Sunday, June 26, 2005

Blog Review: Pharyngula

I haven't been keeping up with these too well, but I'd like to point both my readers in the direction of Pharyngula, on the off chance that they don't read P.Z. Myers already. His intelligent but unapologetic criticisms of religion are amongst the best in the blogosphere. A few highlights...

His parable of the hats is rather brilliant:
My people are obsessed with hats. Almost everyone wears them, and a lot of their identity is wrapped up in their particular style... Individuals only rarely changed hat styles, and when they did, it was considered grounds for sorrow by those who wore the abandoned style, and cause for rejoicing by those wearing the newly adopted style. Sometimes people would invent new kinds of hats, which were typically regarded as bizarre when one person was wearing it, but once a sufficient number switched to the new style, they were respected automatically. It meant that streets of our more cosmopolitan cities were filled with strange and comical hats bobbing along, but no one laughed. Laughing at a hat was considered a heinous crime.

Sound familiar? Do read the whole thing. But my all time favourite Pharyngula post would have to be The proper reverence due those who have gone before, a deeply profound and insightful post which I cannot do justice to here -- though I will offer a brief excerpt nonetheless:
I can feel something of the same reverence for the Bible that I do for a piece of bone. It's a record, spotty and incomplete and flawed, of human lives, that leaves out far more than it includes. It's not as pretty as a bone, but then it is representative of some of the ugliness of human history, as well as of some of the poetry. I can appreciate it as a slice of a few thousand years of the events and beliefs of one fairly influential tribe of people. There are a lot of lives and time, mostly unmentioned, bound up in that book.

P.Z. was also responsible for that gem about the "PYGMIES + DWARFS" I mentioned the other day. But although I most enjoy his godless posts, P.Z. is probably more famous for his science posts. He's been known to write about all sorts of bizarre life forms, including insects, denizens of the ocean's depths, and even Republicans (though he doesn't seem to like them so much as the other creepy crawlies). You can learn all sorts of neat things, such as how octopus suckers work. A bunch of his best science posts from last year have been highlighted by Darksyde, here. Enjoy!


  1. Personally, I'm not a fan of P.Z.'s site. I agree he has a lot of good criticisms of religion, I just wish that there was a little more respect coming from that page. Some stuff that religious people put out is retarded, I agree, but why do we have to paint all religious people with the same brush? I just find too many ad hominem's and too many insults to make it worth my time to read very often, though these attacks are often found within the comments. In my view, he treats religious people as if they are ALL stupid or unintelligent. I think we all know that thats not true.

  2. Or it could be that many practitioners of evolutionary psychology, despite the promising name, are in fact not engaging in rigorous science after all. But let's not get into that debate here ;)

    (Though I would note that it's a little presumptuous of you to think that you know more about the "implications of Darwin" than, you know, a real biologist. :P)

    Peter - I'm not sure about the blanket disrespect, though I suppose I'd be less likely to notice it since I'm not religious myself. I imagine he probably thinks all religion is rather stupid, but of course that's a far cry from saying the same of religious people, despite the two being far too often confused. (I guess that's why we're not allowed to laugh at hats. The people wearing them get the mistaken impression that they, rather than the hat, are the target.)

  3. You thought his hat "parable" was brilliant? Do you honestly believe, as Myers apparently does, that religions can be compared to hats?

    That whole post was just more of the same simplistic stuff that Myers writes about on the topic of religion. I agree with Peter, he's at his best when he's talking about biology, but he's as a big a fundamentalist as the religious people he attempts to write about.

  4. I don't think the comparison is meant to be taken too literally ;)

    It does at least serve to highlight how odd it would seem to us if other areas of life were treated in a comparable fashion to religion. Though I suppose you would respond that this is simply because those other areas of life are not comparable. Which, I suppose, is a fair enough response.

  5. Richard, I think politics is a good area of life that can be compared to religion. Some people don't care, but others are very passionate about their beliefs as per their respective positions. There is a lot of mudslinging, etc that goes on in politics, just as in religion.

    I guess my point was that I would prefer to read a blog such as yours where, while you make no bones about the fact that you are an atheist, you are at least able to engage arguments thoughtfully and with respect. The ridicule, name calling and approved flaming in the comments is minimal, and it makes an enjoyable read, not only for the atheist who agrees with you, but also for the enquiring theist, who is always searching for answers to problems that are presented and challenges to growth in faith. I think that dialogue with the people you disagree with is very important. The comparison to politics carries over here. The Canadian Blogging Tories are often humourous and sometimes boring to read, since most of them just read each others posts and write some sort of variation on a [Conservative] theme. I do not see thoughtful engagement with people of other political persuasion, and when there is some engagement, its usually not thoughtful. This is the basis of my criticism of P.Z's site. He's an intelligent man, and I have respect for him as a biologist. Yet, in so far as he fails to thoughtfully and respectively engage his opponents (particularily those of a religious persuasion) he fails as a thinker and IMHO, as a blogger.

    He's probably reading this, and I'm probably not making any friends, but what the heck he probably already knows I'm a Christian, and proud of it.

  6. I was actually going to suggest politics instead of hats as a better comparison, too. I have no doubt that Myers thinks that religion is as "silly" as the "mere excesses of fashion" of his parable, but what I don't understand is how anybody takes him seriously on the subject of religion.


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