Thursday, September 6, 2012

PZ's Great Desecration A Fake?

PZ Myers, whose major intellectual contribution, "The Courtier's Reply", I wrote about the other day, is more famous for a publicity stunt he mounted called "The Great Descecration".    In his act he stuck a nail through a consecrated communion host, a page ripped out of The Quran, and more pages from The God Delusion, covered all with coffee grounds and banana peels, took a picture of it and put it on his blog with a puerile description of what he did and why he did it.  And, remember, Myers did so on his "Science" blog*.

I'm not going to go into the Webster Cook incident or Bill Donohue's own PR campaign riffing off of that,  PZ's  motivation for doing what he did.  This post isn't about his act of desecration, which I pretty much ignored when he first did it to squeals of glee in the halls of blog atheistdom and outrage from other people.   I thought it was an act of juvenile attention getting, all round and  suspected it would turn out to not end the world as we know it.  But in the blog brawl over its authenticity I  was involved in several years back, I found out that atheists are not only supposed to be  immune from knowing what they're talking about,  their improbable sounding claims are NOT to be treated with skepticism.  The uber-"Skeptics" are not to be treated skeptically.  Something I found not to be in keeping with the requirements of science.

When one of his fans gave extremely improbable details of his most famous act, as told,  I asked what if PZ Myers faked it?   Accusations of fakery are the bread and butter of pop-atheism and its conjoined twin, organized "skepticism".   I figured it was entirely fair to hold them to their own standards.

It began on Chris Mooney's blog, The Intersection.   In a long discussion about PZ Myers, and his "Desecration"  I first critisized his using pages of a Quran at comment 15.   In the context of the times and previous events it was extremely irresponsible, especially when Myers said he was responding to threats of violence as the reason for his claim to have desecrated a consecrated host.

I haven’t heard any reaction to the Quran desecration, though I’d imagine any might be gratifying to someone who publicly did that during a period when the reaction to that kind of act, getting large numbers of people injured and even killed. Anyone who assumes Myers knew what had happened in the aftermath of the cartoons published in the Danish newspaper, could hardly be faulted for assuming PZ would be prepared for some kind of reaction to his publicity stunt. I haven’t checked his archive to see if he’d commented on the demonstrations and riots that had left people dead in the aftermath of the cartoons. Did he comment on that?

Looking at PZ's archive, I found that he had addressed and expressed understanding at how the desecration of the image of Muhammad had sparked the violence that had gotten people killed and maimed.  At comment 18 I quoted PZ.:

There are some things a cartoonist would be rightly excoriated for publishing: imagine that one had drawn 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. Feeding bigotry and flaunting racist stereotypes would be something that would drive me to protest any newspaper that endorsed it—of course, my protests would involve writing letters and canceling subscriptions, not rioting and burning down buildings. There is a genuine social concern here, I think. Muslims represent a poor and oppressed underclass, and those cartoons represent a ruling establishment intentionally taunting them and basically flipping them off. They have cause to be furious!

So, Myers, himself had noted the potential of desecration of religious objects to incite violence among Muslims before he used pages of the Quran in his publicity stunt.   I will note that I'm not sure the English translation of the Quran that Myers used actually qualifies as desecration of the holy book, I'm no Islamic scholar, which was mentioned.   But it's more than possible that just the rumor of such a desecration, as Myer's alleged he performed, could be enough to get people killed.  That would be proved when the Florida "pastor" announced his intention to burn a copy of it.  I have not checked to see if PZ commented on that incident but I may and will report what I might find.  Atheists on the blogs I frequented condemned the Florida pastor for threatening to do what, perhaps, their hero PZ Myers had already done to widespread atheist approval.   Consistency in such matters is not to be found among the atheists of the blogs.  It's entirely a question of who they hate more on what occasion.  Mocking Muslims is only somewhat less popular among blog atheists than anti-Christian and, especially, anti-Catholic hate talk.

But things really didn't get going until I found out a detail I'd missed in my general indifference to PZ's great stunt.  In a discussion of whether or not PZ had gotten the consecrated host from someone who stole it, someone pointed out that part of the tale is that it was sent to PZ by an apostate Catholic who had brought a consecrated host home and kept it until he became an atheist, when, for some reason, he'd sent it to Myers in time to be used in his star turn.  I found that particular assertion fishy.

Wowbagger at comment 319:

He made it quite clear the crackers he received were sent to him by now ex-Catholics who’d taken them when they were still members of the church. None of them were ’stolen’ by anyone.

I said this:

321.   Anthony McCarthy Says: 
July 15th, 2009 at 9:11 pm
He made it quite clear the crackers he received were sent to him by now ex-Catholics who’d taken them when they were still members of the church.

Is that what PZ claimed? I find it very hard to believe that. I’ll bet it was never consecrated, I’ll bet it was a fake.

PZ's fans quickly took offense at my skepticism and  in the discussion that followed, what they said made me even more skeptical than I'd been about the authenticity of his publicity stunt.  The scenario as laid out by them was seeming ever more far fetched.  For reasons known to him alone, PZ, himself jumped into the long discussion for the first time soon after that.

329.   Anthony McCarthy Says: 
July 15th, 2009 at 9:40 pm
Oh, I forgot this.
—- Catholics on the threads admit taking the cracker home rather than eating it; why is it such a stretch that they may have kept it? Wowbagger
I came from a very Catholic family and know a very large number of Catholics. I have never once heard of one of them doing that, not even the ones who left the church and wouldn’t have any reason to not talk about it. I’ll have to ask someone who’s still active in the Church what they’re saying about it these days, but back when I was still a Catholic there were extremely strict rules about how a consecrated host was supposed to be treated.
I think it’s a fake.
330.   PZ Myers Says: 
July 15th, 2009 at 9:43 pm
The source of the cracker was documented on video.
331.   PZ Myers Says: 
July 15th, 2009 at 9:44 pm
Of course, anyone who believes it was fake are free to do so. Those people, though, would then have nothing to complain about.

Which I thought was PZ throwing in the towel awfully fast.  The You-tube he asserted was his evidence of the authenticity of his stunt has been taken down,  I don't know how soon  after this.  I did see it when I could get to a faster connection (was on dial-up at the time) it showed nothing that could be positively linked to PZ's "host".

Apparently, everyone is supposed to believe, this Catholic boy, for some reason, while he was still a Catholic, just happened to have had video of himself taken while he was given communion.  Remember PZ's fans said this was while he was still a Catholic, well before the boy turned atheist and sent PZ a consecrated host.    The coincidence of a Catholic having a video of him going to communion on that one occasion is too big a stretch to be credible.  Adding in the extreme unliklihood that a faithful Catholic, in violation of church law I was taught when I was six, had taken it home for some unstated reason  instead of eaten it, the story is absurd.   As I said, the more details that were added to the story, the more like a fake it seemed.   I said that I was certain, if that's how the story was being told, that it was a total fake, either PZ had faked his desecration diorama or that the kid was hoaxing him and PZ was a victim of what he wanted to believe was true.   And I still think it was a fake.

In the ensuing hundreds of comments - really,  hundreds of them -  many of PZ's adoring fans defended their faith in the authenticity of his publicity stunt, to which I pointed out the simplest explanation was that PZ had faked the "host" by cutting it out of paper or flattening a circle cut out of Wonder Bread or that Myers could have ordered communion wafers which are available online, something I hadn't know about when the brawl started.  I pointed out there were a number of explanations,  more credible and parsimonious, than the Catholic boy happening to have had a video taken of the time he stole a consecrated host, only to turn atheist and send it to PZ so he could desecrate it in the wake of the Webster Cook incident.  And, as I noted, PZ Myers had destroyed any possible evidence that could prove his staged photo was a fake or if it might be real when he threw it away.  That, is, of course, exactly the same thing that even a real skeptic would point out about any claim they didn't like.  But skepticism is another thing that atheists hold themselves to be immune from.   And note:

Despite PZ Myers' mantra that "it was just a cracker",  asserted all through the incident, one thing that was proved was that to him and his fans, it was extremely important that everyone believe that it was a genuinely consecrated host.  And that all must believe in PZ's Desecration Diorama.  PZ and his fan base PROVED IT WAS NOT "JUST A CRACKER" TO THEM.

If you want to go through the entire thread to read how very rigorously skeptical these atheists are NOT of their great hero, you can find some real gems of credulous faith in PZ and his great act of attention getting.    I will confess that I had a lot of fun raising one point after another before the blog owner called an end to it at comment 856.  Really, it went for 856 comments.

*  The "Science Blogs" are mostly a vehicle for conventional scientism and self-congratulatory religion bashing with a bit of science reporting thrown in.  The "Science Blogs" that concentrate mostly on science seem to be less popular than those that regularly feature atheist boy-bonding hate rap sessions.  At their worst they are hate-jock talk, call-in radio in print.  I once challenged Myers to see just how interested in science his fan-boys and girls were by going all-science-all-the-time for a few weeks to see how many of them stuck by him, and then he could resume his Rush Limbaugh level content later. to see if his audience returned.     He flatly refused to run the experiment to test his blogs scienciness.  I have posted that exchange here.


  1. Not being Catholic, I've never taken communion there. I did it in the Episcopal church, though, and the physical practice is largely similar. It would be a very odd thing at the rail to palm the wafer rather than eat it, and profoundly odd for a believer to do so.

    And, of course, the whole stunt turns on the definition of "Consecrated," as you say. If it was still "just a cracker," what difference did consecration make? If it was consecrated, then it wasn't just a cracker.

    You can't eat your cake and have it, too.

    And how do you believe a "cracker" is "consecrated," if you don't believe in consecration? That's not even an atheistic question; plenty of Protestants don't believe in consecration, either. That's a Catholic doctrine, not a Christian one (i.e., it's application is limited).

    Wittegenstein would eat PZ Meyers for a morning snack, and pick his teeth with the bones.

  2. It was pretty funny how PZ resigned from the argument, within two comments leaving it to his cult to defend his great stunt.

    There's one more of the PZ&Me posts to go. Though that could change.