Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science

Theologians nice to Myers…naaasty little Theologians…

P.Z. Myers was at his hissing best in reply to my recent philosophical questions for New Atheists:

…the graveyard of rotting ideas that the Discovery Institute calls a blog…a particularly crusty and dogmatic alchemist stirring beneath the cobwebs of his dead discipline …imposing the cracked and cloudy lens of his superstition…

Imagine my surprise when a couple of days later Myers pens a post lavishly extolling…theologians(!):

I would never deny that there are many smart people among the believers, some are incredibly brilliant and thoughtful scholars. Theology is also awesomely sophisticated and complex…

“Awesomely sophisticated…”? Myers goes on with an unusually long post, part man-crush on Aquinas, part hissing rage, alternately praising theology and excoriating it for twenty five paragraphs.

What to make of it all? “Theology is also awesomely sophisticated and complex … crusty and dogmatic alchemist stirring beneath the cobwebs of his dead discipline …” Yet it seemed oddly so familiar — and then I remembered my favorite movie scene. From Lord of the Rings, the famous Gollum-Smaegol scene, where Smaegol, a hobbit who retains shreds of his soul, struggles with his evil doppelganger, Gollum.
Life imitates art. Now let’s review Myers’ post, in context:

Anselm and Aquinas, to name a few, were men of genius who applied the power of human reason… and their intellectual craft…was remarkable…(“Hobbits nice to Samegol…” )


…misapplied as it may be …to prop up archaic superstitions.. (“sneaky little hobbitses…”)


We should also recognize the historical fact of religion’s influence on scholarship. If I’d been born a thousand years ago, I would have aspired to the priesthood myself; it was virtually the only outlet for men of the mind to apply themselves. Even up to about 500 years ago, it was almost the only option for the literate and bookish, and most of the smartest men in Western history made it to their position by virtue of the priesthood directly or indirectly, through a religious education…(“Hobbitses good…”)


That, of course, has all changed now, and I suspect that we can credit the proliferation of third rate minds in religion to the fact that there are secular options now, and the really brilliant men and women of our time can pursue science and art while completely bypassing religion, and they’re smarter to do that than to continue to posture for the follies of faith. (“nasty hobbitses…” )

It happens even in mid-sentence:

But yes, religion is full of clever people who make sophisticated arguments, bolstered in particular by a long history of literate savants who built up vast archives… (“…master’s my frieeend…”)


…of painstakingly dense rationalizations… religion has accumulated an armor of twisty, convoluted logic to defend itself…(“…you don’ts haaave any friendsss…”)

Myers sputters for several paragraphs about Adam and Eve, and from there on it’s pretty much all Gollum:

I personally don’t feel that I need redemption…disobeying a psychopathic tyrant seems rather commendable to me…clever minds have constructed an elaborate castle of wind and vapor for their fairy tales, but bullshit shoveled into majestic mountains must still slump into shapeless, decaying mounds when the props are knocked out with the facts…amounts to nothing but a heap of compost now. (…nasty Christianseees…)

So what occasioned Myers’ little breakdown? My bet is that after one of Myers’ recent ignorant posts — ‘Nothing abhors a vacuum; nothing caused the universe; philosophy is alchemy; there’s no Moral Law’ — one of the better-educated (i.e. semi-educated) godless-cult members dropped Myers a line. Perhaps it one of the brightest of the Brights- a godless washed-up magician, or a New Atheist Buddhist faux-neuroscientist, or a ‘Skeptic’ naked lounge lizard and SGU special guest. Dawkins maybe. “You’re making atheists look like a bunch of Luddites…” or something to that effect. So Myers wikipedia’ed Aristotle, Anslem, Aquinas (he just started with “a”; hasn’t a clue about any of them), and, biting his lip, penned a couple of paragraphs about “genius,” “brilliant men” and so on, praising and sputtering in turn.
It’s an amusing battle in Myers’ psyche, made public. P.Z. vs. Myers. Who’ll prevail? The honest skeptic in search of truth? I’ll put my money on the coprolalic narcissist.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.