Does evolution promote bullying?

This letter to the editor, which originally appeared on Twi**er, has been the subject of discussion on reddit, where it’s claimed that the paper is The Lake City Reporter in Florida.  I can’t vouch 100% for its authenticity, but I provisionally judge it as real. For one thing, there’s a “Kenny Merriken” who has a YouTube channel with three hyper-religious videos, including “Messiah loves homosexuals” (have a gander at that one!).

Antievolution letter

There’s two types of Darwinian bullying here: social Darwinism, in which stronger kids are supposedly empowered by evolution to beat up the weaker, and secular bullying, i.e. the removal of the Bible from public school classrooms. Merriken is apparently unaware that the latter “secular bullying” is mandated by the Constitution and settled law.

The whole letter is pretty incoherent, but I suppose small-town papers have to publish every bit of nonsense that comes in as a letter. After all, there’s no downside to publishing nonsense like this.

What I’m learning from the publication of letters like this—and they appear in more respectable papers as well—is that editors feel no responsibility at all to vet letters for outright misrepresentations and lies.

h/t: Barry

40 Comments

  1. Alex Shuffell
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Mr Merriken brings up an interesting point. If someone is bullying you you should kill them, kill them with bears or chop their heads off.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted November 29, 2013 at 4:28 am | Permalink

      This is irrefutable. WWYD?!

  2. Posted November 28, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Even if this bizarre claim would be true, it does not affect whether evolution is true or not. For example if we would follow this logic smoking might not exist because it’s bad for one’s health. I don’t think I need to elaborate how absurd such thinking is.

    • Matt G
      Posted November 28, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      Appeal to Consequences.

    • Sastra
      Posted November 28, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      If we teach the Theory of Gravity — which, in a nutshell, could be summarized as “what goes up must come down” — then we are encouraging the bullying of those who have achieved by those who haven’t (not to mention the tall by the short.) Children who didn’t do so well on their tests will now be justified in throwing their classmates with higher grades out of windows.

      Who can stop them, or argue that it’s “wrong?” After all, we’re talking about a Law of Nature here. Down they must go.

      Gee, maybe we need to put in a Lawgiver — so that students can be taught there are also such things as stairs. Remember those? Scientism and the Theory of Gravity will tell them there isn’t — and the bullies benefit. Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe in merit.

      Hey, maybe I’m ready to do a Letter to the Editor!

      • Matt G
        Posted November 28, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        Or rather: What goes away without escape velocity must come back.

    • Posted November 29, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Presumably the idea (however repellent) is that if it has “bad consequences for the kids” it shouldn’t be taught. See the stuff about “evolution teaches” – which are wrong assertions but the language used is interesting, in a psychosociological way.

  3. Richard Olson
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

  4. Posted November 28, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Wait a moment…Mr. Merriken has a problem with bullies…so he turns to YHWH and Jesus?

    What the fuck?

    Does the dude not realize that those two are perhaps the worst bullies of all the gods in all the ancient pantheons?

    Hell, his own happy happy burn-the-gays singalong is nothing but an exercise in taking orgasmic delight at the way that Jesus bullies homosexuals in the most extreme manner imaginable.

    The cognitive dissonance in this one is practically a physical presence….

    b&

  5. johnjacoblyons
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    The phrase “survival of the fittest” has a lot to answer for. The word ‘fittest’ has a particular meaning when you’re talking about evolution and it is different from the everyday meaning of the word. When talking about evolution, it doesn’t mean ‘strongest’; it does means ‘best suited to the environment and circumstances in order to survive to adulthood and procreate’. When this is understood, it is obviously inappropriate to give the bully in the school-playground as an example of the ‘survival of the fittest’.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted November 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Unless his/her bullying lands him a suitable girl/boy who likes bad boys/girls and they stay together to adulthood where they have lots of kids who then bullies their way to more future mates.

      Bullying is a vicious circle.

      • johnjacoblyons
        Posted November 28, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        Yes, you can make up a story in which bullying is adaptive. However, if this were generally true, we would all be bullies. It evidently isn’t generally true and therefore playground bullying can’t be justified by Darwinian evolution.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted November 28, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

          Tongue in cheek. :-)

    • Old Rasputin
      Posted November 28, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      Yep. “Does not evolution teach ‘survival of the fittest’?”” should read, “does not evolution define the fittest as those who survive?” Still not quite true, but closer.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted November 28, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

        The fittest genes are those that replicate best, our phenotypical conceit notwithstanding. That’s what Dawkins made clear.

        • Posted November 28, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

          “Replicate best” makes it seem like the most prolific breeders are the fittest, which often leads to all sorts of problems, including overpopulation, the inability to form stable societies in which rape is common, males impregnating lots of females but not doing anything to help raise the offspring to adulthood, and so on.

          Rather, the proper perspective is to understand that the fittest are those with the most great-great-grea-great…-great-grandchildren. When you bring deep time into the equation, it becomes immediately apparent that no short-term strategy to increase fitness has any real significance if it results in the end of that line after only a few — or even a few hundred — generations.

          Thus, the most ultimately fittest organism ever in the history of the Earth was the Last Universal Common Ancestor, a very simple single-celled microorganism that died a few billion years ago. At least a few of its genes survive to this very day in you and me and in banana slugs and redwood trees and jellyfish and everything else alive today or at any time in the past.

          Similarly, the fittest mammals are not humans, but rather the shrew-like ancestor of all mammals that died some hundred billion years ago, but not before giving birth to children who would give birth to children whose descendants include you, me, and every cat, horse, whale, platypus, and the rest.

          It is unlikely in the extreme that even a single gene from a schoolyard bully — or any other human, for that matter — will still be present in descendants billions of years from now…though it’s almost guaranteed that a great multitude of other descendants from that ancient Last Ancestor will still be thriving somewhere on this planet up until the time four or five billion years hence when the Sun swallows the Earth.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted November 28, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

            hear, hear…

            except I was dismayed to find out that the Earth will be toast long before the sun swallows the earth… or at least so I read recently (about solar models). I think all the moisture/atmosphere gets space-i-fried as the solar output goes up in about a billion years, leaving a lifeless hunk of rock.

            I felt like I was robbed of a handful of billions of years when I read that. (WHAT? only a billion-and-a-half years tops for more complicated life forms to play around in?) Going to have to make different plans, now.

  6. Stephen Barnard
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I can’t even stand to read this ridiculous bullshit.

  7. Posted November 28, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    One holiday, two turkeys (the other one’s in the oven).

  8. Mattapult
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    So if God is looking over the shoulder of the bullies, and they “may” get their comeuppance, then God must see their actions and do nothing. That must mean God doesn’t care about the victims, or maybe is powerless to stop it, or maybe he approves of it. Or maybe he directed the bully as he often did in the bible. I think I learned something, thanks for the theology lesson Mr. Merriken.

  9. Posted November 28, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Maybe Merriken’s god is too busy stamping out bullies far, far away in a distant galaxy to be concerned with what happens here.

  10. Posted November 28, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    LOL! Malthus was a Christian clergyman, no? :-)

  11. k_machine
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    For those that missed it, the 42 “bullying” children that taunted Elisha was killed by a bear summoned by god in retaliation. I guess child murder is okay but not taunting. Heil Jesus I guess

  12. marcusa1971
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I can’t believe this guy used the despicable story about Elisha to defend his religion. Kudos to him for taking “the road less travelled.”

  13. ladyatheist
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Leaving aside the fact that tiny mammals survived global climate change while gigantic dinosaurs went extinct, even if the “strong” do pick on the weak as an evolutionary tactic, would that mean that teaching the truth about evolution promotes bullying? If you teach the truth about the Crusades would that promote Christian bullying? sheesh These people are so stupid.

  14. marcusa1971
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Just washed the video. I need to take a couple of showers now, but does anyone know how to scrub the filth from the insides, because that stuff has seeped in through the pores.
    Interesting that he didn’t mention the bit about Lot offering up his daughters to the rape mob in place of his “guests.” I wonder why christians never mention that part of the story?

    • jeffery
      Posted November 28, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      I think the proper phrase, after reading a letter like this, is, “I just threw up a little bit in my mouth”…

  15. Jerry Newingham
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    RE: “…misrepresentations and lies.”

    I thought misrepresentations and lies has always been the stock and trade of religious believers.

    Has something changed? Did I miss something?

  16. Posted November 28, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on hitchens67 Atheism WOW!! Campaign.

  17. ladyatheist
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Is this a variant of the naturalistic fallacy? That because something happens (-ed) in nature it should be promoted? Because we used to live in caves and crap in the woods, too, and teaching that to kids doesn’t make them want to go do that (usually)

  18. Latverian Diplomat
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    I think the Jessica Ahlquist case (and many similar cases) illustrates the fact that religion is second to none in sanctioning and generating bullying at school and in the wider community.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted November 29, 2013 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      I was thinking about how I might respond with my own letter to the editor. I think you’re on the right track. Instead of getting mired in a theological debate, just emphasize bullying done in the name of religion.

  19. Matt G
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    So funny how they quote Chapter and Verse as though they were citing references. Like kids dressing up in their parents clothes – they sort of know how to do it, but aren’t really sure what it’s all about.

  20. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 29, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Evolution is no friend Kenny. He seems to have inherited a propensity for incoherency and a love of the supernatural. An annoying combination.

  21. Posted November 29, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Merriken has become a familiar face at Columbia County School Board meetings for about a year now. He doesn’t miss a meeting where he uses the citizen comment period to rant against the teaching of evolution. He takes out ads in the local paper all the time and writes endless letters to the editor. He’s a determined guy. There was even an article about him that showed him in a one man protest, complete with sign, in front of the building where school board meetings are held. He used to send frequent emails to us at Florida Citizens for Science and the folks at NCSE demanding someone debate him. We ignored him.

  22. paxton
    Posted December 1, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Merriken forgot to mention that the “bullies” Of Elisha were “little children” and that Elisha “cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.”

    But more to the point, bullying over access to food and mates, which is common in many species, must certainly be an evolved behavior. It’s important to remember that evolution by natural selection explains who we are, not who we think we should be. Culture has evolved partly as a means of curbing our natural (evolved) tendencies.

  23. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Goliath “could dunk a basketball standing flat-footed in his bare feet”.

    Is there Biblical authority for that? Who did he play for?

    Inquiring minds want to know…


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