Saturday, July 12, 2008

Academic freedom means never having to say you’re sorry, P.Z. Myers thinks

P.Z . Myers’ encouragement of theft and desecration of the Eucharist over at Pharyngula marks a new low point in the Death Valley that is internet atheism.

Myers not only encourages his readers to disrupt religious services, a crime in many U.S. jurisdictions, he endorses using deception with vicious intent to acquire a consecrated Host.

Every priest, deacon, and extraordinary minister of the Eucharist presumes in good faith that those who present themselves to receive Holy Communion are Catholics in a state of grace. Myers carelessly sows distrust among those who have done him no harm.

His dishonesty calls into question his dedication to truthful inquiry. Academic freedom ends where blatant mendacity begins.

His deception also renders untrustworthy any of his complaints about “death threats.” Even if he is receiving angry threats from seventeen-year-old zealots and albino Opus Dei monks, it is not a stretch to believe that some of his readers, having absorbed Myers' lesson that deception is noble in the service of their cause, are penning their own hoax missives in hopes of stoking the controversy.

It is doubtful Myers will post any Catholic’s intelligent, well-written reply. It is a cheap trick of bloggers and newspaper columnists to take outrageous and indefensible stands and then report only the most outrageous responses from their most illiterate critics. This makes the original writer appear to be the voice of reason in the eyes of his own naïve supporters.

This is a lucrative tactic if one is paid on the basis of internet traffic.

This is not, however, a method productive of worthwhile public debate.

Not that there is reason to believe Myers thinks his atheism needs to be presented for public debate. Otherwise he would not be endorsing such Propaganda of the Deed.

He has lost his sympathy for his religious opponents, which is why he is so vile to them. This is to be expected, since he sneers at the Man who said "Love your enemies..."

But let’s imagine an analogous situation that might prick what’s left of Myers’ conscience. Say there is a nationwide chain of public reading libraries which freely make available to the public cheap copies of Darwin’s Origin of the Species and Myers’ friend Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. The library’s only caveats are that the books must be treated with respect and may leave the library only rarely and not without the authorization of the librarian.

Along comes Enoch Emery of the Church of Christ without Christ, whose blog reaches thousands of readers each day. Emery incites his enthusiasts to enter the library and hide a free copy on their person. “After smuggling it out,” he has ordered them, “burn it on YouTube while shouting claims that Darwin and Dawkins are Nazis who have no place in good society! Or send them to me at my office, and I'll do it for you!”

(Come to think of it: will Myers be accepting stolen Hosts mailed to his university office address on the grounds of academic freedom?)

Surely Myers cannot claim outrage would be unjustified at such an incident. Surely he would not see limited restraining force from the library staff as a just means to keep the library open and functioning.

Because of Enoch Emery’s fanatics, the library has to clamp down. Even though the economic costs of what is lost are nominal, the intangible costs are great.

Rather than focus on their own reading, the staff must scrutinize new visitors. Anyone who resembles an Emeryite falls under suspicion of the staff. Every time a book is successfully burned, the staff become more and more hostile to outsiders. Library patrons inundate Emery with complaints.

Suppose further this Enoch Emery then claims that such hostility, which he and his allies have encouraged, is further justification for more book burnings.

Is this bit of imaginative sympathy beyond Professor Myers?
I am not calling for Myers to be fired. Unlike Francis Beckwith, however, I think his university colleagues and his superiors at the University of Minnesota Morris and need to rebuke him, with disciplinary action if necessary.

Myers’ support for public dishonesty is unprofessional and undermines the prerequisites for academic inquiry. His endorsement of disrupting religious services is an unjustified threat to civil peace. Myers needs to be reminded of the standards of society.

His readers sure won't do it for him.

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