Coyne vs Palin. A knockout in round 1.

by Matthew Cobb

The media brouhaha around the publication of Sarah Palin’s new book has spread round the world, even if the BBC reporter this morning had to admit that the only real sign of public fervour at one signing was two teenagers who sat it out, alone, outside a mall bookshop overnight.

Palin is not only a figurehead for the most conservative sections of US opinion, she has now come out as a creationist. However, like many creationists, she claims to accept the existence of “microevolution”. The real issue, she claims, is that one species cannot split into two, or give rise to another species. God alone can do that.

Here’s her argument in all its glory:

“I believed in the evidence for microevolution—that geologic and species change occurs incrementally over time, (…) But I didn’t believe in the theory that human beings—thinking, loving beings—originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about not through a random process, but were created by God.”

Leaving aside the tiresome misinterpretation that natural selection is “random” (where has any evolutionist said this?), this needs some robust rebuttal, which was provided by Jerry Coyne, in an e-mail published over at The Daily Beast:

“University of Chicago ecology and evolution professor at Jerry Coyne calls the passage in Palin’s book a “typical creationist ploy” easily refuted by fossil evidence suggesting transitions between animals as fish and amphibians or land animals and whales. “Her stand is basically a biblically oriented stand…that has no basis in fact,” Coyne told The Daily Beast in an e-mail. “It is a ridiculous ploy of the ‘duck kind,’ i.e. a canard.”

‘Nuff said.


  1. newenglandbob
    Posted November 19, 2009 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    I still say that Sarah Palin does not exist. She is a figment of Rush Limbaugh’s tiny imagination.

  2. Posted November 19, 2009 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    But you know, her view is just like so profound and reverential.

    None of that boring evidence, which lacks the depth of meeting the world with an ignorant gape.

    Glen Davidson

  3. Barry
    Posted November 19, 2009 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Yes, her created stuff is silly alright. But can she get a job created for me? If so, I’ll vote for her.

    • Jim H
      Posted November 20, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      Would you be willing to relocate to Guantanamo to become a practicioner of “enhanced interrogation”?

  4. Posted November 19, 2009 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    I really liked Stephen Colbert’s review.

  5. Occam
    Posted November 20, 2009 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    The key fact about Sarah Palin: she is a cloudland reactionary, not a conservative. She wishes to turn the clock back to a world-state that never was. Utterly unfettered by bothersome facts and unpalatable reality. This is what makes her so dangerous.
    In a cruel twist, Sarah Palin has become, in politics, the closest likeness of the liberal children’s anti-authoritarian heroine, Pippi Longstocking:

    Pippi’s world is fun

    Diddle Diddle di

    She makes kids happy

    Her make-believe may stun 

    Diddle de

    The grownups here in town

    Stunning make-believe, for those segments of the nation that refuse to grow up. The essence of Sarah Palin.
    As our man said: ‘Nuff said.

  6. scott
    Posted November 20, 2009 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    would you PLEASE stop referring to us as “evolutionists” as in:

    (where has any evolutionist said this?)

    it will do just fine to say “scientist”.

    Evolution is not some special belief distinct from a way of describing reality known as “science”.

    The only people who use “evolutionist” are “creationists” … if you are not a “creationist” the proper way to refer to your “world view” is “scientific”. Not Darwinian, not Evolutionist, just “science”.

    Please … stop … aiding … ray … comfort … and the wackadoodles who buy text books in Texas.

    • Matthew Cobb
      Posted November 20, 2009 at 2:43 am | Permalink

      Mea culpa


    • Eric MacDonald
      Posted November 20, 2009 at 6:42 am | Permalink

      Not quite true. Richard Dawkins often refers to himself as an evolutionist.

      • scott
        Posted November 20, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        and he should stop it TOO.

        Please. People, read the wedge strategy document, that is what we are talking about, not biology.

        We are in a discussion of world views … one world view is science, the other is religion. JAC is a public intellectual advocating that position, evolution is just one important part in this discussion.

        When you talk about evolution it is much stronger to express it as an assumed part of the way of knowing things called science. Yes, it may be fine to use Darwinist, Evolutionist from time to time, but the work ahead of us, the active face is to continually force men like Miller and Collins to pick … science or religion?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted November 20, 2009 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      Why, exactly, does this aid Ray Comfort? By “evoutionist,” I always mean “evolutionary biologist,” not “someone who accepts evolution.”

      • Sigmund
        Posted November 20, 2009 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        I don’t have much of a problem with the term ‘evolutionist’ – its “Darwinist” that seems somewhat out of place. To me this is a bit like a modern physicist calling themself a “Newtonist” or even an “Einsteinist”.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted November 20, 2009 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        [I’m not sure this will appear at the correct level of the subthread – for some reason the script doesn’t place a “Reply” link for me in such context.]

        Sigmund, I see what you mean with not much of a problem. But the argument could be that “gravitationist” or “general relativist” seems out of place as well. 😮

        If “scientist” or “scientific” is too specific, “biologist” or “biology” would apply. I don’t see why you would want to single out specific facts and theories from science or a science.

        Even basic ones, it would be like calling a physicist “a classical mechanic” …, um, “a classic mechanist” … Oh, you know what I mean!

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted November 20, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        D’oh! “Too specific” – too general. And lots of other mistakes, I fear. It’s my blood level of caffeine that is Palin’ fast.

      • scott
        Posted November 20, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        It absolutely aids Ray Comfort to move your dialog from “science” to isms. I know what you “mean” … you know what you “mean” but you are a public intellectual now, you are speaking to “the public” in the popular press. Discipline your message – your adversary has stated their intentions quite clearly in “the wedge” … that is what palin is talking about in her quote. Not biology. This is about world view.

        Ray Comfort wants to talk about evolution he wants to pick it from the tapestry of knowledge called science and question it.

        Go to your battle with the full mantle of “science” he wants you to whack at him with a small stick. If you are going to get out of your chair, always hit him with a big stick. They are not attacking evolution because of evolution, they are attacking evolution because of what it implies to everything he holds dear.

      • scott
        Posted November 20, 2009 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

        Jerry, do you or do you not have the Wedge printed out and taped to your wall?

        The point is that Phillip Johnson is not in this to defeat “evolutionists” questioning “evolution” is just the tip of that wedge. Palin is not part of scientific debate that can be defeated with science, defeat means defeating her philosophy: religion. They are in this game because they are against a genuinely scientific outlook:

        Here is Johnson:

        “To talk of a purposeful or guided evolution is not to talk about evolution at all. That is slow creation. When you understand it that way, you realize that the Darwinian theory of evolution contradicts not just the Book of Genesis, but every word in the Bible from beginning to end. It contradicts the idea that we are here because a creator brought about our existence for a purpose. That is the first thing I realized, and it carries tremendous meaning.”

        He goes on to state:

        “I have built an intellectual movement in the universities and churches that we call The Wedge, which is devoted to scholarship and writing that furthers this program of questioning the materialistic basis of science. One very famous book that’s come out of The Wedge is biochemist Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, which has had an enormous impact on the scientific world.” …”Now the way that I see the logic of our movement going is like this. The first thing you understand is that the Darwinian theory isn’t true. It’s falsified by all of the evidence and the logic is terrible. When you realize that, the next question that occurs to you is, well, where might you get the truth? When I preach from the Bible, as I often do at churches and on Sundays, I don’t start with Genesis. I start with John 1:1. In the beginning was the word. In the beginning was intelligence, purpose, and wisdom. The Bible had that right. And the materialist scientists are deluding themselves.”

        You are right in your insistence and advocacy that this is indeed a debate between religion and science. NOMA, Mooney, Wright with with his “purpose unfolding” … all of that is simply an attempt to sidestep the plain facts that Johnson has laid out above, Johnson is right, if Evolution is True, the “word” is wrong … so long as religion is the “Word” it is wrong.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted November 21, 2009 at 7:54 am | Permalink

        It absolutely aids Ray Comfort to move your dialog from “science” to isms.

        Yes… But again, Matthew [it’s confusing to refer to him as “Jerry”, speaking of terms :-o] is using a correct scientific term, albeit I do have problems with it. This is on the order of using “theory”, which also helps creationists.

        Changing terms will not help, because the creationists will, and have, adopted new terminology and thwarted it as they see fit. We have to make a stand. (But again, this is not the place to make it.)

        defeat means defeating her philosophy

        When your strategy is doomed: philosophies can’t be defeated (unless they happen to be constructed inconsistent), that is their modern purpose.

        I would suggest a practical defeat, like marginalizing crackpots (again). Ways to do that can be based on that their beliefs (philosophies) are ludicrous, because they go up against facts, because science works while philosophy doesn’t (outside its own terms of navel gazing), and so on and so forth.

        Otherwise we have wasted not only the Enlightenment but also society.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted November 21, 2009 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        Oops: point in case of thwarting terms, Johnson on “falsification”.

    • Jim H
      Posted November 24, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      I see no problem if the term is used in terms of those who are actively studying evolution and not broadened to include those of us who accept evolution as scientific fact but are not delving into the details. This makes an evolutionist a subset of scientists based on field of study, not overall views.

  7. Posted November 20, 2009 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Hahahahahahaha. Sarah Palin. Hahahahahahaha.

  8. Observer
    Posted November 20, 2009 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    While Jerry is certainly correct, the only problem with calling this a “knockout” is that Sarah Palin doesn’t even know she’s been hit. People with a respect for scientific accuracy have no choice but to flail away. Palin, or any other creationist politician, sadly, will feel nary a tickle.

  9. jose
    Posted November 20, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Why do this people always feel confident enough to talk about biology? If someone asked me to talk about politics, I’d say no, because I don’t know shit about politics so I’d be put myself in an embarrasing situation. I’d make a moron of myself, one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Same applies with physics, architecture, music– not biology it seems.

    • IvanS
      Posted November 20, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Well then you’d be ideally qualified to talk about politics, knowing bugger all about it ( or anything else ) is an absolute pre-requisite for most politicians these days, unless you want to get yourself thoroughly hated by large parts of the electorate and actually learn something. I suspect what you actually mean is that you have the normal amounts on humility and don’t take your own subjective political opinions as the absolute truth, that really does disqualify you.

  10. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 20, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Is it me, or does the conservative part of US appear heading towards unicellular intellectual level? Methinks Reagan, Bush JR and Palin has made more for demonstrating macroevolution than most biologists.

    the tiresome misinterpretation that natural selection is “random”

    Moreover it is a ludicrous proposition. It says it right there, “selection”.

    Also, you can’t very well have selection to be “random”. At the most you can have a statistical distribution on your filter process, whatever it is filtering, and that still leaves you selecting between outcomes.

    A uniform distribution as the implied preferred interpretation of “random” doesn’t work however. There will be no selection between equally likely statistical outcomes.

    • scott
      Posted November 20, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Also, you can’t very well have selection to be “random”.


      At the most you can have a statistical distribution on your filter process, whatever it is filtering, and that still leaves you selecting between outcomes.

      “Random” describes what “statistics” you are using to select. The point you are trying to make is correct, ie evolution is not randomness, however the argument you’ve made here is wrong. You can certainly select things “at random” … this is an important concept in statistics and experimental design.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted November 21, 2009 at 6:40 am | Permalink


        Um, no, RIGHT.

        This was the general context of “random”, before I started to pare down the meanings. “Random” is also in contexts “Having no definite aim or purpose; not sent or guided in a particular direction; made, done, occurring, etc., without method or conscious choice; haphazard.” [Wikipedia.] “Haphazard” is the exact opposite of selective.

        You can certainly select things “at random” …

        Sure, I use stochastic processes all the time. Which is why I (tried to) describe just that.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted November 21, 2009 at 6:48 am | Permalink

        To stave off further misunderstandings, let me also note that a uniform selection on alleles is not a natural selection process at all.

        I think – even if a uniform selection is a statistical process, and also happens in nature. It is, I believe, defined away as it isn’t filtering. It is instead defined as variation in “population size”. But I may be wrong.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted November 21, 2009 at 6:52 am | Permalink

        Sigh! “isn’t filtering” – isn’t filtering in the sense of natural selection.

        You know, I might have saved us some trouble if I had made a better distinction between “selection” in statistical selection and natural selection in the first place…

      • scott
        Posted November 21, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

        Random and Haphazard DESCRIBE the selection – they aren’t the “opposite of it” – you can have selection that is random – adding more synonyms to your original point doesn’t change the basic flaw in your argument.

        Natural Selection could select at random, it just doesn’t. You seem to be saying that “randomness” and “selection” are in opposition.

        Religion objects to the scientific observation that there is no “purposeful” planning. A simple process creates design. This is the WHOLE point of the ENTIRE discussion. Jerry and Dawkins are saying “NO EVIDENCE” of design or purpose. Miller and Wright are saying “I see evidence of Purpose … in the universe”.

        Natural selection explains what seems like design – it explains it … away.

  11. Posted November 20, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Whoa, BIG NEWS! I have just come across a newsletter from the leader of the New Creationist movement. It reads, in part,

    Fellow New Creationists, our strength to undermine science grows stronger every day!

    As you know, I have just released my version of events in a new book. In this New Creationist document, I distance myself -and thus our ultimate goals – from “wild-eyed fundamentalists”. I stake claim to a position of “nuance”. I have taken a fundamental step in achieving the plan laid out in our mission statement; I have shown just how easy it is to Reach a Middle Ground.

    This document is going to be big news.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 21, 2009 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      How come “the leader” has the same link address as the quote?

      I smell a crackpot.

      • nick bobick
        Posted November 21, 2009 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        No, if you followed the link what you actually smell is burning satire.

  12. Jim H
    Posted November 20, 2009 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    It is no news that she is a creationist. The next question is how old does she think the earth is? My guess is that she would say about 7000 years, which would indicate that she not only rejects biology, but also the nuclear physics that provides dating methods.

  13. JefFlyingV
    Posted November 20, 2009 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    This is a culmination of the Republicans bringing the reactionary religionists into the party that started with stroking the moral majority for votes 30 years ago.
    Are their any intellectual pundits that speak for the Republicans today or did they all die in the past ten years? The party is intellectually bankrupt especially with this bimbo as a front runner for the party.

  14. Posted November 20, 2009 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    It is no news that she is a creationist.

    The newly discovered document was a bit more subtle than that.

  15. Grendels Dad
    Posted November 21, 2009 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    Sure, for any thinking person this was a knockout, but Palin isn’t speaking to thinking people, she is speaking to ‘feeling’ people. Thinking people value the truth, supported by evidence. Feeling people value their feelings, supported by, well, to quote the old song “feelings, nothing more than feelings…”

    As long as she continues to push people’s emotional buttons she will maintain a core level of supporters who just want someone to tell them what they want to hear. She has systematically weeded out nearly everyone who has a modicum of sense. The only question left is: are there enough of that type of people in the republican party to try and nominate her in the next election cycle?

    • Posted November 21, 2009 at 1:29 am | Permalink

      she is speaking to ‘feeling’ people.

      Yes, they have faith which appears to be wholly impervious to reason and which in fact, prides itself on such imperviousness.

      That’s the really hard problem. I don’t see anything but time changing it. Most of the people who believe in faith alone will be dead in another 20-30 years. I don’t think the next generation will see the world as their grandparents did, by and large. Pockets may remain, but their numbers are destined to shrink.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted November 21, 2009 at 6:15 am | Permalink

        That is wishful thinking Oroboros. I would love for that to be true but I have seen no evidence of the fudagelicals dying out. There are reports of many of them in high schools and what tries to pass as colleges and universities of the far right.

        Palin is willfully ignorant and proudly arrogant of that fact and is anti-intellectual. Read the books by Susan Jacoby to understand this phenomenon, particularly “The Age of American Unreason”. Their legion are many.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted November 21, 2009 at 6:16 am | Permalink


      • Posted November 22, 2009 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Well I have family including young nieces and nephews being raised in the faith. I know it isn’t dead yet, but it isn’t growing as far as I can tell.

        The Catholic church is in the biggest trouble and they know it. What I find hilarious is that they can look at that chart and not see the Sexual Revolution. Surely people are abandoning the priesthood because they stopped saying Latin masses. It cannot have anything to do with natural human instincts!

        The Church is going to cling to celibacy until it goes down, I imagine. But as I look at the graph in that link, I have no doubt it is in decline.

  16. Brian Thomas
    Posted November 21, 2009 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    I highly recommend that anyone interested in this topic reads Randy Olsen’s book “Don’t Be Such a Scientist” – he lays out very well how the creationists and others don’t think with their heads, but with the heart and gut, and so rational evidence and arguments do not impact them at all. We need a new strategy – just laying out reality is not enough, we have to engage by arousing the heart and gut. How? I’m not sure, but we need to be thinking about it.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted November 22, 2009 at 3:43 am | Permalink

      Oh, come on–do you think that we can do ANYTHING to change the minds of creationists? Well, yes, there is one thing: weaken the grasp of religion on America. That’s a hard job, but it’s the only thing that willl work in the long run.

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  1. […] Coyne vs Palin. A knockout in round 1. Palin is not only a figurehead for the most conservative sections of US opinion, she has now come out as a creationist. However, like many creationists, she claims to accept the existence of “microevolution”. The real issue, she claims, is that one species cannot split into two, or give rise to another species. God alone can do that. […]

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