The Very Strange World of PZ Myers

By Alex B. Berezow

PZ Myers is one of the world’s most famous science bloggers. Teaching at the University of Minnesota-Morris, he is a developmental biologist with a special fondness for cephalopods (e.g., squid). On his blog, Pharyngula, Dr. Myers pontificates on everything from politics and religion to, occasionally, his area of expertise.

For the uninitiated, Dr. Myers is an atheist. Atheism or agnosticism is quite common among scientists, especially biologists. But, the tagline on Dr. Myers’ blog (“Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal”) suggests he’s not the typical, run-of-the-mill atheist. Indeed, he uses his widely read platform to bash – in the most vulgar terms – any and all religion, particularly Christianity.

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For instance, Dr. Myers compared religion to a tapeworm that is expelled from the body and flushed down the toilet. For good measure, he named the tapeworm “Jesus.” (See the 3:18 mark in the previous video link.) He also pierced a Catholic communion wafer with a nail and threw it in the garbage. And to prove he doesn’t discriminate, he also tossed in a few pages from the Quran.

It is not my purpose to argue with his opinion on religion. Dr. Myers is entitled to whatever beliefs he likes. But, as the cliché goes, he is not entitled to his own facts, and for a scientist, he gets an awful lot of them wrong.

Is religion as horrible as Dr. Myers claims? No, and only anti-religious bigots would claim otherwise. Research has shown that religious belief can have positive effects on mental and physical health, and evolutionary psychologists believe religion aided the survival of early human tribes. Thus, regardless of whether or not religion is actually true, it nonetheless provides personal and societal benefits.

But PZ Myers doesn’t stop there. He once boldly stated, “Scientists, if you’re not an atheist, you’re not doing science right.” But that is empirically untrue. A Pew poll found that 51 percent of the members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) believed in a higher power. And, RealClearScience’s Ross Pomeroy took the argument one step further: He claims strict atheism is itself unscientific.

Strangely, Dr. Myers’ animosity toward religion also taints his understanding of historical fact. Apparently, he believes that Jesus of Nazareth never even existed, referring to him as a “legend, like King Arthur or Robin Hood or Paul Bunyan.”

Honestly, that sort of belief is on par with 9/11 trutherism. In an interview with the Washington Post, Bart Ehrman, an agnostic New Testament scholar, rebuked such claims as “sensationalist,” “amateurish” and “driven by an ideological agenda.” Those are harsh words coming from a person who doesn’t even believe the central tenets of Christianity.

Yet, Dr. Myers maintains his aggressive posture: “It’s simply bad history to invent rationalizations for an undocumented mystery figure from the distant past.” [Emphasis his.]

Actually, it’s bad history to disagree with the vast majority of historians. Open any comprehensive world history textbook, and you will definitely find Jesus in it.

Perhaps most dangerously, Dr. Myers is also a staunch opponent of circumcision, referring to it as “ritualized child abuse.” But that’s preposterous. Although the exact mechanism is unknown, circumcision reduces transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and the American Academy of Pediatrics states that the procedure’s benefits outweigh the risks. Because the medical data doesn’t support his opinion, Dr. Myers’ opposition may be rooted in purely emotional or anti-religious grounds.

Dr. Myers has been given a tremendous gift: The ability and opportunity to communicate science to millions of people all over the world. Yet, instead of using his influence to promote science, he mostly uses it to attack those with whom he disagrees. Instead of showing that science is for everybody, he asserts that science is actually only for left-wing atheists. Instead of showing that science and religion can get along just fine – which is the majority view among scientists, anyway – he perpetuates the myth that there is a war between science and religion.

Even worse, instead of getting laypeople interested in science, he chases them off.

From this scientist-turned-journalist’s point of view, that is the absolute greatest offense of all.

Dr. Alex B. Berezow is the editor of RealClearScience. He holds a PhD in microbiology and is co-author of Science Left Behind. Follow him on Twitter @AlexBerezow.