LEWISTON — To biologist, teacher and Internet rabble-rouser PZ Myers, a little blasphemy is a good thing.
"Everything has to be questioned," Myers told a group of Bates College students Tuesday. "We want to make people question their beliefs, or at least make them defend their beliefs."
Myers is willing to annoy lots of people in the process.
Last year, the guy behind the popular Internet blog, "Pharyngula," asked readers to send him samples of consecrated bread and crackers from Catholic communion. Fans from around the world sent him the requested crackers, sometimes capturing their pranks on video.
He figured the act would bug some priests and devout Catholics but would likely be dismissed.
"I could not believe that people cared so much about a little scrap of bread," Myers said.
The anger from some Catholics was combustible. Thousands of e-mail messages overwhelmed his computer. Letters began arriving at the school where he teaches, the University of Minnesota, Morris, calling on the chancellor to fire him. There were death threats and bomb threats, saying he'd captured Christ.
"I really don't have Jesus," Myers said. "I have crackers."
Myers, an atheist and an evolutionist, visited Tuesday at the invitation of the Bates Secular Student Alliance. About 25 people attended his lecture.
Online, Myers has a big audience for a man whose specialty is neuroscience, particularly in the development of fish. His blog, which often focuses on politics and creationism, reaches an estimated 2.5 million viewers each month, he said.
His notoriety has snagged some powerful critics, including Catholic League President Bill Donohue.
Despite the criticism, Myers still has his collection of communion bread and crackers at his home in Minnesota. One cracker is gone, however. To it, he did something he'd read about from the Middle Ages.
"I stuck a nail through it, and dropped it in the trash," he said.
Such symbolism drew his most outrageous criticism. Some writers compared him to Hitler and his acts to the Holocaust.
"I mean, literally, they said I was just like Hitler," Myers said.
He believes the reaction doesn't reflect most Catholics' feelings. Rather, it reflects a small minority's breakdown at having their faith challenged.
"It cuts people's philosophical brake lines," said Myers, who is finishing a book on the fuss he started.
Will he stop making trouble? Doubtful.
"You never stop poking," he said.