Don’t you just love reading myths about yourself?

I get a good chuckle over them. Like this claim that I am bitter about not being one of the Four Horsemen.

That’s practically an article of faith among the slymier trolls. It says they don’t know anything about me, but are colossally good at projection.

I would first point out the curious fact that I’m not and never have been an administrator of any atheist organization (I’ve fallen into the role of maintaining a blog host for a rag-tag squad of diverse writers here at FtB, but go ahead, ask them how much “administration” and “leading” I do), nor have I been on the board of any organization. I haven’t even tried to acquire any kind of leadership position, ever. Nor has anyone tried to recruit me to such a position — I think it’s been clear to every responsible person on the internet or the atheist movement that maybe I’m a little too independent (or disorganized) to be a good choice to be given any power at all.

I’m OK with that, too. I think of myself primarily as a teacher and a biologist, and I’m in my dream job right now. I haven’t even put myself up for promotion to full professor because I mainly see that as a position that would saddle me with more administrative responsibilities…although that may have to change, since I’m getting pressure from my university to fill out the paperwork and do my share of more committee work.

So this clown’s first mistake is to think I have any ambition to fill that role.

His second mistake, though, is a far more common one, and one that I consider destructive to the movement. The “Four Horsemen” were nothing but hot air. It was the equivalent of a Google hangout, with four friends getting together and filming themselves while talking. It is not an appointed position. You can’t join it now. It was four people who were already popular who hung out one afternoon, made a video, gave it a snappy title, and sold it. It’s simply perverse to think I’m upset that I wasn’t rewarded with an opportunity to shoot the breeze with some other guys, one of whom I never even liked.

What’s bad about this argument is that it has become canon that the Four Horsemen were some kind of sacred institution within atheism, something with more weight than a casual conversation.There was so much anguish expressed after Hitchens died — who now will sit in his throne? We must have a fourth horseman! It was fucking weird. It got even weirder when Sam Harris decided Ayaan Hirsi Ali ought to be crowned. There was no crown, no throne, no authority here! I said that at the time, and I say it now, the peculiar coronation of the Four Horsemen is a sign that even atheists are susceptible to symbols and myths and religious thinking, and the worst are the ones eager for authoritarianism.

Shorter answer: we never had an atheist tetrarchy, and it’s silly to think I aspired to become part of a non-existent, imaginary leadership. It’s flattering that some people think I was close enough to want to join that club, but honestly, I was also close enough to see how empty the title was, and to have a realistic view of its meaning. Which was nonexistent, except in the minds of people who desire some kind of intellectual domination.


  1. says

    Maybe I just didn’t notice your disagreement. Guess I’ll have to go through the archives and find excuses to cast you into the outer darkness.

  2. llyris says

    “Poopy head is mad because he didn’t get a special ‘Four Horsemen’ cardigan”.

    I reckon if we look hard we’ll be able to find someone who is willing to say you ‘administrate’ liasing with the elves who keep the internet magic flowing through the pipes. Probably. At least one person.

    Don’t you think you’d look fab in a cardigan with ‘Horseman Poopyhead’ emblazoned on the back?

    I seem to be in a very weird mood tonight.

  3. says


    You could dump me into Sagittarius A*. It looks attractive.

    Were you knowingly referencing Rush’s Hemispheres when you did that? B’cuz

    In the constellation of Cygnus
    There lurks a mysterious, invisible force
    The Black Hole
    Of Cygnus X-1

    On my ship, the ‘Rocinante’
    Wheeling through the galaxies,
    Headed for the heart of Cygnus
    Headlong into mystery

    It’s just, y’know, a reference to Rush’s reference to the masterwork of Cervantes, whose name you reference.

  4. hemidactylus says

    I got banned by free speech zealot Jrry Cyn* (either for not towing the line or not holding him in high enough esteem…not sure) and I relish the irony.

  5. says

    I saw the thing on Twitter, and I actually looked up the Weisteins because the name rang some bell but no details volunteered themselves.
    So, it looks like
    -Nothing actually happened to Eric Weinstein, but it seems like his colleagues aren’t very impressed with his physics (a know leftist conspiracy)
    -Something mildly bad happened to his brother, who decided to make an ass of himself, insert himself into politics, resigned from his position and got 500 k for it. Poor puppy.

  6. petesh says

    @9: PZ, perhaps you could find a gecko lawyer. They seem to be expert in the insurance industry so I imagine some have branched out.

  7. microraptor says

    hemidactylus @10: But don’t you know, Pharyngula is the echo-chamber that doesn’t allow any dissension.

  8. doubtthat says

    I’ll admit that I’m a little bitter PZ wasn’t included with the horsemen. Someone needed to be there to say, “The fuck is wrong with you?” to the others.
    Thought Dennett might be that guy, but sadly no. Though, to be fair, the real stinky shit didn’t come for a year or two after their glorious ride.

  9. says

    Oh, if I’d been there in that room I wouldn’t have been any fun at all, because I’d sit there questioning their premises, which would have been less marketable, and no one wants to hear about the five horsemen. The appealing thing about the four horsemen video to many people is that there are these 4 guys smugly agreeing with each other, and they can sit at home and agree with them too.

  10. doubtthat says

    Hello, it us, the great leaders of a movement of brave, iconoclastic thinkers. We will daringly question everyth…no, no, don’t ask us that. No, I don’t want to read about “history” or examine US policy in the MidEast…hey, could you just leave? We were having a good laugh about Al Sharpton.

  11. lotharloo says

    I have read plenty of blogs. I have never seen any blog with a worse track record on random, senseless and absurd banning of people than Jerry Coyne’s. He bans people for disagreeing with him and then either not replying fast enough, or not apologizing when he asks them to apologize. He bans people for mildest criticism, he will give you a chance to apologize though, and you better be fast or he just bans you! You cannot say he does not understand something, that’s rude and reason for a ban! I saw him ban someone because they disagreed on fucking …. grammar!!!

    The fact that he has championed himself one of the leaders of “free speech” shows how the “free speech” movement is hollow, pretentious, hypocritical, and selfish. They only care about themselves and people they sympathize with (including alt-right people, as Jerry Coyne has claimed that twitter censoring Milo or some other fuckwit is violating their freedom of speech).

  12. says

    Holy crap, this is how I find out that Sarah “Called the police on two black students who did nothing wrong” Braasch is not just still on Twitter, but calling it the “Living or Napping While Black Hate Crime Hoax” and getting lots of love from the typical anti-social justice types? That it was all a conspiracy to get her because she dared stand up for a homophobic black man?

  13. blf says

    Pharyngula is the echo-chamber that doesn’t allow any dissension.

    The secret is to mention zebrafishys, spiderfishys, kraken (which may be fishy but are not fishys), or whales (which are a fishys kind, at least until you fall off the edge of the world and try to count all the turtles going down). Anything else will incur poopyhead’s minions’s wrath, and be mercilessly mocked… mercilessly mocked… mercilessly mocked… mercilessly mocked… mercilessly mocked… merciles(kicks the echo chamber)sssssspiders!

  14. mnb0 says

    @10 and @20: you guys don’t understand. Disagreeing with JAC on his own blog is impolite and he doesn’t tolerate impolite people in his own house. I know, because I was banned at my own request.

  15. kome says

    There’s a leftist orthodoxy?
    What is it?
    What’s the punishment for violating it?

    So many questions, such a glaring lack of answers.

  16. davidc1 says

    It pains me to see all us atheists falling out and banning people,calling each other names and i don’t know what else .
    I know it would be a bit boring if we all agreed with everything that was said in the atheist world .
    But there are are enough righttit religious nutjobs out there for everyone to have a pop at .

    By the way ,why does the guy @4 call our lord and master “Poopy head “?
    Is it some sort of strange American thing we don’t have this side of the pond .

  17. Curious Digressions says

    Aw PZ, I think you’re aces!

    I also appreciate your vigilance in keeping the trolls from overrunning the comments.

    I think it’s more a matter of reader self selection than a bitter echo chamber.

  18. Muz says

    Even by the milder accounts the Evergreen thing sounds a bit over the top. But now it’s this definitve proof that the folk devil of post modern neo-marxism has taken over everything. It’s still just one weird incident on one campus last I checked. Several years ago too. Whither perspective?

  19. says

    davidc1 @25

    It pains me to see all us atheists falling out and banning people,calling each other names and i don’t know what else .
    I know it would be a bit boring if we all agreed with everything that was said in the atheist world .
    But there are are enough righttit religious nutjobs out there for everyone to have a pop at .

    I have a lot more in common with a left-leaning feminist Christian or Muslim than I do with any right-wing “anti-SJW” atheists.

  20. says

    Sorry, all this talk of spiders has this stuck in my head now:

    “The spiders are not insects/ But in the war they will side with the insects!/ Traitor spiders, they will make us/ HUMAN SLAVES IN AN INSECT NATION!”

  21. gijoel says

    @29. I couldn’t count the number of times the phrase ‘ESSSJAYDUBAYOU’ has saved me from watching a tedious reactionary video on Youtube.

  22. raaak says

    No one harmed free speech on campuses (and everywhere else) more than these right wing bigots and their naive leftist sympathizers.

    It is perfectly fine to invite serious people who want to defend right wing talking points to campuses (and no, Charles Murray is not a serious thinker) and have a debate with them. If once in a while a few students disrupt what would otherwise have been a civil discussion, there are mechanisms in place to discipline those students in a way that also educates them. It is even alright to sometimes invite a troll just for fun. It is supposed to be a melting pot after all.

    What the right wing did though was to only invite trolls and provocateurs. Trolling is not some way of getting back at the “orthodoxy” anymore. It is the principle, the tactic and the ideology. Trolling is not meant to convince the leftists that the bigots also have a point. Trolling has become the point.

    Take this guy Bret Weinstein for example. He starts his career by trolling some campus organization about one of their programs. He goes on and on and on until he succeeds in eliciting a response from the students and then he stands there smugly and invites them to debate! Come on right wingers and leftist sympathizers. Is it not rather obvious what these guys are doing?

  23. raaak says

    And my comment @36 is more about the linked twitter thread than the subject matter of this post. I should add that PZ is spot on about the four horseman thing.

  24. Patricia Phillips says

    @21 Tabby Lavalamp – she has a youtube channel too and it is…confusing and interesting. Confusing in that parts of it are repetitive yet other events she states happened have no back up evidence or seem to be glossed over. I fell down the rabbit hole of trying to make sense of her narrative of what she says happened at Yale but…it never quite made sense to me.

  25. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    That I’m still allowed to post here I think demonstrates that this shit about PZ is a lie. Don’t want to get banned from here? Then just don’t repeatedly say horrible sexist or racist or other bigoted shit, and don’t be an (extreme) troll, and you can survive quite fine here.

    I do my best to tell other people that Pharyngula comments section is not as bad as some of the rumors make it out to be. I think that I’ve learned a fair bit from here, and I’m grateful.

  26. hemidactylus says

    If anyone takes aim at PZ’s banhammer they should be instead scrutinizing the behavior of Jerry Coyne toward those he disagrees with for consistency sake. And on a related topic, has Coyne taken a principled stance on the stifling effect anti-BDS laws have on individual expression?

  27. says

    Patricia Phillips @38 I suspect it’s really important to her that she’s not a racist, and instead of looking inwards at her unexamined racism that let to her calling the cops on two black students there has to be a conspiracy against her leading back to when she was a terrific ally to a black man. The positive reinforcement she’s been getting from garbage people who want to stick it to the libs hasn’t helped any.

    davidc1 @41 In case gijoel doesn’t see your question – “ESS” is S, “JAY” is J, and “DUBAYOU” is W. SJW.

  28. George says

    PZ Myers,
    The reason why many people believe you at one time aspired to be the fifth horseman of the New Atheism movement is because you wrote: “So I’m going to very prematurely declare myself a fifth horseman. I picture myself, though, as a little guy on a very small pony trotting after the other four. However, I’m waving a great big banner that has the words, “The Internet” on it. That’s me.” (source: ).

  29. George says

    Also, one of your prominent atheist detractors, Michael Nugent, wrote: “After that he just got worse and worse, and there seemed to come a point where he decided that the low-level infamy he could glean by slamming and slurring fellow atheists was his best shot at getting attention, since it was becoming really clear that he wasn’t going to make it as any sort of “fifth horseman”. His poor old nag fell at the first fence.” (source: ).

  30. Dass Istnumberwang says

    Frankly, I’d be concerned if I were intrinsically associated with Sam Harris like that. To say nothing of the fact that any interest I (and I suspect many of this website’s users) ever had in capital-‘N’-capital-‘A’ New Atheism died when they apparently decided skepticism meant being racist to Arabs and embracing 1950s gender ideology.