Re: [asa] The Science = Atheism Meme

From: Stephen Matheson <smatheso@calvin.edu>
Date: Wed Jul 30 2008 - 18:51:24 EDT

Mike is quite correct, and actually I think his point is painfully obvious. PZ Myers is a phenomenal science writer, and very recently has become a widely-known scientist. His atheism isn't particularly relevant or interesting, but his juxtaposition of religion (in this case, aggressive atheism and anti-religious crusading) with pure science should be expected to reinforce misconceptions and prejudices, and his prominence just means that his voice is much louder than others. The "desecration" would be notable on any widely-read blog; that it is featured on a "science blog" at a site called "ScienceBlogs" is precisely the outrage that Mike Gene says it is.

Here are a few things to add to the discussion that might bring the context into clearer focus.

1. Myers is frequently identified as an "evolutionary biologist." This is, IMO, misleading. Myers *was* a developmental biologist a decade and more ago. He no longer contributes to the scientific literature (try PubMed), hasn't had a serious publication in 15 years, and hasn't had an NIH grant since his first one at Temple. When he was an active research biologist, his work did not touch on evolutionary biology, beyond its relevance to basic developmental mechanisms in the nervous system. The point is not that Myers isn't a "real scientist" or that he's stupid or wrong about evolution. The point is that his scientific stature is entirely the result of his successful blog, which is entirely the result of his intelligence, wit, and wordcraft. His scientific accomplishments, as judged by his publication record, are negligible.

2. Pharyngula is a science blog, but it's a science blog that consists of at least 66.7% non-science, and that material is political and religious in nature, and mostly negative. Myers is quite open about this, and I don't suggest that it means that his scientific voice is therefore biased or compromised. But I suspect, and others have claimed, that his readership is largely attracted by the non-scientific material. Larry Moran at Sandwalk (sandwalk.blogspot.com) has lamented the difference in response between posts on science and posts on politics/religion on his own blog. I don't have numbers, and I doubt anyone else does, but we might be overestimating the impact that Pharyngula exerts on scientifically-minded readers and/or on people looking for scientific writing.

3. ScienceBlogs is ridiculously overloaded with atheists and with blogs that deal as much or more with skepticism or religion-bashing as they do with science. I don't know whether this is obvious to many or most visitors to the blogs there, but it is probably the most notable characteristic of the site.

The point of all this is that we shouldn't overstate the influence of PZ Myers on the scientific community, and maybe we should give people in general more credit for being able to recognize Pharyngula as something other than a "science blog." And I think it's fair to point out that Myers is not a prominent or accomplished scientist.

For those who would like to read more about my position on Myers' desecration stunt, check out my blog at sfmatheson.blogspot.com.

Steve Matheson

>>> "Nucacids" <nucacids@wowway.com> 07/30/08 3:40 PM >>>
Hi PvM,

"PZ Myers is not my friend at best he is a fellow poster at Pandasthumb
and I have no problems criticizing him for his actions.However this is not
really about me

and PZ but rather about your 'argument' about
PZ."

Indeed. Yet your replies have not addressed this point and instead have
sought to change the topic and make it about catholics or the ID movement.
But thank you for providing that link to the "Confraternity of Catholic
Clergy," as it supports my point - note that they are associating this act
with biologists *thanks to Myers.* Word association can go a long way in
the world of public perception, as you know.

"I understand that for some, such a distinction is hard to make especially
when the 'arguments' fail at a basic level of logic."

It's not about logic; it's about public perception. Myers' publicity stunt
has helped to support the public perception that science = atheism. It is a
historical fact, after all, that the #1 Science blog publicly desecrated a
Eucharist wafer to much fanfare and very little criticism from other
"pro-science blogs." .

"I assume that you are not really familiar with the emails received by
PZ and the actions by so called Catholic organizations such as
Donahue's."

Yes, I am familiar with all the haze created by allegations, accusations,
and posturing that dominate the murky world of the blogosphere. For example,
I recall that Myers noted that a dozen or so nasty "catholics" turned out to
be *one person* with lots of socks. But you made a specific, real world
claim - "Thanks to Myers, we now know that thousands of catholics seem to
have forgotten that their religious faith is one of forgiveness not one of
vengeance."

Internet haze is no substitute for evidence. Where is the evidence that
"thousands of catholics" have been practicing "vengeance?" I see no data to
support the numerical claim and I see no effort to define "vengeance" to
distinguish it from other motivations nor any effort to determine the most
common response. Like I said, it looks like you are just trying to join in
with Myers' theater to smear Catholics with more spin.

Besides, when it comes to forgiveness, has Myers apologized?

"PS: Do I agree with PZ's actions? While I support him exposing the
hypocrisy and foolishness of some when it comes to persecuting people
for violation of faith based concepts, I also believe that ripping
pages out of bibles and korans and piercing consecrated hosts, while
certainly a valid form of expression, serves little purpose other than
to incite more foolishness."

But that is what the #1 Science blog did. THAT is the issue I raised.
Instead of trying to bury this historical fact with complaints and smears
against catholics, or raising irrelevant anti-ID movement talking points,
why not simply address this fact head-on?

Do you think this stunt was more likely to dispel or to add to the
science=atheism confusion? It's a simple question

Fourth posting - last for the day.

- Mike

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Received on Wed Jul 30 18:52:03 2008

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