Monday, July 28, 2008

Advice for a zealous atheist

Zealotry is not a behavior limited to religous individuals. Atheists can also be zealots. Take the case of P.Z. Myers:
...Myers is a biologist at the University of Minnesota at Morris who has a national following for Pharyngula, the blog on which he regularly exposes and lambastes efforts by creationists to undermine the teaching of evolution. A few weeks ago, he wrote a blog entry in which he defended a University of Central Florida student who protested the presence of religious groups on his campus by taking a Eucharist — the small wafer blessed in Roman Catholic services and then seen as the body of Christ — and removing it from the service rather than consuming it. Myers, in an entry entitled “It’s a Frackin’ Cracker” — questioned why this was such a big deal.

Ever since, Myers and his university have been bombarded by e-mail and other messages attacking him and calling for the university to punish him for insulting Catholic teachings.

On Thursday, Myers responded by staging what he called a “great desecration.” For the desecration, he took a communion wafer (sent to him by a supporter in the United Kingdom, who removed it from a church there), and pierced it with a rusty nail. ("I hope Jesus’s tetanus shots are up to date,” Myers quipped on the blog.) He then threw it in the garbage with a banana peel and coffee grounds, symbols of refuse. But to show that he wasn’t picking on Catholics, Myers added to his mixture some ripped out pages of the Koran. As a proud atheist, Myers isn’t a member of a faith that he could desecrate at the same time so he took a text he does cherish — The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins — and tore some pages out and added them to the trash...

Atheist like Professor Myers should keep in mind that many fellow scientists are making the case that religion itself is an evolutionary phenomenon. David Sloan Wilson, for one, has taken on none other than Richard Dawkins for his derision of 'God' delusionists.

In the search for greater understanding, which should be the primary goal of any scientists, an appreciation for religion - both its contributions and its detractions to our humanity - should inform the rhetoric.

There is something to be said for the psychology inherent within the old adage: You attract more bees with honey than with vinegar. Ridicule of religon may just activate a primative 'fight' response rather than the rational, disspassionate critical thinking atheists should be striving for.

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