The Trash-talking Hypocrisy of PZ Myers

As part of his effort to be crowned the Grand Poobah of Atheism, PZ Myers continues his trashing of other prominent atheists he apparently sees as rivals for the job.

Constructive criticism is certainly a good thing but there is line, which Myers illuminates by continually crossing over it, where criticism becomes trashing. As if attempting to prove the case for the narcissism of small differences, PZ Myers inevitably ends his analyses of luminaries such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris with charges of “bigotry” or “racism”.

Myers posts an article titled, Atheists should not condemn any culture, where he chides Richard Dawkins for tweeting about the “clock boy”. Referring to comments made by both Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins where they object to protecting the tenets of Islam by using the “it’s their culture” excuse, Myers concludes that “this is definitely bigotry”.

One is reminded of Myer’s own antics in threatening to urinate on the Koran, desecrating the Bible and Koran, and the iconoclasm of desecrating the stolen sacred Eucharist wafer’s of Catholics.

And what about his denunciation of Sam Harris for assuming Muslims are more likely to sympathise with jihadists. On his blog, Myer’s quotes a statement from a correspondent which contains a poor defence of Sam Harris argument. But then Myer’s sulfurifically condemns Sam Harris for the argument of the correspondent!

We don’t. QED, my correspondent and Sam Harris are full of paranoid, racist shit

Well, I couldn’t resist pointing out, in the comments, how it all seems to be conveniently aligned with prosecuting grudges. Not to mention infantile.

A mild storm of profanities and accusations of racism ensued, culminating with Myers banning me from the site. But not before giving himself the last say.

And with that bit of frothing, spittle flecked lying from Mr Hugh Harris, and all the rest of the batshit stupidity from him, he’s run his course and is out of here

Banned! Oh well. So much for the staunch defender of free speech.

But it’s not completely trivial. A Guardian article by Jeffrey Sparrow gleefully quoted Myers comment without realising it wasn’t based on anything Sam Harris actually said.

My favourite of his recent interventions includes the line: “Sam Harris [is] full of paranoid, racist shit.

I find this hysterical. Does anyone check this stuff? That Sparrow’s article garnered over 2000 comments (mostly negative), gives one the sad impression that trashing pays.

But I think the best refutation is provided by PZ Myers himself some years ago. (Ironically it was in response to earlier atheist hating article by the same Jeffrey Sparrow)

To the evil duo of Harris and Hitchens, he [Sparrow]  now adds Richard Dawkins, because he said “Islam is the greatest man-made force for evil in the world today”…which doesn’t sound racist or fascist. He’s targeting an ideology, not a people; if you asked him, he might even go on to say that Christianity is the second greatest force for evil. If we can’t even criticize ideological craziness without getting slapped with the accusation that we’re racist, we’re in trouble. Next thing you know, someone will pull up my denunciations of crazy American politicians Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann and declare that I’m clearly anti-woman and that I hate white people.

But this is 2015, and when it comes to Sam Harris, the views of Myers seem to have recalibrated themselves to the other side of the dial. In his podcast with Douglas Murray, Sam Harris observes that some percentage of Muslims are jihadists. Myers responds:

No, guy, making the assumption that being Muslim, the group most lethally targeted by ISIS, makes one more likely to sympathize with fanatical jihadists, is most definitely bigotry.

Hmmm. I’m not even sure this point is arguable, never mind bigotry, and I’m cautious of claims requiring modifiers like “most definitely”.  

Is assuming a Republican is more likely to sympathise with Donald Trump, bigotry?

What about assuming a Christian is more likely to sympathize with Christian fundamentalists: bigotry?

Or, assuming that a woman is more likely to have a baby?

But what about this? Assuming that any person who criticizes Islam is a bigot – is this bigotry?

Not all discrimination is unfair. We’re pattern seeking mammals, evolutionists point out. To demand we disavoy the obvious means adopting pretence as a virtue, and equates common sense with Orwellian thought crimes. And it results in the stifling of intellectual debate by harassment and no-platforming and, in the case of Maryam Namazie, even death threats.

Given jihadists belong exclusively and by definition to the Islamic religion, is it really so unreasonable to observe that in a group of Muslims we are more likely to find some who sympathize with jihadists? As opposed to Christians or Atheists?

Of course not. It’s just a fact. And it’s no insult to Muslims to make the observation. It is how this information is processed which makes the difference. If we assume ALL Muslims are terrorists, or seek to discriminate unfairly against Muslims, then we can start talking about bigotry. But, yelling “bigotry” for assuming a connection between Muslims and jihadism is akin to denying that jihadism exists within the Islamic tradition. Even though we know it exists, we must somehow assume it doesn’t.

We cannot be demanded not to assume what any person of common sense would assume. And we should not be prevented from discussing known facts and using common sense. But PZ Myers demands ideological blindness: closing your eyes and blocking your ears and yelling “WAAAAAAA!!!”

Hypocrisy is a handy accomplice for pursuing vendettas.

Religious Candles and Cross --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Nothing, Something, but mostly Nothing

James Wood’s article in ABC’s Religion & Ethics,  Everything, Something, Nothing: The Modern Novel and the Departure of God , offers some tantalizing references to modern fiction and how it encounters God and seeks to understand meaning in our lives, but only skims the surface. It’s certainly worth a read but one would have liked to have seen the references fleshed out and discussed in greater depth. Rather, the author is more concerned with demonstrating his own prodigious literary knowledge. Well, phooey for him.
I certainly agree the modern novel has plenty to say about the human condition, and much of it derives from our religious traditions. But he could have mentioned the existential attitude in the authors he mentions, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard, Camus, exploring the search for meaning within their own person in a seemingly absurd world. What of the repeated use of Ecclesiastes throughout modern literature? One thinks of Hemingway’s, Fiesta:The Sun Also Rises, reading it as an analogy for that biblical tome of existential despair .  “The earth abideth forever” was, according to Hemingway himself, the central concern of his exposition of the post Great War Lost Generation. Ecclesiastes 1:
What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them

Wood lounges in the smugness of his preexisting biases against the New Atheists of whom he has read only a finite amount, despite his claim of near infinite patience. The author cannot have read Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell” or he would understand the “agency” and other explanations of religious belief are not just something Dennett thought up one day, but rather, based on rigorous research by Boyer, Atran, Dunbar, Faber, Hauser and others. They deserve more than a flippant dismissal without evidence.The stale critique that new atheists are only concerned with celestial teapots, flying spaghetti monsters and refuting the literal interpretation of Scripture is just plain false. Has Wood noticed books by Sam Harris such as Free Will, The Moral Landscape, and Waking Up – the last which explores ways of attaining spirituality without recourse to superstition?This road has been traveled endless times by apologist’s and humanities professors, and its usually notable that they appear totally unaware of writers such as Stephen Pinker, Michael Martin, Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, and A.C. Grayling. All of whom have many interesting things about making sense of the world without God.And I note the author’s comments are simply repeated from his own 2009 article God in the Quad. Like so many critiques of New atheists, the author is guilty of the charges he makes against them.

Godlessness is NOT the problem

Godlessness is NOT the problem

Couldn’t agree more with this Media Release by the Atheist Foundation of Australia.

Along with the vast majority of the world, the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) utterly condemns the recent terrorist attacks in Beirut, Paris, and Mali.

That said, we are concerned that in recent media statements and again in Parliament on Monday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has chosen to express those worthy sentiments in terms like these:

…blasphemy against Islam by godless terrorists

Addressing parliament after a 10 day international tour, Turnbull described the attackers as “godless ISIL murderers” who “we will not let win”.”

Dear Mr Turnbull: godlessness (including atheism) has nothing whatsoever to do with what happened in Paris, Beirut and Mali, or anything else that Daesh terrorists do or say.

They are patently not godless – they clearly profess belief in a god, and that they are acting in its name. That their actions are terrorist atrocities and crimes in no way changes those beliefs. That you think that their actions don’t accord with so-called “true” principles of a religion doesn’t make them “godless”.

AFA President Michael Boyd commented:

The Prime Minister’s language buys into the discredited stereotype that you can’t be good without God, which is unfortunate and unhelpful. Millions of atheists and non-religious in Australia and worldwide live fully ethical lives without recourse to religious morals or belief in gods. The example of avowedly secular Médecins Sans Frontières, still operating in the war zone despite being bombed twice, demonstrates that emphatically.

That’s not to blame Muslim Australians and their personal religious practice in any way for the criminal actions of a group of terrorists. We know that they share our horror and unequivocal condemnation of these and all similar atrocities, and that they don’t support Daesh. We do not want our words to be misinterpreted as any sort of support for bigoted, xenophobic views like those of Reclaim Australia and United Patriots Front.

But as the national representative body for atheists, and for the nearly 1/3 of Australians who ticked “No religion” or did not report a religion in the 2011 Census – we think that we (and they) deserve far better from their Prime Minister than to be denigrated by association by ascribing “godlessness” to the terrorists.

Whatever else is motivating them, it’s certainly not godlessness.

Michael Boyd

President
Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
PO Box 1062
Lane Cove NSW 1595
Phone: (02) 8007 4503
Email: president@atheistfoundation.org.au

__________________
Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; …

Beer, if drunk with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.”
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)