PZ Myers Braved Winnipeg…in January!

Yeah okay, he is from Minnesota, but still!

On Saturday night I was pleased to be able to see one of my favourite bloggers, PZ Myers of Pharyngula, speak on “the war between science and religion”, thanks to the Humanist Association of Manitoba.

Although I wasn’t sure how the topic related to Canada, American issues tend to spill over the border so it was relevant nonetheless. (The talk was recorded, but I’m not sure where or when that will be posted. I’ll post a link as soon as I find out.)

The main point that PZ was trying to get across was that atheists need to be “out”, and unafraid to talk about atheism, unafraid to criticize religion, and unafraid to criticize ideas that contradict science. I agree with him. I think that atheists are afraid to talk about their lack of beliefs for fear of offending somebody, this is certainly something I’m guilty of. I have the Out Campaign “A” on my blog, but I still have close friends and family members from whom I hide my atheism.

The conversation on beliefs really needs to be opened up. Even among atheists, there seems to be a tendency to think that we should just stay quiet and avoid causing a ruckus. But maybe it’s this tendency that makes it okay for religious people to deride atheists, and maybe it’s the fact that atheists are such a closeted group that makes them America’s least-trusted minority.

After PZ’s talk was over, I had a conversation with my mom about whether his cracker controversy was really necessary. If you don’t know the story, you can read his blog post about it here. The short version is that he desecrated a communion wafer…but really, read his version. I know that a lot of people think this whole thing was a silly exercise that accomplished nothing more than pissing off loads of Catholics. That was my first reaction. Think about it though, all he did was trash a cracker (as well as some pages from the Qur’an and the God Delusion). What he really did was demonstrate how ludicrous religious thinking can get. Some of the emails he received from angry Catholics illustrated how some people put the importance of the cracker above the importance of other human beings.

He has posted some of these emails on his blog, but one in particular that he showed at the talk really shocked me. It basically said that desecrating the wafer was worse then the holocaust or 9/11. Seriously. This is the kind of thinking that needs to be challenged publicly. PZ did something utterly harmless: he threw a few things that he didn’t hold sacred into the trash, and by doing this he was showing that not everyone was bound by superstitious beliefs. That’s something I can support.

What was your reaction to “The Great Desecration”?

Moving along…

My favourite part of lectures is pretty much always the question period, and there were a couple of questions in particular that stood out.

First, there was a local blogger (if you end up here let me know because I’d like to read your blog!) who mentioned that Canada doesn’t have any official separation of Church and state. I actually didn’t know this…I had made some lazy attempts to find out whether we had something similar to the US’s establishment clause, but came up empty. His question was did PZ think that we would benefit from making the separation of Church and state official. PZ’s answer, briefly, was no, and I agree. It might come in handy on occasion, but Canada has done great without it, compared to the US with its White House Faith-based initiatives, its national prayer breakfast, and its presidents (both the current and the previous) that can’t seem to make it through a speech without mentioning god or Jesus.

What do you think? Should Canada have an official separation of Church and state?

Second, a brave creationist showed up! His question: What do you have to say about molecules to morals? It was a weird question, but pretty much just a different wording of “can you be good without god?” PZ handled this well, and you can read the discussion on this in the comments on his blog, but how would you answer?

I’m always puzzled by this idea that we need someone (a god) to tell us what to do in order to be good. It just makes sense: if I don’t want to be harmed, I won’t do harm to other people.

Time to wrap this up…I’ll conclude by saying that I think atheists in general are moral and thoughtful people, and we should be loud and proud of our ability to think for ourselves. Cheers!


3 Responses to “PZ Myers Braved Winnipeg…in January!”

  1. 1 Mom January 13, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Hi Lindsay. I thought I’d weigh in with my two cents worth…so here goes….

    I am of the opinion that it is much more productive and compassionate to be “for” something rather than to be “against” something. So I would like to challenge everyone who reads this to spend more time focusing on the ideas and philosophies that you’d like to support rather than trashing things you may not agree with or know every dimension about.

    Yes, I agree that “some” religious people take “some” ideologies too far. I also think that “some” atheists do the same thing. In my opinion PZ took the communion wafer idea too far and I question his motivation. At the lecture he freely admitted that for a certain number of hits on his blog he gets incentives (such as a big screen TV). Given that kind of a carrot, it is in his best interest to put outlandish or sensationalist things on his blog in the hope of gaining attention, be it negative or positive. I found myself wondering if he is really speaking out of concern of a threat to good science or is there some other agenda at play. Be careful to keep your critical thinking caps on when you are absorbing info from anyone including PZ! I will admit here that I have not been a follower of his so my first exposure and impression of him is based solely on his lecture titled “The War between Science and Religion”.

    Again regarding the communion wafer controversy…you’d have a hard time convincing me that PZ did not receive a single thoughtful rational response from a theist on the topic. Yet he chose to highlight the few ignorant responses from a small minority of irrational believers who are attracted to controversial blogs such as PZ’s. I thought it was a very lop-sided and biased discourse about the response to his shenanigans.

    On a personal note, I know how significant communion is to my mother. Therefore, I will try to provide a little balance to the controversy. Communion is meaningful to my mom in ways I don’t fully understand or appreciate. However, I know her well enough to be certain that she would have been deeply hurt if she had seen the desecrated communion wafer in the photo. You see “receiving communion” is very much a part of my mom’s identity and is tied into her family roots. It is part of her heritage, customs, and core beliefs and traditions and to desecrate the wafer that is so symbolic of what it “means to her to be catholic” (note I did not say what it means to be catholic) is hurtful. She has spent over 80 years believing in a certain way of being and the communion wafer is a necessary component of receiving communion which has a very personal significance to her. People, it is not the actual wafer’s demise that is so disturbing, it is the symbolic attack and disrespect for a whole group of people just because they identify with a certain religion.

    A rational approach to anything must maintain a measured response that is full of integrity. Personally, I found PZ’s lecture very one-sided, narrow minded, and lacking in integrity.
    Therefore, I’d like to temper PZ’s call to action by encouraging everyone to think about what your intention is before acting. Think long and hard on that and let it be your guide. Is the action you have in mind the most productive and ethical way to accomplish your goal? Is going to war the answer?

    Lindsay, so far, I think you are wise t approach to who you share your new found ideologies with. I think it is wise to bide your time and think things through and practice empathy and see things from other vantage points.

    I am very happy you invited me to attend PZ’s lecture with you. It has provided me with a lot of insight and this blog the opportunity to share my insights and read yours. I love this creative medium! It’s a fantastic means of sharing what matters to you and an opportunity for your readers to express their views as well. It provides an opportunity for others to challenge your ideas and for you to challenge others. I completely applaud and admire your efforts and I am very proud of you!

  2. 2 Global Villager January 14, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Mom – I think you make an excellent argument about PZ. I like the guy because he is incredibly intelligent and an impassioned advocate for science and atheism but his methods do border on grandstanding.

    I get the impression that he is attracted by the notoriety he receives for such stunts as the wafer desecration, but this is just speculation as I do not know him well enough.

    I agree that two wrongs do not make a right but when you are constantly defending yourself against ignoramuses who don’t “play by the rules” it becomes difficult. I believe he showed some of the wacky emails and hateful responses to show the attitudes that are no doubt shared by many and this is what we regretfully must deal with. I agree that he probably received many measured and appropriate responses to the wafer but I also bet he received many more hateful and inane ones as well.

    Also, it may be politically correct to respect certain beliefs but it is not rational or even responsible to give equal time to quackery and myth. This is one of PZ’s main points – the rational people of this world have hidden in the background too long and setp up as religion and woo continue to worsen lives, kill people, steal our money, and corrupt our children.

    It becomes hard to discuss these things with religious family members. We love them and do not want to cause them undue stress and disappointment. PZ’s approach is certainly not appropriate then – but at least his heart is in the right place!

  3. 3 Becky July 13, 2010 at 6:41 am

    Like the photo: Btw…which one is the dinosaur?:)

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