Posted by: Dan | December 6, 2006

Does Myers go too far?

Starting from a comment by PZ Myers on Larry Moran’s blog, Chris from Mixing Memory takes him to task, or tries to anyway. Ivy and I exchanged a couple comments on this thread on the discussion, but I’d like to put up the comment I posted on Mixing Memory as an independent post:

Chris said:

Even if some degree of literalism is most common among the volk, that doesn’t permit you to dismiss all religion by dismissing literalism/fundamentalism. It still leaves a large, if not majority segment of religion that you haven’t even touched.

Even if PZ is equating all religion with fundamentalism, religion is still all based on superstition and mythology, is it not? What’s wrong with calling it what it is?

If we were talking about paganism (Greek Mythology, for instance), would you still be arguing so strongly against PZ? Fundamentally, Greek and Judeo-Christian Mythologies aren’t that different, afterall. The same goes for all of the religions in the world. And in each and every culture, superstition and mythology have their places, but the learned scholars among us recognize these things for what they are – beliefs, not facts.

True, there are a great many moderate Christians out there who recognize the discrepancy between belief and fact, and that’s fine. In many ways that was my view while growing up. But I would argue that such people aren’t theists at all – they might not even be deists. They are Christians in that they “go through the motions” (the rites and rituals, etc.), but have a view of reality that is based on something other than the Book of Genesis and miracles of the Bible.


Responses

  1. Chris seems to be unable to back up his assertions, which makes him quite hypocritical. He asserts that Myers, Dawkins, etc. are not familiar with and fail to engage sophisticated theology, but fails to provide any evidence of anything they have missed.

    Also, he criticizes Myers, et.al. for criticising unsophisticated believers, thus using his imagined sophisticated philosophical theology as an umbrella to shield the unsophisticated. This is exactly the criticism that Dawkins, Haris, et.al. level at the “moderates”, that they enable the Fundies. Besides, since this umbrella is imaginary, the believers as a group are all wet.

  2. Chris has posted a series of such threads in the last week or two, and has consistently failed to deliver on his claims. It is time for him to take his own advice: Let me put it this way. My view is that you can think whatever the hell you like about religion, but if you don’t know what you’re talking about …, you’d do well to keep your mouth shut about it.

  3. When I look at these situations, I see behaviors, and I see values. Our behaviors demonstrate our values. Well, usually they do, unless we fall into ineffective habits. Sometimes in such cases our behaviors seem badly misaligned with our perceptions of our own values.

    I watch participants in the culture of science try to persuade outsiders, and I find it frustrating and painful to witness. The behaviors I see are consistent with other in-group/out-group clashes I’ve watched. I see considerable time and effort expended on presentations that seem tailored to the in-group. I don’t see much time or effort invested in tailoring messages to the out-group. Nor do I see much genuine interest in applying feedback about message effectiveness. From my perspective the in-group behaviors I observe make little progress toward the espoused goal of persuading the out-group.

    For me the question of whether one participant has “gone too far” is much less interesting than the question, Do these behaviors effectively achieve the stated objective?

    The behaviors I’ve witnessed so far definitely are effective at something. I’m not sure that something has much to do with persuading the out-group, however. I find that disappointing.

  4. For me the question of whether one participant has “gone too far” is much less interesting than the question, Do these behaviors effectively achieve the stated objective?

    … that’s a damn fine observation. It is, of course, more of a rhetorical question, but one that we should at least attempt to address.

    My thoughts:
    1) There isn’t much agreement among the objectives in the first place, making agreement on how to achieve them impossible.
    2) With such variety of opinions, group politics becomes difficult at best, and the responsibility for framing (or at least “playing nice”) falls to the individuals. In this, the consensus seems to be that Myers and Moran fail – they certainly fail to avoid “victimizing” their opponents.
    3) What effect(s) does “stirring up the pot” with vociferous language like that used by Myers and Moran have? I would argue that the effect is certainly negative in some spheres, where engaging opponents in thoughtful discussion seems to be the most effective route (or at least the route of least resistence). But at the same time, a heated fight often brings topics to the forefront, and can be useful to uproot and challenge deep-seated beliefs.

    So I would argue that, in general, it would be nice for Myers to tone down his language (personal insults are out), and that others should be wary of mimicking him, but that he performs a valuable role in the culture wars.

  5. When I look at these situations, I see behaviors, and I see values. Our behaviors demonstrate our values…

    While there is much to criticize in the tone of Dawkins, Moran and Myers, that is a different topic. Currently, Chris of Mixing Memory is challenging Myers on substance, not tone, and he is entirely unable and unwilling to back up his statements.

  6. Ivy, I get the impression that you redirected our attention because you feel the situation described is especially important or urgent. Is that accurate?

    What do you feel is at stake? What outcome do you want from this? Or, what apparently undesirable outcome might occur if it goes unresolved?

    (I haven’t read all the comments at all the other blogs. My apologies if you’ve explained this elsewhere.)

    Thanks for sharing your values. Cheers

  7. Ivy, I get the impression that you redirected our attention…

    I get the impression that you are confused about who is redirecting attention.

  8. Ivy,

    While there is much to criticize in the tone of Dawkins, Moran and Myers, that is a different topic. Currently, Chris of Mixing Memory is challenging Myers on substance, not tone, and he is entirely unable and unwilling to back up his statements.

    As the conclusion that I’ve made here has largely been that Chris of Mixing Memory has fallen flat on his butt with his statements, I didn’t read Etbnc’s comment as supporting Chris, or attacking Myers on his substance. And, I would argue that how one says something is highly relevant to what he or she is saying, wouldn’t you?

    Granted, maybe this would be a simpler discussion if we stuck to discussions of substance, and less on issues of presentation style…


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