Mixing Memory

He’s Just a Frackin’ Adolescent Ass

Way, way back in September of 2005, a Danish newspaper published some cartoons depicting Muslims and their prophet, and in response, thousands of Muslim extremists responded with varying degrees of threatened and actual violence. As you all know, this resulted in a storm of media coverage around the world, including pretty extensive coverage in the American media. This coverage resulted in several important and, it seems to me, pretty productive discussions on a wide variety of relevant issues, including self-censorship among journalists, the double standard that exists when criticizing religion (as opposed to other world-views, such as the political), anti-Arab racism xenophobia in Europe, and Denmark in particular, as well as the inappropriatess and unacceptibility of the violent reaction of tens of thousands of Muslims across the Muslim world, which resulted in death and destruction.

I think several conclusions can be and were drawn from that discussion, such as that the cartoons were inappropriate, that self-censorship isn’t inherently bad, but that people shouldn’t be forced to self-censor for fear of their lives or the lives of others, that religion should be open to criticism, but that such criticism shouldn’t be gratuitious, racist, or trade in overgeneralizations, that anti-Arab sentiments are rampant in Europe and the U.S. (duh), and that certain Muslim extremists will use any excuse to behave violently and incite others to do so as well. In the end, Denmark, with its Dansk Folkeparti right-wing xenophobes came off looking pretty bad, but Muslims came off looking much, much worse. Their behavior, and the resulting coverage and discussion of it, was perhaps that strongest indictment of Islamic extremism and its ability to infect the minds of people throughout the Muslim world that anyone could have produced. In this case, it was difficult not to see that many Muslims — and in this case, it wasn’t just a few extremists, but huge mobs of people — were behaving very badly in the name of their religion.

In addition to media coverage and frank discussion, there was another response in both Europe and the U.S. to the Muslim reaction to the cartoons, though. This response came almost exclusively from right wing groups (e.g., the Folkeparti’s youth wing) in Europe, and right wing bloggers in the U.S. (e.g., Michelle Malkin). And as you might imagine, given who was involved, this response didn’t involve discussion, but instead used one-upmanship and look-at-me tactics like holding contests to produce even more offensive anti-Muslim/Arab cartoons, or reproducing the cartoons over and over and over again to accompany xenophobic anti-Arab rhetoric. These reactions were, at best, counterproductive. They added nothing to the discussion, and repeatedly illustrated how widespread anti-Arab racism is in the west. A pretty good rule of thumb is that if you want to show that someone’s being a giant ass, it’s best not to try to be one yourself.

The lesson I’m trying to convey is that in cases like that of the Danish cartoons and the response to them, there are two paths one can take: frank, reasoned discussion, or circus-like attention-whoring, and only one is truly effective. While the former causes people to actually think about what’s going on, in all its complexity (and let’s face it, the Danish cartoon situation was very complex, raising all sorts of social, political, ethical, and religious issues), whereas the latter may preach to the choir but is harmful more broadly.

Which brings us to 2008. Last month, as you all know, a student at the University of Central Florida got into a bit of trouble because he took a communion wafer, first back to his seat, and then back to his apartment. Catholics were none too happy about this, and at first responded by filing formal complaints with UCF, and then, once that piece of pond scum Bill Donahue got involved, harassing the poor kid and even issuing death threats. The reaction of Catholics in this case hasn’t been as extreme as the reactions of Muslims in the case of the Danish cartoons, obviously, but if it hasn’t been of the same magnitude, it has turned out to be of the same type: a violent reaction to perceived religious insults. This is unacceptable, and we’d have done well to display their reaction far and wide, and make it clear what Bill Donahue’s role in it was, because inevitably, while the kid may have come off looking like a bit of a naive jerk, the Catholics would have come off looking much, much worse, and we might actually have been able to rationally discuss some of the issues that this case raises (like that double standard mentioned earlier in the post). Once again, we had a choice: rational discussion, or the juvenile attention-whoring characteristic of right-wing xenophobes.

Let’s go back to 2006 for a minute. That’s when I joined ScienceBlogs which, at the time, billed itself as the “world’s largest conversation about science.” Granted, at the time there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot of science on ScienceBlogs (science comprised something like 30% of SB’s content), but ScienceBlogs was (and is) a product of Seed Media Group, whose motto is “Science is Culture,” and apparently many of the early ScienceBloggers just forgot the science part and focused on the culture (in the form of politics and religion). Now, Seed has been great over the last year and a half or so, more than doubling their blog total, and many of the blogs they’ve added are almost exclusively science-oriented. But Seed’s biggest blog, the one to which everyone else in the network is inclined to link if they want a traffic boost, and which therefore can have a big influence on the content of the entire network, long ago ceased to be about either science or conversation. Instead, it became a prolonged self-aggrandizing, attention-whoring rant (it’s likely not a coincidence that the proportion of rant to science, and the tone of that rant, grew in proportion to the blog’s traffic).

Now, if we were to take ScienceBlog’s self-description as a conversation about science seriously, we might be inclined to believe that ScienceBlogs would be the home of a rational discussion what happened with the UCF student and the idiot Catholics who harassed him. But in all likelihood, before we started to believe that, we’d be reminded that ScienceBlog’s biggest name is not interested in conversation or rational discussion, and so we would not be surprised that instead of taking the broadly effective route, that blogger chose instead the juvenile tactics of right-wing xenophobes, in order to show that he is, in fact, the biggest, baddest, most anti-religious atheist in all of the intertubes, and to get all sorts of attention both from his loyal epigones and from religious nuts (it’s probably not a coincidence, as well, that the blogger in question is planning on publishing a book sometime soon). There has been a resulting discussion, of course, but instead of focusing on the Catholics and their abominable behavior, the discussion has been about our biggest blogger and his nonsense.

There are dozens of reasons to criticize the behavior of that blogger, perhaps the most salient of which is that it’s never OK to gratuitously attempt to hurt the feelings of large groups of people, with no other reasonable end but to hurt their feelings, but I think the most tragic consequence of said blogger’s behavior is that it pretty much cuts off any discussion of the real issues, and diverts the attention to him. And I find it sad any time the opportuntity for rational discussion of important issues is undercut by adolescent nonsense. And I also find it sad that ScienceBlogs, supposedly a bastion of reason, “the world’s largest conversation about science,” long criticized for being overly liberal in its political orientation, is dominated by an illiberal, anti-intellectual ass whose idea of a rational response is to emulate Michelle Malkin or the Dansk Folkeparti’s youth movement. I feel ashamed to be associated with it, and him.

Comments

  1. #1 Woozle
    July 26, 2008

    I note the large number of ad hominem attacks in your post, but not one argument that actually addresses the substance of what “ScienceBlogs’ biggest name” actually said.

    The only specific criticism you did make was not against what he actually said or did, but against your perception of same:

    “it’s never OK to gratuitously attempt to hurt the feelings of large groups of people, with no other reasonable end but to hurt their feelings…”

    Where did you get the idea that this is what he was doing? I don’t recall seeing anywhere in his post where he said that his intent was to deliberately hurt people’s feelings. He may have expressed disdain for any feelings that got hurt as a result of what he planned to do, but causing pain was not the intent of his acts.

    My understanding was that the Cracker Desecration Affair accomplished the following things, at least (some of which were clearly intended, others perhaps incidental):

    1. Made it clear that religious rules and dogma do not apply to society at large, and that we must not allow them to do so

    2. Demonstrated that whatever may be meant by the “substance” of the cracker being literally changed into the actual flesh of a revered semi-mythical figure, it would have to be some strange religion-based definition of that word — as the pierced cracker revealed its sacred innards to be, well, cracker. No blood oozing from between the cracks, as often depicted in Mediaeval paintings, no cries of pain from apparitions of Jesus.

    3. Drew defenders of the “offended” stance into the conversation, when otherwise they would have sat back complacently in the secure belief that their unwritten rules were being enforced (innocent student satisfyingly stomped by the boot of authority for the presumption of a minor violation of ritual, with nary a word of protest).

    I’ve already had this argument out with John Pieret; given the similarity between his stance and yours, I don’t expect to make any headway here either — but I do think this seemingly petty squabble over a cracker highlights a significant issue in the war between religion and secularism which can perhaps best be summarized as: Where should the lines be drawn?

    Yes, it is about science — not doing science per se, but preventing religion from running roughshod over the cultural attitudes and standards which make science possible.

  2. #2 Chris
    July 26, 2008

    Woozle, my argument is in the first part of the post: there are two ways to go about this, rational discussion and circus-like performance art. In the cartoon case, the former acheived something, namely discussion of the issues, even if our collective attention spans may have ultimately rendered those discussions irrelevant, whereas the latter acheived nothing more than the reiteration or prejudice and attention for right-wing hacks and children. I think that addresses what PZ did pretty directly.

    To address your point:

    1. My point, pretty clear, is that there are better ways to accomplish this, namely through discussion and public attention on the issues (as opposed to on stunts).

    2. Obviously, this is stupid. Catholics are well aware that the crackers don’t bleed. They eat them! And I don’t know of any catholic reporting blood in their mouth (and besides, it’s supposed to be flesh, not blood — blood’s the wine; I mean, if you’re going to make a point, at least make a relevant one). Doing things to the cracker makes no point, because it doesn’t address the actual belief. It just offends the people. So again, it comes off as nothing more than insult for insult’s-sake. Which I suppose is better than the ignorance that your argument #2 presupposes.

    3. Again, this is what happened in the case of the cartoons not because of juvenile stunts, but in spite of them, because of the discussion in the media (on the front pages, in editorials and letters to the editor, etc.). The question is not whether Catholic nonsense in reponse to what was a fairly innocent, if somewhat stupid act on the part of the UCF student, should be highlighted, but what is the most effective way of doing so. By imitating medieval anti-Semitic representations of host desecration (to what, highlight medieval anti-semitism in the Catholic church? wow, that’s deep), the only thing that gets accomplished is to put the attention on PZ, and actually make the Catholics look somewhat justified in their anger (though not in their expressions of that anger — violence, and threats of violence, is never justified in cases like these).

    If you want to accomplish something in this discussion, start by addressing the argument I made: that there is a better way to go about this, and that unless PZ’s really, really stupid (I think we can assume he’s not), then a simple look at analogous situations from the past makes it clear that PZ’s tactic, which actually is the same sort of tactic used by right wing xenophobes, won’t accomplish anything but to insult large groups of people to no other end.

  3. #3 Who Cares
    July 26, 2008

    To summarize:
    Both sides behaved like assholes (I concur).
    Either side could (and should) have taken a different path that would have been better suited for a (more) rational discussion.

    my 2 cents:
    It’s the two students that is getting hammered over the extra controversy generated not PZ or the Catholics going nuts and demanding that heads roll.

  4. #4 Craig
    July 26, 2008

    This is the first post of yours I haven’t liked.

    The idea that we should be careful about who we offend is silly. Offending people, being aggressive, being angry… it may not be your style, but it works. Most of our best social changes come from people being loud, angry, and offensive.

    The point isn’t to self-aggrandize. The point isn’t that he’s childish. And the point CERTAINLY isn’t to try to rationally convince inherently irrational people to change their ways. The point is to show fence-sitters that a lifestyle they think is mild and harmless is, in fact, dangerous and delusional. You have to be loud enough because fence-sitters aren’t very good listeners.

    Everyone already knows geeks are loud and obnoxious. Everyone doesn’t already know that Christian zealots will threaten your life if you don’t obey them. I think it’s more important that they realize the second fact than it is that we hide the first.

    I know you think this is -oh!- dreadfully uncouth, but can we get back to your scienceblogging? I miss those days of scienceblogging… I don’t read PZ for the science, but I sure as hell read you for the science. Sigh…

  5. #5 Matt Hussein Platte
    July 26, 2008

    …[T]here are two paths one can take: frank, reasoned discussion, or circus-like attention-whoring, and only one is truly effective.

    Ah, I love the smell of false dichotomy in the morning.

    A third path, the one I took, for example, is a good old public shaming. You want to send out death threats? Fine. But any group which you presume to represent will get, in response, a very public, over-the-top caricature in lieu of reasoned discussion. My point is that one simply doesn’t “reason” with death threats. My statement to said group was eloquently put by the Resident-in-Chief, “you’re either with us or against us”. Now there’s a real dichotomy for ya. The Catholic Church, much like the so-called Moderate Muslims of 2006, jolly well need to stand up for their values and decide whether death threats are part of the program — or not. Then they need to let all of us know where they stand. Ball’s in their court; has been in their court all along.

    The person who released the Rodney King beating on videotape could have gone to the L.A. City Council and reasoned with the Chief. Yeah, or s/he could have written a letter to the L.A. Times. That would have prevented the riots, no?

  6. #6 Chris
    July 26, 2008

    Who Cares, it’s probably true that this has been prolonged for that kid because of PZ and his minions.

    Craig, I didn’t say we should be careful who we offend. I said offending people to no end is wrong. There’s a difference. I have no problem offending people if it’s in the service of some positive end. Otherwise, I wouldn’t write posts like this. But I do have a problem with offending people — anyone, religious or not, just for the sake of offending them (and getting the attention that comes with it).

    Matt, this isn’t a false dichotomy. It’s true, you can sometimes highlight issues with theatrics, but in this case, what issue is being highlighted? That Catholics respond to offense when people purposefuly offend them? That’s deep, man. Some Catholics issued death threats (and apparently, so did some atheists in response, though I haven’t seen that much discussed)… highlight this, scream it from the roof tops, and give your argument: religion shouldn’t be protected, under threat of violence, from criticism and even ridicule, and any religious person who responds to criticism with violence or the threat of violence is at best scum, and perhaps even criminal. But poking holes in crackers? That’s just PZ getting his jollies and calling it protest. And really, that’s the least pathetic thing it can be.

    Even theatrics can have reason behind them, and when they do, they can be productive. The dichotomy isn’t between theatrics and reason, it’s between pointless theatrics and reason.

  7. #7 Woozle
    July 26, 2008

    Thanks for the reasonable reply.

    The two bits you asked me to address, “there’s a better way to go about this” and “PZ’s tactic won’t accomplish anything except…”:

    1. I think I understand your argument that calm discussion is a better way to accomplish communication and understanding than is putting on a circus-sideshow act and being all confrontational. It’s a reasonable argument to make, and I sympathize to some degree with those who make it; I strongly dislike confrontation and heated arguments myself.

    However, in this case I disagree with the conclusion, as do many people — and I’m not arguing from populism or brute force here. If the thesis is “Any atheist argument which isn’t sufficiently polite should be considered invalid”, then many cogent arguments have been made in disagreement.

    If this invalidation is what you are advocating, that is of course a valid point of view.

    My disagreements with it:

    First off, I think we need to make sure we are talking about the same thing when we say “not being polite”. I don’t think anyone’s suggesting emulating the suffragettes in certain particulars such as breaking windows. (PZ mentioned this detail, but I didn’t at all come away with the impression that he was advocating it.) It hasn’t come to anything like that yet. (If people were being arrested for eucharist desecration, that might be a different matter.)

    For instance, some might call my first sentence to you — accusing you of ad hominem — to be impolite. Some might call the simple statement that the Communion wafer is nothing more than a cracker (and not a very good one at that) to be rude, or inconsiderate, or hurting people’s feelings. Apparently Creative Minority Report considered a contention of mine to be rude simply because it was strongly phrased, and summarily deleted it.

    Closer to the other end of the “rudeness” scale, we have PZ’s cracker desecration. It may have involved a performance, but I think he pretty thoroughly discussed his reasons for doing it, in a forum where others had substantial opportunity to talk back (multiple thousands of comments worth, no less, over the course of this whole shenanigans.) If that isn’t going about it in a calm and civilized manner, then what is?

    Second, and closely related: who is to determine when something is rude? A policy in which it is acceptable to disregard “rude” behavior allows the other side to claim rudeness whenever they’d rather duck a question instead of answering it. They, on the other hand, are held to no such standards; I think we’re agreed that the treatment of Webster Cook has been rude in the extreme, as were some of the responses to PZ’s posts on this subject (whether or not you agree with him).

    You might argue that by taking a destructive action against the communion wafer, he crossed a line from purely verbal disagreement into violence (especially if you buy into the idea that Jesus is somehow present in the cracker).

    This is, to borrow a phrase from Frank Zappa, the crux of the biscuit. How did he cross that line? Are you arguing that it’s because:
    * he obtained the cracker by illegitimate means and therefore it wasn’t his to destroy?
    * he was celebrating a destructive act?
    * he was specifically doing something to violate a religious law?

    If it isn’t any of these, then please clarify.

    2. “a simple look at analogous situations from the past makes it clear that PZ’s tactic, which actually is the same sort of tactic used by right wing xenophobes, won’t accomplish anything but to insult large groups of people to no other end.”

    Let’s break this down…
    2a. Desecrating the cracker is the same sort of tactic used by right-wing xenophobes. How so? Can you give an example of the right-wing tactics you’re referring to?

    If, for example, you’re analogizing the cracker desecration to cross-burnings (as others have done), I don’t think that analogy holds. Cross-burning was an intimidation tactic, generally done to target a specific individual or group in a certain area. A cross burning in your yard might be only symbolic, but it was always a threat — and one that was often carried out; lynchings and burnings were very common.

    PZ’s act was the opposite, saying in effect “I refuse to be intimidated” to the very large and powerful Catholic Church and the loud and influential Catholic League, in spite of death threats to both PZ and Mr. Cook. Anyone who thinks they are in danger from PZ or Mr. Cook needs their head examined.

    If the other side in this dispute had at least made efforts to negotiate in a reasonable way with Mr. Cook, PZ’s initial post might arguably have been unjustifiable. If they had attempted to negotiate with PZ after that post (as, indeed, he offered to do), then his carrying through with the desecration might have been unjustifiable.

    So yeah, I guess this is (as Pieret pointed out) “they started it” and “tit for tat” — but it seems to me that PZ handled it in as adult a manner as possible, given the infantile behavior on the other side. His retaliations were not just smaller but much smaller and more civilized than the other side’s offenses. It seems to me that this is a very reasonable way to negotiate with a party that won’t negotiate: in the language they understand, i.e. force, but being careful that your offenses are always the lesser.

    2b. Desecrating the cracker won’t accomplish anything but to insult large groups of people to no other end.

    I listed the things I thought it had accomplished in my previous comment. Do you disagree that it accomplished those things?

    And would we even be having this calm, reasonable conversation if he hadn’t gone through with it?

  8. #8 CA
    July 26, 2008

    One of my favorite saying is “All generalizations are wrong.” We have to be careful about looking at the postion or behavior of the extreme and then generalizing to the many or the whole group. It appears to be true to me that not all Mulsims are extremists favoring violence. But some are. It appears to me that not all Catholics are extremists favoring violence. But some are. It appears to me that not all atheists are extemists favoring violence. But some are. To argue that the extreme applies to all is easy, but disengenious. When it is taken to childish extreme (forgive the brush with ad hominim reference), it becomes not only dispicable but counter productive. It makes one’s postion vulnerable to abuse by the opposite extreme by more overgeneralization. And, as Chris seems to be saying, it removes the opportunity for fruitful discussion. The bulk of the result is little more than name calling (ad hominim?). Maybe all generalizations aren’t wrong. But some are.

  9. #9 Zeno
    July 26, 2008

    (it’s probably not a coincidence, as well, that the blogger in question is planning on publishing a book sometime soon)

    Oh, yes. The moment that PZ took up cudgels against the rabid Catholics at UCF (soon to be followed by hordes of their coreligionists elsewhere), it occurred to me that it was just a clever book promotion gimmick! Too bad he forget to mention “buy my book” during the multiple rounds of the battle.

    ============

    Seriously, Chris. Was that necessary? PZ’s style is way more confrontational than mine and I’m not certain that it’s more effective than a less heated approach, but it’s just plain nasty to imply he did it simply to gin up sales of a book that doesn’t even exist yet. More likely he didn’t even give it a thought. I suppose we’ll know if he ever gets his book done and it’s released with cover art of a nailed wafer. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  10. #10 Eric Cartman's Evil Twin
    July 26, 2008

    Fifty years ago, American comedians made fun of Catholicism’s bread and wine, of Christianity’s Jesus, the Apostles (‘JC and the gang’) God, and the Holy Ghost, and of Hindus’ sacred cows. Religious nutjobs got bent out of shape, but the media paid them no mind, so making fun of whatever anybody considered laughable was perfectly alright. There was no market for letting the nutjobs set the agenda. My, how things have changed.

    There is nothing anywhere that deserves protection from ridicule. When the demented demand that sane people be forced or coerced into taking their lunacies seriously, then they have turned criminal and deserved to be run out of the country at gunpoint.

  11. #11 steve
    July 26, 2008

    Whoever wrote this post isn’t aware of the fine tradition of ‘heaving dead cats into sanctuaries’.

  12. #12 Lepas
    July 26, 2008

    What did PZ “accomplish”? The first things coming to my mind about people like PZ are:

    1. they don’t know about ethics. They think that what is not unlawful is also right.

    2. they don’t know about trust. They will take pride in breaking other people’s trust relations, or in having others acting deceptively under their guidance.

    3. they don’t know about meaning. They think meaning reduces to physical properties of objects.

    So, one may well ask, why should a rational person want to talk about living in a secular society with people who lack such basic competences?

  13. #13 Pierce R. Butler
    July 26, 2008

    The pond scum spells its name “Donohue”.

    Seed’s biggest blog still continues a significant fraction of science and conversation.

    A 100% “prolonged self-aggrandizing, attention-whoring rant” wouldn’t become, or stay, Seed’s biggest blog for very long. (It might do quite well at catholicleague.org – or perhaps it already has/is…)

    Where’s the science in this post?

  14. #14 Woozle
    July 26, 2008

    Lepas:

    How is it wrong to destroy a cracker someone gave you to eat?

    Whose trust was betrayed when Webster Cook tried to return to his seat carrying the Eucharist to educate his fellow student council member about his faith, thinking surely he was safe from abuse in his own church? Whose trust has PZ betrayed?

    Symbolic meaning exists, but in this case a phony symbolic significance invented by a bunch of ignorant (by our standards) priests in the dark ages is being exploited as a pawn by modern powermongers who should know better; PZ’s action exposes that abuse.

    Who really cares, deeply, if someone desecrates a Eucharist without intending to harm or intimidate anyone? If it really bothers you, then why? How does it harm you or anyone else?

    At this point, someone will probably drag out the tired “what if I desecrated your 6-y.o. offspring’s drawings” argument. That would bother me, for the obvious reason that they are irreplaceable. Is a Eucharist wafer irreplaceable? Is Jesus gradually being used up? For God’s sake, stop the transubstantiation now before He’s all gone! Future generations will thank you.

    No wonder religious people don’t seem to get the need for sustainability…

    (PS to Chris: this is my brand of atheistic “rudeness”. I reserve the right, as a rationalist, to ridicule and parody absurd religious beliefs wherever I find them. You may examine my beliefs and do the same, if you wish; fair’s fair.)

  15. #15 Stephanie Z
    July 26, 2008

    “…long ago ceased to be about either science or conversation.”

    You know, there’s data available on how much science PZ blogs. We can compare your output if you’re interested.

  16. #16 Jules Winfield
    July 26, 2008

    First things first: If you don’t want PZ to get attention, don’t blog about him. Wait – what’s that? You want attention, too? And might even be jealous you don’t get a decent share around here?

    “I feel ashamed to be associated with it, and him.”

    Don’t worry, you’re not. Dr. Myers not only writes regularly about biological science (seriously, that’s why some of us go there – and have gone there – since well before the creation of Science Blogs; you wouldn’t grasp any of it, I’d guess, but it’s there), but writes with a flair and without a smattering of freakin’ frackin’ adolescent spelling and grammar mistakes.

    There are 65 or 70 bloggers in this network – do you people seriously think of yourselves as “colleagues” just because you’ve all been bought by the same entity? The range of quality and technical expertise is as astounding as the infighting is amusing.

  17. #17 Lepas
    July 26, 2008

    Woozle,

    The cracker was given to Mr. Cook because he was trusted by the other people in the church – it was expected from him that he would eat the cracker. That’s the ritual, and the guy was not “educating” anyone about his religion because his religion simply forbids his behavior. In order to eat the cracker, he probably had to follow some “lessons” about the ritual. So I can hardly accept that he didn’t know, and I think it was a blatant betrayal of trust. Do I care? Not very much. I do care for the physical abuses and threats, but the whole point of the discussion is that you can take different paths in order to expose it.

    About PZ, he invited other people to behave as Mr. Cook did, but in this case the request to betray other people’s trust was unequivocal. He asked them to behave deceptively.

    I don’t care for the ritual, the cracker, the body of Christ. I do care, however, when some people think they can betray other people’s trust and intrude into their rituals (which may be stupid, but are harmless by most standards, may give people comfort, identity, meaning, motivation). The reason why I care is that if you want to promote rationalism and secularism you should not (in my opinion) promote them as a force against any form of respect or trust. That would leave the moral high ground to religious leaders, and I’m afraid they are quite happy of being “offended” by acts of desecration, instead of being challenged about their justifications for threats and abuses.

  18. #18 usagi
    July 26, 2008

    Who Cares, it’s probably true that this has been prolonged for that kid because of PZ and his minions.

    Mark Chu-Carroll at Good Math Bad Math made the same contention in his response to crackergate. Like him, you’re wrong.
    In a move that is lible to become a textbook example of how not to handle this sort of incident in the future, UCF has placed bars on the students’ records. How any administrator with two grains of sense to rub together would allow this to happen when the situation was clearly already far out of control is beyond me, but without the loud megaphone (aside to those commentors who feel obligated to complain about the science content at Pharyngula: Have you considered looking at the Catagory heading if all you’re interested in is the biology? If the topic ratio isn’t to your liking, perhaps you should not visit and instead read someone else.) these kids would be totally forgotten and completely screwed. The university is now under scrutiny. They now have to at least appear to follow their process.

  19. #19 Winawer
    July 27, 2008

    You: “there are two paths one can take: frank, reasoned discussion, or circus-like attention-whoring, and only one is truly effective.”

    Also you: An entire post (complete with weird ‘anonymity’), the title of which is He’s Just a Frackin’ Adolescent Ass.

    Way to set yourself apart.

  20. #20 darwinoid
    July 27, 2008

    Amazing how PZs little minions and apologists come out of the woodwork to defend their master. Farking hilarious example of group-think.

  21. #21 Blind Squirrel FCD
    July 27, 2008

    Damn! 17 comments on your blog post! A record for you, I believe.

    PZ Myers, to give the villain a name, ( we aren’t talking about Voldemort here, you Know) Has performed a great public service By pointing out that a very large fraction of our voting, decision making public hold beliefs that are batshit crazy. A nice reasonable post about how both sides were rude and disrespectful of each others beliefs would have left this particular dead cat unflung and probably only generated, oh I don’t know, about 17 hits total.

  22. #22 Meh
    July 27, 2008

    Lighten up, Chris.

    There is a third path one can take apart from reasoned discussion and attention whoring, and that is humor – unless of course you something against every comedian that has made a joke that could offend a large number of people. The original crackergate post was nothing more than a light-hearted parody of the situation – a kid takes a piece of food and people accuse him of “kidnapping”. Heck, why not go the whole way and torture that poor cracker? Okay, so maybe your comic taste is different, but the issue here is not about deliberately offending people but rather what is acceptable in the name of comedy.

    Of course it is a complex issue; believing that inanimate objects magically become the body of Christ is a silly belief, and it doesn’t deserve to be any more respect than scientology or voodoo – but at the same time, it would be inappropriate for hordes of people to intrude on private ceremonies no matter how superstitious and silly they may be. But really, the whole fracas over a lowly cracker is entirely overblown – of course people have the right to be offended, but they probably shouldn’t be. The kind of culture we live in instils a kind of ethos that says if you believe in a particular (major) religion, you not only have a right to be offended but you also should be if somebody makes any derogatory remark about it. A lot of it is group think and the religious leaders issuing fatwas and quasi-fatwas play a huge role in that. But of course, it’s okay to protest outside a church of scientology.

  23. #23 MH
    July 27, 2008

    Lepas “That’s the ritual, and the guy was not “educating” anyone about his religion because his religion simply forbids his behavior.”

    No it doesn’t! Why are so many Catholic apologists ignorant of Catholic ritual? It is perfectly acceptable (in some churches) to take the wafer back to one’s seat and eat it there. People use the time to pray over it. If the UCF communion ritual was opposed to this behaviour, they certainly didn’t make it apparent, until they tried to wrestle it from the kids hands. It was at that point that he decided to flee the church; quite frankly, I don’t blame him.

    The Church of Scientology trusts its members with knowledge (some of it mystical), and forbids them from talking about it. And yet some have, and in doing so, they opened our eyes to how dangerous (and crazy) the Church is. Do you think it would have been better if they had kept their mouths shut? For the sake of trust?

    Darwinoid “Amazing how PZs little minions and apologists come out of the woodwork to defend their master. Farking hilarious example of group-think.”

    Why the ad-hom? Is everyone who disagrees with Chris one of PZ’s minions? If someone misrepresented Chris, would people who defended him be his minions? May I suggest you grow up.

  24. #24 smitty
    July 27, 2008

    Oh yeah!!! Well you only made this blog post because YOU’RE an attention whore, and you knew your lonely little blog would get traffic if you made an egregiously flawed criticism of PZ!

    How childish of you!!!

    j/k lol

    but seriously, strong disagree. I don’t understand where “PZ is being mean just to hurt the feelings of the sad deluded people” comes from, and I don’t think PZ’s blog is lacking in science content. I think the following posts from the past week were well written and very informative:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/tangled_bank_110.php
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/snake_segmentation.php
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/epigenetics.php

  25. #25 eugene_X
    July 27, 2008

    Actually, I think you have made PZ’s point for him, in a way. Somtimes circus-like performance art is just what the situation calls for. If PZ had simply written another blog post where he calmly and rationally explains the hypocrisy of Catholics willing to assault a guest in their church because he didn’t swallow his cracker when he should have, then you wouldn’t be writing this blog post today. You wouldn’t have all these responses to it. We all would have shaken our heads and said, oh, those wacky theists, and gone on to read Darren’s post about feathered dinosaurs.

    But instead, the number of people talking about, and debating this issue is enormous. And I, for one, learned something new about the use of “host desecration” as an invented crime to be hung on the necks of jews, intellectuals, and other people whom the Church wanted to have killed. Thousands upon thousands of innocent people were put to death in mass pogroms because one member of their community was accused of “host desecration.”

    And by making a little demonstration, PZ has given us an object lesson in how times have changed, and how they might just as easily change back, if certain people (whose emails he published on the site) had their way. I think he rather brilliantly put the Florida actions and the contents of his wastebasket into perspective, in a real and concrete way: the church used to massacre whole cities for the mere suspicion that one person did what I have just done. I don’t think that any amount of “rational discussion” would have driven that point home with quite the same urgency.

  26. #26 MH
    July 27, 2008

    Lets attempt a little clarity here. UCF student Cook (a Catholic) brought the wafer back to his seat to show his curious friend (who could have gone up and got a wafer himself, if he’d wanted). Church officials tried to wrest it from him, and he fled the church. His well-being was threatened, as was his position at UCF. He later returned the wafer to the church. Catholics are still trying to ruin his education.

    PZ noted the idiocy of calling the actions of Cook “blasphemous”, and said that if anyone sent him a wafer, he would show them what blasphemy really was. If Donohue hadn’t picked up on it, that’s probably where it would have ended. However, after the Catholic League released their call to arms, PZ’s life was threatened, as was his job. Should PZ have said that he would respect any crackers that were sent him (despite not knowing whether or not they were consecrated)? Lets remember that they are just fricking crackers, and non-Catholics are not under any obligation to treat them as anything other than bits of bread, because that’s what they are. What did PZ eventually do? He dumped it in the trash, as you would do with any bit of inedible food produce. He is still getting threats.

    Are the people who are saying that what PZ did was wrong advocating the return of all of the religious memorabilia in museums back to their respective cultures? Lets face it, much of that was taken against the will of the worshipers, sometimes by force.

    PZ was given some crackers by other people who were freely given them, and he treated them as crackers. The only reason that this turned into such a shit-storm was that certain religions are given un-earned respect in our culture. I don’t care if some group thinks that singing “Heartbreak Hotel” over a beef-burger transforms it into bits of Elvis, I am still going to treat it like a burger, because it IS still a burger. People who are not Elvisians are not under any obligation to believe that such a ritual is anything other than crazy and worthless. However, I wouldn’t try and stop them from carrying out their ritual, and neither would PZ. I reserve the right to ridicule them, though.

    Finally, lets remember that there has been no official comment from the Catholic Church about the behaviour of PZ or Donohue. They could stop the threats in an instant if they wanted to. What does that tell you about their respect for people? That they think that bits of bread that have had magic spells cast on them are more important than people?

    Seriously, wake up and smell the insanity.

  27. #27 MH
    July 27, 2008

    Eugene “And I, for one, learned something new about the use of “host desecration” as an invented crime to be hung on the necks of jews, intellectuals, and other people whom the Church wanted to have killed.”

    Yes, I have found Cracker-gate instructive. I hadn’t realised that the Catholic Church had used accusations of cracker-abuse to wipe out groups of non-Catholics, and I hadn’t realised that conservative Catholics today still yearned for those times.

  28. #28 John Morales
    July 27, 2008

    Well, you did get me to read your blog by alluding to PZ.

    I get to form an opinion, you get a blog hit.

  29. #29 clinteas
    July 27, 2008

    Congrats for the attention your otherwise pathetically boring musings will achieve for a little while now by writing this piece of drivel.

    I was initially inclined to consider a similar if less cowardly position than you Chris,but 12000 hate emails and 15000 raving mad comments on the blog later I have to say this has just worked absolutely beautifully to expose what fringe cult of deluded fools the catholic church really is.

    You’re a bit pathetic mate.Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame.

  30. #30 MH
    July 27, 2008

    Chris “But Seed’s biggest blog, the one to which everyone else in the network is inclined to link if they want a traffic boost, and which therefore can have a big influence on the content of the entire network, long ago ceased to be about either science or conversation.”

    Over the past few months, PZ has posted on average three articles a week tagged “science” (some of which are BPR3). How do you compare?

  31. #31 Christophe Thill
    July 27, 2008

    I can’t claim to really know PZ Myers; I never met him in person, and possibly never will. But, after some time reading Pharyngula, I begin to know some of his reactions. And after William “Crazy Bill” Donahue’s cries of “DONTCHA DARE DO IT! DONTCHA DARE DO IT!”, I sort of knew he was certainly not going to calm things down.

  32. #32 philos
    July 27, 2008

    PZ’s an ass – and has thus securely divided the religious from every wishing to understand/accept atheism and vice versa. What that you say? Atheists accept religion? Hardly.

    The poor soul has no ethics, almost to the level of hate-crime behaviour. It got him some attention for his upcoming book – but what a way to do it.

    I feel sorry for his kids watching all this.

    PZ must have been just weaned to early.

  33. #33 philos
    July 27, 2008

    Typos in the above:

    Remove “y” from “every”, first sentence.

    Add an ” ‘s ” to “What”, second sentence.

    Add ” o ” to “to”, last sentence.

    Sorry, haven’t had my coffee yet.

  34. #34 Science Avenger
    July 27, 2008

    “…it’s never OK to gratuitously attempt to hurt the feelings of large groups of people”

    Yes it is, particularly when their feelings get hurt due to a worldview that, were it not shielded from criticism by being labelled religious, would have them in a room with padded walls.

    It is high time such people learn, be they Muslim, Catholic, or any other belief system, that no one else is under any obligation to avoid engaging in behavior that you arbitrarily declare offensive, and the louder you scream that we shouldn’t, the more of it you are going to see. We’ll destroy crackers if we want to, draw pictures of Mohammed if we want to, and yes, tear up pages of The God Delusion if we so desire. That’s what free speach MEANS.

  35. #35 Science Avenger
    July 27, 2008

    I would add to my first paragraph above the qualifier that they believe they have the right to enforce their views through force and threats. If the little old lady down the street thinks her rose bush is a god, I’m not going to go stomp on it just to show her it isn’t. But if she starts thinking that MY rose bush is a god…

  36. #36 MH
    July 27, 2008

    philos “PZ’s an ass…”

    Well, that was philos on PZ, now PZ on philos:

    “In an unbelievable act of crass, vile smugness, this petty twerp rushed to my site after the fatal 35W bridge collapse to sneer at atheists. “Contemptible” isn’t a strong enough word for vermin like this, who use tragedy to push their lies on the bereaved. His kind are what make me despise religion.”

    philos is in PZ’s dungeon because he’s a “demented fuckwit and world-class asshole“.

  37. #37 Kevin
    July 27, 2008

    I disagree that R-W xenophobia is the motivator, or anything like it, for PZ’s actions, or Europe’s reactions. Musn’t a phobia be irrational? Have you read the Sword Verses? Do you know that Muslims educated in the Qu’ran believe that the entire world will one day become Muslim, because Islam is the truth, the word of Allah, and it will win the world as its prize, of its own merit. Moderate Muslims may glaze this over, and in many cases do not know this, but it is present, in their holy book. Christianity has dark promises for non-Christians as well. This is not some fantasy cooked up by my fevered atheist brain. This is a part of their beliefs. Whatever the motives of some individuals (not PZ, I believe he is quite sane), fear of religion can rationally proceed a good reading of their core texts. You and I and most everyone here reading these posts are promised fire, just and deserved fire, from someone’s ‘just’ god, for eternity. True believers, and not the average religious person in tidy, insulated America, understand what their books teach, and carry these promises in their minds, and expose it in their moral superiority. My fear of religion is not irrational. I know what the true believers, the students of religion, the people of god think is good for us, you included Chris, and I promise, however liberal (how about generous, can we try generous?) and kind you would like to appear, you wouldn’t agree with them.

  38. #38 RBH
    July 27, 2008

    There’s an old saying that seems on point: In order to reason with a mule one first has to get the mule’s attention. Sometimes a whack between the eyes with a 2×4 (or impaling a cracker) is the only way to do so.

    I initially thought PZ’s behavior was over the top. Then I read a bit further on what stimulated it, and concluded that the use of a 2×4 was more than justified. Webster Cook was relatively powerless in his situation — by pressuring UCF to sanction Cook, the Catholic League and its supporters were applying hugely asymmetrical power to a college kid. PZ’s actions created a much more equal power distribution, and (among other things) cast a bright light on the actions of the Catholic League. Casting a bright light on the behavior of religious oppressors can only be good. (And I use the phrase “religious oppressors” with care.)

  39. #39 John Lynch
    July 27, 2008

    @ RBH

    Fair enough. So why didn’t PZ go after the Catholic League (a minority group that I will hazard isn’t supported by the vast majority of American – or world – Catholics)? Instead he went after all Catholics, the vast majority of which are not “religious oppressors” or theocrats. A slight case of overbombing.

    Let’s face it, nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing – that PZ ever does is going to affect Catholicism one iota. (The same can be said for Dawkins at al). It may make him feel good to fight the “good” fight, he may think he’s making a difference, but he isn’t. This isn’t “performance art” as some have suggested. This isn’t a powerful comment on symbols. It’s a stupid adolescent stunt. If PZ really wanted to help the student, he should have gone after the Catholic League.

  40. #40 Jeff
    July 27, 2008

    @John Lynch

    How did Dr Myers ‘Go after all Catholics’?

    Do you realize that Catholics that aren’t of the wacky Catholic League conservative variety don’t give a crap about this?

    He demonstrated that nothing should be held sacred, which harms no one.

    Some idiots will get all in a froth, but that’s generated by their own fetishes. If you don’t want to be ridiculed, don’t openly hold ridiculous beliefs.

  41. #41 TTT
    July 27, 2008

    Webster Cook would have been expelled, beaten, and probably murdered already, if PZ hadn’t shone a very big public light on the terrorist sentiments lining up against him.

    When religious loonies in red states pick a powerless victim to destroy, you bet your ass that powerless victim gets destroyed. Thank goodness this one had a vocal and, yes, arrogant advocate; maybe now that PZ has magnified the story, the authorities have to at least behave as if they were following due process.

  42. #42 RBH
    July 27, 2008

    John asked

    Fair enough. So why didn’t PZ go after the Catholic League (a minority group that I will hazard isn’t supported by the vast majority of American – or world – Catholics)? Instead he went after all Catholics, the vast majority of which are not “religious oppressors” or theocrats. A slight case of overbombing.

    I guess I wasn’t clear enough. The “mule” is the vast majority of world Catholics to which you refer, and the message that needs to be emphatically brought to their attention is that the theocrats — the Donohues of the world — have arrogated to themselves the role of spokesman for all those Catholics, claiming to speak on their behalf. As and if world Catholicism disavows loons like Donohue then yes, more closely targeted measures are appropriate. But so long as they remain silent, giving assent by that silence, the Donohues of the world continue to dominate the discourse, if such it can be called, and a 2×4 is an entirely appropriate tool.

    And you didn’t address the original power/influence asymmetry that was redressed by Myers’ intervention.

  43. #43 Bee
    July 27, 2008

    I originally thought PZ was using a two-by-four to lash out at a mosquito, and my reasoning was based on reasoning I’ve seen from a lot of atheists on this subject: why hurt anyone’s feelings if you don’t have to?

    I’ve since changed my mind, even before PZ’s finale. Somebody has to point out that the Emperor may be naked, but he is carrying concealed weapons under his invisible finery. All Christians (and most other religions, too) demand on some level that everyone has to accept the solemn dignity of their belief system, no matter that some of us think it is a pack of destructive fables. The Catholic response to PZ’z campaign has made that painfully obvious.

    Just as eye-opening has been reading the websites and blogs of more educated and tolerant Catholics, where for the most part they miss the point, that beliefs (in this case a particularly horrendous one involving cannibalistic ritual transformations) do not merit respect solely because many people hold them, and that not respecting the belief is not equal to not respecting the person, and need not lead (and usually doesn’t) to discriminating against the person.

    *None* of the messages from Catholics, neither the lunatics issuing death threats on PZ’s blog, nor the aggrieved nice Catholics who insist on praying for us all, ever express any intention of having any respect for *our* lack of belief.

    I’m nowhere as good as others at expressing why I believe PZ is in the right, but I’ve certainly come around over the past couple weeks.

    PZ is a brave man, and has done the right thing, and if as a Catholic, your feelings have been outraged and hurt, please seek insight regarding why that might be the wrong response.

  44. #44 Chris
    July 27, 2008

    Woozle,

    Before we can really discuss this, you need to get my positino right. I don’t mind offending people, and I don’t think discussions have to be polite. I mind offending people pointlessly. And you’ll note I addressed the reasons you gave in my previous post, and argued that PZ’s offensiveness is this time, as always, pointless. It gets him nowhere, except more attention, it gets reason nowhere, it gets science nowhere, and it gets atheism nowhere.

    Let me repeat that one more time: offending people isn’t the problem; offending people to no end is the problem.

  45. #45 Dr X
    July 27, 2008

    Everyone already knows geeks are loud and obnoxious. Everyone doesn’t already know that Christian zealots will threaten your life if you don’t obey them.

    There is also a contingent of geeks like the Unabomber and the Virginia Tech murderer who kill people because of a sense of personal offense. Maybe we should think of ways to deeply offend and humiliate geeks so that fence-sitters will be clear about this evil in our midst.

    And, in America today, there are probably more husbands who kill their wives for disobedience than there are Christians who kill because they are disobeyed. We really need to expose the truth about husbands by ridiculing and humiliating men who marry. Fence-sitters who believe that being a husband is a benign life choice needs a slap in the face to get their attention to the danger husbands pose to a civilized society.

    Of course, what is really going on here is that a fringe of defensive, emotionally limited people has been stirred up by this. Drawing death threats in the age of internet isn’t that difficult and these threats are not, in any way, limited to disturbed religious people. Pick any hot issue, take a stand that deeply offends some people, give it a lot of publicity, and death threats will emerge from the disturbed fringes. I bet Ward Churchill received hundreds of death threats, just as Martin Luther King did. Bet you even the Pope regularly receives death threats.

  46. #46 Chris
    July 27, 2008

    Woozle, I forgot to mention that I gave the examples in the post.

    Also, I hope at least someone notes that the title of the post is a play on PZ’s title. Duh.

    And to those who think I’m seeking attention, God know. I purposefuly didn’t mention PZ’s name or link to his post, so that this wouldn’t show up in any searches for PZ’s post or his name in association with this topic.

    Furthermore, this is the sort of attention I really can’t stand. Anyone who’s been around here for a while will notice that I’ve virtually stopped posting about religion and atheism altogether, even from a scientific perspective (something I’m very interested in), because when I do I get 100+ comments from PZ’s epigones basically saying that I am an idiot, as is anyone who doesn’t agree 100% with PZ, and that learning about religion, even from a scientific perspective, is stupid because it’s just a bunch of irrational hooey. If I want attention, I sure as hell don’t want it from a bunch of anti-intellectualists blinded by rage and allegiance.

    To speak more substantially (it’s amazing that only Woozle and one or two others have actually addressed what I’ve said here), it is important to highlight what Donahue (or however you spell that piece of shit’s name) and his minions have done, but there were a lot of ways to do that, and this was the wrong way. It was the wrong way because it detracts from their assholeness by making the focus the assholeness of PZ and his minions, who’ve behaved pretty dispicably in their own right.

    Like John Lynch said, the focus should be the assholes who went after the UCF student. Instead, PZ has made the focus about his crusade against religion, and his own attempts to be pointlessly offensive. And the only people who think he was right in doing so are the people who already agree with him no every point.

  47. #47 Kevembuangga
    July 27, 2008

    I do I get 100+ comments from PZ’s epigones basically saying that I am an idiot,

    No you are not an idiot, you are much worse, you are an insincere atheist or even may be a covert religionist of some sort somehow embarassed by murky, ill-defined, “spiritual” feelings and not willing to denounce the maladaptive nature of “beliefs”.
    To be precise, what I mean here by “beliefs” is any fancy hypothesis which lacks the priming of some evidence (what if the moon is made of green cheese?) or which pretends to hold AGAINST ALL EVIDENCE that a cracker IS the flesh and blood of a GOD.
    We are clearly here in the realm of psychiatry (in the paranoia sector) EVEN IF THIS CAN BE EXPLAINED BY EVOLUTIONARY SELECTION, or milder sociological pressures as explained by Coturnix.

  48. #48 CA
    July 27, 2008

    MH quotes PZ:
    “In an unbelievable act of crass, vile smugness, this petty twerp rushed to my site after the fatal 35W bridge collapse to sneer at atheists. “Contemptible” isn’t a strong enough word for vermin like this, who use tragedy to push their lies on the bereaved. His kind are what make me despise religion.”
    and proves one of Chris’ point. The ad hominim tantrum is definitely self-righteous – just like the extreme he blasts.

    Bee says, “*None* of the messages from Catholics, neither the lunatics issuing death threats on PZ’s blog, nor the aggrieved nice Catholics who insist on praying for us all, ever express any intention of having any respect for *our* lack of belief.” Just like a lot of these other posts this is an obvious overgeneralization. I said it before, and I’ll say it again. Arguing against the extremem is easy. Overgeneralization is easy. “Not all generalizations are wrong. But some are.” And those that are most tolerant, are not likely to be posting much on this issue, anyway.

    Finally, I see some of this defense of PZ as defense of a sacred cow. Not much different than the ranting Catholic extremists. My opinion – both are wrong.

  49. #49 Kevembuangga
    July 27, 2008

    P.S. In case you think I did not actually addressed what [you]’ve said here:
    There is NO WAY you can argue with a paranoid psychotic, so there is no point “proving” the assholeness is on Donahue’s side. He will get excuses and justifications as needed.
    It doesn’t seem the Catholic Church treatement of the paedophilic priests teaches you anything!

  50. #50 Marcus Ranum
    July 27, 2008

    When someone comes forward into the public forum, they offer themselves up as both a target of adulation or criticism. You take the bad with the good. If somoeone adopts a set of beliefs that they never reveal or explain to anyone, those beliefs are unlikely to be attacks. If someone takes them out and publishes them, expecting people to respect them, they’re fair game for whatever questioning someone wants to direct at them. Religion, by making claims about reality, invites critique on its claims — and since its claims are pretty silly the critique often appears in the form of outright laughter.

    I make fun of religion because it amuses me to do so.I need no other reason, agenda, goal, or excuse. By making this public, I, of course, invite a response in turn. Had I sat home and quietly mocked the faithful in my own mind, (or had they sat home and quietly believed their batshit insanity in their own minds) there would be nothing to discuss.

    never OK to gratuitously attempt to hurt the feelings of large groups of people, with no other reasonable end but to hurt their feelings

    Who says?? I think it’s perfectly fine – maybe even fun – to do so. What’s more, I could argue that by virtue of its amusing me it is not gratuitous because it serves the goal of my pleasure.

    All of this is meaningless; don’t get your panties to tightly wadded-up about it. It’s all in your head.

  51. #51 onclepsycho
    July 27, 2008

    Hey, just about the attention-getting bit, just take a good look at your two last posts. Way to go sciencey. (I know this is low, but you really, really, asked for it.)
    As for the content of your post, there’s nothing to address here. You want a rational discussion on this? What do you suggest, have an appointment with Donohue and then share arguments? Or maybe you can explain to everybody why it is bad to throw a *cracker* in the trash. We’re all ears.

  52. #52 Chris
    July 27, 2008

    kevem, it’s good that you know the sincerity of my atheism. The truth is, I’m a perfectly sincere atheist who thinks that your naive scientism/verificationism is, well, naive, and came at his atheism from an ethical/social perspective. I’m an atheist who thinks that PZ and his anti-intellectualism, and the mindless minions who follow him, are harmful for atheism in the long run (even if they’ve temporarily made it cool to be an atheist again). And I’m an atheist who thinks that social change should be the goal of any and all who have progressive ideals, and that attacking religion merely distracts from that goal.

    By the way, I don’t think we should rationally discuss things with Donohue. PZ = Donohue = Dawkins = Dobson = Robertson, in my mind. I don’t think we can discuss anything with these people (and this comment section shows we can’t discuss anything with their followers, either), because they’re not interested in rational discussion. But we can have discussions about the issues with sane people, and we missed a pretty good opportunity to do so, in this case. And I believe there are some people who are swayed by the PZ’s and Dobson’s of the world who are still sane enough to hear the voice of reason, and even converse with it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have written this post.

    Oncle, I’m going to leave that comment, because it is yet another example of how PZ’s mindless drones behave, and how incapable they are of rational discussion, but if you comment here again, ever, on any post, it will be deleted. I tell you this so you won’t waste your time.

  53. #53 Bee
    July 27, 2008

    “Bee says, “*None* of the messages from Catholics, neither the lunatics issuing death threats on PZ’s blog, nor the aggrieved nice Catholics who insist on praying for us all, ever express any intention of having any respect for *our* lack of belief.” Just like a lot of these other posts this is an obvious overgeneralization. I said it before, and I’ll say it again. Arguing against the extremem is easy. Overgeneralization is easy. “Not all generalizations are wrong. But some are.” And those that are most tolerant, are not likely to be posting much on this issue, anyway.

    Finally, I see some of this defense of PZ as defense of a sacred cow. Not much different than the ranting Catholic extremists. My opinion – both are wrong.” – from CA’s post above

    Show me how that is an overgeneralization. Google up a few ‘nice’ Catholics, and you’ll discover pretty much every one of them (certainly every one I’ve read) includes the usual assertions that atheists have no morals, or any morals they have spring from the common religions in their culture, that atheists are possessed/influenced by Satan/demons/evil, and of course that we will burn. Forever. There is never an admission that we may have logical reasons for our beliefs, a human moral structure to adhere to, and just maybe, a desire for Catholics and other religionists to quit fantasizing about our eternal horrible torture. And oh, yes – the ‘better’ atheists don’t talk negatively about religion, ever.

    And I’m really tired of this accusation that anyone who defends PZ is one of his horde/goons/acolytes. Certainly there are super PZ fans and followers. I’m not one of them. I enjoy PZ’s blog and a great many other SB blogs. On this occasion, I agree with PZ. Other times, I don’t.

  54. #54 Left_Wing_Fox
    July 27, 2008

    Finally, I see some of this defense of PZ as defense of a sacred cow. Not much different than the ranting Catholic extremists. My opinion – both are wrong.

    I am not physically restraining you.

    I am not attempting to mount an organized campaign to threaten your job or your education.

    I am neither threatening you with death, nor wishing you ill will.

    All I am doing is disagreeing with you. AT worst, I might insult you. That’s all ANY of us are doing. This is a discussion, regardless of how rude it might get at times.

    And this is what annoys me most about the comments of these conversations. People whine too much about “attacks” and “Attempts to silence” when all that’s happening is conversation. The real issues is when those “attacks” move from metaphorical to actual attempts to harm the individual though means other than mere insults. It’s the lack of proportion that gets to me.

    There isn’t even the issue of a dominant group picking on a minority group. It’s not as if PZ is picking up on themes of historical oppression as a method to threaten the Catholics. It’s not as if Catholics are in any way at a disadvantage in America compared to atheists. It’s not even a case of PZ breaking the Terms of Service agreement in receiving his wafer the way the original. PZ was rude. He used bad language, and did something symbolic using his own property.

    If PZ were rude and the Catholic League were polite in their response, then Boo PZ. You were being a jerk to people willing to live and let live.

    If PZ were rude and the Catholic League were rude right back; well that’s exactly what you should expect, I’d be right with you shaking my head at both sides. I wouldn’t even care much so much if they banned him from their website and whined to his ad sponsors.

    But PZ was rude, and the response was death threats and an organized (if ineffective) attempt to get him fired from a position that was not relevant to his rudeness. That was absolutely out of line, and should not be tolerated. Period.

    Now, if someone actually attempted to injure or kill PZ, or DID manage to get him fired, would you have supported him then?

    That’s what this is about; disproportionate response. I admit, the line is somewhat blurry, and can depend on the relative balance of power amongst the people involved. In this case though, I think the disproportionate response by the Catholic League illustrated the point that PZ was making far better than a mild one.

  55. #55 Adrienne
    July 27, 2008

    Remember, there are a lot of science bloggers who seem to share your opinon: Mark Chu-Carroll, Mike Dunford, Orac, and John Lynch. I’m tired of Crackergate and yes, I agree, no reason to gratuitously offend Catholics (even though transubstantiation is a wacky belief) without any purpose other than to cause them grief.

  56. #56 clinteas
    July 27, 2008

    //I’m an atheist who thinks that PZ and his anti-intellectualism, and the mindless minions who follow him, are harmful for atheism in the long run//

    LOL !!

    Is that your argument?Is this why you are the evolved rational sincere atheist?
    I would be offended if it wasnt such a stupid thing to say in the first place.

    One might disagree on the ways to achieve a certain goal,but if one’s argument boils down to “youre an idiot and bad for the cause”,then there clearly is no rational discussion to be had,and personal grudges have to be suspected.

  57. #57 Shmuel
    July 27, 2008

    “No you are not an idiot, you are much worse, you are an insincere atheist or even may be a covert religionist”

    Perhaps what the Atheist sect of Christianity needs is an Inquisition.

    (I’m going to guess there aren’t too many Jews or Buddhists participating in this acrimonious discussion.)

    Good post Chris.

  58. #58 Orac
    July 27, 2008

    Actually, I think you have made PZ’s point for him, in a way. Somtimes circus-like performance art is just what the situation calls for.

    You mean “performance art” of the sort that we regularly get from shock jocks like Michael Savage, Don Imus, etc.? Or the sort of “performance art” that we see from “shock pundits” like Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, etc.? PZ’s little stunt, complete with buildup, reminded me of these sorts of rants more than anything else.

    Of course, the problem with becoming the shock blogger of atheism is that too much is never enough, just as it’s never enough for any other type of shock jock. A shock jock or shock blogger always has to figure out a way to top his last stunt, lest his audience become distracted and bored. What will PZ do next to top himself, I wonder?

  59. #59 clinteas
    July 27, 2008

    Chris and Orac,

    Im writing this not so much to defend PZ,who can speak for himself well enough,but to give you my position on what you guys have been saying here.

    “anti-intellectual”,”mindless minions”,”shock blogger of atheism”,”performance art”,”like Ann Coulter” etc.etc,is this really more rational and sincere than what the catholics excrete?

    You guys are trying to take the moral high ground with this sort of arguing?

    As has been pointed out here before,PZ tried to defend Webster Cook and then got attacked himself by Donahue,which led to the cracker post,which led to him being pressured in a way to act on that post and do something.
    Now one can indeed argue whether this was the most elegant way to make the point,I think in the end given all the hype it probably was the best he could do,you disagree,fair enough,we’re all entitled to our opinions.

    What I cannot stand tho is this attempt to take the moral high ground,by arguing that PZs readers are anti-intellectual minions,to claim that you stand for the atheist cause,whatever that is meant to be,while using truly coulteresque arguments to make your point.
    That just smells of hypocrisy.

  60. #60 Science Avenger
    July 27, 2008

    PZ = Donohue = Dawkins = Dobson = Robertson, in my mind. I don’t think we can discuss anything with these people (and this comment section shows we can’t discuss anything with their followers, either), because they’re not interested in rational discussion.

    I’d say no one who could make such an absurd comparison is capable of rational discussion. This is Compulsive Centrist Disorder, and nothing more. And how convenient that you dismiss criticisms as all being from “PZ followers” when you have no basis for saying that at all. How do you know who is a PZ follower and who isn’t? One doesn’t have to be a PZ Minion (I sure am not) to see how completely reality-divorced your argument is.

  61. #61 ildi
    July 27, 2008

    Hey, one of the mindless drones wiping the spittle off of her chin long enough to comment (I mostly lurk).

    I came to scienceblogs via pharingula, and I’ve read a lot of good science articles as a result (and send a lot on to my risk assessor and geologist coworkers at lunch). I wonder if you spare as much venom for Aetiology’s or denialism’s commenters when they eviscerate HIV/Aids or global warming denialists in the threads?

    “offending people isn’t the problem; offending people to no end is the problem” We’ll have to disagree that this was an example of offending people to no end.

  62. #62 Chris
    July 28, 2008

    Let’s be clear: I don’t think all of PZ’s readers are mindless drones, but all of the trolls here who’ve failed to really address anything I said in the post, and who’ve spent most of their time insulting me, telling me that I’m attention seeking (yeah, that’s why I link to so many blogs, and why I post several times a day), and so on, are obviously mindless drones. I don’t think there’s really any way to argue otherwise.

    Woozle (I wonder where he/she went) is likely a PZ reader who was/is actually interested in discussing this stuff. Most of these people clearly aren’t.

  63. #63 clinteas
    July 28, 2008

    Chris,

    as a Pharyngula regular over years I can tell you that you are behaving exactly like any garden variety christian here,if anyone tries to argue your points with you or disagrees with you,you call it trolling,”like Ann Coulter”,mindless drones,insulting you asf,every attempt at arguing a point is seen as a personal attack.And if that is so,then there is just no point !

    As commenter Wowbagger put it:

    Just because goats end up drinking at the same watering-hole doesn’t mean they’ve become sheep.

  64. #64 Chris
    July 28, 2008

    clint, wait, I wrote an entire post (which only one or two people have addressed), arguing that there are better ways to go about this, a bunch of people come in here and tell me I’m just looking for attention (you know, the sort of thing that a troll would say), and I’m reacting like a garden variety Christian? You’ll notice that when people have disagreed with me (rather than just insulting me), I’ve argued against them (see Woozle, for example). Who’s acting like a garden-variety Christian and just attacking anyone who disagrees with him or her again?

  65. #65 clinteas
    July 28, 2008

    I think not only woozle,but Zeno,Craig ,Science Avenger and Stephanie Z ,all addressed your post and made valid points.You just didnt like them.

  66. #66 Chris
    July 28, 2008

    I believe I’ve addressed Zeno Craig, and S.A.’s points, both in the post and comments (though I didn’t refer to tem directly, because they were reiterating other comments). For example, I pointed out that I’m not making any broad point about criticizing religion.

    As for Stephanie Z, she wrote only one sentence, and I actually emailed her, but if you’d like to take up her challenge, feel free. If the measurement isn’t the absolute number of posts about science, I win hand down. It’s not even close. But writing about science takes effort, so when that’s the bulk of what you do, you won’t post as much as PZ. Brain farts are easy, though, so you can post a lot of those.

  67. #67 clinteas
    July 28, 2008

    Stephanie actually sat down and did a detailed analysis of posts on various scienceblogs,in case you dont know.Greg Laden posted them a while ago,and there was a rather lively discussion about it in the wake of that post.

    I stand to what I said about your reaction to the posters that disagreed with you.Other than that,agree to disagree?

  68. #68 ildi
    July 28, 2008

    “I wrote an entire post (which only one or two people have addressed), arguing that there are better ways to go about this”

    I call BS! I re-read your screed, and here are some tasty tidbits:

    “But Seed’s biggest blog, [snip], long ago ceased to be about either science or conversation. Instead, it became a prolonged self-aggrandizing, attention-whoring rant (it’s likely not a coincidence that the proportion of rant to science, and the tone of that rant, grew in proportion to the blog’s traffic).

    [snip}

    ScienceBlog’s biggest name is not interested in conversation or rational discussion, and so we would not be surprised that instead of taking the broadly effective route, that blogger chose instead the juvenile tactics of right-wing xenophobes, in order to show that he is, in fact, the biggest, baddest, most anti-religious atheist in all of the intertubes, and to get all sorts of attention both from his loyal epigones and from religious nuts (it’s probably not a coincidence, as well, that the blogger in question is planning on publishing a book sometime soon).

    [snip]

    Scienceblogs [snip] is dominated by an illiberal, anti-intellectual ass whose idea of a rational response is to emulate Michelle Malkin or the Dansk Folkeparti’s youth movement. I feel ashamed to be associated with it, and him.”

    PZ-envy, much?

    I looked up epigone, btw; quite the opposite. Don’t comment on a thread at Pharyngula unless you know what the hell you are talking about. They don’t suffer fools gladly (why do you think I mostly lurk?) To me, that is the epitome of critical thinking, which is the key element to the scientific method. As they say in Texas: if you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch!

  69. #69 RBH
    July 28, 2008

    By the way, I don’t think we should rationally discuss things with Donohue. PZ = Donohue = Dawkins = Dobson = Robertson, in my mind. I don’t think we can discuss anything with these people (and this comment section shows we can’t discuss anything with their followers, either), because they’re not interested in rational discussion.

    Now that sure is an example of rational discussion. Over-generalization to the max. Followers? Friend, I’m 20-odd years older than Myers, have been a full professor (not merely an associate professor) earned by going up through the ranks, have been chairman of an academic department and chairman of the faculty of a good private liberal arts college, and in a former life was a missile operations supervisor and the president of a non-profit with 275 employees. Hell, my younger brother is retired from Myers’ department. I don’t follow. I may agree with Myers but I don’t follow anyone.

    I’m perfectly willing to have a rational discussion if some concrete alternatives had been offered. They weren’t. There was merely moaning about how adolescent Myers was and we should all talk courteously about power-wielding theocratic loons. I return once again to the asymmetry of the original dispute, between The Catholic League and Webster Cook. How much good would a nice insipid post on how the Catholic League should please stop attempting to get Cook kicked out of college have done? Hm? Any suggestions?

    As a consequence of Myers’ actions a good deal of attention is focused down there in Central Florida, and that administration knows that it had damn well better pay attention to its procedures and rules and individual protections rather than quietly cave in to the pressure from the theocrats.

  70. #70 MH
    July 28, 2008

    Chris “I’m an atheist who thinks that PZ and his anti-intellectualism, and the mindless minions who follow him, are harmful for atheism in the long run (even if they’ve temporarily made it cool to be an atheist again)”

    In what way is PZ being “anti-intellectual”, and how do you think he will be harmful for atheism in the long-run? I’m genuinely curious.

  71. #71 Chamberlain's ghost
    July 28, 2008

    Thanks, Chris, for having the stones to call this one correctly. Hope all these trolls aren’t getting you down.

    Here’s what cracks me up about Crackergate: never before have I seen so many iterations of the “I’m not being offensive because I’m an immature attention-whoring twit; I’m teaching these people a lesson. Through shame” defense.

    How noble. As if that couldn’t be used to cover any form of bad behavior. A lot of self-described rationalists have been farting through their mouths here.

    The bottom line is, we are all responsible for our actions, and if bad behavior by someone else compels you to do something stupid to “teach them a lesson”, maybe you need to grow up.

  72. #72 clinteas
    July 28, 2008

    Chamberlain’s ghost spewed forth:

    //A lot of self-described rationalists have been farting through their mouths here.//

    Ah,yup,there is rationality and grown-upness right there.

    And another one:

    //”I’m not being offensive because I’m an immature attention-whoring twit; I’m teaching these people a lesson. Through shame” defense.//

    Excuse me? WTF are you actually talking about?

    Im surprised.This seems to be the true “one opinion only” blog,not PZ’s.
    If something like onclepsycho’s harmless post above can get a ban threat here,I wont be hanging around.Then again,you’ll be glad about that,because I disagree with you,and thats not something you welcome,clearly.

  73. #73 Matt
    July 28, 2008

    In other words… ‘Being offensive is mean. Stop it.’

    No.

  74. #74 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 28, 2008

    You set a bad tone here if you wanted to have an earnest discussion by choosing the headline.

    Yes, there are more germane ways to handle this. One way would be to go on a Catholic Radio show and discuss the issue with a priest over the air/podcast. Wait. PZ did that.

    Another way would be to point out how the issue of a blood libel was justification for torturing and murdering Jews and heretics. Wait. PZ did that.

    Another way would be to leave the comment threads at Pharyngula open on the topic so that people could discuss the issue. Wait. PZ did that. Several times. Of course, we know what happened in those spitting wars.

    Another way would be request his readers send calm, reasoned letters to UCF reminding them that they are completely over-reacting to the Webster Cook situation and giving into religious bullying. Wait. PZ did that, too.

    You’re focusing on the cracker desecration, as have Orac, John Lynch, Chad, et al because it drew attention to the issue of the “Screechy Monkeys” (thansk, Chard) from the Catholic League and the cultural conservatives who think that one religion should be protected while it is okay to mock and disrespect others. Did you notice any of the calls for PZ to desecrate the Koran?

    We could sit and talk things out for years and never bring about any sort of new enlightenment, reversing the trend of the rise of the anti-intellectualism promulgated by the religious; but there are times when you have to burn a flag, draw offensive cartoons, make pointed jokes or even desecrate a host.

    I am frankly embarrassed by your type of atheism, Chris. PZ as agent provocateur didn’t throw any bombs or do any physical damage to anything but a few cherished symbols.

    As for the ScienceBlogs, you may have noticed that there are several blogs on here that don’t deal with science per se, such as “Dispatches From the Culture Wars.” Heck, Ed isn’t even a scientist. But his involvement in the MSCE brings him to ScienceBlogs. He hasn’t written about a peer-reviewed paper yet, that I have been aware of.

    Pharyngula was a blog long before it ever moved into SB, and the content has been consistent since moving here. The Seed Overlords knew what it was about, and knew that it would add to the discussion of science and culture. It has become the biggest blog because people read it.

  75. #75 Robin Levett
    July 28, 2008

    @Chris:

    Some Catholics issued death threats (and apparently, so did some atheists in response, though I haven’t seen that much discussed)

    Can you provide chapter and verse for this assertion? I’ve followed the dicussions on Pharyngula (though I don’t claim to have read all the comments – I have a life), and have seen no mention of this from even the most rabid Roman Catholic commenters (the ones that say, for example, that atheism=Stalinism). Indeed it is one of the recurrent themes on those threads – the claim by the atheists that it has been the Catholics, and only the Catholics, who have issued death threats. I haven’t seen a single reply from a Catholic to the effect that it isn’t one-sided, and that atheists have issued death threats

    I have also read what I believe to be all the relevant press releases from Donohue’s echo-chamber, and he doesn’t mention this either.

    You describe PZ as:

    an illiberal, anti-intellectual ass

    Can you back that up with some argument. The problem I have with your rant above (where you start talking about Meigharz) is that it is very long on assertion and dreadfully short on analysis and argument; this is just one example.

  76. #76 TSK
    July 28, 2008

    > How do you know who is a PZ follower and who isn’t?

    Gladly, I may help out with that. A follower is someone who swallows the opinion of its master. That means that the correlation between his/her purported beliefs and the opinion of their master conspiciously remain in the vicinity
    of 1.
    So someone who is not a follower has at least severe disagreements with the opinion of the master.
    And unfortunately I haven’t seen such discrepancies from some posters regarding the opinion of PZ so far.
    I am sure they will easily point out *written* statements before this comment which are in total disagreement of Myers
    to show that they are in fact capable of independent thought.

  77. #77 clinteas
    July 28, 2008

    TSK,

    so i have to have written statements in total disagreement to prove Im capable of independent thought,if Im,say,for Obama? In favour of stuff written by Hawking? Or Pinker?
    Now that must be the most ludicrous argument Ive ever heard LOL

  78. #78 Kevembuangga
    July 28, 2008

    kevem, it’s good that you know the sincerity of my atheism.

    We already discussed that point, I still call you dishonest for giving a free pass to religionists on the most blatant idiocies :
    Kevem, I’m not being dishonest at all. I’m saying that the 6000 years case is a pretty specific one, but doesn’t generalize.
    WTF does that mean? it “doesn’t generalize”? Crap is crap, period!

    PZ = Donohue = Dawkins = Dobson = Robertson, in my mind.

    Huh? Full symmetry?
    Isn’t there a little bit of difference on the side of EVIDENCE?
    Is a cracker a cracker or anything else?
    Could you please explain WHY, HOW or on the basis of which world-view, pretending that a cracker has “mystical properties” has to be taken on the same footing than plain everyday evidence?
    A tad tricky may be, is this the reason that you didn’t reply to my statement that there is no way to argue with a paranoid psychotic?
    Because THIS is my core argument, religionists are INSANE, notwithstanding the fact that they have been driven here by evolution as it used to have some evolutionary advantage, clearly explained by Coturnix with very cogent references to recent evolution of religion based groups in former Yugoslavia.

  79. #79 Shmuel
    July 28, 2008

    “Is a cracker a cracker or anything else?”

    Is a pig head a pig head or anything else? So why not throw a pig head into a mosque or synagogue in order to reinforce the same point? Such an exercise should not bother any of the “we’re free to offend” atheists commenting here.

    The reason most atheists here have no problem offending Christians in a way that they wouldn’t other religions, is explained by the simple reason that the atheists here are all Christian: in upbringing and temperament (hence the proselytizing and the dogmatic purity tests). This is the irony of all ironies. The Atheist “movement” is merely the latest schism in Christianity.

  80. #80 Shmuel
    July 28, 2008
  81. #81 Dan tdaxp
    July 28, 2008

    As far as I can tell

    You lump solidarity against mass, organized violence with “look-at-me-tactics”
    You lump mass, organized violence with a few idiots writing letters
    You do not differentiate clerical support for violence from a few idiots writing letters
    You take time to criticize only those who believe in God, as opposed to atheist militants.

    What a poor post.

  82. #82 TSK
    July 28, 2008

    clinteas,

    if you
    – regular post in X’s forum
    – furiously defend X’s opinion
    – pitch your tent in comments critical of X

    which is the mark of a follower then yes, I would say, it is in fact necessary to show written statements of total disagreement to show that you are able to come independently to a conclusion and that you are NOT a minion. If you are not a follower, you don’t care much (perhaps about Obama, Pinker and Hawking) and therefore you don’t show up much in discussion groups. But then we would never have met here.
    I see with the search function that you (and others here) are a regular visitor of Pharyngula and you often wrote your opinion. So will you begin at first and show me when you heartily disagreed with Myers opinion ?

  83. #83 Richard Eis
    July 28, 2008

    I should point out two things:

    1) Richard Dawkins also republished the muslim cartoons and called the people that didn’t a load of wussies (more or less). Pharyngula is upholding the simple tradition of calling bullshit bullshit.
    2) As a general rule peoples religion is not open to debate. It is god and faith. Just because you have a debate on something doesn’t mean anything will change. It just means we all sat round and had a chummy civilised chat like chummy civilised people think they should.

  84. #84 Shmuel
    July 28, 2008

    “Richard Dawkins also republished the muslim cartoons”

    Whereas the Muslim cartoons contained a grain of intellectual point-making for a comic strip writer (against a particular religious prohibition that made criticizing a particular religion, with a particular recent history of violent opposition to criticism, difficult in comic form) throwing a pig head into a mosque or synagogue is more directly analogous to the kind of gratuitous “offend a symbol for the sake of offending a symbol” that the “cracker incitement” calls to mind. So please, Christian atheists go to your local mosque or synagogue with a pig head on a stake and make your point in an even handed way. Its just a pig head after all.

  85. #85 J.P.
    July 28, 2008

    MH writes “Over the past few months, PZ has posted on average three articles a week tagged “science” (some of which are BPR3). How do you compare?”

    Anyone can tag a post as “science”. Try doing a lit search for P. Z. Myers in Biological Abstracts or PubMed. Almost nothing.

    He might be a big blogger but he’s a pretty small scientist.

  86. #86 Shmuel
    July 28, 2008

    Web of Science lists his last peer reviewed article as:

    Ethanol teratogenesis in the zebrafish, Danio rerio.

    published in 2001. If this really is his last published article, it would mean he hasn’t had any research he’s done in this century accepted for publication. Total # of papers listed by WoS is eleven. I though cephalopods were his big thing though, and I see no peer-reviewed publications on cephalopods in WoS. Pubmed lists even fewer publications.

  87. #87 clinteas
    July 28, 2008

    J.P.,

    even if PZ was a lousy scientist,does that make his arguments invalid?Of course not,they have nothing to do with his academic ranking.Im an Emergency Physician,no sciencey posts to speak of,and yet I can argue here,WTF does it have to do with how many articles you post?

    Shmuel,

    you clearly have your mind set up and are not ready to entertain any other thought,so excuse me if I ignore you in this,you do pretty much what the catholics do.

    TSK,

    //it is in fact necessary to show written statements of total disagreement to show that you are able to come independently to a conclusion and that you are NOT a minion//

    Thats just stupid mate,go have a look at what you wrote there,and then get back to me.

  88. #88 Richard Eis
    July 28, 2008

    Its just a pig head after all?

    No, this is different. PZ started this “in response” to their hysterics from the original incident. He did not decide to suddenly stab a wafer.

    He might be a big blogger but he’s a pretty small scientist. Or he isn’t in a position to publish much pubmed stuff.

  89. #89 Shmuel
    July 28, 2008

    “you clearly have your mind set up and are not ready to entertain any other thought,so excuse me if I ignore you in this,you do pretty much what the catholics do.”

    There is so much bias and strange logic in the above statement that it is both impossible to respond to, and ignore.

    “No, this is different. PZ started this “in response” to their hysterics from the original incident. He did not decide to suddenly stab a wafer.”

    So there are no hysterical incidents in the Islamic world that would merit an equally egregious “response” then? I think Christian atheists are probably being selective here.

  90. #90 Richard Eis
    July 28, 2008

    So there are no hysterical incidents in the Islamic world that would merit an equally egregious “response” then? I think Christian atheists are probably being selective here.

    Yes there was and Richard Dawkins response was the same as PZ’s at that time. That being my original point which has now been ridiculously twisted by some rather odd attempts at analogy and logic.

  91. #91 SC
    July 28, 2008

    You mean “performance art” of the sort that we regularly get from shock jocks like Michael Savage, Don Imus, etc.? Or the sort of “performance art” that we see from “shock pundits” like Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, etc.? PZ’s little stunt, complete with buildup, reminded me of these sorts of rants more than anything else.

    Well, Orac, that’s possibly because you have a narrow frame of reference that fails to include the entire history of anticlericalism. To cite just one example, a century ago anarchist and freethinker Francesc Ferrer led a parade of schoolchildren through the streets of Barcelona in protest of the Church’s grip on education and in support of rationalist schools. He was roundly criticized for this provocative “stunt,” in language that closely resembles that which is currently being directed at PZ. Following the “Tragic”/”Glorious” Week of 1909, and despite protests across Europe involving hundreds of thousands of people, he was executed on trumped-up charges at the behest of the Catholic Church. His little stunt, alongside his work as an educator, captured people’s attention and is still remembered to this day in Barcelona. That secular education now exists in Europe is due in no small part to people like Ferrer and their so-called cheap theatrics.

    I’ll note that I have yet to see any of these claims about the futility or negative long-term effects of PZ’s actions backed up with anything remotely resembling evidence. As someone who has spent the past decade studying social-movement dynamics, I find this incredibly frustrating and, frankly, lame.

    I’ll also note that, though this may not be as so evident to straight males in the US, the Catholic Church is not some old ladies’ knitting circle. It is one of the most powerful institutions on the planet, which actively shapes public policy and poses a far greater challenge to public-health efforts than all of the (other) purveyors of medical woo combined. Physicians would be wise to recognize this and to keep it firmly in mind.

    Of course, the problem with becoming the shock blogger of atheism is that too much is never enough, just as it’s never enough for any other type of shock jock. A shock jock or shock blogger always has to figure out a way to top his last stunt, lest his audience become distracted and bored. What will PZ do next to top himself, I wonder?

    Oh, give me a break. The people attracted to his blog purely for the shock value have already started drifting away, and he has continued to post the same sorts of things he did before the cracker episode.

  92. #92 clinteas
    July 28, 2008

    Ahem,

    //I think Christian atheists are probably being selective here.//

    christian atheists? What the hell is that meant to mean? Are you insane or something? Probably just the usual,mind closed,prejudices built,worldview fixated….Bit sad really

  93. #93 PZ Myers
    July 28, 2008

    Such hysteria. I’m accused of shocking people, of being illiberal and anti-intellectual, of intolerance and bigotry. What did I do? I threw a scrap of unleavened bread in the garbage.

    It makes my point for me that so many people are inappropriately outraged by a trivial and entirely harmless action.

    It’s just a cracker. If you’re driven to fury by what I did, let me assure you: the problem isn’t me, it’s you.

  94. #94 SC
    July 28, 2008

    TSK, I agree with clinteas that your argument is quite stupid. However, for the record, here’s one example of an occasion on which I and many others vigorously disagreed with PZ:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/05/how_sad.php

  95. #95 Adrienne
    July 28, 2008

    It’s just a cracker. If you’re driven to fury by what I did, let me assure you: the problem isn’t me, it’s you.

    To a lot of people it’s not “just a cracker”, something you are well aware of. What you did was gratuitously provoke and offend people just to get attention for yourself. Some of us who are atheists think that was at least a tad unethical. If you can’t understand that, let me assure you: the problem isn’t us, it’s you.

  96. #96 Patrick
    July 28, 2008

    Other than the absurdity of calling a professor of biology “anti-intellectual”, you’re wrong about PZ Myers. The whole “Crackergate” fiasco did do something. It showed how ugly believers become when their rituals are questioned. The side that makes death threats is the side that forfeits the moral high ground. What really disturbed me is this comment after your post.

    The truth is, I’m a perfectly sincere atheist who thinks that your naive scientism/verificationism is, well, naive, and came at his atheism from an ethical/social perspective…

    So let me get this straight Chris. You’re an atheist who uses the term “scientism” unironically. A quick google of the term shows that it’s a pejorative term used to criticize atheists, as this URL shows. http://ldolphin.org/olkhov.htm

    Scientism (according to which all in nature and in human being can be learned and explained by scientific rational method) turns out to be contradicting within itself from the very beginning by presupposing that behind creation of the cosmos and man it is a blind (i.e.pure irrational) chance. How can the human mind learn about the Universe if the Universe in its core does not have any rationality? How can an irrational Universe be understood with rational thinking? For some time though, some visible order of the Universe was understood in human rationality as the product of pure chance.

    Please tell me you were meaning to use the word in a different sense than this patronizing straw man. A similar pattern emerges with a google for the term “verificationism”, so it may be intentional, or it might just be a freudian slip.

  97. #97 oaksterdam
    July 28, 2008

    Adrienne:

    You’re not getting it. It’s still just a cracker no matter what it is to ‘them’. “What you did was gratuitously provoke and offend people just to get attention for yourself” No, he posted on his blog in response to catholics losing their goddamn minds. Again. “They” could have easily ignored it. Your concern has been noted.

    Shmuel:

    Your analogy is a failure. See if you can work out the difference between a blog post and “throwing a pig head into a mosque or synagogue”. Damn, how many people really want P.Z. to desecrate something, just not the cracker? Because that makes him an asshole. Cracks me up every time.

    J.P.:

    You seem to be neither a big blogger or even a “pretty small scientist” WTF is your point? How would having bigger credentials change a thing?

    TSK:
    I suppose that I’m a P.Z. minion in the same way you are a Chris minion. The minion, ilk, disciple, etc. argument is weak sauce. Using that search function you mentioned I quotemined you:

    “A blog must expect that sometimes a commenter will come up with rather unorthodox views and I for myself cannot find an ethical reason to pillory him for that”

    Your view that frequently agreeing with someone = minion is rather unorthodox and I can find an ethical reason to pillory you for that.

    Now go find where I have clearly not disagreed with more than one scienceblogger. r minyunz iz krafty!

    Chris:

    This has become a real popular post. Top Five and all. Good work. You said:

    “but I think the most tragic consequence of said blogger’s behavior is that it pretty much cuts off any discussion of the real issues”

    To which I call bullshit. Self frackin’ evident bullshit.

    “Brain farts are easy, though, so you can post a lot of those.”

    You understand that you kinda sound like an asshole here, right? Or you perfectly understand and think that’s what worked for the popular blogger? Got it. Carry on.

  98. #98 Beowulff
    July 28, 2008

    Chris said:

    Also, I hope at least someone notes that the title of the post is a play on PZ’s title. Duh.

    I’m sure just about everybody noticed. However, the fact that it is a play on PZ’s title doesn’t change the fact that it sets the tone for the article by starting off with an ad hominem attack. For a post that essentially tries to criticize the form of someone’s argument, that’s not a good start, and you should expect to be criticized for it.

    You claim that most commenters have not addressed the arguments of your original post. Has it occurred to you that maybe that is because there are so few real arguments in it? After a bit of a history lesson, I only see a long argument where you unfavorably compare PZ with right-wing attention whores and call him names a lot. How do you seriously expect people to discuss that?

    You’ve further claimed that his actions have had no purpose other than hurt people’s feelings, but gave little reasons for us to believe that’s what PZ’s intentions were, other than that you think he’s an ass. I assume you reject the reasons PZ himself has given for his actions, which is fine, but you should be expected to provide good arguments why you think PZ is lying about his own motives.

    Instead, PZ has made the focus about his crusade against religion

    Actually, if you’ll read his posts on the wafer affair, PZ spent relatively few words describing his own actions and viewpoints (they’re pretty well known with his readers anyway). Most posts have mostly been highlighting the responses he’s been getting, or simply providing new threads because the previous ones were getting too large. He’s also very seldom meddled in the comment threads.

    He didn’t make a big spectacle about the desecration itself either, just one picture and two paragraphs of text. Hardly what you could call attention-seeking.

    Furthermore, PZ placed all this on his personal blog. It was the Catholic League who brought it to the media at large. Who’s the real attention seeker here?

    As for your claims that this was the wrong way to go about changing people’s minds, you have ignored at least two commenters right here that claimed that they’ve changed their mind based on PZ’s words and their effects. You can add me to that list too. No doubt there are more. Maybe no actual Catholics changed their minds, but that wasn’t necessarily the purpose, was it?

    Speaking of commenters, accusing people of not thinking for themselves merely because they appear to agree with someone you think is an ass, is not the way to change minds either, nor to get a dialog going. As I indicated before, if you’re going to attack someone on their style of communication, expect criticism on your style too.

    Also, if you think that there was a better way to get the point across, please provide it. “Discussion” is not enough of an answer, you’ll have to show how you would have gotten a discussion started that would get at least as much attention as PZ generated before you can claim the inferiority of PZs approach. And you can’t deny, as others here have pointed out, that PZ has stirred up quite some discussions.

    the only thing that gets accomplished is to put the attention on PZ, and actually make the Catholics look somewhat justified in their anger

    Do you actually believe that Catholics have grounds to “look somewhat justified in their anger”? If so, could you explain why and on what grounds? If not, why did you bring it up? Because you can argue about form and style all you want (and I’ll admit there’s plenty to argue about, the discussion of which could in itself already count as a positive effect of the whole affair), but in the end that’s really what it’s about: do Catholics have a reason to throw a hissy fit over what someone did to a piece of food that was given to someone? PZ has at least been quite clear on this point.

    Sorry for the long comment, but hey, you wanted arguments. Now you got them, have fun :)

  99. #99 thalarctos
    July 28, 2008

    He might be a big blogger but he’s a pretty small scientist.

    Clearly you have only one metric to measure someone’s commitment to science by, one which has no room for science teaching in it.

    Fortunately, not everyone is quite so Procrustean about it.

  100. #100 Richard Eis
    July 28, 2008

    -What you did was gratuitously provoke and offend people just to get attention for yourself.-

    No, he didn’t. He provoked people to get attention to the situation.

    You can have your high ground and fancy moralising about not offending peoples beliefs. Unfortunately your view will not be shared by the people you deem offended should the situation be reversed.

  101. #101 Hammy
    July 28, 2008

    Hi Chris,

    I’m always looking for new blogs to read, and was directed here through the top 5 reader’s picks sideboard. I’ve been following the whole cracker fiasco, and have been looking for legitimate criticism about what he has done. I really haven’t found much- most criticism from aethists seems to boil down to ‘offending people isn’t useful’.

    And– as mentioned by “Mike Haubrich, FCD”, PZ HAS made several good intellectual points on the matter. If we consider what PZ has done as performance art, he has managed to supply an ample artist’s statement to explain the themes he wished to express and provide context and relevance to his acts.

    PZ has clearly gotten a lot of people to talk and think about this that might not of otherwise. You should join the discussion about those themes— as opposed to just saying, like an art critic, “I don’t like it, therefore it’s no good”.

    “And I find it sad any time the opportuntity for rational discussion of important issues is undercut by adolescent nonsense”

    This is an opportunity! PZ opened a door— made salient posts putting his ideas in context— and you didn’t even notice.

  102. #102 RBH
    July 28, 2008

    And speaking of the University of Central Florida’s behavior, now the Catholic Campus Ministries is going after the other student in the situation, Benjamin Collard, who (according to his own report) did nothing but sit quietly through the incident. His records have been frozen by the University and he’s been charged with several offenses. Ed Brayton has it.

    Chris, what specific calm and rational tactic would you recommend here? What action to protect Collard would you suggest to counter the threat to this kid’s educational future being made by the Catholic Campus Ministry? Write them a polite letter asking that they please desist from persecuting people on purely religious grounds?

    And how would you recommend we act in the light of a public University’s actions in enforcing a purely religious organization’s complaint? Politely ask it to please not infringe further on the students’ First Amendment rights? Ask it humbly to have mercy on students whose sole offense was to offend a private religious organization?

    I’m reminded of a statement one of the Dover plaintiffs made in his testimony:

    Well, what am I supposed to tolerate? A small encroachment on my First Amendment rights? Well, I’m not going to. I think this is clear what these people have done. And it outrages me.

  103. #103 Adrienne
    July 28, 2008

    You can have your high ground and fancy moralising about not offending peoples beliefs. Unfortunately your view will not be shared by the people you deem offended should the situation be reversed.

    I’m well aware of that. But that doesn’t mean I want to lower myself to the level of Donohue in the meantime, thanks.

  104. #104 MH
    July 28, 2008

    SC: “TSK, I agree with clinteas that your argument is quite stupid. However, for the record, here’s one example of an occasion on which I and many others vigorously disagreed with PZ:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/05/how_sad.php
    It’s pretty ridiculous that we have to be able to catalog disagreements with PZ in order to not be regarded as ‘minions’, but for the record my comment on that post was “Put me in the ‘this post was in poor taste’ group too”.

    Can I haz respect now?

  105. #105 darkdog
    July 28, 2008

    < >

    Yes, circus-like attention-whoring wins every time. In fact, I’m surprised there is an intelligent person alive who is still naive enough to believe reasoned discussion propagates a change in societal behaviors and belief systems.

  106. #106 TSK
    July 28, 2008

    Unfortunately I presume that the thread will explode again like the others so I don’t think discussion will be possible for long…
    SC, while you are obviously taken aback by this specific post, a short look shows that many posters *still* support PZ 100% and insult other posters as “concern trolls”. (For the record, clinteas doesn’t show up on these
    specific thread, so nothing can be said about him).

    Do you think $cientologists see themselves as “Hubbard minions” ? Or right-wing extremists as “Coulter minions” ? No, I think they seem themselves as pretty open-minded, but if you say something against their idol, they will start bleeding from their ears and froth comes out of the mouth.

    So if their own judgement is fallible, how do we divide those who have swallowed an ideology from those who defend
    themselves ? Simple: The lapdogs have inherited their leaders opinion with all the flaws and bad arguments behind it ! (This is used by mapmakers to prove copyright infringement: Build some errors in your maps and if a copy shows exactly the same errors, you know what is going on.)
    The other people who did think for themselves will invariably made own errors, own contradictions and find own arguments.
    Unaware of this, people who are minions will frantically search their mind for original opinions if asked so and, if they are truthful to themselves, realize that it makes absolutely no difference if they speak or the idol himself.

    And it is not only a right-wing/esoterics/religious disease, it is contagious for all humans. Especially self-proclaimed atheists or skeptics will not believe that this can affect them because that would include the real possibility that they do what they loathe: Parroting beliefs without checking up, now in the name of atheism/science instead of religion.

    It am neither your nor clinteas foe. Find out for yourself if there is anything useful in these lines and if not, you are free to dismiss it.

    PZ Myers:
    > What did I do?

    – A student caused an uproar by smuggling out an eucharist
    out of the church and it caused very questionable
    actions against him.
    As answer you prompted your readers to steal consecrated
    eucharists (You do know that the priest give them
    only to believers because they fear satanistic
    misuse and that he has domestic authority ? Perhaps not)
    and sent it to your home to publicily desecrate them.
    – This resulted in a massive upsurge of comments (1000+)
    in nearly every thread. A minority of catholics condemned
    you shrilly and an even smaller minority sent you (death)
    threats per e-mail.
    – You couldn’t let the police do their work, no, you must
    publicize the death threats together with the headers.
    Your followers investigated and a minority of them
    spammed, harassed and issued counter death threats.
    The Catholic League tried unsuccessfully to dismiss you.
    Contrary to that your followers were successful to fire
    an innocent person because her husband misused her
    account.
    You cried “Stop it !” because it got out of control and
    you argued that these actions does the reputation of your
    followers no favor (But the former actions do ?).
    – You throwed the eucharist in the garbage, made a photo of
    it and showed it in public.
    – Many atheists think know that all Catholics/religious
    people are nuts and dangerous while many religious people
    (yes, it goes the other way round, too) think that
    atheists are assholes with no decency at all. Especially
    after Dawkins and other atheists defended your actions.

    Anything forgotten ?

  107. #107 oaksterdam
    July 28, 2008

    Adrienne said
    “I’m well aware of that. But that doesn’t mean I want to lower myself to the level of Donohue in the meantime, thanks. ”

    You seem very attached to not taking sides. To the point of ridiculing P.Z. for having done so. Stop before I start quoting Rush, ok?

    TMZ:

    “parrotting beliefs” is a hell of a thing to say. You got anything to back that up? And no innocent people got fired. MKroll got fired. That’s different. Look it up.

    “many religious people
    (yes, it goes the other way round, too) think that
    atheists are assholes with no decency at all”

    Yes they do and in some cases they are correct. You’re saying this was going to change if P.Z. had just had the good sense to STFU? Really? A little sweetness and light from the godless heathens and suddenly we’re all cool? What are you trying to argue, anyway? So far it seems you feel pretty good about yourself because you can spot minions and their delusions. Good work. Perhaps you’re Chris’s minion and just too gosh durned deluded to see it. Sounds ridiculous coming back, don’t it?

  108. #108 ildi
    July 28, 2008

    Oh, and since y’all are all about “reasoned discussion”, you and Chamberlain’s ghost should learn the proper definition of inflammatory terms before bandying them about. According to wikipedia,

    “An Internet troll, or simply troll in Internet slang, is someone who posts controversial and usually irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum or chat room, with the intention of baiting other users into an emotional response[1] or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.

    Or urban dictionary’s more succinct: “One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.”

    People aren’t trolls because they disagree with you or call you on logical fallacies, irrelevant arguments, ad hominems, opinions posing as facts, etc.

    (For excellent examples of trolls, check out BaBa and Scrote on the pharyngula threads.)

  109. #109 Robin Levett
    July 28, 2008

    TSK:

    You couldn’t let the police do their work, no, you must publicize the death threats together with the headers.
    Your followers investigated and a minority of them spammed, harassed and issued counter death threats. The Catholic League tried unsuccessfully to dismiss you.

    Contrary to that your followers were successful to fire an innocent person because her husband misused her account.

    I asked Chris above, now I’ll ask you; where is the evidence of counter death threats? Neither Donohue nor the Catholics posting on Pharyngula have made that claim. Why is it only here, where the host is trying to assert moral equivalence between Meigharz and Donohue, that the claim is made?

    As for the “innocent person”; that we don’t know. We do know that she acted in a way that allowed her husband to use her work email (it was not just “her account” – it was her work email) to issue death threats; and, if of course it was her posting, she defended his actions.

  110. #110 Adrienne
    July 28, 2008

    You seem very attached to not taking sides. To the point of ridiculing P.Z. for having done so. Stop before I start quoting Rush, ok?

    I think I have taken a side here, and it’s not PZ’s. I like PZ’s blog, I read it, but I think Orac et al are spot on with the “shock jock” comparisions. PZ is becoming the Anne Coulter of atheism — someone who says and does nasty and outrageous things to provoke people and get attention. Like Howard Stern and Anne Coulter, PZ is developing a loyal fan base who applaud and defend whatever he does.

    I’m an atheist, a former Catholic, and I think transubstantiation is a wacky belief. But PZ could have just posted one or more blog write-ups eviscerating that crazy belief without actually desecrating one… an act which will nothing to convince the truly faithful that it’s “just a cracker”. Yes, the Catholics who got up in arms were being reactionary creeps and sometimes even worse than that, but that doesn’t obviate the fact that PZ was being a jerk too. I do think we atheists ought to keep to the moral high ground. That’s my “side” and I’m sticking to it.

  111. #111 SC
    July 28, 2008

    Find out for yourself if there is anything useful in these lines and if not, you are free to dismiss it.

    Thanks. Nope, nothing useful. Dismissed.

    PZ = Donohue = Dawkins = Dobson = Robertson, in my mind. I don’t think we can discuss anything with these people (and this comment section shows we can’t discuss anything with their followers, either), because they’re not interested in rational discussion.

    Wow. I missed this on my first read-through. That is just…wow.

    Also for the record, my comment here was in response to Orac’s because, while I disagree with him in this issue, I very much respect the quality of his thought in general. You, on the other hand, are a sloppy and unimpressive thinker.

  112. #112 Luna_the_cat
    July 28, 2008

    I also think it would have helped the student(s) in question more — a great deal more, in fact — to have stayed calm and un-inflammatory but made a point of a letter-writing campaign to the Florida university in question that reasonable people should not be penalised in their classes for this kind of “infringement”, especially given the backlash the poor kid has already had to endure.

  113. #113 Shmuel
    July 28, 2008

    “See if you can work out the difference between a blog post and “throwing a pig head into a mosque or synagogue”. Damn, how many people really want P.Z. to desecrate something, just not the cracker? Because that makes him an asshole. ”

    So a mosque is not just a building? (Otherwise he is an asshole I suppose.)

  114. #114 American Bisoneater
    July 28, 2008

    I am a long time reader of this blog. I do not like the Lakoff criticism posts at all. But this is really crashing and burning. Why do you waste this space with this trash? All these comments are sad. Who are these people? I never heard of PZ but looking at his blog I am shocked he is a part of scienceblogs.com What a waste of time. This is a debauchery. I expect to see these stories on Reddit but not here. YIKES! No refuge from stupidity.

  115. #115 oaksterdam
    July 28, 2008

    Ok Adrienne, I see your point, ‘can’t we all just get along?” That’s close, right? Or ‘we’re suppossed to be better than them”?

    2 problems I have with that:
    1: There is a car parked in my driveway with a bumpersticker that reads “well behaved women rarely make history” Moving beyond the gender specifics….

    2: Anne Coulter? Really? This one will do poorly on any sort of compare/contrast chart. Not very hard to be ‘better than them’ if that’s an example of ‘them’. Even with your view of crackergate thrown into the mix. Maybe some poor form here and there. Lack of sensitivity at times, no doubt. But c’mon, coulter? Kinda seems like you enjoy the notion that “PZ is developing a loyal fan base who applaud and defend whatever he does”. I’m with you. All those dang minions. Glad we’re above all that.

  116. #116 PZ Myers
    July 28, 2008

    “someone who says and does nasty and outrageous things” … people keep saying this. Did I walk into a church and moon the priest? Did I pee in a baptismal font? Did I mail poisoned crackers to the pope?

    No. I threw a cracker in the trash. And that’s the real problem here: people like Chris and the Catholic mob that are mailing me and you have lost all sense of perspective — this is a “controversy” that rational people would laugh over and regard as no threat at all, yet here you are, going into hysterics over deliberate cracker abuse.

    Don’t you see that the importance people are attaching to these unpalatable scraps of bad wafer is the real outrage here?

  117. #117 DDeden
    July 28, 2008

    Darn, I’m fresh out of insults. ;)

    Keep it up Chris!

  118. #118 Kevembuangga
    July 28, 2008

    Don’t you see that the importance people are attaching to these unpalatable scraps of bad wafer is the real outrage here?

    No they won’t, and you know it, LOL…
    But what I find most interesting is that they are absolutely UNABLE to explain WHY they are outraged beyond rehashing, respect, respect, respect…
    This really reminds of Muhammad cartoons, kindred spirits!

    P.S. Hey Chris where are you hiding now you started the brawl?

  119. #119 Chris
    July 28, 2008

    Kevem, no, working. People do that, you know?

    PZ, it’s not I whose lost all sense of perspective, but then you know that.

    What amazes me is that you knew damn well what you were doing, and the effect it would have, and you still act like it blows you away that people react exactly as you knew they would. You engaged in theatrics; there is no other word for it. I argue that it would have been better to lay the issues out and make discussion possible. I know discussions aren’t your thing, but until now, I didn’t realize just how little honesty was either.

  120. #120 Shmuel
    July 28, 2008

    “Did I walk into a church and moon the priest?”

    If its just a cracker its just your ass too. So why does this strike PZ as “outrageous”? Cultural biases are a strange thing.

  121. #121 TSK
    July 28, 2008

    > “parrotting beliefs” is a hell of a thing to say. You got
    > anything to back that up?

    For the start I suggest the lecture “The authoritarians”
    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

    He concentrated on the right-wing scale because in the USA/Canada there is only an extreme minority of left-wing people. But rest assured that they do exist here in Europe.
    Authoritarian people are partially unable to concede contradictions even if they are before their nose (p. 80).

    While it may warm your heart how stupid religious people are, you may peruse “Starbaby” from Dennis Rawlins to see the darker side of CSI(COP). PZ wrote a scathing article about Rupert Sheldrake and accused him of using “Fortean exercise”. The problem is, Sheldrake did experiments together with the British skeptic Richard Wiseman about the dog Jaytee and he did staring experiments which were even discussed in the Skeptical Inquirer. The outcome was (naturally) debated, but that is not the point: There were experiments, not “anecdotes”, and PZ was blissfully unaware of it despite his self-nomination as “skeptic”.

    > You’re saying this was going to change if P.Z. had just
    > had the good sense to STFU?

    This excuse is widespread. No, I think that atheists should follow the path of the gays and

    a) drop the self-promoting term “Bright” with big B and call
    themselves “atheists” or “non-denominational” or
    whatever which is either neutral or was used in
    perjorative form. You don’t want to give the impression
    that you are a better life form.
    b) Organize demonstrations, sit-ins, whatever to get in
    publicity.
    c) Attack the message, not the messenger. So no “moron,
    wacko, idiot”, but “This is ridiculous, because…”,
    “This is not ok, because…”.
    d) Insist on your right to believe, but DO NOT try to
    enforce your piece of mind on other people. Put your
    opinion on a homepage, discuss arguments and defend if
    asked, but DO NOT go to a party and tell other people
    unasked: “Whoa, you are believing so much bullshit”.
    e) Beef up your social competence. Know when your opinion
    may hurt people and try to balance it (warning, humor).
    Show that you are a normal human with empathy, not a
    detestable know-it-all.

    > And no innocent people got fired. MKroll got fired.
    > That’s different. Look it up.

    I have looked it up. C. Kroll, the husband of M. Kroll, wrote the mail, as he said on Greg Ladens Blog, *not* M. Kroll. If you have a standard SMTP account, everyone can send mail if he knows the password and the mail adress even without your knowledge. What is that ? Blame the victim ? Death by association ? Kin liability ?

    > I asked Chris above, now I’ll ask you; where is the
    > evidence of counter death threats?

    My error; I found it plausible because spamming and harassing was already mentioned, so it was easy to assume that it gone a step further as Chris mentioned it. Mea culpa.

  122. #122 JimC
    July 28, 2008

    Chris-

    In all honesty PZ is correct here and you are wrong. All PZ did was put a cracker in a trash can. That is it.

    Where theatrics involved? If putting a cracker in the trash and photographing it is theatrics well I guess there was some involved. But given the hoopla and real world damage the catholics have tried to inflict over this incident shouldn’t your scorn be directed at those more deserving rather than someone who reacted to an injustice and sent the mildest message by putting a cracker in a trash can?

    What amazes me is that you knew damn well what you were doing, and the effect it would have, and you still act like it blows you away that people react exactly as you knew they would.

    Goof, they where already acting that way well before PZ did anything. He knew damn well he was putting a cracker in the trash. It’s a simply and subtle message that superstition is just that.

    He is a sane man battling a superstious and irrational mob. Why you choose to attack him is beyond me.

  123. #123 Dr X
    July 28, 2008

    As a general rule peoples religion is not open to debate. It is god and faith. Just because you have a debate on something doesn’t mean anything will change. It just means we all sat round and had a chummy civilised chat like chummy civilised people think they should.

    I’d say that as a general rule people’s beliefs are not immediately changed by debate. For example, I don’t think I’ve been witness to a discussion in which anyone changed a political view during the course of the discussion. If it happens, it’s a rare event.

    The durability of belief is likely related to the way the human psyche works — it seems we cling to theories that provide us with a sense of coherence and explanatory power. This has a positive side — we can formulate explanations and use them in future decisions. It also has a downside — we can adhere to beliefs too tenaciously and ignore or reconfigure data to fit our theories. In Piagetian terms, it’s about accommodation versus assimilation.

    This raises some thorny problems. Despite its downside, we would not want to lose the durability of belief, moving from situation-to-situation unable to hold on to any coherent psychically-organizing beliefs. Nor would we want the holding of those beliefs to be contingent on a constant, conscious, active process — the inefficiency to our functioning would be too costly. But the efficient, unconscious processes that make belief resistant to change can also put change outside the reach of direct and conscious efforts to effect change.

    My point is that this whole discussion of how change occurs isn’t really, at its root, about religion. The discussion arises because beliefs are inherently change-resistant, particularly our larger psychically-organizing beliefs. These beliefs rarely change in the short-run through debate or angry confrontation because their durability is supported by unconscious rather than conscious processes. Neither debate nor anger is an effective mind-changing agent, as any therapist worth her salt will tell you. Outside the clinical realm, consider anyone who adheres to any ideology and you’ll begin to appreciate these observations. You’ll never argue, debate or yell a communist out of communist belief.

    But this doesn’t mean beliefs don’t ever change. When you look at the long-run instead of the short-term, beliefs, including religious beliefs, often do change and they often change without angry confrontation. Religious people lose their faith, alter their beliefs and change their religions. Non-believers become believers. It occurs because explanatory narratives can wear very thin as one moves through life. Offer someone the intensive experience of a new narrative when they are ripe for it and they may adopt it quickly in a wholesale way, but replacement narratives can also develop slowly and tentatively.

    I suspect that it’s a tendency of younger people to think that rage is a more powerful mover of minds than it is because (a) it’s an early prime mover in the psychic world — the raging toddler or infant seems to be trying to move the world with rage and (b) because younger people have had less opportunity to experience major personal narrative change that hasn’t resulted from the need to separate from parents through a process that is partly fueled by normal needs to rebel. It’s not an accident that in a culture that highly prizes individualism, there is a great deal of angry youthful rebellion. To become a full-fledged respectable adult you’ve got to separate pretty thoroughly from your parents. Often, this is accomplished through rebellious anger which picks up on primitive, magical fantasies that we can control reality with enough rage.

    Think about it this way. If you’re really so sure that rage itself effects change, then you should believe that you are as likely to become a Catholic in reaction to raging Catholics as raging Catholics are likely to become atheists as a result of your rage. The same applies to the so-called fence-sitters. They are hearing rage expressed from both sides. The unstated assumption of some commenters — that their rage will somehow be a more potent mover than the other guy’s rage — smacks of the implicit influence of infantile rage.

    This isn’t intended as a rant against younger people, but experience in life does matter. That’s why some of us have commented on the emotional immaturity (adolescent) in PZ’s approach. Older people have often had more opportunity to see their own narratives shift radically through more gradual processes. Change without rage seems more possible to older people. Obviously, it’s not true of all older people, nor do all younger people lack experience with radical narrative change. I’m just talking about tendencies.

    I’m not foolish enough to argue that rage changes nothing. When you’re talking about changing laws or throwing out the rascals, rage can have an effect. Great oppressive political movements as well as liberating political movements have been fueled by rage. But we’re not talking about changing laws in this discussion. We’re talking about changing the way people think, something that is far more resistant to change than change in the law.

    Is there any historical parallel to the present situation for us to look at? Maybe. I was thinking about the religious ‘Awakening’ during 1730s – 1740s colonial America. In many ways, the rise of revivalist-style American religion during the past 30 years looks like the Awakening with all its anti-intellectualism, miracles, healings, speaking in tongues and slain-in-the-spirit religiosity. But by 1776, religious adherence was down to 19% according to one recent estimate.

    What precipitated that decline? I don’t think it was an angry social movement. The Enlightenment thinkers engaged in reasoned discourse and argument that gradually influenced the general culture. Perhaps padding the way, the public had become deeply uncomfortable with the effects of the religious fervor that swept colonial society in the early 18th century, leaving a great deal of personal destruction and even a wave a suicides among the hopelessly damned in its wake. The change in the culture didn’t occur because of stunts akin to PZ’s puerile shenanigans. It changed because the narrative began to break down for large swathes of the public and a more serviceable narrative became available.

    I think we see signs that the same thing might be occurring now. There are Evangelical Christians who have been backing off their support for mixing politics and religion. They have become uneasy with where their ideology has taken us. I suspect that this shift owes little to stunts like the stunt PZ pulled. It probably has much more to do with the reigning American religious narrative of the past forty years wearing thin for a population that has relied on it a bit too long for comfort. They’ve been chastened, not by PZ’s anger, but by their own failures.

  124. #124 Kevembuangga
    July 28, 2008

    Chris: I argue that it would have been better to lay the issues out and make discussion possible.

    If “discussion is possible” could you please answer my question: WHY, HOW or on the basis of which world-view, pretending that a cracker has “mystical properties” has to be taken on the same footing than plain everyday evidence?

    Chris: I know discussions aren’t your thing, but until now, I didn’t realize just how little honesty was either.

    Phuleeeze!
    Is it “honest” to pretend to be an atheist and to dismiss the most egregious nonsenses from the religionists WITHOUT giving any rationale for your position?

    TSK: c) Attack the message, not the messenger.

    Sorry but the problem IS with the “messenger”, the message only appear ridiculous because the messenger is INSANE.
    What can anyone do?
    I had psychotic neighbours, I can tell you it’s a brick wall, there is no “discussion” to be had.

  125. #125 Jason
    July 28, 2008

    Chris, PZ never said the reaction was unexpected, nor is he denying that he deliberately provoked people. I think he would also probably accept your charge that he is “attention whoring” – that’s precisely the point! He deliberately provoked people to show how little regard he has for this particular belief.

    He is not doing this “gratuitously”. He’s trying to shift the background assumptions in society about what is acceptable and what is extreme. Currently it’s “mainstream” to be offended by the desecration of the Eucharist and “extremist” to engage in such behavior – this is the cultural background that enables the gross overreaction to a student “kidnapping” the Eucharist. PZ is trying to change those background assumptions. You may disagree with this claim, but I think a strong case could be made that atheism is more mainstream today than it was 10 years ago and is continuing to make progress in large part because of publicity stunts of this type and the publication of “strident” books like The God Delusion. PZ simply recognizes that a good way to gain broad acceptance for a reasonable argument is to repeatedly bring it to people’s attention.

  126. #126 James
    July 28, 2008

    Every time I read a thread related to this “issue” I have flashbacks to my doctoral internship rotation dealing with relationship therapy (couples, families, etc.). Subsequent to those sessions where each side claimed the ‘right’ to insult and defame one another, I was left with a deflated ‘therapeutic ego’. I simply did not understand how and why the clients said what they did, and could not figure out how to create a ceasefire between the antagonists. But, then I stumbled upon R.D. Laing’s book “Knots”. I soon realized that my misunderstanding was not a true lack of understanding on my part, but simply the confusion that results in even that most rational mind when confronted with pseudo-rational dialogs. At last, peace of mind was available, at least to me.

    Gentlepersons, you are driving me ‘knots’!

  127. #127 Robin Levett
    July 28, 2008

    @TSK:

    > I asked Chris above, now I’ll ask you; where is the
    > evidence of counter death threats?

    My error; I found it plausible because spamming and harassing was already mentioned, so it was easy to assume that it gone a step further as Chris mentioned it. Mea culpa.

    For this – thank you. Now all we need is for Chris to withdraw or support the allegation – where are you Chris, with your allegations of dishonesty against Meiherz? Going to ‘fess up, or put up?

    However, this:

    I have looked it up. C. Kroll, the husband of M. Kroll, wrote the mail, as he said on Greg Ladens Blog, *not* M. Kroll. If you have a standard SMTP account, everyone can send mail if he knows the password and the mail adress even without your knowledge. What is that ? Blame the victim ? Death by association ? Kin liability ?

    is just wrong.

    Melanie Kroll worked for 1-800 Flowers, at home. She had a VPN connection to the company servers. Their IT policy , unless they are a very unusual company, would require their home-workers to keep details of the access code – the VPN password – secret; and to ensure that no unauthorised person used the connection. That obligation she clearly failed to discharge. But it was only her husband, you might say; why shouldn’t she trust her husband?

    Two reasons; it isn’t her trusting her husband, but 1-800 Flowers being willy-nilly forced to do so – and the whole point of their IT policy was that they didn’t intend to do that.

    Secondly; if you believe that the comment on Greg Laden’s blog was actually from Melanie Kroll, he has form for doing precisely this:

    My husband went on to the drudge report site that he reads and clicked on a link and came across that man pz’s notice and responded as he always does when he is upset.

    True, she didn’t send the death threat – but what she did do was a clear violation of her terms of employment, by enabling the threat to be sent across the company servers, by somebody she knew did this kind of thing when upset.

  128. #128 Chris
    July 28, 2008

    The dishonesty lies in the fact that PZ knows full well that for people who place symbolic value in something, that thing has very real value for them (this is as true of Kevembuangga and PZ as it is for Catholics). He knew that, as a result, he wasn’t just throwing any cracker into the trash, he was throwing a cracker that has very real value for many people. And unless he was trying to say that people get pissed off when you insult things they value, there was no real point in him doing so. It was just insult for insult’s sake, and his little rhetorical ploys to make it sound like he didn’t really do anything are extremely dishonest.

    Sure, it was just a cracker to you, me, and PZ, but to plenty of peopel it’s not, just like money is only money if people put value in it. I’m not objecting to PZ’s putting a cracker in the trash; I’m objecting to him putting a specific kind of cracker in the trash, knowing that it would piss off a bunch of people (most of whom had not participated in the whole UCF fiasco) to no end (it certainly won’t convince them of anything, and the only people who seem to think it said anything are the people who didn’t need to be covninced).

    Anyway, this is clearly going nowhere, as to this point, almost no one has addressed my argument (that there are better methods for making poitns), while people keep raising the same points over and over again. And most of them rely on PZ’s two main rhetorical tricks (that it’s either ridicule or no criticism at all, and that it’s a cracker like any other despite its sybmolic value to about a billion people), so Kevem, you know what, unless someone comes by with new insights, I think I will go “hide,” ’cause I have better things to do with my time.

  129. #129 Robin Levett
    July 28, 2008

    @Chris:

    It was your (apparent) dishonesty (while alleging dishonesty on Meres’s part) I was referring to. Your claim led TSK to believe that there were counter-death threats by atheists. Do you have any evidence of this? I’ve seen none, but I could be wrong.

  130. #130 Chris
    July 28, 2008

    Robin, you’re right; I shouldn’t have implied that PZ’s readers issued death threats as well. Harassment, yes, but death threats, it doesn’t seem so. That was wrong. I was going on something I remembered reading, but now can’t find (and therefore probably imagined… when this whole thing went down, I was busy with life stuff, so I wasn’t paying overly close attention). So I apologize for that.

  131. #131 SC
    July 28, 2008

    People who are concerned about the ethics of PZ’s actions may want to take a look at this, posted by Damian at Pharyngula several days ago:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/fyi.php#comment-981847

    I have yet to see any of the self-appointed ethicists engage with it in any meaningful way.

    Dr. X, your comment was very long on opinion and speculation and very short on evidence (and I found your repeated references to “rage” extremely perplexing). If you really believe that cultural transformation in the 17th and 18th centuries was not brought about by “angry social movements” employing symbolic desecration and various forms of direct action, you are ignorant. I recommend that you start with Linebaugh and Rediker’s The Many-Headed Hydra.

  132. #132 RBH
    July 28, 2008

    Dr. X wrote

    My point is that this whole discussion of how change occurs isn’t really, at its root, about religion. The discussion arises because beliefs are inherently change-resistant, particularly our larger psychically-organizing beliefs.

    The issue is not beliefs, it’s the behavior that those beliefs stimulate. I don’t much give a damn what people believe; I care about how they behave when the behavior that is induced by their beliefs impinges negatively on others. In the UCF case, the Catholics are/were perfectly justified in objecting (verbally) to Cook taking the wafer out of the church. However, in addition to objecting verbally, they (reportedly) attempted to physically restrain him from leaving and are now attempting to screw him over educationally, along with his companion, for carrying a wafer out of church. That goes way past any rational boundaries.

    Myers “desecrates” a wafer — a victimless crime to anyone who has three neurons to connect together — to illustrate the over-the-top reaction of the Catholic League and at least partly redress the power imbalance in Florida, and the Catholic League goes after his job. Again, way over the boundaries.

    Has Chris suggested to the Catholic League that rather than going after Cook’s education or Myers’ job, Donohue should talk it through rationally? Not that I’ve seen. It’s just those of us whose freedom of speech and freedom from the oppression of theocrats (and that’s not hyperbole in the Florida case or in my local school district) are at stake who are supposed to be “rational” about it.

    The Catholic League illustrates the triumph of assimilation over accommodation. Nothing from the outside world gets through in a form able to alter those schemata; they’re impervious to change. But behavior can be changed if there’s sufficient push-back. And the push-back has to be proportional to the push. Myers’ was.

  133. #133 MH
    July 28, 2008

    Chris: “He knew that, as a result, he wasn’t just throwing any cracker into the trash, he was throwing a cracker that has very real value for many people.”

    Was the cracker that PZ threw into his bin consecrated? How do you know? You see, this is the key to the issue. If no-one can distinguish an unconsecrated cracker from a consecrated one, how can one say that a consecrated cracker is anything but a cracker?

    If PZ admitted that it was a shop-bought one, how would that change the situation? I suspect that the criticism would vanish, because Catholics have no problem with people doing whatever they like with unconsecrated crackers. To them, PZ would have put a piece of bread in the bin. It’s only after someone casts a spell over it, thus changing the ‘substance’ into Jesus Christ (whilst leaving the material cracker completely unchanged) that they see it as something to be worshipped (and shortly after, eaten). And yet it’s still just a frickin’ cracker!

    This is of course, insane, and such insane beliefs deserve to be publicly ridiculed.

  134. #134 TSK
    July 28, 2008

    @DrX: Well done. Couldn’t have explained it half as well.

    @Levett: While in this particular case I can understand your argument that firing may be justifiable (I have seen only the apology on Greg Laden), it is still not a good idea to publicize threat mails.

    It is no problem to set up a “joe job” for a malicious attacker by faking the return address of an innocent victim. You cannot even know that if you have the IP address: A bot net is capable to send malicious messages unknown to the owner of the computer.

    While the police may be simply too overstrained to handle e-mail abuse, at the very least PZ could have sought professional help if he wanted to find the perpetrators.

    @Kevem: No, your neighbours are not the problem. Your neighbours will act perfectly normal inside their group.
    If you would examine them clinically, you will very likely find no sign of mental illness.
    If you continue to read and answer “discussions”, you will finally see that very few discussions convince other people
    of the other opinion. Mostly it’s simply “I am right and you are wrong” on both sides and both sides are angry why the other side is so unbelievably pigheaded.
    What the message in fact does is not convincing the fundis, but the broad middle. And when the broad middle shifts their opinion, most fundis adapt their position because they are afraid to stand out.

  135. #135 Dr X
    July 28, 2008

    Dr. X, your comment was very long on opinion and speculation and very short on evidence (and I found your repeated references to “rage” extremely perplexing). If you really believe that cultural transformation in the 17th and 18th centuries was not brought about by “angry social movements” employing symbolic desecration.

    I didn’t refer to the broad cultural transformation of the 17th century and 18th century. I referred, specifically, to the period sometimes called the Awakening – during the 1730s-1740s and, specifically, to the rapid decline of religious adherence that immediately followed.

    As for the word rage, you’re probably perplexed because you haven’t read developmental literature extensively. Anyone who has would not bat an eye at my use of the word. But to explain a little, I used the word rage with reference to the roots of anger in the unmodulated rage of infants and small children. Children tend to believe that feelings can alter reality and that intense feelings should alter reality more so. This isn’t limited to children, of course, but adults construct pseudo-rational explanations to maintain the magical sense of power associated with their feelings. All adults have unconscious undercurrents of these tendencies. We see it better in those with whom we disagree, but we construct theories that make our own magic seem more rationally based. You might like to think that only of Christians do this, but we all do it — even atheists who see a potency in their anger that isn’t there.

    As for me being short on evidence, I don’t know if you’re demanding citations, but I haven’t noticed much in the way of academic citation or academically respectable argument in the comments. I’m quite aware, however, that I am operating from a theoretical perspective that can find a great deal of support in research. You might disagree with me, but the fact that you sensed none of that only tells me that you are not educated and trained as psychologist.

    The issue is not beliefs, it’s the behavior that those beliefs stimulate. I don’t much give a damn what people believe; I care about how they behave when the behavior that is induced by their beliefs impinges negatively on others

    I also object to the behavior of people who threatened Cook, I object to any notion that his school should discipline him and I object to any harassment of Cook. But I was commenting on those who think they will change beliefs with puerile stunts and intense expressions of rage.

    As for Cook’s persecutors, it’s already against the law to make death threats. Fanatics and unstable people sometimes make death threats against people they deem the enemy. Fanatics sometimes kill people. It’s all illegal, but I’d like to see some evidence that religious people are fundamentally and substantially more prone to this behavior than anyone else.

  136. #136 Danio
    July 28, 2008

    MH: FWIW, PZ says that he has documentation (a photograph snapped by the person who obtained it, if memory serves) that it was in fact a consecrated communion wafer. Big difference, by design, with respect to the reaction of some Catholics.

    I have been really disappointed by the nature of the criticisms coming from Chris and other Sciblings. Not in the criticism itself, mind you. I have read all of the dissenting views with hopeful interest, eager for a reasoned, rational argument from a skeptical point of view as to why the blogger disagreed with PZ’s actions in this case, and more to the point, said blogger’s reaction to the UCF incident and Donohue-led frenzied aftermath. Alas, I have come across no such blog, to date, but have instead encountered some pretty intense frustration and anger, with accompanying hyperbole, directed against PZ. Although Chris does the most complete job of any I’ve read in summarizing and condemning the initial Catholic League response to the UCF incident (Thanks for that, Chris), the condemning language aimed at PZ is far more specific and protracted.

    Chris, you have asked for feedback on your proposal that rational discussion would have been a better choice of action after the initial UCF incident. And yet you close your tirade with

    I think the most tragic consequence of said blogger’s behavior is that it pretty much cuts off any discussion of the real issues, and diverts the attention to him. And I find it sad any time the opportuntity for rational discussion of important issues is undercut by adolescent nonsense.

    Even if I accept your characterization of PZ as an attention-seeking adolescent, how do his actions in any way prevent you from addressing the real issue at hand? If you think he whiffed it, so be it. Does one act of highly publicized blasphemy preclude any further discussion or demonstration of a different temperament, on Science Blogs or anywhere else? I hope not. Do PZ’s actions offend you so greatly that you can now condone every ugly action by the Donohue crowd without question? Organized campaigns to have him fired? To rape and murder his family? Perhaps you think this is all part of the circus act, and that he brought it on himself, but it seems to me to be an extension of the behavior you criticized in reference to the initial UCF incident, and subsequent actions against Webster Cook and friends. Is this behavior any less despicable when provoked by the calculated actions of someone who is not willing to have a symbol foisted upon the masses that is only meaningful to some?

    Out of all the dissenting voices, I would have liked to see someone pay more attention to the truly frightening overreaction by the Catholic League and their allies when their beliefs were challenged. Frankly, I think this is a much more interesting discussion than the contents of PZ’s garbage can.

  137. #137 Danio
    July 28, 2008

    A clarification of my above comment: In the paragraph after the block quote, it should read “Organized campaigns to have him fired? Threats to rape and murder his family?

    To my knowledge, there is, thankfully, no organized campaign to do harm to PZ or his family, as the original sentence structure implied.

  138. #138 SC
    July 28, 2008

    I didn’t refer to the broad cultural transformation of the 17th century and 18th century. I referred, specifically, to the period sometimes called the Awakening – during the 1730s-1740s and, specifically, to the rapid decline of religious adherence that immediately followed.

    You referred to it, and then proceeded to make claims about it without any evidentiary support.

    As for the word rage, you’re probably perplexed because you haven’t read developmental literature extensively. Anyone who has would not bat an eye at my use of the word. But to explain a little, I used the word rage with reference to the roots of anger in the unmodulated rage of infants and small children. Children tend to believe that feelings can alter reality and that intense feelings should alter reality more so.

    My confusion concerns how exactly you believe this applies in this specific case. Are you reading PZ’s mind?

    I’m quite aware, however, that I am operating from a theoretical perspective that can find a great deal of support in research. You might disagree with me, but the fact that you sensed none of that only tells me that you are not educated and trained as psychologist.

    Indeed. I am a historical sociologist, specializing in the history of social movements, including anticlerical movements. I have studied movement tactics and strategy for many years, in addition to participating in movements myself. And I can tell you that this argument that acts like PZ’s are necessarily futile or counterproductive is not in keeping with the evidence. These are complicated questions (look, for example at the debates over Charter ’77 at that time and later), but I’m bothered that people are making these bold claims with a certainty that doesn’t appear to be based on any solid knowledge.

    I’ll also add here something that I was saying last night on Pharyngula (and of course I speak only for myself): The Church and Catholic groups are not simply off worshipping by themselves. When they’re not directly determining policy through concordats or getting themselves declared the official state religion, they are working to shape laws concerning sexuality, marriage, reproduction, child-rearing, education, scientific practice, and so on. They are doing this based upon religious beliefs that are not supported by any evidence*. Then they want to turn around and claim that they are outraged when someone throws away a cracker, and people here want to tell me that it is unethical to offend them. No. I’m not going along with this.

    *I still haven’t seen a response to the article I linked to above concerning the ethics of belief. There is a moral responsibility attached to participation in public decision-making, and it entails questioning the validity of your beliefs and claims and accepting that others will challenge them. This includes treating a cracker like a cracker.

  139. #139 swangeese
    July 28, 2008

    Eh different strokes for different folks.

    It sometimes takes both reasoned debate and a more in your face approach in order to get a message across. Ideally reasoned debate would be sufficient by itself.

    However stunts can be effective in shaking a person out of his or her comfort zone. Instant deconversions are highly unlikely, but if it gets a person thinking then it is a success.

    Sometimes I think that some people are simply too afraid to offend. And that doesn’t necessarily include people that disagree with PZ.

    The problem with stunts is that if you make them a habit, it becomes noise and people will ignore your message. Or worse, backfire.

    Fred Phelps is a good, albeit extreme, example.

    But used sparingly, the more ‘in your face’ approach can be highly effective and shouldn’t be completely discounted. Some people are better bomb throwers and others are better debaters. Together they can be a highly effective team.

    I do think that PZ bungled it in the beginning, but ultimately I think that crackergate was a success.

    Just my 2 cents.

  140. #140 Michael Meadon
    July 28, 2008

    Chris… I generally really enjoy your blog, but I must respectfully disagree with this post. Firstly, let me note that I’ve subscribed to your blog for over a year but added PZ’s only recently due to the cracker affair. Indeed, if you look at my blog, you’ll see you’re in my blog roll. I hope that’s enough to deflect the charge that I’m a ‘PZ troll’.

    My main point: maybe I’m just dumb or something, but after reading your post twice, I still can’t find any real ARGUMENTS. There are plenty of bald assertions. There are plenty of fallacies (ad hominem, most prominently). But I don’t see you defending a main claim using chains of reasoning based on well-grounded propositions.

    You say, for example that “The lesson I’m trying to convey is that in cases like that of the Danish cartoons and the response to them, there are two paths one can take: frank, reasoned discussion, or circus-like attention-whoring, and only one is truly effective.” Now, maybe I missed something, but since when was the media response to the cartoons “truly effective”? Come to think of it, what the you mean by “truly effective”? What did the purported ‘reasonable discussion’ you think happened actually achieve? If it’s the stuff you list earlier (“the cartoons were inappropriate” “self-censorship isn’t necessarily bad”) then I’m going to have to see an argument that these conclusions are indeed reasonable AND that it had some sort of beneficial effect on the world. In my view, frankly, the way the media handled the cartoon affair was callow, abject surrender. It was an absolute travesty that people didn’t stand up for the cartoonists’ freedom of expression but rushed to condemn them.

    Please also have a look at Beowulff’s comment – I think she (?) says it all.

  141. #141 James
    July 28, 2008

    I find myself in agreement with both TSK and Dr X, as well as with much of what SC articulates. To paraphrase someone famous (but exactly whom I forget) “I don’t think god, chance, or evolution will be much upset by the vascilations of my convictions.”

    Yet, with that said, there is a large volume of scientific research in the social sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology, even zoology) which speak directly and indirectly to the issue of verbally aggressive, confrontive behavior. (If there are any current social science graduate students in the audience, this is a timely subject for a review article.)

    Yes, there are circumstances under which verbally aggressive, confrontive behaviors have proven to be effective. I have some of those anecdotes in my life, as I am sure do many others. Yet, when such aggressive behavior is exhibited, there are major (known) interactional effects that frequently (no, not always) interfere with the aggressor achieving their intended effect. Moreover, when the balance between what is potentially gained by an aggressive posture and what is potentially lost by such a posture, verbal aggression is not generally deemed to be that posture which holds the highest degree of probable success. This imbalance is particularly skewed when the intensity of the reaction (yes, rage) on the part of the individuals toward whom the aggression is directed is taken into account.

    While reading commmentary on ScienceBlogs, I am all too freqently struck by the disparity between those behaviors that our respective professional publication manauals and codes of conduct articulate, and what our ‘off-hours’ conduct appears to be.

    Fortunately, there does appear to be a trend toward civil and rational commentary. For that I am grateful.

  142. #142 multipath
    July 28, 2008

    Chris,

    You’re probably not reading this thread anymore. I didn’t read your entire post, but have read your responses in the comments.

    I agree that there is not a lot of intellectual discussion that goes on in the comments section of Pharyngula. Proposing alternative ideas about even minor things can provoke some terrible name-calling. It’s really ridiculous.

    I think your two main points here are:
    (1) PZ is acting like an asshole
    (2) acting like an asshole is bad because it is counter-productive, or at worst there is an opportunity cost from not having taken the high road.

    While I agree on (1), I don’t think acting like an asshole is necessarily bad. I actually really disagree with (2) in some cases. Alas, these are all just opinions, and this might be cleared up with some good sociological data…

    Anyway, I just wanted to say I like Pharyngula and PZ, but I think some of his commenters have the tendency for name-calling rather than discussion, even when open-minded people who want discussion come along. These commenters have ruined the discussion for me on more than one occasion. I’m sorry they’ve seeped in here to insult you and not address your points.

  143. #143 Tristan Croll
    July 28, 2008

    Here’s the thing, Chris. You say

    He knew that, as a result, he wasn’t just throwing any cracker into the trash, he was throwing a cracker that has very real value for many people.

    Just stop, and look back at that again.

    These people have been… trained, for lack of a better word, to treat a cracker as something incredibly important to them. So important, in fact, that in the minds of many it seems to outweigh the wellbeing, careers and even lives of actual, living human beings.

    IMHO, a great evil has been done to these people, but it most certainly was not done by PZ Myers. It was done by the parents, priests and other trusted authority figures that took part in their upbringing. Authority figures that, well-meaning or otherwise, turned what were presumably once innocent, free-spirited children into the frightened, angry sheep we see today. I for one hadn’t previously fully realised the enormity of the damage being done, and I’m thankful to PZ for bringing it out into the harsh light of reality.

  144. #144 RBH
    July 29, 2008

    Tristan wrote

    I for one hadn’t previously fully realised the enormity of the damage being done, and I’m thankful to PZ for bringing it out into the harsh light of reality.

    Bingo!

  145. #145 Wowbagger
    July 29, 2008

    Looks like I’m half a day too late. Still, I’m here so I might as well write something.

    Shorter version: one person’s ‘adolescent ass’ is another’s wunderkind.

    I agree that what PZ did was inflammatory, but I don’t believe what he did was intended to upset the majority of catholics of the world; it was to incense and draw out the lunatic fringe – who, via Donohue, had shown just how far out of proportion they were willing to blow the original ‘desecration’ – even further.

    You can’t argue that he didn’t succeed at that with pinpoint accuracy. The batshit loons came out in force; mainstream catholics went about their business.

    As I kept asking catholic posters on Pharyngula: if it’s such a heinous attack on something so precious to all catholics, why hasn’t the pope spoken out to reassure the faithful in their hour of need?

    [sound of crickets]

    As for comments alluding to how he’s ‘harmed the cause of atheism': utter rubbish. Atheism isn’t a country club worried about its membership. Nor is it a listed company concerned about its share price. You get there by not believing in god, not by thinking that atheists are nice people you’d like to play a round of golf with.

    Do you really think people who have serious doubts about the existence of god are suddenly going to turn around, pick up their bibles and head back to church because some quasi-famous atheist was mean to catholics?

    About the only thing PZ might have done to ‘harm’ atheism is convincing reluctant atheists to stay ‘in the closet’ – since, if we’ve learned nothing else from this exercise, we have observed the very real hatred religious believers have for those who question the validity of their beliefs.

    PZ may have hurt his own ‘reputation’, but that’s for him to worry about, not other atheists.

    Oh, and for those posters who made analogies to disrupting ceremonies or vandalising places of worship – not even close. If you’d suggested what he did was like making a short film of someone desecrating something that might have been a place of worship and posted it on YouTube you’d have at least been in the same ballpark – i.e. only offensive to those who chose to view it and interpret it as such.

    And yeah, I’m a Pharyngulite. Let the cries of ‘zombie’, ‘robot’, ‘follower’ and ‘sheep’ commence – if that makes you feel any better. It won’t make a difference to me.

  146. #146 anon
    July 29, 2008

    How is it pointless- and I mean this with all my heart- to demonstrate that the earth will not move. fire will not come from the sky, and you will not be struck dead if a communion wafer is pierced, dropped, not eaten right away? It sounds ridiculous, but being a kid who was pretty mindfucked by church and who is still leery as an adult to offend or challenge because something MIGHT happen—-

    You have no idea how empowering it is to see that nothing exploded and the rapture did not happen when a religious symbol was skewered. I almost am joking, but I am not, as I realize that out there are kids that have been damaged by the concepts that are prevalent in the church and are afraid to ask questions or react in a perceived negative way. A lot of those kids turn out to be awfully miserable adults.

    MAYBE because you have not been personally affected by the evilness of some religious people and their attatchment to “stuff” and rituals that are just odd, you don’t understand the silent cheer heard round the internets as all the heroes were garbaged and we were freed to seek our own path on the road to knowledge. Dawkins and Jesus- such imagery- both held as examples to parrot rather than think on our own. Thinking, observing and communicating- these are what we need to do in order to strengthen oursleves.

    Until you are told that the typical teenage life you are living- no sex and no drugs- are going to land you in Hell where you will burn for eternity- please do not speak to me about pandering to the other side. It has been years and I still want to tell those people off. A cracker won’t be up all night after losing a bunch of friends , or it won’t worry about what hell might be like. And if people are that offended then maybe they need to start thinking critically and not threatening otheres who disagree with death and bodily harm.

  147. #147 Kevembuangga
    July 29, 2008

    TSK: @Kevem: No, your neighbours are not the problem. Your neighbours will act perfectly normal inside their group.
    If you would examine them clinically, you will very likely find no sign of mental illness.

    You might want to think a bit more before replying (or just read twice?).
    When I said I had psychotic neighbours, I mean they WERE psychotic (not just Catholics, LOL, not even religious I guess) they went several times into psychiatric care and were under neuroleptic medications.

    If you continue to read and answer “discussions”, you will finally see that very few discussions convince other people
    of the other opinion. Mostly it’s simply “I am right and you are wrong” on both sides and both sides are angry why the other side is so unbelievably pigheaded.

    I am not “angry” but vindictive against some kind of “enemy” and I don’t expect AT ALL to change the opinion of religionists, I said it explicitly, they are INSANE and there is no way you can argue with a paranoid psychotic.
    But they have to be DENOUNCED as what they are as not to let them appear to be the dominant or even legitimate “public opinion”.

  148. #148 Kevembuangga
    July 29, 2008

    Chris: Anyway, this is clearly going nowhere, as to this point, almost no one has addressed my argument (that there are better methods for making poitns), while people keep raising the same points over and over again.

    The pot calling the kettle black?
    I DID address your argument: there is NO WAY to convince a paranoid psychotic that he is in fact INSANE, thus there is no point “discussing” the matter with the nutbars themselves, only warnings and demonstrations addressed at the general public are of any usefullness, and it seems to me that PZ has abundantly proved that the nutbars ARE nutbars.

    Whereas, OTOH, you still have this very strange deafness to MY QUESTION:

    Can you explain WHAT is the “value” of the “mystical cracker” to the religionists in such terms that it makes SOME SENSE to non believers.
    And not just chant the mantra, value, value, respect, respect.
    Since you both pretend to be an atheist AND respect (understand?) the position of the believers you should be able to explain that to us.
    Shouldn’t you?

  149. #149 Beowulff
    July 29, 2008

    At Michael Meadon: glad you liked my comment, but I’m quite male :)

    And at Chris:

    Anyway, this is clearly going nowhere, as to this point, almost no one has addressed my argument (that there are better methods for making poitns), while people keep raising the same points over and over again.

    Again you complain about people not addressing your arguments, and yet you ignore that various people have been pointing out that you didn’t really make any, clearly indicating in what way they found your post lacking. Ignoring these posts doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

    And most of them rely on PZ’s two main rhetorical tricks (that it’s either ridicule or no criticism at all, and that it’s a cracker like any other despite its sybmolic value to about a billion people), so Kevem, you know what, unless someone comes by with new insights, I think I will go “hide,” ’cause I have better things to do with my time.

    Your dismissal of PZ’s standpoints as “rhetorical tricks” reeks of a strawman argument. Nobody has ever said anything even close to resembling “either ridicule or no criticism at all”. Ridicule is simply one of the tactics available when someone wants to point out an unreasonable position, and PZ happens to be good at ridicule. He has often pointed out that his strategy will never work on its own, and that atheism will always need people like Hermant Metha, the friendly athiest, who has a more gentle approach. The different approaches are not mutually exclusive and PZ knows it.

    And about the cracker having symbolic value, does that mean that you believe that the cracker should be treated as something special just because a priest has said so? And that also non-believers should be expected to behave as if the cracker is special, just because a priest has said so, and any number of people believe the priest?

    If so, your attack on the form of PZ’s protest would be dishonest, as you wouldn’t even agree that he had a reason to protest in the first place, but you would have failed to come out and say so. If not, if you think that a cracker doesn’t actually become special, no matter what a priest says and no matter how many people believe the priest, you would basically agree with PZ and there shouldn’t really be anything wrong with PZ pointing this fact out. So why would you dismiss this point as a mere “rhetorical trick”? It’s actually right at the heart of the matter.

  150. #150 ildi
    July 29, 2008

    Welcome back to the porch, Chris. I saved you a chew-toy.

  151. #151 Robin Levett
    July 29, 2008

    @Chris:

    Thank you for acknowledging the mistake.

    Now can you deal with your claim of “anti-intellectualism” against Mires?

    In case it isn’t clear: my view on your post is that while there may be a valid point to be made over his behaviour, you don’t make it. There is no reasoning, simply assertion; and this is one of the more puzzling assertions.

  152. #152 John Morales
    July 29, 2008

    I admit it, I was curious and came back and read the thread.
    This is salient:

    Woozle | July 26, 2008 4:43 PM

    I note the large number of ad hominem attacks in your post, but not one argument that actually addresses the substance of what “ScienceBlogs’ biggest name” actually said.

    Chris | July 26, 2008 5:03 PM:

    Woozle, my argument is in the first part of the post: there are two ways to go about this, rational discussion and circus-like performance art.

    RBH | July 28, 2008 4:04 AM

    I’m perfectly willing to have a rational discussion if some concrete alternatives had been offered. They weren’t.

    Chris | July 28, 2008 6:39 PM:

    Anyway, this is clearly going nowhere, as to this point, almost no one has addressed my argument (that there are better methods for making poitns), while people keep raising the same points over and over again.

  153. #153 SC
    July 29, 2008

    against Mires?

    Good grief. You have to work to get it that wrong. :)

  154. #154 Robin Levett
    July 29, 2008

    @TSK:

    @Levett: While in this particular case I can understand your argument that firing may be justifiable (I have seen only the apology on Greg Laden), it is still not a good idea to publicize threat mails.

    It is no problem to set up a “joe job” for a malicious attacker by faking the return address of an innocent victim. You cannot even know that if you have the IP address: A bot net is capable to send malicious messages unknown to the owner of the computer.

    While the police may be simply too overstrained to handle e-mail abuse, at the very least PZ could have sought professional help if he wanted to find the perpetrators.

    I really don’t think that the arrival of the FBI (it’s a federal offence to send death threats by email, as I understand USAian law) would have resulted in any less blowback for Mrs Kroll.

    A joe job this pretty clearly wasn’t – the email included 1-800 Flowers’ signature block, so either it clearly came from their mailserver, or someone with pretty good knowledge of their systems set it up.

  155. #155 Robin Levett
    July 29, 2008

    @SC:

    against Mires?
    Good grief. You have to work to get it that wrong. :)

    Yup. Talk.origins tradition (blame Wilkins).

  156. #156 TSK
    July 29, 2008

    SC:

    And I can tell you that this argument that acts like PZ’s are necessarily futile or counterproductive is not in keeping with the evidence. These are complicated questions (look, for example at the debates over Charter ’77 at that time and later), but I’m bothered that people are making these bold claims with a certainty that doesn’t appear to be based on any solid knowledge.

    Har, har, har…then show the evidence. It is pretty damn hard to point down an exact cause or trigger or success for historical movements which you probably very well know. What caused the reformation, the loss of the power of the Roman-Catholic Church ? Was it the moral corruption, the selling of indulgences ? Was it Luther, Calvin, Zwingli ?
    Was it the peaceful rule of Charles V. ? The new scientific and geographic discoveries shattering the old view of the world ?

    Let’s see two examples: The black movement and Indian independency. Both were triggered by nonviolent protesters and were ultimately successful. In contrast we see Scientology which is suing and harassing critics, portraying them as criminals and a Tom Cruise yelling something like “Psychiatry kills !” in an interview.
    Pretty aggressive. How successful was that for the promotion of Scientology’s worldview ? Or the Red Scare in the 1950’s ? How successful was McCarthys debut crying in unbelievable rage publicly at suspects in March/April 1954 ? I’ll tell you: he plunged right in the abyss.


    Can you explain WHAT is the “value” of the “mystical cracker” to the religionists in such terms that it makes SOME SENSE to non believers.
    ——–
    But I don’t see you defending a main claim using chains of reasoning based on well-grounded propositions.

    These both questions have the very same answer: Rationality is utterly helpless to solve problems of human relationships.
    Why are nerds and geeks who are most experienced in using rationality could not prevent to be tormented by their peers in school ? Couldn’t they solve this problem with their brains ? Obviously not. All these rational stuff of arguments, logic, rational discussion etc. etc. is garbage if you try to solve human questions with it. So you can wait till hell freezes if you wait for “rational” explanations.

    To solve such problems you must develop a sense of human interaction, something which cannot be learned by book. Either you understand it or you don’t (want to) understand it. And no amount of screaming, yelling, trampling or swearing will move you an inch towards acceptance. You can wear an badge with “I’m Asperger. Respect me !” and it won’t help either.

    The problem is not a cracker. It is the message: “I don’t respect you. I don’t care about your feelings.” And other humans, believe it or not, are very good to discern breaking taboos for a worthy cause in contrast to total disregard for other peoples values.

    Lets imagine that an unknown tribe has been spotted in Polynesia. They admire a tree on their island as holy. Do you pick an axe and chop it because it is just a tree and the people need to learn this lesson ?

  157. #157 Shmuel
    July 29, 2008

    “Can you explain WHAT is the “value” of the “mystical cracker” to the religionists in such terms that it makes SOME SENSE to non believers.”

    The cracker has a value that can be compared to your ass. If one were to jokingly “desecrate” your ass on the internet (in a way that embarrassed, humiliated or offended you) while taking pleasure in that “desecration” you might potentially become emotionally upset. But why? It’s just your ass after all. It just happens to be the location of your anus; it’s where you sit and shit; for some reason you tend to cover it with pants in public, etc. Why even suggest that your ass could be “desecrated” in the first place? What would that entail? But perhaps, for example, throwing a cream pie at your naked ass on the internet would not bother you, because as someone who does not comprehend how one could put symbolic “value” in something so patently trivial, you are above this sort of base expression of irrationality and cultural bias. If this is the case, you are indeed better than me, and I say hats (or pants) off to you!

  158. #158 Kevembuangga
    July 29, 2008

    TSK: The problem is not a cracker. It is the message: “I don’t respect you. I don’t care about your feelings.” And other humans, believe it or not, are very good to discern breaking taboos for a worthy cause in contrast to total disregard for other peoples values.

    Yup! I stand by the “message”: I don’t respect people crazy enough to put emotional value in a cracker (or in a cartoon, BTW).
    They are INSANE, and, in the long run a danger to humanity.
    I won’t repeat the link to Coturnix which I already inserted twice in previous posts, but there is explained the whole conundrum.
    The religious “feelings” are (among others) a powerfull tool for group bonding and up to our times group bonding was a VERY USEFULL social device, allowing people to cooperate and overcome all sorts of hardships including hostility of neighbouring GROUPS.
    This is the crux of the matter, being a group implies that there are others which are NOT in the group, these are the enemies!
    All this was actually very good for human evolution, including the fact that religious dogmas being entirely arbitrary and disconnected from any other qualities of the group members they “carved out” small pools of individuals to run thru some Darwinian fitness tests without any bias with respect to survival skills.
    Whenever groups clashed the “best fitted” to the surrounding eco/geo/political conditions survived.
    This worked as long as the groups were neither too large, nor too small, nor too often burdened by warfare.
    This gave us “civilization”, i.e. the accumulated wisdom and skills of successive winners.
    But, we ARE NO LONGER in this selection stage, groups are too large, too often interacting, too much endowed with military power.

    Ergo, the stupid religious monkeys are gonna blow off the house, they LOVE it they call it Apocalypse, enjoy…

  159. #159 Kevembuangga
    July 29, 2008

    Lets imagine that an unknown tribe has been spotted in Polynesia. They admire a tree on their island as holy. Do you pick an axe and chop it because it is just a tree and the people need to learn this lesson ?

    An utterly dishonest strawman.
    These hypothetical Polynesians are NOT threatening you, me or anybody else like the catholic wackos are doing.

  160. #160 Danio
    July 29, 2008

    TSK wrote:

    In contrast we see Scientology which is suing and harassing critics, portraying them as criminals and a Tom Cruise yelling something like “Psychiatry kills !” in an interview.
    Pretty aggressive. How successful was that for the promotion of Scientology’s worldview ? Or the Red Scare in the 1950’s ? How successful was McCarthys debut crying in unbelievable rage publicly at suspects in March/April 1954 ? I’ll tell you: he plunged right in the abyss.

    This is what you’re comparing to open advocacy for non-belief? Two of the craziest, paranoid, batshit insane mind-cults in recent history? Wow, that is extremely telling. And startlingly inapt. PZ was not promoting a ‘worldview’ through his actions, but rather illustrating his right to be free of other people’s worldviews with which he disagrees. There is a huge difference between the two.

    The problem is not a cracker. It is the message: “I don’t respect you. I don’t care about your feelings.” And other humans, believe it or not, are very good to discern breaking taboos for a worthy cause in contrast to total disregard for other peoples values.

    Bosh. The message is “I don’t respect your belief in a magic cracker. It is not sacred to me. Get over yourselves”. Your assertion that humans excel at differentiating between meritorious iconoclasm and gratuitous circus acts is not at all convincing, and depends entirely on the groups to which said humans belong. I, as a card-carrying human, deem that PZ broke this taboo for a very worth cause. You (presumably also a human) clearly disagree. Where does that leave us?

    Lets imagine that an unknown tribe has been spotted in Polynesia. They admire a tree on their island as holy. Do you pick an axe and chop it because it is just a tree and the people need to learn this lesson ?

    Considering the treatment of indigenous people and their sacred customs by the (mostly Catholic) missionaries across the globe, this is an ironic choice of a hypothetical. Leaving that aside, it has been pointed out repeatedly (most recently by Wowbagger, upthread) that this is not a comparable situation. PZ did not ransack a church and abscond with the host leaving the stench of brimstone in his wake. Someone sent him a wafer, he dealt with it in the privacy of his own home, and he posted the photograph to prove a point. Now, if your hypothetical Polynesians believed that photographs of the tree contained the renewable, infinite spirit of the tree, and someone took a photograph of the tree and threw darts at it or burned it or something, this would be a better analogy than what you propose. The end result being that NO TREES WERE ACTUALLY HARMED in the destruction of the symbol. Similarly, no one drove a nail through the actual flesh of Jesus in Morris, MN last week. A symbol was destroyed. You don’t have to like it or agree with the choice, but please keep it in perspective.

  161. #161 TSK
    July 29, 2008

    This is the crux of the matter, being a group implies that there are others which are NOT in the group, these are the enemies!

    Yes, these bankers on the other street of our university…untrustworthy, yes, yes. And these other
    people: blacks, feminists, commies, rednecks, right-wingers, Christians, Jews, Buddhists…oh my god, the list of enemies grows and grows. And all those countries in the vicinity…dear me…good that we have some weapons.

    They are INSANE, and, in the long run a danger to humanity.

    Ah, yes, INSANE…I presume that is the reason for the title “The God Delusion” and the pseudoscientific theory of thought viruses called memes embraced by atheists: In the long run all non-atheists should be treated as crazy. And dear me, they are a danger to humanity. How do we handle dangers to humanity ? I think we set up some Gulags, erm, hospitals and cure them as long as…well, they are cured.

    In fact exactly this happened in Russia and its satellite states: Under Lenin and Stalin the Russian-Orthodox church was purged.

    Whenever groups clashed the “best fitted” to the surrounding eco/geo/political conditions survived.

    Oh, how high is the ratio between believers and non-believers in the USA again ? The amount of money and support in the population ? Who will probably survive in the case of a clash ?

  162. #162 John Paul Minda
    July 29, 2008

    Hi, I realize I’m posting very late to this. I actually read Mixing Mem. for cognitive science, and I’ve never heard of PZ Myers until a few days ago. I’m a practicing Catholic and I’d just like to point out that the Catholic League is not an official branch of the church. As far as I can tell, they are hand-wringing “holier than thou types”. I’ve never heard of them either, actually, until a few days ago.

    I do not understand why they make such a big deal of this event. No reason to hand out Myers’s email.

    The Eucharist is an issue of faith and is real for believers. Since Myers presumably does not believe that the host he tossed in the trash was the body of Christ, is was really just a cracker. Even if consecrated. Or to put it another (more medieval) way, if you (as a Catholic) can believe that a host can simultaneously be both bread AND the Body of Christ then I suppose you can believe that the same host can be both consecrated AND unconsecrated.

    I do believe in the real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But I cannot explain it. I do not have to justify my beliefs to anyone, and I don’t think that Science and Faith interfere unless you want them to.

    FWIW, I think the stunt by Myers was kind of lame, and maybe I’d like to think that out of respect for students at his University who might be Catholic, he’d have refrained from doing it, but what’s done is done. God has not been harmed nor has the Church.

  163. #163 SC
    July 29, 2008

    Oh, Dr. X., you have no idea what you’re asking. I can drone on about this forever. In fact, I’ve just popped in my DVD of Berkeley in the Sixties in honor of the occasion. :)

    Har, har, har…then show the evidence.

    It is pretty damn hard to point down an exact cause or trigger or success for historical movements which you probably very well know. What caused the reformation, the loss of the power of the Roman-Catholic Church ? Was it the moral corruption, the selling of indulgences ? Was it Luther, Calvin, Zwingli ? Was it the peaceful rule of Charles V. ? The new scientific and geographic discoveries shattering the old view of the world ?

    It was social movements, and many of the people involved acted in very unruly ways indeed. Thousands of people were tortured and killed in the course of those struggles. Do you think the Reformation was a bunch of people sitting around debating? It’s not a period in which I specialize, but there are numerous books analyzing it.

    Let’s see two examples: The black movement and Indian independency. Both were triggered by nonviolent protesters and were ultimately successful.

    First, lets get something very straight. PZ Myers did not commit a violent act. He did not harm or threaten anyone. He threw away a cracker. That’s it. I’ve seen dozens of analogies in the course of this, ranging from the merely invalid to the truly insane (shmuel’s). Anyone who equates his actions with violence doesn’t have a clue what violence is. You should see here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/fresh_thread.php#comment-1011559

    Second, there is/was no single “black movement.” There were and are people with different goals, some more radical than others. I’m an anarchist, so I’m sensitive to the suggestion that the least radical group in any broader movement is the one whose goals are the important ones. The narrowest vision of civil rights becomes our historical protagonist. I don’t accept this. There were broader visions of human rights, political power, and economic justice that were not successfully achieved (for an illustration, see New Orleans). A better comparison to Martin Luther King would be Malcolm X or the Black Panthers. People generally talk about how more radical visions and practices affected the more moderate Civil Rights project, and almost never the reverse. (And if you read or watch the discussions about MLK from earlier this year – on Democracy Now!, for example – you’ll find that he was more radical than he’s been made out to be, and was moving even more in this direction when he was murdered.) Same goes for India. “Independence” was not the only goal. Gandhi and many others had a radical vision for the country, including many Kropotkinesque elements. If you think social justice has been achieved in India, you may want to inform, for example, Vandana Shiva and the farmers’ movement. This multiplicity of goals has to be taken into account when determining the effectiveness of various actions.

    What you’re also overlooking is that acts that challenge will always be perceived as aggressive and over-the-line by opponents. The actions of people in the Civil Rights movement were no exception. The idea that students would protest at restaurants and hotels where decent people just wanted to enjoy themselves or march through quiet, middle-class neighborhoods was seen as intrusive, aggressive, and an imposition. The people who have power will always define challenging actions as uncivil and dangerous. Here’s UCB president Clark Kerr talking about a free-speech sit-in in 1965 (imagine it punctuated by boos from the students):

    The departmental chairmen believe that the acts of civil disobedience on December 2nd and 3rd were unwarranted and that they obstruct rational and fair consideration of the grievances brought forward by the students. There are a small number of individuals, I regret to say, who are interested in fomenting a crisis merely for the sake of crisis. They hope that continuing chaos will bring about a total revolution and their own particular concept of utopia. The University supports the powers of persuasion against the use of force, the constructive act as against the destructive blow, respect for the rights of others, opposition to passion and hate, the reasoned argument as against the simplistic slogan. The academic world and the people of this state expect of us conduct commensurate with our past achievements and our high capacities. We should expect no less of ourselves.

    Sound familiar? Remember – this was an administration that was having student leaders arrested, prohibiting people from engaging in political activities on campus, and a few moments after this lecture had Mario Savio physically hauled off of the dais to prevent him from speaking. But the social relations in place are never themselves seen as aggressive – only the attempts to change them. (And I’ll add that the FSM’s victory followed shortly after this speech, with a favorable vote from the faculty.)

    Your use of “aggressive” to describe PZ’s action is silly (again – it was a cracker), but it’s an important point. What is often difficult to remember is how actions that we might consider tame because they’ve become part of our culture were seen as threatening and aggressive at the time (heck, people who oppose equal rights for gay people are offended by their being gay in public). Showing open disrespect for authority, calling policemen names, ridiculing the university administration in words – students doing these things in the mid-‘60s were seen as behaving outrageously and beyond the pale. When someone at Pharyngula kept accusing PZ of having done something “antisocial,” I knew he was on the right track. We shouldn’t let others define the boundaries of civility in their own interest.

    We also have to remember that there are many audiences involved, and not least among them are atheists and agnostics (whether or not they’re publicly “out”). In this case, of course, not everyone is going to go out and start trashing “consecrated” wafers, but people have participated in it indirectly, and it has changed many of them. Someone just wrote on Pharyngula the other night that this episode has emboldened him to be more outspoken when people expect him to go along with their religious nonsense. It is important to be able to say “No, I don’t believe what you do. I don’t respect your beliefs or the desperation with which you cling to your superstitions. To the extent that you seek to influence public policy based on your beliefs, I will fight you. And I don’t have to pretend to respect your beliefs or allow you to intimidate people merely for not following your rituals. Your beliefs are not sacred and if you bring them into the public sphere you should be prepared to defend them.” That more people will now do that is indeed an important outcome.

    Geh. I wish I could cite my dissertation (my name is in my email and it’s on ProQuest, so Chris can certainly look it up if he wishes). What I found was that beliefs and attitudes changed primarily through action. The movement I studied was a radical one, whose members relied on direct action but participated with other, less radical, groups in social-justice campaigns. So there were immediate goals as well as long-term goals for cultural transformation. It isn’t always easy to say how successful they were at achieving the more immediate goals (success and failure being influenced by a number of factors), and they did sometimes fail. But they were often successful by almost any measure, in a way that would surprise a lot of people. They wrote a lot. They debated a lot. But the changes in local culture came about largely because people were participating in public, direct actions. It wasn’t easy, but attitudes of deference and submission are, I’ve found, based in practices of deference and submission. Breaking free of those and engaging in new practices is what changes attitudes. They were remarkably successful at cultural transformation in the long term, and, interestingly, both the practices and the attitudes of insubordination remain in that locality.

    I saw the opposite myself when participating in a march against the looming Iraq war in NYC in 2003. After marching for several blocks chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” we came upon a handful of policemen at an intersection. There were no barricades up yet, but they were telling us that we couldn’t continue. We were at the front of the march, with thousands of people behind us, and we just stood there, kind of dumbfounded, trying to talk them into letting us through, until people simply started to drift away. My friend and I eventually went into a bar to get warm, and people came in later and told us that some kids had tried to cross the intersection and the police had beaten them. I felt guilty and ashamed. We couldn’t cross a street. In our own city. Protesting a war that was being waged in our name. We deserve some of the blame for Free Speech Zones and the like. If we had all linked arms and forged across that intersection, it would have done more good and changed more people than a thousand articles about the erosion of our right to protest. But we didn’t. We have to start crossing streets even when the police tell us not to, not bowing down before other people’s superstitions while letting them claim some special social status, and being openly, “flamboyantly,” gay (I’m not gay, but you get my point). It’s the only way things are going to change.

    Look, there are always important debates to be had about goals and the actions used to advance them. What I’ve found troubling is the attitude that I’ve seen a lot of that seems to amount to “I disapprove of what you did and it makes me uncomfortable. Therefore I’m not going to try to understand your motives and I’m going to deem it futile and counterproductive despite any evidence to the contrary.” If you want a “scientific” discussion of the Webster Cook incident, I give you this: Catholics believe some righteously ridiculous mumbo-jumbo. When some kid didn’t in their view show sufficient respect for this bullshit, they went after him. Their irrationality is contrary to the progress of reason and science, and their actions are often contrary to human rights. Anyone who believes in science or human rights should support efforts to challenge those beliefs, the idea that they are sacred, and their power.

    Incidentally, I recently received this notice about a new film. I’ve highlighted what I see as a central aspect:

    HEART OF THE FACTORY
    A film by Virna Molina and Ernesto Ardito

    The film looks at the life of a group of workers, men and women, inhabitants of the Argentinean Patagonia. These workers start a fight to stop the deaths and accidents that happen in the factory where they
    work. They live complex and dangerous conflicts and they are taking more and more commitment, something many of them had never imagined could happen. These strong episodes are affecting their perception of the reality, of the world. No one now can see himself or herself like the human he or she used to be. Something broke, something has changed and cannot return to the original place. In a poor country looted by its own governments and businessmen, the workers of Zanon Ceramic take the factory in their own hands when the owner closes it. They start to produce ceramics again, but without bosses. This is a permanent
    challenge where every day they have to fight against a political and economic system that tries to boycott them. Their biggest obstacle though does not come from the outside. It is about their own fears inculcated by this society. Although many of them do not know it, if they win the battle in their consciences they will open the door to
    build a completely different world.

  164. #164 Dr X
    July 29, 2008

    SC wrote:

    Oh, Dr. X., you have no idea what you�re asking. I can drone on about this forever. In fact, I�ve just popped in my DVD of Berkeley in the Sixties in honor of the occasion. :)

    Har, har, har…then show the evidence.

    It is pretty damn hard to point down an exact cause or trigger or success for historical movements which you probably very well know. What caused the reformation, the loss of the power of the Roman-Catholic Church ? Was it the moral corruption, the selling of indulgences ? Was it Luther, Calvin, Zwingli ? Was it the peaceful rule of Charles V. ? The new scientific and geographic discoveries shattering the old view of the world ?

    Hi SC,

    I (Dr X) didn’t ask you anything and that’s not me that you’re quoting. TSK who wrote that.

  165. #165 SC
    July 29, 2008

    Hi Dr. X,

    Sorry about the confusion. I’m sure you don’t want the blame for inciting that rant. ;)

  166. #166 Lepas
    July 29, 2008

    SC, honestly I don’t understand which “movement” you might have in mind in this specific case. There are two sides of the question. The first is that I can’t think of a single social movement having among its goals that of being “offensive” to others (perhaps I am blind to this possibility because I wouldn’t like to see this happening).

    To put it differently, PZ performed the “desecration” after reading of Cook’s case, but he didn’t say that the desecration was a means to defend Cook’s civil rights (in which case, everyone who cares for civil rights would have to do the same). He said that the desecration was a means to show that he (PZ) has no respect for irrational beliefs, and that he had the right to behave accordingly. The whole act just demonstrated what he said, and what everybody already knew. Unless he plans to rally his followers in a public place for another ritual desecration, I don’t see any movement arising from this.

    But even if you take PZ’s act as part of a movement, I have still to understand this movement’s nature (this is the other side of the question).

    I see a difference between secularism and atheism, not just a difference in the meaning of the terms, but a difference about the kind of movements they may inspire. Let’s say that secularism is linked to civil rights, when there is plenty of opportunity for social movements. What about atheism? I am probably outdated, but if I had to undertake the organization of a social movement for atheism, I would try to address at least some of the causes of so many people’s misery. I think (this could be a wrong assumption) that addressing the “real” grievances of people, as opposed to the imaginary ones such as lack of respect for their religion, feelings, identity, is what distinguishes (progressive) social movements from mass mobilizations serving the goals of reactionary leaders.

    I don’t see today’s “militant atheists” as deeply involved in issues of social justice. They may well form a “movement” in some sense, but a social movement? So I remain unpersuaded by the parallels drawn between the cracker’s case and social movements.

  167. #167 Doctor Spurt
    July 30, 2008

    I’m curious – it seems like by the dichotomy on which the ‘argument’ here seems to depend, that Rosa Parks turns out to be engaged in circus-like attention-whoring? It surely wasn’t frank, reasoned discussion in response to something offensive. Maybe we need more flexible ways of thinking about this stuff than your post seems to allow.

  168. #168 Shmuel
    July 30, 2008

    “it seems like by the dichotomy on which the ‘argument’ here seems to depend, that Rosa Parks turns out to be engaged in circus-like attention-whoring?”

    Too rich! PZ as Rosa Parks!

  169. #169 SC
    July 30, 2008

    Good questions. Lepas.

    SC, honestly I don’t understand which “movement” you might have in mind in this specific case. There are two sides of the question. The first is that I can’t think of a single social movement having among its goals that of being “offensive” to others (perhaps I am blind to this possibility because I wouldn’t like to see this happening).

    I don’t know about ultimate goals, but plenty of groups and movements have used ridicule and deliberately provocative or offensive behavior (as distinct from what I described above, which is any challenging behavior that is then interpreted as outrageous or offensive). One book I highly recommend is Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World (especially relevant are the notions of degradation and grotesque realism). More recently, artistic-cultural movements like Dadaism/surrealism, playwrights involved with social movements like Dario Fo, the British punk movement, and various movements for sexual liberation have also done so. (I’m not saying anything about the content of these movements – just that they have made effective use of deliberate offense in seeking cultural transformation.) There are hazards and drawbacks to provocation and offense, and there’s often no clear line separating it from pointless shock tactics (though in this case we have a specific context to do so) on the one hand or simply living your life (though part of the point is often that it is just this) on the other. But my point is that offending people’s sensibilities is a longstanding and often effective means of promoting cultural change.

    And it’s important, because what is offensive is not transcultural but varies by time and place, and “offense” is often a means of social control. It is offensive in some places for women to enter some buildings if they’re menstruating or to go out in public uncovered. It is offensive for, in one era, a white woman and a black man to kiss in public, or in our own in many places for two men to do so. It is offensive to openly disrespect or ridicule people’s religious beliefs, even when they are assaulting, threatening, and trying to destroy the lives of people who don’t abide by them and when these are the basis for keeping others from having access to contraception or the ability to marry. If you want to see real authoritarianism, by the way, see here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/tonight_on_the_history_channel.php#comment-1019545

    To put it differently, PZ performed the “desecration” after reading of Cook’s case, but he didn’t say that the desecration was a means to defend Cook’s civil rights (in which case, everyone who cares for civil rights would have to do the same).

    That doesn’t follow.

    He said that the desecration was a means to show that he (PZ) has no respect for irrational beliefs, and that he had the right to behave accordingly. The whole act just demonstrated what he said, and what everybody already knew. Unless he plans to rally his followers in a public place for another ritual desecration, I don’t see any movement arising from this.

    He has expressed his motives eloquently. I think you are misrepresenting them, though the part that I put in bold is key..

    But even if you take PZ’s act as part of a movement, I have still to understand this movement’s nature (this is the other side of the question).
    I see a difference between secularism and atheism, not just a difference in the meaning of the terms, but a difference about the kind of movements they may inspire. Let’s say that secularism is linked to civil rights, when there is plenty of opportunity for social movements. What about atheism?

    There is a “family” of movements relating to secularism (which is itself a complex notion); freethought; skepticism; the promotion of science education as against irrationality and dogma and a scientific basis for medicine, etc.; and the promotion of atheism, respect for atheism, and the protection of the rights of atheists. Let’s call them broadly “reason movements.” What is little recognized, what this episode brought to the fore, and what PZ’s action helped to clarify, is that in all of these cases – as in any movements for freedom or rights, for that matter – a central element of the problem that must be overcome, beyond making reasoned criticisms and challenges at the institutional level, are the everyday behaviors of deference and silence. How can we expect to make a case for a reasoned public debate concerning reproduction and sexuality if we cannot publicly challenge, mock, or act irreverently toward religious beliefs? The guy who posted on Pharyngula the other day saying he now felt emboldened did not say that he was now going to go out and jeer at priests. He said that now, when someone says “I’ll pray for you,” rather than smiling and remaining silent, he’s going to say (I’m paraphrasing) “I don’t believe in God, but I appreciate the sentiment.” That’s huge (and it’s sad that it is, in 2008). Atheists are in situations like this almost every day, and to feel liberated to refuse to go along meekly with treating these beliefs as sacred and to question them openly, both individually in our own lives and collectively, is absolutely fundamental to moving toward a more free, open, and reasonable society.

    I am probably outdated, but if I had to undertake the organization of a social movement for atheism, I would try to address at least some of the causes of so many people’s misery. I think (this could be a wrong assumption) that addressing the “real” grievances of people, as opposed to the imaginary ones such as lack of respect for their religion, feelings, identity, is what distinguishes (progressive) social movements from mass mobilizations serving the goals of reactionary leaders.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that this is a major issue (it’s also the case that social-justice movements are not sufficiently attentive to religious oppression), though it’s irrelevant to the discussion at hand. I’ve taken to posting a link to a work by an anarchist over at Pharyngula about once a week. (I don’t know if anyone actually reads them, but I like to share and to propagandize. :)) Here’s one I posted recently from the great Voltairine de Cleyre:

    http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bright/cleyre/etf.html

    I will note, though, that, as anarchists have always recognized (“no gods, no masters”), bowing down before religious authority and submitting to political and economic authority are part of the same problem. Thus challenges in one area will inevitably bleed over into others.

    I don’t see today’s “militant atheists” as deeply involved in issues of social justice. They may well form a “movement” in some sense, but a social movement? So I remain unpersuaded by the parallels drawn between the cracker’s case and social movements.

    You’re confused about the definition of a social movement. Nazism was a social movement. They don’t need to have a specific content.

  170. #170 SC
    July 30, 2008

    Oh, and I’d like to point out that my link to Pharyngula in my previous comment is to a post about the show “Evolve: Eyes” last night on The History Channel. PZ Myers wrote about it a while back, and the show’s producers and others involved responded. The show’s airing was delayed, and this was quite possibly due to the makers’ taking into account the suggestions of PZ and others about getting the science right. Last night, he live-blogged about the show, for which I was grateful since I don’t get that channel. I learned quite a bit from his commentary and that of others in all of the threads pertaining to the show. To say that Pharyngula does not deal with science is a transparent falsehood.

  171. #171 Bee
    July 30, 2008

    Thank you, SC, for your well written posts, better reasoned and better informed than any I could make. As a veteran foot-soldier of the Women’s Liberation Movement of the sixties and early seventies, I clearly remember the exaggerated establishment responses to even the simplest acts of dissent, and the constant exhortations of well-meaning people that we tone it down, speak quietly, avoid direct conflict, go slowly, and don’t offend anyone.

    I live in Canada, where religious people for the most part are not perturbed by atheism, and certainly atheism would never be a hindrance to attaining a political position – the opposite, in reality, since people here are suspicious of poiticians who trumpet their personal god-beliefs too loudly. The majority of our population, including theists, are quite happy with our secular approach to making laws and encouraging social safety nets.

    Looking from outside the US, I see your country as very badly in need of a shift in attitude away from granting too much power to religious sensitivities. What happens in the US inevitably causes echos in Canada, and I do not want to see my neices and nephews forced to wage this old battle between religion and reality sometime down the road because our enormous neighbour has become a nation governed by some kind of Taliban Lite theocracy.

    I’m sure many of you reading the above paragraph will see it as a gross exaggeration of the situation, a wildly dystopic fantasy, but consider the boiled frog analogy. The water’s just warm for the moment.

    There may not be a cohesive secular/atheist movement in the US, with specific goals to be met, but every act like PZ’s has the potential to resonate in the thoughts of many people, and I see the aftershock in this one case is reminding a great many people of the real meaning of freedom of speech, and the real meaning of separation of church and state, and possibly the real meaning of understanding history.

  172. #172 Dr X
    July 30, 2008

    “There are hazards and drawbacks to provocation and offense, and there�s often no clear line separating it from pointless shock tactics (though in this case we have a specific context to do so) on the one hand or simply living your life (though part of the point is often that it is just this) on the other.

    Yes, and that opens the question of whether PZ’s tactics will have some desired effect. First, a caveat: The desired effect isn’t necessarily some desire everyone shares in common. When we talk about desired effects, we’re presuming a great deal — there are covert and unconscious desires and stated or conscious desires and the latter sometimes serve as rationalizations for the former. Although this is germane to the discussion, let’s leave this aside and assume that all of PZ’s supporters share the same well-defined and known desire for a particular outcome.

    So, what about hazards and drawbacks? At the least, we would need to look more closely at the PZ situation to judge it, rather than assume we know what the effects will be.

    If we blindly assume that offense will bring people around to our point of view, then we could argue that offending, insulting and humiliating detainees at Guantanamo is actually an effective way to reform anti-modern Muslims and terrorists. One could argue that insult and ridicule has actually been a big favor to the Islamic world and an effective method to bring about a result in our favor. We could also assume that American right-wing insult and ridicule of Europeans will actually make Europeans more American-friendly and more cooperative with our efforts. We could even argue that Bill Donahue’s insulting commentaries will convert atheists and turn Protestants Catholic.

    I say this to point out that it is important to examine the effect of offending people with more subtlety, making more distinctions and looking at the dynamics of specific situations. I think many who believe that PZ’s action will bring about the desired (whatever that is) reaction, haven’t brought that kind of subtlety to their arguments.

  173. #173 SC
    July 30, 2008

    So, what about hazards and drawbacks? At the least, we would need to look more closely at the PZ situation to judge it, rather than assume we know what the effects will be.

    The hazards and drawbacks of which you speak are not what I was talking about at all.

    If we blindly assume that offense will bring people around to our point of view,

    What an absurd mischaracterization of my argument(s). I responded to Lepas that gestures that are intended to provoke and even offend (perhaps I should add “at first”) have been used effectively. (Incidentally, artists do it all the time.) I don’t for a moment “blindly assume” that they should be used or will be effective in every context. I’ve stated that a neglected audience/participant in this case, as I see it, is other atheists and agnostics. Another is Catholics who are either “going along” without a solid belief in the tenets of their religion or believers who nonetheless appreciate human liberty. I’ve now read a good number of posts at Pharyngula, several from today alone, from people in these groups who say they were offended originally, but have come around to see the point of the exercise and/or to be more outspoken themselves. As for the True Believers who think throwing away a cracker is the same as physical assault, rape, murder, or some other vile crime against a human being, they will likely not come around. However – and this is a big however – it may well be much more difficult for them in the future to harass and intimidate people for not showing reverence for their superstitions, and possibly more difficult for them to impose their beliefs on others (google constitution ecuador catholic church for an example of a contemporary case in which these issues are at play).

    then we could argue that offending, insulting and humiliating detainees at Guantanamo is actually an effective way to reform anti-modern Muslims and terrorists.

    Oh. My. Cracker. The only thing that has been desecrated more than the wafer in the course of this fracas is the poor, tortured analogy (who will speak for the analogy???). I thought I had heard them all, but this one takes the Ritz. I’m not even going to dignify that with a response. If you want to read my extended thoughts on torture, see here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/hitchens_under_torture.php

    One could argue that insult and ridicule has actually been a big favor to the Islamic world and an effective method to bring about a result in our favor.

    Who are “we”? When people in the “Islamic world” stand up to theocratic governments, I support them however I can; if they want to use insult and ridicule, all the better. When women in those countries protest, I try to help (usually all I can do is spread the word as best I can). Way to leave out the context completely. I vowed not to wade into the analogy game, as I don’t think there is a suitable one here (fortunately, there aren’t a lot of religions that hold that a baked good is their god), but the closest I can come is if a woman in a Moslem country were assaulted and threatened with expulsion for showing too much skin on a university campus, and then a female college professor in the same country protested by wearing a tube top and miniskirt to teach the next week. (Also far from perfect, I know, but better.) The closest your analogies come is to say “PZ Myers said and did something that offended a lot of people,” “Anne Coulter also does things that offend people,” therefore these actions are analogous. It’s silly. Please reread the previous comments about the specific meaning of disrespect toward sacred beliefs in this specific case.

  174. #174 SC
    July 30, 2008

    Thank you, SC, for your well written posts, better reasoned and better informed than any I could make.

    I’m sure that’s not true, but thanks, Bee. I appreciated your post, as well, especially this part:

    As a veteran foot-soldier of the Women’s Liberation Movement of the sixties and early seventies, I clearly remember the exaggerated establishment responses to even the simplest acts of dissent, and the constant exhortations of well-meaning people that we tone it down, speak quietly, avoid direct conflict, go slowly, and don’t offend anyone.

    I think a major problem that I’ve had in discussing this with some people here is that they haven’t really been involved in movements that have faced strong opposition, and so don’t appreciate this. From a younger woman who has benefited from your struggles, thanks!

  175. #175 Dr X
    July 30, 2008

    What an absurd mischaracterization of my argument(s).

    SC,

    I’m very sorry about that. I was editing in Word and I posted a version that did not include the statement that I am definitely not talking about your post or your observations. That would indeed be an absurd mischaracterization of your comments. Indeed, I saw your statement about advantages and drawbacks as furthering the discussion. What I was commenting on is the arguments by others who fail to consider the possibility that offense may bring about results other than those consciously intended. I’m not attacking your observations or contribution to the discussion.

  176. #176 Dr X
    July 30, 2008

    The misunderstanding provides us with an interesting situation for reflection. Maybe I’m wrong, but you sounded as if you were offended when you thought I was absurdly mischaracterizing your position. Maybe you weren’t, but if you were, how did that affect your position?

  177. #177 Dr X
    July 30, 2008
    “One could argue that insult and ridicule has actually been a big favor to the Islamic world and an effective method to bring about a result in our favor.”

    Where are you seeing the word “we.” I’m not sure what you’re referring to so I don’t feel I can respond. Do you mean “our” or were you referring to something else?

  178. #178 Danio
    July 30, 2008

    Dr. X said:

    What I was commenting on is the arguments by others who fail to consider the possibility that offense may bring about results other than those consciously intended.

    Looking back over your posts I’m having trouble determining what *you* believe PZ’s ‘consciously intended consequences’ were, as well as what the alternative, unanticipated results to which you refer might be. There seems to be quite a broad spectrum of interpretation of these events, so perhaps some clarification on your position would be helpful in furthering the discussion?

    Bee–another thank you from a woman scientist who has reaped the rewards of your trailblazing!

    SC–thanks for your ardent and eloquent arguments in support of PZ. I completely agree, and I am very much enjoying your sociological/historical perspective on the issue.

  179. #179 SC
    July 30, 2008

    I’m very sorry about that. I was editing in Word and I posted a version that did not include the statement that I am definitely not talking about your post or your observations.

    No problem. Thanks for clearing it up.

    Where are you seeing the word “we.” I’m not sure what you’re referring to so I don’t feel I can respond. Do you mean “our” or were you referring to something else?

    I was referring mainly to “cooperative with our efforts.” I was assuming you were talking about the US in that paragraph, and implying that I shared the same interests or program as the US government or others in my country.

    The misunderstanding provides us with an interesting situation for reflection. Maybe I’m wrong, but you sounded as if you were offended when you thought I was absurdly mischaracterizing your position. Maybe you weren’t, but if you were, how did that affect your position?

    Tee hee. That’s so, I don’t know, quaint that you would read that as offended. You really haven’t spent much time at Pharyngula, have you? :) When I’m offended, you know it.* But just for the sake of the discussion, Chris’s characterization of the commenters at Pharyngula did get my hackles up. Perhaps initially this led to a defensive posture, but quickly I turned to engagement with his “arguments” (since his claim was that we are incapable of rational debate, this would prove him wrong in two ways). Had he actually made any serious substantive points, which he did not, my offense at his name calling and attacks would not have prevented me from taking them into account. But that is because I never approached this uncritically to begin with – my own views on the matter were arrived at through rational consideration drawing upon my personal and academic knowledge, listening to others’ opinions (in thousands of comments on Pharyngula) and seeing the evidence. I have something substantive to back up my position, whether people are ultimately convinced by it or not. And this is equally true of many others.

    It’s a very different story with the some of the religious people involved here, and their “supporters.” They use (and the growing level of hyperbole has me increasingly convinced that this is indeed somewhat disingenuous) their alleged offense to preclude any rational discussion of their positions or beliefs, which wouldn’t stand up to it. They ask, in the name of civility, to be treated like children rather than equal citizens, while at the same time hiding behind their, what I’ve been calling, sacredity blankets to influence public policy. I’ve been seeing Dr. Jay Gordon use this “you’re all mean!” ploy over at Respectful Insolence the past few days, and I’ve had it. Civility demands a critical examination of evidence and beliefs, including one’s own, and we as participants in a democratic society should welcome and encourage opportunities to do so. (I still haven’t heard any response to the “ethics of belief” piece I linked to above…)

    SC–thanks for your ardent and eloquent arguments in support of PZ. I completely agree, and I am very much enjoying your sociological/historical perspective on the issue.

    Wow – thanks, Danio! I was actually thinking the same thing about your comments here, and in fact have enjoyed your comments very much in general.

    *Dude, I’m an anarchist. Do you really think I don’t regularly hear critical and offensive things said about my philosophy or “people”?

  180. #180 Woozle
    July 30, 2008

    Been busy, sorry.

    I’m primarily a pharyngula reader, yes, but I wouldn’t say I’m not really interested in discussing this. See, for example, my partial breakdown of the very long dialog I had with John Pieret, another ScienceBlogger who took a stance similar (but not identical) to yours.

    I just find it frustrating when I argue against an assertion made by the other party, and then their reply takes for granted the truth of the assertion. I think you’ve been bothered by the same thing, in the other direction. I don’t think there’s any willful misdirection going on, in either your case or Pieret’s (or mine); just some subtle yet crucial difference in how we each see the situation. I’d like to figure out what that is.

    Perhaps it will help matters if I don’t refute, but agree on some points.

    1. I don’t think you’re attention-whoring. That seems rather an absurd accusation to me. So do any arguments about how many science articles you’ve posted vs. how many PZ has posted. Those are totally ad-hominem and don’t address the issues you’ve raised.

    2. In general, it’s better to have a calm, rational discussion over a disagreement than to take actions which one knows in advance the other party will almost certainly find disagreeable.

    3. Your position is a valid position to take, even if I disagree with it. (i.e. it’s not outright absurd or false as are some of the cracker-defender arguments, e.g. the latest from the Catholic clergy.) I don’t think you’re “an idiot”. I’ve known some very intelligent people who could not follow a chain of logic with a map and a GPS device, and your cognitive abilities seem to be well in excess of theirs.

    4. PZ’s action had the effect of diverting a lot of attention to him personally.

    Now… as I understand it, your argument is (paraphrase): PZ’s desecration was a pointless, antagonistic display which accomplishes nothing positive while alienating a lot of people and generally making a mess of things. PZ did this in the full knowledge that would be hurtful to the feelings of others and not accomplish anything positive in exchange, which is not rational or civilized behavior.

    Let me know if I’ve got it. I don’t want to go flailing at strawmen of my own invention, which seems to be at least partly what was happening earlier.

  181. #181 Dr X
    July 30, 2008

    “Looking back over your posts I’m having trouble determining what *you* believe PZ’s ‘consciously intended consequences’ were, as well as what the alternative, unanticipated results to which you refer might be.”

    I don’t know what his conscious intentions were. What do you think they were?

    I’m not aware that PZ wants to change any laws. There are no laws against what he did. The death threats against Mr. Cook are already illegal. If Mr. Cook’s legal rights are the issue, I’d ask if there aren’t better ways to make sure the law affords him the protections he’s already entitled to. I don’t know in the long run if PZ’s actions will help or hurt Cook in any way, but would it matter if PZ’s actions created an environment that actually made things worse in Mr. Cook’s life? I’d add that I applaud PZ’s post encouraging readers to write to the university insisting that Cook’s rights be protected.

    As for unintended consequences of Pz’s posts, I don’t know that this will be anything other than a passing mini-frenzy in a select corner of the blog world. I really am saying that giving insult and offense can have effects other than those we intend. I fear that simply offering my own hypotheses about possible unintended effects will just lead to endless discussion about why each of my particular hypotheses is definitely wrong and not based on any evidence. So, I’d ask you to consider the matter another way.

    It is interesting that many of us probably appreciate the deeply negative effects that deliberate insult can have on people in our personal dealings, but it seems so hard to imagine the possible negative consequences of broadcasting insult to thousands of people through a blog. What are the dynamics underlying this inconsistency? Could this be because we don’t personally have to deal with many of those negative effects when insult is delivered at a distance to people we don’t deal with directly? At a distance, we merely experience the mental satisfaction of a savaged villain without personally encountering the effects of the insults. And for blog owners, there can be payoffs that don’t exist in one’s personal dealings.

    I’d suggest when we act, we actually ask ourselves what our goals are and if we are really likely to further those goals through through our actions. When we know the deliberate and even accidental insult and offense can do so much damage in our personal dealings, should we not be just a little more circumspect in our public application of insult and and offense?

  182. #182 Danio
    July 30, 2008

    I don’t know what his conscious intentions were. What do you think they were?

    I’ll let the good man speak for himself:

    …my target is a handful of virtually inedible crackers in my possession. It’s not much, and all I can say in my defense is�it’s a start. A very small start. I’m going to need lots and lots of people to rise up and follow suit, subjecting old, dishonest institutions of hardened dogma to our chief weapon of ridicule and deris�our two weapons of ridicule, derision and laughter�no, three weapons of ridicule, derision, laughter, and skeptici�oh, never mind. You know what I mean. Get to work.

    (full post with quote in context can be found at: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/the_great_desecration.php)

    See also Overton window

    would it matter if PZ’s actions created an environment that actually made things worse in Mr. Cook’s life?

    If things did ‘get worse’ in Mr. Cook’s life as a result, I would be not be inclined to blame PZ’s non-violent demonstration in any way. However, the person whose opinion counts most here is Mr. Cook’s. I haven’t heard his opinion, if any, to how the whole Myers v. CL thing has played out thus far. Perhaps he is more focused on his standing at UCF, which has been challenged by the Campus Catholic organization, and if so I can’t blame him a bit. I think it is undeniable that the situation is now bigger than him, though, and the thought that people might refrain from expressing themselves in a manner appropriately demonstrative of their views for fear of repercussions gives me the willies.

    It is interesting that many of us probably appreciate the deeply negative effects that deliberate insult can have on people in our personal dealings, but it seems so hard to imagine the possible negative consequences of broadcasting insult to thousands of people through a blog.

    First, all those who were offended by this incident made a choice to seek out the information and follow the ‘arc of desecration’, if you will. It was not rammed down their throats. No one forced to watch. I’m sure a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have know PZ from Adam followed the link that Bill Donohue provided–whose fault is that? More to the point, I don’t think for a minute that PZ did not predict many of the consequences of his actions. He chose to carry them out anyway. That should tell you something about the courage of his convictions, particularly as people are still calling for his dismissal from the UM (for exercising free speech in the privacy of his own home, on his own time) and issuing uncategorically disturbing threats of personal harm.

  183. #183 Danio
    July 30, 2008

    All those funky characters strewn through PZ’s quote were ellipses in the original. Sorry for bungling the transfer.

  184. #184 Dr X
    July 30, 2008

    “..my target is a handful of virtually inedible crackers in my possession. It’s not much, and all I can say in my defense is�it’s a start. A very small start. I’m going to need lots and lots of people to rise up and follow suit, subjecting old, dishonest institutions of hardened dogma to our chief weapon of ridicule and deris�our two weapons of ridicule, derision and laughter�no, three weapons of ridicule, derision, laughter, and skeptici�oh, never mind. You know what I mean. Get to work.”

    So he wants to subject hardened institutions to ridicule. That sounds like a means to something, but what is the something — what is the aim or desired change he is after? There is no outcome described other than the experience of ridiculing or beings ridiculed, depending on one’s position as subject or object. If that’s it — if that’s the whole thing — it’s indistinguishable to me from an adolescent pissing contest. Is that desirable and are there no sequelae of any kind for those involved on either end of the ridicule?

    If things did ‘get worse’ in Mr. Cook’s life as a result, I would be not be inclined to blame PZ’s non-violent demonstration in any way.”

    I didn’t ask you what you’d be inclined to think about the effect of the post on Mr. Cook’s situation. I asked you if things got worse because of what PZ did, would that alter your opinion about whether his post was a good thing.

  185. #185 Dr X
    July 30, 2008

    Tee hee. That’s so, I don’t know, quaint that you would read that as offended.

    I don’t want to have a pissing contest with you and I haven’t laughed at you. I really do think that’s counterproductive. It’s disrespectful, it persuades me of nothing and I just lost a bit of respect for you as a person. You’re a very bright, well-educated man or woman. You shouldn’t debase yourself this way. You have the tools for much better than that.

  186. #186 ildi
    July 30, 2008

    “I just lost a bit of respect for you as a person.”

    Ditto for you, Dr X, since you can’t seem to be able to tell the difference between impassioned and offended.

    “You shouldn’t debase yourself this way.”

    Pompous, much?

  187. #187 Danio
    July 30, 2008

    Dr X:

    So he wants to subject hardened institutions to ridicule. That sounds like a means to something, but what is the something — what is the aim or desired change he is after? There is no outcome described other than the experience of ridiculing or beings ridiculed, depending on one’s position as subject or object.

    Forgive me if I have assumed that you know more of the ‘backstory’ than you do, Doc. PZ, Dawkins, Dennett and others have over the past several years made concerted efforts to encoure non-believers/humanists/freethinkers to be more vocal about their beliefs, or lack thereof. To wit, in Western society, where freedom of speech is generally valued, religion has enjoyed a singular immunity from criticism. Political, economic, scientific and social opinions are fair game for intellectual inquiry and rigorous debate, as well as, on occasion, derision and ridicule. Yet it is generally thought of as ‘taboo’ in our culture to criticise anyone’s religion–not even criticism of the person, you understand, but of the dogma itself. They opine that this ‘shield’ from analysis or critical inquiry has allowed superstitious dogma to flourish long after its usefulness to society has expired, simply because most people are too polite and considerate to question these beliefs.

    PZ’s demonstration was just one of numerous other means–by him and others–of attempting to challenge this taboo. His call to action quoted above was an attempt to further shift the Overton window on religion. To demonstrate that people are fully entitled to believe whatever religious dogma they choose, but that other people have every right to question those beliefs, particularly if they encroach on public life in some way, or if the believers attempt to hold anyone outside the fold to the tenets of their beliefs.

    Thus, in my view, it is not at all a ‘pissing contest’, but rather a consciousness-raising effort. I have been a non-believer for going on 20 years now, but only in the past few years have I had the courage to declare this publicly. The opinions voiced by these so-called ‘new atheists’ gave me the courage to be open about my opinions on faith, and to discuss my rational worldview without shame or fear. I owe them as much as I owe ‘Bee’ and her fellow activists for crafting a society in which it is possible for me, 40 year old mother of two, wife of one, to be a (relatively) successful professional scientist.

    If you’re still in the ‘adolescent stunt’ camp after this, I don’t suppose there’s anything further I can say to change your mind. The issue is important enough to me to make this effort, however.

    I didn’t ask you what you’d be inclined to think about the effect of the post on Mr. Cook’s situation. I asked you if things got worse because of what PZ did, would that alter your opinion about whether his post was a good thing.

    No it would not, because PZ is not the one whose direct actions would be making things worse. PZ made a non-violent, symbolic statement. Anyone reacting to that statement should be held responsible for their own behavior.

    Oh, and re: your response to SC’s ‘tee hee’, forgive me for butting in, and I’m certain that SC is perfectly capable of explaining herself, but I did not read this as laughing at you. Rather, I think she was amused by the idea that you were interpreting her as ‘offended’, when she was, I think, just vigorously debating. I think she is rather enjoying making some fresh tracks over here on a topic that she is clearly very passionate about. As am I. Peace.

  188. #188 Dr X.
    July 30, 2008

    “I just lost a bit of respect for you as a person.”

    Ditto for you, Dr X, since you can’t seem to be able to tell the difference between impassioned and offended.

    I lost some respect for him because he resorted to ridicule. And I was actually more convinced by his response that he was offended. But, for the sake of argument, if I was mistaken, why would you lose respect for me? Do you lose respect for people simply because they’re mistaken? We all make mistakes sometimes and we misjudge situations sometimes. Merely being mistaken is not an issue of character. It’s completely normal. I even prefaced my comment by saying that I might be wrong.

    But laughing at people and demeaning people who are trying to have a discussion in good faith is an issue of character. It is disrespectful and my reaction to that was appropriate. I don’t think much of person who ridicules me when I’m discussing something in good faith with them. SC has presented himself as a serious academic. What is he doing laughing at people and ridiculing people who are earnestly trying to have a discussion with him?

    This is taking an interesting turn. Civility isn’t worthy of respect. Presumed mistakes are grounds for ridicule and incivility is admired. If you don’t see the problems with that, it’s because you don’t want to see the problem with that.

  189. #189 ildi
    July 31, 2008

    You need to turn your offend-o-meter down just a notch, Dr. X. I know you sincerely believe that you’re guarding the gates of civility against the barbarian hordes, but in reality it’s a method of controlling the discussion by trying to get people to focus on your delicate sensibilities – which is pretty much the point of this thread, no?. (It’s quite a stretch to say that being called quaint is being laughed at or demeaned.)

    Now, I’m going to ridicule you, just so you have a basis for comparison. In the immortal words of Monty Python:

    “Your mother is an hamster and your father smells of elderberries!”

  190. #190 ildi
    July 31, 2008

    If I’m going to quote, I should get my tenses right:

    “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”

  191. #191 Doctor Spurt
    July 31, 2008

    My earlier point wasn’t (I realise that Shmuel was being semi-playful in response) to equate PZ with Rosa Parks. It’s just that, as several posters here have pointed out, there most definitely are a wider range of forms of politically useful and defensible action than the “frank, reasoned discussion, or circus-like attention-whoring” dichotomy allows. There are certainly other kinds of utterance – declaring a meeting open, pronouncing two people married, etc., aren’t examples of either discussion or attention-whoring. Committment devices (in the game theoretic sense) are also neither. Actions that show seriousness are sometimes worth more than talk sometimes because talk is generally cheap.

  192. #192 Beowulff
    July 31, 2008

    Dr X., I read SC’s “tee hee” and “quaint” as an expression of her amusement, not as an expression of her ridicule. Maybe she could have been more clear, but I think the fact that you chose to take offense rather than give her the benefit of the doubt about these relatively harmless remarks, speaks more against your predispositions than against her ability to express herself clearly. Don’t forget, taking offense is a choice, and our choices are what define us.

  193. #193 SC
    July 31, 2008

    Oh, and re: your response to SC’s ‘tee hee’, forgive me for butting in, and I’m certain that SC is perfectly capable of explaining herself, but I did not read this as laughing at you. Rather, I think she was amused by the idea that you were interpreting her as ‘offended’, when she was, I think, just vigorously debating.

    That. (Thanks, Danio; also, I agree with everything you’ve said, and won’t even attempt to add to it, especially since trying to discuss this with Dr. Thinskin is looking increasingly futile.)

    Dr. X., how you gleaned offense from the first statement and ridicule from the second is absolutely beyond me. You may be trained in psychology, but evidently textual interpretation is not your strong suit. I am, though, somewhat irked that you insist on referring to me as “he” when I’ve stated here that I’m a woman and Danio has repeatedly referred to me as “she.”

    More generally, ildi said it best: “You need to turn your offend-o-meter down just a notch, Dr. X.”

  194. #194 Lepas
    July 31, 2008

    I think I am learning from my previous mistakes.

    I was misled by the fact that all this started with the Cook case. My thoughts were “here is a case where you can show that (some) Christians are no better than (some) Muslims when it comes to reacting to offenses to their religion: they can threaten or harm you just because of the special value they attach to some objects or rituals.” So I thought the point was asserting that nobody in a secular society has the right to threaten or harm others on the basis of principles that are not open to rational discussion. I thought you could (and should) make this point in such a way that most rational people (including Christians, or Muslims) could agree on it. The consequences I would have cared about were in terms of more or less opportunity for dialogue. The goal was to defend (advance) secularism and rationalism.

    But PZ’s point, as now I can see it, is different. The only way I can render it, is by analogy with what you would expect from an oppressed group: don’t accept what “they” (the oppressors) say about proper behavior, respect, customs – if you do, you are accepting the very reasons legitimizing your oppression. From this point of view, you still care about consequences, but in terms of your not being denied your rights. As a member of an oppressed group, you are not required to advance ideas about how society at large should be organized. Your goal is that “they” accept your rights, and adapt.

    After realizing this, I cannot say I disagree with PZ. I think, however, there should be some factual claims to be assessed: can the idea of an oppressed group be applied to atheists living in Western countries? is there some social mechanism ensuring that atheists are offered unequal opportunities in society? My answer would be “no”, but I am open to changing my mind if someone proves me wrong.

    I do see threats (big threats) to secularism and rationalism in Western societies, but I don’t see them as specifically directed against atheists. Then, as a matter of preferences, I prefer a secularist agenda because I find it closer to issues of social justice.

  195. #195 SC
    July 31, 2008

    An example of the polite civil discourse from which we’ve so lamentably fallen away:

    Were my protests against the downfall of our country wrong, because you might think they showed ingratitude? I admit that there was no lack of grief and misery in my complaints. But a man in my position, the position conferred upon me by the Senate and people of Rome, could not help that. And my words were restrained and friendly, never insulting. Surely that is real moderation – to protest about Antony and yet refrain from abuse!

    For what was left of Rome, Antony, owed its final annihilation to yourself. In your home everything had a price; and a truly sordid series of deals it was. Laws you passed, laws you caused to be put through in your interests, have never even been formally proposed. You admitted this yourself. You were an augur, yet you never took the auspices. You were a counsel, yet you blocked the legal right of other officials to exercise the veto. Your armed escort was shocking. You are a drink-sodden, sex-ridden wreck. Never a day passes in that ill-reputed house of yours without orgies of the most repulsive kind.

    In spite of this, I restricted myself in my speech to solemn complaints concerning the state of our nation. I said nothing personal about the man…

    Of course, this is just that brute Cicero (“Attack on an Enemy of Freedom (The Second Philippic against Antony),” 44 BC). We all know he never convinced anyone of anything.

  196. #196 Beowulff
    July 31, 2008

    SC wrote:

    I still haven’t heard any response to the ‘ethics of belief’ piece I linked to above

    I don’t think many will read it, if only because it’s a rather long read. I just wanted to let you know I did follow the link though, figured you’d like at least some reaction :) I don’t have much of a response for you, though, as I doubt you’d be surprised to learn I didn’t find much in it to disagree with, based on my earlier posts here ;) I thought it was quite interesting though, and I can recommend reading it to anyone, although I realize it might be a little uncomfortable reading here and there for a religious reader.

    To the others: Allow me to quickly summarize the article, in the hopes it’ll get more people interested into reading it, and to show its relevance to the discussion: The author makes a pretty strong case that beliefs that are not supported by evidence can’t be moral (except maybe by accident). He also quite thoroughly addresses a wide range of possible and common objections.

    It’s relevant, because many people question whether PZ’s actions are ethical, but very few will question if the belief that a wafer literally turns into Jezus is even ethical – which, according to the author of the article (and I’m inclined to agree), it clearly isn’t, as it is not supported by any reasonable evidence. Since this belief is the basis of the whole controversy, it means that PZ has every right to criticize this belief in any way he sees fit, and, in fact, even has the moral obligation to do so. Critics of PZ who base their criticism on PZ “needlessly offending believers”, on the other hand, will find themselves on shaky grounds, because they are essentially defending people who claim offense based on an unethical belief.

    Might be interesting to see people try to argue now that belief in the sacredness of the host is perfectly ethical – and to see if they will use any arguments that the author already dealt with.

  197. #197 Beowulff
    July 31, 2008

    Lepas said:

    After realizing this, I cannot say I disagree with PZ. I think, however, there should be some factual claims to be assessed: can the idea of an oppressed group be applied to atheists living in Western countries? is there some social mechanism ensuring that atheists are offered unequal opportunities in society? My answer would be “no”, but I am open to changing my mind if someone proves me wrong.

    See, another person who was influenced by PZ’s actions :) Not useless at all then ;)

    As for your question: There may not be any legal mechanisms aimed against atheists, but that doesn’t mean there is a level social playing field yet. Remember polls asking questions like “would you vote for an atheist president?” or the polls showing that atheists are the least trusted group (although recently surpassed by Scientologists)? There’s a common notion among Christians (a majority group, remember) that morals come from God, so atheists are automatically amoral and therefore can’t be trusted. That’s just one example of prejudice against atheists.

  198. #198 SC
    July 31, 2008

    Thank you, Beowulff – a great summary and explanation of the piece’s relevance. Another thanks to Damian for posting it.

  199. #199 Danio
    July 31, 2008

    Note that these run the gamut from off-the-cuff bigotry to full-blown discrimination. Further note that *none* have enjoyed major news coverage. Imagine the reaction if you replaced the atheist in each of these stories with another religious minority. What would be the public response then? Why the difference?

    Are atheists just not a big enough group to be bothered with? Are people so ingrained in their belief that atheists are immoral puppy-raping devils that they can muster no public sympathy for the recipients of such treatment? I wonder about that, particularly as so few have addressed the threats to PZ’s life and livelihood generated by recent events.

  200. #200 Danio
    July 31, 2008

    The first part of the above comment contains links and is being held up for moderation. In brief, I’m addressing Lepas, and provided some links to recent events for his/her consideration:

    Monique Davis, D-Chicago, screaming at Atheist Activist Rob Sherman, in the General Assembly, during official State proceedings. The video record of this verbal tirade also shows fellow legislators applauding her words.

    Rick Reilly, ESPN analyst, commenting that “It’s a lousy night to be an atheist” when a born-again Christian Ballplayer performs well in the MLB Home Run Derby (on the air, televised nationally)

    the Smalkowski family, who were falsely accused, harassed, and chronically discriminated against when daughter Nicole, an atheist like the rest of her family, declined to join her basketball team in prayer before the game, and resisted subsequent efforts of her coach to force her to pray with the team.

    You can easily google these stories if they don’t come up. The Davis story is covered by Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune, the Reilly story by Kathy Orton of the Washington Post/Newsweek website. The Smalkowski saga can be found through the ACLU website or the ‘Atheists dot org’ website.

  201. #201 Woozle
    July 31, 2008

    Lepas said: “I think, however, there should be some factual claims to be assessed: can the idea of an oppressed group be applied to atheists living in Western countries? is there some social mechanism ensuring that atheists are offered unequal opportunities in society? My answer would be “no”, but I am open to changing my mind if someone proves me wrong.”

    The argument doesn’t need to be about the existence or degree of systematic “oppression” (or whatever you want to call it) of atheists; it’s about a particular instance of oppression, i.e. the original incident with Webster Cook, and the lack of any socially-acceptable means of forcing dialogue with the oppressors (who are not necessarily the Catholic Church per se but only the more bloody-minded enforcers of appropriate conduct as-they-see-it).

    How else would you propose forcing public acknowledgment that not everyone agrees with their behavior?

    That, as I see it, is the primary goal of PZ’s actions.

  202. #202 Nick Gotts
    July 31, 2008

    I shouldn’t have implied that PZ’s readers issued death threats as well. Harassment, yes, but death threats, it doesn’t seem so. That was wrong. I was going on something I remembered reading, but now can’t find (and therefore probably imagined… when this whole thing went down, I was busy with life stuff, so I wasn’t paying overly close attention). So I apologize for that. – Chris

    How big of you. This post would seem to have been one you attached some importance too, but you couldn’t be bothered to make sure there were no outright falsehoods in it? You can bet your cracker your allegation – without the retraction – will be reproduced by Donahue’s minions.

    See
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/03/i_generally_favor_the_idea_of.php for my first and biggest disagreement with PZ. Oh, and don’t both with banning threats – I see no reason to visit this blog again. Someone who can equate Dawkins with Dobson… words fail me.

  203. #203 E.V.
    July 31, 2008

    “He’s Just a Frackin’ Adolescent Ass”

    Best example of projection I’ve seen in a while. Funny how you entirely missed the irony of your little stone throwing post. Consider your glass house uninhabitable, Fracker. My little shadenfreude wish for you: here’s hoping you’re in the docket when the next Inquisition rears it’s irrational theistic head.
    Here, have a cracker – you’ll feel better.

  204. #204 ildi
    July 31, 2008

    Ok, SC and Beowulff, y’all shamed me into skimming Damian’s very long post on evidentialism – I’ve bookmarked it for more detailed reading. That’s my world-view, verbalized. My favorite quote so far:

    “Self-respect imposes on us the duty to direct our lives in accordance with our rational capacities. When it comes to belief, our chief capacity is the ability to weigh the evidence and apportion our belief to it. Letting wishes or social conformity or self-deceptive aspirations to self-approval interfere with the exercise of this capacity is an abdication of our responsibility to govern our own lives through our own reason, and displays a lack of the respect we owe ourselves as autonomous beings with human dignity.”

    Ok, and this one, too:

    “No doubt, as we have already observed, most religious people feel that their beliefs are good for the world, but that feeling, as we have seen, is part of their religious belief itself, which, if that belief is not supported by evidence, renders it question-begging as a defense of the belief’s supposed other-regarding virtues.

    No doubt it is sometimes possible in retrospect to conclude that religious beliefs which we regard as unsupported or even irrational played an important role in achieving good results. For instance, it is true that John Brown and many other passionate abolitionists were partisans of certain Protestant sectarian views about the imminent second coming of Christ, which led them to regard purging the world of the sin of slavery as a divinely ordained preparation for the end-time. History, as we know, is full of such ironies. [/snap!] But it is an entirely different matter to suppose we ourselves could be justified in seeing some comforting or inspiring but evidentially unsupported belief of our own as necessarily leading to beneficial results for the world. That is simply a dangerous pattern of self-deception, all too common among misguided fanatics of both the religious and non-religious variety,…”

    I guess that last sentence should cover Stalin, et al.?

    Thanks for pointing me in that direction!

  205. #205 Woozle
    July 31, 2008

    In my haste, I forgot another (and more important) reason for PZ’s cracker desecration: to establish the fact that there is nothing illegal or wrong per se about insulting a religion or “hurting its feelings” — to re-establish that we do, in fact, have the right to treat religious symbols as the literal objects they represent (and, conversely, that religious powers do not have the right to impose their imaginary worldview on us).

    This might seem to be a trivial truth understood by all, and not in need of a (mildly) destructive demonstration for proof, but the Catholic League and others have demonstrated that many people apparently believe otherwise.

  206. #206 Lepas
    July 31, 2008

    I said I don’t disagree with PZ, but I didn’t mean that his behavior was morally justified (or unjustified). He exercised his freedom and I see no moral implication in this. To me, the moral point was whether he was justified in asking people to betray the trust of other people who attach a special meaning to the cracker, and then offending these other people by performing the “desecration”. But I don’t want to reopen this particular issue – I would rather discuss some guidelines for judgment, and to show that it depends quite a lot on how one assesses the factual situation.

    I think it is important to assess whether atheists are an oppressed group. And I am looking for something of a systematic nature because I’m pretty sure that in some communities you can find a strong anti-atheist bias, as you can find a strong anti-minority bias, but you need to know whether these are part of an overall pattern of discrimination that you have to confront at the political/social level, or just plain ignorance/stupidity that you might want to confront at some cultural level.

    My current opinion: I think that one can provide convincing arguments about the existence of something systematic in what is happening in matters of civil rights, freedom of expression, science, rationalism, secularism, but I don’t think that these trends reveal a specific bias against atheists.

    Leaving PZ aside, just imagine that someone believes he is “oppressed” by something, but this belief has no factual basis. He starts to behave in some crazy way and hurts other people. Isn’t he responsible (re: ethics of belief) for not having subjected his beliefs to a rational discussion and some fact-checking with people who might know better? I’m pretty sure that those Christians who feel “oppressed” by the rights enjoyed by citizens in a secular society can be proven wrong, and are to be held responsible if they translate their crazy thoughts into crazy behavior. Shouldn’t a similar requirement of rational discussion and fact-checking apply to “oppressed” atheists as well?

  207. #207 Danio
    July 31, 2008

    Lepas, wouldn’t any systematic challenge to secularism automatically disfavor atheists? Depending on the nature of the challenge it could certainly also disfavor other non-Christians, but in the US at least there is an ongoing trend toward inclusiveness of many faiths in these movements, albeit sometimes with mixed results. See, for example the Hindu-Led Opening Prayer in the US Senate one year ago, which was shouted down by Christians in attendance: http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2007/07/christian-prote.html

    Taking the ‘Opening Prayer’ situation as a general example, and leaving aside the protest for a moment, it sure was nice of them to let the Hindu guy do his thing and all, but wtf is Congress doing with an Opening Prayer in the first place? So much for secular government. Where’s the outrage? They’re praying on Company Time! Funded by Federal Tax Dollars! But there’s not a murmur of protest from anyone, save the nutjobs who can’t abide brown people preaching anything other than the Gospel.

    The point I’ve been trying to make, and I don’t know if you perused the cases I summarized in my earlier comments that relate to this point, is that all of the PC tolerance efforts of the last ?10? years have largely fallen short of including ‘lack of belief’ as an acceptable alternative worldview. Supernatural belief of some kind is the default expectation, much as Christianity was the default expectation throughout most of suburban America as recently as 30 years ago, and as heterosexuality was once the default expectation for every person of reproductive age and beyond. While we can certainly find individual cases of discrimination specifically against atheists without digging too deep, I think the pervasive expectation that ‘everyone simply must believe in something‘ creates an oppressive environment in which most atheists/agnostics are discouraged from speaking out. In my mind, this amounts to a tacit oppression, but perhaps you’ll disagree. I’m not sure what sort of ‘factual basis’ you’re looking for here, but I really don’t think the above examples are figments of our imagination, and in my opinion they do specifically apply to atheists, although some may also infringe on the rights of other groups in the bargain.

    Believe me, there has been rational discussion on this topic to no end, and such discussions will continue far into the future, I’m sure. The ‘Point of Inquiry’ podcast features such discussions on a weekly basis, as do many other sources. As has been pointed out several times in the above discussion, however, sometimes an action such as PZ undertook can have a much more far-reaching effect than any amount of talk. I believe that both tactics, and many intermediates between the two, will be necessary to establish the non-believers as a group worthy of the freedom of/from religion that the Constitution provides.

  208. #208 Woozle
    August 1, 2008

    Lepas:

    Why is it important to determine if atheists are an oppressed minority or not? You previously argued — as I understood it — that being oppressed somehow lets a group off the hook for rational debate and gives them license to exert their will in other ways.

    I don’t see why that’s an important distinction, and it does seem like a false dichotomy — all-or-nothing thinking. Clearly, for example, the Catholic League was oppressing Webster Cook. Were they oppressing all atheists too? Arguably yes — but hardly to the same degree. Did degree to which the Catholic League was oppressing PZ justify threatening a cracker-desecration in protest? Possibly not. Did the oppression of Cook justify that response? Pretty clearly yes, in my view. Did Catholics feel oppressed by PZ’s actions? Apparently many did, but some also didn’t. (Point being: There are individuals involved, and chronological ordering. There are also clear wrongs and rights. If you try to represent each side somewhere on a one-dimensional scale of “oppressor” to “oppressed”, they start to look like two very similar shades of grey.)

    I realize you’re trying to move away from the example of PZ and talk about where the boundary — of how to tell real oppression from invented oppression — should be drawn in general, which is definitely the bigger issue highlighted by this whole affair.

    The basic litmus test which seems obvious to me is this: have you or your possessions or interests been materially harmed or threatened?

    Going back to the wafer argument as an example, part of the issue there was the claim that full ownership is not transferred during the communion ceremony, it was not Cook’s property to dispose of as he saw fit, and therefore misuse of it was equivalent to “harm” to the property of his church. (Granting that conclusion, you could reasonably argue that Cook was committing what could be part of a larger pattern of oppression if enough people did it on a regular basis.)

    This breaks down into two further issues:

    1. the “implied obligation” to eat the cracker under certain conditions (before sitting down, and within a certain amount of time). This question is probably best resolved via legal means, but the fact that no legal pursuit has been mounted suggests strongly that the wafer-worshippers consulted their legal mystics and know they don’t have a case.

    2. the implication that removing a cracker from church instead of eating it — or sitting down before eating it, instead of eating it right away — is somehow harmful to this property. I suspect they would have a hard time demonstrating that too.

    I would suggest, therefore, that this test works in the wafer situation — at least as far as showing what the “oppressee” will need to demonstrate in order for everyone else to understand how s/he is being oppressed.

    Are there perhaps other test cases where it doesn’t line up as cleanly?

    A litmus test I would not accept is the question of whether or not someone’s feelings are hurt. People’s feelings get hurt for all kinds of stupid reasons. A 2-year-old’s feelings are hurt if you take away his toy because he keeps breaking it. A Muslim cleric’s feelings are hurt if you criticize his religion (even knowing full well that it will hurt his feelings) or draw pictures of his god.

    Feelings should be taken into consideration — but if the feelings seem unjustifed, and the hurt party is unwilling to explain how they have been hurt — the basic rules of common human interpersonal relationship (aka common decency) don’t require any redress.

    I think a large part of the problem here is that many people seem to think that feelings should be a determinant. They lack faith, if you will, in the underlying logic behind real feelings and hurt. “If feelings aren’t respected,” I can almost hear people thinking, “then what’s to stop some a**hole logician or scientist from ‘proving’ that blacks, jews, and women are inferior and we should all be willing to sacrifice our freedoms for the common good?”

    This fear seems very real; I don’t know how justified it is, but to the extent that it is justified, I think public debate and transparency are a much better answer than allowing “hurt feelings” to trump reason. For every jerk-with-an-agenda who might logically “prove” that ignorance is strength and freedom is slavery, there are a good half-dozen others (at least!) who will happily tear that “proof” to shreds if given half an opportunity.

  209. #209 Lepas
    August 2, 2008

    I have a less individualistic view of “oppression”. Anyone can occasionally suffer violations to his rights. Suppose I am beaten by the police at a peaceful demonstration (I mean the police is wrong): I might accept that “such things happen” and try to forget about it, or seek legal compensation. But the occasional violation does not make me an “oppressed” individual outside that particular transaction.

    On the other hand, if I were part of a group of people that are regularly beaten by the police when they try to assemble peacefully, as it happens in other parts of the world, I would be justified to say I’m a victim of oppression (and in such cases I would have the right to choose extra-ordinary, extra-legal procedures to seek compensation).

    I might feel “oppressed” because some bad people won’t allow me to go to the Church and take away a consecrated cracker, though they are used to give free crackers without stating the receiver’s obligations in a legally binding document. If I made such claim, however, I believe that any rational person would try to “prove” I’m nuts (which would not justify my being beaten by the bad guys).

    Whatever one thinks about Webster Cook, he was not harassed because he was a member of a group discriminated by the Church (atheists, gays, single parents, unmarried couples, abortionists). It was a matter of “plain” individual rights. PZ seized the opportunity to speak up for his part, others (myself included) would have preferred to engage Christians (not Donohue or his company) into some discussion about secularism. Clearly, if you choose to discuss with someone you have an obligation to treat them as rational beings.

    What was the best course of action in this specific case I don’t know for sure, but I have a general picture in mind: I see many “bad” trends in society, and I think that the Catholic church has a major responsibility for some of them. Take reproductive rights. I would say that: 1) current trends in reproductive rights are biased against women – they reinforce existing gender-based inequalities, but 2) they are not biased in favor of Catholics, or against non-Catholics; 3) they have at least partially measurable outcomes (more unintended pregnancies because of limited access to contraception and abstinence-only education), and 4) they are opposed by a significant portion of society, including Catholics.

    Here, I would not like to see a situation where everyone stays within his/her own boundary of choice (Christian men, atheist women, …). But (say) a male atheist who believes he’s part of an oppressed group may well argue that the current “bad” trends in reproductive rights are more biased against atheists than against women. This attitude may easily cause divisions (resulting in a less effective opposition), and this is why rational discussion and fact-checking are important. By fact-checking I mean: is there a recognizable pattern of inequality, biased against atheists, if you look at education, employment, income, health, and at the other indicators that usually confirm the existence of oppression/discrimination against women and some minorities? My answer is still: no, atheists are not an oppressed group, and the “male atheist” should follow a less divisive course of action.

    (Allow me to clarify, incidentally, some minor points. I once read something by PZ about reproductive rights. I don’t remember what he wrote but I remember I agreed with him. So I’m not implying that PZ only cares about atheism and science. As for being respectful, I don’t think you have to be respectful of religious beliefs when they cause more sufferings, or that you have to be respectful of the Catholic establishment, ever).

    I know that atheists (as free-thinkers, which is obviously a simplification) are a primary target for people who oppose freedom. I’m afraid however that many ordinary people see atheists as relatively successful and well-off individuals who don’t care much about others. I am worried that these views may be reinforced by atheists themselves, if they pose as an oppressed or discriminated group and start building fortifications on their own side of the boundary.

  210. #210 truth machine, OM
    August 2, 2008

    PZ’s offensiveness is this time, as always, pointless….

    when I do I get 100+ comments from PZ’s epigones basically saying that I am an idiot, as is anyone who doesn’t agree 100% with PZ, and that learning about religion, even from a scientific perspective, is stupid because it’s just a bunch of irrational hooey. If I want attention, I sure as hell don’t want it from a bunch of anti-intellectualists blinded by rage and allegiance….

    the assholeness of PZ and his minions….

    PZ = Donohue = Dawkins = Dobson = Robertson, in my mind. I don’t think we can discuss anything with these people (and this comment section shows we can’t discuss anything with their followers, either), because they’re not interested in rational discussion….

    I’m going to leave that comment, because it is yet another example of how PZ’s mindless drones behave, and how incapable they are of rational discussion….

    What a sad, shallow hypocrite this Chris person is, having apparently learned his debating technique from Ann Coulter.

  211. #211 truth machine, OM
    August 2, 2008

    This might seem to be a trivial truth understood by all, and not in need of a (mildly) destructive demonstration for proof, but the Catholic League and others have demonstrated that many people apparently believe otherwise.

    Note specifically http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/the_confraternity_of_catholic.php
    which refers to http://christiannewswire.com/news/517137313.html

    We find the actions of University of Minnesota (Morris) Professor Paul Myers reprehensible, inexcusable, and unconstitutional. His flagrant display of irreverence by profaning a consecrated Host from a Catholic church goes beyond the limit of academic freedom and free speech.

    Attacking the most sacred elements of a religion is not free speech anymore than would be perjury in a court or libel in a newspaper.
    …publicly burning copies of the Christian Bible or the Muslim Koran, especially by a faculty member of a public university, are just as heinous and just as unconstitutional….The freedom of religion means that no one has the right to attack, malign or grossly offend a faith tradition they personally do not have membership or ascribe allegiance.

  212. #212 windy
    August 4, 2008

    Lets imagine that an unknown tribe has been spotted in Polynesia. They admire a tree on their island as holy.

    A young man of the tribe takes a fallen leaf from under the tree to show his friend…

  213. #213 Greenconsciousness
    August 30, 2008

    As a woman I do not see Islam as just another religion as you do in you moral equivalence arguments. I see it as a political system that slaves women through the use of force, political and physical. Women should fight it by any means they can muster. Ridicule and cartoons are just fine. And here is a guy with the privilege of living in the west rationalizing Muslim use of force by minimizing their threat to civilization. Good thing your baby was a boy.

  214. #214 Jack
    October 30, 2008

    Mr. Cook and Mr. Myers went well beyond “free-speech” to the realm of criminal activity.

    People keep saying this is a religion/state, or a free-speech issue, which it is in a sense, but Mr. Cook intentionally misrepresented himself ina Catholic church to fraudulently obtain a piece of “real propoerty”. Tht’s called Theft in most states, including Florida.

    To attempt to prevent the thief from getting away with his booty, a girl in teh church used “reasonable force” to try to stop him. The rest is an explosion of mischaracterization of teh evil church versus the poor waif Webster Cook. Webster Cook is a thief.

    Mr. Myers counselled others to commit crimes on his behalf with his “score me some consecrated wafers” post on July 8th. That’s against the law of Minnesota where he lives.

    After receiving stolen property, he gleefully and very publicly wilfully damages it, and then discarded it. Those are also crimes in Minnesota.

    Free speech protects the right to use words. These two criminals are hiding behind that moniker to avoid prosecution.

    It’s time they got their days in court.

  215. #215 Kevembuangga
    November 9, 2008

    This is a personal message.
    You’re a fucking bastard Chris, you engage in “selective” comment filtering to present a biased view of public opinion just like Faux News.

  216. #216 Brian
    November 11, 2008

    FWIW, I stopped reading this blog because of posts like this. I think anyone who’s genuinely interested in these kind of science/religion issues would do well to avoid this blog and Pharangula. Maybe it’s just bad luck that I check back here after a year or so and find this, but still…

  217. #217 Kevembuangga
    November 12, 2008

    I think anyone who’s genuinely interested in these kind of science/religion issues would do well to avoid this blog and Pharangula.

    The debate is always heated but you should admit that it is difficult to argue with people of poor intellectual abilities or with ingrained prejudices.
    See Reasons to Believe (that Creationists are Crazy) at Cosmic Variance which unlike Pharyngula’s is not a propaganda blog, yet the usuals numbskulls showed up…

  218. #218 Trevor_brain_memory
    December 18, 2008

    What exactly does this have to do with how brain and memory works?

  219. #219 Tala Karinca yagi
    June 1, 2009

    everyone should respect to all religion.

  220. #220 otoemlak
    November 11, 2009

    Lets imagine that an unknown tribe has been spotted in Polynesia. They admire a tree on their island as holy.

  221. #221 saç ekimi
    July 12, 2010

    Hi all;
    A fatal flaw was that they failed to have any representative posts ready to go up when the blog went live.

    Had they done so, and had the content been surprisingly acceptable, the reception might have been better.

    Instead we get this “Hi! Welcome to ShillBlog!” (crickets) and everyone, quite reasonably, expects the worst.

  222. #222 London Counselling
    September 11, 2011

    Fonr better or worse, multiculturalism is a growing part of western society. In the name of peace,self-respect and cultural sensitivity, the more all people embrace a peaceful and non-judgmental stance, the better off we’ll all be.

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