Thursday, November 05, 2009

For PZ Myers

Read Michael Ruse in The Guardian now. There, bracing wasn't it? I note there are 1,000 plus comments. The ones I read were all anti-Ruse and pro-Dawkins. But Dawkins is a very context-sensitive meme. In The Telegraph the comments would probably be pro-Ruse and anti-Dawkins. I note also the appearance of this character P.Z.Myers. I've never read him before but I now discover he once did me over - 'How stupid are the editors and managers who keep paying for his badly written lumps of self-contradictory fatuousness?' Okay, I'm prepared to accept that I may be wrong about everything - I wake up every morning thinking just that - and PZ may be right, but 'BADLY WRITTEN'! Coming from this sub-verbal sack of shit that's a bit rich. I mean just scan his stuff. 'Badly written lumps' needs a bit of work, PZ, if you really want to nail me on grounds of literacy. 'Sub-verbal sack of shit' is so much better, no? PZ knows as much about prose as I do about angling (which is, in fact, slightly more than usual because I'm getting to sleep by reading Carl Hiaasen's Double Whammy) and he has an ear that would be made of tin if it weren't made of lead. Intellectually, of course, he's beneath consideration, but I won't go there. I'm with Napoleon on the subject of PZ - 'Never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake.'

56 comments:

  1. Yes I read the Ruse yesterday and thought it excellent and, in the Guardian, quite brave. Loved his use of Cromwell to the Scots. "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken!"

    Are you trying to provoke Mr PZ into a visit? Beware bloggers with Google-reader set to 'self'. I have experience in this field - you could find yourself moderating all day.

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  2. PS re: PZ - I've also seen his doing over of you before. A painful example of someone who isn't bright enough to get away with being crudely sarcastic, being crudely sarcastic.

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  3. God, you need a thick skin in your game, don't you?

    What strikes me about the furious aggression shown by this lot of rationalists (one of PZ's commenters wanted to nail you to a cross: you should be flattered) is that it sits ill with their belief that if religion is somehow disinvented all will be well. I think their absolutist rage is proof that we're going to have to live with something that we might call original sin - productive as it is of wars, genocide, terrorism, etc. - regardless of what happens to religion.

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  4. PZ Myers' prose is difficult in the same way that National Geographic magazine text is difficult: you know pretty much what they are trying to say but your brain keeps disengaging because, although the words are reconisable, they don't hang together properly. At least National Geographic has excellent pictures.

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  5. Still an all, you would have to look to the Silver lining. He did after all buy your book.

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  6. Bryan, I don't know if you had the stomach to wade through 176 comments worth of slightly scarey abuse but if not you'll have missed this little gem:

    "There is only one 'why' question, and it has already been answered [by Darwin], so 'how' questions are all that's left."

    Almost one for your 'discuss' series – were it not that all discussion is now otiose, of course.

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  7. There is something to be said for judging a person by the quality of his enemies rather than his friends. On that score you're doing pretty well.

    PZM lost the necessity to take him seriously or with respect when he pulled his Eucharist desecration stunt. It was just so adolescently aggressive and pointlessly provocative that the only rational response was to ignore him.

    Ruse is a braver man than his detractors will ever give him credit for. I am one of those deluded fools who has faith, to the bemusement of most of my friends, but I see no reason why I cannot engage intelligently and enjoyably with those who take a diametrically opposed view. It is the 'new atheists' desire to force us all to take up arms at the same time as closing our ears and minds that bemuses and saddens me.

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  8. I liked Ruse's article--the reaction has been entertaining.

    It is sweet that PZ Myers left out the hyphen in 'badly written', but as bloggers go he seems a better stylist than most. I sampled him for a while--just to broaden the diet to include points of view I disagree with, but quite quickly gave up--the crudity of his thinking became too much.

    As you say, his line of attack was so utterly disregardful of any reality. It was just intended to provoke. It says a great deal about Myers and his project.

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  9. Can you have a self-contradictory lump? I only ask because all the lumps I have met cohered and stuck together like an - err- lump.

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  10. I mean if lumps contradicted themselves they would fall apart and stop being lumps. Sorry to quibble, I'm sure that he's right and you're wrong but his failure to understand the essential lumpiness of lumps worries me.

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  11. I must confess to enjoying Myers, although I would never waste my time reading his commenters. I suppose this says something damning about my character, since Myers is widely held as possessing no redeeming value.

    Worse yet, I haven't sought redemption.

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  12. Myers, like Dawkins when he's tired and especially the gruesome Dennett, survives entirely on scorn and venom. His response to any challenge is simply to increase the number and volume of schoolyard taunts. These guys are intellectual alchemists who have perfected the art of using invective to turn philistinism into apparent sagacity. The formula goes something like this:

    Step 1--Begin by describing a philosophical challenge with a mixture of anger and fatigue, much as you would describe discovering a termite in your house after the extermintor had been through and presumably destroyed them all. The contempt must ooze front and center before you even address the argument so that anyone who might be inclined to take the challenge seriously is forwarned and suitably cowed. Don't skimp on the insulting adjectives.

    Step 2--Deflect the issue from the profoundly philosophical to the mundane by suddenly talking lab gobbledegook about genes, mutations, etc. Use words like phenotype liberally and try to throw in a diagram. Extra points for insisting Darwin himself was well aware of what you are saying and would have agreed with you unreservedly;

    Step 3--Insist that any argument that comes within a hundred miles of religion, no matter how ethereal or tentative, leads directly to biblical literalism, perferably as practiced in the American South. Show in one paragraph how it is the root of every atrocity in history, will lead to the end of scientific inquiry and justifies the bombing of innocent villagers by the U.S. Air Force.

    Step 4--Bask in the glow of hundreds of one-sentence comments thanking you profusely for your courage and agreeing you have proven there is no need to read what your opponent said to know that the stupid twit isn't even worth reading.

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  13. Peter, Is there anyone among movement atheists whom you would regard as civil, or is movement atheism uncivil by definition?

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  14. kynefski, one would have to say that Ophelia Benson, the author of that article on 'movement atheists' is not one of them. Although if she managed to conduct most of her discourse in the manner she does in that article she might well be. Unfortunately, her tone and style on her ButterfliesandWheels blog is more along the lines of "Kill them. Kill them. Crush them. Crush them."

    As a reborn movement atheist, as it were, Matthew Parris is mostly pretty civil when it comes to religion. At least I don't actually feel he wants to put a Makarov to the back of my head and pull the trigger.

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  15. kynefski:

    Sure, the ones who prefer the word "wrong" to "stupid". But I'm not so sure that I buy all this "movement atheists" talk. Isn't that just a euphemism for puffed up arrogant asses? I can certainly understand someone arguing his non-belief in the context of an intellectual debate, or trying to undermine theological defences of laws, or feeling impelled to dissuade people from particular beliefs or practices or even churches, but to openly and publically declare warfare on an abstract composite called "religion" (which of course no one believes in) by questioning the intelligence/sanity of believers irrespective of what they actually believe smacks of totalitarianism per se.

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  16. Recusant, Ophelia Benson is the greatest living American, perhaps the greatest American full stop. Insult her again, and I will horsewhip you on the steps of my club, if I had a club, which fortunately for you I don't.

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  18. In William Golding's "Rites of Passage" there's a character, nicknamed the Rationalist, if I remember well, who spends the entire sea crossing with his blunderbuss in hand in order to be able to shoot an albatross and thereby "prove" that the seamen's superstition are unfounded.

    The point being of course that his behaviour was completely irrational, indeed borderline insane.

    I always think of him when I read New Atheist rants.

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  19. Nick, you can always borrow the steps of mine. Whether there's room to swing a horsewhip is debatable, fortunately for me. And I have no room to doubt your admiration of her, it's just that I don't feel that she wants to debate with me rather than stifle me.

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  20. Recusant - sadly you and I cannot simply ignore P.Z.Myers since he pulled his Eucharistic stunt as we are enjoined to pray for his immortal soul.

    I have been trying to do this for some time now, in odd moments, but it is proving a Sisyphean task.

    Perhaps I'm a hypocrite, but my concern for his spiritual welfare doesn't prevent me from thoroughly enjoying the sight of PeeZee getting a good kicking from Mr Appleyard.

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  21. Peter, can I add a step 5, which only now appears to be emerging (I think I heard Hitch smuggle this claim out recently).

    When it's pointed out that communism and fascism, both godless, have caused a great deal of trouble your militant atheist will re-classify these phenomena as religions. Therefore arriving at the unassailable formula bad = religion rather than religion = bad.

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  22. I used to read PZM. I still read Appleyard.

    The article that PZM criticized did, indeed, contain a great deal that was wholly wrong, both scientifically and historically, all of it very well written.

    Unlike almost everything issuing forth from Myers keyboard.

    When it's pointed out that communism and fascism, both godless, have caused a great deal of trouble your militant atheist will re-classify these phenomena as religions.

    That is because they are religions. Describe what constitutes an organized religion. You will not find any particular that does not also include communism and fascism.

    Nor could you distinguish the nature of belief.

    Just as the belief in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming is essentially religious.

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  23. I read Ruse's essay, but I kept getting stopped at the very beginning with this statement:

    "If you mean [an atheist is] someone who absolutely and utterly does not believe there is any God or meaning then I doubt there are many in this group. Richard Dawkins denies being such a person."

    Which I thought was the absolute core belief of atheism. In fact, I thought it was such a fundamental belief that to say otherwise would be like a Roman Catholic saying "the pope? Just a poser in a shovel hat."

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  24. Bill:

    Ruse is sloppy with his terminology.

    An atheist is one who is not a theist.

    A theist professes the "belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures." (I am quoting from my dictionary.)

    So, one can be an atheist (i.e., doesn't believe there is such a thing as a personal god) without passing judgment on whether some supreme entity exists.

    Deism and theism are not the same, despite Ruse and Appleyard casually mixing the two concepts.

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  25. Hey Skipper, by that definition of religion, every idea or philosophy beyond "shall I have Indian or Chinese for my supper" is a religion. And everyone who attacks the "poison" of religion is religious.

    I think the teensiest smidgen of metaphysics and a concept of the supernatural is required for any belief to be classified as a religion.

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  26. "Deflect the issue from the profoundly philosophical to the mundane by suddenly talking lab gobbledegook about genes, mutations, etc. Use words like phenotype liberally and try to throw in a diagram."

    What, you mean introduce some scientific evidence? How unsporting of them!

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  27. Hey Skipper, by that definition of religion, every idea or philosophy beyond "shall I have Indian or Chinese for my supper" is a religion.

    No, it isn't.

    Monotheistic religions: have a revealed text, argue from authority, a priesthood, a god-figure, heretics, and schisms.

    Communism: check, check, check, check, check, check.

    Rather than the recent crop of atheist writers, read Daniel Harbour's "The Intelligent Person's Guide to Atheism."

    Religious belief systems are baroque and monarchic. Non-religious systems are spartan and meritocratic.

    There is a world of difference.

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  28. So, PZ Myers dissects the authors' article in detail, calling into question his journalistic credibility, and the response is to critique PZ's prose?

    Weak.

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  29. "Deflect the issue from the profoundly philosophical to the mundane by suddenly talking lab gobbledegook about genes, mutations, etc"

    Oh-- by "gobbledygook" you mean the hard work of actually producing evidence and a working rationale for your claims? Instead of the cozy work of boozy, armchair speculation?

    In that context, the rest of your comment is entirely consistent.

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  30. "sub-verbal sack of shit" ?

    "Sub-verbal" doesn't mean what you think it means. Or, if you do know what it means, you've used it in a way that makes little sense.

    "Intellectually, of course, he's beneath consideration, but I won't go there."

    Since the first half of the sentence, in fact, went there, you are either a liar or not quite the prose stylist you seem to think you are.

    Also, you're missing a bunch of commas. And book titles should be in quotation makes.

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  31. I must say, It takes balls to attack someone's writing in a post that's full of clunky sentences, odd metaphors, grammatical errors and logical pratfalls.

    For example:

    "Intellectually, of course, he's beneath consideration, but I won't go there."

    Your first six words make liars out of your final five. Plus, that's a hackneyed construction.

    "But Dawkins is a very context-sensitive meme."

    Dawkins is not a "meme"; he is a person.

    "Coming from this sub-verbal sack of shit that's a bit rich."

    Sub-verbal does not mean what you apparently think it means.

    Also, book titles belong in quotes, or at least in italics.

    Prose critic, heal thyself.

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  32. PZ Myers' prose is difficult in the same way that National Geographic magazine text is difficult: you know pretty much what they are trying to say but your brain keeps disengaging because, although the words are reconisable, they don't hang together properly.

    You have just captured Dan Brown perfectly.

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  33. Fascinating how the tone of the comments changed when the PZ-fans arrived.

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  34. But Appleyard, you must admit that cleek got you with "Dawkins is not a "meme"; he is a person." :)

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  35. Sluggish literalism I thought, Arni

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  36. Your "shitty" article on Darwin that inspired PZ's post makes you look like an ignorant blowhard:

    "It's all very well to talk of small mutations changing an organism, but how do such changes make, for example, an eye? Without all its bits and pieces, an eye does not work. It is, in the terms used by the biochemist Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box, "irreducibly complex", beyond the reach of blind, random mutation."

    Bullshit. It's revealing that you respond to the form, rather than the content, of the criticism.

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  37. PZ is an intellectual giant in comparison to the tripe I see you trying to peddle in your column.

    Enjoy.

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  38. PZ's insult seems better crafted than yours. His was punctuated correctly, and you were reduced to using foul language. (You should have put a comma after 'shit'.)

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  39. Goddamn, Bryan, you are a fucking crybaby. Cry some more you whiny little bitch!

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  40. If you're going to try to join in with the big kids and have a go at flinging insults, you should probably try to be less of a fatuous shit.

    You might find it personally gratifying to screech, piss and moan at being called a bad writer, but that doesn't stop it being true.

    If you can't acknowledge this, you'll never get better, will you Brian?

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  41. For what it's worth, I think you're a pretty good writer. You still shouldn't have brought this up because PZ was at least right about your characterizations of biology. You couldn't be bothered to respond to his criticism, so you attacked his writing.

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  42. "Okay, I'm prepared to accept that I may be wrong about everything - I wake up every morning thinking just that - and PZ may be right, but 'BADLY WRITTEN'! Coming from this sub-verbal sack of shit that's a bit rich."


    This is where your counter-argument begins. Let's check it out a little bit at a time.

    Okay, I'm prepared to accept that I may be wrong about everything...

    A concession that is mitigated by hyperbole. Nobody is wrong about everything.

    ...I wake up every morning thinking just that...

    Further mitigated by humor. That's funny, what were we just talking about?

    and PZ may be right, but 'BADLY WRITTEN'!

    Another concession, but QUICK! Distract readers from the actual content and attack the form!!

    Coming from this sub-verbal sack of shit that's a bit rich.

    Leaving the mangling of your usage of "sub-verbal" aside, your shriveling argument just imploded in a childish flurry of name calling and pointless invective.

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  43. What a waste of space this blog is - I thought there might be some useful information or proof that PZ was wrong but all I see is a slanging match.

    Snore.

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  44. As Graham Greene said of Ford Madox Ford, he had the kind of enemies a man ought to have.

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  45. "From where do we get the right to believe, that from the very beginning Man was not what he is today? Looking at Nature tells us that in the realm of plants and animals changes and developments happen. But nowhere inside a kind shows such a development as the breadth of the jump, as Man must supposedly have made, if he has developed from an ape-like state to what he is today."

    More here: http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2006/08/hitler_the_creationist.php

    I suppose it's too much to expect one of you 'moral' god-bothering types to actually apologize for sliming the corpse of a brilliant, decent man with a disgusting and completely manufactured association to one of history's greatest monsters, but hey - I'm a dreamer.

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  46. I read PZ Myers because he knows what he is writing about and he is to the point. And his take-down of you was spot-on.

    You will never be able to counter his criticisms of the rubbish you wrote about Darwin in January, will you? If you want to compare abilities, he is a better writer than you are a writer on the topic of science.

    But the important thing is that on the subject matter he is right and you are wrong and he can tell you why you are wrong.

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  47. "It is sweet that PZ Myers left out the hyphen in 'badly written'"

    No hyphen is called for, as always with a "-ly" adverb. Dumbass.

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  48. "Coming from this sub-verbal sack of shit that's a bit rich. I mean just scan his stuff."

    That kind of comment indicates PZ Myers really struck a nerve. And how hypocritical, you are guilty of the very things you criticize him for. Intellectually, you've met more than your match. Your "perfect" writing skills are really useless against truth aren't they?

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  49. Peter Burnett, aren't you a little embarassed that your complaints against Myers basically boiled down to "when you debate science with him, he has too much evidence"?

    Just a WEE little bit?

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  50. I just noticed the absurdity of your use of Napoleon in the following quote:

    I'm with Napoleon on the subject of PZ - 'Never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake.'

    Except he's clearly not making a mistake. PZ is vastly more popular than you are and seems to get more popular every day. I don't understand how his posts regarding you are supposed to be a "mistake." On the other hand, you are making yourself look bad in front of what is likely the largest number of website hits you've had in months.

    Who is making the mistake here?

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  51. You and the early responses to this post do a wonderful job of appealing to that oh-so-English sense of intellectual superiority. What a shame it's so unwarranted in this case. (Critiquing a blogger's use of hyphens. Really, people!)

    I must have missed the part where you showed us how Myers was, um, mistaken about anything he wrote regarding the sheer factual wrongness of your original article. Oh, wait, you can't do that: by your own admission, he "may be" right. I won't hold my breath waiting for your take-down of his facts then.

    Interestingly, Myers' article criticized your writing, whereas you went straight for the "sack of shit" moniker. Ad hominem much?

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  52. Good job dude. Now the millions of readers on the most popular science and atheism blog on the net know that you can only respond to criticism with childish invective. I'm sure your readership will benefit.

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  53. No, "Sub-verbal sack of shit" is unfortunately not better; it stoops to profanity.

    Also, you may call PZ's writing schizophasic, but he produces enough of it that he's clearly literate, and speaks in public enough that he's clearly verbal.

    It's regrettably necessary to actually discuss his writing at a slightly higher level.

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  54. "Sub-verbal" is a solecism; "sack of shit" is a cliche. Jolly well done, Brian old chap!

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  55. The truth about myers is that his atheist crusade serves to mask a scientific worthlessness

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