Home » Intelligent Design » Expelled: “Denormalizing” the Darwin thugs 2 – PZ Myers and friends

Expelled: “Denormalizing” the Darwin thugs 2 – PZ Myers and friends

In an earlier post, I introduced the concept of “denormalization.”

In this second post, I want to talk about PZ Myers. He and his supporters are also candidates for denormalization.

To recap, thuggery or scams that have persisted for a long time and are endorsed at the highest levels of the establishment come to seem “normal.” So the “problem” is not the behavior of thugs and scammers but the attempted responses of those they attack.

The responses sound raucous or incoherent against the tranquil background of accepted misgovernment.

However, in a free society, misgovernment persists because most people do not know what is going on and do not know what they can do to change things. Denormalization means getting the message out to a broad public: Look, this is happening. Do you think it’s fair? If not, here is what you can do about it.

That’s what the Expelled film is doing in the ID vs. unguided evolution (Darwinism) controversy. It shows both the evidence for intelligent design of life and the unconscionable lengths to which the Darwin fans are willing to go, to keep both students and the broad public from knowing why their ideas about the nature of life are probably  wrong.

Myers came to public notice recently when line producer Mark Mathis ejected him from a recent Expelled screening. I suppose he felt ill-used, given that a number of other atheists who were attending a conference in the area (including Richard Dawkins) were admitted. Mathis retorts,

It is amazing to see the reaction of PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins and their cohorts when one of them is simply expelled from a movie. Yet these men applaud when professors throughout the nation are fired from their jobs and permanently excluded from their profession for mentioning Intelligent Design.

I hope PZ’s experience has helped him see the light. He is distraught because he could not see a movie. What if he wasn’t allowed to teach on a college campus or was denied tenure? Maybe he will think twice before he starts demanding more professors be blacklisted and expelled simply because they question the adequacy of Darwin’s theory.

I doubt it. Myers, who teaches at a Minnesota liberal arts university that is proud of its status, had this to say about those who think that the evidence favours views other than his:

The only appropriate response should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing of some teachers, many school board members, and vast numbers of sleazy, far-right politicians … I say, screw the polite words and careful rhetoric. It’s time for scientists to break out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles, and get out there and hammer on the lunatics and idiots.

Yes, this statement is famous among ID theorists, particularly those whose expulsion from their positions Myers has celebrated. But most Americans do not know even about it, let alone contemplate what it means that a teacher at a “liberal arts” university should express himself in this way. The Expelled movie will, I hope, denormalize that.

And there is more. Myers clearly enjoys his self-appointed role. Here is an excerpt from his Raving Atheists interview (9 20 2007):

At one point, the interviewer asks, “In a related matter, how come when I enter the search term “demented f[#]ckwit” into Pharyngula I get about a zillion hits?” (09-20-2007, 08:34 PM)

Myers’s reply:

Somebody’s got to be in charge with slapping around the demented f[#]ckwits. The position has devolved on me. (09-20-2007, 08:39 PM)

Go to Raving Atheists for the excerpted material in context.

(Alert readers will notice that I airbrushed the text above. It should not interfere with readers’ understanding.)

Again, most people, who hear only sympathetic treatments of Myers in legacy media, simply do not know about his zesst for persecution. Denormalization means telling them.

It is most revealing that a number of people describe Myers as a nice guy. You know, “a gentle soul”, a gentleman, and soft-spoken but with strong convictions, and all that.

What could they possibly mean, in light of the material above, which Myers has never disowned?

Only four possibilities come to mind. These people

1. do not know what he thinks and says. But many do.
2. are disingenuous (but it’s hard to prove).
3. are disconnected from reality (possibly).
4. This is what I think most likely: Attacks – verbal, career or otherwise – on anyone who talks about the problems with Darwin’s theory are considered normal.

Thus, a person who writes as Myers does is nonetheless viewed as a mild-mannered gentleman and scholar, worthy a place at a liberal arts university.

Herre’s a thought: Abused women sometimes tell friends, in all seriousness, “He’s a really nice guy, you know. As long as you don’t get on his wrong side.” In one such case, the appropriate response was offered by a female relative of mine who snapped, “Well, I can tell you this. If I ever get on his wrong side and anything happens, he will end up wishing he had only right sides.”

As this anecdote illustrates, a critical aspect of denormalization is to let a wider range of people view the problem and respond. Suddenly, what was supposed to be, oh you know, just normal, becomes recognized for the abnormality that it is.

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

39 Responses to Expelled: “Denormalizing” the Darwin thugs 2 – PZ Myers and friends

  1. I hope PZ’s experience has helped him see the light. He is distraught because he could not see a movie. What if he wasn’t allowed to teach on a college campus or was denied tenure?

    Mathis is being too generous in his description. Myers can watch the movie just like everyone else in a couple of weeks. He was not prevented from “seeing a movie”, he was prevented from viewing a movie in advance of the general public. This incident is in no way analogous to what happens to Darwin skeptics as described in the film.

  2. Abused women sometimes tell friends, in all seriousness, “He’s a really nice guy, you know. As long as you don’t get on his wrong side.”

    A friend of mine had been physically abused by her husband for years because she thought abuse was happening to all other women as well. When she found out that her marriage was not “normal” she dumped the perp and eventually found a man who was indeed “normal”.

  3. You are comparing PZ Myers to a man who beats his wife? That is a bit over the top man.

  4. I am comparing Myers’s supporters to people who are in denial about the situation they are covering for or – for whatever reason – actually support it. As for Myers, I assume that his internet writings represent him if he in fact wrote them.

    How do YOU feel about his overall approach to scientific and scholarly endeavour?

  5. Probably worse than the coercion, and binding people’s consciences — is the fact that Myers, et al have set themselves up a bureaucratically problematic situation. Any system that is ensconced through coercion is ripe [rife too?] for corruption.

    I don’t think anyone could site an example where one did not follow the other.

  6. I think it’s worth pointing out that even people who are not supporters of PZ say he’s a nice guy person in the flesh (Robert O’Brien and Henry Gee are two people who fall into that category. O’Brien has been banned from Pharyngula, but in the comments in your “gentleman” link says he agrees with the sentiments).

    Most people’s online persona is different to their “real” persona (to varying extents). It’s clear that PZ is more radical and out-spoken online (and yes, he does go over the top).

    I don’t profess to understand this Jekyll and Hyde aspect of his character: I have never met him in the flesh or had the opportunity to discuss this with him. So I’m certainly not going to use it to impute the attitudes of a larger segment of society.

  7. You are comparing PZ Myers to a man who beats his wife? That is a bit over the top man.

    I took Denyse’s post to be about a process by which certain behavior comes to be considered “normal” or “non-normal” not about comparing hostile, vitriolic blogging and professional blacklisting to wife-beating.

    But, as was noted in another thread, bullies tend to be touchy and easily offended, so I can see how some might get defensive when wife-beating and Darwinism are mentioned in the same conversation–even if the point was not to equate the two. ;)

  8. Most people’s online persona is different to their “real” persona (to varying extents). It’s clear that PZ is more radical and out-spoken online (and yes, he does go over the top).

    I agree with this because I’ve seen it myself with other acquaintances. But then can a person really be considered “nice” if they attack and destroy people in one arena of their life but are kind to their family, friends, personal acquaintance and animals?

  9. It shows … the unconscionable lengths to which the Darwin fans are willing to go, to keep both students and the broad public from knowing why their ideas about the nature of life are probably wrong.

    They don’t call it the PT-mafia for nothing.

  10. PZ works at an outpost of a university in podunk western Minnesota, at the “University of Minnesota Morris.”

    Given his recent shenanigans, perhaps some might like to compare his words and deeds to the UMM code of conduct.

  11. William,

    I fail to see how PZ Myers fails to meet (even exceed) the UMM Code of Conduct both on and off the campus.

    I have actually met PZ Myers about two years ago, along with his wife and daughter at the American Museum of Natural History. I had no idea who he was nor how (in)famous.

    He was a “nice guy” but… I think I said something at one point that got him really steamed. Something about the complex mating behaviour of some Amazonian fish. I don’t recall exactly what I said that ticked him off but at some point during the discussion he gave me a rather intense look. He restrained himself and let me finish and the discussion proceeded. I really had quite a good time and we had an excellent tour of the AMNH. One of the best I have ever had.

    There is a big difference touring a museum with just the placards and touring it with a well informed evo-devo prof at your elbow.

  12. With regard to PZ’s gentleness, I was very surprised to hear him speak. His *manner* is definitely very soft-spoken. I was expecting to see someone banging the table and frothing at the mouth while screaming at the audience, but instead he speaks in a tone which suggests bewilderment and exasperation more than anything else.

    The content of his writing speaks for itself, though.

  13. 13

    Hyperbole, thy name is O’Leary.

    larrynormanfan – I don’t like your tone. Thy name here is history. -ds

  14. Larrynormanfan, you should see what a PZMyers fan wrote today.

    Holbach wrote:

    I propose a nice carbon offset by eliminating … oxygen consuming morons [the religious] and combining their carbon dioxide residue to plant trees which would produce copious amounts of oxygen that we so sorely need to replenish that lost to deforestation and needlessly consumed by religious idiots who tend to breathe it … Their carcasses will release plenty of carbon and oxygen not only to rekindle a more healthier planet…Once they are gone, all their … churches should be razed and allowed to revert to the natural world. … All those … tax dodging houses of insane worship, if not razed, perhaps can be converted to needed housing, libraries, and centers of scientific inquiry. Now that will be an incredible carbon offset!

    I blogged about this today

  15. Russ, I’m not a Darwinist. Nor do I sympathize with Darwinism.

    I obviously should have kept my mouth shut on this thread.

  16. Russ, I’m not a Darwinist. Nor do I sympathize with Darwinism.

    I obviously should have kept my mouth shut on this thread.

    Deep Design: My remarks were probably a bit intemperate. One gets so used to snarky comments whether they are meant that way or not.

    Writing on the Internet is like driving on a freeway. It takes a lot of restraint to behave as if the person you’re cutting off is standing in front of you rather than encased in a Hummer. I have been known to take it too far.

    Of course, one shouldn’t treat someone better or worse because they oppose or support ID, but thanks for the clarification.

  17. No worries, you are fine Russ. I know how it can get.

    If you haven’t seen it yet. You might be interested to know that you can watch the Berlinski party on CSPAN 2 for free.

  18. 18
    sagebrush gardener

    Myers as a nice guy

    To avoid having Godwin’s Law invoked, I won’t mention any names here, but it is worth noting that the instigators of historic atrocities have often been likable, jovial fellows in person. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” and it may sometimes be only the lack of power and opportunity that keep evil words from turning into action.

  19. utidjian (11) and Leo Hales (12),

    I have noticed that same switch. At Evangelical Outpost I tangled with PZ Myers once. My comments start with comment 29, he entered at comment 55 with a withering blast, I pointed out to him that his criticisms were grossly inaccurate in comment 59, and he switched to being much less abusive in comment 61. It is not clear why the sudden switch, but it certainly looks like it happened.

  20. Deep Design: My remarks were probably a bit intemperate. One gets so used to snarky comments whether they are meant that way or not.

    My inclination is to just bite my tongue. Without fail, Dave will show the Darwinists the exit pretty darn quick.

    As far as this thread, who cares what PZ is like in person? It serves our purpose to have him appear as nasty and brutish as possible. Why bother entertaining any argument from someone that he is generally a nice guy, just because they actually met him in person.

  21. *Applauds Denyse for her handling of larrynormanfan*

  22. Re #18

    Likewise, I hear that the Gary Ridgway and Dennis Rader are pretty nice guys in person.

  23. P.Z. may well come across differently in person than he does in print, but Richard Dawkins in person is no different in person than he is in print.

    I once went to a lecture of Dawkins and asked him “Is science committed to materialism?” His reply was that it wasn’t, and that science may well discover immaterial entities in the future. His tone then became angry, and he added “This doesn’t justify what certain people are trying to do!” There was thunderous applause from the atheist audience.

  24. William Wallace quoted Holbach as follows:

    I propose a nice carbon offset by eliminating … oxygen consuming morons [the religious] and combining their carbon dioxide residue to plant trees which would produce copious amounts of oxygen that we so sorely need to replenish that lost to deforestation and needlessly consumed by religious idiots who tend to breathe it … Their carcasses will release plenty of carbon and oxygen not only to rekindle a more healthier planet…

    Sometimes satire, no matter how crazy and outlandish its presentation, is taken seriously by some fool who mistakes it for a good idea.

    Unfortunately, such a fool occasionally (though far too frequent for my taste) has the power to implement such ideas.

  25. poachy, surely none of us would want a person to be nasty and brutish so that we might benefit?

    It’s no benefit to anyone really.

    When I draw attention to PZ’s published remarks, my purpose is to identify a common attitude among fans of Darwin toward those who disagree, one that many will find unacceptable.

    That is part of a process of denormalization that – like a Toronto bus in a snowstorm – is long overdue.

  26. leo stotch, I have no reason to try to convince anyone that the “rational middle” is a danger.

    Extremists, however, can be a danger. And when people are making excuses for extremists (he’s really a nice guy, his is a religion of peace, you just don’t understand him, he doesn’t really mean it, etc., etc.), denormalization is necessary.

    One must say, no, this is not normal. Stop making excuses for unacceptable behaviour.

  27. 27
    irreducible_complacency

    I for one am tired of Meyers speaking for atheism. I’m not an atheist but I respect some atheists, like Mother Teresa and Bill Monroe and Abraham Lincoln and Steve Jobs.

    Denyse I think we should hammer at the darwinist/materialist/liberal/atheist middle more and force them to denounce the tactics of dawkins and myers. The only way to defeat this juggernaut is to divide it into bits and conquer them one by one. Florida is first, next the world!

    Face it, even silent atheists are a threat and a problem, for they (especially when older and in positions of power) give their assent to this sort of behavior even if they don’t explicitly state it. If we can get the athiests fighting each other then we have won a clear victory. As the bible says they are rife with the spirit of dissent in their hearts.

  28. leo stotch, the work of addressing the strengths and weaknesses of specific arguments for Darwin’s theory in the academy is the job of qualified experts, working in an atmosphere of scholarly respect and academic freedom.

    I remember, from a 2004 conference, a most interesting exchange between Nick Matzke and an ID guy whose name now escapes me. I couldn’t follow the discussion but they appeared, from their body language, to be evenly matched.

    By contrast, PZ Myers’s obscene rants poison the atmosphere and discourage qualified people from participating. I can address THAT problem without advanced technical knowledge, which is why I do it.

  29. the work of addressing the strengths and weaknesses of specific arguments for Darwin’s theory in the academy is the job of qualified experts, working in an atmosphere of scholarly respect and academic freedom.

    It gladdens me untold amounts to hear you say this O’Leary! Will you be opposing with your usual level of vocal wordsmith skills the introduction of legislation regarding the teaching of “strengths and weaknesses of biological and chemical evolution and origin of life” that are creeping into districts around Amercia at the moment? I know you are Canadian but don’t underestimate the influence you have south of the border!

    After all, children do not count as “qualified experts” by any measure!

    Perhaps it’s not true that you and PZ also disagree on every matter, as I’m sure the two of you find common ground in that sentiment.

  30. RichardFry: I have no objection whatever to teaching students that all such theories have strengths and weaknesses.

    It’s part of developing critical thinking skills.

    Students need not grasp the details to understand that science is not a secular religion and that great scientists can be wrong.

    Examples from the history of science that students can readily grasp abound. And Darwin is certainly not immune.

    I only regret that legislation is thought necessary to accomplish so obvious a purpose. But in the presence of the Darwin lobby – for many of whom science IS a secular religion – it may be the only option.

    As a textbook editor, I always did my best to ensure that critical thinking was a component of every program I worked on.

  31. I have no objection whatever to teaching students that all such theories have strengths and weaknesses.

    Of course not. However there is only limited time in a classroom – where do you draw the line? Does this “equal time” apply across the board? In all subjects?

    Students need not grasp the details to understand that science is not a secular religion and that great scientists can be wrong.

    I disagree. If the details are not given then students are the last people that are going to follow blindy what the authority figure at the front of the class says – they’ve always been the most resistant to dogma.

    Examples from the history of science that students can readily grasp abound. And Darwin is certainly not immune.

    Agreed. Care to make a prediction as to the likely time that’ll pass before Darwin becomes consigned to “the history of science”?

    I only regret that legislation is thought necessary to accomplish so obvious a purpose. But in the presence of the Darwin lobby – for many of whom science IS a secular religion – it may be the only option.

    Perhaps the scientists who did not identify themselves in expelled could help by identifiing themselves? It might inspire others to do the same.

    As a textbook editor, I always did my best to ensure that critical thinking was a component of every program I worked on.

    What do you think the most important things to address are? What’s top of the list for critical examination?

  32. leo: “But they are still Darwinists, aren’t they? They are still out their pushing their dying materialist ideology. It is just that they aren’t bellicose about it. Indeed, given most people’s natural tendency to write off the zealot, it is the Darwinists that come across as rational and charming that are the greater danger to the cause.”

    As I understand it, O’Leary uses the term “de-normalize” to describe the process of “outing” abnormal people who have been posing as normal people. That would seem to include two classes of people: [A] ideologues who pose as disinterested scientists and [B] ideologues who pose as disinterested scientists who also misbehave over the internet. It doesn’t matter whether [A] spills over into [B]. What matters is that both conditions are abnormal, even though [B] is the more outrageous of the two.

  33. O’Leary:
    “leo stotch, the work of addressing the strengths and weaknesses of specific arguments for Darwin’s theory in the academy is the job of qualified experts, working in an atmosphere of scholarly respect and academic freedom.”

    Wouldn’t any qualified experts in the academy be far more involved in testing the predictions of Darwin’s theory, thereby producing new data regardless of whether Darwin was right or wrong?

    What you’re describing sounds more like English lit criticism than science.

    “I remember, from a 2004 conference, a most interesting exchange between Nick Matzke and an ID guy whose name now escapes me. I couldn’t follow the discussion but they appeared, from their body language, to be evenly matched.”

    What did the evidence suggest to you about the exchange?

  34. —–Richard Fry:” If the details are not given then students are the last people that are going to follow blindy what the authority figure at the front of the class says – they’ve always been the most resistant to dogma.”

    I submit that the principle should precede the details. That way the student gets the general idea even if some of the details are missing. That is precisely the problem we have in education today. Young Skulls full of mush are filled with facts, but they don’t know how to process them. Without an overarching principle, there is no way to put facts in perspective or weigh their relative value to other facts.

    Principles and paradigms are not synonymous with dogmas. The former asks for INTELLECTUAL UNDERSTANDING; the latter asks for INTELLECTUAL ASSENT. We should not avoid the former while guarding against the latter. It is important to know the meaning of such terms as “methodological naturalism,” “design,” “randomness,” and “law,” and yes, “purpose.” To pretend that science doesn’t overlap with other disciplines is to remain ignorant of the very subject matter under discussion.

    It is unnatural to keep students uninformed about these and other basic principles of out of some misguided fear that ideology will creep in to the discussion. But that is precisely what has happened. Many who come on this blog to dialogue about ID and evolution are completely oblivious of the historical context of the controversy. Indeed, they come here with a script and they can’t depart from it long enough to do any critical thinking. They know only one paradigm.

    I remember once having a dialogue with someone who was highly credentialed in the field of science. To be precise, I was arguing for the EXISTENCE of a non-material reality called the “mind.” It was only after several interchanges that I discovered he did had not yet learned the DEFINITION of a non-material mind. Get this—he had never heard of any such a thing. The distinction between mind and brain had been withheld from him throughout his entire education. In effect, I was dueling with an unarmed man, and it was the educational establishment who had consciously and maliciously disarmed him.

  35. StephenB: “I remember once having a dialogue with someone who was highly credentialed in the field of science.”

    What exactly do you mean by “highly credentialed,” Stephen?

    Do you realize that one of the most famous paleontologists in the world never finished his bachelor’s degree?

    Scientific credentials are the data one contributes, with very rare exceptions for revolutionary predictions.

  36. Omar Mirza @ 21

    Dittos.

  37. —–”Russell: “Do you realize that one of the most famous paleontologists in the world never finished his bachelor’s degree?

    —–”Scientific credentials are the data one contributes, with very rare exceptions for revolutionary predictions.”

    Yes, I am on board with you on this one. It seems consistent with my point that multiple degrees don’t always reflect a high level of education.

    Having been formally educated at the higher levels myself, I can attest to the fact that whatever wisdom I have attained came from resisting the non-wisdom of the academy and getting the other side of the story.

    I have concluded that there are three kinds of people [A] Well educated, [B] uneducated, and [C] badly educated. If one cannot attain [A], they are far better off with [B] than [C].

  38. Correction: If one cannot attain [A], HE is far better off with [B] than [C].

  39. StephenB:
    “Yes, I am on board with you on this one. It seems consistent with my point that multiple degrees don’t always reflect a high level of education.”

    Yes, but are you on board with the metric of significance and quantity of data contributed as the primary scientific credential?

Leave a Reply