The Apocalypse Cheerleaders

As many others have observed, the right wing in modern American politics subsists in a near-perpetual state of frothing rage. This situation serves the purpose of leaders of the religious right, since after all, angry people are more easily led and less likely to think coherently; and to encourage it to continue, they whip their followers into a frenzy with inflammatory accusations and keep their rage alive through the constant creation of new scapegoats. This pattern has recently repeated, and their target du jour is the University of Texas ecologist Eric Pianka.

Briefly, Dr. Pianka gave a talk last week in which he stated his belief that the human population, by exploiting the planet’s now dwindling natural resources, has exceeded sustainable levels, and that we are headed for a catastrophic Malthusian crash in which a vast number of people will die. One of the hypothetical scenarios he described by which this might happen is the evolution of the lethal Ebola virus into an airborne form, giving rise to a global pandemic.

This talk was attended by a creationist named Forrest Mims. Somehow, Mims decided that Dr. Pianka was actually advocating mass genocide by deliberate bioengineering of Ebola (which could not be farther from the truth, as transcripts of the talk and subsequent interviews have made clear). Mims then spread this misleading summary to other creationists, from which point it spread into the right-wing community in general. Although the slightest modicum of fact-checking would have made it obvious that Mims’ accusations were completely false, this modicum was, as usual, not performed, and the predictable torrent of rage and invective followed in utter ignorance of Pianka’s actual beliefs. Nick Matzke of The Panda’s Thumb has compiled a list of examples, most notably Texas’ governor and friend to theocrats Rick Perry, who compared Pianka to the Nazis.

This utter disregard for the facts is standard operating procedure of right-wing ideologues. But what is notable about this story is the rank hypocrisy that accompanies it. In one staggering example, Mims – the man who accused Dr. Eric Pianka of advocating a bioengineered holocaust – is now claiming that his reputation is being defamed by scientists who were at the talk and are accusing him of misrepresenting its content, and is threatening them with blustery legal letters.

But the hypocrisy displayed by Mims is not even the depths of it. Many of the right-wingers who denounced Pianka either believe, or are prominently associated with others who believe, in the doctrine of the Rapture – in which true Christians will be miraculously snatched off the planet, while those left behind will be stricken with a variety of apocalyptic disasters that, according to the Bible, will result in the deaths of millions of people and the damnation of millions more. This is a view far more evil, far more loathsome, and far more deserving of condemnation than anything that Pianka has ever said, but right-wing voices raised against it are all but absent. Where are the condemnations of this view from those who denounced Pianka? Why do they attack him so viciously, why do they label him an apologist for genocide, a terrorist, a Nazi, while simultaneously utterly ignoring the religious zealots who hold a far more radical version of the view they criticized him for presumptively holding? (For one thing, Pianka does not expect to escape the crash he predicted, while Rapture-believers fully expect to be sitting on a cloud when the time comes and chortling at the misfortune of the unsaved down below.)

To name one example, creationist William Dembski, who played a major role in initiating this fracas, bragged about how he had reported Pianka to the Department of Homeland Security. Where is Dembski’s patriotic concern when it comes to the religious right fanatics who look forward to the destruction of America in the nuclear war that they believe will follow the Rapture? How many of these people has he reported to the authorities?

Or take Rick Perry, whose office openly accused Pianka of solidarity with the Third Reich. Perry’s press secretary castigated Pianka for his “gleeful embracing of the destruction of 90 percent of the earth’s population”. Meanwhile, Perry himself has appeared at campaign rallies side-by-side with Rod Parsley, a virulently anti-gay religious right pastor who also believes in an imminent Rapture – which is a gleeful embrace of the destruction of the Earth’s entire population. Before complaining about the motes in others’ eyes, Governor Perry has several very large beams to pull out of his own.

Other examples could be listed, but the point is made. Those religious right figures who criticize Pianka, but have never criticized fundamentalists who cheer the destruction of the world, are engaging in hypocrisy of the highest order. When they attack Rapture believers with the same vehemence with which they attacked Pianka, they will have a legitimate claim to at least being intellectually consistent. Until then, the glaring inconsistency in the targets of their denunciation shows that their anger is not sincere, but politically motivated, intended to harass and demonize those with whom they disagree and chill the speech of messages they dislike.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • BlackWizardMagus

    Eh…I don’t really follow your logic here. While some rapture enthusiasts do advocate things like rebuilding Israel to hasten all of our deaths, most don’t do that. They mostly just sit around feeling smug knowing that they will be saved. I realize that Pianka did not advocate any such thing, but if we are comparing the hypothetical view that he DID versus most apocalyptic expectations, it’s far worse; one is EXPECTING death, and one is CAUSING death. It’s like saying the people who, throughout the Cold War, were just waiting for a nuclear apocalypse (religiously connected or otherwise) were guilty of something. The zealots are guilty of simply optimism (or pessimism from our POV) of a coming event; nothing more.

    Indeed, you are essentially saying that Pianka himself IS about as bad as the extremists; they look for a divine rapture, while Pianka looks for a world-wide crisis. At least a rapture involves some being saved (to quote Twain, however; “It’ll be a hell of a heaven when they get all these hypocites assembled there!”).

    However, the point that they completely lies and twisted the speech stands as another example of their habitual rancor and hate exercises, just like the extremists who accuse J.K.Rowling of supporting black magic and sin because she writes children’s books (same for George Lucas).

  • Jeff G

    Did Dembski actually report him to Home Land Security? If so I think I will have lost absolutely all respect for him as an academic. Between this and the whole Dennett/Ruse email thing, I’m simply unwilling to listen to a thing they say anymore.

  • Ebonmuse

    Yes, Dembski did do that, and bragged about it. See: I wouldn’t go so far as to call Dembski an “academic”, though – “seminarian” would seem to be a better title, since that seems to be where he spends most of his time nowadays.

  • Quath

    Christians tend to see two distinct type of morality. One is human morality and the other is God morality. God morality is defined as good no matter what happens.

    So if man has an affair and a child from that affair, we would consider it evil for another person to kill that child because of the affair. But if God does it, it is good.

    This double view of morality worries me more than people looking for the rapture. After all, if God commits the Rapture and kills/tortures everyone else, then it is just another good thing He does.

  • Blogophile


    Just wanted to let you know I linked to your blog in my column on today. Thanks!

    If you want to take a look, here’s the link:

    Happy blogging,

  • Seven Star Hand

    Verifiable proof that “Armageddon” has begun

    I know many readers of this site will want to scoff at this information before bothering to pay attention to the details. I have produced verifiable proof that the original pre-Christian Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) was a symbolically encrypted wisdom text that was stolen and modified by the founders of Christianity. I demonstrate a series of specific and undeniable proofs of verifiable fraud in the Christianized Book of Revelation, which also appear throughout the New Testament.

    Furthermore, I have produced stunning and comprehensive proof that the ancient symbology used to construct sealed Hebrew texts is an ancient philosophical technology.

    The ancient symbolism used in The Apocalypse and other Hebrew prophecies and wisdom texts predates Christianity, Judaism, modern secret societies, and mystery schools by thousands of years. While in the hands of Christianity, The Apocalypse and its symbology have been purposely misinterpreted, recast, and misrepresented. The original Hebrew document was a multi-purpose narrative constructed using layered and synchronized ancient wisdom symbolism. Its true purposes, features, and functionality are detailed in my book, further demonstrating that it was a symbolically encrypted Hebrew wisdom text encoding prophecy, philosophy, and scientific wisdom that was stolen and fraudulently modified by the founders of Christianity.

    If your goal is to seek the truth and present verifiable evidence of religious fraud, then read my book and direct Christians to read it also. Challenge them to prove me wrong. The E-Book is a free download and I make no money from it or the paperback.

    Not only do I talk the talk, I walk the walk.

  • Ebonmuse

    Thanks, Melissa! And welcome to anyone who found my site through her column. Here’s hoping you’ll stay a while.

    In the interests of fairness, I should add that some creationists have come to realize they were led astray by Mims. Telic Thoughts, for example, posted a retraction in a very honest and forthright manner. (Others have set a poorer example, such as Uncommon Descent, which has not only not retracted its accusations against Pianka, but has expanded its attack to include Telic Thoughts as well because of the retraction.)

  • Bruce Rockwell

    Two Yahoo articles – “Pretrib Rapture Diehards” and “Thomas Ice (Bloopers)” expose the rapture belief of the fundies. These are new facts that hadn’t been known before. Bruce

  • Donovan

    Painka has not advocated the near genocide of human life. The motivation for his discussions, I feel, stem from a love of humanity, not the will for it’s end; how are people still able to defend the whole of humanity’s collective actions? Oh, and on the behalf of whom? How many people can we seriously consider as being sustainable for this increasingly fragile planet? Is it possible for us to have a discussion whereby we can argue reasonably rather than against suspected conspirital conjectures? Why does it seem one “side” is more inclined to do so? Can we not move toward parenting licenses? Then let us end with internet licenses, that we may end the ever-ending horseshit that people CHOOSE to utilise in lieu of their minds? Christians unite! I have met many who call a rainbow a rainbow, but know WHY we see it.

  • Irv Spielberg

    Okay, Daylight Atheists (and Nightlight ones too), if you think you’ve read it all, try Googling “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism” to see what you’ve missed! Irv

  • Brad

    I think I see an additional parallel to the Great Flood. Wasn’t that a supposedly “good” act?