Posted by: Mark Waser | Nov 5, 2010

C’mon PZ


I’m really disappointed with PZ Myers of Pharyngula.

Not only has he given theists an incredible anti-science sound bite but he insists upon defending it with arguments that are relatively inaccessible to most people even if they were willing to try to wade through them.  Not to mention the fact that it also looks like he is also now promoting a self-righteous approach.

The phrase “there is no evidence that could convince me of the existence of god” is simply not going to be interpreted in the sense that he means it by the vast majority of people.  My first reaction was “What the heck?  He can’t possibly mean that!”.  And, indeed, he doesn’t mean what I and, I strongly believe, most people generally interpret that phrase to mean.

The first problem is that he put himself into the equation.  It looks like he is unwilling to be convinced — even if there were evidence that should convince him.  Such an attitude is clearly inconsistent with rationality and the scientific method.

His original phrasing “There is no possibility of evidence to convince us of the existence of a god” was much better.  It doesn’t look like something which he doesn’t mean.  For clarity, his phrasing probably needs to be something more along the lines of “There exists no evidence of the existence of god because such evidence cannot exist without being self-contradictory, internally inconsistent, or forced to have properties not allowed by the definition of evidence.”  While that’s clearly overly complex and too long for a sound bite, it does convey what he actually means.

The problem with his newer phrase is that it uses “terms of art” that appear to be common/familiar English words when addressing an audience that doesn’t have the knowledge to recognize that PZ believes that he is conveying very specific meanings which are different than those commonly assumed for the familiar words.  I am, personally, currently very sensitive to that type of error because it was the cause of the vast majority of my problems with the uber rationalists (to the extent that I wouldn’t have a problem with being classified as an uber rationalist except that I think that it currently has too much of an unhelpful correlation with some unwise goals — noting, of course, that this parenthetical comment has far too many terms of art itself ;-).

Greta Christina, in an article over at AlterNet, disagrees with PZ while also saying that he makes some seriously important points.  Most interesting to me, with my current sensitivity, is her statement that “It seems, uncharacteristically for him, like he’s not getting the rules of the game.”

I also didn’t like PZ quoting and seemingly supporting Steve Zara’s call for a “strident” atheism appearing on RichardDawkins.net.  If anything, we all need to take it down a notch.  Firm is fine.  Unmoving from rationality and scientific principles is perfect.  But stridency is one of the enemies of rational progress.  You really don’t want to go there, PZ.

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