Friday, February 8, 2013

Atheists Granted Indulgences* by PZ Myers

* It should be known from here on as The PZary Indulgence. 

Note:  We seem to be about to lose electricity, here in New England so I'm going to repost this piece I first posted last September. 

It's a growing problem, the intellectual decadence that flows from the atheist blogs.   As I mentioned in my recent series on Darwin, Eugenics and Haeckel,  most of the people who claimed that Darwin has nothing to do with either of those do so from the position of never having read any of what the relevant people said about it.  Including Charles Darwin.  Some of them rely, at best, on secondary sources which are often motivated by ideology.  And  most of those I've encountered argue out of tertiary garbage only occasionally based on secondary sources,  when they're not also based on other tertiary garbage or complete lies.  But it gets even worse than that when an atheist demands the privilege of speaking out of absolutely no knowledge at all.

The most commonly encountered statement of that privilege on the blogs comes from P.Z. Myers in defense of his friend, Richard Dawkins'  radically minimalist scholarship in his The God Delusion.   In many reviews from real scholars, a number of them atheists, it was noted that Dawkins made his would-be, two-fisted, final slam-down of theology firmly standing on the shoulders of such specialists as Douglas Adams and Carl Sagan.   In fact, it would seem from that book and his response to those critics, that Richard Dawkins knows quite a very little about theology other than that he does not like it.  I'm unaware of any evidence that he has, in the ensuing years, corrected that gap in his education.   Since the book comes from a man who held an endowed chair at Oxford University as he wrote the it, his exposition from ignorance raised a number of objections.  

To his rescue came P. Z. Myers, an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota at Morris and, more importantly, the owner of Phrayngula blog*, with his"Courtier's Reply" .  "The Reply" is rather repetitious and mostly trivial** but, in order to prevent P.Z.'s  nay-men choir from pulling out the old "quote mining" charge, I'll give it as he did, in full.  I will, though, underline what seems to be the substance of it. 

I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed— how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.

To paraphrase, I'd say it meant, P.Z Myers is upset that his friend Richard Dawkins is being criticized for  neglecting to know enough on a topic he wrote about in what was supposed to be a serious book by an Oxford scholar.  And the best he can do is pretend that it's not a requirement of serious scholarship to know what you're talking about.   And the excuse for not knowing what you're talking about is that you don't need to know what you're talking about when P.Z Myers and Richard Dawkins don't like the topic of Dawkins' book.  Which is, apparently, an acceptable intellectual stand among many atheists. 

P.Z. Myers is taking a stand not much different from the stand that Galileo complained of  to Kepler:

.... what would you say of the learned here, who, replete with the pertinacity of the ass, have steadfastly refused to cast a glance through the telescope?  What shall we make of all of this?  Shall we laugh or shall we cry?   Trans. from The Crime of Galileo by Giorgio de Santillana 

Apparently Myers has taken up the same standard of intellectual conduct that Galileo struggled against from scholastic scholars upholding geocentric astronomy.   Which, since "The Courtier's Reply" amounts to an atheist plenary indulgence to expound ignorantly, isn't that strange.   According to him you don't have to know what you're  talking about before you write a mighty tome on the subject from an endowed chair at Oxford University.   Or from his position at The University of Minnesota at Morris.  Which I'm sure many of his colleagues at his own university would disagree with.  And it's a privilege that I've heard asserted all over the atheist blogs. 

Science seems to be entering into a decadent period in which scientists who are fully as arrogant as a pantomime Cardinal in anti-religious mummery, declare themselves competent to expound on things that they not only demonstrate they have never studied but which they admit they've never studied declaring that their superior scienciness  is a virtue that allows them to expound of in complete ignorance.   Considering that, in his "Reply" post one of the reviewers he critisized by name is H. Allen Orr, whose scientific credentials are definitely more credible than Myers' and, I'd say, more than match Dawkins, his arrogance isn't just to non-scientists. 

There have always been jerks like that in science,  relying on the reputation of science and, in a few instances, their specialized and particular achievements to allow them to bluff through any other topic.  But, today, that intellectual dishonesty is entirely out of hand.   It reaches the zenith of its foolishness when the sci-guys complain on being called on their ignorance by people who know what they're talking about.   Maybe PZ should be told that his "Reply" makes him sound like one of the lying, hypocritical and pompous twits he invented to pompously assert atheists don't need to know what they're talking about .    And there's not so much as a stitch of thread to cover his self-exposed shame.   I thought it was about time someone told him that. 

* It is an astounding fact to some of the blog atheists I've discussed Myers with that he isn't the major figure in science or scholarship they imagine.  Once, in preparing a blog post about teaching science, I asked several biology teachers I know, who all have undergraduate degrees in the subject, what they thought about P.Z. Myers.   Three of them had no idea who he was and the fourth said he never bothered with blogs, being a teacher took all of his time. 

**  When I first read it I couldn't believe any serious people who ever had to write a jr. high school paper would take it as anything but P.Z. writing a slacker-quality blog post on a day he had nothing to say.  But it's gained a currency among blog atheists along such  ideas as "a Poe" and "quote mining" and it's worth saying something about.  Among blog atheists, The Courtier's Reply is taken on as a rule of logical discourse, a universal acid to dispose of any observation that the atheist doesn't know what they're talking about.   The idea of university professors and teachers speaking up for discourse out of ignorance, and doing it with a fable riddled with logical fallacies and just plain stupidity is pretty discouraging. 

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