Last night, Stanford became the most recent stop along infamous anti-creationist blogger Paul Zachary “PZ” Myers’s Northern California college tour, with visits to eight college towns in eight days.
Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota Morris, is probably best known for his anti-creationist design blog, Pharyngula, named after the pharyngula stage of embryonic development. His Web site is currently one of the most popular science blogs on the Internet — and also one of the most provocative.
Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics (AHA!) @ Stanford, a student group on campus that bills itself as a center for “fun and lively discussion” concerning religion and secularity, organized the event.
Myers opened by introducing his role and experiences as a biologist and an anti-creationist crusader.
“[Anti-creationists] love to hear people discuss things that we’ve been saying, and even argue with them. Unfortunately, most of their arguments are really stupid, but it’s a start,” Myers said, essentially summarizing his outlook on the creationist opposition.
He outlined the creationist argument as thus: the only way to create complexity is by design, and biology is complex. Therefore, biology was created by design.
“There’s lots of different ways to create complexity, and they don’t required intent,” Myers countered. He also used a principle of engineering to argue against intelligent design, saying that, “you don’t add needless complexity to structures.”
After utilizing various biological concepts and geological data as evidence against creationism, Myers emphasized his final message: nature is not an engineer.
“Nature is capable of producing all kinds of complexity without intent, without a designer,” he concluded. “Creationist claims that it is are bunk.”
While it seemed that Myers spent his evening preaching, for the most part, to the anti-creationist choir, there were some exceptions in the audience.
One man asked whether there is a gentle, non-confrontational way of introducing the subject of evolution to a devoutly religious individual.
Because Myers is known by many for the caustic tone of his blog, some may have found his response surprising.
“You don’t have to confront — just explain yourself,” he said. “You can also be confrontational, which is my preferred method. You won’t get instant conversions, but you can make people think.”
He explained that he doesn’t try to convert his religious students to atheism. “I’m there to teach them biology. I take a historical approach and lead them carefully through the evidence.”
Myers also addressed questions regarding religious scientists reconciling their careers and their beliefs, the difficulties in confronting people who are emotionally attached to their religious convictions, and the reason for the relatively small size of the vocal atheist contingency.
One audience member directly criticized Myers’s use of mockery and blatant criticism in his blog, calling it dehumanizing toward creationists and polarizing to the argument.
“I applaud what you do in class,” the questioner explained. However, he continued, “I don’t like your blog.”
“That’s fine,” Myers responded. “What we need is a multitude of approaches. I wouldn’t say my solution is the solution for everybody . . . Eventually, people will need to be even-handed and come up with a functioning solution.”
Myers said that, while he feels the need to ridicule what he considers stupid creationist ideas, he agrees that there is a need for people to use diplomacy and respectful intercourse to make compromises.
“These are human beings, our neighbors, friends and families, and we’re not going to load them up into box cars and ship them somewhere,” he said. “I would not ever try to limit somebody’s right to do anything, no matter how foolish.”
In an interview with The Daily, Myers explained that his audiences haven’t always been so supportive and said he missed the days of creationist challenges from the audience.
“They’d come up with these really weird ideas and I’d have fun taking them apart.
The talk, which took place in Room 41 of Jordan Hall, was filled beyond normal capacity and had to include standing room in the back. The audience consisted of all ages, ethnicities and hometowns. One person noted on the Facebook page for the event as having driven one-and-a-half hours to Stanford, and a junior high school-age boy was sitting with his parents.
He has a message for all those who oppose him, “I challenge creationists: Show up.”
Myers’ blog began innocuously enough. A biologist in a small Midwestern town, he decided to start writing on a daily basis, eventually finding himself writing about what he cared about most: biology. He started responding to his readers’ requests that he discuss religion, science and society, and from there Pharyngula evolved into its current form and subject matter.
“People appreciate the fact that somebody is firing back against the foolishness that they’re hearing, and I guess I’m fairly good at firing back,” he said.