And Appleyard skewers him, returning rhetorical fire with rhetorical fire:
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.
And one of Appleyard’s thread contributors nicely deconstructs PZ Myers’s rhetorical maneuvers:
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 exterminator 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, preferably 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.
I myself continue to think that PZ Myers is the most unhinged public figure in the New Atheist movement, but his fellow atheist peers (Dennett, Coyne, Dawkins, Shermer) seem to think he’s the bee’s knees, and speak of him with deep affection. I just don’t get it.
As a reminder of the problem that PZ Myers poses for liberal agnostics and atheists, here are his two blog posts—one promoting iconoclastic gestures toward Catholic communion wafers, and the other narrating his actual engaging in one of these gestures when one of his blog followers scored one for him (from the summer of 2008). How does a person who regards himself or herself as liberal defend this kind of emotional primitivism, incivility, and boorishness?:
Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There’s no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I’m sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I’ll send you my home address.
And this one:
OK, time for the anticlimax. I know some of you have proposed intricate plans for how to do horrible things to these crackers, but I repeat…it’s just a cracker. I wasn’t going to make any major investment of time, money, or effort in treating these dabs of unpleasantness as they deserve, because all they deserve is casual disposal. However, inspired by an old woodcut of Jews stabbing the host, I thought of a simple, quick thing to do: I pierced it with a rusty nail (I hope Jesus’s tetanus shots are up to date). And then I simply threw it in the trash, followed by the classic, decorative items of trash cans everywhere, old coffeegrounds and a banana peel. My apologies to those who hoped for more, but the worst I can do is show my unconcerned contempt.
Ironically, I think that John Calvin would have understood PZ Myers.
i agree, for the better part. i will go to Pharyngula every once in a while for the science (he’s a better than average science writer), but am not much for the vitriol and the amen crowd that follows him as entourage.
that said, i have read one or two of brian appleyard’s soliloquies on science (and evolution in particular), and to an educated layperson such as myself the man seems to have a poor grasp of the material. now, i understand his point about myers’s rhetorical tactic of shifting the issue from the philosophically profound to the mundane/empirical; BUT appleyard referring to biological or scientific terms as “gobbledegook” only helps ensure that some of us will view him a little askance the next time we read him (which is a poor move on his part, if he intends his writing to be truly persuasive).
I guess I wasn’t clear: that was a thread contributor, not Appleyard himself, who came up with those four points above.
ah, i see. i misread.
that said – and as useful as i find the commenter’s notes – it is nonetheless a mistake to refer to words with valid scientific uses as “gobbledegook”.
and though i usually find appleyard worth reading – and am certainly sympathize with his perspective – his remarks on science and evolution seem, well, unsophisticated.
How on earth did Appleyard “skewer” him? The whole piece is nothing but an extended insult that doesn’t even refer to any of Myers’s actual points. Your response is like that of a football supporter who automatically cheers for his own team, no matter what. If Appleyard was on my team, I’d certainly want him replaced with someone who could garnish his insults with a few actual replies.
As for “[deflecting] the issue from the profoundly philosophical to the mundane by suddenly talking lab gobbledegook about genes, mutations…”, how on earth was the discussion “profoundly philosophical” in the first place? It started with Appleyard regurgitating stupidest-of-the-stupid creationist canards, in a way that would make any kind of intelligent theist wince. The “how do you make an eye?” argument is the sort of thing that you would expect from a wild-eyed street preacher, intermingled with conspiratorial rants about water fluoridation and Freemasons. It was about as “profoundly philosophical” as the pull-my-finger joke. As one of the Pharyngula commenters put it, Burnet’s “deconstruction” amounted to:
“Dammit, stop talking about stuff that’s factual, relevant, and which will reveal me to be the emptyheaded, incompetent, shallow, and woefully mentally unagile moron I actually am. If we keep this to vapid philosophical generalities and inanities, I believe I might just be able to fake actually having something to contribute… Indeed, I might even be able to preen, project myself as having some sort of wisdom, or at least imagine I have done so… Bring in that stuff, where definitions can be pinned down and such ugly and unmalleable things as facts can be seen actually to matter, and we’ll actually be playing tennis with the net again. Worse, I might have to grapple with information I was previously unaware of, possibly even be brought face to face with my own glaring inadequacies in coping with the same. Much as the rest of you live with that day to day, to the various degrees that you must, I’m too much a coward even to face that, and am not the least bit interested in getting any better at it anyway, insofar as I fear it probably won’t lead where I want to go. So just stop it already.”
Yeah, don’t fall for the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” line. Appleyard may not be as bad as Myers, and he doesn’t have the hoards of admiring sycophants, but he is still pretty bad.
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