Catholics claim that lies are truer than truth

There’s a remarkable piece by Mark Shea in the National Catholic Register, “Does evolutionary science disprove the faith?”  It’s remarkable mainly for its claim that you can extract historical and scientific truth from the palpable lies of the Bible.

But let us begin at the beginning. Shea goes after me for my claim—which I stand by 100%—that modern genetics makes nonsense out of the Adam and Eve story, and thus invalidates the entire Christian theology of sin and redemption through Jesus.  We know now from genetics that humanity did not descend from only two ancestors, but from a population of ancestral apes that evolved into hominins, who themselves went through a population bottleneck of roughly a few thousand individuals. (For a full account of the scientific, historical, and theological issues, read Jason Rosenhouse’s posts here, here, and here).  To debunk my criticism, Shea simply cites an article by Mike Flynn at the TOF Spot.  Flynn’s main claim is that there could have been thousands of humans at the time of Adam and Eve, and some of these mated with the First Couple’s spawn, explaining the genetic data.

Dr. Coyne’s primary error seems to be a quantifier shift.  He and his fundamentalist bedfellows appear to hold that the statement:

A: “There is one man from whom all humans are descended”

is equivalent to the statement:

B: “All humans are descended from [only] one man.”
In other words, Flynn sees the solution in (A):
Traditional doctrine requires only A, not B: That all humans share a common ancestor, not that they have no other ancestors. . . . Dr. Coyne believes the mathematical requirement of a population numbering 10,000 somehow refutes the possibility that there were two.  But clearly, where there are 10,000 there are two, many times over.  Genesis tells us that the children of Adam and Eve found mates among the children of men, which would indicate that there were a number of others creatures out there with whom they could mate.
And, in his piece, Shea says this:
But this logical fallacy hinges on an equivocation of “one,” failing to distinguish “one [out of many]” from “[only] one.” Traditional doctrine requires only A, not B: That all humans share a common ancestor, not that they have no other ancestors.
Let’s dispose of this nonsense immediately.  As Jason shows, and a reading of Genesis immediately confirms, there’s no evidence that Adam and Eve were anything but the ancestors of all humanity. Now who their sons married (presumably their sisters) is a matter of theological dispute, but there’s simply no evidence that Adam was contemporaneous with thousands of other people who were created at the same time.  There’s nothing in Genesis to support Flynn’s claim that the children of Adam and Eve found mates among the “sons of men,” if those “sons” were anything other than Adam and Eve’s own spawn.  Both men are relying here not on the Bible, but on some “traditional doctrine” that that there were originally more than two created humans.
Well, there are lots of differing “traditional doctrines” (many of which affirm the literal truth of Genesis), and this version is an attempt to evade the blatant fictionality of the Genesis story by claiming that the book doesn’t say what it seems to say i.e., that it’s all a metaphor.  And to save the story, the theologians show another characteristic feature: they simply make stuff up.  In this case, both Shea and Flynn fabricate a huge population of humans, not directly related to Adam and Eve but living at the same time. There’s not a shred of evidence for that anywhere in the Bible.  It’s theology again, confecting stories to preserve its central message from the ravages of scientific fact.
But enough of that.  Beyond this kind of religious logic-chopping lies an attitude deeply disturbing to anyone who cares about reason. Here’s what Shea says about the Catholic Cathechism (its words are in italics):

As the Catechism itself says:390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

How can Genesis use figurative language, but still affirm a primeval event? It can do it because mythic language is precisely the best way to affirm such an event, an upheaval that inflicted incalculable spiritual damage to the whole of the human race.

Translation: lies are the best way to affirm a truth. Flynn goes on in the same vein, but makes another statement that reminds me of John Haught’s assertion that a video camera recording the Resurrection wouldn’t have shown anything:

Genesis’ account of the fall does the same sort of thing. It uses figurative language to describe a real event which took place here in the real world, not in cloud cuckoo land: Our First Parents abused their free will, sinned against God and fell. The mythic language is truer language than newspaper language, because it brings us to the heart of what happened, which is far more important than a photographic record of what happened. A video of the first man committing the first sin would show us nothing, for the same reason that video of, say, a young Adolf Hitler sitting in a Vienna cafe and looking at an old Jew sipping his coffee would not reveal the momentous moment he turned from thinking, “Is this a Jew?” to thinking “Is this a German?” Traces of when sin, hate and evil are conceived in the heart cannot be detected in fossilized skulls.

Note carefully what Shea is claiming here: that an idle thought by one man (who, unlike Hitler, didn’t do anything!) doomed all humanity to a condition of sinfulness, only to be redeemed by the bloody death of an apocalyptic preacher. How can any rational person buy a story like that?

And if the language is figurative (and there’s no indication that it is: Shea simply realizes that the story wrong in light of modern science), how does he know the event is real?  Making miracles not only one-offs, but one-offs that can’t even be seen when they happen, puts the whole theological enterprise beyond the pale.  That means that there’s no way of knowing that miracles happened even if you were there.   This insulates all miracles from empirical demonstration, which of course means that we can no longer make people saints, and endeavor that depends on two verified miracles. 
Here’s another assertion by Shea in which he simply makes stuff up to save the central doctrine of Christianity:
Adam’s first sin was likewise probably invisible to the naked eye—the mere thought “No” directed at God or his own conscience would be sufficient. For all we know, it might literally have consisted of something as seemingly trivial as stealing a bit of fruit. But it was enough. It sent out shock waves in the heavens and down through human history. But the sciences can have nothing, yay or nay, to say about it.
The appropriate response is that of Delos McKown:  “The invisible and the nonexistent look very much alike.”

Finally, Shea touts the endless resourcefulness of Catholic theology:

Bottom line: There really are resources in the Catholic tradition for digesting this fascinating (but not, I think, anywhere near insuperable) challenge to the popular understanding of human origins and human sinfulness. The Church is in the very early stages of mulling over this matter and I am no prophet, but I suspect that, in a century or two, once the Church has finished puzzling out this matter, she will come down somewhere in the neighborhood of the territory Flynn (and others) are pioneering (though, of course, the science may be very different by then and scientists may, ahem, have come to incorporate or grasp insights to which it is presently blind due to its ignorance of St. Thomas and Catholic theology). Dr. Coyne’s approach is, alas, an example of that problem, but I will draw a discreet veil over that and simply point out that the rumors of the death of Catholic theology are greatly exaggerated.

Yes, we scientists (and rationalists) are severely disadvantaged in comparison to “Catholic tradition” and its theologians. We aren’t allowed to make up untestable stories to buttress our preconceptions, especially when they’re proven wrong.  There is nothing—no evidence in the world—that would make these folks finally admit that the Adam and Eve story and its tale of Original Sin, is a simple human fabrication.  They can always dig deeper into their goody bag of post hoc rationalizations.


  1. Rob
    Posted September 17, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    The comments after that Shea article are hilarious. You find Catholics reaming out Shea for not taking the Bible literally enough. So who has the real truth? Catholics who actually believe the bible, or Shea?

    The more I interact with this buffoonery, the more I realize all these guys have their own private religions, yet use the same label, rendering the label meaningless.

  2. Ye Olde Statistician
    Posted September 17, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Intelligent Design suggests that an Intelligent Designer exists, without making any claims about the nature of the Designer’s being

    The inherent problem with ID is that it starts from a false mechanistic model of nature shared by Paley, Behe, Dawkins, and others. The success of goal-oriented Science™ in creating mechanisms in the 19th century led to an enthusiasm for applying the mechanistic metaphor to everything. (Just as today we apply computer metaphors to everything.) Under this metaphor, matter is “dead” (has no inherent organizing principle) and must be “pushed” from outside (e.g., Newton’s requirement for God to keep the solar system from flying apart: the math was inherently chaotic.)

    The basic error was to get the metaphor reversed. Dawkins, Behe, and others like them believe that Nature is like a Machine, when it is really that a Machine is like Nature. Art(ifact) imitates Nature; but Nature does not imitate Art(ifact). An organism is not like a mousetrap, because the parts of a mousetrap have no inherent tendency to come together, whereas the parts of an organism grow out of the organism wholistically.

    Thus, ID theory is false on teleological grounds. If you don’t believe in teleology, then ID becomes more credible.

    (Note, however, that this does not mean there is no intelligent designer, only that there is no need for theokinetics. If as their scriptures say, God saw that the world was good, it must at least mean that the world needs no periodic maintenance. That is why Aquinas’ fifth argument proceeds from the existence of natural laws and not from supposed exceptions to them. Darwin’s laws would be regarded by Aquinas as another bit of empirical support to the “fifth way” argument.)

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 17, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      I think this thread has run its course. I’m not closing it, but please consider whether those of you posting 25 or 30 times here still have anything new to say.

    • Posted September 17, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      You do know that Richard and Jerry are friends and colleagues, and that Richard occasionally posts here, don’t you?

      And that your caricature of Richard’s explanation of Darwin’s great discoveries are so utterly bizarre as to be completely unrecognizable?

      What on Earth would compel you to so blatantly lie to Richard about Richard’s own opinion of Richard’s life’s work?


      Are you trying to completely and utterly impeach yourself as a witness and totally destroy the credibility of all Thomists by association? Becuase that’s exactly what you’re doing.



      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted September 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        The claim that Dawkins and Behe share ANY views on nature and evolution clearly shows that this person doesn’t know what he/she is talking about.

        I think it’s time for the Olde Statistician to hold his tongue on this thread; the post above is complete nonsense.

        By the way, I have a very good car, but it needs periodic maintenance. :-)

        • Michael Fugate
          Posted September 17, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          I am pretty sure that Mike Flynn and Ye Olde Statistician are one and the same. The O’Floinn probably is another name he uses.

          • articulett
            Posted September 17, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

            I agree with this; his posts on the Adam and Eve thread are word for word identical in points. But theists are known to plagiarize things that sound deep and true to them and try to pass it off as their own arguments– so who knows.

            Never underestimate the crazy that can come out of the mind of someone who imagines themselves “saved” for believing some very nutter things.

          • Drosera
            Posted September 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

            You are right. Just click on YOS’s avatar. You are then directed to a profile page for … Theofloinn. That name relates to the TOF Spot mentioned in Jerry’s post, and thus to Michael Flynn, apparently a writer of fantasy/sf novels.

            Isn’t it curious that a writer of such fiction is unable to recognise the Bible as just another fantasy novel?

            • Posted September 17, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

              It’s sheer cowardice that Flynn attacks me under his real name on his own site, and then comes over here under a pseudonym and says the same stuff. Ye Olde Statistician will be commenting here from now on under his own name, or he won’t be commenting here at all.

              • TOF
                Posted September 17, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

                That’ll teach him.

                What about the other folks here using non de plumes? Same rules?

                + + +

                The blog post did not attack you, but responded to the challenge that factual knowledge of genetics somehow disadvantages moral teachings. You were quite correct that modern genetics blows fundamentalist literalism out of the water. But it does not address Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic teachings.

                For a more scholarly take, consider:


                which was written well before your challenge, but which accords well with the intuitions outlined in the blog.

              • Michael Fugate
                Posted September 17, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

                …because nothing can challenge your teachings. Your god exists without evidence and acts without leaving traces. Genesis is a story about how some humans perceive the world – they realize they will die and this differentiates them from other living things as far as they know. They blame themselves – death is punishment for “bad” actions or thoughts. Just people trying to make sense of the world, but truth?, unlikely.

              • Posted September 17, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

                Michael Flynn aka Ye Olde Statistician aka Theofloinn akaTOF wrote:

                That’ll teach him.

                Apparently not.

                What about the other folks here using non de plumes? Same rules?

                I personally have no problem with pseudonymity, and I don’t think Jerry does, either.

                But sockpuppetry is another matter entirely, and your feet stink to high heaven, Michael Flynn.



              • WhiteHawk
                Posted September 18, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

                1) Flynn has been posting at this website for a while under “YOS,” long before he wrote at his little blog about A&E and long before Coyne even mentioned him. It makes little sense for him to change his name starting now, particularly when what he’s said here has been said under his “YOS” handle almost verbatim on quite a few other WEIT threads.

                2) If Flynn was trying to attack Coyne from the shadows of anonymity out of sheer cowardice, do you not think it highly probable that “YOS” would’ve at least attempted to preserve his anonymity? The YOS -> Flynn “discovery” was only two measly clicks away, which bespeaks no attempt whatsoever at a serious “sneaky attack from the shadows.” Hence, no cowardice.

                It’s blindingly obvious once you imagine yourselves in the shoes of a bitter, pusillanimous person wanting to launch an online attack with no personal repercussions. In fact, many of you probably don’t even have to imagine it.

                But so much for scientific thinking. Make way for hysterical emoting!

                3) The idea that someone of Flynn’s erudition is intimidated by Coyne and Co. and hence feels the need to resort to cowardice is too hilarious for words. That’s on par with saying that William Lane Craig is afraid to debate the existence of God with Richard Dawkins.

              • Posted September 18, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

                That’s a nice fantasy, WhiteHawk. Unfortunately, it has little to do with reality.

                Flynn has multiple sockpuppets, not just Ye Olde Statistician — and he appears to have created a brand-new one in response to Jerry’s public warning about his sockpuppetry.

                And it’s generally not cowardice that drives people to sockpuppetry, but rather a narcissistic desire to appear more popular than one really is — a description which would seem to fit Flynn to a “t.” It’s often associated with antisocial personality disorder, aka sociopathy…and Flynn has already demonstrated that he suffers from that condition. After all, he’s expressed his support of both ancient and modern child rape, of Torquemada, of the Church’s persecution of Galileo…really, he’s a textbook case.



        • Posted September 17, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          The best cars do!

          I drive a ’68 VW Camper that, of course, needs at least valves, timing, and carburetor adjusted every few thousand miles. (For me, that’s a couple times a year.)

          And I’m pretty sure all the Indy cars get a complete engine rebuild after a measly 500-mile race — and the top fuel dragsters get a rebuild after every quarter-mile run!



  3. Schleierman
    Posted September 17, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    >”The claim that Dawkins and Behe share ANY views on nature and evolution clearly shows that this person doesn’t know what he/she is talking about.”

    Well, I’m sure that they both believe in the existence of biomolecules…

  4. Drosera
    Posted September 18, 2011 at 2:15 am | Permalink

    As some Catholics here treat Aquinas as the fountain of all wisdom, here is a highly relevant citation from their idol:

    Now it is evident that in the opinion of philosophers, the active principle of generation is from the father, while the mother provides the matter. Therefore original sin, is contracted, not from the mother, but from the father: so that, accordingly, if Eve, and not Adam, had sinned, their children would not contract original sin: whereas, if Adam, and not Eve, had sinned, they would contract it.

    Yeah, this Aquinas had an amazing grasp of genetics. Did you hear that, ladies? You just provide the flesh to your children, the genes come from their father, and only from him.

    • Steersman
      Posted September 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      How does that square with the “mythology” of Eve being tempted by Satan – that snake in the grass – leading to expulsion from Eden? Isn’t that part of the deal why the Church has been so critical of women?

      Although consistency was never a strong suit for the religious … start by lying to oneself and it becomes very difficult to remember the details.

      • Drosera
        Posted September 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Half baked philosophy meets silly creation myth. A horrific hybrid results. Many centuries later, Michael Flynn and Edward Feser can’t stop gazing at the stillborn monster. “What a beautiful, wonderful baby,” they whisper.

        • Steersman
          Posted September 18, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

          Nice. I like it, J.B., I like it.

          Though the problem is, unfortunately, that the monster was not stillborn and sits there in the cradle waiting to devour the baby (and much else besides) – which seems, in my view, still to have some prospects – metaphorically speaking.

          Reminds me of a comment by a “Christian” minister, Gretta Vosper, who wrote a book titled “With or Without God” wherein she argues, among other points (I haven’t read it yet), for a “post-Christian church”:

          “Those who recognize the Bible’s claim to be the [literal] word of God as the monster in the tub with the baby are the ones who must throw that monster out with the bathwater” [MacLean’s, March 31, 2008].

          Absent turfing the monster, driving a stake through its heart? “What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born”.

          • Drosera
            Posted September 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

            Perhaps you’re right. Maybe the monster is still alive. Maybe that’s why Flynn and Feser are prodding it. It’s their hopeful monster.

      • Drosera
        Posted September 18, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

        As for your question,

        How does that square with the “mythology” of Eve being tempted by Satan – that snake in the grass – leading to expulsion from Eden?

        Well, you see, it’s all a metaphor. Your question simply betrays your literalist-fundamentalist mindset. There was no snake, no grass, no forbidden fruit. It was all inside Adam’s head. Adam simply wanted to test his free will. He reasoned that having free will only made sense if he could do something he was not supposed to do. So he said ‘No’ to his maker. That’s it. Isn’t it glaringly obvious? Or do you think that the Book of Genesis, this sophisticated ontology of the world, this glorious edifice, of which the narrative of the Fall is only a small but crucial part, could have been conjured up by ignorant priests who had to chase the goats out of their temple every morning? Really!

      • Brian
        Posted September 18, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

        Well, it’s clear that everyone here, including our blogger, know very little about historic and orthodox Christianity – Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Except for Mr. Flynn, though.

        Pretty ghastly guys.

        • Drosera
          Posted September 19, 2011 at 1:08 am | Permalink

          The sad thing is that Flynn not only knows this stuff but actually believes in it.

  5. Posted September 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    It was the Biblical prophets who said that Adam and Eve committed original sin. Who among us here does not know that Free Will is an illusion in our deterministic universe? Once more you are jumping the gun assuming… projecting onto me your own wishful desires for my ignorance. In order that your brilliance may upstage the conversation?
    I do appreciate your atttempts to teach me syllogisms…I first read The Dialogues when I was 14, when did you come accross them, earlier perhaps?
    I stand by my observations, that only when human nature has disappeared into its mathmetical equation,will man be able chuck out the myths. Until than you are Adam conditioned by desires exemplified in the myths…an apple is an apple is an apple?.

    • Posted September 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      I like how you criticize someone for trying to upstage a conversation with brilliance, and then you start up a pissing contest on who read The Dialogues at an earlier age.


    • Posted September 19, 2011 at 6:05 am | Permalink

      I stand by my observations, that only when human nature has disappeared into its mathmetical equation,will man be able chuck out the myths.

      So, until we all become like Spock, we’re best off believing in stories about enchanted gardens with talking animals and angry giants? And, once we all become like Spock, we won’t be able to enjoy a good ghost story any more?

      And this is a good thing? Or has any bearing on reality?


      Grow up.

      The problem with the Bible is twofold.

      First, it’s a bunch of faery tales that billions of people thing really happened.

      Second, it’s bad myth. It’s poorly-told promotions of truly horrific “morals.”

      Trying to salvage the Bible by going all Joseph Campbell on us just ain’t gonna work. Sorry.



      • Posted September 19, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        B & G. If Adam and Eve were a bad myth it would have been successfully dumped from the world’s literary scene long ago.

        And Why does it it make you so angry? It doesn’t deserve such personal frenzy. Its as if a young son were beating a dead donkey for dying on him.

        Its the literal interpretation from the religious right that scientists should be beating on..its’ danger to scientific education of our citizenry with its continual political parade of regrades. Not Those who interpret the myth as one of the historical records of man’s emotional experiences. We do no harm, speak no harm, see no harm.

        Why does a literary point of view hurt you so? Why does anger here appear as vitriolic as the loss of the donkey? Could it be becAUSE its not a donkey, but the beautiful, grand steed of your forefathers
        pur literal minded scientists have trashed? Read Spinoza… a calm and beautiful mind.

        C. Hitchens and Dawkins are great, but too arrogant to remember Socrates’ “All that I know is that I know nothing” Spinoza was a scholar and secular saint. Read him.After this, re-read Dawkins, forget Hitchens.

        • Posted September 19, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

          If Adam and Eve were a bad myth it would have been successfully dumped from the world’s literary scene long ago.


          Later in that same anthology, we get a talking plant that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero…so the verbose vegetable can later have an excuse to unleash a genocidal campaign of biowarfare that would have made even Hitler blush. And the grand finale is a zombie with a thing for having his guts groped who’ll torture the living shit out of every last person who fails to grope his guts in just the right way.

          Never underestimate the staying power of bad myth.

          And Why does it it make you so angry? It doesn’t deserve such personal frenzy.

          Oh, yes it does.

          That single story has been used to justify more misogyny than you can imagine. Countless women have needlessly suffered excruciating agony during childbirth because people pointed to that story and said to provide anesthesia would make the angry giant even angrier, and we can’t have that, now can we?

          Today, because Christians recognize that, if the story is bullshit then Jesus died for bullshit, we have an all-out assault on modern biology and science education being waged by Christians.

          [F]orget Hitchens.

          Though I disagree with him on a non-trivial number of points not related to religion, my only complaint with Hitchens’s analysis of the Bible is that he’s far too generous in his assessment of it. But that’s okay. I suspect he’d privately agree with me on that point, but observe that what he says about the Bible outrages enough people as it is, and it won’t be that much longer before the Overton Window has shifted enough to really cut loose.



  6. Posted September 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Vou are right to correct me here. Thank you Tim

    • Drosera
      Posted September 18, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      Turning the other cheek. How nice.

  7. Posted September 20, 2011 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    B&G still cannot escape from a literal level of understanding…and on that level a valid attack… on the old Testament’s fairy tale…a myth which contains psycyological or symbolic truths for those who score high on one area in the I.Q. scale.
    The rebel Jesus is too offensive, especially historically for the Jews with their own historical travails, to bear witness to psychological facts within the legend of his life. For the Greeks, they had no problem, it was familiar territory. Nor do We question the manes for our technology , Neptune, Amazon, zodiac,, etc.
    The historical Jesus was nailed to the cross because he was a dangerous rebel to the religious status quo… the letter of the Law killed the spirit of the Law. The literal mind is dangerous thing. Genius level can travel easily between the two opposites, however.
    . .
    Once any institution, especially in the field of religion, rewrites the inspired source and is re- interpreted by each generation, a mockery of the original action occurs.. Scholarship attempts unnravel the source.

    But why should you talented crew in Science not be educating instead of preening yourselves with your wit and self congratulations? For the furtherance of your convictions surely it is necessary to educate, and no depth learning can take place with scathing attacks or self congratulatory wit. Or is this remark too… cliched for the temper of the times?
    Until there is educating and leading in preference to adolescent competitive preening and cute derision, we in this particular boat will remain moving backwards…. What do you think the bird brain politicians are going to do with your ‘pure” science? and its step- child technology? Don’t care?
    with no Humanities?no perceptive rendering of the psychological myths to anchor competitive aggression and neurotic fears of the hoi polloi? what happens? Don’t care? Know what the average educational I.Q is in this country? Don’t Care?

    if your generation lives long enough, Norway will appear the heavenly archetype one is so eager to deride. The Scientific mind, whether pure or technical has to be a no sniggering leader in the widest sense of the concept..
    I am as old as dirt.. as the reader has no doubt guessed…no problem for me. But some of you may have children. .

    • Posted September 20, 2011 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      The historical Jesus was nailed to the cross because he was a dangerous rebel to the religious status quo…

      Okay. Hold it right there.

      You seem to be laboring under a misconception that Jesus was an actual, literal, real historical figure.

      Care to offer up even one example of a credible piece of positive evidence supporting such an assertion? Or to attempt to explain away the absence of evidence where such evidence literally must be found were the assertion true? (I refer, of course, to the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Pliny the Elder, Seneca, all sorts of Roman satirists, etc., etc., etc.)

      Once we’ve established that you’re dealing in reality, and not simple childish wishful thinking, then we can have a productive discussion. Until then, all your ravings amount to no more than somebody waxing poetic about the differences in leadership style between Captains Kirk and Picard. Entertaining, perhaps, but otherwise irrelevant.



      • Mary Angelica
        Posted January 31, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        Tacitus mentions the Christians as followers of Christ in his history, and describes Christ himself as a Judean killed under the rule of Pontius Pilate (Annals 15.44). Pliny the Younger mentions the persecution of Christians as followers of a certain “Christus” in his letter to the emperor Trajan, as well as describing certain early Christian practices as seen through a pagan lens (see letters 10.96-97… Pliny the Elder died in the eruption of Vesuvius). and Josephus mentions the death of Jesus ( see Book 18, Chapter 3, paragraphs 1-5). Does this help?

        • Posted January 31, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink


          Not a one of those men were even born until a couple decades or so until after the best guesstimate of the alleged dates of the supposed “facts.” Except for Pliny the Elder, of course, who — though he was fascinated with exactly the sort of topics the Gospels are devoted to — noticed nary a thing, even though he would have been about ten at the time and had his entire life to learn about it. And, for that matter, they all three describe the beliefs and antics of Christians, not the actual facts on the ground.

          In contrast, all the libraries worth of contemporary sources — and I do mean, quite literally, at least an ancient library’s worth — are perfectly silent on the entire matter.

          Might as well cite Matt Groening as “evidence” that Paul Bunyan was a real, honest-to-goodness historical figure.



  8. Johannes
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    The main objection that Professor Rosenhouse raises against Professor Feser’s interpretation, as stated in this post on his blog:

    is that it plainly disagrees with the account in Genesis 2: 4-8:

    This is the story of the heavens and the earth at their creation. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens—

    there was no field shrub on earth and no grass of the field had sprouted, for the LORD God had sent no rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the ground,

    but a stream was welling up out of the earth and watering all the surface of the ground—

    then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

    The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed.

    I will show that Professor Feser’s interpretation, or a modified version thereof, can perfectly agree with the Genesis account.

    I will use this notation:

    t-men = true men = theological men = metaphysical men = with an infused spiritual soul

    q-men = quasi men = without an infused spiritual soul

    where “men” above can be replaced by “women” or “people” as fit.

    We have two basic possible cases for the creation of Adam & Eve:

    1L. Spiritual-only Leap: they were biologically identical to the surrounding q-people, differing only by having been infused a spiritual soul.

    2L: Physical & Spiritual Leap: they underwent both a speciation event (DNA change) at conception (mainly affecting brain capabilities) AND the infusion of a spiritual soul.

    2L has a variation 2L+ involving more divine intervention, which was proposed by Drew in Professor Coyne’s blog on June 2, 2011 at 9:07 am:

    Now, even though Professor Rosenhouse may think that all human intellectual capabilities reside purely at the biological level, I assume he is kind enough to allow theists to posit that the highest of those capabilities derive from the operation of a spiritual soul.

    With that assumption, both basic possibilities for the creation of Adam & Eve perfectly agree with Genesis 2: 4-8, as q-people were just not intellectually able “to till the ground” by themselves. Which is plain obvious, since t-people actually started agriculture only 10,000 years ago. And it is also plain obvious that, from a metaphysical viewpoint, q-people, like chimps or gorillas, were just “dust of the ground”.

  9. Johannes
    Posted September 20, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Comment 2 of 2.

    The proposed “Catholic concordant conceptual framework” is as follows:

    Biblical Adam and Eve were created according to either case 1L or 2L (including 2L+), as mentioned above.

    Biblical Adam is Y-chromosomal Adam. Mitochondrial Eve could be either Biblical Eve or a matrilineal ancestor thereof, as explained below. (Clearly, in creation case 2L+ they are the same t-woman.)

    Adam and Eve themselves had intercourse only with each other.

    Starting with Adam’s children, or perhaps grandchildren, t-people, and specifically t-men, had to start dealing with q-people competing for the same land, and they took care of them in the only way worthy of modern humans: by killing them all, with the possible exception here and there of some young attractive q-females, which were spared to be used as “wives”, or more exactly sexual slaves. Hey, they looked as good as t-women but did not talk! What else could a hard-working, hard-fighting t-man ask for? Thus, the restriction is simply that t-men mated with q-women as extensively as needed to satisfy C3 above, but t-women never mated with q-men. (Clearly, in creation case 2L+ no interbreeding with q-people is necessary to satisfy C3.)

    Here an objection could be raised about why a similar degree of interbreeding did not occur with Neanderthals or Denisovans in Eurasia after the Out-of-Africa event. The answer is quite simple: as the Neanderthal and Denisovan lineage had diverged from the lineage leading to t-men around 800-600 KY ago, Neanderthal and Denisovan females, in contrast with q-women, looked really awful from the perspective of t-men, so that very few t-men had such a terribly bad taste or were in such dire sexual need as to take them as sexual slaves.

    Regarding the offspring resulting from t-men having intercourse with q-women, there are two possibilities that satisfy C2:

    I1: Interbreeding resulted in t-men who were reproductively viable. Either there was no female offspring, or that female offspring was sterile. In this case Biblical Eve is Mitochondrial Eve.

    I2: Interbreeding resulted in both t-men and t-women who were reproductively viable. In this case Mitochondrial Eve was the matrilineal MRCA of BOTH Biblical Eve AND all the q-women that t-men mated with.

    This framework clearly satisfies C1, C2 and C3 by design. Satisfaction of C1 implies satisfaction of C5, as, in St. Thomas Aquinas words, “original sin is transmitted to the children, not by the mother, but by the father.” C6, though a much more loose constraint than the others, is also satisfied. Whereby we can now focus on C4.

    Since we have already shown that this framework fully agrees with the account in Genesis 2: 4-8, we will now focus on another passage, Genesis 6: 1-4, where we add between parentheses the corresponding elements of this framework, to show their remarkable (and quite unexpected by this blogger) degree of concordance:

    When human beings (q-people) began to grow numerous on the earth and daughters (q-women) were born to them,

    the sons of God (t-men) saw how beautiful the daughters of human beings (q-women) were, and so they took for their wives whomever they pleased.

    Then the LORD said: My spirit shall not remain in human beings forever, because they are only flesh. Their days shall comprise one hundred and twenty years. (Therefore the interbreeding was against divine will, as would be expected.)

    The Nephilim appeared on earth in those days, as well as later, (could “later” refer to the much less frequent intercourse with Neanderthals and Denisovans after Out-of-Africa?) after the sons of God (t-men) had intercourse with the daughters of human beings (q-women), who bore them sons. They were the heroes of old, the men of renown. (this seems to imply that those “children” born by q-women were only male, which would support I1 above.)

  10. Posted September 20, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Goren, obviously you are lacking objective research in a subject matter that offends you personally more than it should. The image that comes across is not the scholar but the adolescent delight in the kill. the thrill to debunk, a kind of adolescent fixation that obstructs scholarship. …
    .Evidence? Are you sane? I wouldn’t take the time to caugh up the past research that separates the few historical facts from the maybe’s of the myths and legends. . Tons of the prophet’s past have been dug up. Chris Hitchens too doesn’t have a clue as to the identity of his enemy.

    Your kind will not be helpful in the campaign to keep the church out of politics. ..since your disposition although on the opposite end of the pole is on the same linear, literal one note level as the religious right.. As for the Jesus guy. Long ago left such emotinal hangups or fixations behind.. Advise yu to do the same. Go be a good scientist.

    • Posted September 20, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      Wait — you’re the one blathering on about the real-life antics of the Zombie of Zion as deduced from the (unidentified, as always) tons of evidence from his past, but I’m the one who’s being immature?

      Damn. They sure don’t make these irony meters the way they used to…anybody got a spare I can (ab)use?



  11. Lars
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Well in the rear, here, and I’m probably beating a dead horse, but this is the second time that I’ve seen Flynn attempt to correct an expert on the subject of that expert’s own competence – another example is at Richard Carrier’s blog

    I thought that YOS sounded familiar, but I had a Catholic education, and that tone of mild, gently-amused condescension and insufficiently-concealed disdain is one that most Catholic intellectuals use upon the paynim, and upon their own erring young (sorry, spawn), so I had plenty of opportunities to hear it as I grew up.

  12. Posted October 3, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    Fascinatingly wagon-circling mechanism on display in the comments above.

    Disclaimer #1: Readers will note that I post this under my name. If for some reason one should encounter posts on other fora attributed to James, James J., James Jerald, Jim, or Jerry Brannon yet originated by me, do me the courtesy of not venturing accusations of fraud, fakery, or sock-puppetry. Some people use more than one cognomen in real life. I also have the nicknames “Buddy” and “Crash”.

    Disclaimer #2: Although, I have periodically over the last ~15 years visited the Talk Origins Archive, PZ Myers’ Pharyngula, and this site, among others, I am acquainted with Michael F. Flynn and came to this discussion through his LiveJournal site via the The TOF spot. For those who are slow — such as people who cannot connect “Bob” with “Robert”, “Jack” with “Jonathan” or “Pete” with “Pedro” — “The O’Floinn” is the Gaelic equivalent of “The Flynn”.

    Disclaimer #3: I am an admitted pantheist, although I am not a Christian, having exited stage left more than half a lifetime ago.

    Disclaimer #4: I have some slight, passing exposure to evolutionary biology.

    I’d like to correct a misapprehension. I understood that the ETS removed analogies from the Verbal SAT due to to gender inequity in the sub-scores.

    However, it has become clear from reading these posted comments that analogic, metaphoric, and poetic comprehension are beyond most of the commentators.

    Certainly irony is.

    Could any of the other posters here have taken a moment to check on the dead-salmon reference before condemning it as a “myth” [misusing the term]? It was a fairly notorious incident and I believe I was the culprit… I mean, attentive science news reader… who first showed it to MF^2 — me culpa! — I should say Michael F. Flynn, since many of you seem to be baffled by a change of hair-do.

    The case should be cautionary tale for scientist in love with their conclusions and who confuse correlations with mechanisms.

    If one is to be be blamed for propagating that example here, let it be me.

    Of course, my college biology teacher may share some of the blame for honing a skepticism of experimental outcomes in this his humble student.

    [another short form of my name]

    • Posted October 4, 2011 at 3:43 am | Permalink

      Thanks for that cautionary homily, Jar Jar Binks.


      • Posted October 4, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        My, my, Ant Allan. How clever!

        You must be only the two-dozenth person to make that ad hominem riff on my name in response to one of my posted comments on some fora instead some adult, cogent reply to the substance of my remarks.

        So, to reiterate: is it a discourteous, close-minded, knee-jerk reaction to dismiss as “myth” [misusing that term] a reference to a widely-publicized scientific experiment rather than granting that the commentator mentioning it may actually know of what he spoke?

        Similarly, is it appropriate to suggest — on the basis of that same commentator identifying the source for that experiment upon request for someone too intellectually indolent to fact-check — that the OP must be unaware “what scientists do”, when it is readily apparent that the responder has no notion of what statisticians do in general or Mr. Flynn does in particular [as would be remedied had the posters been more diligent to check his undisguised profile]?

        Nothing in The O’Flainn’s comments strikes me that he does not know “what scientists do”. However, knowing Flynn and all the scientists he has/had as personal or professional acquaintances, the allegation strikes me as hilarious.

        My advice? To mine LMB: “Check your assumptions. In fact, check your assumptions at the door.”

        Also, regarding science and superstition, please enjoy the video attached to my profile.


        • Posted October 4, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

          It was, wasn’t it, sport? Not only was it a riff on your initials fit to your predilection for a variety of handles but it also alludes to how annoying you are.

          Yes, you have a valid point regarding the doubting of the salmon, but did you really have to make it with such a verbal effluvium rather than being short and to the point and thus deserving of a cogent reply?

          And have a care when you criticise others of the mote of misusing “myth” when there’s the beam of your misusing “ad hominem”: I was merely being facetiously insulting and not in any way trying to dispute your point about the doubting of the salmon thereby.

          You should, in any case, make your points directly in reply to satan augustine (who may in any case have been facetiously referring to one of the themes in the OP and comments) and ritebrother.


          PS. And it’s mea culpa. But we already know that Latin is not your strong suit.

          • Posted October 4, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

            Yes, you have a valid point regarding the doubting of the salmon, but did you really have to make it with such a verbal effluvium rather than being short and to the point and thus deserving of a cogent reply?

            Thank you, finally for the acknowledgment.

            Effluvium? I reject the opprobrium. Had to? To say what I cared to say rather than what you would choose to hear? Yes, in my judgment.

            Now am I to understand in your world, length rather than the quality of content, is the sole criterion for “deserving” the application of courtesy?

            And have a care when you criticise others of the mote of misusing “myth” when there’s the beam of your misusing “ad hominem”: I was merely being facetiously insulting and not in any way trying to dispute your point about the doubting of the salmon thereby.

            Please elucidate. Insult, facetious or otherwise, is “ad hominem” by definition. Such as your use of “effluvium”.

            You should, in any case, make your points directly in reply to satan augustine (who may in any case have been facetiously referring to one of the themes in the OP and comments) and ritebrother.

            Mayhaps. *If* I had witnessed anyone here, as a group, responding fairly to what Flynn wrote rather than to the baggage of presumption they themselves carried in with them or if either of those particular individuals seemed to demonstrate a sense of humor, which might be a lapse in my perceptiveness. This is why I add an emoticon — a smile or wink — to insure transmission of the proper tone.

            Mayhaps, too. *If* anyone here had displayed a grasp of the proper use of the term “myth”.

            PS. And it’s mea culpa. But we already know that Latin is not your strong suit.

            I concede that Latin is not my strong handkerchief, let alone my strong suit.

            However, unlike someone with a compulsive ad hominem ax to grind, I would have credited the elision as a simple “typo” rather than spin a supposition whole-cloth from the omission.

            I might even go as far as to allow that the person preparing the message — one admitting fault in a light-hearted, self-deprecating manner — may possess some physical impairment to one’s typing skill.

            Rather than that minor omission which I hadn’t noticed, why not tar and feather me for neglecting the “of” that should have nestled among “instead some adult, cogent reply”.

            There’s four salient points to my objection; you’ve acknowledged one.

            Aside from the accusatory Salmon of Doubt, there’s 2] the baseless allegation that Flynn does not understand “what scientists do”, apparently derived from him linking to the scientific poster of a scientific experiment critiquing, by a relevant scientist in his own field, on the flawed methodology of other scientific experiments; 3] that Flynn somehow committed fraud, fakery, or sock-puppetry by employing a previously-used handle — O noes! An alternative handle used on the Intertubes!!! — that directly linked to him [I don't see Flynn barring Coyne from Flynn's website even if Coyne were to use that "evolutionistrue" moniker. Crikeys! How would anyone figure that was Jerry?]; and 4] the astonishing notion that one must only lay upon the Procrustean bed of literally factual or false.

            I’m supposing, therefore, no one here’s ever read, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” and not concluded that the French Revolution never occurred because both clauses could not be simultaneously true.

            A man can truthfully say that his wife is the most beautiful woman in the world, without that statement being literally *factual*. Rebut him at your own risk. I favor my skin.

            See for the earliest publication of the Five Fundamentals.

            One — who is not a fundamentalist of the First Order [Inerrancy] — could see that it is fitting for a literally literary work to be both truthful without *necessarily* being factual in detail.

            To do otherwise is akin to judging a Renoir by burning the original in order to evaluate its worth by spectroscopy or judge the merits of the “William Tell Overture” by examination of its signal pattern via an oscilloscope.

            If one cannot concede that flaw in Dr. Coyne’s approach in the original essay, whatever else the merits, then I have nothing more to say here, because to accept such a stance is to adopt the very closed-mindedness I thought we deplored in Fundamental Creationists.

            We cannot afford to become Fundamental Evolutionists out to stifle courteous and considered dissent.


            • Posted October 5, 2011 at 3:22 am | Permalink

              Ooh, a point-by-point rebuttal… 

              1. Not length over quality, but concision. If you chose to wrap what you could have said simply in convoluted flapdoodle, more fool you.

              2. *Sigh* See, for example, “The Ad Hominem Fallacy Fallacy”.

              3. Mayhap. (And if you’re going to affect archaisms, do take the trouble to get them right. Although you might argue that it’s just another of your yptnig errors…)

              4. Well, of course it was a typo! (And how witty to deliberately misconstrue the sense of “suit”! What a card!)

              Your other points are better addressed by others here, I think, than me.


              • Posted October 5, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

                1. So?

                I was saying the other day that the OED fails miserably at concision. Rather intolerant of another’s style, aren’t you. As for “flapdoodle”, again with the ad hominem. See 2.

                2. No. Other sources — or — [for two] better address the notion that any argument intended to denigrate *irrelevantly* the value of the pertinent credentials of one’s opponent is ad hominem.

                Or that’s how my college logic & philosophy professor instructed us. Relevantly addressing the credentials of the opposition is permissible, however. Forex, constantly deriding the usage, word choice, or typing of another on an Internet forum is the hallmark of a posturing cyber-bully.

                3. Thanks for the tip. I’m always on the look-out for self-improvement. Pity us poor Yanks with our constantly evolving Americanglish. Why, speaking of the OED, who knows how this back-construction of “maybe” and “perhaps” might fare against the older “mayhap”. See

                4. I thought it was a worthy sally. Again, my gratitude for an attentive audience.

                Your other points are better addressed by others here, I think, than me. — Ant Allan

                I certainly hope so because your example of deliberate focus on the trivial rather than the substantial is exactly the sort of poor conduct against Flynn of which I was complaining and which, overall, devalues this website.


              • Posted October 5, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

                @ JJB

                1. Am I intolerant of another’s style? No. Openly critical? Yes. Especially when it obfuscates meaning. In my profession I write a lot for publication and I write well (in the opinion of my managers, peers, and clients). I also do peer review and do that well (as above). Many of my colleagues are cleverer than me but will sometimes bury that under tortuous and baffling prose. Am I making a personal attack when I tell them so? No. Nor here.

                2. I quite agree with both those articles you cite. Neither supports your position. Again, I was simply being facetiously insulting for its own sake because your original comment was annoying. I wasn’t taking issue with any of you points (not all of which I disagree with, in any case). I’m sorry if you feel bullied. I am in any case a precisionist (or overly pedantic, if you’re being critical). But my intent here was only to mock not to intimidate or impress.

                3. Mayhap “mayhaps” is gaining currency as others on the web affect an erroneous archaism. It’s still an affectation, however, and — here’s a tu quoque for you — that’s the hallmark of a poseur. 

                4. See? If we take heart, stop being stubbornly adamant, and club together, with a little spade-work we can build bridges.

                Well, I meant rather that it would be presumptuous of me to speak on behalf of those others (who all seem to have moved on happily from this thread). I was only ever criticising your style, but that, I thought, was not trivial (except perhaps in the sense that it pertained to grammar, rhetoric, and logic), as it was substantially detracting from your points.

                And that is all I have to say on the matter.


  13. Posted October 4, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Entirely on another topic, Dr. Coyne, considering the faculty size, while I realize there is a small but non-zero probability of occurrence, do you happen to be acquainted with Laurie Butler [Chemistry] or Michael Stein [Statistics] at University of Chicago?


  14. Posted October 5, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Using a plain text reading of the book of Genesis, Chapters 1 thru 5 are handed down by way of Noah & family (since they were the only survivors after the great flood). The Noah story is notoriously skimpy on details (especially compared with Exodus or later books in the Bible). Further, a plain text reading of the Bible also tells us that when humans were divided into different language groups at the fall of the tower of babel, there was much confusion among humanity.

    The Bible also strongly implies none of this got written down until Moses’ time (the first mention of any sort of written record is in Exodus).

    So basically the Bible is telling us Genesis chapts. 1 – 6 represent the story as Noah remembers it to the best of his understanding while chapts. 7 – 9 show he’s not that much of a detail oriented guy and chapt, 11 tells us information got garbled even worse.

    In other words, readers are being tipped that while the early Genesis stories represent some sort of truth, they may not be 100% accurate or factual.

    How can something but true but not factual? Same as saying George Washington was the father of his country. Yeah, he was, but not biologically.

  15. Posted January 26, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I find this debate so interesting – I spent so much time reading the comments!

4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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