He’s baaaaack! Peter Hitchens counters, ineffectually and splenetically

Peter Hitchens can’t leave well enough alone, and so has sent yet another reply to my critiques (here and here) of his views on evolution (he doesn’t accept it, and is sympathetic to intelligent-design creationism [“ID”]).  This is the last time I’ll put his responses above the fold; from now on they’ll go in the comments. But since I did criticize his views in a post, I will not prevent him from responding however he wants.

Here’s Hitchens’s latest salvo:

Funny , isn’t it? First, I am even in some way condemned for actually replying to a personal attack on me, posted in a public forum and advertised on Twitter with the suggestion that I am a ‘moron’. Wouldn’t it be more reprehensible to ignore it? I’m a journalist and a debater. It’s what I do.

You can’t win, with such people. Everything you do is automatically wrong, unless you are of their faith.

You’d never guess from the bilious railing and lecturing above that what I say, repeatedly, is that ‘I am quite prepared to accept that the theory of evolution by natural selection may be true’. In other words, to my opponents I say gently and generously ‘Yes, you might be right’.

This isn’t enough for the devotees, who would never under any circumstances say the same to me. As is the case with all fanatical creeds, these cultists cannot stand even the slightest doubt (being so burdened with their own doubts) and demand actual professions of belief. By the way, which theory of evolution am I supposed to believe in absolutely? Gould’s? Or Dawkins’s? The existence of this choice, and of the disagreements between these two, seems to me to give every reasonable person room for a little doubt.

If the ID theory, which I regard as an interesting sceptical current, has made the open declarations of religious purpose of which it is accused above, could someone please give me the references and quotations? My understanding is that it has taken great care not to do so.

I do smile at the heaps of praise for my late brother’s supposed scientific knowledge. Neither he nor I ever counted the sciences as our most successful subjects at school or since,to put it mildly. But (like me) he instantly understood the significance of evolutionary theory for theism.

Scientists did indeed uncover the Piltdown fake, but not for some time. They wanted, passionately, to believe it to be true. Had they not wanted to believe it, they would have seen the fake far more quickly. That is the point of the story.

As for my own faith, I acknowledge it as such. I make no claim to *know* its truth. I don’t attack other people for not holding it, though I will defend it against attack, and against intolerant attempts to suppress it and drive it from public discourse.

Mr Coyne can say what he likes – now – about what he meant when he said that God ‘took’ the ‘wrong’ Hitchens. I bet he privately regrets making this crass and contemptible remark, and will be more careful with such language in future.

I repeat my strictures about the Christopher Hitchens Fan Club. I know perfectly well (better than almost anyone living) that these people have no real connection with my late brother. The fact that they behave as they do is proof enough of that.

My responses will be as brief as possible:

1.  My tone:  Hitchens is still peeved that I made fun of him.  I don’t regret that, for mockery was, I think, appropriate in a situation where an intelligent, well-educated man with a huge public platform says absolutely stupid things about evolution.  I don’t take back what I said, nor do I retract my statement that if we could have only one Hitchens in this world, I would choose Christopher. That’s simply a truth, though it may sound unkind. Again, I have no wish to see Peter exit this mortal coil, yet he’s still banging on about how I want him dead.

Let me add that I also leveled substantial criticism at P. Hitchens’s views on evolution, and he still has not responded to any of those save for his brief statement about Piltdown Man above.

2. Piltdown Man.  As I’ve said before, Piltdown Man was initially accepted as a real hominin fossil, possibly our ancestor, but soon after its discovery it was suspected to be a hoax—an amalgam of different bones, some of them from other primates (orangutan and chimp).  Greg Mayer posted here about Piltdown Man last December, and noted that most paleontologists had concluded by 1916—four years after its discovery— that it was a fake “fossil”. By the 1950s it had been thoroughly debunked. All of the debunking was done by scientists. So much for Mr. Hitchens’s claim that scientists took forever to uncover the hoax because they “passionately wanted it to be true”!

Obviously, the “passionate will to believe” of scientists wasn’t strong enough to overcome their passionate will to find the truth. It’s odd that Hitchens offers up this story as a caution for science, as it’s far more of a caution for his faith (Anglican) than for science.

Let me rephrase his critique, then:  “Hitchens wants, passionately, to believe that his religion is true, and that Jesus Christ is our savior.  Had he not wanted to believe it, he would have seen the delusional nature of this view.  That is the point of this story—and the sad nature of faith.”

3.  Hitchens’s lack of intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness about evolution.  As the video below shows, Peter Hitchens is espousing exactly the same views on evolution and intelligent design (ID) as he did in 2008. (This is from a debate between Christopher and Peter Hitchens on April 3, 2008.) The video is over two hours long, so just go to the relevant part, which is between 1:29:45 and 1:36:45.

As Peter Hitchens notes in his response to a rather incoherent question about ID, he views it as an “interesting skeptical current” that has been brutally suppressed by British bookstores and publishers. He then mutters about how the Scopes Trial was misrepresented in the movie “Inherit the Wind” (true, but so what?), and decries the “intolerance and rage” of the Darwinists about ID, which, curiously, leads him to believe that ID proponents “might have a point.”  His brother Christopher then takes him apart.

Peter’s views on ID are exactly what they were five years ago—a long interval during which he’s had time to examine the “evidence.”  Surely “intolerance and rage” of evolutionists about faith-based incursion into science education aren’t sufficient for P. Hitchens to remain sympathetic to ID, are they? As a good journalist, shouldn’t he have looked at the evidence in the interim?. But over those five years, ID arguments have not changed, have gained no more credibility, and the promised “ID research program” has produced—nothing.  Surely in 2013 Peter Hitchens could give us a more informed assessment. But he doesn’t: he obviously has read nothing and knows nothing about evolutionary biology, and likes ID simply because it supports his faith.

(The debate, by the way, is worth watching in its entirety. We can once again relive Christopher’s powerful intellect and rhetorical skills, and perhaps get an inkling of why his brother engages in so much post-mortem criticism of the “Christopher Hitchens Fan Club.”)

Peter Hitchens also claims that he is “quite prepared to accept that the theory of evolution by natural selection may be true.” But he was saying that five years ago. I guess that Peter is still in the state of “preparing to accept it.” Well, Mr. P. Hitchens, you’ve had time in the intervening five years to look at the evidence. When will you stop preparing to accept evolution and simply either accept it or reject it?

As for what we mean by “modern theory of evolution,” I’ll lay it out:

  1. Organisms evolved over time; life on Earth is very different from life millions of years ago
  2. The lineages of organisms also split, producing new lineages and the present diversity of species on Earth
  3. That splitting means that all species, living and dead, are related.
  4. An important means of evolutionary change, and the only evolutionary process that can produce the appearance of design, is natural selection
  5. Evolutionary change is slow, but the changes we can see in our lifetime, or that occur over decades or centuries (“microevolution”) add up over millions of years to big changes (“macroevolution”). There is no discontinuity in process between micro- and macroevolution.

Those are the parts of modern evolutionary theory that are widely agreed on. Gould and Company disagreed with #5 alone, but their claims that “punctuated equilibrium” is a non-“Darwinian” process, and that macroevolution is not an extrapolation of microevolution, have been soundly refuted. What remains of punctuated equilibrium is the claim of pattern rather than process: that species evolve at uneven rates, with lineages often remaining largely unchanged in morphology. That may well be true, but the reason for that is not that some new, paradigm-busting evolutionary process is involved in macroevolution. Just because Gould and Dawkins disagreed on the evolutionary causes responsible for a “jerky” fossil record in some groups does not mean that one must doubt the fundamental claims of modern evolutionary theory.  Did we discard all of quantum mechanics because there’s a disagreement on how to interpret its meaning?

So, Mr. Hitchens, if you want to weigh whether or not to “accept” evolution, I suggest you ponder the five points above—something you apparently haven’t done in the last five years.

Oh, and British publishers and booksellers did not suppress ID.  If you look on Amazon.com.uk, you’ll see that the ID book Darwin’s Black Box has been on sale at Amazon UK since 1996, and another well known ID book, Icons of Evolution has been on sale at Amazon UK since 2001. I haven’t looked at other ID books, like Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial, but I suspect they were also available in the UK from nearly the beginning. To the extent that British bookstores didn’t carry as many ID books as evolution books, it was probably because of lack of interest and scientific merit, not censorship!

4. The religious nature of intelligent design.  This is obvious to anyone who examines the evidence objectively and dispassionately. ID proponents, of course, cannot “openly” declare that it’s religious, as that would defeat their cause of getting it taught in the public schools. (Such teaching is forbidden in the U.S. because the courts—obviously more observant than Peter Hitchens—have descried ID as a religiously-based movement, not as secular science.)

Hitchens asks for references for the religious nature of ID and the “designer” saying that “If the ID theory, which I regard as an interesting sceptical current, has made the open declarations of religious purpose of which it is accused above, could someone please give me the references and quotations? I will answer that. After this, I never want to hear him argue that ID isn’t a religiously-based theory, and that the designer isn’t the Abrahamic God.

What is the evidence that ID is religiously based? There’s plenty.  For starters, ID advocates admit it when speaking to a religious audience. I quote from an email by Jason Rosenhouse, an expert on ID and creationism and author of Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Lines:

The usual dodge the ID folks use is to argue that while a Christian would naturally be sympathetic to ID, the fact remains that the science of ID (in their view) only gets you some sort of intelligent designer.  Could be a really powerful alien, for all the science can tell you.  They generally don’t deny that most of the major ID proponents do, in fact, believe that the designer is  the Christian God, but they claim instead that this conclusion goes beyond what the science can say.  That’s what they say in public, anyway.  When they are speaking to religious audiences they happily burnish ID as a powerful apologetic weapon.

Here’s but one example from Wikipedia about William Dembski, perhaps ID’s most famous spokesman:

Dembski has also spoken of his motivation for supporting intelligent design in a series of Sunday lectures in the Fellowship Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, the last of which took place on Sunday, March 7, 2004. Answering a question, Dembski said it was to enable Yahweh to receive credit for creation.

Dembski has also made this famous statement:(from Wikiquotes):

The mechanical philosophy was ever blind to this fact. Intelligent design, on the other hand, readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory. (From: Signs of intelligence: understanding intelligent design. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press. 2001).

Phillip Johnson, generally seen as the father of ID, has made it manifestly clear in his writings that ID is an apologetic weapon. The “Wedge Document”, prepared by the Discovery Institute (an ID-creationist “think tank” in Seattle), makes the religious motivation clear (the link in this sentence goes to the document). Note in particular this sentence from the document’s “Five Year Strategic Plan Summary”:

Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

Any question about who the “designer” is now, Mr. P. Hitchens?

Wikipedia adds:

The wedge strategy is a political and social action plan authored by the Discovery Institute, the hub of the intelligent design movement. The strategy was put forth in a Discovery Institute manifesto known as the Wedge Document,[1] which describes a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to defeat materialism, naturalism, evolution, and “reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”[2] The strategy also aims to affirm God’s reality.[3] Its goal is to change American culture by shaping public policy to reflect conservative Christian, namely evangelical Protestant, values.[4] The wedge metaphor is attributed to Phillip E. Johnson and depicts a metal wedge splitting a log to represent an aggressive public relations program to create an opening for the supernatural in the public’s understanding of science.[5]

Need more evidence for the religious nature of ID, Mr. Hitchens? How about this statement from another ID bigwig and Discovery Institute member Jon Wells, an adherent of the Unification Church, explaining why he got his Ph.D. in biology? This is from my review (Nature, 2001) of his ID book Icons of Evolution.

In 1976, Jonathan Wells a student in Moon’s seminary, answered his leader’s call. Wells writes, Father’s [Moon’s] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me to enter a PhD program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.” The University of California supplied Wells with his weapon, a PhD in biology and, with Icons of Evolution, Wells has fired the latest salvo in the eternal religious assault on Charles Darwin.

Want still more? Here’s an excerpt from the cross examination of ID advocate Michael Behe at the Dover trial on Oct. 18, 2005 (pp. 99-103, I’ve filled in the identities of the discussants):

LAWYER: “ . . . Thus, in my judgment it is implausible that the  designer is “a natural entity.” You don’t absolutely rule it out, but you’re not  taking it very seriously, are you?

 BEHE: Well, I’ve said that quite a number of times. I think I said that at the beginning of my testimony yesterday, that I think in fact from — from other perspectives, that the designer is in fact God. But if you turn back to page 699, there is a section entitled, “Is it possible that the designer is a natural entity?” And I won t quote from it, but I come to the conclusion there that sure it’s possible that it is, but I do not — I myself do not find it plausible.

. . . LAWYER: Now, you’ve said in your testimony today and yesterday you personally believe the designer is God.

BEHE: Yes.

LAWYER: And in this article in fact you say for purposes of the discussion I’m going to assume the supernatural entity is God, right?

BEHE: Yes.

Then, posted at the site of the National Center for Science Education,we find the famous “Cdesign propnentsists” episode, when Barbara Forrest discovered that the ID textbook Of Pandas and People was simply a thinly-revised version of an earlier creationist textbook. The garbled two words above represented an unsuccessful attempt to replace the word “creationists” with “intelligent design proponents.”

Finally, Mr. P. Hitchens, if you aren’t convinced by all this, read Nick Matzke’s essay in the anthology edited by Michael Ruse and Rob Pennock, But is it Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Science Controversy.  There Matzke shows quite clearly that intelligent design was simply a legal strategy devised to replace young-earth creationism after the latter suffered various legal setbacks in the 1980s. If you have any remaining doubts about the religious nature of ID, that should dispel them—assuming, of course, that you have an open mind.

5. “The Christopher Hitchens Fan Club.”  P. Hitchens argues that his fans have “no real connection” with Christopher Hitchens, and that is why we (yes, I’m a fan) behave as we do. I’m not sure how our behavior comes from our lack of “real connection” (I suppose P. Hitchens means sharing actual DNA, which he does), but I would argue otherwise. I claim that those of us who share many of Christopher’s views have a more real connection with him than you do. For ours is an intellectual connection—the only kind of connection that Christopher saw as meaningful.  It is we, not you, who share his dislike of religion, his love of science and evolution, and his willingness to follow the path of rationality wherever it leads.  Yes, Peter Hitchens, you may have his genes, but you don’t have his eloquence, knowledge of science, or inability to shake yourself free from the shackles of superstition. And, unlike your brother, you are intellectually dishonest.

h/t: Jason Rosenhouse, Grania Spingies


  1. gr8hands
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Peter Hitchens lies when he writes:

    This isn’t enough for the devotees, who would never under any circumstances say the same to me.

    Dr. Coyne and just about every other atheist has repeatedly said we would believe if there were any evidence for a god — go ahead, Peter, provide it and we’ll believe. (Note: we’re not going to hold our breath, because no one has ever provided evidence for god.)

    I am absolutely certain that lying is a sin for Anglicans. Shame on you.

    • steve
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Oh, I think you’re being melodramatic. I don’t know that you could call that a blatant lie. Maybe dishonest. Or ignorant. He might genuinely not know that Coyne and many other atheists openly declare our falsifiability. Maybe he read PZ and thought he had the rest of us figured.

      • gr8hands
        Posted March 8, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        steve, his own brother has said it, Dawkins has said it. Every atheist of note in just about every “debate” has said it. It has been to him on his own website. It is a lie for him to pretend that he isn’t aware of it.

        Dishonesty is still a sin. Shame on him.

        • Jeremy Pereira
          Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

          PZ Myers has categorically denied that any evidence he could imagine would persuade him there is a god. He thinks there will always be a more mundane explanation that is more likely.

          For instance, if he walked outside one night and found that the stars had been rearranged to spell “Jesus lives” rather than concede God he would suspect trickery (e.g. hallucinogenic drugs) on the part of some human.

          • gr8hands
            Posted March 11, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

            PZ’s denial is relatively recent. For most of his career he said he could possibly be persuaded if there were some kind of evidence.

            • Jeremy Pereira
              Posted March 12, 2013 at 3:22 am | Permalink

              Well PZ has said it, so Steve’s hypothesis could be true.

  2. Griff
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    “In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”

  3. Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    I’m a journalist and a debater


    That’s debatable.

    • Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      I thought that was a typo: “I’m a journalist but that’s debatable.”

      • Karen
        Posted March 8, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        ^^ this wins the internet

  4. spud2006
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Ba, as they say, zinga!

    P. Hitchens purports to be a Christian of the Anglican brand, does he not? I was leafing through Richard Dawkins’s ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ this morning (a book that, like your own, Jerry, P. Hitchens sorely needs to read, but won’t) and was reminded of the 2002 statement, prepared by Dawkins and Richard, Lord Harries (ex-Bishop of Oxford), sent to the then Prime Minister, Anthony Blair (as Hitchens uniquely refers to him). In part it reads:

    “Evolution is a scientific theory of great explanatory power, able to account for a wide range of phenomena in a number of disciplines. It can be refined, confirmed and even radically altered by attention to evidence. It is not […] a ‘faith position’ in the same category as the Biblical account of creation which has a different function and purpose.”

    The letter was signed not only by Dawkins and Harries but, amongst others, Lord May, President of the Royal Society; the Bishop of St Albans; the Bishop of Hereford; the Bishop of Birmingham; the Director of the Natural History Museum; the Bishop of Southwark; Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal; the Anglican Bishop of Portsmouth; the Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth; and Sir David Attenborough.

  5. NewEnglandBob
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    As usual, well put, and amply backed up by a tone of evidence.

  6. Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Mr. Hitchens, Jerry hasn’t insulted or mocked you.

    If you want to know what a mocking insult is like, see Robert Ince.

    I suggest Mr. Ince because, for whatever reason, you obviously missed all the times when your own brother was even more scathingly insulting and mocking, presumably due to the usual familial reasons brothers tend to ignore each other in peculiar ways.

    Or, if you don’t want to spend three minutes watching Mr. Ince mock you, let me do so right here.

    You’re a self-professed Christian who puts serious stock in the “theory” of Creationism, yes? That means that, rather than trust a rational analysis of an overwhelming weight of empirical observations made over the course of centuries by unrelated individuals all over the globe…you instead giver serious credence to a third-rate book of faery tales that opens with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard; prominently features a talking plant that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero; and ends with an utterly bizarre zombie snuff pr0n fantasy involving a thrall thrusting his hand into the gaping chest wound of the king of the undead.

    You, sir, need to grow up, for your Jesus is no more real than any other pagan demigod — or, for that matter, Santa or the Boogie Man.

    And it’s high past time you did so.



    • Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      Good point.

      Although, it’s Robin Ince 🙂

      But good point all the same.

      • Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

        <sigh />

        Would it help if I mentioned that I was thinking of my mother’s brother a little while ago…?


    • papalinton
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      I think the ‘talking’ snake has been identified. P.Hitchens, no?

  7. DV
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Ouch! 🙂

  8. Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    By the way, which theory of evolution am I supposed to believe in absolutely? Gould’s? Or Dawkins’s? The existence of this choice, and of the disagreements between these two, seems to me to give every reasonable person room for a little doubt.

    How bizarre that a theist should parrot a good argument against believing his own theism.

    Science will always have competing theories, but the history of it shows a convergence on what is true (even if we seem destined never to get all the answers), and a growing consilience between different, independent scientific disciplines, which is surely very suggestive that it is travelling down a road marked ‘True-ish’.

    The history of theism, conversely, shows a divergence from what is true (except when they adjust to scientific truths), and a splintering of opinion between sects and movements, which is surely suggestive that it is travelling down a road marked ‘dead-end’.

    Scientists did indeed uncover the Piltdown fake, but not for some time. They wanted, passionately, to believe it to be true. Had they not wanted to believe it, they would have seen the fake far more quickly. That is the point of the story.

    That may be true; strange, then, if this is a cautionary tale, that Peter doesn’t apply it to his own wishful thinking.

    For the record, though, I wouldn’t want either Hitchens dead; diversity of opinion is a valuable thing in itself. I always thought that Christopher was not much stronger on the science than I am (not very!), but he did at least understand where that left him: obliged to accept the facts as revealed by science.

    • Occam
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      Nailed it.
      Splinter/log/eye, Mr. Hitchens?

    • Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Once again though, the language of the theist belies a fundamental misunderstanding of what science is, what it does, and how it does it.

      The theist, failing to identify a SINGLE, CENTRAL, unimpeachable authority figure (his God), with some kind of unalterable Truth (capital T) behind it (his Scripture), figures it’s all up for grabs.

      It’s all about what you BELIEVE in, not what you KNOW. Maddening.

    • bric
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      I can never understand why this isn’t more of a problem for Christians; when I was about to be confirmed in the Anglican Church of England I stumbled over the clear inference from some of the 39 Articles that there was another way of seeing ‘faith’ (and eventually therefore ‘no faith’). It seems there are something like 30 to 40 thousand Christian denominations; even if there were only two it would surely pose some sort of problem to such as P. Hitchens.

  9. Shawn Owen
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    WOW, you owned him in this post!!! I now know never to mess with the intellect of this good Doctor!! I agree with you on the sadness of such an intelectual mind not being able to break away from his own cognitive dissonance to even research the mountains of evidence for evolution. I guess if he cannot listen to his own brother on the subject though NO ONE will be able to crack this egg!!

    • darrelle
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      Well, sometimes family are the least likely to be listened to. People are just fickle that way.

  10. @eightyc
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink


    Hey I’m all for ridiculing stupidity!

    Religious people really cannot separate what they wish to be true from what actually IS true. It’s so fascinating to observe.

    I wonder what it is about their mental make-up that prevents them. I think there’s an inherent fear in them that they don’t know, so they make up this make believe-up Father that has magical powers to explain everything to them.


    • darrelle
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      “Religious people really cannot separate what they wish to be true from what actually IS true.”

      And even worse they often come to believe/behave as if/treat others as if, it is immoral, or somehow lacking in character, to accept what is actually true over what they wish to be true.

      • Posted March 8, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        I think it goes back to childhood. If children are taught “It is very important that you believe this, regardless of evidence or logic, because you will be terribly punished if you don’t (or at least fail to gain a near-infinite reward)” then their attitude towards belief and knowledge is fundamentally corrupted, and believing that something is true because you wish it to be true becomes quite easy.

        darrelle’s point also gains force: people who won’t believe things despite these threats and promises must be bad people. There’s a Facebook page called “Fundies Say the Darndest Things” and one theme running through them is “You atheists must be immoral” and they get extraordinarily dogmatic about how we must think and behave.

        • @eightyc
          Posted March 8, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

          It seems they have a big fear of changing their minds on things.

          They interpret it as lacking character or lacking a set of convictions/principles.

          lol. It’s so strange.

  11. gbjames
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Speaking of creationism, an old fraud just kicked the bucket.


  12. Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    You are, as always, too kind. For my own analysis, see http://wp.me/p21T1L-3j

  13. lamacher
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Very well said, Jerry! Will Peter H concur? Hardly.

  14. Alektorophile
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    It is always a pleasure to read your clearly-written and evidence-based replies to the likes of Peter Hitchens. One can only hope it might encourage them to do the same. Unlikely, I know, as obfuscation and intellectual dishonesty are an integral part of how they make their living.

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      Let’s be fair here, Alektrophile. When you can adduce absolutely no evidence for your irrational beliefs, obfuscation and intellectual dishonesty are really all you have left to work with.

      • darrelle
        Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

        And if you tell the same little lies over and over, after a while it can get very difficult to distinguish your lies from reality. And then you are surprised when other people call bullshit.

  15. Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Poor Pete, trapped by the willful ignorance that so many Christians hide under.

    “If the ID theory, which I regard as an interesting sceptical current, has made the open declarations of religious purpose of which it is accused above, could someone please give me the references and quotations? My understanding is that it has taken great care not to do so.”

    Not so much. You see, Pete, they can’t even do the proof reading right when they are trying so hard to lie:

    http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/cdesign-proponentsists and http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/11/missing-link-cd.html

    “Of Pandas and People (1987, “intelligent design” version), p. 3-41: “Evolutionists think the former is correct, cdesign proponentsists accept the latter view.”

    We just get more liars for Christ, and inept ones at that.

  16. JBlilie
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    I guess it needs to be repeated: Mr. Hitchens, do you PROJECT MUCH?

    • Sunny
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      My feeling exactly when I read his latest diatribe.

  17. Don Quijote
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Is P. Hitchens really that dumb. Dawkins and Gould disagreed on one small part of evolution, not about evolution itself.

    P. Hitchens had a whiney screed on the Mailonline that was posted on the Daily Hitchens website. Even then he was moaning about how atheist wanted him dead in place of his brother and how the “Hitchens fan club” bought his books but never read them.

    I’ve not read much else written by P.Hitchens as it would involve reading The Mail, UK’s answer to TheWorldNutDaily or Fox News.

  18. gr8hands
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    It’s like saying that because Ford and Chevy disagree about which car is better, that internal combustion is a fraud.

    Peter claims to defend his Anglican beliefs, but has never provided any evidence. That yet another of his lies.

  19. Faustus
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    You can imagine similar rhetoric being used by a flat earther:

    “You’d never guess from the bilious railing and lecturing above that what I say, repeatedly, is that ‘I am quite prepared to accept that the theory of a spherical earth’. In other words, to my opponents I say gently and generously ‘Yes, you might be right’.”

    Sometimes there is a good reason to ridicule people for occupying a position, when for instance their view is a joke.

  20. JBlilie
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I think the “Cristopher Hitchens Fan Club” comments savour rather strongly of jealousy of the fame his brother achieved and he did not.

  21. Maverick
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    “In other words, to my opponents I say gently and generously ‘Yes, you might be right’.”

    What a worthless thing to say.

    “The moon is made of rock and metal, not cheese.”
    ‘Yes you might be right.’
    “The Holocaust happened.”
    ‘Yes, you might be right.’

    • Sunny
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      “This isn’t enough for the devotees, who would never under any circumstances say the same to me.” PH

      In the beginning god created the heavens and the earth.
      “Peter, You may be right”

      God intervened so that a virgin may conceive
      “Peter, You may be right”

      Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse
      “Peter, You may be right”

      Somehow I cannot imagine Peter making the last statement. However, given that he is not militant like us, he may be be willing to make such a concession.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Under the circumstances, the gentle words “yes, you might be right” seem to translate into a very ungenerous “let’s just agree to disagree and move on, shall we?” After all, Jerry’s response was provoked by the “peacemaker’s” long diatribe on why he is WRONG.

      How wonderfully convenient it is to come out with the humble recognition that after all we can’t really be sure of anything can’t we and really it’s more important to be nice than right … after you’ve been thoroughly trounced.

  22. Christopher
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry. I must say that you’ve HANDLED this whole situtation both factually and very eloquently – but the only way it will be SETTLED is by addressing Peter Hitchens’ achingly obvious Cain complex!

  23. Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Subbing in the hope that Peter Hitchens turns up with an actual counterargument. I won’t hold my breath

    • jimroberts
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink


  24. Chris
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Typo: Inherit the Wind, not Inherent the Wind….

  25. Chuck O'Connor
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Here! Here! Well said Dr. Coyne.

  26. rr
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Sad, frustrating and predictable. Not understanding science seems so vitally important to so many people. Does his salary depend on not understanding? Is he afraid that chaos will result if humanity rejects religion? Is he telling the “little people” what they want to hear? I just don’t get it.

    • spud2006
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      “Is he afraid that chaos will result if humanity rejects religion?”

      That’s pretty much it in a nutshell, actually. He’s one of those who really does purport to believe that the rejection of religion equals the rejection of morality, standards, civilisation, you name it. That’s why he and those like him blame what they perceive to be all the ills of the modern world – permissiveness, abortion, drinking, acceptance or even celebration of homosexuality and so forth – on the decline in religious adherence.

      • gr8hands
        Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        Peter suffers from a disease common to pseudo-intellectuals: Can’t Admit Being Wrongitis.

      • Posted March 8, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink


  27. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    While good journalists often make mistakes about science, a good journalist should certainly by well-versed in !*history*!, and here PH fails on three points.

    1) There was skepticism about Piltdown man right from the beginning as evidenced in a published paper by Gerrit Miller in November 24, 1915 “The Jaw of the Piltdown Man”. From the start it was an enigma because it departed from the pattern of other hominid fossils.

    2) As the movie “Inherit the Wind” was intended partly as an allegory for McCarthyism it is not necessarily obligated to follow the historical record, however the film version includes some historically accurate material !*omitted*! from the earlier stage play. One example is that in the real Scopes trial, the pro-evolution lawyer Clarence Darrow was cited for contempt for court when he made a sweeping statement about the prejudices of the jury. Not in the stage-play, but in the film!!!

    3) All the stuff Jerry Coyne posted about what I like to call the “wedgie” strategy.

    Finally, there is the obvious logical fallacy behind “which theory of evolution am I supposed to believe in absolutely? Gould’s? Or Dawkins’s? The existence of this choice, and of the disagreements between these two, seems to me to give every reasonable person room for a little doubt.”. Religion is even more vulnerable on this same point, for obvious reasons as has been noted at JC’s posts here ad infinitum. Yes, CS Lewis published a book on the common assumptions of all Christians called “Mere Christianity”, but yes there is also plenty of books on “mere evolution” and “mere quantum physics”.

  28. Kieran
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Right there are a number of ID arguments that have been made over time, supirsingly they seem to follow many of the arguments made by creationists
    1. Mutations do not add information
    2. Apparent design is design
    3. Irreducible complexity i.e bacteria flagellum

    Right information is never defined properly by ID protagonists.

    Look at single point mutations, a mutation occurs a single base pair transformation, then a back mutation occurs leading to reversal back to the original sequence. Now in the ID world this should lead to a measurable loss of “information” however the reality is there has been no information loss

    Here’s a real world example of a polyploid mutation, Spartina anglica, new species found in England which has double the chromosome number than it’s antecedents and can no longer interbred with them. It has double the information if we use the Shannon definition of information.

    I try to take the hose from my garage, over the winter it has uncoiled and wrapped itself around the lawnmower and the bikes, this has apparent design as such I must now invoke an intelligent, although malevolent, hose un-winder

    It has been shown through experiment that bacterial flagellum can actual serve another function in a simpler form as such isn’t irreducibly complex. However lets accept that it is, do you know how many disease causing bacteria have flagellum all intelligently designed to cause immense suffering?

    We’ve seen in the lenski experiments the development of citrate feeding bacteria, through not one mutation event but two. In an ID world all the bacteria would have been able to do this as they would have been intelligently designed in the same way so should produce the same result.

    ID proposes an unfalsifiable hypothesis as such is not science.

    On this website if you care to look you can find a list of evidence which would disprove evolution, none of which has been found. Nor is the paradigm showing any signs of weakening no matter what you read in the ID?creationist literature!

    Apologies on the long post, but someone of obvious intelligence has the blinkers firmly on and it doesn’t really matter what we say as it is counter to his belief system so can be ignored.

    • Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Mutations do not add information

      This favored whipping-boy is not unlike a deepity.

      It is, on the one hand, trivially true. Yet, on the other hand, it spectacularly misses the point.

      From the valid perspective in which mutations do not add information, it is the organisms themselves — or, rather, their ability to produce reproductive offspring — that carries information about the mutation. If it’s a useful mutation, the fecundity of the carriers of the mutation carries with it the information that the mutation is useful.

      Of course, if the cdesign proponentsists could understand that simple fact, they wouldn’t be such idiots in the first place….


    • Posted March 8, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Your comment about ID being an unfalsifiable hypothesis was something I mention on TED wrt Sheldrake. It’d be interesting (in a masochistic sort of way) to see a Sheldrake v. Hitchens minor debate.


    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      As an illustrative example of a similar darwinian pathway, the simpler archaellum is a convergent evolution from a bacterial IV pilus instead. (Not an injection system but an attachment and traction one.)


  29. Cornelius
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    this! this is why I count this as my favorite website. Real facts beautifully articulated countering the absurd.


    • JBlilie
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      +1. Also my favorite website. Bravo Dr. C.

  30. Lancelot Gobbo
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I never met CH, spoke to him, or even had the opportunity to see him in the flesh. Even so, I have a better connection with him than PH does to his god. At the very least, I have good reason to believe CH actually existed and wrote his own books, which is more than can be said by any of us, including PH, about any proposed gods.

  31. abandonwoo
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I have faith that careful methodological inquiry of empirical data in objective and scrupulous fashion produces reliable information that serves knowledge and the benefits knowledge confers upon civilization.

    Personal experience and historical example inform me that deviation from this methodology may, and all too often does, result in ideological belief claims (religous claims being a subset) of equivalence to knowing, which when applied instead manifest as false and dangerous to well-being. Including fatally dangerous beliefs carried to their logical extreme on mass scales (see historical exampless of religious and/or political totalitarianism, frequently one and the same).

    Belief claims achieve the status of knowing only when they are falsifiable, or through sheer shithouse guesswork luck. Their inherent instability and potential danger make them about as safe to handle as nuclear waste. Let them go.

  32. Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Let us not forget the “Wedge Document” which is publicly acknowledged by the Discovery Institute and describes the political and religious reasons for creating ID: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge_strategy

    There is also a fabulous interview about it in the conclusion of this amazing documentary from NOVA: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/intelligent-design-trial.html

  33. Jim Johnson
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    “In other words, to my opponents I say gently and generously ‘Yes, you might be right’.

    This isn’t enough for the devotees, who would never under any circumstances say the same to me.”

    Why would we? If no piece of evidence ever gathered indicates you might be right, why would anyone be constrained to admit you might be?

    – Must we also admit that stars & constellations might control & predict the courses of individual lives?
    – Must we also admit the possible existence of ghosts?
    – Must we also admit some people might be able to predict the future?

    – Must we also admit Santa Clause might be real?

    Mr. Hitchens, here is a more reasonable criteria for discourse: If you say something absolutely unsupported by any evidence, a respondent MAY admit the possibility you might be right if they feel like it, but you have no basis to demand that, nor to castigate the respondent for not ceding it to you.

    Otherwise, anyone could say literally anything and the phrase “that is wrong” would never be appropriate under any circumstances.

    (Admittedly, “you might be right” without supporting evidence might be an appropriate response to a statement which doesn’t conflict with known facts and on which little or no investigation has been done – “Where’s Bob?” “I think he went to the store.” “You might be right.” – but Mr Hitchens is making statements that do conflict with known facts, and on which intense investigation has been conducted for centuries with no supporting evidence found – far more than enough investigation to reduce the possibility he “might be right” to negligible.)

  34. Posted March 8, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Cereal Experiments and commented:
    A second, good-ol’-fashioned smackdown of a stupid argument.

  35. neil
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    PH is willing to admit to those who have exhaustively studied the evidence that they “might” be right that evolution is the explanation for the different life forms on earth. How open minded of him.

  36. Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    “By the way, which theory of evolution am I supposed to believe in absolutely? Gould’s? Or Dawkins’s? The existence of this choice, and of the disagreements between these two, seems to me to give every reasonable person room for a little doubt.”

    Did they disagree about whether evolution occurred, and the nature of the evidence that supports this fact? Of course not.

    Did Gould explicitly explain the difference b/t evolution as fact and theory numerous times? Yes!

    Has Dawkins done the same? Yes! Most recently in a great big book about the evidence for evolution.

    Also, did Dawkins ever address the idea of punctuated equilibrium and how it is really no major departure from Darwinism? Yes! Again, it’s in one of them thar’ books that he wrote about evolution!

    Can someone please take this poor Hitchens dullard by the hand and lead him to the internet/library/bookstore and at least expose him to the basic information on this topic that he so desperately needs?

  37. Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Well spoke, Sir, and now I can’t wait to watch the P. Hitchens/C. Hitchens debate.
    Whenever I read, for example, in an obituary, that so-and-so was a person of “great faith”, or similar supposed “compliment”, my mind substitutes, “smothered in myth and superstition”, and I feel sorrow that another mind was wasted in childish imaginings, talking-to-self prayer, and repeated incantations that insult the supposed ability of God to hear you the first time…indeed to know what you are going to say before you say it. (Maybe the Quakers have that bit right?)
    Keep the great posts coming & thanks!

  38. starskeptic
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    “,,,may have his genes, but you don’t have his eloquence, knowledge of science, or ability to shake yourself free from the shackles of superstition.”


  39. Jim Jones
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Please don’t tease the lunatics. They can’t help it.

  40. Sastra
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I do smile at the heaps of praise for my late brother’s supposed scientific knowledge. Neither he nor I ever counted the sciences as our most successful subjects at school or since,to put it mildly. But (like me) he instantly understood the significance of evolutionary theory for theism.

    Ah, but your late brother (unlike you) also happened to be objectively correct with his facts.

    That’s really the point. Two non-experts both inspired by opposite views concerning religion are not on even ground (faith vs. faith) when one side accepts the consensus of experts in their field and the other side rejects it. If you think Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is wrong then you will need to have more of a background in physics than if you go along with the assumption that physicists know what they’re talking about. That’s the way it works. It works that way even if one side or the other does have another “agenda.”

    (And, by the way, the person who is out of his depth and claiming to be a brave maverick fighting against a giant worldwide conspiracy among the orthodox hegemony of so-called scientific “experts” … probably has some other “agenda.” Way to bet.)

    Christopher Hitchens didn’t endorse evolution solely because he thought it made a great weapon against God because he didn’t HAVE to. It stands on its own merits. He noticed the implications and it may have lead to reinforcing his atheism — not the other way around. Phitchens shouldn’t judge his brother’s situation by his own.

  41. Michael
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Anyone familiar with Hitchens blog will see all of the familiar ingredients in his writing here. In a debate about atheism Professor Peter Millican noted Hitchens’ ‘high bluster to content ratio’ which we see again here. Again we see Hitchens complain about and focus on the tone of his opponent – whilst Hitchens himself hurls incessant abuse. Professor Millican decided he was wasting his time as Hitchens never admits he is wrong – even when he quite clearly is which is pretty often – despite demanding such behaviour from his opponents on his blog.

    Hitchens will not engage in – or accept – your points on evolution simply because he wants a society run by Christian conservative values. He wants Christianity taught ‘as truth’ in schools and his religion is a socially useful tool. And that blinds him to everything you say. He’s not remotely interested in the truth even though he laughably claimed in a BBC interview that it was the search for the truth that motivates his writing.

    • Harry
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      That’s exactly my take on it. Peter Hitchens will remain a staunch anti-evolutionist no matter how much evidence you throw at him. You can take him by the neck and force him to sniff the fossils of a Tiktaalik and still he’ll be asking “show me the fossils”.

      He has positioned himself as a “sceptic” of evolution and it’s my suspicion that he will milk it to the max. Any way you look at Fitch, he’s a hack at arguably the worst sleazepaper in England and a sometime City Gent on radio and TV, waving his umbrella. Being noticed by a renowned evolutonary scientist from Chicago is only positive for him and I suspect there is negotiations between him and the Discovery Institute as we speak on how be stupid on a wider scale.

      What a difference between brothers! Kid brother locks arms with the worst nutwings of history, Popes, Usshers, Witchfynder Generals, Millers, Craigs, Phelps and Banana Men and decides to fight reason, rationality and science by any means. Meanwhile, his elder brother (knowing that his life was at an end in the months to come) had the courage and conviction to say this:

      “I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don’t know anything like enough yet; that I haven’t understood enough; that I can’t know enough; that I’m always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

      • darrelle
        Posted March 8, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        Now you are making me feel sorry for PH.

        That quote brought a tear to my eye. I wish I could have had a few conversations over drinks with CH. Even if I somehow had became the target of his eloquently razor sharp tongue, it still would have been good times.

        • Harry
          Posted March 8, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

          I assume that you have never heard it in its context. It’s from Hitch’s famous closing statement to a hall full of kids who have just heard him debate Dumbski. It’s very, very beautiful:

          • darrelle
            Posted March 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

            Thanks! I have heard it before, but it is nice to watch it again.

  42. Andrew Platt
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    As an illustration of what the professor is up against if this debate continues I thought I would share some of Mr. Hitchens’ more notable quotes. These have all been lifted word for word from his blog, specifically from threads dealing with evolution. Enjoy!

    The existence of fossils doesn’t establish a relationship between those fossils and similar organisms now living. He may believe there is such a relationship. He may be correct. But he has yet to prove it.

    The establishment of the relation between fossils and existing life-forms is different from its assertion, and cannot be established through the circularity commonly employed by lay Darwinists, in which every fossil discovery is immediately tailored to the evolutionary world view.

    They [the materialists] are genuinely annoyed when their materialist faith is challenged by sceptics on scientific grounds, because in fact evolution is not a scientific theory at bottom, but a metaphysical one – or rather an anti-metaphysical one.

    Evolution remains an interesting and elegant speculation (if a rather circular one) about the unobserved remote past, quite without predictive power.

    The [contributor] derides as ‘weak’ my alleged discussion of evolutionary biology. But I don’t in fact discuss it. I never have. I am not qualified to do so and cheerfully recognise that.

    Belief is not the same as knowledge and is (as I also often say) a matter of choice.

    In the absence of any reliable knowledge on [how nature took form] I must persist with saying I have no idea how it took place. And nor does anyone else.

    …I personally find the theory of evolution hilariously funny…

    In this matter of accepting that Darwin may conceivably be right, I have to deploy reason to triumph over my emotions. These lead to me laugh till tears flow down my face, every time I contemplate the theory of evolution for any length of time. I’m sorry. It just is very funny.

    I am often reduced to tears of laughter by the half-witted contortions of the unpopular press on the latest tautologous discoveries of various bones and fossils which are said (about once a month last year) to ‘prove’ the theory of evolution.

    This is a disguised accusation that I am inaccurate and do not respect the evidence… [The contributor] needs to produce specific examples of my alleged inaccuracy and disrespect for evidence.

    I suspect that this…is common only because of the very limited understanding of what evolution is, resulting from its dismal teaching as an acknowledged fact in schools.

    I am also told that accepting adaptation (an observable fact) is tantamount to accepting evolution (a speculative theory about the past). I think this is simply mistaken.

    With public understanding of the theory at such a minimal level…no wonder many of evolution’s defenders are mixed up about what they are actually supposed to believe. They confuse adaptation within species – observable, undeniable fact – with evolution of species, a wholly different thing extrapolated from adaptation but not demonstrable in action.

    Can those who believe the evolutionary theory is an established fact please respond without name-calling, and simply show us…why it is so?

    I cannot find any Darwinist argument which doesn’t in the end rely on conjecture, backed up by the argument that it is the majority view.

    The whole point about Karl Popper is that, if one of the greatest scientific philosophers of our age is prepared to entertain doubts about the certainty of the truth of evolution by natural selection, it really is no good for [contributors to appear so certain]. They are cleverer and better-informed than he?

    This is because of the essential circularity of that theory, noted by Popper.

    My school biology textbooks, in the mid-1960s, didn’t even mention evolution, (nor do I see why they should have done), and they were pretty new and shiny. I have not heard of any discovery since that would have caused them to change.

    I thought he understood my view that the theory of evolution by natural selection was not a scientific tenet but a quasi-religious faith, circular in its nature and not susceptible of disproof or proof, and therefore in the realm of metaphysics.

    I myself, as I often have cause to say, have no idea of the truth of the matter, believing we have insufficient data on which to theorise.

    It’s my understanding that Hitler made frequent reference to natural selection and evolution as justification for his racial theories and his attitude towards the disabled, in ‘Mein Kampf’ and elsewhere.

    • gbjames
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Sort of a self-professed ignoramus. Lordy, lordy, what a foolish man.

    • Sunny
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      After reading the above I was curious to see what Popper said about evolution:


      • Posted March 8, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        From the opening lines of that link:

        In a 1981 article in Science Digest, Duane Gish, the master debater among creationists, said:

        There were no human witnesses to the origin of the Universe[&hellip.]



    • spud2006
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      So on the one hand we have Popper, but – most importantly – Popper according to Hitchens:

      “The whole point about Karl Popper is that, if one of the greatest scientific philosophers of our age is prepared to entertain doubts about the certainty of the truth of evolution by natural selection, it really is no good for [contributors to appear so certain]. They are cleverer and better-informed than he? …This is because of the essential circularity of that theory, noted by Popper.”

      and on the other we have Popper by Popper:

      “I see in modern Darwinism the most successful explanation of the relevant facts … There exists no law of evolution, only the historical fact that plants and animals change, or more precisely, that they have changed … I have always been extremely interested in the theory of evolution and very ready to accept evolution as a fact … The Mendelian underpinning of modern Darwinism has been well tested and so has the theory of evolution which says that all terrestrial life has evolved from a few primitive unicellular organisms, possibly even from one single organism.”

      I’d love to see Hitchens minor respond to this.

      But he won’t.

      • lamacher
        Posted March 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        I like that: Hitchens Major and Hitchens minor! Splendid!

    • Chris
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      “It’s my understanding that Hitler made frequent reference to natural selection and evolution as justification for his racial theories and his attitude towards the disabled, in ‘Mein Kampf’ and elsewhere.”

      Your understanding is completely wrong then, Mr. Hitchens.

      See, for the overview: http://coelsblog.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/nazi-racial-ideology-was-religious-creationist-and-opposed-to-darwinism/


      Or, more in-depth:

      Click to access Was%20Hitler%20a%20Darwinian.pdf

      (Mr. Richards will soon be publishing a book on this issue as well.)

    • Posted March 8, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      My school biology textbooks, in the mid-1960s, didn’t even mention evolution, (nor do I see why they should have done), and they were pretty new and shiny. I have not heard of any discovery since that would have caused them to change.

      A terrible oversight for such a good school (the Leys School; the same as Christopher). He should have turned to the How and Why Wonder Books that I was reading at that time.


      • bric
        Posted March 8, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        ‘nor do I see why they should have done’ . . . the classic answer of course is from Theodosius Dobzhansky – ‘Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution’. As Mr Dobzhansky was a Christian we may assume he didn’t have a sinister atheistical agenda for his essay.

        • Posted March 8, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

          Oh, but Добжанський can’t have been a true Christian… 😉


    • Posted March 8, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      ANDREW PLATT: That is a splendid compendium of spooky Peter Hitchens quotes, and useful; THANK YOU for those, Andrew!

  43. Posted March 8, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Not that it matters except in a sociocultural way, but I wonder if he’s correct about his schoolbooks?

  44. Veroxitatis
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I think it’s generally accepted that to be a meaningful critic of quantum mechanics, QED, QCD,String Theory, M Theory and such one will have paid ones dues, i.e. will at least be at post doc level and have a thorough understanding of what is being criticised. Why does every Tom, Dick & Harry see the Theory of Evolution as fair game? Not even the equivalent of A level biology needed.

  45. Posted March 8, 2013 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I am curiously reading between the lines on this, but it sounds a lot like Peter H. might actually sit ’round his parlor on a late evening sniveling about how more people like Christopher than himself even when he is dead.

    Dear Peter,
    Your brother was _far_ more skilled at this journalism and public discourse stuff than you are. Keep trying though. Maybe some day you’ll be recognized for the massive talent you think you are.

  46. gluonspring
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Clicking the video landed me on a part about Iraq. PH might have gotten that one right, at least.

  47. Posted March 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Peter Hitchens, you might be right.

    This isn’t enough for the devotees, who would never under any circumstances say the same to me.

    There. You’re proved wrong.


  48. Posted March 8, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Did we discard all of quantum mechanics because there’s a disagreement on how to interpret its meaning?

    Nice analogy.

    Btw, we many-worlders are, necessarily, splitters. 😀


    • Posted March 8, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      +1 😉

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      =D indeed. What an entangled world we weave.

  49. Dean Thoren
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    “Your hand sir, your hand!” What an excellent refutation. I thoroughly enjoyed reading that!

  50. Posted March 8, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Peter Hitchens,
    Stating an opinion that also happens to be a fact. Not only are you incorrect about evolution, you are also completely outclassed by Jerry Coyne in anything to do with Biology (and much else butI won’t go into that here.)
    How are you able to keep this up? Do you really not understand that you are engaged against reality?

    Yours respectfully,
    Carl Wayne

  51. Posted March 8, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    “Yes, Peter Hitchens, you may have his genes, but you don’t have his eloquence, knowledge of science, or inability to shake yourself free from the shackles of superstition. And, unlike your brother, you are intellectually dishonest.”

    PURE GOLD. P. Hitchens will not get it.

    Full disclosure: I was never a “fan” of Christopher Hitches, although I did enjoy his work and respect much of it.

    For real stuff, I go to Jerry Coyne, Sam Harris and particularly enjoy the writings of JT Eberhard.


    • Posted March 8, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      I used to feel somewhat the same way, until I got deeper into Hitchens’ writing. His anti-theistic angle, where he argues (successfully in IMHO) how much it would suck if a figure like the Judeo-Christian god actually did exist, is as important to this debate as the more scientific and philosphical arguments of some the other “New Atheists”.

      • Posted March 8, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for reminding me. I think Christopher’s occasional (very understandable) frustration got to me.
        While his work is indispensable for me, I find the Eberhard extremely effective and essential, despite the fact that he is not a professional writer like Hitchens. Soometimes that is tough to tell because he can be so good.
        Coyne’s book was fantastic. I would change a word here or there but would absolutly rather discuss this stuff with him than with C.Hitchens.

      • Harry
        Posted March 8, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        Introducing the notion of “anti-theism” is to me something that I especially admire Hitch for. I had never thought that far before but it all made sense to me immediately. It was, to me, very liberating to realise that all of Yawhe’s demands could easily be countered with a simple “No. Fuck you”.

        • Posted March 8, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

          Exactly. The existence question is of course paramount, but we forget that many of us are prevented from even considering those arguments because we cannot conceive of a reality without such a “loving God”. The Hitch smacks you upside the head and asks you whether such a being with all of its implications for reality is actually that wonderful. Clears the air and allows us to treat the subject of religion without such undeserved reverence.

  52. Posted March 8, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Pardon the multitude of spelling errors. Not feeling well today.


    • Posted March 8, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      thuts oky i thing u spell reel gud

  53. Posted March 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Stonyground says:

    It seems to me that this guy has yet to learn that when you are in a hole, then you need to stop digging. Exposing your stupidity and ignorance to intelligent and well informed people is not a good idea. Having done so once and made an utter fool of himself, surely it is an act of utter folly to do it again.

    Incedentally, I consider the best ever argument against Christianity to be this:


    In 250 years no Christian has been able to refute it. Over to you PH, if you can write a credible refutation, I might convert.

  54. Posted March 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Internet version of the McLuhan moment. Jerry , you’re a genius.

  55. Kurt Helf
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Also, it’s Dr. Coyne, Mr. P. Hitchens. I’m sure a man of your intellectual caliber recognizes the hard work it takes to earn such an honorific.

  56. papalinton
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    A measured and solid reply, Jerry.
    P Hitchen’s unschooled and ludicrous response is little more than a postmortem reflex of a failed belief system. It seems Christian apologetics has no option other than to follow the sublime-to-the-ridiculous route to self-inflicted oblivion.

  57. Jimbo
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    The audacity of P. Hitchens to argue the merits of evolutionary theory with Jerry Coyne! What arrogance!

    Great riposte Jerry. There must be a genetic determinant found in the brain of a Hitchens’ that relishes and is rewarded by engaging in combative debate. That said, it appears that Christopher was primed for the adrenaline surge of a victorious fight and Peter, the testosterone lull from an unceremonious flight.

  58. jiten
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    What an excoriating reply Jerry, in a style that was calm yet thundering, and coruscating.

  59. Mary Canada
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink


  60. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    You’d never guess from the bilious railing and lecturing above that what I say, repeatedly, is that ‘I am quite prepared to accept that the theory of evolution by natural selection may be true’. In other words, to my opponents I say gently and generously ‘Yes, you might be right’.

    This isn’t enough for the devotees, who would never under any circumstances say the same to me.

    There is always doubt, but more precisely there is also in empirics standards of “reasonable doubt”.

    By way of the homologous genetic machinery in all cells and the combinatorics of the many species involved, Douglas Theobald has estimated that we can observe an UCA (out of evolution) as more than 10^2000 [!] times as likely as two or more, including a creationist random assemblage of unrelated species.

    Considering that the observable universe has something like 10^100 particles, to find a planet with a random species assemblage is not like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack, a unique particle in the observable universe. But like trying to find a needle in 10^20 haystacks!

    That is such a tremendous number that it is hard to grasp it. Our galaxy has ~ 100 billion stars, or 10^11 stars. And our observable universe has roughly the same amount of such large galaxies. There you go, about 10^20 or so stars.

    So P Hitchens bilious lecturing leads up to him looking for a needle among all the stars of the visible universe, the creationist holy grail: a smidgen of unreasonable doubt, a tremendously small gap to press a couple of tremendously small gods-of-the-gaps into.

    Yes Peter, if you want unreasonable doubt there is still some to be had. Just not within this universe.

  61. Diane G.
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink


  62. shelldigger
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Wow, What a thorough smackdown Mr. Coyne. Bravo.

    Is it just me? Reading the screed by PH struck me as coming from a pompous, self inflated, entitled, smug jerk. Clearly impenetrable to reason. Never once bothering to consider the possibilty he could be wrong, despite his lame concession that indeed he is “quite prepared to accept that the theory of evolution by natural selection may be true” I think its clear, that is a preposterous lie.

    I will also add, that its rather pathetic for him to be surfing the wake of his brothers success, as a charlatan pandering to the ID crowd. Despicable.

    This guy doesnt deserve the attention he is getting.

  63. Harry Rose
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    As someone who has been masochistically addicted to Peter Hitchens’ absurd, overwrought and disingenuous Daily Mail articles for several years now, I can confirm that his entire modus operandi is built upon wilful ignorance. And when he is occasionally ‘right’ about something, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. In fact, it’s something worse than wilful ignorance, for Peter Hitchens is often quite clearly aware of the facts, but relies upon the ignorance of his socially conservative Daily Mail readership. Mr Hitchens fuels the prejudices of his Daily Mail readership, knowing full well that many on the Right have a propensitiy for only believing what they want to believe. There is no better example of this than with his approach to evolution.

    One of my favourite examples of Mr Hitchens’ dishonest method (along with his ridiculous use of the Piltdown Man Hoax as a ‘devastating’ argument against evolution) was his use of the Space Pen urban myth to demonize American profligacy and incompetence. Being an isolationist little-Englander, Peter Hitchens is forever attempting to exagerrate cultural divisions between the US and UK (he still cites Mel Gibson’s The Patriot as clear evidence of the fact that everyone in Hollywood is anti-British). With the Space Pen urban legend, Mr Hitchens contrasts the wasteful extravagance of the Americans who ‘wasted’ millions on developing a pen that could write in space, with those wise old Russians who simply used pencils instead. Peter Hitchens knowingly reproduced this half truth, safe in the knowledge that many of his bigoted captive audience would not bother to find out the full story for themselves, and would have another little reason to mock Americans.

    Likewise, in Peter Hitchens’ moral absolutist world of false dichotomies, he openly admits to *choosing* to believe in his version of the Christian ‘god’ (a god that just happens to reflect his political and moral agenda identically… go figure), even though he claims that the existence of his god is (conveniently) unknowable, and will forever remain unknowable (so there’s no point in trying to uncover the truth). In other words, Peter Hitchens has made the right choice, whereas the non-religious have chosen not to believe in god for selfish reasons and because they fear ‘His’ wrath. And yet, despite admitting to this agnosticism, he would like Christianity taught as ‘truth’ in British schools. A knowing and dangerous deception and manipulation of impressionable minds. Which is why people like Prof Dawkins are often so hostile toward those adults who seek to indoctrinate children into their own faith (whilst denying real world facts such as evolution, dyslexia, ADHD and addiction).

    In effect, Peter Hitchens is setting himself above and apart from the puritanical form of Anglicanism he wants to inflict on society. Just like a snake oil salesman or an Inquisitor, Matthew Hopkins, the Wizard of Oz or the Dr Zaius character from Planet of the Apes, Mr Hitchens is merely seeking to use Christianity as a political weapon with which to control the behaviour of other people, and as such, he wants to leave actual belief in god to the ‘uneducated masses’.

    Anyhow, it’s been a while since I’ve read a Peter Hitchens article. And if I don’t satisfy my morbid fascination for his bunkum soon, I will begin to suffer withdrawal symptoms, such as feelings of peace and calmness, a sense of wellbeing, and a restoration of my faith in humanity. Oh… that word faith. Something Peter Hitchens has turned into a dirty word.

    • Posted March 9, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      I gnashed my teeth when Mr. P. Hitchens won the Orwell Prize in 2010 & wrote this on his own MoS blog:- “What is it that I like about Orwell? Above all it is the good, clear English and the desire to be truthful even at some cost…”

      The NASA pen thing was probably from this article:- http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2010/12/the-kalashnikov-paradox/comments/page/4/

      Wherein I notice that Mr. P. Hitchens isn’t a fact checker ~ much preferring to take the lazy path of slipping in caveats as for example from the above short article alone:-

      “something I am fairly sure that I saw”
      “memory, that lying jade, insists it was blue”
      “I don’t know if it’s true, but it expresses a truth”

      I suspect he never actually witnessed the very last trip of that steam train he mentions early on, but it’s a convenient conceit to frame the story. Of course everyone uses this trickery, but I tend to notice it more from the pens of people I loathe..

      • Harry Rose
        Posted March 10, 2013 at 3:13 am | Permalink

        Yes, we all do it. But with Peter Hitchens, it is so blatant and extreme. The line… “I don’t know if it’s true, but it expresses a truth” says it all really. In other words, he would like something to be true that isn’t necessarily truth.

        In his quest to demonstrate that the ‘little people’ of a century ago lived cleaner, and more god-fearing existences of temperance, moderation and thrift (compared with the godless and debauched materialists of today), Hitchens actually prowled around ancient graveyards to show that some Victorians actually lived beyond 80. And when he found one he used it as ‘evidence’ of his wishfulfilment, explaining away the fact that people live twice as long today purely on the medical advances that can delay premature death. The same reason why the murder rate is lower. In other words, there are only less murders today because medical advances can treat wounds that were once fatal. Hitchens will seize on any anecdotal evidence that supports his agenda, and blow it up out of all proportion to the extent that it blinds him to the vast majority of evidence that is against his case… as he does with Piltdown. If Hitchens saw a stray swallow in November, he would claim that it was summer, if that is what he wanted to believe.

        In the majority of cases, when Peter Hitchens expresses the sentiment “I don’t know if it’s true, but it expresses a truth”, Peter Hitchens does know the ‘truth’, but prefers not to admit it because it is inconvenient to his agenda (ie evolution). Or if he genuinely doesn’t know, then any journalist worth his salt would go and find out. As it happens, the truth of the space pen legend is not only well known, but it is very easy to find out. Even for a non-journalist. But this isn’t ‘lazy’ journalism, it is dishonest propagandizing.

        Only yesterday, Hitchens referred to the American Revolution as “The French expulsion of our (Britain’s) German mercenaries, quaintly known as the War of Independence.” Whilst this may have been said in jest, Peter Hitchens is not renowned for public displays of humour, and it does tie-in with his attempts to form a wedge between British and American culture… in this case denying our shared history. This is made all the more bizarre when on any other day Hitchens will cite Mel Gibson’s The Patriot as the defining example of Hollywood’s anti-British agenda. Peter Hitchens hates the fact that the US and UK have a shared language, as this gives the ‘illusion’ of strong cultural ties, even peddling that other urban legend, that it was on a knife-edge that the Americans didn’t choose German as their first language.

        And you are so right about Orwell. Peter Hitchens is his diametric opposite, and yet curiously, like so many other hard-right social conservatives claims him for his own. The paradox is that the social conservative will publicly favour localism and small government when generalizing about the nanny state and an unsustainable welfare system, and yet privately, they favour big state solutions for a whole range of issues that dictate personal behaviour – be it on drugs or sex. The irony is, that it was people like Hitchens that Orwell was warning about in 1984 and Animal Farm, so too Stanley Kubrick’s masterful interpretation of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. But Hitchens doesn’t see it, and instead argues that the governments of 1984 and Orange, with their attempts to brainwash and control the masses, are mirrors of our own governments and their promotion of medical treatments for depression, addiction, ADHD, dyslexia etc. Hence his attempts to argue that all of these complaints have been invented by a liberal Marxist cabal of corporate, media, scientific and government conspirators to control the population.

        Combine all of this with Peter Hitchens’ open disdain for democracy and universal suffrage, and you have a very scary man. However well-intentioned Hitchens’ motives, he cannot seem to see the kind of extremists and crooks who would take advantage of and come to power in the kind of society he advocates.

  64. Posted March 9, 2013 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” — Plato

  65. Me
    Posted March 9, 2013 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    This debate video is absolutely gorgeous. How it makes me miss Chris hitchens incredible mind! I found myself clapping at his so incredibly spot on argument in the last question. The Arab Israeli conflict is EXACTLY what he said. The world lost a real human being when he died.

  66. Posted March 9, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Wow, just watched the whole debate video, and was laughing and applauding at the “You owe me an apology” bit. Still can’t believe he’s gone. And P.H.is pitiful, so, so pitiful by comparison.

  67. Posted March 9, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Up next — Phitch hacks out another screed whose entire thrust is that atheists are mean to him on the Internet.

    • gbjames
      Posted March 10, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      “Phitch”. I like that. But how ’bout we go with “Pitch” instead. “Hitch and Pitch” has a ring to it.

      • Posted March 10, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        Pitch as in pitch-the-woo; I like it. Too bad his name isn’t Bruce.

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