I just got back from PZ’s talk. It was pretty exciting seeing a guy whose writing I’ve been following for such a long time.
He spent some time explaining explaining Crackergate. Really, when you hear it in person, it just gets all the most absurd. People actually believe he was holding Jesus hostage. One person asked him if he thought anyone would have noticed if he didn’t publicize his actions. The response was that he only destroyed one cracker and actually has a whole bag of them still at his home. If he’s been holding Jesus hostage for over a year now, people seem to be caring less and less with time. It’s a “flash in the pan” sort of thing.
I’m proud to say that I occupied a fair amount of the question time. I’m not proud that I may have prevented someone else from speaking up (and I doubt I did since plenty of people asked their own questions), but I’m glad I got to ask him the things which interested me. I would have regretted missing out on the opportunity. Hell, he’s out for a beer or a bite to eat right now with some people from the talk. I have no idea why I decided to just go home. That, I regret.
One question I asked was about strategies against creationism. I told of how I have a friend who was a long time creationist (though not of the young Earth variety). He would repeatedly say he had studied the evidence for evolution and that he found it inadequate. I would engage him on a rhetorical level, speaking of the strength of the evidence, how it underlies all facts of biology, how it is the only thing which made sense of the fossil record and our genetic relatedness with other animals. But none of this said why evolution is true. Eventually I got fed up with the rhetoric and went right to town. I followed various chapters of Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True and really pressed him for answers. I knew he would have no creationist response because there is none. All creationism offers is canards, hand-waving, emotional appeals, and other fallacious arguments which do not engage actual evidence. I found success. This friend now accepts the validity of evolution. Of course, he also inserts a Ken Miller-style God and the incorrect argument that intelligence is inevitable. But none-the-less, I am genuinely ecstatic that he has come around on a good portion of the science. So I asked PZ what he thought the best strategy was. One the one hand, we want to maintain a strong rhetoric that denounces creationism as loony and silly and not worthy of in-depth engagement, but on the other hand, we need to engage them on a deeper level to carve away their unscientific beliefs. Do we act like they deserve attention or do we try to denounce them?
PZ’s answer was that “we need multiple approaches”. We need to use all the tools at our disposal to fight such an insipid form of thought. Cornering ourselves into one strategy will not work. We have the Ken Miller’s and Francis Collins’ and Eugenie Scott’s and Jerry Coyne’s and Richard Dawkins’ of the world, and they all offer a different approach to the problem of creationism. It’s hard to disagree with this answer. The only approach not worth trying is that of silence. Allowing these people solo voices can only do harm and undermine democracy. (The last two lines contain my response, not PZ’s, though he may agree with it.)
The purpose of Blasphemy Day is not to promote hate or violence; it is to support free speech, support the right to criticize and satirize religion, and to oppose any resolutions or laws, binding or otherwise, that discourage or inhibit free speech of any kind. While many perceive blasphemy as insulting and offensive, this event is not about getting enjoyment out of ridiculing and insulting others; rather, it was created as a reaction against those who would seek to take away the right to satirize and criticize a particular set of beliefs given a privileged status over other beliefs. Criticism and dissent towards opposing views is the only way in which any nation with any modicum of freedom can exist. Without this essential liberty, those in power are those best able to manipulate others will suppress and silence dissent by labeling it “defamation” or “blasphemy” or whatever other bogey words they can use to stifle opposition by turning popular sentiment against it. Please, do not let them do this.
As usual, humanists are relying upon broad principles and consistent beliefs which go beyond the mere-ness of the individual. I hope that even the religious will appreciate the sentiment behind tomorrow (and I’m sure some will). Do not tread upon the rights of the individual for the sake of your beliefs. No set of beliefs are to be held sacred or above reproach.