PZ Myers in Calgary
The following is an account of PZ Myers lecture at the University of Calgary, according to my fallible memory. I did take copious notes, which upon later inspection turned out to be completely illegible, as is the norm. Oh well …
The friendly free thinkers were out in force at the University of Calgary, quickly filling the large theatre to capacity. There was a woman handing out flyers promoting young earth creationist (YEC) propaganda and misinformation, unfortunately she did not feel the need to actually attend the lecture.
The talk open with some disturbing news from the province of Alberta. Alberta public schools are required to follow the provincial curriculum, however schools are allocated 15% of the day which can be used in any manner. Some schools are using this time to teach creationism nonsense. They are abusing their authority and the minds of the students unfortunate enough to be sent to these schools. PZ’s talk entitled “Science Education: Caught in the Middle in the War Between Science and Religion”, could not be more timely.
PZ started his talk with the important message that science must be secular. Constitutional considerations on the separation of church and state (explicit in the US, Canada not so much) should not be employed to protect the science classroom. If they are employed, then this is a last ditch effort. Rather the focus should be on increasing the public understanding and appreciation of science. As the woman handing out the YEC pamphlets neatly demonstrated, scientific illiteracy is correlated with creationism.
Creationists are masters at swaying public opinion with bogus science, even to the point of earning academic degrees without ever intending to use the knowledge they gained. This wall of shame includes Jonathan Wells, Marcus Ross, Nathaniel Abraham to name a few. And why are these men so passionate? PZ can explain it in one word: religion.
Religion has many advantages in the area of ideas. It is often, falsely, considered as just one more way of understanding the world. It is completely unfalsifiable, always an advantage, and is given undue deference by most of society. This is despite the sheer absurdity of its claims.
People can be moved to violence if this unspoken rule of respect for religion is broken. One gentleman stormed out of the talk after a loud outburst. This kind of passion can lead to quite a distorted morality, as the 18,000 letters PZ received, after desecrating the Eucharist, demonstrate.
Religion needs to be moved back into the private arena. PZ has a wonderful analogy; religion ought to be compared to masturbation, a very private personal practice.
The previous slides may seem disrespectful, and it would be unfortunate if they were interpreted as a gratuitous slap at religion; they are not. They may shock some but hopefully they will also generate new ideas and discussion.
We can and should fight back against the encroachment of organised religion into the public area (case in point the attack on science in Alberta). PZ Myers has these suggestions:
Come out as an atheist, secular humanist, sceptic, or whatever …
Question the role of religion in our society
Blaspheme: my personal favourite. I don’t go out of my way to blaspheme but it is so hard not to. I move a lot of switches on the Sabbath.
There are other ideas such as, volunteering to teach evolution in high school or joining sceptic societies in an effort to increase the public understanding of science.
The first step could be coming out to celebrate Darwin Day Thursday, February 12, 2009 6:30pm – 9:30pm at Rusty Macdonald Branch Library – Auditorium 225 Primrose Drive in Saskatoon.
Hope to see you there.