Crackergate

By Sean Carroll | July 16, 2008 12:31 pm

PZ Myers has gone and gotten himself embroiled in another one of those imbroglios. For those of you who don’t trouble to read any other blogs, the story began with the report of a student in Florida who smuggled a Communion wafer — the Body of Christ, to Catholics — out of Mass. This led to something of an overreaction on the part of some local believers, who referred to the stunt as a “hate crime,” and the student even received death threats. (You remember the part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says “Blessed are those who exterminate those who insult Me,” right?)

PZ was roused to indignation by the incident, and wrote a provocative post in which he volunteered to do grievous harm to Communion wafers, if he could just get his hands on any.

Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There’s no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I’m sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage … but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I’ll send you my home address.

But the thing that took the whole mess to another level was the intervention of Bill Donohue, whose Catholic League represents the very most lunatic fringe of the Church. Donohue, who specializes in being outraged, contacted the administration at the University of Minnesota, as well as the state legislature. Later deciding that this level of dudgeon wasn’t quite high enough, Donohue soon after upped the ante, prompting a delegate to the Republican National Convention to demand additional security, as the delegates felt physically threatened by PZ and his assembled hordes. (The Republican convention will be held in the Twin Cities, about 150 miles away from PZ’s university in Morris, Minnesota.)

There is a lot of craziness here. People are sending death threats and attacking someone’s employment because of hypothetical (not even actual) violence to a wafer. Even for someone who is a literal believer in transubstantiation, threatening violence against someone who mocks your beliefs doesn’t seem like a very Christian attitude. Donohue and his friends are acting like buffoons, giving free ammunition to people who think that all religious believers are nutjobs. But it gets him on TV, so he’s unlikely to desist.

However.

We should hold our friends to a much higher standards than we hold our adversaries. There is no way in which PZ is comparable to the folks sending him death threats. I completely agree with him on the substantive question — it’s just a cracker. It doesn’t turn into anyone’s body, and there’s nothing different about a “consecrated” wafer than an unconsecrated one — the laws of physics have something to say about that.

But I thought his original post was severely misguided. It’s not a matter of freedom of speech — PZ has every right to post whatever opinions he wants on his blog, and I admire him immensely for his passionate advocacy for the cause of godlessness. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. And there’s a huge difference between arguing passionately that God doesn’t exist, and taking joy in doing things that disturb religious people.

Let me explain this position by way of a parable, which I understand is the preferred device in these situations. Alice and Bob have been friends for a long time. Several years ago, Alice gave birth to a son, who was unfortunately critically ill from the start; after being in intensive care for a few months, he ultimately passed away. Alice’s most prized possession is a tiny baby rattle, which was her son’s only toy for the short time he was alive.

Bob, however, happens to be an expert on rattles. (A childhood hobby — let’s not dig into that.) And he knows for a fact that this rattle can’t be the one that Alice’s son had — this particular model wasn’t even produced until two years after the baby was born. Who knows what mistake happened, but Bob is completely certain that Alice is factually incorrect about the provenance of this rattle.

And Bob, being devoted to the truth above all other things, tries his best to convince Alice that she is mistaken about the rattle. But she won’t be swayed; to her, the rattle is a sentimental token of her attachment to her son, and it means the world to her. Frankly, she is being completely irrational about this.

So, striking a brave blow for truth, Bob steals the rattle when Alice isn’t looking. And then he smashes it into many little pieces, and flushes them all down the toilet.

Surprisingly to Bob, Alice is not impressed with this gesture. Neither, in fact, are many of his friends among the rattle-collecting cognoscenti; rather than appreciating his respect for the truth, they seem to think he was just being “an asshole.”

I think there is some similarity here. It’s an unfortunate feature of a certain strand of contemporary atheism that it doesn’t treat religious believers as fellow humans with whom we disagree, but as tards who function primarily as objects of ridicule. And ridicule has its place. But sometimes it’s gratuitous. Sure, there are stupid/crazy religious people; there are also stupid/crazy atheists, and black people, and white people, and gays, and straights, and Republicans, and Democrats, and Sixers fans, and Celtics fans, and so on. Focusing on stupidest among those with whom you disagree is a sign of weakness, not of strength.

It seems to me that the default stance of a proud secular humanist should be to respect other people as human beings, even if we definitively and unambiguously think they are wrong. There will always be a lunatic fringe (and it may be a big one) that is impervious to reason, and there some good old-fashioned mockery is perfectly called for. But I don’t see the point in going out of one’s way to insult and offend wide swaths of people for no particular purpose, and to do so joyfully and with laughter in your heart. (Apparently the litmus test for integrity vs. hypocrisy on this issue is how you felt about the Mohammed cartoons published in a Danish newspaper a couple of years ago; so you can read my take on that here, and scour the text for inconsistencies.)

Actually, I do see the point in the gratuitous insults, I just don’t like it. Like any other controversial stance, belief in God or not divides people into camps. And once the camps are formed, the temptations of tribalism are difficult to resist. We are smart and courageous and wise; the people who disagree with us are stupid and cowardly and irrational. And it’s easy enough to find plenty of examples of every combination, on any particular side. There is nothing more satisfying than getting together and patting ourselves on the back for how wonderful we are, and snorting with derision at the shambling oafishness of that other tribe over there.

My hope is that humanists can not only patiently explain why God and any accompanying metaphysical superstructure is unnecessary and unsupported by the facts, but also provide compelling role models for living a life of reason, which includes the capacity for respectful disagreement.

I say all this with a certain amount of care, as there is nothing more annoying than people who think that professions of atheism or careful arguments against the existence of God are automatically offensive. Respectful dialogue cuts both ways; people should be able to explain why they don’t believe in the supernatural or why they believe. Even if both atheists and believers are susceptible to the temptations of tribalism, that doesn’t make them equivalent; the atheists have the advantage of being right on the substance. Richard Dawkins and his friends have done a great service to our modern discourse, by letting atheism get a foot in the door of respectable stances that one has to admit are held by a nontrivial fraction of people — even if they stepped on a few toes to do it. But stepping on toes should be a means to an end; it shouldn’t be an end in itself.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion
ADVERTISEMENT
  • Matt

    Well said. Worth the read.

  • Ellipsis

    “I’m not for anybody who tells me to turn the other cheek when a cracker is busting up my jaw.”
    Malcolm X (1964)

    Had to add that! 😉 Good post.

  • Adrian Burd

    Sean,

    An interesting point of view, but your analogy is wholly misleading. The rattle, a unique object to this woman, neither plays the same role nor has the same significance, as a wafer that is mass produced, freely given away, digested and excreted.

    Whilst I would not dare speak for PZ, I feel sure that he would never advocate the destruction or defacement of the Shroud of Turin for example.

    Secondly, I cannot see how a wafer, even if it is believed to be the body of Christ (making those who consume it some form of cannibal if they are correct), can have the same emotional relevance as a unique object such as a rattle, even if it isn’t the actual one used by the baby. If the wafer were that significant, then Catholics would hoard them, not eat them and excrete them.

    A good attempt, but unconvincing.

    Adrian

  • http://togroklife.com greg

    Amen.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/catdynamics Steinn Sigurdsson

    Donohue will be safe – there is no way PZ can afford to drive the 150 miles to the twin cities on a faculty salary…

  • mike

    Good post. The problem of the lunatic fringe is that their voice is amplified by overrepresentation on the internet.

    I am tempted to just say that people who “specialize in being outraged” like PZ and Bill deserve each other, but unfortunately these people end up representing others who are good at not being outraged.

    I’m not sure I agree that good old fashioned mockery and toe-stepping are sometimes in order. You’ve given me something to think about.

  • http://physicalityofwords.blogspot.com Åka

    I like the rattle story. Adrian doesn’t like it, but I think that if you appreciate the value of symbols — not empty symbols, but symbols carrying the meaning of that which they represent — then this story is a good analogy. My attempt (slightly different angle, and also flawed, but anyway):

    For me nationalism is mostly silly, and sometimes even dangerous, leading to things like war. National flags are symbols of nations, and nationalists therefore see them as containing the essence of what they hold precious. I can see why they would get upset if someone burned their flag, or even dropped it on the ground. Because I don’t share their sense of value of the nation, I have nothing much against burning flags per se. In this case I think it’s obvious why I might consider (in some extreme case) to burn the flag of my own country, but also why it’s very unwise to burn the flag of another country — especially if nationalism is considered to be a major virtue over there.

  • RationalZen

    Adrian,

    The point (as I’m putting words in Sean’s mouth) of the rattle story is the power of perception. The emotional attachment to the rattle by both the woman and those around her is driven by their perception that it was the boy’s rattle.

    Independent of the cracker’s manufacturing process, to those involved with that communion it’s very significant. The emotional attachment they have to that cracker is akin to that of the woman and the rattle, which consequently was also mass produced.

    If you happen to be a horse lover, despite the fact there are hundreds of thousands of horses in the world, you would probably be offended if I made a documentary with laughter in my heart of my horse’s trek to the glue factory.

    Lucky for the horses of the world I don’t own any.

    ~RZ

  • http://www.c4chaos.com ~C4Chaos

    “It’s an unfortunate feature of a certain strand of contemporary atheism that it doesn’t treat religious believers as fellow humans with whom we disagree, but as tards who function primarily as objects of ridicule.”

    exactly!

    good parable too. but as i’ve argued on my blog and elsewhere, any rational person would know that a consecrated wafer is not just “a cracker” (at least to billions of Catholics around the world). no need for elaborate parables, just consider our treatment of flags as national symbols. threaten to desecrate a flag in public and you’d get similar responses from religious/patriotic/nationalistic nuts, as well as more matured and sane people.

    thanks for this excellent post.

    ~C

  • sterge

    I didn’t read all the replies, so I apologize if something similar was already posted but… my thoughts below to which I conveyed to a friend in the discussion of this post…

    “interesting post, but i don’t think the analogy fits… the ‘respect’ that that woman deserves in reference to the loss of her son (as the parable suggests) is different than ‘respect’ a religion deserves because of a belief in an imaginary entity… see, her son was REAL… and his DEATH was REAL…”

    anyway, love the blog, just my 2 cents 😉

  • http://www.builtonfacts.com Matt

    I agree with the thrust of the post, and disagree with Adrian. I came up with a similar parable which I think reinforces your point.

    Imagine Alice goes to the cemetary and sees men digging up graves to look for valuables. The bodies they’re disturbing are dead, and so the corpses don’t care. There’s millions of graves around the world, so the robbers aren’t destroying anything of rarity or intrinsic value. The robbers don’t want to be detected so they replace everything as it was found, minus the valuables. And finally, if Alice doesn’t tell anyone then the families of the dead will never miss whatever was taken.

    Is Alice justified in being offended nonetheless? I think so. For PZ to do something like insult Alice and say “Hey, send more bodies to me and I’ll dress them up in party hats” is not very nice.

  • blah

    It does remind me a bit of junior high when some of the bullies used to bait the tards riding the bus on the way to school. I suspect there is more than a bit of cruelty motivating them in this instance: Watch the tards get all worked up when we steal their crackers!

  • Adrian

    (A different Adrian :) )

    I too find the analogy very misleading.

    Cook originally took a wafer which was special only by virtue of having a magical incantation. There are millions of other crackers identical to it, and he only took what was given to him. The rattle is unique, it wasn’t given away and it was smashed not returned (as the cracker was).

    Further, PZ only steps in after the big emotional upset. If we take your analogy and instead of thinking Bob was being an “asshole”, Alice and her friends issued death threats, said his act was worse than a hate crime, compared him to a kidnapper and then launched a campaign to harass him at school. Thinking Bob was an asshole would be minor, the incident would be forgotten, everything would be fine. PZ only enters the picture after the armed guards had to get involved. His crime is to say “you think rattles are nice, if someone can score me a rattle, I’d smash it on television!”

    Yeah, it’s nice to get an analogy that tries to share the emotional depth the Catholics may feel, but it’s so far off as to be deceitful, in my humble opinion. The fact that we can’t think of any analogy which would have both the sheer triviality of the offence yet provoke the insane response reinforces the need to expose this sort of lunacy.

  • http://baboonlogic.com anshul

    OMG! What’s wrong with CV and it’s readers today? Most of you seem to be agreeing with the post??? Whats wrong with you all?

    Correct me if I am wrong, but by extension of this post, the cartoonists who drew comics of the Prophet Mohammad were wrong. The Prophet is the Muslim rattle after all. Creationism is the Christian rattle after all. In fact if I apply the humanist principle outlined here in it’s ridiculous extreme, then belief in God is the real baby rattle of the majority of the religious folks. So, are we now suddenly not supposed to not question religion now?

    Come on, Sean! Pardon me, but I have been around here for quite some time and I find this rather shallow and unexpected coming from you. Creating emotionally charged Bob and Alice analogies doesn’t change the fact that the core issue here is whether we should or should not challenge stuff that is considered sacred. Is this really your position on that issue?

  • devicerandom

    It seems to me that the default stance of a proud secular humanist should be to respect other people as human beings, even if we definitively and unambiguously think they are wrong.

    I disagree.

    First and foremost, I don’t think anyone deserves intellectual respect as a human being. Belonging to the same biological species I belong to, automagically does not demand intellectual respect.
    Intellectual respect is something that you actually have to deserve. And religious people actively pursuit beliefs that make impossible for me to intellectually respect them.

    It’s not they are wrong in the conclusions, the problem. The problem is that they are blatantly, utterly wrong in the methods (or lack thereof) they arrive to the conclusion. They simply stop thinking and give up to faith. That’s something I simply cannot even begin to think to respect.

    And there is no thing like a “religious nut”, because all religious people are basically nuts in the same sense: they found their metaphyisical conceptions and daily life on completely unproven (or even positively disproven) supernatural claims. The “nuts” just display more integrity to their beliefs, at least.

  • Aloysius

    Sean,

    I think your parable misses the mark somewhat. It seems less like the poor woman is attached to her single rattle which someone desecrates, than that she’s insisting in very heated and aggressive terms that everyone treat every rattle of this same mass-produced and widely-available brand with the same reverence she shows her own.

    Matt,

    I don’t think Alice in your example would be justified in taking offense. The ghouls would just be recycling a valuable resource. Why should we treat dead bodies with reverence? Tradition, because for religious and historical reasons it’s the norm in our society? That’s not a good reason at all.

  • http://zenoferox.blogspot.com/ Zeno

    the story began with the report of a student in Florida who smuggled a Communion wafer — the Body of Christ, to Catholics — out of Mass

    Sean, the original story is often extremely distorted. The student did not “smuggle” a communion wafer out of mass. He’s a Catholic. He received communion in the hand and took it back to his seat to show a non-Catholic friend who was curious about it. The student claims he was then going to consume it. However, some of his fellow Catholics saw that he still had the wafer and physically attacked him. The student didn’t so much smuggle the wafer out as he ran with it, one step ahead of the people who were pummeling him. It all went severely downhill from there.

    As for PZ’s over-the-top satire: He is, unfortunately, no Jonathan Swift. A more carefully written diatribe (although one seldom thinks of “diatribes” as carefully written) might have been more obvious to those who thought PZ was actually planning a three-ring communion wafer desecrationthon. Both the student in the original incident and PZ have now received multiple death threats from ostensible Christians. Some people take their religion too seriously — except for its tenets of peace and forgiveness.

    [Link]

  • http://jollybloger.blogspot.com/ Jolly Bloger

    I think the rattle analogy doesn’t quite apply here. In that example, you are talking about stealing and destroying a one-of-a-kind object that cannot be replaced.

    The crackers are not behind glass. No one is going to steal anything, they are given freely by the priests. Granted, the priest expects you to eat the cracker, but I don’t think that not doing so amounts to thievery.

    Moreover, the cracker itself means nothing – they’re mass produced in factories. It’s not comparable to a sacred icon (like the rattle). It’s the desecration of the ritual, not the object, that is the cause of outrage.

    You can still argue that it’s unnecessarily cruel for PZ to advocate taking crackers, but it’s not at all the same as covertly stealing and destroying a valuable object.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    This was really well written, and you made excellent points. I’ve been thinking about posting on this issue, but I’m sure I have anything to add.

    I really PZ. I read his weblog before he became an atheist superstar. We’re fellow cephalopod lovers. He doesn’t death threats, or that idiot Donahue. Neither does the student who wanted to smuggle out the cracker, though I think the old saw on sides to a story applies here: there’s the student’s side, there’s the church’s side, and there’s the truth.

    Returning to PZ, sometimes he reminds me of the extremists in the religions, including the Catholic league. As you wrote, every “category” of person has extremist representatives, and unfortunately, PZ is an extremist among the atheists. He’d probably agree with me for saying this.

    What’s sad to me, though, is he doesn’t seem to respect when a fellow atheist disagrees with him on these issues.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Excuse me, “I really _like_ PZ” and “He doesn’t deserve death”

    Sorry

  • jeff

    PZ is the Howard Stern of science, although I don’t see all that much science in most of what he does – it’s all about religion. He has done, and will continue to do, outrageous things to get more attention and further his career and influence (which seems to be what many science bloggers actually are after – if you don’t write papers, write blog posts). You’re helping him by paying attention. The question though, is whether or not all this noise helps to fight religious extremism, and more importantly, advance science in the public eye.

  • John Farrell

    Well said, Sean. (As always.)

  • Kirk

    Well, I’ll agree that Donahue is a tool, and that people are making a big deal out of it. But I feel that P.Z. Meyers is in the wrong for an entirely different reason than discussed here. Whether we agree or disagree with the rationale behind ritual, it is still an important aspect of community whether it be as informal as drinking beer and watching the game, or as formal as legal due process. Soliciting people to disrupt a Catholic communion doesn’t strike me as that much different from soliciting people to disrupt a same-sex marriage or the funeral of a gay man.

    Aloysius: The value of ritual and symbols have very little to do with the underlying value of the physical things used by them, and a lot to do with the values of share community that create those symbols.

  • mk

    Sean,

    I find myself in general agreement with you.

    However, I will say that the woman in your parable is a thoroughly sympathetic victim. There is no equivalent in the reality that is the cracker story. Not Donahue and not the crazed Jesus-freaks who threatened (and apparently beat!) the young man and are now after PZ’s blood. Nobody.

  • devicerandom

    The problem is, what it has to be fought is not religious extremism.

    It is religion itself.

    If you believe that the Bible (or Quran, or whatever) is the Word of God, the only logical consequence of that -given the kind of god therein described- is to follow that book literally and ruthlessly. Religious extremists are actually the most logical and self-coherent religion followers.

    Until religion won’t be eradicated, religious extremists will unavoidably sprout.

    And even if you don’t buy that view, even religious moderates can be harmful. Here in Italy, our legislation on civil issues like same-sex convivence, euthanasia and stem cell research is pushed blatantly back by the influence of secular (non-ordained) politicians that nonetheless follow the Church teachings on the subjects. This happens in both the mainstream right-wing and left-wing coalitions. These are not extremists -there are peaceful, polite people that would never threat anyone and sometimes are not even strictly religious. Nonetheless, they actually keep dying, conscient people agonize in their beds because they refuse to make euthanasia legal due to a Christian view of “life rights”, for example.

  • D

    I agree that post #13 is a much closer analogy to the events as they happened.

    I disagree entirely Sean’s construal of this. There is indeed no redeeming value to the paragraph of text quoted from Myers’ blog post. If that paragraph existed in a vacuum it would truly be an ugly, juvenile display of contempt for ones fellows.

    Context matters though. Here that context is calls from the Catholic League for the expulsion of a student for not eating his wafer, and mad claims that the student committed a hate crime and that his actions amount to kidnapping. The boy’s even received death threats.

    There is indeed a need to be sensitive and courteous. There is also a time to stand up in solidarity: I don’t share Myers’ apparent revulsion / hatred for religious symbols, but this isn’t the time for THAT debate. This is the time to say ‘I refuse to discuss religious tolerance with a thug and a bully like Donahue.’

    *I* am irritated enough by the behavior of Donahue’s thugs that I’m half tempted to buy a wafer on ebay, masticate it thoroughly then mail the results to Mr Donahue. He has no bloody business demanding a student’s expulsion for trivialities like these.

    Once moderate Catholics have taken up the cry to marginalize the Catholic League on this matter I’ll gladly join them in criticizing PZ Myers for his occasional boorishness on matters religious.

  • John Farrell

    What makes this whole episode farcical, BTW, is that there is no substantive evidence from Cook that he ever received death threats in the first place. Despite the hype of the headlines PZ linked to, and the Fox anchorwoman leading with Cook ‘fearing’ for his life, we don’t have any evidence he was threatened with death. We have one student who threatened to break into his apartment and steal the wafer back.

    I have gleaned from some other Catholic blogs that Cook is well known on campus for opposing the support of the Campus Ministries on the university grounds, so I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest this whole thing was a stunt from the get-go to make his point. If he ever really wanted to simply show a host to a non-Catholic, one wonders why, for example, it didn’t occur to him to…you know, just take his pal up to the priest after Mass and say ‘hey, padre, do you mind showing one of the wafers to my friend.’

    Meanwhile, PZ decides to post two of the death threats he got from a couple of nitwits, was dumb enough to provide their internet addresses–and was soon horrified to find that his fans were happy to take matters into their own hands, with the result that he had to post twice begging them to stop.

    Good grief.

  • John Farrell

    I neglected to mention that Bill Donohue is a boob who was all to ready to bellow his way into this mess.

    There’s a great comedy script here.

  • mk

    What I find farcical is death threats from people who believe they are protecting the actual body (in the form of a wafer) of some Bronze age mythical character, and which they intend to eat!

  • John Farrell

    I didn’t realize the first century C.E. was part of the bronze age….

  • Aloysius

    Kirk,

    PZ Myers wasn’t soliciting anyone to disrupt a Communion, though. Never once did he advocate gatecrashing a service or in any way interfering with any Catholic’s right to worship in any way they see fit. If someone sent him a host, though, he might treat it disrespectfully and webcast it from the comfort of his own home or lab or dungeon or whatever. That does not in any way, shape, or form affect the practice of Catholicism for any Catholic. I really don’t see how they have any reasonable grounds to take offense in a liberal, pluralistic society. No actual harm is being done, except perhaps to the feelings of extremists who insist that our whole society must show deference to their particular religious rituals. That is not a reasonable request and not one in my mind that we are obliged to honour, any more than I am obliged to agree that everyone’s wife is beautiful or that everyone’s child is an angel. As a matter of common courtesy I’m happy not to enumerate the faults with wives and children unprompted, but when the husband or father in question makes it a public issue and insists that his wife’s or child’s virtues be a matter of public consensus I draw the line.

  • http://www.someareboojums.org/blog jre

    There has been a large volume of virtual ink expended on arguing where Webster Cook’s or PZ’s actions lie on a continuum of [blame | praise]worthiness spanning:

    1) the illegal,

    2) the strictly immoral or unethical,

    3) the sleazy, lame, assholeish or generally poor form,

    4) the unstrategic (as likely to lose more hearts and minds than it wins),

    5) the morally neutral but defensible on grounds of individual rights,

    6) the rather clever thing I wish I had said or done, and

    7) the necessary and heroic act taken at great personal risk.

    Most of PZ’s fans put him at a 6 or 7, and most of his detractors (on sites similar to this one, at least) make him no worse than a 3 or 4.
    It’s an essentially subjective call, and we will never have a single authoritative answer.

    What does admit of an objective assessment is the observed reaction of the population.

    Will there be a rash of wafer thefts? Unlikely; the stunt is too public, and easy to thwart.

    Will PZ get fewer death threats? At a minimum, I bet the emailers will be more careful with their addresses.

    From Salman Rushdie to the Danish cartoonists to the wafer caper, the pattern we see seems to be provocation, followed by overreaction and overreaction-reaction, followed by both sides colling their respective jets while they jaw endlessly over which internal faction is right about strategy.
    It’s great theater, if nothing else.

    As to the validity of Sean’s parable, I thought it was crystal-clear that his criticism of Bob stemmed from his willingness to cause Alice emotional distress, independent of whether that distress was rationally justifiable.
    Yet, several commenters seem to be looking for some rational distinction between Alice’s reaction (the rattle was unique and irreplaceable) and the reaction of Catholics to the threatened wafer-defilement (jeez Louise, it’s just one cracker among zillions!).
    A better example of two parties talking past one another could hardly be found.

  • Other Sean

    First of all, I want to thank Sean for his reasonable post on this issue. I agree with what he wrote in this post, except for his atheism, but I of course also respect his right to believe as he does. The posts on this blog about religion are almost always good and avoid the mockery that so many others slip into when discussing this sort of thing.

    I am Catholic (and a physics grad student — the two are not mutually exclusive!) so I thought I’d offer my perspective.

    After looking into the original story more, I can say that, for me, Cook’s actions are easily forgivable. He did not act out of malice or a desire to mock a sacred Catholic tradition. He simply didn’t fully understand all the rules of the ritual, and ended up somewhat unwittingly doing something that is offensive to many Catholics. I am embarrassed by the actions of those who confronted him and of course those who have sent him threats. I am not very sympathetic about his response in which he is claiming that the Catholic student group’s celebration of the Eucharist was a form of hazing and underage consumption of alcohol.

    PZ’s actions, on the other hand are very offensive, and it embarrasses me that he represents a branch of my University and scientists in general in this way. His actions are different because his intention is to mock, insult, and offend Catholics in a way that he apparently knows is very hurtful to us.

    Like Sean’s analogy points out, if you know something is very important to someone, then that should be enough for you to choose not to mess with it. Even if you don’t understand why it’s important, or disagree about its importance, damaging that precious thing, whatever it is, serves no purpose other than to be hurtful to a fellow human being.

    As for Catholics, the foundation of our religion is a belief that Jesus, God Incarnate, gave himself to us in a very real way, both at the Last Supper and through his death. We believe that this action of Jesus giving himself to us is repeated in a miraculous and very real way through the Eucharist. So a consecrated host is not just a cracker to us, and that’s why it’s so important.

    Again, I’m not defending any hateful speech or actions on part of my fellow Catholics, but I just thought that knowing would help people understand how this could be so upsetting to someone.

  • devicerandom

    if you know something is very important to someone, then that should be enough for you to choose not to mess with it.

    Why?

  • devicerandom

    So a consecrated host is not just a cracker to us, and that’s why it’s so important.

    It is a cracker.
    Every experimental technique will tell you it is a cracker, and just a cracker.

    It’s you having the burden of proof of telling me it’s more than a cracker. It’s you having to bring substantial evidence telling me you’re not a fool deluding yourself thinking it is not just a cracker.

  • Josh Spinks

    I am deeply offended by people who suggest desecrating communion wafers is in any way bad.

    I assume this means no one will do that anymore since “if you know something is very important to someone, then that should be enough for you to choose not to mess with it. “

  • Christopher M

    devicerandom: That’s the point of Sean Carroll’s analogy. It’s not Alice’s son’s rattle. Every experimental technique proves that. She really is being kind of obtuse and silly in insisting otherwise. She is clearly not dedicated to the search for truth above all. Nevertheless, it’s extremely rude and really sort of juvenile to insist on smashing it in front of her.

    Your implication that other people are not worth of respect if they aren’t as smart as you is also really creepy. (And yes, you said “intellectual respect,” but if that’s all you really mean, then your point is just irrelevant. Sean didn’t say that religious believers are worthy of intellectual respect on the subject of religion; he said they’re worthy of respect as other people, whom we ought not take pleasure in cruelly provoking just because they don’t know as much about the world, or about how to learn about the world, as we do.

  • Aloysius

    Here’s a question…

    I’m a gay man. The Catholic Church teaches that, while I as an individual deserve respect, my lifestyle is wrong and should not be accepted by our society, and that if I actually express love for another man rather than suppressing my natural impulses this is a sin in the eyes of God that could doom me to Hell. Certainly not all Catholics feel this way, but this is the official position of the Church itself. It is also the rankest bigotry. Many other faiths take positions on homosexuality that are even more reprehensible.

    Am I obliged to show respect for the feelings of some Catholics and other religious believers by staying in the closet, abandoning efforts to win social acceptance for non-heterosexuals, and not calling various churches out for their bigotry?

    It’s a rhetorical question. Of course I’m not obliged to do any such thing, even if being out and proud offends some people, goes against their sincerely-held beliefs, and hurts their feelings because they don’t consider themselves bigots. The Catholic Church wants to marginalise and condemn me and millions of other otherwise-inoffensive people, and this can’t be whitewashed away. It’s wrong and needs to be confronted as such.

    The point of this is that it shows we are not obliged as a matter of principle not to hurt people’s feelings by vocally disagreeing with their sincerely-held religious beliefs, even in very strident and (in their eyes) disrespectful ways.

    The real question is, where do we draw the line? Sometimes beliefs ought to be treated civilly, and sometimes, as above, they definitely ought not. Even if people will be hurt and offended.

  • Other Sean

    I’m not saying you have to believe it’s anything more than a wafer of unleavened bread. You’re free to believe whatever you want. The burden of proof is not on me because I’m not trying to prove it to you. If you want to believe I’m deluding myself, then that’s fine.

    And I sort of assumed a basic respect for other human beings when I said that you shouldn’t try to hurt the things they care about. And let me be clear, I’m not trying to impose my religious beliefs on you. I’m not asking you to do something that should interfere with your life or things you want to do, I’m asking you to not come and mess with something important to me, something that you would have to go out of your way to do. I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, unless your actions are hurting me.

    I hope that I made that clear.

  • http://realisy.blogspot.com Max Polun

    As others have pointed out the parable is a little bit off, mainly that the wafer was freely given out. PZ’s actions still were a bit childish, and I would not have done it, but I don’t see it as being particularly assholeish. Now I do see a problem in that that the issue has become about PZ, not about the kid who originally got in trouble (and is being abandoned by his university). This may be a good thing, in that it draws attention away from the kid (and the death threats move to PZ), but it could also lead to greater attacks against the kid.

    On a side note: I agree that atheists/humanists/miscellaneous nonbelievers should give respect out as a default, but people can lose respectability, and one way of doing that is mailing in death threats or trying to get someone fired for (even hypothetical) actions to a cracker.

  • Christopher M

    Also, it’s important to emphasize that what Myers did is not akin to some kind of clever satirical cartoon. A certain mocking of religion is an important tool in the struggle to free the world from needless superstition. There’s a huge difference between that kind of thing, and intentionally provoking religious believers just for the thrill of watching them writhe in anger and knowing how much smarter you are than all that. Does anyone think that Myers’ stunt is going to further the cause of rationalism in any real way?

  • Christopher M

    Finally, while this seems too obvious to need saying, it apparently isn’t: the fact that some Catholics launched death threats or whatever against Myers really doesn’t make it okay to spit in the face of every Catholic in the world.

  • Other Sean

    After I made my last post, Aloysius brought up a point that might help me illustrate what I mean better.

    For example, I don’t think that my personal beliefs about what is a sin should affect your life as a homosexual man. Nor do I think that the Church’s teachings make you less of a human or more of a sinner than I am or anyone else is.

    I agree that you are not obliged as a matter of principle not to disagree with my firmly held beliefs, and you are perfectly welcome to do so out loud and in a public way. I’m just saying that such things should be done civilly. I do think that malicious mockery is something that we should avoid on principle just out of respect for other people.

  • Joshua

    Just wanted to point out that PZ insulted the crackers only after the Catholics had already “over-reacted,” which seems not too be quite as “misplaced” as just waking up one morning and deciding to offend a whole bunch of “tards.”

  • Aloysius

    Other Sean, how exactly can I disagree with the Church’s teachings on homosexuality in a civil way? They’re vile, evil, despicable, reprehensible, completely beyond the pale. They’re no different from racism or misogyny. Anyone who publicly supports these teachings deserves to be mocked and shunned and treated with a certain amount of outright contempt. These views are simply incompatible with the whole framework of a pluralistic civil society, and treating the people who voice them with respect only serves to degrade the value of civility for everyone.

  • Ken S.

    Sean, you can’t hear Him, but I know God agrees with your position on respecting and valuing each other. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders.

  • Azi

    … and every year Alice tried to force Bob and all of Bob’s friends to buy identical rattles to hers, and when Bob and his friends refused Alice attempted to get politicians to force everyone to have a rattle, and erase any book that taught that people didn’t really need rattles. Wars were started with those who preferred pacifiers, and many objectors were burned at the stake…

  • Allison

    Just to add another voice to the dissent, your ‘parable’ is not correct–the analogous situation would be if Alice has millions of these rattles, hundreds of millions, actually, with the possibility of creating many, many more whenever she wants. She gives these rattles away to her friends weekly, expecting them to do a certain thing with them. If she gives Bob a rattle, and instead of doing this certain thing, Bob gives it to someone else…well, you might have a different stance on “re-gifting” than I do, but if Alice is going to be extremely upset by this, she probably shouldn’t have given the rattle-facsimile to Bob in the first place. Once she gives it to Bob, it’s his. If he wants to send it on to his friend PZ, he certainly can.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    It is true that PZ was reacting to an overreaction that had already occurred; that’s a good point, and sadly no analogy is perfect. (Most of the other belabored attempts to point out failures in the analogy are sadly missing the point.)

    Which is: why should anyone take joy in doing things that disturb other people, even if the other people are being irrational? Explain to them why they are wrong, yes; oppose them (with mockery if necessary) when their irrational beliefs start to affect the lives of others, of course; but to piss people off solely in celebration of your own superiority seems unnecessary to me, and not much fun. If I’m going to piss people off, it will be for a good reason.

  • andy.s

    So are PZ and Donuhue like Tweedledee and Tweedledum?

    Tweedledee and Tweedledum agreed to have a battle.
    Tweedledum said Tweedledee had spoiled his nice new rattle.

    It’s starting to look that way.

  • Joshua

    I think that Sean’s parable about the rattle is bordering on “emotional exploitation” (did he really need to resort to dead babies?). A better comparison might be to a baseball (=cracker) that was given to Alice by her favorite player (=priest). I think everyone would agree that Bob is an asshole if he threw Alice’s ball into a river, even though “the laws of physics” would say that Alice’s ball is no different from another ball.

    However, there is still the fact that Catholics have a history of doing some pretty bad thins in the name of their crackers (and they still do to this day), so I have to say that PZ isn’t quite as much an asshole as Bob.

    If you try to say I can’t marry who I’d like because your cracker said so, I’m not an asshole to say I’ll flush your cracker down the toilet.

  • Joshua

    Point taken, Sean. I agree with your sentiment (I won’t be flushing any crackers) but I think PZ’s actions don’t quite fit into the category of “piss[ing] people off solely in celebration of your own superiority” since the Catholics who overreacted first were sort of asking for it.

  • http://www.thechocolatefish.blogspot.com Yvette

    I think Sean (and Other Sean, who I must thank for his interesting perspective) are on the ball with this one.

    I am an atheist. My mom is of the “Catholic on holidays” variety of religious, and one of the biggest double-takes of my life was realizing people really believe a wafer can be anything other than a wafer and not just a slight symbolic gesture or something like that. It’s silly, if you ask me.

    But at the same time, being an atheist does not mean I do not feel compassion for my fellow human beings. They think it’s more than a cracker, but so what? It’s not like I’m ever going to go up to my very Catholic grandmother and say “you’re silly for receiving Communion” because while I might be right she’d just get upset and I don’t like to upset those I love.

    And while there will always be idiots out there who think a death threat is appropriate in this circumstance (and I’m sure everyone reading this agrees that it isn’t), we all know most Catholics are not that imbecile. It’s not like anyone in that mentality is going to come around and say “by golly, you were right and I was wrong!” anytime soon anyway, especially upon seeing you destroy a wafer.

  • http://meaning.tumblr.com/ Anon.

    I think the analogy is misleading for a different reason. The trauma of losing a child is different from the trauma of — well, living as a Catholic. Bob is an asshole for destroying Alice’s rattle because her sentimental attachment to that rattle stems from the psychological torment of losing a child, and because his actions are likely to make that torment worse. I don’t see why Catholics would be so emotionally fragile. P.Z. Myers blog post might not have been especially sensitive, but he’s certainly not an asshole for having written it.

    The general point about respectfulness and our tendency toward tribalism is well taken.

  • http://www.myspace.com/luzidrhymez Luzid

    Completely disagree, and here’s why – PZ’s not mocking the believers here, but the belief regarding the wafers.

    He’s not even focusing on the believers at all.

  • Tyler

    If it weren’t for the parable nitpickery, this thread would be very interesting. That part’s quite comical.

    I certainly agree with Aloysius that we (the humanist cadre) have absolutely no reason to be polite about our disagreement with the Catholic Church, or any other fundamentalist sect that tries, as an organization, to impose its will on non-member individuals and/or society at large. The views and internal policies of the Catholic Church would be none of my business, and safe from ridicule and abuse, if the Catholic Church and its radical members would *completely stop* attempting to impose their worldviews on the rest of us through legislation and, occasionally, intimidation. Until that time, they are, quite frankly, my mortal enemies – speaking in an absolutely nonviolent but nonetheless completely serious way. I hold them in absolute contempt and will make no secret of this.

    I know a fair number of people that I really like (generally members of my extended family) who are very religious. My ability to communicate peacefully with them on matters of religion is related to the level of social activism associated with their church. So I basically have no problem with (for example) Methodists and am quite friendly towards Buddhism and Unitarianism; none of these groups have ever tried to restrict my rights or those of my fellow citizens, or not to my knowledge. For this reason I accord these faiths a basic degree of respect and acceptance, since they have had the courtesy to do the same for me.

    Interestingly, this places the Scientologists in a grey zone. For the most part, I have no problem with this group because of the above logic. To me their doctrine seems no more or less bizarre than the Catholic one – and no, Other Sean, that is not hyperbole, I honestly think they are about equivalent. But my main point is that my thoughts about their doctrine are irrelevant – they haven’t picked a fight with me, so I have no problem with them…except for the fact that they have been exercising their worldly power in the form of censorship, squashing critics online and in real life. That’s very problematic behavior and I hope it stops. That’s the grey zone I mentioned. But other than that, I consider Scientology a *much* less harmful religion than Catholicism or fundamentalist protestantism, since it infringes less on the liberties of nonmembers.

    The Catholic Church, and the Southern Baptists, and other fundamentalist churches of their ilk, have picked a fight and kept up the attack day in and day out. If this were not the case, it would be quite rude to insult their beliefs, and I wouldn’t do it, at least in public. However, they keep trying to impose their beliefs on the rest of us, and I’m not having it. Their own actions place their beliefs in the public sphere, and then they have the temerity to be insulted when we mock those beliefs for the crude, primitive, delusional nonsense they so patently are?

    Other Sean, if you want us to stop attacking your beliefs, stop your damned church from intruding on the lives of nonmembers. Until then, you have nothing to complain about. We’re rude? Tough. Your church is a barbaric band of bullies and you are guilty by association.

    PZ may be a jackass, but he’s our jackass.

  • ZenBonobo

    The power of an idea and the power reserved for some object of veneration by tribalist or cultists is theirs to administer as they see fit. Just as there is unspoken relativism in otherwise doctrinaire and absolutist notions of religiosity, it is the responsibility of those not so afflicted to do no harm.

  • http://www.myspace.com/luzidrhymez Luzid

    Other Sean:

    “His actions are different because his intention is to mock, insult, and offend Catholics in a way that he apparently knows is very hurtful to us.”

    Wrong, wrong, wrong – almost as wrong as your comment that you support Sean’s right to “believe” as he does (he doesn’t believe in atheism; atheism is the LACK of belief, period).

    PZ is mocking the BELIEF, not the believers. World of difference.

  • /ehj2

    In a world running out of cheap energy and clean water and farmable land and harvestable oceans, the stakes are too high to accord any respect to intellectual and moral laziness in any realm of knowledge.

    Sure, we all believe in a wafer of some kind to make sense and meaning of the world, and I’m incredibly fortunate that my bulwark against the darkness is science.

    I thank you for writing this post, because it’s impossible not to be part of this conversation (although many mistakenly imagine they are “above” it), as it is the invisible undercurrent of every conversation and touches every public and private decision.

    This is the principle conflict of our time, and we better figure out that this is the real enemy (not teenage terrorists in pajamas in a desert 12,000 miles away) before the lights start going out.

    The recent New Yorker cartoon lampooning the right-wing’s portrayal of the Obama’s as secret revolutionaries and closet Muslims — should be shocking in its accurate portrayal of the right-wing as utterly un-American in its values, let alone un-human. But this isn’t what the current conversation on the cartoon is remotely about.

    Even in its simple-minded mythology of broad-brush homilies, America was built by revolutionaries seeking religious freedom who had no respect for nationalist impulses, standing armies, aristocratic exceptionalism, corporatist thugs, or a specific flavor of god. For a while we were those ingenious Yanks.

    I’m beyond tired of the inroads made by right-wing and religious fanatics who can’t perform basic human functions, like write a song, solve a quadratic equation, tend a garden, love a partner, steward even their own small portion of the world without utterly savaging it, and raise children to do the same.

    I have revolution in my blood and I think you should, too. I’m not going to give the world to thugs in uniforms (police state or church) with wafers and magically-written texts who’ve spent the last decades (I’m thinking of Jimmy Carter’s 1979 speech) ensuring that the basic science we needed to be doing to get to energy independence, with efficient solar cells and fuel algaes and fusion, would be here now.

    It’s not merely that these people are not on our side. They’re committed to a path that destroys the enlightened parts of the world and impoverishes what’s left. They send women home. They kill gays. They burn libraries. They close schools. They believe god should be in government, shellfish are an abomination, and anybody who disagrees should be stoned.

    Jung wrote a great deal about the religious function. It’s time you scientists started to understand, as the economists are finally beginning to understand, that we are not a rational species, and absent considerable assistance, we make lousy decisions.

    PZ Meyers gets this, and is willing to step outside the ivory tower of soft-toned elitist disagreement and go toe-to-toe, on an almost daily basis, with these ignorant creeps in the language they understand. Somebody has to fight the slime mold in the basement or it takes over.

    Both of your voices are needed, but please do not add your voice to those who hit him from the rear.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    The easiest thing in the world to do is to make religious people angry. The reason is that they believe in magic, and deep down or subconsciously they know this. Whether it is water into wine, pumpkins into coaches or a wafer into the body of Christ categorically the ideas are all the same. Stripping away the theological or mythological particularities these all amount to supernatural or magical interventions that transform one thing into another. I suspect that deep down in the subterranian regions of the most ardent believer in a religion there is some neural circuitry saying “it ain’t so.” It takes little argumentation to get that little circuit to scream loudly. When that happens these people get really mad.

    This is one reason there is so much fuss over evolution. They hate the whole idea because to them what this does is to get that “it ain’t so” voice talking loud in their heads. This can be accomplished without the antics of PZ Myers. I suppose that PZ wants to demonstrate he could use a eucharistic wafer as toilet paper without thunderbolts and lightning zapping him. That undoubtedly will be the case, but his demonstration may fail to change many minds. In the end believers just build an even bigger wall to try and seal off that “it ain’t so” voice.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • http://olijens.blogspot.com Ólafur Jens Sigurðsson

    One thing I allways have problems with in cases like Myers finds himself in now and that is if self-censorship is a good thing? Now if he had decided not to post this post like he did, would he then be practising self-censorship? When is self-censorship a good thing? What is the difference of self-censorhip and being polite?

    I am just wondering because I recall vagualy that the first sign of a totalitarian system is that people start to practice self-censurship. But there has to be some kind of a balance between being polite in conversation and self-censurship that doesn’t lead to a totalitarian system, right?

    Just wondering.

    Cheers

    Oli

  • Kurt

    “There is a lot of craziness here. People are sending death threats and attacking someone’s employment because of hypothetical (not even actual) violence to a wafer.”
    That is the funniest thing I have read in a long time!!
    I read PZ a lot. He runs a great blog. I hope this doesn’t affect his blogging or his job either!!
    This is insane to the nth power

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    There is I think a difference between debunking something, or showing where its argument fails, and engaging in silly stunts. It is one thing to debunk a fortune teller, but another to commit her crystal ball to a hammer. The line is a bit thin. When it comes to the cartoons depicting Mohammad or Islam in an unflattering light that is acceptable. It is another to enter a Mosque and spill pig’s blood — which BTW you might not come out of alive.

    These things are magic, and just as Linus has a right to wait for the great pumpkin on Halloween night, so too people have a right to believe in supernatural ideas. Convincing society that the world does not work by magic, even if told it does by ancient texts, is going to be a long term project. This will take continued research to roll back the event horizon of ignorance, education to instill proper thinking skills, and effort to create a social sense of what might be called natural philosophy. Little stunts will not accomplish this.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Ijon Tichy

    It’s an unfortunate feature of a certain strand of contemporary atheism that it doesn’t treat religious believers as fellow humans with whom we disagree, but as tards who function primarily as objects of ridicule.

    On the contrary, it’s an essential feature. Civilisation was created by rational thinkers, not magical thinkers. Progress, science, democracy, equality, liberty, etc, are a result of people thinking rationally and logically about the world, reasoning and questioning, testing and observing, abstracting and synthesising. Religious people are not fully human because they refuse to use or genuinely lack the critical faculties which define a modern human being. So why should we treat them with respect when they haven’t earned it? While they continue with their irrational belief in gibberish and nonsense, they fully deserve our ridicule and contempt. Oh, and to the god-believers I would add eco-zealots, animal-rights activists, right-wing libertarians, crackpots & conspiracy theorists, and New Age spiritualists.

  • bob

    As a child, George Gamow swiped a communion wafer and brought it home to examine it under a microscope. Finding it identical to a common cracker, and not at all like human tissue, he immediately rejected his religion.

    If someone could demonstrate that a consecrated wafer is in fact transubstantiated, then I suppose that messing with it could be criminal, just as tampering with a corpse is considered a crime. But as Gamow found, it is just a stupid cracker.

    Of course Gamow wasn’t RC, he was Eastern Orthodox — maybe their magic incantations don’t take?

  • Christopher M

    Joshua’s comparison of the communion wafer to a baseball is a little silly. The consecration of the Eucharist is the central ritual of Catholicism. It is at the very heart of the Church’s theology and ritual. Anyone who’s been to a Catholic church — especially the older ones, in Europe and elsewhere — has seen the elaborate paraphernalia that accompanies the Eucharist. There are chapels where a consecrated host is placed in a monstrance and venerated twenty-four hours a day — someone is always there to worship, not the wafer, but God through the wafer (the “perpetual adoration”).

    Now I agree that to take the Church’s dogma about the communion wafer literally is silly. It doesn’t become Jesus’s body; it’s just a cracker. Well, so what? If a little kid believed, and told you, that a favorite stuffed animal had magical powers, would you grab the animal, spit on it, and tear it to shreds in front of him? So maybe religious believers are, when it comes to rational understanding of the world, not much better than little kids. It’s still creepy to get your kicks by pissing other people off.

  • http://www.leekottner.com Lee Kottner

    My difficulty with both sides of the religion/secular humanism argument is that both treat the other like a problem to be fixed. Religious belief is not something to be eradicated like smallpox anymore than secular humanism is. There are extremist on both sides, crazies in both camps, social problems that arise from both world views. Both points of view have a value and sometimes they even (gasp!) co-exist quite comfortably. The only reason mockery is called for in any argument is as a corrective mirror, but it seldom functions that way. People don’t like to be mocked, so they tune it out and the message is lost.

    Listening to arguments like these, I’m reminded of the opera lovers I know, so many of whom are completely convinced that, “of course you’ll love this! You just have to hear this person, that aria, this conductor, see that production! It’s so wonderful! How could you not love it? I love it!” Opera is a matter of taste, beliefs are a matter of conscious choice. No amount of sincere insistence of any kind is going to change either. Changes in belief happens from the inside out.

    And from the disinterested distance of someone who’s in the process of making changes in my beliefs, both sides of this argument sound too damn much alike. Richard Dawkins has not done the secular humanists any favors. He’s your Oral Roberts.

  • mk

    Oops.. Sorry, I meant the Jurassic period!

  • http://bitpart.wordpress.com Josh L

    I have the deepest respect for your even handed response to this ridiculous debacle, Sean. I’d mail you a gift-wrapped box of Wheat Thins if I knew where you lived or thought it appropriate.

  • chuko

    Initially my opinion was very similar to Sean’s, but, as satire, it works. PZ’s post came off as somewhat childish and petty, but the reaction to it was spectacularly obtuse. In the end, you have people equating desecrating a cracker with violence against actual people, not to mention threatening violence. Heck, they’re calling out additional security for the Republican National Convention (which has what again to do with Catholicism?) for fear of cracker stealing. That puts PZ firmly in an old tradition of satire – offending people by pointing out the absurdities of their position and watching the lengths they’ll go to avoid admitting they’re wrong. Which, to be clear, they are: crackers don’t transform into the flesh of Jesus.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    My hope is that humanists can not only patiently explain why God and any accompanying metaphysical superstructure is unnecessary and unsupported by the facts, but also provide compelling role models for living a life of reason, which includes the capacity for respectful disagreement.

    Say what? Considering the uncertain grasp we have of basic issue of why there is a universe/s, why it/they is this way and not another way, and what that happens to be very convenient for life, somewhere at least – there is no excuse for saying that. (And the statement references the general philosophical concept of a First Cause, not any particular traditional conception. The latter are irrelevant to the sort of argument folks like Plato and Aristotle would have about why something exists, is like this, etc.)

    As I explained before, using fundamental rules about the way things act to explain phenomena they are involved in does not explain the rules themselves. I note, critically, there is no explanation here (patient or otherwise) “why God and any …. is unnecessary and unsupported by the facts.” I’ve seen people try here and in Pharyngula, etc., and I can’t prove they are wrong. But, I and others can tangle them up in enough issues about modal realism, existential selection problem, etc., to show there is no way they can get away with pretending they can justifiably make such statements. It’s basically a very tricky question with an unknown and unproven answer, and we can’t even prove whether it’s provable/meaningful or not.

    PS: What PZM and the like are doing to needle religious believers is very tacky and immature, aside from the issue of “who’s right” about ultimate issues or even evolution etc. I am not a “religious believer” because I use philosophical reasoning and not traditions or revelations to find likely truths about ultimate issues. Such people are left out of the debate, except for big figures like Paul Davies. The culture likes bi-polar oppositions; hence e.g. liberals/conservatives but forget libertarianism, etc.

    BTW, most ADers (Anthropic Design aficionados, like me) don’t want the FC needing to meddle in the universe once that’s here (ID?) because the more the universe can accomplish on its own, the more clever the AD was to begin with. As for multiple universes, bring me one in a test tube or at least show us a picture, literal measurement that’s not just an interpretative claim of what happens here, etc, and I’ll respect that hypocritically unpositivist dodge a lot more. The whole issue is full of ironies like that, and the hard-liners at both ends don’t get that and aren’t helping us understand ultimate questions.

  • chuko

    PZ’s remarks aren’t a very good strategy for spreading freethought and atheism though. (Not that I think that was his intent.) There’s a place for ridicule, but it’s a mechanism that divides people. You have to make sure that the people you’re trying to convince are on your side of the divide; you aren’t going to convince the people you’re ridiculing.

  • Kaleberg

    I have no problem with PZ as a provocateur. I just think he shouldn’t waste his ammunition. It isn’t clear what he was trying to accomplish except getting a rise out of the usual suspects. If he had a book coming out or was attacking a particular person or policy it might have made some sense. It’s one thing to poke a mule with a stick to get the cart rolling. It’s another thing to poke a mule with a stick so that it kicks you.

    P.S. My problem with PZ is that he is a puritan.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Other Sean: if you know something is very important to someone, then that should be enough for you to choose not to mess with it.

    devicerandom: Why?

    A mature and ethical person wouldn’t need to ask. Basic consideration for other people’s feelings should be enough reason to avoid offending them unless you fell compelled to make an ethical “statement” to the greater good (e.g., offend people who believe in reflexively supporting our leaders, because you want to fight the use of torture, etc.)

    I think the appeal of this irreverency chic stuff is to adolescent types who think it’s funny to play practical jokes and wear tee shirts with smart-ass lines on them, etc; it’s the South Park kiddies. Grow up. It isn’t actually funny to grown ups. It’s just boorish and reinforces the image (very accurate IMHO but why advertise it?) that nowadays, skeptics and new atheists are often snooty brat types and not gentlemanly doubters like Bertrand Russell. Worse, they indulge contradictory ironies like doubting a First Cause beyond the universe, but casually throwing around “multiple universes” as excuses for not needing God. Their forbears realized that consistency meant just not believing in anything at all we couldn’t find. Both of those developments oddly parallel what happened to political conservatives: Note the devolution from Barry Goldwater and even Reagan to Karl Rove, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage; their nastiness and their odd embrace of contradictory notions about strict construction, expanded executive powers, etc.

  • Other Sean

    Aloysius, I did not intend for this to become a discussion of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, but allow me to respond to your comment.

    I think that Christians today make to big of a deal about religious teachings about sexuality, especially in regards to homosexuality. It is hardly mentioned in the Bible, and homosexual practices are discussed only briefly in the Catholic catechism, where it is put into the same category as masturbation, pornography, and fornication. It is not singled out as being worse than any other sort of sin.

    There is also a paragraph about the need for homosexual people to be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and stating that “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

    I don’t expect you to agree with these teachings, but maybe you will see them as less bigoted than you thought they were. Or maybe not. And it is probably the case that people use the Church’s teachings to justify their own prejudice, but bigotry is by no means the official teaching of the Catholic Church.

  • Andy Feldman

    Good post. This is why I don’t read PZ’s blog (and to some extent Bad Astronomy either). I am a strong agnostic (what most people would call atheist), but I look down on assholes more than on the indoctrinated.

  • Adrian Burd (the first Adrian 8-))

    I can understand and sympathize with those who, like jre (#32) think that emotional distress should not be caused without real justification. However, in order to do so and live as an ex-pat here in the deep south of the US would be impossible. I have very good friends who, since my knowing them, have become deeply devout Christians (as far as I can see, there is no correlation between their conversions and them knowing me!). My being an atheist clearly and evidently causes them emotional distress (as evidenced from their remarks and actions). What is one to do? Should I convert?

    As for the value of ridicule, I make full use of it (along with healthy doses of science) whenever a student in one of my classes challenges evolution or any aspect of the paleo-sciences. I realize that I’m not going to convince that individual that they are patently wrong. But, I may convince some of the quieter students who are sitting on the fence, or those who are having doubts about their faith. And yes, I have evidence that this happens in the fact that people have come up to me later and thanked me for showing how ridiculous some of these beliefs are; they had thought similarly, but didn’t realize that others thought that way.

    Lastly, as is obvious from his writings, PZ was reacting to the patent insanity of those making threats against the Florida student. As others have pointed out on this forum, context is everything.

    Many have a strong feeling that being nice and discussing things on a rational level is the more “humane” way to do things – anything else is just not cricket. Well, that might have been true in the days of Jeeves and Wooster (though I suspect not). Just today I see in the news over here that Bush Jr, Trent Lott and their ilk are claiming that not one drop of oil was spilled during Katrina. I see that the HHS is re-defining the time of conception based on the results on a Zobgy poll!!!!! The former is being used to argue for allowing off-shore drilling. The latter may have the effect of making the pill, IUDs and other contraceptive devices harder to get. And no one in the mainstream media calls these people on these patent lies and ridiculous methodologies.

    So, I’m sorry if it offends people’s sense of decency, but if peoples beliefs lead them to make major decisions that affect not only themselves, but also those around them, and those decisions are based on sheer craziness, lies or a lack of ability to cope with reality, then yes, I will cause them emotional distress. And whilst on the subject, what about the emotional distress the likes of Pat Robertson, George W. Bush, Trent Lott, Bill O’Reilly and many more locals here in Athens cause me every time they try to force their irrationality on me. Sorry, I fight fire with fire, though only after I’ve tried the more “humane” approach.

    Adrian

    p.s. In the name of full disclosure, I was once Christian, my PhD supervisor was (and presumably still is) a devout Catholic.

  • Other Sean

    Luzid,
    Yeah, I thought about the fact that atheists, by definition, don’t believe in anything (as far as God is concerned), when I wrote my first post. But I thought that making that distinction would be unnecessary because everyone would know my intention, plus it would have made the post even longer.

    But I’m glad that I was able to give you something to be smugly right about.

    However, you are “wrong, wrong, wrong” in saying that PZ is attacking a belief, not the believers. If you want to attack a belief, you say it’s untrue, and maybe you point out the reasons that you think it’s wrong. You don’t mock it and threaten to do things that would emotionally distress the believers. That’s not going to do anything other than rile people up.

    Furthermore, if you attack someone’s deeply-held belief as something that only an irrational tard unworthy of any human respect would believe, then yes, you are attacking that person.

  • Tom

    Sean,

    As a regular reader, I appreciate this post. You remained self-consistent while exemplifying respect for others.
    Was the analogy perfect? Hardly. Then again, they seldom are.
    Some who have commented seem to disregard the different meanings for the word “respect”. Respecting intelligence denotes esteem or admiration. However respect as you have outlined is not borne out of esteem, but is inherent in each person. I can disagree, I can think someone foolish, but respect is a deserving social convention that smoothes out many wrinkles.
    Just as many here (likely rightfully so), consider intellect the pinnacle of human abilities, there are others who would say kindless, generousity, empathy trump intellect. To such, they might have little emotional or social respect for many of us. But that should never give them the right to disrespect us for our founded beliefs.

  • Adrian Burd (the first Adrian 8-))

    Neal B (#74)

    I love the characterization of Russell as a “gentlemanly doubter”. For his day, he caused considerable outrage. So did Huxley. And neither were above spicing their writings or debates with ridicule when they felt it was deemed necessary. The founders of this nation also made it quite clear how they felt about religion, especially as it was practiced in their day – again, they were often less than polite. Some of the more well-known US writers are known for their brilliant use of ridicule, sarcasm and wit.

    So, I’d be curious to know if the general consensus is that Russell, Huxley, Adams, Paine, Jefferson, Twain, Mencken etc should be regarded as adolescents and snooty brats?

  • http://kea-monad.blogspot.com Kea

    Genesis 2:23And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

    That’s pretty early on in the bible. I’d love a religious Christian person to explain to me how the bible, as the Word of God, can be interpreted in a way that I don’t find grossly offensive.

  • joji

    Symbols are objects, acts, events, qualities that serve as tangible formulations of beliefs, longings, judgments, attitudes of an individual. When dearly held symbols are derided, owners of such symbols may react any which way. What PZ did was a symbol of derision of Donahue’s symbol. Donahaue made sure he went a notch higher and “specialized some more in being outraged”. Man will go to war for the destruction of one’s symbols. Anyone argue with jihad? I learned religion is a system of symbols that establish powerful and pervasive motivations in men. It formulates ideas of an order of existence. When such order of existence is threatened, anything can happen. And any discussion on the integrity of one’s actions is rendered moot and academic.

    By the way, the symbolism in the cracker is at one end of the continuum while that of the rattle is at the other end. The former is a symbol of one’s Creator and the latter a symbol of one’s created, if I may create a binary. One can decide which destruction of which will yield the greater imbroglio.

    You have a great post. There is always a “political unconscious” in every text, so F. Jameson said.

  • http://www.myspace.com/luzidrhymez Luzid

    Other Sean:

    Nope. You’re still wrong. He’s attacking the ridiculous belief about the wafer itself, not the believer – no matter how deeply-held that belief is, it is NOT a part of that person except by choice (unlike, say, one’s ethnicity or sexual orientation).

    As an aside, I don’t feel smug. I was just correcting a common erroneous claim believers make about nonbelievers. We have no faith, and we don’t choose to not believe.

  • Kai Noeske

    Great discussion. I put a link to it on the Harvard Humanist group blog.
    I find it interesting, although not surprising given CV’s demographics, that most commenters are atheists or critical towards religious beliefs.

    I both agree and disagree with Sean. Disagreement first:

    Alice’s delusional rattle is a harmless symptom, and forcefully taking it from her only causes damage. It is not going to help her get over the grief that is the true origin of that delusion. In the case of organized religion, and the share of fundamentalist activism that it invariably comes with, the delusion is dangerous to the extent that it attacks our lives and freedom, can doom our civilization, and us as a species – the rattle is an icon that they try to make us worship by all means, sizing the educational system, the government, the police, and finally all free thinking, to chase us right back onto the trees (the stone age actually had some – behold – science), probably through a few devastating wars along the way.

    That being said, the rattle/cracker is a mere symptom and desecrating it does not solve the problem. It is an efficient way to create necessary controversy by drawing attention to outrageous acts committed by religious zealots, and tear down their masks of righteousness by coaxing them to show their true face. Maybe there are better ways, not sure.

    In the case of moderate religious people, I agree with Sean. There are legions out there who are decent, intelligent, and are religious because they received the same kind of unfortunate brainwashing that many of us received when we were little. It’s probably not far off to assume that if you approach a decent, mature person with aggressive, disrespectful, arrogant behavior that resembles teenage rebellion, you slam the door and lose them. Apart from the fundamental issue that this behavior is contrary to humanistic principles of human interaction, we would forget that these people are not religious because they are stupid, arrogant, etc. – I believe many have just not made the leap out of the religious cage yet. I was brought up Christian myself – turning atheist was not an easy step, and one of the achievements that I am now most proud of, because it took courage, and probably exposure to the right experiences. Moderate, thinking religious people are probably the best candidates to eventually abandon their beliefs and join the secular part of humanity, but they will certainly be much less likely to do so if atheism comes across as an aggressive anarcho crowd. Actions like desecrating crackers, or blasphemy challenges on YouTube, probably have a place among the noisy publicity battle, maybe you can reach kids this way. Mainstream secularism, though, needs to be decent and respectful.

  • Other Sean

    Luzid,

    I guess neither of us is going to convince the other that they are wrong.

    I tend to think that the more important part of a person’s humanity is that which they have chosen: their beliefs, their thoughts, the way they choose to live their lives. I identify myself more strongly with my religious beliefs, my worldview, and my intellect much more strongly than I do with features that I was born with, such as ethnicity and sexual orientation. My beliefs and thoughts are what distinguishes me from all the other heterosexual, white, American males out there. But if you’re not working from this same assumption, then I guess we will tend to disagree.

    And even if he truly is attacking the belief and not the believer, I don’t see “a world of difference” as you apparently do. If you call one of my core beliefs ridiculous, I have to assume that you are calling me ridiculous, or irrational, or something along those lines, for holding such a belief.

  • SteveC

    Your parable fails in the following way. Alice’s belief in the provenance of the baby rattle is harmless, as they involve nobody else The beliefs of the Catholic church are not harmless as they do involve lots of people and have lots of consequences.

    If one doesn’t want their beliefs ridiculed, one ought to refrain from having ridiculous beliefs. The price of ridiculousness is ridicule.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/ PZ Myers

    There are a couple of big problems with your parable, Sean.

    For one, it is readily extensible to far more than just communion crackers. If we’re going to stand back and avoid criticizing the belief that pieces of bread turn into magical god-meat when a priest waves his hands over them, then perhaps we should offer similar respect to the idea that the earth is only 6000 years old, or zero-point energy, or homeopathy, or The Secret, or telepathy. Your rationale for avoiding point out the lunacy of transubstantiation seems to be that it would offend wide swathes of people…but if that is the justification, then we would also have to avoid attacking creationism.

    For another, the real flaw in the analogy is that I haven’t stolen Alice’s rattle. She still has it, she can do what she want with it. I have been given generic rattles by a few people who willingly sent them to me. Alice doesn’t get to complain that I’ve broken her rattle — she is instead trying to dictate to others what they can do with their rattles. That is a level of absurdity that has to be addressed.

  • Adam

    Sean: I was wondering when you would comment on this. I sort of suspected that this would be your take on the whole affair. I appreciate your reasonableness.

    Kea: This is really off-topic, but here is one of the standard interpretations of that section:

    Adam doesn’t really mean “man” in the sense of a “male”. It literally means “earth” and is a play on the word “dust” (adamah). That is, God created “Adam” out of the “Adamah”. At that point, the standard interpretation doesn’t consider “Adam” to be male, but to be only human. After God removes the rib and shapes Eve from it – after this, Adam is said to be male and Eve female, as the proto-human was divided into two natures. Interestingly, while Adam means earth, Eve comes from the word meaning life.

    So while medieval scholars took this to be a declaration of the subordinate position of women, the text doesn’t include anything in it to suspect that they original authors had that in mind. There are several mythological explanations going on simultaneously – it explains why the words for man and woman (ish and ishah) are so similar, and it explains why men and women seek each other out – man and woman are earth and life and are only fully human when combined.

    When you look into what they were actually doing with the story, it’s really a rather clever story. There are many similar word plays throughout the book of Genesis – anyone who wants to understand what the people writing it were intending would do well to read a good commentary explaining the Hebrew.

  • J.J.

    Sean, I disagree that the Mohamed cartoons should be the litmus test for consistency. I think you’re free to make up your mind based on their considerable differences. I have to say that any direct comparison between them while ignoring these differences is dubious at best. I’ve read (I think) all of the posts here regarding the analogy between the cracker and the cartoons and here is my 2¢.

    First, to be fair, I acknowledge that the two incidents have some important features in common. Stealing a crumbly-wafery bit of Jesus goodness and doodling about Mr. Mo are both materially harmless events (victimless crimes, to use Dawkins’ coinage) that nonetheless run afoul of irrational doctrines. Nevertheless, such events still infuriate a non-trivial proportion of the adherents to those doctrines.

    However, in the case of the cartoons, the primary function is to communicate ideas that are independent of baiting the believers. For example, the “bomb-turban” cartoon seems to be communicating the cartoonist’s belief that Islam is frequently a violent religion, a thesis that, right or wrong, at least has anecdotal evidence supporting it; notably bombings carried out by at least some of Mohamed’s followers.

    The cracker story is entirely different. PZ (dog bless his sole) appeared to be doing one thing and, and one thing only: communicating his disdain for cracker worshipers. This isn’t a simple case of refusing to let offense interfere with delivering a message. In this instance, the message is offense. While I’m very committed to supporting the ability for anyone to continue this type of behavior, that doesn’t mean I endorse it. I believe PZ lawfully did something rather d!ck!5h. I would also add that, if one’s only message is offense, then that person might question whether the message is worthwhile delivering. If they still want to say it, I won’t advocate abrogation of PZ’s right to continue to spew such pointless commentary. Freedom of speech is too valuable.

    In the end, I think the only utility of PZ’s offer to desecrate a silly cracker is that it binds together a community of like-minded thinkers. In that narrow sense, PZ was being constructive. However, if an identifying characteristic of that particular community is appreciation of messages designed only to offend, then I’m pretty sure PZ’s exercise was only a negative one.

  • Adam

    A couple of NB:

    1) the standard Catholic line on biblical interpretation is that the bible isn’t to be taken literally. If that’s your beef with it, you’re really mad at someone else.

    2) In case anyone is wondering, I’m not trying to be cute by using Adam as my handle – that’s my actual name and not related to the bit of interpretation above.

  • http://kea-monad.blogspot.com Kea

    Give me a break. I’m supposed to believe that standard Catholicism is not patriarchal? Yeah, right. By the way, I do know some Catholics, so you can’t get away with outright lies.

  • Pseudonym

    anshul:

    Correct me if I am wrong, but by extension of this post, the cartoonists who drew comics of the Prophet Mohammad were wrong.

    Those cartoonists did the wrong thing.

    Don’t get me wrong: There shouldn’t be a law against what they did (and, it turned out, there wasn’t). Those who issued death threats and engaged in actual violence were far, far more wrong. Even so, they escalated an already bad situation, and that was wrong.

    Having said that, the situations aren’t even remotely comparable. The Jyllands-Posten cartoons were a comment on the rise in self-censorship after the murder of Theo van Gogh. Crackergate was a comment on some kid with a cracker.

    And having said that, I guess the situations are comparable. The Jyllands-Posten cartoonists made an inflamed and violent situation even more inflamed and violent by being provocative. PZ made a stupid situation even more stupid by being stupid.

  • Gest

    Not sure if this point was made or not; lots of posts on this one, tried to read them all. God doesn’t need defending. I am pretty sure that He/She/It (really could be a super smart alien, right?) can handle himself. Attack away… However, the institution(s) (and their practices) that have been built by people as interpretations of what God wants will always need to be defended by design. God teaches (through the Bible- written, interpreted by man) that only he is perfect. So any thing of human construct will be flawed and so therefore be open to criticism, mockery and CONFLICT.

    Depending on which side of the pulpit you fall, the institutions were created to either teach people to deal with conflict or create the conflict that binds the minds of man. My own opinion is that it is designed to create the conflict. Don’t forget, human development lost about 1000 years after the fall of the Roman empire and the rise of the Renaissance as far as Western Civ goes. The feudal lords and the clergy were really cozy during that time period; something about the meek inheriting the earth or bust your ass for your feudal lord now and you shall get what’s coming to you when you die. Kinda convenient for those in power.

    As far as I am concerned, the whole argument is a leftover vestige from the dark ages. I am not saying religion is the Jessie Ventura crutch for the weak minded but it sure acts as a modern day ‘attaboy’ when the world is kicking you.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    PZ, come on. I have no objections whatsoever to pointing out the lunacy of transubstantiation. Pointing out lunacy is a good thing. My whole point was that there is a substantial difference between offering an argument against something (good!) and egregiously mocking it just to make your friends feel superior and adversaries feel hurt (bad).

    I understand your other point even less. Even Bill Donohue, crazy as he is, is not trying to tell people what to do with their own unconsecrated crackers. You asked people to get you some consecrated wafers — swiping from Alice, in terms of the analogy.

    All of which is picking at irrelevant aspects of the analogy, anyway — my attempted point was about how we should deal with deeply-held but completely irrational beliefs of people we respect (or don’t know, and therefore have no reason to disrespect). I’m happy to offer arguments against them, but don’t personally take any joy in mocking them. (Harmless ones, that is, of which this is a perfect example. Harmful ones should obviously be dealt with separately.)

    There are plenty of religious people who I both respect enormously as individuals, and admire for their intellect and thoughtfulness. I just think they’re wrong, and am happy to explain why in enormous detail. But I don’t see what is gained by pretending that they’re all idiots.

  • Gest

    and enough about Sean’s analogy. The compare/contrast he made perfectly was that of emotional significance, regardless of truth vs fact and the payout associated for stating the truth for truth’s sake is just not worth it sometimes. Sometimes it is enough to right but not have to get up on the soapbox and announce it obnoxiously.

    Good job Sean.

    *stepping off my box now.

  • Adam

    Kea: I never said the Catholic church isn’t patriarchal. I am a Catholic, and I went to Catholic schools – What I wrote above is a fairly mainstream intrepretation of the second creation story. The fact that the second creation story wasn’t about instituting the patriarchy doesn’t say anything about whether or not the Catholic church incorporated the patriarchy into its structure. It did, and that is obvious.

    However, the way things change in the Catholic church is if someone can make the argument that this or that practice is contrary to Tradition or scripture. Seeing as many of the scriptural arguments for the patriarchy are largely bunk, I could forsee the Church changing its mind about some of its stances. The fact that the Church has decided that evolution makes a lot of sense and has admitted that homosexuality is inborn and not a choice (though it still asserts that homosexual sex is a sin) means that the Church is capable of taking in new information and updating its opinions.

  • Gest

    @ Adam. I went to Catholic school for a very long time. Herein lies the issue with the Church. It has always positioned itself as the purveyor of truth (in dogma, and in practice). As the ultimate guide for what the truth is, how can it say here is the truth but only until it decides that particular truth serves it needs. Then it trots out another truth. As is the case in your example. I am calling shenanigans, just like I did in third grade much to the consternation of the clergy.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/ PZ Myers

    I question your claim that this is a harmless belief. You might think otherwise if you saw my email: the people who are upset about this are telling me the most amazing stories about bleeding eucharists and the wrath of god smiting people who don’t eat their crackers. I’m seeing a whole new level of looniness I had not even imagined before. Although, there is another piece of the story I’ve known about for some time: these tales demanding utmost respect for a bizarre scrap of Catholic dogma have a long, sordid history, most often used as pretexts for pogroms.

    I have no interest in mocking communion crackers for the sake of simple mockery, either. However, that isn’t what this is about: it’s a protest over the ridiculous persecution of a student at UCF over these crackers. Remember, what prompted the whole kerfluffle was a Donohue press release demanding the expulsion of Webster Cook because he didn’t swallow his magic cookie.

    There is no difference between consecrated and unconsecrated crackers, and there is certainly no right to demand what people must do with the consecrated ones. Most of the consecrated crackers I’ve received have been from lapsed Catholics who, while still Catholic, had kept a wafer as a memento. This notion that the crackers have to be kept inviolate and protected is only held by a subset of Catholics — there is apparently a fair number with a less dogmatic tradition. Somehow, this has been translated into an unwarranted deference to the claims of ownership by the most demented subset of Catholicism, the kind of people who heed Bill Donohue.

    So this is actually more like a group of Alices who have outgrown their silly beliefs and have asked me to smash the relics of their old dogmas for them…while another group that still clings to them demands that I and they can’t do with our freely given crackers as we will.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/ PZ Myers

    And wait…”pretending that they’re all idiots”? Where have I done that? Have I somewhere claimed that all Catholics are idiots? I certainly don’t think that, nor have I written it.

    I think you’re buying into Bill Donohue’s propaganda there.

  • http://kea-monad.blogspot.com Kea

    Adam, the point isn’t that there exists some dubious gender neutral interpretation of any given passage in the bible, or that the bible does not have literary merit. In fact, I think it has great literary merit. But I’m sure you agree that I could find THOUSANDS of biblical quotes, and more importantly religious quotes by a church, that are LOGICALLY more consistent with a strictly patriarchal interpretation. Your hand waving on the issue sounds like serious brain washing to me. My mother was brought up as a Catholic, and in her day nobody would have questioned the patriarchy because everybody believed it. Now, you want me to believe, in opposition to all the evidence, that the church has changed so radically in the last 20 years that its official position on biblical interpretation is gender neutral. Perhaps you could ask your priest to clarify this point, and get back to me with his response.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    You know, I think I’m still not being very clear. And the reason why is that it’s actually very hard to draw a perfectly general line between things worthy of argument and things worthy of mockery. And the reason why it’s hard is that it depends not only on the question itself (does the wafer really become the Body of Christ?), but also on the person with whom we are discussing the issue. It’s not just that some questions are reasonable and some are not; some people are deserving of respectful discussion, while others just deserve jeering.

    Donohue, clearly, is in the second camp, as are the folks who overreacted to the original incident. But going out of one’s way to destroy Communion wafers doesn’t strike back at them — it’s just an egregious insult to Catholics everywhere. Which would be sensible, if one thought that all Catholics were just idiots who didn’t deserve anything better than mockery, but I don’t think that. (Edit: and neither do you, sorry, I shouldn’t be implying that.)

    I guess I just don’t see what is achieved by publicly destroying wafers, other than puffing up the tribe and patting ourselves on the back for how superior we are. It doesn’t convince any onlookers of anything, it doesn’t make a witty satirical point, it doesn’t expose any hypocrisy, it doesn’t make a rational argument, it doesn’t strike a blow for social justice. It just seems self-congratulatory and petty for no good reason, which rubs me the wrong way.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Not that any of this is a big deal, of course. Threatening to destroy Communion wafers, even if I think it’s a bit egregious and unnecessary, is in no way comparable to death threats and all manner of religious craziness.

  • J.J.

    @PZ

    I have no interest in mocking communion crackers for the sake of simple mockery, either. However, that isn’t what this is about: it’s a protest over the ridiculous persecution of a student at UCF over these crackers. Remember, what prompted the whole kerfluffle was a Donohue press release demanding the expulsion of Webster Cook because he didn’t swallow his magic cookie.

    I take you at your word. However, let me point out that many sympathetic readers who agree with you on the substantive issues of atheism find it hard to interpret your post as anything other than baiting or mockery for the sake of mockery. Perhaps we really are dissecting one single post too much. However, if you really did want to protest the persecution of the student, you might’ve indicated explicitly in your request for the wafers. I reiterate, I accept at face value your claim that you wanted to stand in solidarity with the student.

    As an example, a simple sentence or two of clarification might have sufficed. Something like, “In order to show to Donohue and the other crazy cracker worshipers that it is simply immoral to ruin a students’ life on this issue, I propose that we show them there is no difference between consecrated and unconsecrated crackers.” And then you could finish up your post with an offer to “desecrate” both crackers to end your tests or something like that. If you really think about it though, a simple offer to “desecrate” holds specific connotations that imply purposeful disrespect, period. If that isn’t what you wanted to say, perhaps you could’ve used a different term or somehow communicated better.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    Sean wrote

    I guess I just don’t see what is achieved by publicly destroying wafers, other than puffing up the tribe and patting ourselves on the back for how superior we are.

    There’s more than a little bit of goal-post slippage going on there. Who has publicly destroyed wafers? Who has done anything destructive to a wafer? Cook took one back to his seat (legal these days in some Catholic churches), showed it to a friend, and had to flee from the violence offered by the pious members of that congregation. PZ has received some wafers, apparently from lapsed Catholics who kept them as souvenirs, and as far as I know PZ has done nothing to them at all.

    Your original post was about your dismay at PZ’s post, but now it’s about destroying crackers that are, as far as we know, actually intact.

    In fact, the best and most effective use that PZ could make of them would be to simply keep them intact.

  • Harold

    The analogy may not be perfect, but the point is not to piss people off unnecessarily. I agree with Sean here, and was really interested when he decided to post something about PZ. PZ has always been like this, and the general acceptance is that he writes the way he does to attract readers. And the general defense for himself is that it’s his blog and he does what he wants. But the bottom line is, besides being an insignificant source of amusement, his rants are not productive to the rest of us, and instead of swaying non-atheists to his side, he creates frustration and anger. The only good feelings that come from his rants are usually those atheists who feel they are higher than those that deserve it (aka religious believers). This may be why Sean says it’s a superiority issue.

    And to attack Sean’s analogy is missing the point, so PZ still has not been convincing. I guess I wrote a lot because I was also uncomfortable with PZ’s writing.

  • Pingback: Chrononautic Log 改 » Blog Archive » Stupid/crazy()

  • devicerandom

    @ChristopherM:
    Your implication that other people are not worth of respect if they aren’t as smart as you is also really creepy.

    I am not saying “as smart as me”. Nor I think to be smarter than the average. But I cannot respect someone so blatantly refusing to use reasoning in such matters. I just can’t. I can try, but it’s like trying to see black snow. It’s plain impossible to me.
    And I think it’s healthy, just like seeing snow white and not black it is.
    You say it’s creepy, but this is just your feeling. What’s really,technically wrong with that?

    @other sean
    The burden of proof is not on me because I’m not trying to prove it to you.

    You have a burden of proof when you demand respect for that.
    You cannot think of respect as a free ticket. If you want me respecting your beliefs, show me some solid reason to have me respecting that. Otherwise you cannot complain if people laugh and prank them.

    @ChristopherM the fact that some Catholics launched death threats or whatever against Myers really doesn’t make it okay to spit in the face of every Catholic in the world.

    Death threats are just the tip of an iceberg.
    The big, lurking, deadly iceberg is that those people actions are moved by irrational beliefs in bronze-age deities.
    People capable of resigning their intelligence this way can be expected to go berserk anytime, anywhere. They simply cannot be trusted, on average.

    @Sean
    but to piss people off solely in celebration of your own superiority seems unnecessary to me, and not much fun.

    It’s more than that. It’s showing them “hey, we don’t have fear of you morons.”
    It’s a symbolic act. It’s making them clear that they cannot ever demand universal respect for such things.

    @ChristopherM
    If a little kid believed, and told you, that a favorite stuffed animal had magical powers, would you grab the animal, spit on it, and tear it to shreds in front of him? So maybe religious believers are, when it comes to rational understanding of the world, not much better than little kids. It’s still creepy to get your kicks by pissing other people off.

    If a grownup adult behaves like a little kid and asks me to respect his little-kid-like beliefs, yes, I am happy to piss him off.
    He does not deserve my respect, simply.

    @Neil B.
    Basic consideration for other people’s feelings should be enough reason to avoid offending them

    I have no basic consideration for other people’s feelings, unless they show to deserve this consideration.
    Religious people -when adult, educated, and grown in an advanced first-world society- do not show me enough skills to deserve this consideration.
    It’s as simple as that.

    Worse, they indulge contradictory ironies like doubting a First Cause beyond the universe, but casually throwing around “multiple universes” as excuses for not needing God.

    Excuse me?
    First: Many worlds is not a “casually thrown” belief. It is a serious scientific interpretation of quantum theory. Of course it’s still unproven as such, and may well prove false in the future. But at least it has solid math and facts behind itself and it is worth investigating. Supernatural first causes have none of that.
    Second: I was an atheist even before becoming aware of many worlds theory. I would continue to be even after many worlds being rejected. To let me stop being an atheist, all you need is showing me compelling evidence for God. That’s my “excuse”.

    @Kai Noeske
    I was brought up Christian myself – turning atheist was not an easy step, and one of the achievements that I am now most proud of, because it took courage, and probably exposure to the right experiences.

    This is interesting. For me, turning atheist was something natural. I was too educated as a Catholic, in Italy -and you know how deeply Catholic Italy is.
    I remember I was a devout catholic as a child, because everyone else was and I thought that if they teached me these things, they had good reasons to believe that. But day after day, I found no one gave me sound explanations.
    One day (I guess I was 10-11 year old) I went to my mother -a Catholic philosophy teacher, but that never gave me any philosophical teaching as a child- and asked “So, what is the proof of the existence of God?”
    My mother stared. “Proof of -what?” “The proof. The logical proof. There must exist a logical proof, or evidence, otherwise how can all those people believe that?” My mother answered “There is no definite proof. It’s something you believe in.” I just couldn’t understand. I repeated asking, trying to get myself clear, until I understood what she meant. I cried “People believe THAT without evidence or proof?” -And I was an atheist (Actually, I also begun to read books on the subject, but the conversation started me on the right pathway).

    And that’s why I can’t respect those people (And no, I don’t respect even my mother on that, and she knows that very well). If me, a normal, average, 11 year old, can understand the deep ridicule of that, I can’t respect grown up people that still cling to these beliefs.

  • cak

    There is a problem with analogies – if you have to make an analogy to get your point across, then your point is probably wrong. The analogy you give is an incorrect comparison for many reasons already mentioned. The baby was real, whereas a lot of us believe that these church people are deluded. A better comparison would be sitting next to a drunk on a bench, and the drunk decrying that you have sat on his imaginary friend. Then out of principle, you not leaving and getting into an argument where the drunk threatens you, and you laugh at him even more. A poor analogy sure, but most of them are, yours especially.

  • cak

    The problem with arguing with religious people is that we are coming from 2 different, incompatible worlds. We come from a world were we value truth and fact above all else. They come from the world where their god is the most important thing.

  • Wronghead

    I don’t know if someone has already said this because I am not going to read all of these replies, but I think that in the abbreviation of the act, we have lost it’s cause.

    While PZ Myers may well have raised this call to arms with the intent of giving the entirety of the Catholic church a collective apoplexy, that is not the only reason.

    This story has been truncated from its original form into: “Boy steals cracker, church gets mad, boy sends cracker back.” While that alone might even be ridicule worthy, there are some characteristics of this story that are being left out. The first and most striking point is that the kid that did this had his life threatened over it. The second is that the Catholics in the United States used this incident to go bat shit so they could get in the news. The third is that with this air time, they decided that taking a cracker is a hate crime being perpetrated against them. They also claimed to be oppressed. You know, hate crimes, like when the football team ties a gay kid to the bumper of a pick up truck and drag him behind it until he’s dead. Like that. Hate crime. Just tossing that out there…

    Where to begin?
    I think PZ Myers had a gut reaction, and that gut reaction went like this:
    “I know where to begin! FUCK YOU!”

    The Catholic church has believed in transubstantiation for something like eight-hundred years; and while this is not the only such record of anyone desecrating a host, it’s the only one in recent memory. This is not a conspiracy nor is it a part of an ongoing campaign of oppression. It is a direct response to the Catholic church and their histrionics.

    I agree with your article for the most part, and I do think that we need to be the bigger people in this clash of ideals, but at the same time… sometimes they need a kick in the ass.

    This was one of those times.

  • RationalZen

    @Kea:
    “That’s pretty early on in the bible. I’d love a religious Christian person to explain to me how the bible, as the Word of God, can be interpreted in a way that I don’t find grossly offensive.”

    You may be grossly offended by simple things in life. If you want to be offended by the Bible you most certainly will be, if you don’t want to be you most certainly will not. There isn’t anything that a “religious Christian person” can do to change that about you, therefore will be unable to interpret in a way that doesn’t offend you.

    @devicerandom:
    You may not read this as I have not gained your “intellectual respect” quite yet, I probably never will. That being said, living a life that basically revolves around only respecting those that have met some criteria in your head must be a lonely, angry existence. You shouldn’t want to toy with people, purposefully offend, disrespect them on highly emotional topics etc because it’s the right thing to do. You are a part of the species just like everyone else. To pretend that you are anything special, someone that deserves to be thrust above others is just ego (more likely a self esteem issue). You should respect people because they are people, it’s quite easy to completely disagree with others while maintaining high levels of respect.

  • http://Capitalistimperialistpig.blogspot.com capitalistimperialistpig

    Sean,

    I think that you are almost exactly on the mark here. I do think your analogy on disrespecting the communion wafer is wrong though. Tribalism is the point here, not sentimentmental attachment. What PZ did is more akin to a white person walking into a predominantly black tavern and shouting “n*****s stink.” It’s a calculated insult to a group, and a challenge to the group’s identity and self-respect. It’s a tribal insult and it provokes a tribal response.

    PZ’s insult, like that of our (unfortunately not totally hypothetical) white racist, does no objective physical harm, but it is intended to shame and humiliate.

    PZonce wrote a pretty good blog, but he discovered this one gimmick that brought him noteriety and has ever since pumped it for all it’s worth. He is a bully, and a public nuisance.

  • devicerandom

    @RationalZen:
    That being said, living a life that basically revolves around only respecting those that have met some criteria in your head must be a lonely, angry existence.

    It’s not.
    I am actually a quite peaceful person, and I have friends and a sentimental life.
    But I carefully choose my fellows. I don’t like to be in a company just for the sake of being with people. I like to be with intellectually interesting people, that make me laugh and feel well and make me think too (These things are actually well related).

    You are a part of the species just like everyone else.

    I don’t understand why being a part of a biological species means I have to think everyone else belonging to this species is equal to me. This is a very rough approximation. Things are different. People are different -a lot different- from each other. So I accord them different treatment.

    To pretend that you are anything special, someone that deserves to be thrust above others is just ego

    I am nothing special. I am an absolutely average person, I think.
    My ego has nothing to deal with that. It’s not me being right the problem. I am surely wrong on a lot of issues. I, however, strive as much as possible with my limited skills to maintain a rational and unbiased approach to understanding the world. I surely fail a lot of times, but I try and I want to recognize my errors.
    Religious people do not even start to try. This kind of intellectual laziness, how can I respect that? How? Please tell me how, because I simply don’t know.

    it’s quite easy to completely disagree with others while maintaining high levels of respect.

    Actually, I agree with that.
    I disagree with a lot of people every day (heck, you probably already know that :) ), but I almost always maintain respect. Think politics, for example. I have strong political opinions on a lot of subjects, but I keep in utmost respect other opinions, even ones I feel completely opposite to mine, as long as they come from a sincere attempt at understanding the world and make it better. I am a left-wing person, but I strongly oppose laws in Italy and Europe that shut up politically uncorrect talk and neofascist opinions. That’s shutting down free speech, and even if I dislike a lot what those people say, it’s no reason for shutting down their mouth. And I respect many of those people.

    And, take care, I would also strongly oppose any law preventing religious people to freely express their religion. Laws should never, ever touch free speech or personal expression.

    But there is a line between opinions based on sincere attempts to understand the world/make it better, and opinions based on nothing. The first I can respect, and I respect a lot even when I think they are harmful or plain wrong. The second I cannot respect. I am all for them being free to express them, but so I am free to laugh at them and play innocuous pranks to them. As I told before, it’s not their opinion the problem. It’s the method, or rather non-method they use to arrive to this opinion, the problem.

    Note that, despite my utmost disrespect for religious people, I would never, ever call to physically harm them, let alone threat them of death. This should tell you something.

  • Adrian Burd

    Sean @94

    “I’m happy to offer arguments against them, but don’t personally take any joy in mocking them. (Harmless ones, that is, of which this is a perfect example. Harmful ones should obviously be dealt with separately.)”

    Where do you draw this distinction between harmless and harmful ones? Consider the following real case. I live in Georgia and we’re in the second year of a very bad drought (as are many other states). Just before Christmas 2007, Athens was within 5 weeks of having no water. Our governor was elected in part because of his religious beliefs. When informed by our state climatologist that there was a near certainty of having a major drought, our illustrious leader did …. nothing. Once we’re in the middle of a bad drought, our leader has a day or prayer. This is a man who apparently believes that prayer can make it rain and will do that before making statewide contingency plans for a large scale drought in the face of strong evidence that this will occur. Apparently, this mans religious views distorts his perception of reality. To me, this makes him a dangerous person.

    So, if he prays for the well being of friends and family, that’s ok. But if his world view is such that prayer is to be preferred over action, that makes him dangerous. Likewise, if someone believes that a cracker magically becomes the flesh of their god when a priest mutters some magical words, that’s ok. But I would lay strong odds that that mindset also leads one to believe that things like the morning after pill cause abortion and that such folks will prefer to elect leaders who will fly in the face of scientific evidence and reality and enact laws banning these things.

    So, I do not see where you draw this line. How do determine not to attack belief A when the state of mind leading to belief A also leads to belief B which causes harm to many others. To me, it seems to make a lot of sense to attack the root cause, not these many disparate symptoms one at a time. To me, that’s what PZ and those like him do.

    As I see it, the danger of taking the “humane” approach is that you get shouted down. The current state of public discourse in this nation (the US) does not allow the views of the gentleman debater to be heard. This may have been different in times past and may become different again, but I see little evidence that it will. So, to me there seem to be several options:

    1) Keep on as normal, being nice and respectful – and I will admit, this is always my first course of action. Ones views will not be heard above the braying of those louder and more strident than oneself. But almost always I find I have to move to stage 2

    2) Be strident, like PZ and Dawkins etc. and fight fire with fire – without losing sight of the science and rationality.

    3) Give up and go live on a desert island and hope that the rest of the world doesn’t screw things up so badly that it affects your little secluded paradise.

    The bottom line seems to me to be that is people feel free to trample on rational discourse and scientific fact (let alone the law of the land) to force their point of view across, then they shouldn’t be upset when others trample on their irrational and unsupported beliefs.

    Adrian

  • Pingback: Sorting Out Science » Blog Archive » Skeptics’ Circle, the 91st()

  • Stacy Horn

    I’m new to this blog, and I have to admit I don’t know who PZ Meyers is, but I was struck by the disingenuousness of his reasons for not getting a communion wafer himself. I mean, if he thinks it’s an important statement to be made, get the freaking thing yourself. For all his bluster about what he’d do with it once he gets a hold of one, he seems like a bit of a chicken. He seems to lack the courage of his convictions, as they say, so that makes me wonder what this is really about for him. Again, don’t know the guy.

  • devicerandom

    @Stacy
    PZ Myers is a well known atheist blogger. He is a public figure. Most probably he wouldn’t be able to get a communion wafer safely -someone in the church would recognize him.

    However I agree I would at least try, if I was him. But I think that inducing other people to smuggle wafers is better for him, because could lead all churches nationwide to feel insecure about their precious wafers. It brings more havoc :) (Unsure, however, how is this useful or not)

  • Janus

    The Alice parable is incredibly misleading. Are you actually comparing being mistaken about a rattle’s sentimental value to believing that a cracker magically transforms into the body of a dead Jew?

    Here’s a better analogy, inspired by one of Sam Harris’ talks. Bob is a great admirer of Elvis Presley. For some reason, he believes that speaking a few Latin words over his breakfast cereals will magically turn them into the body of Elvis. Miranda watches Bob do this a few times, concludes he’s lost his mind, and dumps the alleged Body of Elvis in the trash.

    Is Miranda an asshole? Do you think that instead she should have sat down with Bob to carefully, politely explain to him why there is no good reason to believe that cereals can magically turn into Elvis? Because the problem with that second approach is the same problem there is with refraining from ridiculing a ridiculous belief in any situation: You risk giving the impression that the belief isn’t ridiculous. Showing respect for a belief that doesn’t deserve it grants power to that belief (and its believers) that it shouldn’t have: At the very least, the power to demand respect, at worst, the power to oppress those who refuse to show respect. This is how the various religions retain their influence in 2008.

  • tryllid

    Thank you.

    Moderation on both sides is much appreciated. I’m not sure about the analogy, but having basic respect for what another human being holds precious is a place to start. If we were talking about destroying Buddhist temples or torching libraries then it might make more sense to others.

  • http://freiddy.blogspot.com Freiddie

    Well written post, Sean! Thanks for such an interesting post.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Adrian Burd (the first Adrian 8-)): re Russell, et al First, just because I mentioned BR doesn’t mean I should have to include everyone roughly similar in views, like Huxley. It’s a matter of degree anyway, as you should realize since no one is perfect or exemplary. As for Russell himself, maybe did spice his writings with some putdowns but I don’t think he wrote about religious folks like PZ Meyers does: graphic example, actually soliciting commenters to his blog to come up with insults to a pitiful crank like Ken Ham. I can’t imaging BR doing something like that, which is unbecoming anyone having the title of “university professor.” Russell was not a brat, Mencken and Twain may have been but put themselves forth as humorist/satirists and didn’t have pretensions of being academics or scholars as such. A lot of the commenters here certainly come across as snotty brats.

    devicerandom:

    I have no basic consideration for other people’s feelings, unless they show to deserve this consideration.
    Religious people -when adult, educated, and grown in an advanced first-world society- do not show me enough skills to deserve this consideration.
    It’s as simple as that.

    It isn’t really that simple except to a breathtakingly arrogant figure who appoints him or herself to apportion moral worth and basic respect on the basis of his own prejudices. If you were talking entirely about clearly disprovable issues, such as beliefs contradicted by known facts and not those which are debatable precisely because we can’t get an empirical handle either way, it would still be a tacky attitude – but you haven’t even got that much. You’ve gotten mixed up about the current focus of “multiple worlds” anyway: not the old quantum splitting idea (which involves the same laws of physics, but alternative paths of “wave function collapse.” Current focus on MUs is more about variation in laws of physics (mostly in order to pretend to explain away why the physical constants are finely tuned for the existence of life) for which there is no rigorous, demonstrated basis whatsoever (or show me.)

    Like many others, you talk about evidence for a First Cause/Creator but there’s no evidence one way or the other – as Paul Davies explained in his 1992 classic The Mind of God – The Scientific Basis for a Rational World. We have to consider various arguments in the vein of ultimate abstraction if we aren’t following “religious traditions” (and I don’t either, so I don’t give a crack about cracker arguments etc.) That means you have to think about questions like why is there anything at all, why this possible world and not others (if there are others – consider the incredible argument of “modal realism” from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism:

    Modal realism is the view, notably propounded by David Lewis, that possible worlds are as real as the actual world. It is based on the following notions: that possible worlds exist; possible worlds are not different in kind to the actual world; possible worlds are irreducible entities; the term “actual” in “actual world” is indexical.

    It is ambiguous even whether the natural/supernatural distinction makes sense when we wonder “how much exists totally”, since there’s no reason for other worlds to be like ours, or even to be “worlds” instead of say, “beings” quite independent of our physics etc. What is the basis for a dismissive (versus simply the moderate skeptic saying, I can’t find any so I’ll be an agnostic) of “the supernatural” in such a context? IOW, not specific entities dwelling in our world but of different nature, but rather something completely outside and causally responsible.

    BTW my complaint was about an overall attitude among certain people and your complaints, right or wrong about whether you deserve it is totally irrelevant to the point and not likely even a representative expression.

    Finally, the sentiment that you can separate ridicule of persons from ridicule of beliefs is faulty, since such persons define themselves so deeply by their beliefs that the two issues become the same.

  • Luke

    I’ve only skimmed this post and this professor’s post. The professor sounds like an angry teenager. Why is he so angry? Perhaps he’s recovering from some abuse inflicted upon him when he was a small child.
    People who have hostility towards Catholicism should not attend mass. That is the way for everybody to get along civilly in our diverse society. This kid should have returned the communion wafer immediately. His behavior could probably be considered theft under Florida law. If that is case, then he committed a crime which could be called a hate crime, as the term is commonly used in this country. I don’t why this professor doesn’t understand that point. Since theft is involved, it’s not as serious as a killing, but it’s a hate crime nevertheless. Personally, I don’t believe that crimes should treated differently because hate is involved. In other words, I don’t believe that the hate crime concept shold be enshrined in law at all. Nevertheless, if we have such a term in our language, then this college kid committed a hate crime. It’s pretty simple and I don’t know why the professor doesn’t understand it.

  • http://dekorte.com/ Steve Dekorte

    The critical difference between religion and Alice’s baby rattle is that Alice isn’t killing people over the rattle, but people kill each other in the name of religion on a daily basis.

    England and Ireland, Pakistan and Indian, Serbia/Croatia, the Middle East, etc. The Catholic church in particular is responsible for the Crusades and the Inquisitions (which killed a greater percentage of the population at the time, than Hitler’s concentration camps). Religion is no mere sentimental crutch.

  • Adrian Burd

    Neil B (@121)

    “First, just because I mentioned BR doesn’t mean I should have to include everyone roughly similar in views, like Huxley”

    I never suggested you should. I was merely interested to know what kinds of writing would lead you to describe someone as a “snotty brat”. Pure curiosity on my part since, from the examples you give, I suspect we would describe different people as “snotty brats”.

    “It’s a matter of degree anyway, as you should realize since no one is perfect or exemplary.”

    Ummm, I do realize this, thanks.

    “As for Russell himself, maybe did spice his writings with some putdowns but I don’t think he wrote about religious folks like PZ Meyers does: ”

    As I thought I had mentioned, sensibilities were rather different 80-100 years ago. Indeed, there are even strong differences today between Europe and the US in what passes for acceptable discourse (says he with wistful memories of the House of Commons). I would even argue that there was a sea-change in sensibility and discourse in the US between my first stay here (1991-1992) and when I returned (mid 90s), though I’m willing to accept that that may have been more a result of my perception, and the differences between St. Louis and College Station (TX), than a real national change.

    “I can’t imaging BR doing something like that, which is unbecoming anyone having the title of “university professor.””

    Interesting perspective. I never knew the 3rd Earl Russell, but I suspect that his comparatively gentle wit and charm would mostly fall on deaf ears in what passes for modern public discourse. So maybe he would, I don’t know. So, again out of curiosity, how in your opinion should I behave as a tenured professor at an American public university in the deep south? I’m curious, because being British, I sometimes find what I consider normal, acceptable behavior is misinterpreted; so I would welcome your insight.

    And to set the record straight and avoid confusion, I would far prefer that ideas were discussed publicly in a rational, genteel fashion with credence given to fact and reality. Sadly that appears to be impossible in the US at the moment. To do so, you get belittled as being part of the “reality-based community” and get totally ignored by those around you. Consequently, I try to choose my rhetorical weapons with care, and respond with only appropriate levels of ridicule. So far, this latter approach has seemed to be far more effective than the former.

    All the best,

    Adrian

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Actually, I should make a major correction to how I just did, and most writers refer to “evidence” – many of us act as if what was or wasn’t “evidence for X” was easily assured, and it was just a matter of whether it had been found. But really there are two parts of the evidence problem: What do we find, and the interpretative question of whether a given thing is (or could be) evidence for X or etc. In the case of philosophical and not “faith-based” arguments for “God,” the question really is: Is this universe, its properties, and other things we already know in conjunction with conceptual justification, evidence that the universe would need to be created? Or, can it be “self-existent” etc. as Bertrand Russell, Sean here and others believe? It’s debatable, not a slam-dunk for there having to be a God, but that implies of course that the “no” answer has no particular higher standing. (The idea that non-existence is “preferable” or more likely than existence for hypotheticals in general, over and above their particular merits, is a fallacy albeit wide-spread.)

    (BTW in this context “God” is better put as “First Cause” since It may not be like God as described in most religions – but not all, see e.g. the alayavjnana of higher Buddhism, which almost sounds like a fundamental field or “mother foam” concept.)

  • Aloysius

    Other Sean,

    Not to keep harping on this, but bigotry is the official teaching of the Catholic Church. It as an institution is officially opposed to gay marriage, and quite a number of priests and bishops and the Pope himself have publicly campaigned against marriage rights for same-sex couples. And why, exactly? Since references to homosexuality are so thin on the ground in the Bible, why on Earth does the Church feel a need to campaign so stridently for the oppression of millions of otherwise-inoffensive people? If that isn’t bigotry then what is it?

    I think we’ve probably said everything about this particular subtopic that can usefully be said. I don’t want to try to tar you with the same brush I’m using on the Church, as many religious believers disagree with these rather nasty sentiments, but Catholicism is not just a shared set of cultural touchstones minding its own business. It is an active and organised force in the world which does not respect the basic human rights of others and does a great deal of harm. If people choose to associate themselves with the Church and accept the authority of its leaders, they’re lending their tacit approval to homophobic oppression. For them to then turn around and demand that the rest of society show respect for the quirks of their rituals is…disingenuous, to say the least. Am I to respect their feelings when they don’t even respect my right to fall in love?

    What’s in it for me? There’s no value in promoting a respectful civil society if I’m going to do all the respecting and others are still free to demonise me and deny me equal rights under the law. If the Catholic Church kept itself entirely out of the political sphere, then I’d be more sympathetic. Until then…

  • Otis

    I appreciate the tone of Sean’s post. Each human being deserves a measure of respect and there is a fundamental reason for that It is because each human being is a special creation of God, created in his image for a purpose. When you disrespect another person, that disrespect is ultimately directed at God who created that person.

    Jesus Christ boiled down all commandments into just two: love God and love people. Sometimes that means showing love to the unlovable, and showing respect is part of that.

  • Costanza

    Excellent post. HOWEVER,

    “Frankly, she is being completely irrational about this.”

    I think I understand how you meant this (I can be impressively dense); nevertheless…I have 2 boys, both in their 20’s. You have a long way to go (and congrats; it’s a great ride). If you can remain rational all the time where your kids are concerned, then you are a far better person than I am.

  • Mark B.

    Very nice — not the position I would have expected you to take, but one I completely agree with.

  • http://www.builtonfacts.com Matt

    bob on Jul 16th, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    As a child, George Gamow swiped a communion wafer and brought it home to examine it under a microscope. Finding it identical to a common cracker, and not at all like human tissue, he immediately rejected his religion.

    I’m not a Catholic so don’t take this as the definite word, however in all the comments here no one has questioned the assertion that Catholics believe bread literally turns into skin. They don’t.

    The technical description of this is that the RC church believes that the bread retains the “accidents” of bread (ie, it retains all the physical characteristics of bread) while actually becoming the body of Christ in some deeper sense.

    Think of it as a certified copy of a birth certificate. Physically it’s not changed into the original birth certificate, but legally it is the same as the original birth certificate.

  • Spiv

    “When a theory is transformed into an ideology, it begins to destroy the self and self-knowledge. No one can tell it anything new. It is annoyed by any detail which does not fit its world view. Begun as a way to restore one’s sense of reality, now it attempts to discipline real people, to remake natural beings after its own image.”

    – Susan Griffin,”The Way of all Ideology,”

    I read that somewhere recently, and it’s incredibly accurate to this. I read PZ’s blog (often), and even enjoy the comments below the fold most of the time. However, many, many people there take lack of theology as an ideology in the above sense.

    Actually, I think it’s no secret that PZ’s ‘lack of theology” is really anti-theology. I’d expect him to readily explain it as such. All the same, I’m afraid I’ve been watching this business as an outside viewing two warring ideologies, rather than a correct vs incorrect (even if the latter is somewhat true.

  • http://anon@anon.com piscator

    Aloysius,

    > … bigotry is the official teaching of the Catholic Church. It as an institution is >officially opposed to gay marriage, and quite a number of priests and bishops >and the Pope himself have publicly campaigned against marriage rights for >same-sex couples… If that isn’t bigotry then what is it?

    It is opposition to gay marriage. Marriage in Catholic understanding has as a necessary component the transmission of life, which for basic reasons of biology implies it is restricted to a man and a woman.

    You may be awfully brainy and all that, but it is not bigotry to disagree with you, and it is a form of bullying to insist that it is.

    >if I’m going to do all the respecting and others are still free to demonise me >and deny me equal rights under the law.

    So far in this thread you have explained that Catholics (with a gracious exception for those who disassociate themselves from the church) deserve to be `shunned and treated with a certain amount of outright contempt’. You have also implied that Catholics (with the same gracious exception) are evil and despicable.

    I do not know your definitions of `to respect’ and ‘to demonise’, but they seem to differ somewhat from mine.

    piscator

  • Pingback: Almost Everything I’ve Ever Wanted To Say To Atheists at K. Tempest Bradford()

  • Aloysius

    Piscator, let’s play a very simple game. Suppose the Catholic Church publicly came out opposing marriage between people of different races on theological grounds. Would that be bigotry? If you agree that it would, I can’t see how you could turn around and claim that opposing same-sex marriage is not: in what way are they not the same?

    If you don’t think that would be bigotry, then your ethical compass is so far off from my own that I don’t think we can usefully converse.

  • piscator

    Aloysius,

    The basic difference is that people of different skin pigmentation can have babies together and people of the same sex can’t.

    piscator

  • invcit

    Sean,

    It is not simply a matter of intellectual disagreement. In the case of fundamentalists (which this is aimed at, no?), they are people who actually believe that people like us deserve to spend an eternity in Hell just because we don’t believe the same as they do. I see little difference between this and other radical totalitarian systems, such as Stalinism or Nazism. The only difference is that we are somehow supposed to be tolerant and respectful towards religious beliefs, whereas secular beliefs can be ridiculed however much we want. But just as the Christian or Muslim can find it deeply meaningful to obey a God which wants to torture non-believers in Hell, I am sure a nazist finds it similarly meaningful to worship Hitler’s ideas. Yet no one would raise the kinds of points you are raising if it was a matter of burning flags of swastikas instead of doing harm to crackers.

  • invcit

    piscator,

    Do you seriously believe that once we have the technology to fuse the chromosomes of two eggs or two sperm and form a baby that the Catholic church will revise its stance on homosexuality? Of course not. Homosexuality, in the view of the Church, is a sin. It it not just impractical for making children, it is morally wrong to engage in such activities, and the Old Testament goes so far as to say we should stone homosexuals. Believing such a book is holy is, for sure, bigotry.

  • piscator

    invicit,

    I don’t accept the relevance of the analogy; such hypothetical technology would not affect the biology of the sexual act.

    >It it not just impractical for making children, it is morally wrong to engage in >such activities,

    The view of the Church is that the act is morally wrong in part because it is impractical for making children: the sexual act should not be divorced from the procreative function. In a similar vein the Church also regards masturbation and fornication as morally wrong, however these beliefs do not receive the same opprobrium. Of course, these teachings are hard and maybe impossible to live up to. But that’s not the point: being part of the Church is a statement that I sin and screw up in all manner of ways, not a statement of moral virtue.

    The teaching of the Catholic church is that the Old Testament is holy and that homosexuals must be accepted with respect and compassion, and that every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.

    As it may need emphasising: in terms of moral gravity sexual sins come way down: traditional catechesis is that the deadliest of all sins is pride.

    piscator

  • devicerandom

    @Neil B.
    It isn’t really that simple except to a breathtakingly arrogant figure who appoints him or herself to apportion moral worth and basic respect on the basis of his own prejudices

    Well, I am talking of my respect towards those people. It is no one’s business to tell me who should I respect and who not. I choose who I respect, and that’s (one of) my criteria. It is obvious that subjective things like “respect” depend on your personal worldview and not much more else. Speaking for myself, respect is something I value a lot, and that’s why I don’t give it to anyone. If I am going to respect everyone, my respect is worthless.

    What algorithm do you use for appointing basic respect, instead? Is there someone else telling you who do you respect and who not? And why the judgment of this someone else is better than yours?
    I don’t get it.

    You’ve gotten mixed up about the current focus of “multiple worlds” anyway: not the old quantum splitting idea (which involves the same laws of physics, but alternative paths of “wave function collapse.” Current focus on MUs is more about variation in laws of physics (mostly in order to pretend to explain away why the physical constants are finely tuned for the existence of life) for which there is no rigorous, demonstrated basis whatsoever (or show me.)

    It’s you getting mixed up.
    One thing is the Everett many worlds interpretation of quantum physics. This is something that, as far as I know (I am not a physicist myself), seems to have a pretty strong background, even if it is far from proven “right”.
    Another thing is the hypothesis of a multiverse with different “universes” with different laws of physics (i.e. constants) sprouting from one other, endlessly (this is an Andrei Linde idea, IIRC). This is an interesting theory, but of course it is just a theory. At least, however, it is a physical theory, no matter how wild, and that’s different from being a supernatural theory based on late Bronze Age narrative.

    As far as I know, these are two different theories however, that do not contradict -they talk of different “levels” of multiverses. You should read the stuff from Max Tegmark on this subject.

    Like many others, you talk about evidence for a First Cause/Creator but there’s no evidence one way or the other

    Oh please. Do I really need to bring here the Russell teapot?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell_teapot
    Come on.

    That means you have to think about questions like why is there anything at all, why this possible world and not others

    I think about those questions. I think we simply have not enough data to find an answer.

    It is ambiguous even whether the natural/supernatural distinction makes sense when we wonder “how much exists totally”, since there’s no reason for other worlds to be like ours, or even to be “worlds” instead of say, “beings” quite independent of our physics etc. What is the basis for a dismissive (versus simply the moderate skeptic saying, I can’t find any so I’ll be an agnostic) of “the supernatural” in such a context? IOW, not specific entities dwelling in our world but of different nature, but rather something completely outside and causally responsible.

    This surely may be. But again, it is such a wild hypothesis that I would like some math and/or some evidence backing it up. I know there is a (pretty weak IMHO, but there is) probabilistic argument for our universe being a simulation – Nick Bostrom is the author, IIRC. That’s the most we’ve got on the subject.

    When you have some evidence, even some hint, or when this comes naturally from developments of theoretical physics, let me know. I’m open to change my mind.

    Finally, the sentiment that you can separate ridicule of persons from ridicule of beliefs is faulty, since such persons define themselves so deeply by their beliefs that the two issues become the same.

    This is something I have never said, I think. I agree completely the two issues are the same, and in fact I do not respect the persons.

    Is this universe, its properties, and other things we already know in conjunction with conceptual justification, evidence that the universe would need to be created? Or, can it be “self-existent” etc. as Bertrand Russell, Sean here and others believe? It’s debatable, not a slam-dunk for there having to be a God, but that implies of course that the “no” answer has no particular higher standing.

    Huh, why no higher standing?
    The “no” answer is the best according to the Occam’s razor. There is no reason to think “self-existence”, as you call it, is not an intrinsic property of the universe. Of course, there is also no reason to dismiss the contrary. However the “self-existence” theory requires no other entities apart from the Universe itself, so it is way simpler, and the opposite theory would require self-existence of the first cause, as it is too well known, just pushing the problem back. Therefore, until novel evidence is brought to the table, the self-existence of the Universe (or multiverse :) ) is the most sensible theory.

    However thank you for the link on modal realism. Interesting philosophical stuff, I’ll read it.

    @piscator:
    It is opposition to gay marriage. Marriage in Catholic understanding has as a necessary component the transmission of life, which for basic reasons of biology implies it is restricted to a man and a woman.

    I think Catholics allow sterile people to marry. If it’s so (I am not 100% sure – I know that not having sexual intercourse at all can make the marriage void, but I don’t know about sterility), your argument is moot.

  • Luke

    Hey, I know a lot of you people are basing your attacks on religion on science. Do you ever consider looking at homosexuality from a scientific point of view? If evolution programmed the brains of most humans to be sexually attracted to the opposite sex for the purpose of reproduction, what function does homosexuality serve? Looking at it this way, you could consider homosexuality to be a sort of brain disorder. In fact, it was considered a mental illness less than 40 years ago.

    When it comes to the whole gay issue, science and religion may not be in conflict as much as you think. Of course, it more research needs to be done to figure out what is going on in those gay brains.

  • http://name99.org/blog99 Maynard Handley

    “Even for someone who is a literal believer in transubstantiation, threatening violence against someone who mocks your beliefs doesn’t seem like a very Christian attitude. ”

    Wow — it’s like someone, let’s call him Ahmed, in some country, let’s call it Iran, getting upset about a cartoon mocking his religion. Fancy that.

    Of course the one case is an example of the fundamental islamofascism of one billion people, whereas the other case is a nuanced, complicated situation that deserves respect and, god forbid, certainly does not require us to throw about words like terrorism.

  • http://vacua.blogspot.com Jim Harrison

    Since Catholic priests are supposed to be celibate, I guess they are also suffering from a brain disorder. (Of course, as Rabelais pointed out long ago, the biological real is different than the theological ideal. Well, what he actually said was that even the even shadow of a monastery church steeple can knock up your daughter.)

    By the way, a gene can jolly well promote sterility in some of its carriers if it increases overall fitness. There is some evidence, for example, that some of the genes related to homosexuality may have the phenotypical effect of increasing the sexual attractiveness of men so that they increase fertility in women who possess ’em at the same time that they decrease fertility in men. Moreover, these genes seem to occur on the X chromosome, which means that the female children of male homosexuals with the trait are as likely to say “Hello sailor!’ as their gay fathers since all the daughters are guaranteed to inherit the trait.

    (I am not vouching for this research, by the way. I only mention it because it point out one of many, many ways that genes for homosexuality could be favorable from a natural selection point of view.)

  • http://name99.org/blog99 Maynard Handley

    “Do you ever consider looking at homosexuality from a scientific point of view? If evolution programmed the brains of most humans to be sexually attracted to the opposite sex for the purpose of reproduction, what function does homosexuality serve? Looking at it this way, you could consider homosexuality to be a sort of brain disorder. ”

    So Luke, please explain and clarify for us, oh wise one, the many documented cases of homosexual behavior in a wide variety of species.

  • Luke

    Well, gee, homosexual behavior in other species could be considered a disorder just as it might be in humans.

    My point, though, goes back to evolution. According to theory, natural selection would select against gay genes. Why would there so many gays around? How could there be, as Jim mentions in post # 141, “female children of male homosexuals”? One possibility is that cultures around the world have compelled gays to marry and have children. The Catholics should actually support gay marriage, gays in the army, etc. Get all the gays out of the closet. Don’t force them to be pretend to be straight. They may all die off in a few generations.

    These are just some idea. As I wrote previously, nobody seems to understand the phenomenon well. More research is required.

  • JimV

    The idea that non-existence is “preferable” or more likely than existence for hypotheticals in general, over and above their particular merits, is a fallacy albeit wide-spread. – Neil B. @ #125

    I guess I don’t understand what you are trying to say. If by particular merit, you mean there is good evidence for the existence of some specific hypothetical, then I don’t see why you think the preference for non-existence of such hypotheticals is wide-spread.

    If on the other hand you are saying that when we have no good evidence for or against any of several competing hypotheses, there is no good reason to prefer one of them (provisionally) over the others, then William of Occam and I disagree with you, as it only makes sense to me to start with the one with the fewest unknown parameters, until more evidence shows the need for more parameters. For example, it could be the case that all of the known laws of physics, such as Maxwell’s equations, actually contain further unknown terms which are too small to show up in current experiments – but I see no reason to give credence to this until effects attributable to unknown terms show up.

    The First Cause and fine-tuning arguments are in the same category as that to me. The first gives me no explanatory bang for its buck, as I still have to explain where the hypothetical creator came from. The second seems like circular reasoning: life exists, therefore it is special, and since it is special it must have been the reason the universe was created. It is like being dealt a poker hand without knowing anything about poker, and assuming the hand must be a royal flush. Who knows what amazing creatures might have existed in another universe, perphaps composed of self-replicating electro-magnetic fields?

    I don’t. All I know is that this universe exists. I don’t see the point of assuming anything beyond that until evidence points to some other conclusion.

    However, I do accept it as an emprical fact that some smarter people than myself do seem to give such arguments credence, and agree that there is no point in calling them idiots.

    Mark me down as in full agreement with Sean’s post, by the way. As I have said elsewhere, I blame evolution, for making us territorial (even when the territory may be symbolic).

  • http://metaandmeta.typepad.com/ “Q” the Enchanter

    One problem with this analogy: Alice’s rattle is not merely one among, say, thousands of generic rattles that she keeps in a bin ritualistically to dispose of once a week with her friends.

    Destroying one of those rattles? Rude to be sure.

    But stealing the one rattle Alice reasonably believed to be her lost son’s would be evil.

    What PZ did was rude, not evil.

  • http://name99.org/blog99 Maynard Handley

    “Well, gee, homosexual behavior in other species could be considered a disorder just as it might be in humans.”

    But it can hardly then be a sin, an affront to god and all that, can it? In which case why is it a matter of interest to religion? Does religion have useful things to say about diabetes or cancer? Do we consult priests when we design new drugs?

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    You might want to look at a book titled “Exhuberant Life,” which gives a lot of examples of homosexual and transgendered behavior in a wide range of animals. I watched an episode of PBS “Nature” the other day about how so called transvestite male cuttlefish, since they mimic females, managed to be more reproductively successful than the ordinary males. These behaviors seem to be sexual strategies akin to a sneeker strategy. A male elk that plays the role of a female lives with the females and manages to pass on his genes under the nose of the dominant male who rules over the harem of females. These behaviors occur in mammals and birds, and probably there were bisexual, homosexual or transgender behaving dinosaurs.

    The Mosaic law against homosexuality existed for two reasons. It probably in part had to do with a sense that males need to increase the size of the tribe. The other is in line with the Judaic sense of separation, where this law made the ancient Hebrews distinct from the other cultures around them where homosexuality was common. The story of Lot and Abram in Sodom is also an admonishment against homosexuality, and if you have never read this little bit it is worth a read. It is an amusing tale where Lot in order to keep the “angels” from the crowd throws his daughter to them, and then later in a drunken stupor Lot is seduced by his daughters.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Aloysius

    Piscator,

    Thank you for demonstrating pretty much every point I ever wanted to make. Your distinction is not something that should be taken seriously as a real point worth considering, and I hope that one day you’ll realise that and stop wasting the world’s time with this frivolity. All you have to do is think about sterile heterosexuals for a moment and you’ll see how inherently implausible your procreative restriction on marriage is. There’s no procreative difference between a same-sex couple and a sterile heterosexual one, so to keep denying marriage rights to same-sex couples would just be an act of bigotry, a completely unfounded and offensive assumption that same-sex couples just aren’t as good as opposite-sex ones. At least I certainly find it offensive. If you don’t, I don’t see how you can claim Catholics have any legitimate cause to be offended by Crackergate when much worse is acceptable when directed at homosexuals.

  • Luke

    Lawence, that book might worth checking out. However, you didn’t mention the act of sodomy itself in the two examples that you wrote about, the cuttlefish and the elk. The gay males that I’ve known and read about are not sexually attracted to women at all.

    It seems to me that the whole phenomenon of homosexuality would be much less common if gays hadn’t been forced to marry and reproduce. That leads back to my earlier point. It’s been the religions of this planet that have a played a major role in forcing the gays to reproduce!

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Adrain: “I would far prefer that ideas were discussed publicly in a rational, genteel fashion with credence given to fact and reality.”

    That’s great, and that’s what I suggest for all around, religious, atheist, whatever. I think it’s pretty clear, as I said, that inviting ridicule of one’s critic on a “blog” is rather revolting. BTW some have the fallacious notion that complainers about the wafer incident imply or state that ridiculing non-religious belief is somehow OK in a general sense but ridiculing religious belief isn’t. I sure don’t think so, to me it’s about the particulars and weighing of significance to the believers versus actual threat to liberties or whatever – and even in the last case, it is debatable in perfectly rational terms what should be done (is it *logically obvious* that same-gender persons should be able to enter into the same state-sanctioned ceremony as others? How about private use of intoxicants, how about public nudity (or, why should men be allowed to go shirtless and not women, etc.)? Many of those are political disagreements, not what you can “prove” logically to be the “correct” social policy.

    (How ironic, so many of these materialist skeptics don’t even appreciate that their ethical pronouncements about oppression etc. are philosophically “meaningless” in strict positivist terms, just like metaphysical statements about God etc. That’s what the positivists actually said, don’t blame me and I don’t agree with them – but what then would be your excuse?) In any case, I think that if something is bad and dangerous enough not to deserve consideration per believers’ feelings, then it’s too grave to trivialized by ridicule anyway.

    As for the points raised by JimV:
    I mean, there’s no reason to think non-existence is more likely for a hypothetical, over and above the merits or lack of, for believing in it in particular. IOW I don’t trust the Occam argument, however much attractive and historically followed – what is the basis for our having and trusting that insight into reality’s “existence habits” anyway? Whether you agree with my take on the razor, the case of extra fiddles in Maxwell equations etc. (since they are loose-end refinements to an existing structure) is not at all like whether the whole universe needs some cause beyond itself, or not. It’s the difference between a thing having extra curlicues versus whether there’s something at all, or not at all, in a fundamental category. As for explaining the FC, it has long been appreciated that the real question is: what sort of being would be self-existent, not the sophomore’s straw man pretense that if “everything needs to be created then who created God.” (Every Medieval schoolman realized that.) The problem with our universe being “it” is that our universe is too particular. For all this to just be here and be self-justifying among all the possible worlds in the platonic mindscape (ref. modal realism above) is like the number 23, among all numbers, being made into real brass numerals despite just being a number like 0, 1, 5, 100, e, 4.5 – 12i, e, etc. Even picking out some realities is the same problem, like why reify the numbers from 5 to 28 but none of the others, etc.

    But if you want to believe the opposite extreme that “everything exists” and there’s no distinction anyway, go ahead but be warned – it creates a huge mess. If you read Davies’ book The Mind of God, you will see that many of the intuitively appealing drawing-room rational homilies and objections you’re used to don’t do too well in the philosophical meat grinder. That doesn’t mean the case for God is tidy and convincing either, just that (as you admit) smart people are aware this is a deep question which can be cogently argued either way at the highest levels. It sure isn’t a skeptics’ slam-dunk or sandlot blow-off.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Q: I think you’re right: what PZ did was rude, not evil. How many here will even accept that it was rude, in a sense deserving of complaint about rudeness? Some just plum defend it. (Or is that “plumb”, from lead pointing straight down from it’s density?)

  • http://metaandmeta.typepad.com/ “Q” the Enchanter

    Neil B., I suspect some of the resistance to stipulating that PZ is being rude is that his mere rudeness is being returned by death threats. So taking the time to stipulate to PZ’s rudeness in this matter (as I have) runs the risk of putting the emphasis on the wrong syl-LA-ble.

  • invcit

    piscator,

    “invicit,

    I don’t accept the relevance of the analogy; such hypothetical technology would not affect the biology of the sexual act.”

    Well, with the rest of your post you demonstrated precisely how my remark was relevant. The whole idea of the analogy was to show that Catholics are not just concerned with the practicalities of procreation, but have strange ideas about certain things being sinful in and of themselves for no particular reason and when they do not cause any harm. The moral system of Christianity is based on vague reasoning and reliance on an antiquated text with little relevance today, and furthermore glaring inconsistencies and not only illogical statements, but statements given no justification at all but simply to be taken as truth because they happen to be found inside the cover of a particular book which has been declared holy. I prefer a moral system which actually makes sense and is not based on magic. Where actions are based on whether they are harmful or beneficial for others and oneself, not just simply declared right or wrong for no reason at all.

  • joji

    i had to check this blog after i had my sleep. you are still at it!!!

    i have been reading cosmic variance for not-quite-a-long-while. i wish beliefs on crackers and rattles and rudeness and patriarchy and humanism can assume a quantitative value to arrive at a MASS to formulate how it affects the politics of beliefs and symbols! :) this is exciting.

    i would be happy to know if someone has written a book about the politics of [form and function] dearly held beliefs in the post modern world, its assumptions and implications. thanks :)

    i am new to your blog. i am far the far east where the old and the new thrive and respect one another and sometimes have bloodshed.

  • Otis

    From #142 Maynard Handley
    “So Luke, please explain and clarify for us, oh wise one, the many documented cases of homosexual behavior in a wide variety of species.”

    From #147 Lawrence B. Crowell
    “You might want to look at a book titled “Exhuberant Life,” which gives a lot of examples of homosexual and transgendered behavior in a wide range of animals. ,,These behaviors occur in mammals and birds, and probably there were bisexual, homosexual or transgender behaving dinosaurs.”

    Why is animal behavior relevant to the issue of human homosexuality? Is this an attempt to justify certain types of human behavior if similar behavior can be found in animals in the wild? I am somewhat afraid to ask, but is this where are you going? Should we model our behavior after what animals do?

  • melior

    It feels almost embarassing to have to point this out to the many here (including the original post) who seem to have completely missed it, but…

    While pointlessly provoking someone’s outrage may indeed be hurtful, it’s a horse of an entirely different color to do so in order to make a point. Especially to someone who so many wish desperately would confront the underlying irrationality driving their outrage, in a very public fashion, for didactic value.

  • Adrian Burd

    Neil B @150

    My deep and dark suspicion is that those on the two sides of the “genteel vs rude” debate are closer to agreement than one might suspect. Was PZ rude in his original post? Yes. Was he being rude because he is a “snotty brat” or was it calculated to produce an effect? My suspicion, having read Pharyngula for a long time, is the latter.

    Again, the tool one uses depends on the job one wishes to do. If one wishes to argue a point and persuade others (not necessarily the individual you are directly arguing with, but perhaps a bystander) then one may have to resort to such tactics. My experience from living in Texas for 8 (very long) years and Georgia for 6 is that one has to use these tactics more frequently than one might like.

    Some make the argument that the tactics used by PZ and others display an arrogant sense of superiority. I think a convincing argument can be made for the opposite; those arguing for a more genteel approach have the superior attitude. If the point of the argument is to convince others, then you use the tools that are necessary. If the point of an argument is to come away knowing that, even though you’ve not convinced anyone of your point of view, at least you have not stooped to the depths of using unpleasant tactics, then you will always follow the route of being genteel.

    In a good martial art, students are taught to use an appropriate level of force for the task at hand. You use a gentle put-down for a harmless drunk at a party. You may have to break the wrist of someone attacking you with a knife, The same rationale applies here, if your aim is to convince others of your point of view.

    I must admit to being confused about the discussions involving public nudity and intoxication. I’m not sure where that comes in.

    “In any case, I think that if something is bad and dangerous enough not to deserve consideration per believers’ feelings, then it’s too grave to trivialized by ridicule anyway.”

    Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that if you use the genteel approach with these matters here in Georgia or in Texas, you will loose your argument, things will not change, and what’s worse, you will be perceived of as being weak and rather pathetic (incorrectly I know, but that is how people will see you). Frequently, you have to shock people out of their habitual modes of thinking (or even shock them into thinking in the first place) in order to make any headway at all. This is just the reality of the situation.

    Personally, I’m very happy for you or anyone else if you never have to experience this. I think Americans (as a gross generalization here) have, over the last 10 years, displayed a remarkable ability to be unmoved by fact, reality and rational argument. This disdain for reality goes all the way to the top. If you argue rationally and politely you get labelled a liberal (when, why and how the heck did “liberal” become a dirty word) and are immediately dismissed.

    All the best,

    Adrian

  • Trace

    I suggest that people go and read the original story. I haven’t read all the posts here, and I understand that this post is more about PZ’s response and not the original incident. In general, I agree with Sean. But as a UCF student and long time reader of CV, I think I should point out a few things.

    When Webster was asked to eat the wafer, and he refused and attempted to explain why, a student at the Campus Catholic Ministry tried to use physical force to make him eat it and then the minister kicked him out. He gave the wafer back a week later when he was given the chance.

    Yeah, that’s right. He saved the wafer. For a week. And gave it back. Because in the process of getting kicked out, he realized that it was important to them.

    He filed charges with the school for the physical force used against him, but dropped them because he realized that the situation was a misunderstanding and was willing to let it go.

    The Campus Ministry is still pushing to have him face severe consequences – to expel him from school or press hate crime charges. Even if that doesn’t go through, he will probably be removed from his student government position.

    Webster has also received hundreds of threats. Hundreds. After already being assaulted. I would also like to point out that the Christian groups on campus have a history of being nutty and taking things too far. I have been harassed more than once on my way to class, as have many people I know. (They like to stand outside the Physics & Math building.) I have a few friends who are Catholic, and they all attend church off-campus because they don’t want to participate in the on-campus groups.

    So take their threats seriously. And it’s likely that they pressing this because they want the university and/or police to officially recognize the wafer as the body of Christ, and nothing less.

    OK, thanks to anyone who read this, and back to the original topic…

  • Kai

    @Trace: Body of Christ??? Yuck – imagine alone the *smell* of a bloke who spent 40 days hallucinating in the desert. Is that why they wash him down with wine (sorry: his blood)?

  • JimV

    Some time ago, Dr. Carroll made a post here explaining his comment-moderation policy. It contained some general rule about not accepting comments whose intent was to be offensive. Dr. Myers made a comment to that post implying something like this: that he himself could not reliably distinguish between offensiveness and passion, and so gives commenters greater leeway in this regard. I think the same disagreement is in evidence here.

    At times I admire the passion with which Dr. Myers writes, especially the intellectual passion he exhibits in his science posts. At other times, he extends the line between passion and offensiveness over into what is foul territory on my playing field. Still, if there were no variations between individuals, evolution would have had to invent some.

  • Kai

    JimV: if you are referring to my comment 159 as too offensive, I am fine with having it removed. On a more serious note, the mere thought of consuming something that is physically part of someone, especially a person I claim to love, is unbearable, to say the least.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    1.
    It’s a cracker like the flag is a piece of cloth, or the Constitution is a piece of paper or books are fuel for fires like wood, or Michelangelo’s David is a slab of marble. There are ideas and values bound up with things – PZ Myers in his purely materialistic vein tends to forget that human beings tend to do that.

    However if someone desecrated the Catholic worship, the response ought not to be violence or intimidation. Nor should the response to PZ Myers’ mockery be these threats and intimidation. At some point the Eucharist does become only a cracker because of this stupid behavior. Unless you’re claiming that Jesus Christ would support death threats and hate mail.

    —-
    2.

    Is human life sacred? It is also just a collection of material and material processes. If human life is the highest value we have, why do some people put their lives at risk not bowing down to tyranny? Many people would trade for a shorter life but that did something “significant”, that lasted beyond their lifetimes, that gave them “immortality” in this short-lived civilization of a recent species.

    Once we admit that there are values not inherent in matter, then who is to say which is real and which is a delusion? To the Christian I imagine (I am not a Christian) that cracker represents a transcendental love. It doesn’t really matter whether an instance of that love really existed any more than it matters whether the flat infinite plane of Euclidean geometry is actually realized in our world.

    Did those particular Catholics respond in a wrong manner to the desecration of their rite? IMO, yes. But the answer to that is not PZ Myers’ desecration. Not because as Sean Carroll would have it, secular humanists should treat retards with respect; but simply because attaching deep significance to things is a human characteristic; we would be something else, not human, if we did not.

    (Warning – I’m not going to fend off the idiots who come along and say, what if it was human sacrifice, blah, blah, blah. Generously, they’re idiots because otherwise they could figure it out for themselves.)

  • Aloysius

    Arun, it does matter whether a flat, infinite Euclidean plane actually exists in our world or not. Leaving aside the cosmological implications, whether infinite planes exist in reality or not is an important factor in determining how accurately such planes can be used to mathematically model things in the real world. In the same way, if the kind of transcendental love you speak of does not in fact actually exist, it behooves us to pointedly question how much relevance the idea has to actual human life and experience in the universe. It is human to attach deep significance to things, but that doesn’t mean we should do it naively or without thought.

  • http://iloveteh.biz Jess

    Wonderfully written article!! I love your point and couldn’t agree more. Atheists are constantly seeking rational and logical discussion regarding the existence of God, and having such a well-known and respected man doing something childish out of spite is a step backwards in the effort for mutual respect and tolerance.

    Also, Arun, great point!! “Did those particular Catholics respond in a wrong manner to the desecration of their rite? IMO, yes. But the answer to that is not PZ Myers’ desecration. Not because as Sean Carroll would have it, secular humanists should treat retards with respect; but simply because attaching deep significance to things is a human characteristic; we would be something else, not human, if we did not.”

    P.S. The blog I linked to is a friend’s blog. He writes about Atheism and religion tremendously more than I do, so I figured it would be of more interest to everyone here. (My blog is in redevelopment)

  • http://www.dorianallworthy.com daisy rose

    How about getting a big swig of the consecrated wine ?

  • Gest

    @ daisy rose
    As a former alterboy (non-fondled kind), on occasion we were allowed to help finish off the consecrated wine. I would avoid it as I have tasted better boxed wines.

  • Pingback: The parable of Alice’s rattle! « Entertaining Research()

  • John Merryman

    The story of Jesus started as a tale of social insurrection and crossed the political spectrum to being a tool of civil indoctrination when Constantine recognized the cross made an effective war totem. Like all religion, it finds ways to express the political dichotomy and has a bit of split personality as a result. I tend to view God the Father as the conservative, absolutist, past and order oriented analogy, while the Holy Ghost is the future hope/mystery side of the equation, with Jesus being the complex intersection of order and chaos that is the present.

  • Anchor

    Sean, oh you are quite dramatic in your pregnant use of the “however” word, aren’t you? Followed immediately by that “tactful” spiel about how one “should hold one’s friends to a much higher standard than our adversaries”. You almost had me

    You usually have plenty of sensible things to say, and I regularly find myself in agreement. But in this one I utterly disagree with you. You are dead wrong.

    Your “parable” does not match the circumstances that transpired over at Pharyngula in any way shape or form. Why? Because your premises are wrong to begin with. For example, you say:

    “There’s a huge difference between arguing passionately that God doesn’t exist, and taking joy in doing things that disturb religious people.”

    For crying out loud! PZ was NOT “taking joy” in doing anything to disturb religious people. This is YOUR conclusion. Atheists like PZ do NOT get any jollies out of criticizing religious fanatics. What, do you think because his growing legion of commentors often utilize sarcastic wit in order to get through their blogged-out day that you can conclude that there is merriment in the circumstance that the world is literally held hostage by superstitious nonsense? Or that what his commentors post reflects what you suppose PZ thinks, say, because he’s somehow cultivated rather than merely attracted that large following?

    Religious superstition is a disaster against the welfare of humanity and civilization. How do you suppose any sceptic who loves their species or culture or nation could possibly enjoy the thankless task of trying to help free so many fellow beings from the tyranny of institutionalized superstition?

    How can PZ’s remarks threaten any “desecration”? DESECRATION ISN’T EVEN POSSIBLE, as you very well know, and most reasonably-minded Christians know. It wasn’t even an issue, until the crazies weighed in on it, as I’m sure you already suspect.

    I happened to be visiting his site the moment PZ the posted “It’s a Frackin’ Cracker!” It was quite obvious to anybody who read that post at that time that he was simply mocking the outrage of the lunatics who threatened violence to that poor student. WHY? Because it’s obviously insane to place more importance in what he repeatedly characterized (and rightly so) as a “frackin’ cracker” than in a real human being. He said so: it was nothing more than “a frackin’ cracker”. That’s all it is, and that’s really all there was to it.

    Can you possibly object to that? Because that’s what it was all about…until some people’s opinion of it were increasingly colored by subsequent comments (several thousands now) and assorted emailed threats of violence to PZ. Now, somehow, what PZ said must be characterized in a different light, aye?

    This is NOT something that THEN offended any of the majority of the semi-rational religious, as PZ would readily acknowledge. But his remarks were very well and expertly calculated indeed to inflame those with a fundamentalist bent who do nothing ELSE but react outrageously, angrily, and irrationally, over the most trivial possible circumstances. That a young man should suffer such terrible ridicule and abuse and threats to his life (not to mention eternal damnation) JUST BECAUSE HE STOLE A LOUSY WAFER is absolutely, positively, good, decent and virtuous reason to assail the real culprits in this adventure.

    PZ hit the bull’s eye precisely. Your shot is so wayward that it completely missed the target and hit the wrong guy.

    Don’t you see? PZ was pointing out how foolish the MOST FOOLISH people are. So everyone can see how incredibly silly their professed allegiance to a lousy cracker is. Did his remarks disturb or offend anyone? SURE!!! Anybody who is clueless enough to think that a piece of bad bread can actually host a son of a deity who’s been dead for 2000 years.

    Your parable of an emotionally vulnerable mother who has lost a child (which you so simplistically identify with all Christians) and her asshole antagonist male friend which you offer as an analogy of what’s transpired with “Crackergate” is so off base and insulting I am frankly dumbfounded that it was crafted by a person who is trained in the hard science of physics.

    Now, PZ’s site has become enormously popular, especially over the last year or so, no question about it. Good reason, too – the man is a genuinely honest fellow, as well as a genius. And, of course, it is precisely because of the nature of the topic under discussion there, that the religiously fanatic trolls – relatively few in number (and ONE individual has apparently been responsible for posting under about a dozen monikers, according to PZ) – can weild a disproportionate influence on many of the regulars who post comments there, because the temptation to “feed the trolls” by ripping into their incredibly ignorant and insulting remarks with exceedingly colorful language can be overwhelming.

    Can anybody be justified in judging PZ or his atheist afficianados with poor social skills as a result? NOT AT ALL!

    The minority of believers who were “disturbed” or offended by his remarks are the same ones who were outraged that that poor kid had run off with the wafer without ingesting it on the spot. This is sheer madness, and PZ was entirely justified in calling these nuts out for all to see. You want to make a bet that the vast majority of “religious” people (you know, those who haven’t yet been totally absorbed by the really REALLY Dark Side of their culture) agree with PZ that these folks are nuts? It would be a good idea if you could summon at least some objectivity whenever you are henceforth moved to judge the motives of certain individuals based on what you hear from the worst of their kind. I’ll just assume that I’ve seen yet another blip of the sort that has long convinced me that even the most rational among us stumble badly from time to time. It’s ok, as long as it isn’t habit-forming.

  • John R Ramsden

    Luke (#149) wrote:

    It seems to me that the whole phenomenon of homosexuality would be much less common if gays hadn’t been forced to marry and reproduce.

    That sounds hopelessly naive, and the effect if any is probably miniscule to non-existent.

    Evolution isn’t just about individuals but related groups, and there are loads of plausible explanations for how homosexuality could benefit a group, or be a neutral byproduct of some advantage.

    For example, adolescent homosexuality in primitive societies (which humans have been for the vast majority of our existence as a species) could help with bonding among equals and mentoring with elders a-la ancient Greece. It would also have reduced the physical risk to teenagers of competing with larger adult males for women.

    Also, a recent study indicated that more fertile women were more likely to have homosexual male offspring, presumably something to do with more female hormones swilling around while the foetus was developing.

    Reading between the lines (and apologies if I’ve misread), you also seem to think of homosexuals as worthless and contemptible individuals we’d be better off without. But consider how many famous generals and leaders have been gay, in part or entirely, for example Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Hadrian. The list is endless, and far more than one would expect by chance. This isn’t intended as a panegyric or anything like that, but merely to make the point that homosexuality can go hand in hand with the charisma and insight into their fellows which makes for an effective leader and therefore benefits a male-dominated society or group.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Anchor:

    PZ was NOT “taking joy” in doing anything to disturb religious people. This is YOUR conclusion. Atheists like PZ do NOT get any jollies out of criticizing religious fanatics.

    My conclusion too. Read his blog without reading any of the comments. He does get jollies criticizing not just religious fanatics but religion of any kind.

    -Arun

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Anchor:

    Religious superstition is a disaster against the welfare of humanity and civilization. How do you suppose any sceptic who loves their species or culture or nation could possibly enjoy the thankless task of trying to help free so many fellow beings from the tyranny of institutionalized superstition?

    Presumably everything that exists due to evolution has positive or neutral survival value; and that would include religion. If you want to give an argument that religion is an evolutionary deadend do so before you say that skepticism is driven from love of species.

    Good reason, too – the man is a genuinely honest fellow, as well as a genius.

    The man is a great teacher of biology. Beyond that I fail to see genius. His railing against religion has all the slickness and shallowness of the snakeoil salesman at the county fair. His explanations of why people are religious never go beyond pop psychology. As he is a honest fellow, he will probably agree with this.

  • Nick Tarleton

    I strongly agree with the original post.

    Religious superstition is a disaster against the welfare of humanity and civilization. How do you suppose any sceptic who loves their species or culture or nation could possibly enjoy the thankless task of trying to help free so many fellow beings from the tyranny of institutionalized superstition?

    My, doesn’t self-righteousness feel good?

  • Anchor

    Arun: “Presumably everything that exists due to evolution has positive or neutral survival value; and that would include religion.”

    Your presumption that evolution produces “positive or neutral survival value” is only partially true at best (even organisms that are profoundly diseased or fatally damaged can and DO “exist” – alive – for a time, you know, and these unfortunate beings are products of said evolution every bit as much as successful or healthy individuals are), but the implication that the all resulting CONFIGURATIONS are necessarily the best possible ones is completely untrue.

    I have no doubts that religion is an artifact of cultural evolution. That certainly doesn’t mean that religion ought to be uniformly regarded as a positive or neutral cultural configuration, especially since anyone can plainly see that what religion so effectively cultivates – superstitious thinking – has not been shown to have any survival value other than as a rallying point around which some measure of social coherence amongst like-minded advocates is achieved. However, we all know that many other rationality-based belief systems offer precisely that very same particular survival value in terms of social cohesion.

    It ALSO confers a survival value in those who make a strong effort to continuously improve their world views in order to better reflect the real world outside of our heads. These people realize that viability is dictated by natural laws independent of what their conceptual models – they’re dictated by a reality that exists “outside” of their minds, not some superstitious figment residing inside their minds. So, comparitively, just what is so “positive or neutral” about the chronic denial of evidence which superstition promotes?

    At any rate, just because you think “everything that exists due to evolution has positive or neutral survival value”, isn’t a reason to draw any conclusion that we should all give up on trying to shape and improve our societies and destinies by letting some mindless thing we call evolution call the shots. I trust you would not think that, would you?

    By “genius”, I was simply using the word in it’s broadest meaning, referring generally to a comparitively high standard of excellence, and referring to PZ’s exceptional ability as a writer and, yes, as a teacher. One CAN be a genius in those areas and many others, can’t they? I appreciate your veneration of the word, but all the “geniuses” I know don’t place that much importance in it as a label of personal distinction. It’s just a WORD, one that describes relative distinction, not a physical attribute.

    As for your sentiment that “his railing against religion has all the slickness and shallowness of the snakeoil salesman at the county fair” and that “his explanations of why people are religious never go beyond pop psychology”: I certainly respect your opinion, however faulty I think it is. That’s my opinion. You are entitled to your own, but I find it amazing that you should go to such pains to characterize what is, after all, the personal observations of a bloke in the informal atmosphere of a BLOG!

    Have you actually READ what PZ writes? It’s MY opinion that it is an exemplar of rational discourse (on a touchy subject, to be sure) presented in highly digestible colloquial terms, so that almost everyone can understand what he’s talking about. HE knows it’s inappropriate to use excessively technical jargon which is popularly perceived to be how the ‘scientific elite’ impress each other. He posts VERY frequently on examples of consummate silliness, because there is an enormous amount of silliness out there. How can anyone blame him for the foolishness of others? MAJOR foolishness that affects us ALL adversely. He’s a clearing house of the absurd, and he gets criticized for pointing out the most ghastly examples? Surely you can reserve your carny “snakeoil salesman” for the vastly more appropriate target, such as the incessantly barking evangelical fundamentalists who behave as if ignorance is a virtue.

    Nick: thanks for the support! Much appreciated.

  • Janus

    Who says “dirty-mouthed” these days, anyway?

    Oh and, UMM isn’t “spending band-width” on Pharyngula.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Janus, not everyone is a “hip” South Park fan and why should they be? Some people are actually grown ups, and please don’t lay down a pretentious gripe about pretentious people etc. who think they’re better than “everyone” else, yadda … BTW, I didn’t mean UMM literally needs to spend extra money supporting the extra metaphorical sewage going through the “Intertubes”, it’s more a case of the support they give in esteem, the reputation etc. (Should I be surprised that you took it in a literal, technogeek sense and didn’t see the larger aesthetic?)

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Wait, sorry – South Park actually is a funny and clever show I can enjoy for what it is, I should say instead: not everyone believes that style is acceptable everywhere else as well. I’m not as stodgy as some might think from when I get really turned off. I got down against SP ever since Andrew Sullivan promoted the “South Park conservatives” which I think means Limbaugh, Micheal Savage ? Coulter, etc. and I don’t like them.
    (I’ve posted a lot so I’ll try to keep a low profile for awhile.)

  • Janus

    Neil,

    I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about in the first half of your post.

    As for the second half, well OF COURSE I understood that by “band-width”, you meant the support UMM gives in esteem, the reputation, etc. In fact, that is also what I meant by “band-width” in my own post. What made you think otherwise? I mean, it’s perfectly obvious, isn’t it?

  • Janus

    Neil,

    you’ve made a second post before I hit the submit reply button. I think I understand what you were talking about in the first half of your previous post a bit better now. I’m glad you approve of South Park, although I don’t watch that show myself.

    I think keeping a low profile for a while is a good idea. You wouldn’t want to waste band-width, or anything.

  • Trace

    For anyone still reading this –

    Webster Cook was impeached from his student government position last week. An official investigation by the Legislative, Judicial and Rules Committee is underway.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Well Trace, I think the key focus was on “rudeness” and offense and it may or may not be appropriate to force resignations etc. when someone misspeaks etc. I wondered if Don Imus should really have needed to resign for his racist remarks, or just apologize. His critics said, he’d talked like that before. It is ironic in this case that “PC” is said to be a liberal excess, yet here Webster Cook is mostly defended by liberals.

    BTW, I don’t blame the moderators for removing my post where I quoted (even with asterisks) some of the language from another thread on Pharyngula where PZ asked for contributions of insults about creationist crank Ken Ham. Likely it wasn’t a good idea to put up. I was bitter about the original, but I realize and need to remember there’s no need to be so graphic. But that just goes to show how vulgar that thread was. Inviting ridicule etc. of traditionalists is not the way to go, and reinforces an image of arrogant modernist vulgarians. Like I asked before, what would Bertrand Russell do, or maybe even Plato?

    (And, given a third comment in a short time and several elsewhere, this is just replacement for that and I’ll let it all go for awhile.)

  • Mezenkyme

    “I just think they’re wrong, and am happy to explain why in enormous detail.”

    No you aren’t. Your “enormously detailed” explanation of why you think transubstantiation is false consisted of a passing reference to parapsychology. Transubstantiation has nothing to do with parapsychology. It also has nothing to do, according to Catholics, with the laws of physics. As one poster mentioned the law of physics deal with the accidents of the wafer, not the substance. So the theory of transubstantiation makes no predictions that can be tested in a physics experiment.

  • John Knight

    Whatever.

    PZ Myers is an idiot. He may or may not be a good scientist; I don’t know. But his philosophy is silly & absurd.

    His campaign for atheism is not motivated by any kind of rational bried that can be made for atheism. This silly little affair just illustrates how much his crusade owes to malice & bile.

  • Rebel Dreams

    Just to pipe up with my 2cents…

    As a Catholic, I completely understand the non-believer’s (and I REALLY don’t mean that in a perjorative sense, I promise!) irritation with the tenet of Transubstantiation. Of COURSE it’s not “testable” and yes, I see who one can draw a parallel with the “pseudoscientific” claims of other religions and, of course, kooks, cranks and woo-mongers (i.e. “it’s not scientifically testable so it MUST be true!!”)

    The big difference is that Catholic’s do not claim that its untestability PROVES it, in the way that kranks do. We simple shrug and say “it cannot be tested; indeed all tests show it to be false. And yet we continue to believe it.” We do not hold up a scientific test proving the host to be just bread, the wine to be just fermetned grape juice as if the lackof science’s ability to demonstrate anything other than their physical makeup is direct evidence of its veracity.

    Catholicism is a relatively scientific belief (oddly)… it accepts evolution, the ancient universe, Big Bang theory, genetics, pretty much the entire canon of modern science. Indeed, some of the breakthroughs in these areas were MADE by Catholic priests (Mendel anyone?)

    We believe what we believe, because of faith; science shows that in PHYSICAL terms the host remains unchanged, but that is what Catholic theologians have already said for several centuries now.

    And FWIW… I think the Catholics calling for physical harm against Meyers, and the threats against Mr. Cooke are reprehensible; that is NOT what our faith is, or should ever be about.

  • sng

    Bit of a late comer here

    The problem with the rattle analogy is that the rattle would never have been used to justify mass murder. Some symbols, no matter how beloved by certain people, need to be disrespected and the people who love them need to be offended. Simply because the history of said symbol is full of horror and blood.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Host_desecration

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisemitic_canard#Accusations_of_host_desecration

  • Clayton C.

    The point has three shortcomings:

    1. The wafer is handed out with the intention that it be destroyed. What the student did was not destroy it according to a certain ritual. So anything about property damage is not analogous.

    2. This is not making a point about a crazy extreme subsection of religious people, but is making a point about the standard belief of the religion.

    3. Point 2 of course does not say that it isn’t still an asshole move, but it’s also important to remember that religion is an extremely powerful institution in the U.S. and the world. This isn’t someone picking on poor Johnny the little mentally retarded kid down the street. This is an act that highlights the bizarreness of a powerful force that has damaged the lives of many other people for centuries, and the reaction this prompted might have some people question why they hold such great influence and are considered reasonable by polite society.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Clayton C., you may have a point. However, note it’s a fallacy to think, that using false (or even true) accusations of X for nefarious purposes does not justify the actual doing of X. As for your basic point, let’s go further: what other institutions, “forces” etc. maybe need to be challenged for being harmful? Maybe filter that through the idea that what should be ridiculed is the direct harmful actions of an institution, not the common ritual of shared meaningfulness that is the very basis of the belief and the community thereof.

  • Pingback: Crackergate — Part 2()

  • Pingback: The Cracker Controversy()

  • Fundi ;)

    Unusually interesting, and I hope no one will be offended if I say I think I stumbled on this for a reason. You don’t often find a secular humanist who is willing to provide some respect for beliefs he/she disagree’s with, and while I despise the term tolerance, I think there is something the Christian community could learn from this, as well. Thanks Sean, for giving me something to think over.

  • Brian Macker

    “Focusing on stupidest among those with whom you disagree is a sign of weakness, not of strength. “

    Myer’s doesn’t just do this with the religious. He does it with any broad group he has a disagreement with. Like libertarians.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+