Friday, July 11, 2008

Support for PZ Myers

So, as any fule in the blagosphere kno', crazy catholic fanatics have declared war on PZ Myers. You can read his original posting, the one that annoyed them this time here. You can read their noxious little attempt to attack him here, and his response here. It's also covered (among many, many places) at Richard Dawkins' place here.

All PZ offered to do, is visit some good atheist disrespect on a communion wafer, and blag the process. You know, do some stuff with his free speech, act in ways that made clear that he held beliefs incompatible with those of the loons and freaks who call the act of some poor kid who smuggled a wafer out of church to show a friend a "hate crime" and a "hostake taking".

My mate Dave wrote a letter to the President of PZ's university. It's copied below. Also, if anyone can get me a wafer, then by golly I'll give it a going over myself.

President Robert H. Bruininks,

The public campaign against Professor P.Z. Myers by one Bill Donohue has recently come to my attention. I understand that he is exhorting people to write directly to your office calling for action against Professor Myers. While I object to their methods, under the circumstances -- including my rejection of their intentions -- I feel that it is my responsibility to add to the flood of messages.
Myers is not only a fine scholar, but an important and energetic public intellectual defending science and learning against some of its most committed and often unprincipled enemies. He is famous and widely admired for this among scientists, just as he is disliked by many opponents of science. His proposal to publicly express his lack of belief in the supernatural status of a communion wafer was, I think, an entirely legitimate exercise of free speech. It strikes me, furthermore, as an important intervention in the ridiculous reaction to the action of Webster Cook, including suggestions that Cook was guilty of a hate crime, and that taking the wafer amounted to holding a hostage.
With respect to the specific suggestion that Myers' remarks violate a university requirement to be 'respectful, fair and civil', it seems to me that the following points are worth making:
(1) Myers' proposal was calibrated to respond to the outrageous response to the actions of Webster Cook, which have included death threats to Cook. (And now, I gather, to Myers himself.)
(2) Myers' proposal is in an important sense brave - he's offering to put himself on the line, in defence of the rights of those who do not hold the communion sacred.
(3) While admittedly expressed with a certain fire, I do not believe that his post is in fact disrespectful, or unfair. That is, unless asserting that one emphatically holds a belief incompatible with that held by another is disrespectful or unfair. If it is, and fairness holds trumps, it's hard to see the point of universities, or a future for science.
(4) Finally, I do not think Myers' public utterances are truly examples of a failure of civility. They are a vigorous assertion of the right of some to do things that others find objectionable falling short of infringing those of their freedoms that do deserve protecting. They are no different in principle from the act of any individual who allows it to be known that she or he eats pork, shaves, thinks women have a right to education, has a same-sex partner, etc. If universities do not hold the line against conflating disagreement with lapses of civility, I wonder who will.

And apologies again for feeling duty bound to add to the deluge,

David Spurrett
Professor of Philosophy
Head of School of Philosophy and Ethics
University of KwaZulu-Natal,
Howard College Campus
South Africa

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