I try to be patient with all the email I get, I really do, and usually the greatest forebearance I can offer is to simply set a piece of email aside and go on. There simply is not enough time to answer everything, especially when my correspondent is better off going to the library, and most especially when the only reply I'm inspired to give is to snarl, "Go away, kid, you bother me."
So let me introduce you to young Mr Rosenberg. He has written me twice, the first time with a fairly routine set of questions that I politely set aside because I get a few hundred of these every week, and because he was asking the wrong person, and the second time with a pushy rude letter that prompts me to now be impolite and actually answer him. Here's his first letter, in which he introduces himself, and as is so common in these things, tells me how smart he is. Well, if you're so clever, Mr Rosenberg, why are you asking me the questions?
Questions on the Universe
Hi Professor Myers,
My name is Andrew Rosenberg, I am 18 years old and I live in Racine Wisconsin. I have been raised in the Lutheran Church since I was born and view myself as a Christian. Recently I have been pondering the universe, especially the existence of God in general. I have the belief that if God exists, then Christianity makes the most sense for me to follow. But that brings up the question...does God exist? I am an intelligent individual, whose thoughts go beyond the typical 2010 senior's tangents. I graduated valedictorian of my class, and so I thoughtI would like to contact another intelligent individual, such as yourself, who has conflicting viewpoints from me. After all, if you surround yourself with the same types of people all your life, then you will never learn anything or make your own decisions.
My first question for you is this: Christianity aside, what makes you an atheist? I know I could probably find the answer deep in your blog, but to me, atheism is just ignorant of the universe around us. Existence....just the simple existence of a hydrogen atom gives me the thought that something had to, and I hate to say this, create it. With something to create, how could the materials and fabrications that make up the universe--atoms, protons, neautrons, electrons--come to be? What cause the theories such as the big bang? Put the universe's energy into action. As easy as it is to say that a God does not exist, its just as easy to say that one (multiples?) does.
On the topic of evolution, I have further questions-- I fully believe in micro evolution, whether it be by mutation of natural selection...but how can the existence of the world's first bacterium be? How can proteins and other chemicals come together to make an organism? For if you take that same organism apart and puts its pieces back into a jar of water, it will never come back to life or reassemble itself. So how did such a thing happen in the beggining of time?
The bottom line for me is, yes the existence of some supernatural being who has divine powers seems very far fetched. But the non-existence of such a being seems far less plausible to me. How can we be without a supernatural beggining at some point in the univeral timeline? Something, from nothing. Its a supernatural question in itself that puzzles me, but makes me view atheists as ignorant. No God, yet countless molecules and building blocks that just....appeared? No, it doesn't make sense.
Please explain any view point or answer that you have to my questions. I am not afraid to be proven wrong.
"atheism is just ignorant of the universe around us"…well, la-de-da, says the high school student who hasn't bothered to look up anything in basic physics, and is demanding that a biologist explain it all to him in an email message.
First strike against him: I am a biologist. It says so right up there at the top left, under my picture. I am not a physicist. As a biologist, I'm even more narrowly specialized than that: ask me about the evolution of multicellular animals, ask me about development, ask me about various bits and pieces of molecular evolution in the last half billion years, and I can probably give you a decent answer, and I might even talk your socks off for an hour. Ask me about physics, the big bang, and cosmology and…I'm a well-informed layman, nothing more. A literate 18-year-old could be just as current on the topic, if not more so, by going down to the library or bookstore and picking up a few texts and, you know, reading them. This isn't hard.
Go read a book by Brian Greene, Lawrence Krauss, or Sean Carroll; Scientific American has a primer on cosmology, even. If you can work your way through Steven Weinberg's Cosmology, you'll be much, much smarter than I am. But pestering random biologists with misspelled missives demanding that they explain particles to them? Dumb.
It's often part of a cunning ploy, of course, not that I know that this is the case with Mr Rosenberg. I've noticed that, after many of my more detailed talks on biology, some clueless creationist will raise their hand and ask me to explain what existed before the Big Bang, completely ignoring the topic I've just explained to them. I've also compared notes with a few physicists; they'll give talks on the origin of the universe, and afterwards be asked to explain the evolution of the eye. I think they know better than to ask a question in which they may get a deep and knowledgeable answer, because they don't want an answer.
I would just have to give a very general answer that we know that heavier atoms are assembled by processes in stellar evolution, that many complex molecules are constructed by natural processes (formaldehyde forms in space, for instance), and that fundamental particles arose in the Big Bang; that physicists I have talked to, like Lawrence Krauss, have pointed out that stuff spontaneously forms all the time, and that there is no such thing as empty space. Try this on for size.
I can say why I'm an atheist, though, and I've talked about it numerous times. Here's a short, succinct image that explains it all.
Mr Rosenberg has not explained why I should believe in his Christian deity at all, and his only explanation for why he believes in his peculiar god is a self-confessed complete lack of knowledge and imagination, which given that he's the clueless fellow asking a biologist to explain physics to him in 200 words or less, is not at all impressive.
But now, today, I get another message from him. I get these all the time, too, demands from ignorant jerks who are so infused with a sense of entitlement that they think they can demand that I spoonfeed them. "Christian humility" is just an ironic phrase for arrogant insincerity.
A Few Questions for an Atheist.
Hello PZ Myers,
My name is Andrew Rosenberg. Last week I sent you an email talking about why I believe in a creator. You did not respond. I would really like to hear your opinion on what I sent you. I also have another concern about you. I have been following your blog and youtube videos for a little while. I think that it is extremely rude of you to constantly criticize religeous groups on your blog. You do it everyday. I don't know if lashing out at people gives you confidence because your followers laugh at your witty, little remarks, but I certainly think its rude. Especially when you get in person and you are just a little man with a quiet voice. Yet on the internet you spew forth brash criticisms like a volcano.
But besides those opinions of mine, I would really like to hear your take on my question of existence itself that I sent you.
Hey, Andy — GET STUFFED.
You're a perfect example of why I am rude — I am really tired of pretentious twits who've barely got a high school education, which isn't much to begin with, and who think they're brilliant because they can answer everything with "goddidit." Am I rude? You bet. It's not going to change, either.
But then you exhibit typical inconsistency: I'm a "little man with a quiet voice." Would I have more authority if I glopped on some pomade and bellowed at you? Do you even listen to what I say in those videos? It's nothing different from what I write — it's just that my presentation is different than the howling protestations you get from televangelists.
I will remember what you expect, Andrew Rosenberg of Racine, Wisconsin. If we ever meet, I'll make a special effort to yell rudely at you and just you, and do my best to send your know-nothing pious butt away crying. And don't bother writing to me again.