Column: Hate, in the name of science

“Baboons pretending to be scientists.”

“Keeping children in ignorance.”

“Sleazy.”

These are words used by Dr. PZ Myers to describe creationists. Myers is an evolutionary biologist and “militant atheist” from the University of Minnesota.

Creationists believe that God created the world sometime in the last 10,000 years. Creationists deny that fossils or genetic evidence demonstrate evolution. To explain the presence of dinosaurs, creationists believe humans and dinosaurs shared Earth for a while. Yeah, like the Flintstones. Creationists like the famous Ray Comfort vilify science, pointing out that Hitler believed in “survival of the fittest.”

Many Christians are not creationists.

Last Thursday, Myers came to UC Davis with the goal of refuting creationist claims. He lectured in Chem 194 with the aid of slides that showed whale fossils and fish anatomy – proof of evolution. It would have been a good lecture, a very scientific lecture, if Myers hadn’t been obsessed with attacking Christianity.

Myers called creationists “ignorant,” “obtuse” and “pretentious.” He then turned his attack to scientists who “inconsistently” accept evolution along with Christian beliefs like prayer. He accused scientists who are Christians of hindering science education.

“I do not respect those beliefs at all,” Myers said.

I was offended by Myers’ anti-religion rant, which is weird because I am also an atheist.

There are extremists on both sides of the science/religion debate. Between the nonsensical arguments of Comfort and Myers’, I wonder why there is a debate at all. Why is religion the opposite of science?

Myers accused creationists of having “knee-jerk reactions [to science] that shut down any intelligent response.”

Yet when asked how he reacts to creationists in his evolution course, Myers joked about being tempted to “kick them in the balls.” Myers can’t see that he’s stooped to the same level as a group he calls “stupid.”

Myers characterized Christians – not only creationists – as a brainwashed bunch clinging to the “crutch” of religion.

“[Christians] are perfectly happy to go along with what their pastor said,” Myers said.

Christians may refer to themselves as a “flock,” but they aren’t sheep. It takes courage to say you believe in something that can’t be proven. When scientists formulate hypotheses, they are vulnerable to critique, and they must conduct research to remove all doubt. Religious believers must deal with the same vulnerability, but with the knowledge that they can never prove the existence of a God. Religion takes bravery.

It also takes bravery to spend your life trying to figure out the natural world through science. We’ll never know everything about the world, so scientists just chip away at the mysteries. It seems like scientists and Christians could see the struggle to follow one’s convictions as a common ground, not a schism.

Myers saw no irony in bashing religious indoctrination while spewing his hate to a room full of students. His audience was clapping and howling at his jokes, so I bet few were skeptics of evolution. It takes no bravery to preach to the choir.

Myers displayed a slide showing the tenants of science: reason, evidence, critical thinking and naturalism. But he forgot a major theme that keeps science rolling forward: collaboration. Discourse between scientists strengthens experiments and tests theories. Scientists come from many different spiritual backgrounds. To characterize them all as ignorant is offensive and halts the scientific process.

I grew up Methodist, but now I’m an atheist. I’ve found magic in nature – in the craziness of evolution that has produced both grizzly bears and sea slugs. My beliefs led me away from Christianity. I never felt oppressed by Christianity, I just didn’t believe in a higher power. Science filled the void of understanding nicely, but I did not become an atheist because I believe in evolution. Scientists shouldn’t be afraid of religion.

Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The religion that is afraid of science dishonors God and commit suicide.”

I love these words. Emerson believed that science and religion could coexist and make each other stronger. Science is not the opposite of religion. There are many ways to marvel at the world.

MADELINE McCURRY-SCHMIDT thinks Weird Al’s words to “Luke Skywalker” apply to Myer’s attack on religion: “I know Darth Vader’s really got you annoyed / but remember, if you kill him then you’ll be unemployed.” E-mail her at memschmidt@ucdavis.edu.

Comments are closed.