Tag Archives: pz myers

A martian giraffe drawn by PZ Myers

Atheist Blogger PZ Myers’s Giraffe Art

Professor PZ Myers in London

PZ Myers (@pzmyers) is a biologist an professor here at the University of Minnesota, Morris, who is best known for his blog Pharyngula and because of it is often ranked on lists of the most influential living atheists. He also has a book coming out in Spring 2012 that some are predicting may make him the Fifth Horseman of New Atheism. Yeah, almost-South-Dakota Minnesota is pretty great.

Unfortunately, though he lives only a few blocks from me I don’t get as many opportunities to talk to him about politics and science as I would wish. In fact, on the few occasions we’re in the same room I tend to sweat nervously and try my damndest to make sure that the buttons on my shirt are in direct vertical alignment with my belt buckle (as every good gentleman knows). The consequence of this is some of the most awkward silence I have ever been a part of. And I’m a fairly awkward guy.

Because the story of how this giraffe was obtained is not really that interesting (the Morris Freethinkers, Jen McCreight and PZ Myers were in a small town bar; he drew a giraffe to humor a kid with a giraffe fetish; I feel ashamed for killing the conversation) I will try my best to compensate by sharing a story that often comes to memory. It’s nothing exciting, I’ll admit, but meh.

In 2009 PZ was named the Humanist of the Year by The Humanist, a magazine about critical inquiry and social concern, and was given a very nice little award that he can carry around to show people that he’s not just a New Atheist but also a Humanist. At least that was the explanation he gave for lugging the award to a public lecture he was giving about the New Atheists. After a lively discussion – and at times, debate – the room cleared out and a few of those interested in continuing the conversation (including PZ) made their way across campus where the Morris Freethinkers (James, Kele and I) and the Morris Philosophy Club had an opportunity to exchange ideas and opinions. All in all, it was an exciting little event made all the more so by the fact that several of the campus’ most opinionated professors were trying to rattling each other’s cages. With the night carrying on a little later than perhaps anticipated for, the spectators (and even the participants) began to dwindle until there were only a few folks left, of which I happened to be one of them.

Getting ready to head out, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that PZ, who was already gone by this point, had forgotten his award. Uncertain as to what the next step would be, we happened to be lucky because one of my friends had his phone number was able to give him a quick ring; he was already across campus, but he was willing to wait for us to catch up. In a rush to head out the door I made the mistake of laying my bare hands upon the statue, which sent my mind into a rush – images of pain, suffering, reason, logic and Carl Sagan flashing and flaring.

Photograph taken by Milek Jakubiec

I awoke on the floor to Kele’s soft hand upon my forehead, asking, “What did you see?”

My lips could not formulate words, only tremble. As my vision began to refocus I caught myself gasping for air, unable now to breathe as a single static image held itself in my mind. Without thinking I turned to the garbage can that had been placed beside me, and lest I be too graphic (or sound too foolish), dear reader, I’ll simply say that unfortunately the great vastness of the English lexicon fails me. I can only imagine in the abstract, with the trouble expected from my mortal frame, such descriptors, but I believe them to be very themes of the Poetry of Cthulhu.

“Don’t worry,” there was nonchalance in Kele’s voice, “it happens to all of us.”

Echoes of screams and A.C. Grayling’s lecture on Darwin, Humanism and Science beat upon my skull with every pulse. There are no words.

“‘Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it yet,'” Kele said.

He could read in my eyes my confusion as I spit out, “what?”

“It’s from the Grayling lecture; again, the Humanist netherworld recycles the same lectures,” James said as he lifted me to a chair, making sure the garbage can was never too far from me. “Oddly enough though, Mark got a chapter from The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Who’s Mark?” I asked.

Their eyes failed to meet mine as they turned to the window, the evening breeze leaking in, the moon wondering how the tides go in and out. “Only the truly damned get Dawkins.”

I have never asked about nor have I ever heard about Mark ever again.

“Bu- But how?”

“Haven’t you caught on?”

The room was spinning. I was descending into the caves of madness, where even a flicker of light sends shadows dancing upon the walls. “It’s a -” I paused, unable (or was I unwilling?) to accept what these shades were whispering, miming, a carnival of specters offering hollow warnings of –

“Horcrux.”

The word rolled off my lips like raindrops upon a great canopy, collecting until the momentary burst when it all falls like a shower upon the life below. “It’s a Horcrux. A Horcrux. Horcrux.”

My answer was greeted only with nods, the room solemn that I had to learn this through experience. James filled the silence, “He’s had it for a while now.”

I was struck, “Is this it?”

“No, there are more – his iPad, his beard, the basilisk cephalopod he keeps in his office – this is but one of many, each containing a little part of the Fifth Horseman.”

Before I could ask any more questions Kele wrapped the award in a small towel, careful not to lay his skin upon it. Life was slowly returning to my legs as I was helped to my feet and led to the doorway, but before we could even close the door a soft, gentle voice greeted us.

“Oh, hello! You were taking a while so I figured I would start walking toward you, but apparently you never left.” A thin smile spread across his face, “Do you have my … award?” His arms shot out to grab it from Kele’s hands before a reply could even be uttered. “I’m sure you know how much this means to me.”

A great chill ran up my spine.

A martian giraffe drawn by PZ Myers

Anyway, here’s a “Martian Giraffe.”

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Atheist Blogger and Feminist Jennifer McCreight

Jen McCreight wearing a "Gay? Fine by me." t-shirtJennifer McCreight is an atheist and feminist blogger who writes over at BlagHag.com and  someone I had the pleasure of meeting when she visited the University of Minnesota-Morris on March 23, 2011. As part of a small lecture tour she was doing across the state during her spring spring she came to the campus to speak about “God’s Lady Problem: Breaking Up with Supernatural Beings,” which was both edgy and controversial. And how it could it not be – she equated one’s relationship to God with that of an abusive relationship according to the established and accepted signs of such a relationship? Though the turnout was about 30-40, I counted only about one walkout.

She is perhaps most known as the main organizer behind Boobquake (4/26/10), a “humorous exercise in scientific and skeptical thinking” seeking to disprove the claims of Iranian Islamic scholar Kazem Seddiqi‘s who believes that “women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes.” Needless to say the results were pretty straightforward: boobs do not cause earthquakes. Who would have thought?

Also, for someone with both activist/scientific success and a popular blog under her belt she is surprisingly apt at drawing giraffes.

 

Roger Nygard's Giraffe

Writer and Director Roger Nygard

The University of Minnesota-Morris (UMM) had the pleasure of hosting Roger Nygard, director, writer and producer (perhaps best known for his 1997 documentary Trekkies) who screened his most recent film The Nature of Existence (2010) to an overflow crowd of students and faculty alike. In Nygard’s own words, Existence is a film where he “wrote the toughest 85 questions I could think of, about our purpose and the nature of existence, and then asked hundreds of people all over the globe, such as: Indian holy man Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (The Art of Living), evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), 24th generation Chinese Taoist Master Zhang Chengda, Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind (co-discoverer of string theory), wrestler Rob Adonis (founder of Ultimate Christian Wrestling), confrontational evangelist Brother Jed Smock, novelist Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game), director Irvin Kershner (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back), Stonehenge Druids Rollo Maughfling & King Arthur Pendragon and many more…”

Overall the film was not too bad even if he refused to challenge or interrogate the logic of those he interviewed, a point he made clear in the Q-and-A following the film by pointing out that his film is meant only to make the viewer think and come to their own conclusion. PZ Myers, UMM professor and author of the science blog Pharyngula, was in attendance, voiced his opinion and did not seem impressed by Nygard’s hands off style. In fact, the only reflection of his own beliefs the director made clear was the fact that he is moral relativist, the notion that “because there is no universal moral standard by which to judge others, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others – even when it runs counter to our personal or cultural moral standards”, which at face value is not an entirely harmful idea. After all, what is wrong with there being more tolerance in the world? Although such a notion can be agreeable to certain degrees it grants no excuse for reticence and does not justify inaction when there is a clear, unethical wrong being committed.

Take for example a brief exchange that happened during the Q-and-A.

When asked whether or not it would be acceptable for a culture to torture babies, Nygard responded socratically: “From what frame of reference?” stressing in his answer (and the small debate that followed between he and students) the fact that given the subjectivity of morality no culture has a right to dictate what is moral for another. In fact, when asked by a student whether or not his experience working on the film proved to him that “the world would have been a better place if there was no such thing as religion since all of the awful things that have been justified by it would not have happened” such as the Inquisition, the crusades, and so on. To this Nygard replied by again asking the student to define “what frame of reference” he was using. Clarifying his philosophy, Nygard said that while those things that have been committed in the name of religion were bad, to know good is to know what is bad.

I can’t say I agree – I happen to believe we can know what is good without killing the Jews – but that’s just my own opinion.

I wish I could say here that as the tension in the room began to build a member of the GDBWSNBDG editorial board turned the subject to giraffes, but the truth is Nygard’s moral relativism was an issue in most of the venues in which he spoke. Earlier in the day he participated in a roundtable discussion and apparently slipped into a debate with one of the university’s philosophy professors who wrote his thesis, which will soon be published as a book, on ethics. It was actually during this debate when Lucas Felts interjected during a pause … and asked for a giraffe …

Roger Nygard's Giraffe

… Or fucking dinosaur or something.