Monday, July 14, 2008

Sociology of the internets

PZ Myers receives threats of violence through the email. I'm a bit amazed at the 830-plus comments (the volume, not the mixture of stupidity and brilliance).

Threats of violence are actionable in a court of law. So should you, dear reader, lack common sense and/or common decency, I request that you be completely and utterly specific in describing how and why you will kill your intended victim when sending that intended victim an email. Trust me, you'll feel a lot better about it after you hit the send button. And so will the rest of us, when you are safely confined (our safety, not yours) in prison.

It is actually not surprising that Myers has received these threats: his blog is sufficiently controversial enough, and sufficiently anti-conservative. While his political views, when he rarely expresses them, skew left, his blog is for the most part politically neutral. What riles people up is his brash proselytization of atheism, his attacks on religious figures and what he considers to be religious idiocies, and his adamant defense of evolution. Any individual who routinely mocks irrational beliefs while praising rationality is a tempting target for the irrational among us. That's the way it is.

Frankly, the reason why I read PZ Myers is that he makes me think. I generally agree with his perspective, if I differ on ultimate conclusions.

For example, I am an atheist by default, in that I believe that if there is a supreme deity that he (or she) has heretofore shown absolutely no need or desire to be worshiped by little pipsqueaks like us. For example, if you believe in prayer, well more power to you, but all of the evidence I have seen suggests that you are more likely to get what you want if you just call a random stranger on the telephone. At least with a random stranger you have some evidence that they are actually listening to you (until they hang up).

But I for one do not care to mock religion. To my knowledge, no actual human society has ever been found or described that did not have an organized religion. Religion can inspire people to be amazing, altruistic, and wonderful human beings. But it can also, and often has, inspired people to be cruel, depraved, and inhumane.

I can imagine living without religion, and I do so now. But I am skeptical whether societies can live without religion. I am willing to be proved wrong. The question is, is everyone else?

Update: PZ also deals with sock-puppets. Hilarious, actually.