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PZ Myers and the Love of the Natural World.

August 13, 2009

So, I got to meet the (in)famous PZ Myers this weekend. As has been said on on numerous blogs, he is a much nicer guy in person than on his blog. I liked him.

And, I’m sure there are going to be times on this blog where I take serious issue with some of his comments. But, today is not that day. Instead, I want to comment on his fire and love for the natural world. I actually found it quite beautiful.

His talk at the SSA was about how you should stand up for what you think. A good piece of advice. But what struck me is what really lit him up. It wasn’t taking on people he calls “igits”. It wasn’t not believing in God. It wasn’t even Ken Ham. It was his love for his beloved Cephalopod. His eyes lit up. He started to actually bounce. Yes, PZ Myers, the king of smart ass cynical comments began to bounce. Sorry, PZ, I outed you.

I dug that. I love to see that kind of passion. But, he said something that I took issue with. He said that atheists are the only ones who take a real interest in the natural world.

I would completely disagree with that. As I posted below, my son and I love science. Even more, we love the natural world. In my point of view, God made the natural world for us to enjoy, explore and take pleasure in. It’s our playground and we should freakin’ make sure we take care of it.

Sorry, that’s a line for another post.

Anyway, PZ, I didn’t know if we would have anything in common, but we do. We love the natural world. We love the beauty and all the things we haven’t found out yet. That we can agree on and it’s certainly a starting point for discussion for all of us who love the natural world and science.

As Calvin said to Hobbes, “Let’s go exploring.”

26 Comments leave one →
  1. Vicki permalink
    August 13, 2009 3:46 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more about being able to appreciate the natural beauty of God’s creation. I am completely overwhelmed when I can sit and enjoy the world around. I will admit to not understanding how all that beauty, order, majesty can be thought of as chance, or an accident. But I do believe that God has put into everyone of us the ability to recognize the awesomeness of our world, of His creation…even if one doesn’t recognize it as such. I also believe that we are to care for His creation and as Christians we have fallen very short in this area. To my believing friends look around and see how you can help preserve this gift God has given us…

  2. Oliver permalink
    August 13, 2009 4:03 pm

    It’s a point that has been made elsewhere (and will be made again here many times I expect), but PZ’s position – that atheists have a fuller appreciation of the wonders of Nature – is one I can understand. The elegance and beauty of the patterns and processes that shape the world, its Bombardier beetles and its Barrier Reefs, are the more astounding to me for not being the result of a magical event, but as emergent properties of intermeshing algorithms of a simple complexity that staggers the mind.

    Less verbosely, removing the idea of a creator increases my sense of awe and wonder.

    Moreover, what religion attempts to do is prevent investigation of the mysteries of the world and ourselves, either explicitly by commanding us not to cast its account into question, or implicitly by providing a premasticated answer. PZ, Harris, Coyne and others have criticised the appointment of Francis Collins as head of the NIH for precisely this reason: not because he is a Christian, but because his Christianity drives him to the conclusion that there are aspects of our nature that must be considered the exclusive preserve of God, and remain unsullied by the attempt to investigate them.

  3. August 13, 2009 4:11 pm

    That’s one of the reasons I love to read PZ. He adores the world. The real world in front of his eyes, the universe that it spins through, all of it. It’s a fantastic, wonderful, amazing place, and I totally agree with him on that. It’s a joy to read his stuff when he’s indulging that love.

    That’s a theme that’s been played out a lot in comments over at Honest Tom’s Used Theology Lot, that the Bible is a book. The world is actually there, right in front of you. No book, even an “infallible” one, trumps that reality. Because the reality is so much more awesome.

    I do take issue with the “God made the natural world for us to enjoy, explore and take pleasure in” bit, although that is a topic for another day. I’ll just refer you to the incomparable Don Marquis and leave it at that.

  4. AdamK permalink
    August 13, 2009 4:11 pm

    “God made the natural world for us to enjoy, explore and take pleasure in. It’s our playground…”

    This strikes me as goofy and backward. God made “it” for “us”? But we ARE the natural world. We are part of many species, growing right out of the bush of life. Apart from the natural world, there is no us. It’s not some separate thing that was handed to us while we were floating around in some cosmic void, looking for something to do. “Oh, humans, are you bored? Here’s a plaything for you. Go nuts!” Said the old man with the white beard.

    Vicki said, “I will admit to not understanding how all that beauty, order, majesty can be thought of as chance, or an accident.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as is majesty. Order is a matter of scale and perspective. There are multiple definitions of order, one based on thermodynamics for example, and others stemming from information theory.

    Which is to say, the beauty, order and majesty are human feelings and perceptions. And they are expressed and explicated by human culture, that is, by the work of individuals thinking, communicating and transmitting wisdom over countless generations. Isn’t that awesomely wonderful?

    Nobody’s saying it’s “chance, or an accident.” That’s a characature, used to belittle the scientific worldview. Theists like to pretend they somehow OWN feelings of awe, wonder and inspiration. Those feelings are part of what it is to be human, not the property of christians.

  5. AdamK permalink
    August 13, 2009 4:19 pm


    Sometimes I know how to spell.
    At other times I must beg your pardon.

  6. Ray S. permalink
    August 13, 2009 5:13 pm

    PZ’s sense of awe, wonder or adoration, however you call it, is a shared value of many scientists. I think it was plainly Carl Sagan’s greatest gift of communication to be able to show that wonder in such a way as to inspire others. Richard Feynman was another so gifted. I highly recommend his book, ‘The Pleasure of Finding Things Out’.

    I really can’t grok the concept ‘God made it for us’ or even the shorter ‘God made it’. Without resorting to the Ken Ham view of creation, the words don’t make any sense to me strung together in that way. Assuming you accept what science currently tells us about the age of the universe, the formation of solar systems and planets, and the diversity of life on the one planet we know so far to harbor life, what was it that God actually did? Saying ‘God made the natural world’ yields up something similar to ‘Julia Child made chicken salad’ to me. I can understand one, but not the other.

    As to the beauty of the natural world, I pain to point out that birth defects, cancer and the ebola virus are also part of the natural world. Are they also beautiful in your view?

    Finally, if for the sake of discussion we were to grant that God made the natural world, what would qualify as not made by God, such that we could compare and contrast the relative beauty of each?

  7. AdamK permalink
    August 13, 2009 5:22 pm

    (There is a complementary caricature, of course, that goes the other way, of the theist looking at nature and going, “How pretty! Isn’t god lovely, with all his pretty flowers and butterflies and rainbows!” Maybe it’s even sillier.)

    A lot of nature is terrible. There are monstrosities of biology – parasites and such, nature “red in tooth and claw” – that wouldn’t incline anyone to a generous opinion of any god you might blame for them. The inhumanly vast scale of the universe is inconceivable to the human imagination, though it can be expressed with cold math. The fact of death is a hard nut. (This one especially seems responsible for much of the nonsense we call religion.)

    It isn’t easy. It certainly isn’t a “playground.” You wouldn’t send your child out into intergalactic space for a game of hopscotch, or toss him into a tub of tapeworms for a swim. You wouldn’t even let him roam around a farm unsupervised.

    But we – this particular variety of ape – are completely enmeshed in and dependent on these few ecosystems on this one particular little planet during this one tiny era. There is no us apart from the world of nature. We are it.

  8. Tiranna permalink
    August 13, 2009 6:14 pm

    The world really is awe-inspiring, and I love every bit of it. This includes the parasites, diseases, mutants, and everything else people bring up when they tend to ask how a just god would allow such things. I have no clue one way or the other about any god, but I do know that these parasite and mutants are amazing and beautiful. This isn’t in the sense that the diseases they cause are great, but the way they live, what they do to stay alive, what they have to go through to reproduce – this is all fascinating. All things we consider bad show how delicate the balance is – a cancer cell can differ from a normal cell by only a few proteins. All in all, stop insulting my microscopic friends, they’re just as beautiful a part of this world as your worms with wings that you call butterflies.
    ~A microbiologist

  9. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 13, 2009 7:11 pm

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Except for the God aspect of course. πŸ˜‰

  10. Ray S. permalink
    August 13, 2009 7:57 pm

    Tiranna, is there anything you would not describe as beautiful? I’ve already got you down for birth defects, cancer and ebola. What about cesspools, water pollution or the bodies of innocent children blown up by terrorists? All products of the natural world. If everything is beautiful, what does beautiful even mean?

    I’m sorry to say that while I can be impressed with how rapidly and completely ebola destroys its victim, I cannot refer to it as beautiful.

    Take off your rose colored glasses. There is a reality out there and some of it is ugly. I cannot describe how difficult it is to not link to a plethora of images right now to make my case.

  11. August 13, 2009 8:09 pm

    Actually, cesspools are really interesting. The rest maybe not, but I can see where the beauty lies in a cesspool.

  12. AdamK permalink
    August 13, 2009 8:15 pm

    A lot of things are interesting that aren’t beautiful. I don’t mind a bit if you tell me all about insect mouth parts or spiders’ eyes, as long as you don’t show me illustrations.

    Needless to say, as much as I admire biologists I could never be one.

  13. Michael N permalink
    August 13, 2009 8:40 pm

    You and your son may adore science, but there are many Christians (Ken Ham is a good example) who do not. What’s more, they don’t want the rest of us to adore science either.

  14. August 13, 2009 8:53 pm

    >And, I’m sure there are going to be times on this blog where I take serious issue with some of his comments.

    And so you should.

    IMO, If two intelligent people can’t find something they disagree on enough to argue about it, then one or both of them are not trying very hard, and therefore are not trying their hardest to reach a better answer. It’s not the disagreement that matters, it how we resolve it that makes a difference. In my work some of the best research plans come about as a result of (polite but vigorous) arguments with the investigators. In these discussions hypotheses and definitions get torn apart and reassembled into something better, and resolving disagreement and misunderstanding is key to this process.
    So by all means, take issue and disagree. Good will come of it.

    PS: I don’t always agree with PZ either. πŸ™‚

  15. August 13, 2009 8:59 pm

    @ Michael N: Some people are afraid of being wrong, and fear is hard to deal with. Ken Ham and “many Christians” are a good example, but (to take a small issue) I don’t believe that Christians have a monopoly on this.

  16. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 14, 2009 12:34 am

    Well, I will say more about religion holding back or being a block to science very soon. Can’t say more, because then I will reveal the next Attie.

    As for the Bible and Science, I would look at them as God’s two books. I consider them intertwined. but again, can’t say more until Monday.

    Adam, I would fully agree that we are “it”, meaning nature. I’m fine with that.

  17. SuperCorgi permalink
    August 14, 2009 2:56 am


    I really appreciate you. I think of you as what a Christian should be. You’re not condemning of differences – you celebrate differences even though you may not share those view points. You don’t demonize us (unlike some other Christian pastor who you know of). You can appreciate the diversity of opinion and yet celebrate each person’s love of nature and knowledge. You give me hope that people of faith and atheists might find common ground and come to respect each other.

  18. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 14, 2009 3:05 am

    Hey Super,
    Welcome! Actually, Thomas refers to St. Thomas the Apostle. Jonathan is my given name. Welcome to the group. Hope you stick around!


  19. SuperCorgi permalink
    August 14, 2009 4:21 am

    Hi Thomas/Jonathon, I was referring to your email handle. I know about St. Thomas. Still keep the good work – promoting tolerance, understanding and respect despite our differences!

  20. Bench permalink
    August 14, 2009 6:02 am

    “This isn’t in the sense that the diseases they cause are great, but the way they live, what they do to stay alive, what they have to go through to reproduce – this is all fascinating.”

    I apologize in advance for the lame pop culture reference, but this reminds me of a great scene from Arrested Development, where Michael is talking to his son George Michael’s ethics teacher at parent-teacher night.

    Teacher: Wow! Did you make this for me? This is so sweet. I love Hussein.
    Michael: You mean, you’re interested in him?
    Teacher: Oh, yes. He is a monster.

    Although, I must say, all of the little critters that harm (or help) us are far more fascinating than Saddam Hussein ever was.

  21. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 14, 2009 11:30 am

    Ah! Good. Glad you are here. πŸ™‚

  22. August 16, 2009 9:29 pm

    I have nothing to add to what Oliver and AdamK said. I was going to comment myself but that was before they took the words out of my mouth, improved them, and added some other great ones.

  23. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 16, 2009 9:42 pm

    Welcome Camel, I was hoping that you would show up.

  24. Dan Fincke permalink
    August 16, 2009 10:36 pm

    Thanks, Thomas, it’s nice to be hoped for πŸ™‚

    I hope in time to reply adequately to the comment you left on my blog last week as there were a few things to say, but in the meantime I should acknowledge that I appreciated your stopping by and didn’t ignore it.

  25. August 16, 2009 10:38 pm

    Camels With Hammers=Dan Fincke in case that was confusing (WordPress annoyingly doesn’t automatically link our names when we post on other wordpress blogs and I have to remember to sign back out and sign back in to post with a linkable name. Forgot to do that for the last post).

  26. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 16, 2009 10:49 pm

    Not at all. Look forward to discussing Schaeffer with you. I think some of his followers have taken a route he wouldn’t have. And, look, Franky (his son) has his issues. That isn’t to say most of his book, Crazy for God, is wrong, I just think that he is overly bitter with his own actions in creating the religious right in this country. He certainly brought a human touch that was sorely lacking in the story of Francis Schaeffer, but anyone who attended Covenant Seminary in St. Louis (like me) got that story as well, good and bad. It’s the rest of the evangelical world who turns him into this perfect saint, just as they do to Jack (CS Lewis).

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