I am one of the few people who has had the privilege of having P.Z. lie directly to my face rather than behind my back. Let me tell you the tale. A while back, at TAM, I asked him what we should do when religious fanatics go straight to murderous violence to advance censorship. He said that in that case, we should all join in and republish the offending material in solidarity, since the chaps will sooner or later run out of bullets. Cue prolonged and stormy applause.
During the Mohammed cartoon crisis, when people were murdered for being the same nationality as the cartoonists, and students were being jailed for following the line that Myers affects to believe, can you guess his response? Of course you can: the instant there was a real threat, Myers scurried to safety as fast as his chubby little flanks would carry him. Of course, he cannot admit this honestly. This wasn’t abject fear, oh no, he just didn’t have any sympathy with “an exercise in pointless provocation”, we had to remember that “muslims were people too”, and they had “cause to be furious”, and after all those cartoons were horribly, horribly racist, just like one of “an African-American figure as thick-lipped, low-browed, smirking clown with a watermelon in one hand and a fried chicken drumstick in the other”…
This from a man never happier when republishing any scurrilous cartoon about Our Lord and Saviour, and, for the record, there far more sincere believing African Christians than Americans (incidentally, I think it says a great deal about Myers mental universe that he can immediately visualize such a cartoon in such detail). Four years on when he’d noticed that many people had the guts to take the stand he didn’t, he boldly republished the cartoons, they having magically become non-racist. That adjective isn’t an accident, as you will see if you read the title of that post; he’s boldly “flaunting his disobedience”.
Can it possibly get any more cowardly and contemptible? Yes, it can. Vide Myers circulation of the following filth: The 5 most awful atheists, posted on alternet. Let us pass over some of the others defamed, such as Penn Jillette, a man who does more for reason with one season of Bullshit than Myers has done in his whole existence, and focus on the defamation of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Sam Harris.
The line this article take on Ayaan is that “Like Rand, she’s traded one form of totalitarian dogma for another—openly contending that reason must be shunted when confronting an irrational enemy. ” Leaving aside the accidental insight of the similarity between Miss Rand and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, focus on that sentence. That isn’t just wrong; it is so totally divorced from reason and reality that one is struck dumb. What inexhaustible reserves malice and rot the typist must posses.
The line on Harris is worse. The stuff on Ali is obviously nuts and equally obviously motivated by petty spite. Writing about Harris, on the other hand, this article repeats the lie that he is pro-torture.
This line is a lie. It is not a misunderstanding, not an ‘interpretation’, not even a distortion produced by a poisoned mind. It is a naked lie, and it is a lie that Myers is consciously endorsing.
Here it is worth quoting Sam Harris’s response.
I do not think that I am being especially thin-skinned to worry about this. Accusations of racism and similar libels tend to stick online. If my daughter one day reads in my obituary that her father “was persistently dogged by charges of racism and bigotry,” unscrupulous people like PZ Myers will be to blame.
Think of pettiness, the smallness and spite it takes to read this and just shrug, but Myers lacks even the courage of his dishonesty. He refers to Harris as an advocate of “illiberal policies”, neatly allowing him to scurry away from the fact that the article claims that Harris defends torture, which he does not. Yes, I think one can say one has reached the lowest point of cowardice and meanness. Though there is worse corruption yet, which I will come to.
Before that, let me remind everyone: the only reason Myers blog is as well known as it is, is the patronage of Richard Dawkins. Naturally, the instant Dawkins got fed up with Watson’s self-pity, Myers dropped him with nary a second thought, and joined in the defamation with no hesitation. Truly are these “faithless” so called.
Now remember Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s background: victim of FGM, escapes one of the most anti-woman societies on earth, works her way from cleaner to MP on a platform of defending women’s rights, and has to live her entire life under threat of death for taking up that cause. While Myers is perfectly happy to slap his paws to the keyboard over the offer of coffee to Watson, he is willing to go along with the defamation of a woman of that quality.
Let it never be said that Myers only donned his armour of snowy white just for Watson. No indeed, once before he raised his hands to punch out the following:
she and her father faced down a pair of thugs who threatened to rape the lesbian out of her. These were the local ‘security services’ who try to enforce a religious propriety on every one; just living in the day-to-day situation there has to be an example of great courage. […] The villains here are unfortunately all men- men who think they can use and abuse women. It makes me embarrassed for my sex… and it embarrasses me further that there will no doubt be whiny little half-men complaining in the comments of this article. Could you all try to make that prediction false?
And who is this fair maid that calls forth such gallantry? Amina Arraf.
A man might claim ignorance and that his good nature was taken advantage of. That claim is made nonsense by Myers evident fear and hate of women like Abbie Smith and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I don’t think it an accident that Myers swallowed MacMaster’s line. This was like calling out to like. As I wrote before, a man who is aware of his irredeemable lack of value craves those that allow him to pretend otherwise. But he fears and hates real courage and value, which is why real heroines like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Suzanne Zeller Hirzle, Sabatina James, Nonie Darwish, or Wafa Sultan are given short shrift. It is also why, for all his posturing about “men who think that they can use and abuse women” he defends Bill Clinton, who by any standard falls into that category,
Do you remember the line taken by Watson about Dawkins and seconded by Myers? What was the complaint? “Privilege”. Well, yes, it is always such a pleasure watching middle class americans whining about someone else’s “privilege”. Theirs is the empty rage of Caliban seeing his face in the glass.
If you can bear it a short while, try to imagine what this kind of a mind feels like. Someone born to wealth and security known only to the tiniest fraction of humanity, the heir to three millennia of human progress, and doing nothing with it. And then here comes someone like Sam Harris born to the same, who willingly condemns himself to a life of insecurity to fight, for real, the cause that you only affect to value. And then here come these children of the poorest parts of the earth who take up the struggle in a way you never will.
Imagine what that feels like, and you can understand their hate and their fear.
As I alluded to earlier, there is one final level of absolute corruption, and it is this: Myers willingness to subordinate science to politics.
I suppose should be grateful, since it’s thanks to Myers that I was introduced to a certain cute danish blonde. I am referring to the following post in which Myers cites the following article about Bjorn Lomborg which, on the basis of a book by Howard Friel, accuses Lomborg of lying about the scientific record in no less than three major instances. Every single one of these is flat out wrong. For example, that Lomborg ignores the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s report on Polar Bears, and instead takes his information from a blog post and “a study that never mentioned polar bears”. That is a lie; the research Lomborg draws on is exactly the study in question.
I will do a follow up post in which I cite all my sources on this and show that Friel is lying. However, that is not the point here. Myers has not read Lomborg’s work, or the original criticism, or Lomborg’s response, or the research that he cites. He has simply decided to accuse Lomborg of dishonesty, by his own admission based on a pre-existing prejudice, and with no other evidence than a magazine article, to accuse someone of scientific dishonesty.
The enormity of this charge is hard to understate. It is one thing to say someone is wrong. I could easily list a number of reviews published in journals like Nature that are critical of Lomborg. It is quite another thing to accuse someone of dishonesty in science, and you had better have damn good evidence of it. Myers did not do the most basic investigation, does not grant the most basic assumption of honesty, and takes a goddamn popular press article as evidence. You might as well call for FOX news to be considered a peer reviewed source and have done with it.
This is not an isolated incident. Take his post on Ray Kurzweil. Here is Myers grand analysis:
Kurzweil cheats. The most obvious flaw is the way he lumps multiple events together as one to keep the distribution linear. […]
The biology is fudged, too. Other “events” are “Class Mammalia“, “Superfamily Hominoidea“, “Family Hominidae“, the species “Homo sapiens“, and the subspecies “Homo sapiens sapiens“. Think about it. If the formation of a species, let alone a subspecies, is a major event about a million years ago, why isn’t each species back to the Cambrian awarded equivalent significance?
Myers might like to trudge down to his local library and check out Evolution: The First Four Billion Years. What he will find are two chronologies of evolution that do exactly this. I don’t think that Myers can possibly be so ignorant as not to know that. But science means nothing compared with defending his own prejudices.
One thing I will say for Kurzweil, though, is that he seems to be a first-rate bullshit artist
Take a look at the following. That is the “bullshit artist”‘s achievements (as opposed to Myers’ which consist of a blog). I’m well aware there’s a lot of debate about Kurzweil (here is a good article by Michael Shermer), but there is no grounds to charge him with dishonesty.
This is by no means the first time Myers has gone in for this crap. A quick google search revealed the following (Kurzweil: “Myers, who apparently based his second-hand comments on erroneous press reports (he wasn’t at my talk)”). And in his final lines, Myers reveals just what value and esteem he places on science, technology and the struggle of our species to rise from its lowly beginnings.
We may think it’s a grand step forward to have these fancy cell phones that don’t tie you to a cord coming from the wall, but there was also a time when people thought it was radical to be using this new bow & arrow thingie, instead of the good ol’ atlatl.
Got that? Myers thinks that incremental advances in stone-age tools and technology over centuries and millennia is the equivalent of space age technology advancing in a matter of years and decades. That the cord phone to iphone, from rocket to shuttle to Virgin Galatic is the equivalent of, maybe, getting a bit of a better bow every hundred years.
Coward, liar, arrogant blowhard, bully and fool: all these might, perhaps, be redeemable. But when someone decides to subordinate the scientific method to his political prejudices, when he is willing to not bother to do the most elementary effort due to any scientist because he does not wish to have his prejudices challenged – that is the ultimate corruption. Science was the sparkplug for the Enlightenment, and it remains the final line of defence against the forces of unreason. Someone who betrays it has declared that there is nothing he will not abandon.
Long before “Atheism +” was even a figment in its advocates’ minibrains, I learned to recognise and hate Myers for what he is. If there is anyone who is emblematic of this corruption, it is he.
UPDATE: Stand by for the final part…
UPDATE 2: Title changed by request.