PZ Myers on the Great Nothing of New Atheism

PZ MyersReason is not enough. Reason can show you the best way to achieve a goal, but if your goal is mass murder, or denigration of women, or the perpetuation of an oppressive hierarchy, it’ll help you do that, too. We need purpose and value and meaning as well, and if a prominent Leader of atheism is saying that atheism doesn’t do that, that’s a declaration that atheism is bankrupt, and has failed totally. It has become a Great Nothing.

That’s not my atheism, though. I argue that the absence of gods gives greater prominence to the interdependence of the human community, and adds greater weight and urgency to the importance of empathy and equality and all those human values — but if atheism is now a label that allows us to nonchalantly disavow responsibility for the actions of those within our own group, perhaps it’s time to disband the whole idea of an atheist community.

But then it’s also clear that my vision of what atheism ought to be is a minority view. The majority are doing their damnedest to confirm the poor opinion the believers have of us.

—PZ Myers
Is Atheism Bankrupt?

Facebook Fake Featuring Sergeant Jill Stevens

Facebook Fake Featuring Sergeant Jill Stevens

I saw the image above on Facebook. It is entirely typical of what Facebook is: a photo sharing website. And by and large, what people share is crap. And when it isn’t, it is generally something I’ve seen dozens of times before in similar forms. It’s especially concerning when it is political stuff that I agree with, because it is often pushing things that are not quite right. It’s very hard for me to stop myself from responding, “I agree. But it’s slightly more complicated than that.” Most Facebook users don’t do complicated. However, they do do what I can only call “Facebook Fakes.”

The image above is a Facebook Fake. When I texted a link to it to Elizabeth, her instant reaction was, “Fake.” She’s a sophisticated Facebook user. (Many of my friends are and they try to save me from myself — mostly just trying to get me to not be so obviously clueless.) So I think she instinctively knew. But she didn’t notice what made me immediately tag it as a Facebook Fake: the typesetting. So yes, before I continue on, it is necessary for me to discuss a fine point of editing.

Typesetting for Fakers

The typesetting of large numbers is a problem. For example, what is the number: 4294967295000? It’s hard to say. So in all languages that I know of, we use digit groupings. What’s more, the standard grouping (at least in the west) is three digits. So here in America, we would typeset the number: 4,294,967,295,000. So it’s easy to determine that it is 4.3 trillion, whereas it wasn’t with “4294967295000.”

Interestingly, Americans do not use digital grouping on the right side of zero. So we would in general see a highly precise number typeset like this: 0.4294967295. It makes a certain amount of sense in that case. But what about this case: 0.00000004294967295? It would be a whole lot more helpful to typeset it like this: 0.000,000,042,949,672,95. Easy: 0.042… micro-whatever.

But while the comma is used for the separator here in the US, it isn’t used everywhere. Some countries use spaces. And others use periods (generally then using the comma for the decimal point). Hence: 4.294.967.295.000 — still quite clear.

Now Back to Our Facebook Fake

If you read this whole Facebook Fake, it’s pretty clear. It is very sloppy and pidginized, “I am American soldier”?! But the first thing I noted was that the digit grouping marker was a period and not a comma. I dare say most Americans don’t even know that a lot of countries use periods, just as the creator of this Facebook Fake apparently didn’t know that other countries (specifically, America) use commas.

It probably doesn’t speak well of me that I delight in this kind of stuff. But there are many reasons why I am a writer, and this is one of them. People communicate things with words that they never intend. In this case, “I’m not American!”

The Truth Behind the Facebook Fake

The woman in the photo is Sergeant Jill Stevens. According to Wikipedia, “She is a combat medic in the Utah Army National Guard.” What’s more, she was Miss Utah in 2007. The original image extends higher, and it includes the quote (brackets in original):

Seeing how women are treated [in Afghanistan] was sad. In the villages, I’d take my helmet off to show I’m a woman and I’m respected, and that women do have worth.

So the Facebook Fake was the image of an American soldier who did an 18-month tour in Afghanistan. But the rest, well, no. Beyond the absurdity that her sergeant would send her home based on Facebook likes, Stevens is a Sergeant. Also, that photo of her appears to be from 2008. She was deployed from 2004-2005. And having listened to her speak, I can’t imagine her mangling the language so. Finally, she’s far too media conscious to put out an image that looks that bad.

I like to think that one of my skills is being able to create a teachable moment out of anything. I think this Facebook Fake is a good example.