Heffernan’s creationism: was it a scam?

Three days ago I highlighted an anti-evolution essay by Virginia Heffernan, a formerly popular journalist who is now a correspondent for Yahoo News. Her piece,  “Why I’m a creationist,” was a remarkably obtuse celebration of ignorance. In essence, Heffernan maintained that she was a creationist because the Bible told a better story than did Darwin, and that she found Darwin’s Origin unconvincing anyway because he adduced no facts to support his “hypothesis.”

Heffernan’s piece elicited a fair amount of outrage from  science-friendly people, including Carl Zimmer (read his Twitter battle with Heffernan) and Laura Helmuth, who wrote this in Slate:

As Carl Zimmer pointed out in an epic Twitter war with Heffernan, dismissing the evidence for evolution betrays a profound lack of curiosity. Their 140-character bits of back-and-forth show that she really does think of creationism and evolution merely as competing narratives: “What I believe is stories—hodgepodge of magic & facts—like what you believe. What I do is: aim to be kind.” (She apparently thought people who tweeted about evidence for evolution were being mean. Zimmer has devoted his career to telling excellent stories about evolution—stories that are true. He’s entitled to be incredulous.) Heffernan is simply wrong. There is no hodgepodge. Creationism and evolution aren’t equivalent stories to be believed or not. Creationism is magic and evolution is facts.

Now two people have suggested to me that Heffernan’s piece was not serious, and was intended only to shock. One Facebook friend wrote, “I think she’s tongue-in-cheek here. Virginia Heffernan is notorious for her subversive sense of humor.”

Was she pulling some kind of Sokal-style hoax?

Well, I pondered this possibility long and hard. After all, I went after her professed ignorance pretty strongly, and if it turned out to be some kind of hoax I was firing at a moving target.  But in the end I concluded that Heffernan wasn’t joking.

First of all, if she intended to show “subversive humor,” she failed. The piece isn’t funny at all. And even if you knew it was a scam, it’s still—unlike Sokal’s wonderful parody—not funny at all. Anybody could have written the kind of dopey-sheep defense of creationism that Heffernan did.

Second, there is no sign, as there was in Sokal’s piece, that Heffernan’s was a parody. It just evokes the tired, old creationist tropes: Darwin’s theory was only a “hypothesis”; he didn’t adduce any facts to support that theory, and that science sometimes reverses its conclusions and therefore can’t be trusted. (Remember, Sokal used real quotes from postmodernists to support his bogus article.) There is no creativity in her piece to suggest it was a parody of creationism.  If you’re writing a parody of something, its effectiveness depends on semi-savvy people being able to recognize it’s a parody.

Further, while Sokal’s piece was damaging to something that deserved damage—postmodern analysis that claims there is no such thing as objective truth—Heffernan’s damaged something worthwhile: scientific truth and the public understanding of science.  All her piece will do is give succor to creationists who will say, “See? A smart, Harvard-educated woman is on our side.” If Heffernan was having a joke on us, it was a mean-spirited and harmful joke.

Subversive humor? I don’t think so, and neither does Carl Zimmer.  Heffernan has simply made herself look like the “dopey sheep” she claims to be, and has damaged her scientific credibility enormously. Maybe in a few days she’ll realized that she screwed up, and announce that it was all a joke. But if so, it was a poor joke. And I wouldn’t believe her anyway.

The readers excoriated her, by the way. Here are just two comments from the first page:

Screen shot 2013-07-16 at 7.38.12 AMand

Screen shot 2013-07-16 at 7.37.59 AM

102 Comments

  1. Posted July 16, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Heffernan responded to my tweets with a lot of name-dropping references to philosophers like Rorty & Foucault, the implication being that science is just a story like any other story, with no special access to reality. So her glib style in her column is entirely consistent with her underlying view–it doesn’t matter what you think is true. So she’ll go with creationism, on aesthetic grounds.

    • jesperbothpedersen1
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      “So she’ll go with creationism, on aesthetic grounds.”

      It baffles the mind.

      • Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        If she’s going to choose her reality based on aesthetic grounds, why stop at the Bible? Why not go whole hog for some magical fairytale wonderland with sparkly rainbows and candy trees and a unicorn of her very own?

        The Biblical world, remember, is the place so corrupt that YHWH had to press the reset button (by drowning), and the new one was filled with Egyptian slavemasters so awful that YHWH had to unleash the Plagues upon them. And then those evil Jews and Romans conspired to torture YHWH’s son to death…and there’s all those murderous raping pillaging rampages Moses and his merry men went on…really, of all the fantasy lands one could choose to live in, the Bible has got to be just about the most miserable.

        b&

        • jesperbothpedersen1
          Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

          “of all the fantasy lands one could choose to live in, the Bible has got to be just about the most miserable.”

          Sometimes when religious people describe their love for gawd, I can’t help thinking it sounds like they’re suffering from a severe case of the Stockholm-syndrome.

          It almost has a mental masochistic vibe to it.

        • Timothy Hughbanks
          Posted July 16, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

          Why not go whole hog for some magical fairytale wonderland with sparkly rainbows and candy trees and a unicorn of her very own?

          Well, sure, you could go with that kind of theme (it’s just a story like any other story). But seriously, can’t you see how garish and obvious that would be. Thank God (or, like, whoever) you sciency types have a reputation for a lack of any aesthetic sensibilities and few people would choose your narrative – yuck.

          • Notagod
            Posted July 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

            The mystery of fantasy is overwhelmed by the astonishing and amazing beauty of reality. If you spend even a little time to learn about the processes that are applied naturally you won’t be disappointed, it is truly beyond the aesthetics that any human mind could conjure. The really cool thing is the deeper you go the better it gets and the more fluid it becomes.

            Put down your blocks and rattles, embrace your intelligence.

            • Timothy Hughbanks
              Posted July 16, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

              As a 58-year-old chemistry professor, I can say you’re, uh, “preaching to the choir.” 😄

              • Diane G.
                Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

                Timothy, I thought your parody was great. :)

    • Tulse
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Is she opposed to the germ theory of disease on aesthetic grounds? Does she think that prayer rather than antibiotics is a better story? Is “there are little people in my TV” a more satisfying account than electronics?

      Honestly, how can she even live in the modern world?

    • darrelle
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      “So she’ll go with creationism, on aesthetic grounds.”

      Even it that case, cheezzzus, she’s got bad taste. Just about any other mythology you could pick randomly out of a hat is better story telling than christian mythology. And compared to the stories of evolution? Garbage!

      Doesn’t she have a degree in literature or some closely related field?

      • Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        It’s all the good work of the modern world that makes that very easy for her. Her iPhone does magic stuff, and wow, she’s talking to someone on the other side of the world. To her that magic is indistinguishable from the magic that is a homoeopathic pill, or creationism. It’s a commitment to aesthetics – a fancy way of saying she falls for shallow appearances rather than substance, because it requires less thought.

        • Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          Oscar Wilde once said,

          “It is only shallow people who don’t judge on appearances.”

          • jesperbothpedersen1
            Posted July 16, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

            A decent basic level of personal hygiene is recommendable.

            After all, we are primates.

          • Posted July 16, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

            He said it through his character Dorian Gray. Now that was irony.

    • eric
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Her aestheics line up perfectly with the religious doctrine in which she was raised?

      What a remarkable coincidence!

      • Gabrielle Guichard
        Posted July 16, 2013 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        +

    • jwthomas
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if she realizes that she’s
      just buying into the Larry Summers theory that women just aren’t equipped to get their pretty little heads around all that science and math stuff. Summers was fired from Harvard for (among other things) that gaffe. Yahoo! will probably just commend her for the increased traffic.

  2. jesperbothpedersen1
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    “Further, while Sokal’s piece was damaging to something that deserved damage—postmodern analysis that claims there is no such thing as objective truth”

    Postmodernistic woo and religion is a match made in heaven.

    It’s an “all you can eat” smorgasbord of silly fantasies and hopeless ideas.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      Postmodernistic woo and religion is a match made in heaven.

      Mmmm, I don’t know. Post-modernism says every narriative is equally valid, but religion says that your narrative is the one true narrative and all the others are false.

      • gbjames
        Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

        According to post-modernism, both are correct.

        • jesperbothpedersen1
          Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

          According to postmodernism nothing is really true and everything is subjective.

          Reality be damned. :-)

          • Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

            Yes, but, in the world of mules, there are no rules.

            b&

            • Mark Joseph
              Posted July 16, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

              Ogden Nash sighting!

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 16, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

                My favourite Ogden Nash poem is The Cow: The cow is of the bovine ilk; One end is moo, the other, milk.

              • Posted July 16, 2013 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

                I was wondering if anybody was going to figure it out….

                If you like Nash’s poems, you’ll love Tony Plog‘s Animal Ditties. He’s composed a whole series of works for all sorts of settings for instruments and narrator.

                I studied with Tony for a semester at ASU while Hickman went on sabbatical. Awesome musician, great guy, and a good teacher. And probably my favorite living composer.

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Mark Joseph
            Posted July 16, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

            Nothing is really true and everything is subjective.

            Which, of course, is the most objective, absolute, statement imaginable.

      • darrelle
        Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        Post-modernism is a perfect fit for “spirituality” in general, and its ideas are certainly used by wooists of all sorts as justification / validation of their woo. Such as the liberal christians who think it is just great as long as you believe in some kind of supernatural woo kind of stuff. So sad for those who can’t bring themselves to believe in something.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

          It’s funny, when you put it like that it makes the assertion that atheists believe in “nothing” all that more ironic!

          • darrelle
            Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

            Yeh. And, damn, those meters are not cheap anymore either!

            • Kevin Alexander
              Posted July 16, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

              They are if you buy them by the dozen. I know, I go through a lot of them.

      • eric
        Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        And yet you hear creationists attacking secularism using postmodern arguments a lot (you have no objective knowledege! You have no objective morality! So you can’t claim we’re wrong!)

        I think they are a match made under the big tent. Right now, there’s a good fit because both oppose the idea of scientific preeminence in question about ‘how the world works.’ If the two sides were ever able to topple that, hovever (fat chance), the knives would come out.

  3. Posted July 16, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    If Heffernan is pranking the world, then her pranking skills are as miserable as the reasoning on display in the prank.

    About the only way to pull off something like that would have been to have ended the original piece with a one-liner about how stupid you’d have to be to buy into everything just written. I suppose you could do it with a follow-up a day later, but anything more than that and it’s a colossal failure.

    And making it all more emphatic with twit wars?

    No, I’m sorry. No matter how you slice it, Heffernan is an idiot, pure and simple.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      But…if she’s really committed to the prank, ie, not intending to give us any clues that she’s prancing us, then I think she’s actually rather good.

      Her eructations are indistinguishable from the things I hear on a regular basis working as an organist for a prog/lib congregation.

      So, either she’s sincere or her mimicry skills are really not too shabby.

      (That writ, it seems to me there’s something sincere about it all.)

      • Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

        why isn’t “pranking” in the iPhone dictionary?!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      Yes, either way she failed. If she is pranking the word, she’s doing it wrong because there was nothing fun in it and if she’s not well, we’ve already discussed that!

      I think the weirdest part in her Twitter war was when she called Carl Zimmer, “mean” for asking about her position. It was the weirdest response!

  4. gbjames
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    I’ve never understood why post-modernists arguing that there is nothing that is true and that all understanding is all subjective and self-generated think there is any reason at all to pay any attention to them. It is an inherently self-defeating perspective.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      I have tried to argue with them that my subjective opinion that they are idiots is equally valid as their subjective opinion but apparently only their subjective opinion is truly equal. It’s just special pleading, really.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      The only time I saw its validity was in discussing art itself and that’s really (thankfully) the only exposure I got to it and it was done to increase critical thinking. For instance, people may think a photograph is the truth but it isn’t because the photographer is showing you what he/she sees as truth. That doesn’t negate reportage etc. (there are rules with reportage) but it does make you question things appropriately.

      After reading all the evil postmodernism has done, man do I appreciate my professors from back in the day now!

      • darrelle
        Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        Just my opinion of course, but I think postmodernism wreaked as much havoc on the art world as it did in philosophy or any other field. Among other things, it is often used as an excuse to not have to have any actual skills at creating art. It is used to validate, no, to require, that concept is all that is needed, and all that matters.

        • Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

          Yep.

          • Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

            I should’ve added that another of its effects is to shelter even the concept from criticism. At least real criticism that does some real evaluation or makes an actual, informed judgement. Quite a lot of what gets written and transmitted about art pretends to be critical or analytical but in fact tap dances around saying anything concrete or useful, or making a commitment.

        • Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

          Agree. And it’s hidden behind a rope of money: why, if it isn’t serious true art (e.g., a pile of broken crockery heaped in a corner,= Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch”), why does this rope surround it??!!

          • Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

            You must’ve noticed yesterday’s Google doodle?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

          Agreed, but that wasn’t what I was saying either.

          • darrelle
            Posted July 16, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

            My comment was not intended to address yours, it was just instigated by your mentioning of art and postmodernism together.

            After reading through both again I can see how mine could be taken as a criticism of yours. Sorry! Wasn’t meant that way.

            To actually address your comment, if I understand what you are saying, I tend to agree. There is, as is so often the case, some good ideas / concepts in postmodernism, and I think they are useful in understanding art and especially human perception of art. Or anything that includes subjective valuations, which is quite a lot actually.

            But, as is also so often the case, postmodernism takes some good ideas / concepts and pushes them to such extremes that it looses any congruence with reality.

            If that seems to have missed the mark then I truly do not understand your comment. In that case, if you feel like it, could you try to clarify it for me?

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted July 16, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

              Yes no I realize you weren’t disagreeing per se just didn’t want anyone to get the impression that I was saying something else but we are on the same page.

        • Ken Phelps
          Posted July 16, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

          If you haven’t already read it, I would recommend Tom Wolfe’s “The Painted Word” for an entertaining perspective on this subject.

          • darrelle
            Posted July 16, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

            Thanks!

    • Tulse
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      post-modernists arguing that there is nothing that is true

      Ask them whether that claim itself is true or false, and watch them disappear in a puff of logic.

      • Andrew van der Merwe
        Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        My Religious Studies 101 prof once said there were no absolutes and in an unusually quick moment (for me) I asked if he was absolutely sure of that. He really struggled to regain his composure after that.

        • Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

          Similarly, to those who claim you can’t prove a negative, ask them if they can prove that.

          (In reality, nonexistence proofs are some of the oldest on record. See, for example, Euclid and the largest prime number.)

          Cheers,

          b&

        • Posted July 16, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

          Exception paradox

        • microraptor
          Posted July 16, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

          Reminds me of when I had a Psych 101 teacher who claimed that emotions were a conscious decision: you chose to get angry.

          I didn’t try to follow that claim to its logical conclusion, but I think the look on their face after I asked about it convinced the rest of the class what they were spouting (I butted heads with that professor for the whole term, then made a note to avoid taking anything from them ever again).

          • Andrew van der Merwe
            Posted July 16, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

            I had the same conflict! I just couldn’t buy it. Then, at some stage of my second year in Philosophy I learned that belief was the same: you don’t choose what you believe. I still have debates with people about that – especially psychologists. What is it about psychologists that they insist you can choose what you believe?! I always challenge them to look outside at the daylight and see if they can choose to believe it’s night but even that won’t move them. I can’t think what fundamental assumption has to be the hurdle there. Obviously one can choose what to explore, what to think through, who to trust, etc. but no way does anyone actually choose what you believe.

            • microraptor
              Posted July 16, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

              Yeah, the class was required at the school I was attending at the time but more or less completely useless due to everything in it being at best badly outdated (and at worst nothing more than whatever BS the teacher wanted to claim was true regardless of available proof).

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 16, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        ” . . . and watch them disappear in a puff of logic.”

        Love that!

        • Andrew van der Merwe
          Posted July 16, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

          Didn’t Douglas Adams say that? If I remember correctly, he has God disappearing in a puff of logic.

          • Diane G.
            Posted July 16, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

            Oh, yeah. No wonder it sounds so good. :D

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted July 16, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

              Enjoy the animation of this: http://hitchhikers.wikia.com/wiki/God

            • jesperbothpedersen1
              Posted July 16, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

              I thoroughly enjoy Urban Dictionarys definition of QED:

              “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
              “But,” say Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”
              “Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that” and promply vanishes in a puff of logic.” — Douglas Adams, from “A Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

              (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=qed)

      • microraptor
        Posted July 16, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        I thought you were supposed to get them to prove that black is white and watch them get killed at a zebra crossing.

    • Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Terry Eagleton (yes, that Terry Eagleton) on pomo:

      “For all its vaunted openness to the Other, postmodernism can be quite as exclusive and censorious as the orthodoxies it opposes. … It is a thoroughly orthodox heterodoxy, which like any imaginary form of identity needs its bogeymen and straw targets to stay in business. … It is animated by the critical spirit, but rarely brings it to bear upon its own propositions.”

      • Andrew van der Merwe
        Posted July 16, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        Mmm, that sounds like someone worth reading. I’ve always considered postmodernism quite alienating and anti-rational.

        • Posted July 16, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

          Yes, well, although he is an outspoken critic of pomo, Eagleton also wrote this.

          • Andrew van der Merwe
            Posted July 16, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

            Oh dear, heck, thank you, but I have to say I agree with him very much, only that I’d probably distinguish between what Dawkins actually understands and what he holds forth for the purposes of mockery. My only hesitation in confessing that is I don’t have time to engage. My pumpkin is about to turn into a magic chariot. Another time. Good night.

            • Posted July 16, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

              Eagleton’s review is textbook Courtier’s Reply.

              It doesn’t matter what the finer points of epistemological distinction between Aquinas and Duns Scotus are when demonstrating that the whole god concept is a delusion.

            • Andrew van der Merwe
              Posted July 17, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

              As I see it, the Courtier’s Reply is a witty piece of rhetoric, pretty much like this Douglas Adams “puff of logic” story. It’s really funny and disarming and provokes some thought but can’t be taken seriously in itself. Douglas Adams had the sense to end his story by sabotaging it with the bit about the zebra crossing but lesser minds tend to take it too seriously and leave off the tail the way that animation does which Diana mentioned (http://hitchhikers.wikia.com/wiki/God). I see it as a joke, and jokes shouldn’t be taken literally. The lesson of a joke lies not in its logic but in the logic it flouts.

              I still have thinking and reading to do but currently the reasons I don’t take the Courtier’s Reply seriously are:

              1. It’s not taken seriously by people who use it. They still engage in a lot of theological critique, a lot of Bible referencing and interpretation themselves and usually it’s extremely poor. It stikes me as like killing the gecko’s tail.

              2. To debunk God you first have to have some idea of what God might be and that is a theological question. Do you really think its adequate to come with such childish theological ideas of God as an Uber-Thor or somehow like Father Christmas or a ghost or a teapot in space? When you do that you’re just going to get John Lennox saying, as he did to Dawkins, “I don’t believe in the God you don’t believe in.”

              3. Not being taken seriously by its own proponents is the least of it. The huffing and puffing away of God depends on a lot of theological detail. It may not be the key but it certainly comprises the bulk by volume. This includes attempts to show that the idea of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God is absurd and attempts to show that the details of theology are absurd or bad and even that God is bad. All of that involves theology as well as other stuff like hermeneutics and exegesis and always it is done very badly and unawares (essential for something that would otherwise give you the creeps) and I’m inclined to throw the Courtier’s Reply right back at it. If God doesn’t exist, why bother either way with the details of theology? But I’m not doing that because the reason they bother with the details of theology is that it’s the basis for the best arguments they have against God. The infinite regress argument is dumb and the teapot-in-space argument is philosophically disingenuous. I’d rather just laugh along with the Courtier’s Reply but properly entertain myself with the more interesting arguments.

              These are my own half-baked thoughts on the matter. Feel free to sharpen your claws on them.

              • Posted July 17, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

                When you rip apart a theist’s argument or simply dismiss it as bullshit, the theist is likely to respond that you need to, essentially, get an advanced degree in some obscure form of theology to truly appreciate why the theological position is sound.

                The theist will invariably do so rather than actually attempt to offer any actual substantive rebuttal. Indeed, it is almost always the case the case that the theist himself is no more of an expert on the matter than the atheist, and that the “sophisticated” theologians offered up are as laughably unsophisticated as any other form of bullshit.

                What the Courtier’s Reply says is that there’s no point in dignifying bullshit. Everything in theology starts with the premise that there are one or more gods not bound by logic nor natural law; that’s the whole point, that the gods can do the impossible. They are married bachelors living death north of the North Pole. And, so long as theists want to insist that they have such imaginary friends and that they’re really real, there’s nothing there worthy of respect.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted July 17, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

                Particularly absurd is this sort of comment from a believer to an atheist: “I don’t believe in the God you don’t believe in.”

                The absurdity is self evident. The dodge is pathetic.

              • Posted July 17, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                I assume you’re reserving judgement on the existence of Santa Claus until you’ve exhaustively studied St. Nicholas of Myra, Sinterklaas, Pere Noël, Belsnickel, the Tomte, etc, etc, etc.

                Are you also reserving judgement on other religious traditions until acquiring a full expertise in them? For instance Hinduism and its pantheon, among hundreds of others? See in several decades!

                Your second point is almost a good one. I’d reformulate it to say we atheists don’t have to take any god proposition seriously until the god, what it is, how and where it exists, and how it interacts with the physical realm is clearly defined or described. Most religions today don’t (can’t) do this. Some religions (ususlly in the past) did this, and invariably the god was shown to be non existent: we now know what causes rain, earthquakes, thunder, etc. Until we can find it and test it, it doesn’t exist.

  5. Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    I think she forgot to mention that she also found the Bible story to be more entertaining because her Bible had pictures in it.
    Not sure how can someone call herself a journalist after choosing the concept that’s aesthetically pleasing rather the concept supported by facts.

    • Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      We await your list of 10 regarding Heffernan’s sophisticated thinking, or some such…. :-)

      • Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        I’m not going to dignify someone’s very unoriginal opinion on Yahoo News with a list of 10. :) :)

    • truthspeaker
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately she fits right in with modern American journalism. It’s not about facts, it’s about what people say.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

        Yes, and all opinions have the same weight. Awful.

  6. Richard Olson
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Sub

  7. Kevin Alexander
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    I’m still calling Templeton bait. She only needs to score one of those and Bob’s her uncle.

    • Posted July 16, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      A very likely possibility.

    • AK
      Posted July 17, 2013 at 5:34 am | Permalink

      I wonder whether that would work out. Her piece is a bit too shallow for a Templeton fellowship, don’t you think?

  8. Posted July 16, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Having followed the twitter discussion in real time, I agree with Carl Zimmer, who did an excellent job of respectfully drawing Heffernan out and exposing how shallow both her understanding of evolution is and her understanding of how evolution and other explanations of the physical world based on the scientific method have benefitted her and the rest of us. She certainly has much less concern with the practicalities of reality than I do, whether she thinks “reality” is real or not. She is yet another person who hypocritically benefits from all the medical and technological advances we enjoy while blithely dismissing the science behind them as just another story. For me, the best explanations of why, joke or not, publishing this essay at such a widely read site demonstrates, at the least, a willful disregard for the implications of creationism and anti-science in general in the U.S., came from Zimmer (at the link “incredulous” above) and Tom Levenson (@TomLevenson), in his tweets (sorry, Prof. Coyne). I hope Levenson will put these together in an essay. Meanwhile, although it’s cumbersome, you can find them in his twitter feed starting with his tweet addressing @page88 (Heffernan) on July 11.

  9. Greg Esres
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    If the piece was parody, Roger Ebert did something similar a few years ago, and it fell equally flat. He claimed it was because we as a society no longer understand irony.

    • microraptor
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      First rule of humor: if you have to explain the joke to the audience, the joke sucked.

      • Greg Esres
        Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        Yeah, Ed Brayton has this under his “about” heading on his blog:

        After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head…

        To me, that says Ed wasn’t a very good comedian rather than Ed is really smart.

    • anthrosciguy
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      And Ebert was a damned good writer, yet he really missed the mark on that one.

  10. Andrew van der Merwe
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I think you’re spot-on about this. There is no way it meets the standard of a parody. Even if she was attempting a parody, she’s revealing a very poor understanding.

  11. Brad
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Whatever the case, Heffernan draws attention to the inherent developmental difficulty in moving from a creationist view of reality to a scientific one. By moving backwards into a creationist view of reality with such glib ease(as if it were a matter of simple preference) Heffernan illustrates the exact kind of fickle, team-changing capability that the creationist mind is incapable of.

  12. Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I wonder if she was asked to report on the Zimmerman trial if she would’ve written an article about how he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison “because that’s a better story, so she chooses to believe it.”

  13. Pliny the in Between
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I wonder how much of this New Agey disregard for evidence-based thinking is just plain laziness. After all, if reality is just one set of interpretations then why bother to learn anything? Laziness and marketing – facts are not important only the messaging.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Come on now. It does take some effort to make shit up.

      Of course in general the better the shit the more effort it takes. Most New Agey shit is pretty bad, so yah, probably not much effort put into it.

    • Posted July 16, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Oh, it has laziness written all over it. I agree.

  14. Latverian Diplomat
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    It seems possible that Heffernan was originally in earnest, but is resorting to the “just kidding” method of saving face.

    • Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Hmmmmm…..kind of like describing your boat, now completely submerged, as “actually, a kind of anchor…”

    • Posted July 16, 2013 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      So far she’s not resorting to anything.

      Until she herself tells us it was all a joke/hoax, there’s little point, IMHO, to just ASSUME she meant it as a joke, especially since there’s little to justify such an assumption.

  15. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    and that science sometimes reverses its conclusions and therefore can’t be trusted.

    With that kind of thinking you can’t trust anything technological or economical.

    Science is a method, a tool. Like how we build houses. When we have to fix a leaky roof, or build in new areas and discover that we need quake-proof houses, we don’t say “we can’t trust house building”. We say “we know more than before”.

    Compare with the air castles of religion. They are presumed perfect houses from the start. But in reality no one can use them.

  16. Suri
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Even by creationist standards it was pretty bad .

    I guess the person who payed for her education is really proud right now.

  17. Zane
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Postmodernism is surely one of the worst things to have happened in the recent history of critical thought. Convoluted, incoherent, pseudo-scientific ramblings masquerading as insight and discovery. Relative to such towering feats of intellectual masturbation, I consider Peter Medawar’s statement that some people “have been educated beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought” quite apt.

    Check this out: http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/
    Every time you refresh is produces a completely new postmodern essay.

  18. Gordon
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I still go with the theory that it is all about self-publicity and starting a s*** storm is the best way to achieve this.

  19. Gabrielle Guichard
    Posted July 16, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    When I asked my students to write a parody I insisted that a good parody is better than its model. Heffernan failed.

  20. Posted July 17, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I find that thinking that someone “really couldn’t be that stupid” is just a hopeful delusion. Of course people are that stupid, we see it every day.

    Doing a Poe to be “humorous” has always struck me as amazingly dumb. If you do it right, no one gets it. If you do it wrong, you are just seen as a particularly stupid specimen of the thing you supposedly are trying to spoof.

  21. Jim Thomerson
    Posted July 17, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Years ago I read”Your Erronious Zones”. I didn’t read it for a long time because I thought it was about erogenous zones, and I felt no nead to read it. The book is by someone you have heard of whose name I don’t recall.

    It presented the idea that you make your own emotions in response to stimuli. Saying, for example “Susie makes me so mad!” is incorrect; rather, “I respond to Susie by becoming mad.” is correct. I found this point of view quite useful. It is amusing to watch the reaction of someone trying to make me feel angry, sad, or guilty without success.

  22. krzysztof1
    Posted July 17, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    All the comments about postmodernism cause me to mention that the first book to open my eyes about that whole scene is Levitt and Gross’s _Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science_.

    The book has been out almost twenty years, and it is surprising to me that we don’t seem to have moved yet into any “post-postmodern” era. I strongly recommend this book, if you have not read it. The authors pull no punches.

    • Posted July 18, 2013 at 4:59 am | Permalink

      It seems to me we might never move into a “post-postmodern” era (despite interested parties claiming the advent of new philosophies).

      As science continues to refine itself into ever more, and ever more esoteric, specialty fields, it’s going to leave a lot of would-be intellectuals in the dust. They will probably always take refuge in something like postmodernism.


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