge the complacency of non-believers and force society to “recognize that atheists are willing to fight back.”
And this is what I’m not sure about.
Don’t the majority of non-fundamentalists just see his kind of behaviour as obnoxious, divisive, and marginal? This is certainly what I hear from people I’ve talked to about him. Thoughts?