Discovery Institute and Commentary laud Tom Wolfe’s evolution-bashing in “The Kingdom of Speech” (and diss Professor Ceiling Cat)

Think of the poor schmucks who work at the Discovery Institute (DI). Having completely failed to get Intelligent Design taught in schools, or ever moderately accepted in the scientific community—and they predicted such acceptance would have happened by now—they are reduced to carping about evolutionists like me, making ad hominem arguments, and touting those scholars—like Jerry Fodor and Tom Nagel—who have jumped the shark by claiming that evolutionary theory is fatally flawed.  The IDer’s main gambit, which has always been the strategy of Intelligent Design, is to point out that evolution can’t explain everything, and that therefore an Intelligent Designer (read “Jesus and God’) did it.

While they differ on how much real Darwinian evolution really occurred (Michael Behe, for instance, says he has no problem with “common ancestry”), and whether the Earth is old or young, the IDers are united in spending their time attacking evolutionists on nonscientific grounds as well as emphasizing the things that evolution hasn’t yet explained, all while ignoring the great sea of evidence for evolution around them.

And so, when Tom Wolfe’s book The Kingdom of Speech came out, the IDers were elated. For the premise of Wolfe’s book is twofold. First, evolution is a non-starter (as Wolfe said, ““Darwin offered nothing at all.”), although Wolfe was cagey about admitting whether he believed that any part of evolution was true. Second, Wolfe, like his hero Alfred Russel Wallace, promoted human exceptionalism: that human biology, and speech in particular, has no possible evolutionary explanation, and that therefore some other explanation must hold for both the origin of speech and the large human brain. Wolfe spent much of the book attacking Noam Chomsky for asserting that the structure of human speech (“universal grammar”) has anything to do with evolution.

I reviewed the book for the Washington Post, and showed that Wolfe was way out of his depth, completely ignorant of both linguistics and evolutionary biology, as well as of the evidence that natural selection is at partly involved in the origin and elaboration of human speech.

Now there’s a new review of Wolfe’s book, one on the Jewish-oriented site Commentary. The review, “We’re only human” is by Andrew Ferguson described by Commentary as “formerly our Press Man columnist, [Ferguson is] senior editor at the Weekly Standard and the author, most recently, of Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College.” He’s also a senior editor at The Weekly Standard. The review is extremely laudatory, praising Wolfe’s book for its attack on materialism, its emphasis on human exceptionalism, and for breaking the stereotype (what stereotype?) that scientists have a monopoly on describing science in the popular press—a trend that Ferguson thinks is invidious and self-serving. Ferguson’s book also goes after yours truly, but let’s ignore that for the nonce. Let’s just say that the review, by tacitly promoting creationism, human evolutionary exceptionalism, and by dissing the canard “scientism”, should be an embarrassment to Commentary. It’s especially galling to me, as one of Jewish ancestry, that a Jewish site is so credulous.

Over at the ID creationist site Evolution News & Views (who will love this attention), an anonymous writer for the DI calls attention to Ferguson’s book and uses the excuse to criticize my negative view of it. Why? Because I like cats and cowboy boots!. And apparently wear Birkenstocks, a bogus accusation leveled by Ferguson.

EN&V’s quote of Ferguson:

The reviewer was Jerry Coyne, a biologist from the University of Chicago and a volunteer border cop who patrols the perimeter where science and popular culture meet, making sure that scientists are accorded the proper deference. The Kingdom of Speech is deeply transgressive in this way. Wolfe makes sport of scientific pretensions generally and neo-Darwinian pretensions specifically, and Coyne, a neo-Darwinist to the soles of his Birkenstocks, isn’t going to let a mere journalist, or even a Grand Old Man of Letters, get away with it.

And their own criticism:

Fact-check: Coyne wears specially custom-handmade cowboy boots, not Birkenstocks. He must own closets full. We know because he spends a great deal of space on his evolution blog detailing this with accompanying photos of the boots both under construction and on his feet. Only imagined dialogues between a cat and a dog receive more attention. Even Wolfe would have a hard time spoofing Coyne. Otherwise this is spot-on.

When the IDiots go after stuff like this, it’s clear that they have nothing. The resort to this kind of criticism (and, after all, don’t IDers have hobbies?) instead of substantive criticism of what I said, is telling. After all, I don’t go after Wolfe in my review in that way, except to mention briefly his famous white suits.

But on to Ferguson.  Here’s a precis of his main points, with quotes indented.

Scientists are wedded to fundamentalist materialism, and we do that because that gives us a good living. But it blinkers us from seeing “other ways of knowing”. 

You don’t hear much about Wallace anymore, and you hear even less about Muller, while their contemporary Darwin became, of course, one of the most famous men who ever lived. Human exceptionalism has a lot to do with their relative reputations. Wallace embraced it and so did Muller; indeed, they thought it was self-evident. Darwin didn’t. And most scientists, especially fundamentalists like Jerry Coyne, have inherited Darwin’s materialism as dogma. It’s a good deal for scientists. After all, if everything we consider uniquely human is a consequence of purely materialistic processes, then the guys who study materialistic processes for a living hold the key to every human question. It’s nice work if you can get it.

Right away this shows Ferguson’s ignorance of science. We don’t inherit materialism—I prefer the word “naturalism”—as dogma; rather, it is the only strategy that has worked. Here, for instance, are Sean Carroll’s three tenets of naturalism taken from his recent book The Big Picture:

  1. There is only one world: the natural world.
  2. The world evolves according to unbroken patterns, the laws of nature
  3. The only reliable way of learning about the world is by observing it.

These principles developed by a process of trial and error over centuries. As I’ve emphasized for years, there were times when naturalism wasn’t all-encompassing in science, and when supernatural process were invoked. Before Darwin, God’s hand was the only credible explanation for the “design-like” features of plants and animals. But that didn’t work, and was displaced by natural selection. Newton couldn’t explain why planetary orbits were stable, and thus invoked the hand of God interceding by pushing the planets around. Now we know that we needn’t do that; we have no need of the God hypothesis to explain stable orbits.  If there were any evidence of supernatural or preternatural influences in science, like the efficacy of intercessory prayer (tested and rejected), or the ability of humans to practice telekinesis or remote viewing, scientists would be studying those phenomena. But we aren’t because there’s no credible evidence. Once again, naturalism (“materialism”) is the only route that has ever given us reliable evidence about the world, and about human biology.

Evolutionary biology hasn’t explained speech, and therefore there must be Some Other Explanation. This, of course, is a God of the Gaps argument. (Ferguson doesn’t mention God, but it’s clear where he’s going.)

There’s a problem, though. Evolutionary theory is no closer than it was in Darwin’s day to explaining in materialist terms how traits like self-consciousness and language came to be. The scientists keep trying, of course, as scientists should.

But should we keep trying if the explanation be supernaturalistic? If materialism isn’t the solution, then why bother?

One thing that neither the DI nor Ferguson deals with is the pervasive evidence for human physical evolution as seen in the fossil record. You may say that part of human biology, like consciousness or speech, could not have arisen by natural selection, but you can’t deny that the evidence shows that the human body, including our big brain, evolved gradually over time. If God was doing that, he made it look remarkably like evolution! And we have evidence for the evolution of speech capacity as well, evidence that I give in my review.  A good refutation of Ferguson’s GOTG argument was in fact given by a commenter on my WaPo review:


Wolfe was attacked by scientists because he is an “outsider” who dares criticize our field. That is, we had to attack him because he wasn’t a scientist.  The first quote above, about the Birkenstocks (which I’ve never worn and dislike, as I find them ugly), shows this, as well as the following one:

Those earlier books [The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House] provoked outrage from the specialists, and The Kingdom of Speech has inspired the same reaction from the same quarters. Coyne is not the only scientist who rushed to the blogs and manned the message boards to post dozens of objections to the book and its argument. Wolfe is simply in over his head, they say. A recurring charge is that he never takes care to define his terms—using, for example, the words “speech” and “language” interchangeably, which a specialist would never do.

. . . Clearing the popularizers from the field, as many specialists would like to do, would cede all scientific argument to scientists, who in many notable cases have not earned the deference they demand. The danger is doubled when scientists use science to draw metaphysical lessons—when, that is, they assert that human beings and primates are in essence the same kind of creature. A flurry of data and polysyllabic detail shouldn’t obscure the fact that such a thesis defies human experience and devalues the noblest human endeavors (including science, by the way).

I don’t know where to begin on this one. First of all, we don’t want to clear popularizers from the field. Who would want to dispose of Carl Zimmer’s great scientific reportage, or David Quammen’s wonderful books, or Jonathan Weiner, or David Attenborough, or James Gleick, or. . . . the list is long. Yes, some scientists have also been popularizers, like Jared Diamond, Steve Gould, and Richard Dawkins, but in fact many of them have been criticized by other scientists for popularizing instead of doing science!

On this issue Ferguson is just wrong. Why I and others criticized Wolfe was that he was simply wrong about many issues—issues in both linguistics and evolution. If you read the bit on evolution, and know anything about it, you’ll see that Wolfe simply didn’t do his homework, and it showed. It is the non-scientist reviewers who didn’t catch these errors, and that’s one reason why the press should get scientists who can write to review works of popular science.

Wolfe had to “skirt complicated niceties” as he was writing as a journalist and entertainer. 

As a journalist and entertainer, Wolfe has an obligation to avoid the tedium that makes scientific publications interesting to scientists and nobody else. That obligation doesn’t relieve him of the obligation to be accurate; the two demands live side by side. But it does require him to shun pedantry, to keep his readers away from thickets of technical arguments and counterarguments that will leave them half-dead. The trick for the popularizer is to write both generally and vividly, skirting complicating niceties here and there, while never failing to steer the reader toward the truth.

Sadly, Wolfe wasn’t accurate about nearly anything, as you can see from my review. In fact, the “complicating niceties” are crucial in evaluating his book.  Is there a naturalistic explanation for the increase in human brain size, giving us a capacity to do more than could ever have been subject to direct selection in our ancestors? Was Daniel Everett’s claim that the Pirahã language didn’t show recursion accurate? Is there really no evidence for an evolutionary component of human speech? In Wolfe’s book, the devil is in the complicating niceties, for they completely overturn his thesis.

If you doubt the worthlessness of Wolfe’s book, and know something about evolution or linguistics, by all means read it. That is, if you can do so without buying the book.


  1. Posted October 24, 2016 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I’m not up on ID where it concerns other species of humans, so what’s the theory? That God took the Neanderthals so far then gave up? That they were irredeemably sinful and died in the Flood?

    • Phil Rounds
      Posted October 24, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      My understanding of the ID factions position on other hominoid species is that they believe they were either variations of homo sapiens or simply monkeys.

    • derekw
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      That is mostly correct. Those subscribing to the young earth view will propose the recent hominoids (>500,000 BC) fall within the physical and genetic variation possibilities of homo sapiens (modern human). Old-earthers will see the hominoids as different separately-created species with modern humans having a much more advanced mental, social, spiritual (ie symbolic) abilities.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    What writer with an ounce of credit comes out going after someone based on what they wear on their feet? Is this Ferguson just nuts or is he doing that pivot all others who know nothing about what they are talking about do. The weekly standard for christsakes, the William Kristol original. There is only so much garbage a person can take and Ferguson should just go home and think about it for two seconds.

    • Carl
      Posted October 24, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Birkenstocks have become a cultural metaphor for a certain lifestyle or value system. The association of our host with them is intended as an insult to his mind, not to his taste in shoes.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted October 24, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        Well, I guess if the shoe fits….and apparently this one did not. In either case, what the heck does that have with Prof. Coyne’s review of Wolf’s book?

        • Carl
          Posted October 24, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

          Isn’t it obvious that it has nothing to do with JAC’s review? It’s a cheap smear at the expense of making a valid criticism.

    • chris moffatt
      Posted October 25, 2016 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      Ferguson writes for the whiny and self-absorbed William Kristol’s neo-con weekly. He usually writes rubbish.

  3. John Crisp
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, while I agree with you entirely on the substantive points, I do have to take issue with your comments on Birkenstocks. Living as I do in a country that is largely hot and dusty (outside the rainy season, when it is wet and muddy), I find them immensely practical and comfortable. To be fair, you only commented on their aesthetics, and admittedly on my large and ungainly feet they lack a certain elegance, but on a slim and well-turned foot they can be quite an adornment. In any case, your smart boots of exquisitely tooled leather and subtle stitching would not long survive the conditions that Ethiopian footwear has to confront – the local people, of course, to whom leather boots or Birkenstocks would be an unthinkable extravagance, make do with bare feet, flip-flops and brightly coloured plastic beach sandals.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 24, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Count me as another unashamed Birkenstock wearer, Jerry’s opinion of their aesthetics notwithstanding.

    • Posted October 24, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      I’ve never worn them, so I’m sure they’re comfortable–that has to be one reason why they’re so popular. I just don’t like the way they look. This is a purely subjective matter of taste, so there’s really no arguing about that.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 24, 2016 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

        Coulda been worse; they coulda claimed you were shod in Crocs.

        Or Birkenstocks and socks.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted October 24, 2016 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

          Again, not ashamed to admit that I wear socks with my Birkies. People who think that’s weird must live in places where feet don’t get cold.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 25, 2016 at 9:50 am | Permalink

          Before I wore them out, I too would wear socks with my Birkenstocks.
          Unless the snow was turning to slush, when it’d be Birkenstocks and badly-broken toenails. And a towel & dry slippers in the rucksack.

  4. Posted October 24, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Re Dr Coyle’s statement: “If there were any evidence of supernatural or preternatural influences in science, like the efficacy of intercessory prayer (tested and rejected)…. but…. there’s no credible evidence.” A personal friend was told of a cancerous thyroid after a twin-needle biopsy. Last week they operated, and removed the cancer, as big as a mandarin, and it was benign. My friend interprets this as God-intervention, and attributes it to a flood of prayer from dozens of Christian friends. Before the op, I myself, a Ph.D. in physics, touched his throat and prayed that God would rearrange the “furniture” underneath the skin. I have no problem accepting this result as a miracle.

    • Posted October 24, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      First of all, the name is “Coyne,” not “Coyle.” Second, do you think the probability that God turned a malignant tumor benign is higher than the probability that the biopsy might be mistaken? If not, why do you have “no problem accepting this as a miracle”?

      • Posted October 24, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        I apologize for misspelling your name. I’m not medically-trained so can’t comment on the error bar in biopsy evaluations. But I know the doctor who delivered the results made a home visit and was very serious about doing the first op within two weeks, and if the cancer had spread they would do a second op the very next week.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 24, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Presumably in your physics training you learned that uncorroborated personal testimonials do not constitute credible evidence.

      • Posted October 24, 2016 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        The event was corroborated by several medical professionals. But if you mean there needs to be other scientific tests done in exactly the same manner, you know that’s impossible. Science would say its an outlier I agree. But an outlier can convey truth. Radical cancer remissions were outliers because oncologists couldn’t explain them, and dismissed them. Until Kelly Turner collected thousands of personal testimonials, and wrote a book called Radical Remission, where she uncovered 9 keys to defeating or preventing cancer. Yes they are alternative approaches to healing, but there is truth here, and valuable truth to a person who has cancer.

        • Posted October 24, 2016 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          Umm. . . could you briefly describe the experiments you did to study cosmic rays from the sun?

          • Posted October 24, 2016 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

            It was a long time ago. Initially I analyzed data on energetic protons and electrons that were ejected by a solar flare. They were detected and recorded by sophisticated Geiger counters on satellites swinging around earth. I modeled the transport of these cosmic rays by setting up a Monte Carlo approach where each cosmic ray particle collided with an irregularity in the interspace magnetic field, and was thrown off its trajectory randomly. Essentially a diffusion process, like pulling a cork out of a bottle of perfume.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted October 24, 2016 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

          Double-blind clinical trials of medical treatments are certainly not impossible. They’re how we acquire reliable knowledge of the efficacy of such treatments.

          As Feynman said, the most important thing is not to fool yourself.

        • Posted October 24, 2016 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

          I AM trained in medicine, and would love to see the actual readout of the biopsy results, as well as the pathology description of the removed tumor. I doubt there is even anything terribly remarkable here, let alone supernatural. All tests have error bars, and pathology has a certain degree of subjectivity at the best of times. It’s certainly not remarkable for a test to be interpreted in the worst possible lights, since erring on the side of caution is preferable to the alternative. Nothing about this case sounds even striking so far.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 25, 2016 at 10:04 am | Permalink

          there is truth here, and valuable truth to a person who has cancer

          Might I suggest that there is also truth in Stephen Jay Gould’s cold-eyed study of the statistics of (whatever his cancer was) and his chi ice to do what he could to put himself into the right-hand tail (ie. more than 2 years survival post-diagnosis) of the survival distribution? But of course, Gould used science, not one of the many noodle appendages of the FSM (Sauce Be Upon Her and Her Meaty Balls!).
          Was it 10 or 15 years that Gould lived, worked, and contributed to science after his cancer diagnosis? Long enough to rile many IDers, for sure. Odd how the god-squad routinely forget about that one, as if it holed their propositions below the evidential waterline.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 24, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      I would also ask – If your personal friend was an atheist or even a Muslim, would that have qualified as a miracle as well?

      • Posted October 24, 2016 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        To me the miracle lies in the result. Thinking deeper on your question, at another time I was able to help an agnostic lady who was very ill and about to lose her business. My credo is to help someone to hope, and the example I follow is the life of Jesus, who spent a great portion of his time helping the marginalized.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted October 24, 2016 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

          Actually, to understand the result, that takes evidence. I do not see any here. Many people come close to or lose their business for a lot of different reasons. The survival has not been attributed to miracles to my knowledge.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 25, 2016 at 10:08 am | Permalink

          You worked to provide good health care, free at the point of use, for all ill people? Or you accepted the barbaric injustices of your local Caesar and let him continue to oppress the suffering innocents?

        • nicky
          Posted October 25, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

          Sometimes it works the other way round. My wife’s breast cancer was ‘triple positive’, meaning it would be very responsive to chemotherapy. After six months of chemo and radical mastectomy in March, we discovered in April she had brain meta’s. She died in August at age 27, riddled with meta’s. An inverse miracle as it where. Note, she was devoutly religious too. I’m still distraught. 😥

          • nicky
            Posted October 25, 2016 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

            And yes, many -hundreds- prayed for her. When I re-read your posts I just feel disgust. You may guess where I think you should stick your prayer-induced ‘miracles’.

          • Posted October 25, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

            Sorry to hear about your wife and your loss😦

    • Posted October 24, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad your PhD is in physics, not medicine. Maybe you can direct your prayers to discovering what dark matter is. Maybe you can beat those using maths and experimentation to the punch.

      • Posted October 24, 2016 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

        I have used maths and experimentation to study cosmic rays from the sun and how they travel to earth. And down to earth, have studied fracking and how fracs grow through the earth. But no, am not up to modeling dark matter, although i think the Higgs-boson (the God-particle) will lead the astrophysicists to that answer.

        • Posted October 24, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

          Please describe your experiments in detail in which you studied cosmic rays from the Sun.

          I presume these are REAL experiments.

          • nicky
            Posted October 25, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

            Of course they are not real.
            Richard Dawkins quoted someone (can’t remember who) who said “You have to keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out”. I think we’re close to those falling-out brains here. Jerry, with all respect, you’re too lenient here, IMMO.

        • Posted October 25, 2016 at 7:16 am | Permalink

          Why do you use the scientific method when investigating your own field (physics) but accept the efficacy of prayer in another (medicine)?

          Why should naturalism be good enough to account for geological and cosmological processes but not biological ones?

          Is it just human biology that naturalism cannot account for or does animal biology escape naturalism too?

        • Mike
          Posted October 25, 2016 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          Is this the same God that has to worry about his Trillions of Creations, or the same God that causes Tsunamis or Earthquakes that killed millions of people over time,or the God responsible for the 5 great mass-extinction events that nearly removed all life from earth?
          And yet he has the time to worry about a Tumour he obviously created in the first place, then changed his mind and decided to remove it? your friend is a very special person indeed , to command the time of such an exalted being.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 25, 2016 at 10:13 am | Permalink

          When you’ve finished enlightening Prof.CC about your “solar cosmic rays”, I’m interested in how they relate to facing. (Hint: the gravel inspector part of my nick refers to 30 years working in oil drilling.)
          This is going to be fun. For at least one person. [blunts flaying knife]

    • eric
      Posted October 24, 2016 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Have you considered what it says about God that he could do this for your friend, but doesn’t do it for all cancer sufferers?

      Have you also considered what it says about God that he waited for prayer before curing someone of cancer? “Say please first” might be okay when you’re handing out cookies, but its horribly callous and self-centered when you’re handing out cancer cures.

      • Posted October 24, 2016 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        My starting point is the world is a broken world, but I can do something about this. My model is Jesus and his life of serving, especially to the marginalized. He didn’t heal everyone, he didn’t restore every prostitute. He didn’t reset every cheating tax collector. But he tried to help people one at a time and he brought hope. If I can do this by praying for someone with cancer, I don’t have to spend time worrying whether God is callous or self-centered.

        • eric
          Posted October 24, 2016 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

          Helping people one at a time is horrific act of neglect or narcissism, if you can cure everyone with a snap of your fingers.

          Just think about how you would judge a human who behaved that way. Pretend I have a magical cure for cancer. I could flip a switch and cure every cancer sufferer this instant. But I don’t do that; instead, I walk around curing only those people who show up in front of me, one at a time. Am I a saint for limiting my curing in such a way, or a monster?

          • nicky
            Posted October 25, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink


          • Posted October 27, 2016 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

            An interesting point Eric. I’ve never heard of Jesus being called a monster for not healing everybody. The reason I think is that he was limited. Perhaps because he was God in human form. Or perhaps because human responses to Jesus were closed in some cases. It was said “He could do no miracles there because of their [the people’s] lack of faith.” On the contrary, in several situations Jesus says “You have been healed because of your faith.” So personal openness to God seems to play a role. On the human level, I prefer to respect and praise Mother Teresa, for example, for her prodigious work to help “the poorest of the poor”, rather than criticize here for what she left undone.

        • Posted October 25, 2016 at 7:20 am | Permalink

          What kind of god cures people because other people pray for them rather than because they, themselves, are virtuous?

          Should a just God really dispense miracles as a reward for popularity?

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 25, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

            Or maybe it is a pastor (other ecclesiastical ranks are available – dispenser is in the toilets. Two ply certificate today – special offer!) who understands the collection-plate advantages of “be in my congregation or die!” messages?
            Cynical? Moi?

    • Roger
      Posted October 24, 2016 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      I don’t understand why you think a god did it when you and other people were the ones praying. Obviously you and they could have magic woo-woo powers. Have fun being a scientist I guess.

      • Posted October 24, 2016 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

        Since I believed in God and followed Jesus’ life, it opened up a new dimension for me. I can pray for someone who is sick, and if they get better why would I not attribute it to God? In fact I would thank God. I also ask God for insights and wisdom almost every day…..yes in my scientific endeavors too. Although I am retired now, I made an international reputation in coalbed methane research, and thanked God for insights in my endeavors. Personal magic powers, no, but faith in God has helped me along the way.

        • Posted October 24, 2016 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

          Okay, since you didn’t answer my last question about your “experiments” I will ask you to provide evidence for the existence of your God and Jesus as his son. And not just your upbringing or a feeling you have. Why do you think that your God and his son/alter ego Jesus is the right God, as opposed to Poseidon, Vishnu, or the Muslim Allah?

          Please answer this question, giving evidence for God and why your God is the right God, before you can go on.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 25, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

            You missed out Thor and at least 13 Polynesian storm gods. If I were Hill, I’d invest in a copper-seamed raincoat!

          • Posted October 27, 2016 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

            I’m confused Jerry. I did provide a brief summary of the solar cosmic ray experiments. It was a real experiment, using sophisticated Geiger counters (placed on satellites) to measure the intensity of energetic protons and electrons arriving at earth after a solar flare. Plots of intensity versus time allowed us to match the data by theory, something like diffusion theory away from a point source in the sun.

            To answer your second question is a much longer challenge. I will make two comments that are relevant, but do not constitute hard evidence you requested: (1) Albert Einstein said “I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene….No one can read the gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.” (2) The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible has often been regarded as a fairy tale, especially since the city of Sodom has not been found. Until now. The discovery is detailed in a book called “The Discovery of Sodom….” by archeologist Steven Collins and Latayne Scott (2014). He excavates the gate of the city, where Lot sat, as well as implements of the day, such as a rolling pin to make tortillas. the walls were 50 ft thick, and this very old city was never conquered. The destruction of the city was by a comet fireball, like Tunguska, and he supports this by layers of melted sand similar to trinitite left after the first atomic bomb exploded in New Mexico. Finally, the destruction was viewable from where Abraham lived to the north, as reported in the Biblical story. If this very old story (circa 3600 years ago, in Genesis 19) is testable and found to be true it implies we must be careful about assigning Biblical stories to fairy tales.

            • Posted October 28, 2016 at 4:32 am | Permalink

              Okay, you haven’t provided any convincing evidence for Christianity nor for why you think it’s the “true” religion. At any rate, I’d ask you to stop dominating this thread (read the Roolz).

              • Posted October 28, 2016 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

                Glad to follow your wishes Jerry. And this was exactly why I didn’t get into providing evidence for God, Jesus, Christianity — because that might seem like I was dominating the thread.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted October 24, 2016 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

          You’ve answered your own question: you attribute it to God because your belief in God preceded the alleged “miracle”, and you refuse to critique your own hypothesis or consider alternative explanations.

          This is exactly what Feynman means when he talks about fooling yourself.

        • eric
          Posted October 24, 2016 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

          I can pray for someone who is sick, and if they get better why would I not attribute it to God?

          Because its not statistically reproducible or even correlative?

          Because Ph.D physicists usually know the difference between anecdote and data?

          Do you think the following is good reasoning or poor reasoning: I can pray for a nearby lightning strike, and if one happens why would I not attribute it to Zeus?

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 25, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink

            [Sales of copper-seamed raincoats are going up!]

        • Roger
          Posted October 24, 2016 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

          I can pray for someone who is sick, and if they get better why would I not attribute it to God?

          Why is it not evidence for you yourself having magic powers?

        • nicky
          Posted October 25, 2016 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

          And if they don’t get better? Would you still ascribe it to -and thank- God?
          I’m not easily angered, always try to be kind of equinimitous, but your smugness makes it a great effort not to get angry.

    • Taz
      Posted October 24, 2016 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      While don’t you and all your Christian friends get together and pray for an amputee to regrow a limb? Make sure you thoroughly document the miraculous result.

    • Posted October 24, 2016 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      Seems odd that this over-turning of the natural order hasn’t been reported? Or have I missed it hidden away in the Mail Online sidebar of shame?

      BREAKING NEWS – Miracle recorded, natural laws suspended; sources close to God say He’s delighted, but still no sign of His son, except in burnt toast.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 24, 2016 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      When a patient who’s been in remission for years suffers a sudden recrudescence, do you chalk that up as a divine miracle, too?

    • Steami
      Posted October 25, 2016 at 1:09 am | Permalink

      Sorry, can you explain why all miracles of this kind are always late?
      I mean, if you think there has been a supernatural intervention it could have avoided the issue from the start. What would you think of a physician that could easely solve a problem and instead waits to show the world his skills in a theatrical way? Why should your god have a different treatment? And if the untimely intervention is supposed to show something to the world, why always chose dubious cases and not clear ones, like limb regrowing. Maybe some miracles are more difficult than others?

    • Posted October 25, 2016 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

      This is basic statistics. Every nontrivial test of any hypothesis (in this case, a biopsy indicating a malignant tumour) has a nonzero false positive and false negative rate. A single false positive proves nothing; in fact, it is an absolute certainty that situations such as the one you described will occur. Now, if you were to observe this “false positive” repeatedly after a sequence of prayers, and this rate of “false positives” was proportionally less than the observed rate among people who are not subjected to a sequence of prayers, then we would have to consider the idea that there is something else going on here.

      I know I won’t be able to shake your faith, but I do hope you realize that you cannot use the experience you cite as a way to buttress it.

      • Posted October 27, 2016 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

        Ed, I can see your thoughtful point about statistics which I would like to take a step further. You seem to regard the biopsy as a statistical outlier. I would like to know the distribution (bell-shaped curve) that makes up the truth of biopsy tests (as compared with removed cancers). If it was a “mistake”, we know that hospital decisions are 10% mistakes. If it wasn’t a mistake, this suggests its sometimes hard to tell if a tumor is benign or malignant (as one of the commentators implied). If this is the case, the biopsy professionals should give the statistics, e.g. the result is a 50% chance that the tumor is malignant. Just saying it was malignant created turmoil and fear in my friend’s life for the two weeks before the operation (there was an unnecessary scramble for time). If it wasn’t a mistake, and the bell-shaped curve is broad, this also raises the question of whether biopsies should be done at all, since they can be very painful. The corollary is that if the bell-shaped curve is narrow, and the biopsy pros did not make a mistake, this does point to your “something else” going on….in my view an intervention by God is the simplest explanation.

        • Posted October 28, 2016 at 4:38 am | Permalink

          Even if the bell-shaped curve is narrow, there will still be a tiny fraction of cases that are misdiagnosed as malignant, and this could well be one of them. Given that there is no convincing evidence for God or Jesus (the evidence you’ve offered is pathetic), it’s easier to accept a misdiagnosis than a supernatural deity who chooses to heal some people and let young children die of leukemia. Your God is in fact a monster if he selectively heals some and lets young children die of cancer. And since he does, yes he is a monster. But of course he doesn’t exist.

          • Posted October 28, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

            Ed, lets stay with the statistics. If the bell-shaped curve is narrow (and I hope it is, for otherwise we would be putting too much trust in biopsies), then the result was an outlier. If its position on the distribution means 1 in 100 chance of the misdiagnosis, then its not unreasonable for someone who believes in God to attribute this to a God-miracle. If the distribution is even narrower and the chance of misdiagnosis is 1 in 1,000 the conclusion would be the same. That is all I’m saying. The rest of your comment is about evidence for God, which is a different question. To me, you have muddied the waters by rolling the two things together. I don’t judge you and your position for not believing in God…..thats your choice. Please don’t judge me for believing in God, which is my choice. P.S. I made clear to Jerry that my response to his question did NOT constitute direct evidence for God. I’m sorry but you must have misread that, since you labeled my evidence as pathetic, when it wasn’t offered as evidence.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted October 28, 2016 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

              Ian, if someone chooses to believe that the Holocaust didn’t happen, or that Obi-Wan Kenobi was a real historical person, or that UFO aliens are using traffic lights to send coded messages to abductees, of course we’re entitled to judge their intellectual and moral competence based on those beliefs. Why should your particular brand of unsupported belief be exempt?

  5. Posted October 24, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Gregor Mendel wore sandals. Probably.

  6. darrelle
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Regarding human exceptionalism, in particular speech being an extra special indicator of it, here is an article relating some very interesting new information about dolphin communication, Dolphins recorded having a conversation ‘just like two people’ for first time.

    “The analysis of numerous pulses registered in our experiments showed that the dolphins took turns in producing [sentences] and did not interrupt each other, which gives reason to believe that each of the dolphins listened to the other’s pulses before producing its own.”

    Wolfe’s thesis isn’t new, it’s antiquated. Evidence against it has been piling up for decades and the rate continues to increase.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 24, 2016 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      Just did a quick read-through of the paper. The technical details are above my pay grade, but it seems to me as a non-specialist that they’re making a lot of unwarranted assumptions, arbitrarily equating various features of the dolphins’ vocalizations with phonemes, words, and sentences, without really providing much justification for those labels. In particular, they confidently assert that dolphin “speech” has all the features of human language, while making no attempt whatever to analyze it terms of syntax or grammar.

      I’d be interested to see what actual linguists have to say about it. In that regard, it’s perhaps worth noting that the paper appears not in a linguistics journal, as you might expect, but in a journal of physics and mathematics.

      There may indeed be some interesting new results here, but I don’t think it comes anywhere close to showing that dolphins converse “just like people”.

      • Carl
        Posted October 24, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        Bravo – a good, cautious reading.

      • darrelle
        Posted October 24, 2016 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        I agree. I think the results are interesting enough on their own. I really wish they hadn’t sensationalized their findings. They really didn’t need to and it can only be construed as a negative.

        I am not sure but I think the reason the paper is in a physics and mathematics journal rather than a linguistics journal is that the research had more to do with developing tools to listen and record dolphin communications and being able to identify which dolphin is “speaking.” Apparently that is a difficult problem.

  7. eric
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Its humorous to see Ferguson complain that we’re ignoring ‘other ways of knowing’ but then state Wolfe has “an obligation to be accurate.” Hey Ferguson, why are you bagging on Wolfe’s other way of reporting?

  8. Carl
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    David Deutsch make a beautiful case for human exceptionalism in his recent book “The Beginning of Infinity.” It has nothing to do with teleology or the supernatural and everything to with the fact that:

    … a sustained and accelerating creation of knowledge, happened only once in history, with the Enlightenment and its scientific revolution.

    This sets us apart.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 24, 2016 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Deutsch has it exactly right, in my opinion.

      In contrast, here’s a passage from Steve Stewart-Williams’ Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life (p. 183):

      The Darwinian perspective recasts reason as an adaptation, and in the process demystifies it. Thus, even if it were true that humans differ from all other animals in their intellectual abilities, this would have only the same significance as the fact that elephants differ from all other animals in possessing trunks. Certainly, humans are better at reasoning and long-range planning than any other animal. However, this is no more significant than the fact that lions are better at running than woodpeckers, or that woodpeckers are better at pecking than lions.

      This is wrong-headed on several counts. First, the mass extinction now in progress is a consequence of human brains, not of elephant trunks. So it’s nonsense to say that the former is of no more evolutionary significance than the latter. Conversely, if elephant genes do somehow survive the crunch, it will undoubtedly be due to human efforts at conservation, not to elephants’ nasal dexterity.

      In a larger sense, the history of the galaxy over the next, say, billion years owes nothing to the presence or absence of elephant trunks. But it may owe a great deal to the exercise of human ingenuity. Of all creatures on Earth, only we have the potential to transform the cosmos on a large scale. That surely counts for something.

  9. John Harshman
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    You don’t hear much about Wallace anymore, and you hear even less about Muller, while their contemporary Darwin became, of course, one of the most famous men who ever lived.

    Who is Muller? The only one I can think of is Herman Muller, who was by no means a contemporary of Darwin. But I don’t know his opinions on human exceptionalism, if any.

    So who is this Muller person, then?

    • John Harshman
      Posted October 24, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      Ah I see. Not Herman Muller but Max Müller, a German linguist. Umlauts can be important. And I had indeed never heard of him, clearly the result of discrimination, for what else could it be?

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Let’s edit a part of the review to illustrate how ridiculous it is:
    “You don’t hear much about Ptolemy anymore, and you hear even less about Anaximander, while Galileo became, of course, one of the most famous men who ever lived. The geocentric solar system has a lot to do with their relative reputations. Anaximander embraced it and so did Ptolemy; indeed, they thought it was self-evident. Galileo didn’t. And most scientists, especially fundamentalists like Stephen Hawking, have inherited Galileos’ materialism as dogma.

    Same error. Different science and different names.

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    … on the Jewish-oriented site Commentary ..

    Commentary (like Dissent and Partisan Review) was one of the “little” literary/political magazines that served as house organs for the so-called “New York intellectuals”, a group of ex-Trotskyist leftists in the middle of the last century, most of whom were Jewish and graduates of City College (and many of whom had been kept out of the Ivies by the Jewish quota system). Commentary long operated under the auspices of Norman Podhoretz, one of the charter members of this circle.

    In the Sixties, Podhoretz and Commentary lurched to the right, and the magazine became a leading voice of the incipient “neocon” movement. It has long had a complex, fractious relationship not only with its former allies on the Left, but with the paleo-conservative Right and its strands of reactionary Antisemitism, especially on issues pertaining to Israel.

    (For whatever it is that that little tidbit of 20th century intellectual history may be worth.🙂 )

    • Carl S
      Posted October 24, 2016 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

      IIRC, the Woody Allen character in Annie Hall said he’d heard that Commentary and Dissent had merged to form Dysentery

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted October 25, 2016 at 4:14 am | Permalink


      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 25, 2016 at 6:58 am | Permalink

        That character, “Alfie Singer,” also opined that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. As between Commentary and Dissent, I’ll let you decide which is which.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 25, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        Nice try. Fortunately (for me), this Spamsung is waterproof enough to survive a coffee deluge. Still within arm’s-length of a fire extinguisher though.

  12. Posted October 24, 2016 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    The son of an agronomist is anti-evolution. Just let that sink in.

    The Vanity of the Bonfire.

  13. Carl
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    JAC writes:
    … Sean Carroll’s three tenets of naturalism taken from his recent book The Big Picture:

    1. There is only one world: the natural world.
    2. The world evolves according to unbroken patterns, the laws of nature
    3. The only reliable way of learning about the world is by observing it.

    Channeling Karl Popper, I would say point 3 is not quite right. Knowledge consists of conjecture (a guess, a theory) alternating with criticism. Observation and experiment are important forms of criticism, but raw observation tells us nothing unless some theory is proposed to explain it. Theories that don’t stand up to criticism must be modified or discarded.

    Points 1 and 2 can then be dismissed as pieces of Knowledge, quite secure Knowledge in having a long history of unsuccessful criticism directed against them.

    • Posted October 24, 2016 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      I don’t agree. There is plenty of raw observation that tells us something. For example, one can observe that three foot hominins lived on Flores 80,000 years ago. That tells us that there was a bizarre bit of the hominin family tree of which we knew nothing. That is learning something about the world. What “theory” must be proposed to explain that before it means something. I’m sorry, but I think finding H. floresiensis is not meaningless without an explanatory theory.

      • Carl
        Posted October 24, 2016 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

        I don’t disagree that raw observation can tell us “something.” My point is that observation alone is of little use without a theory about what is observed. Maybe what grates is I didn’t say that observation can certainly prompt a theory.

        The remarks you make here are laden with theories. I assume the “observation” is the
        discovery of skeletal remains. I imagine the discoverer, or someone down the line, must have conjectured the white (yellow?, brown?) objects were pieces of bone and not something else. Then gone on to build up a theory on how old the bones were, that they were hominim bones, that weren’t children’s, that this was a new species, etc. I.e. someone explained what was found on Flores with a theory. The observation alone is not of much use.

        If the observation on Flores had been made by only a child or young earth creationist, the “observations” would have been the same, it was the conjecture about what was observed that mattered.

        I can refer you to a chapter length defense of my claim, here is an excerpt:

        … scientific theories are not ‘derived’ from anything. We do not read them in nature, nor does nature write them into us. They are guesses – bold conjectures. Human minds create them by rearranging, combining, altering and adding to existing ideas with the intention of improving upon them.

        Deutsch, David. The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World (p. 4). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

        • eric
          Posted October 24, 2016 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

          I think you’re being too nitpicky about Carroll. My guess is that a person named a fellow to the APS for advances in quantum field theory probably shares your view that theories are important too. Here is an old post of his discussing his views on empiricism. While the post talks about other stuff not germane to this discussion, note that he includes the process of formulating hypotheses to test in empiricism. So no, his point III is not refuting the importance of theory-building. He’s saying with point III something more like observation is a necessary component of developing knowledge.

          • Carl
            Posted October 25, 2016 at 12:06 am | Permalink

            Yes, guilty, I am nitpicking, but for a reason. I think what empiricism is capable of doing is misunderstood. And science is too often misunderstood as being merely empiricism. Human ingenuity is a key feature and so is criticism, whether it be observation, experiments, or good sound arguments based on prior knowledge.

            Also, maybe my primary purpose, is to encourage reading the Deutsch book. I would be surprised, if many here haven’t already.

            • eric
              Posted October 25, 2016 at 6:40 am | Permalink

              I think what empiricism is capable of doing is misunderstood. And science is too often misunderstood as being merely empiricism.

              IMO you’re going after what’s normally termed ‘strict empiricism’ or the Baconian method, not normal empiricism. I think if you look at most definitions of (normal, lacking adjectives) empiricism – whether from a dictionary, encyclopedia, or philosophy textbook – the concept includes the bit you’re claiming it lacks. I.e., empiricism the way it’s normally described and discussed, includes the development and testing of hypotheses and theories as a means of explaining the observed phenomena and extrapolating from direct observation to predictions and claims about unobserved circumstances. That’s not an add-on needed to make empiricism effective, it’s part of empiricism. IMO its something of a straw man to say empiricism doesn’t include the necessary component of theory-building. It does. Strict empiricism may not. Baconian-style empiricism may limit it severely. But those are methods typically standard empiricism and the scientific method, they don’t represent the scientific method. Creationists, in particular, are fond of invoking Sir Francis Bacon and claiming that mainstream science is doing it wrong because it isn’t Baconian enough. That sort of complaint only makes sense if the complainer thinks scientific empiricism isn’t currently Baconian, right?

              Your broader point, I get. True, strict observation without theory-building doesn’t get humans anywhere. Its an incomplete and unworkable method of knowledge-production. But AFAIK Carroll didn’t promote that method. Empiricism writ large isn’t that method. Science isn’t that method. And nobody is defending that method.

              • Carl
                Posted October 25, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

                Eric, if you think I’m attacking Sean Carroll personally, or his wider views, then I have not been clear enough. I’m commenting on the three item list in the article above.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted October 25, 2016 at 7:21 am | Permalink

              One ugly fact can slay a beautiful theory. As Richard Feynman famously said, “it doesn’t matter how beautiful a theory is, or how smart you are, or what your name is, if it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong.”

              For all the postulating about “theory-ladenness” by Kuhn and Feyerabend, therein lies the crucial role of empiricism.

              • Carl
                Posted October 25, 2016 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

                Great quote by Feynman, who gets the theory/experiment relation exactly right.

                The corollary, “no amount of experiment can prove a theory true,” should also be kept in mind. That doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t think someone is a damn fool when they fail to accept a particular body of evidence, we just recognize there can be no bullet proof justification or authority for our always provisional knowledge.

        • Posted October 25, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

          Or, Darwin: “How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!”

          • Carl
            Posted October 25, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

            I don’t remember seeing this before. Heartwarming to learn Darwin had great epistemological insight along with the others so well known. Can you give a source for the quote?

            • Posted October 26, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

              I’ve only ever seen it quoted, but I believe it is in his letters somewhere.

              • Carl
                Posted October 26, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

                Thanks anyway. I would love to read it in wider context, and will keep my eyes open.

          • Posted October 28, 2016 at 4:45 am | Permalink

            Just because Darwin said it didn’t make it correct. That reminds me of everybody quoting Einstein as if he were God.

  14. Hempenstein
    Posted October 25, 2016 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    How in hell can anyone argue that “speech… has no possible evolutionary explanation”? What am I missing?

    The deer in my back yard make distress noises when I surprise them, or when they’re surprised to find me there, for instance. The noises aren’t much to my ear, but they make them. But now that they’re more accustomed to seeing me, they make them less often, supporting the theory that they’re distress noises.

    And our speech comes from soft tissues that don’t leave a fossil record, right? Is that part of the problem?

    Anyway, why couldn’t some proto-human along the way use its slightly advanced vocal structures to make nuanced warning cries, maybe at first just having two kinds of cries – one for danger close by and another for danger closer to you than me. Wouldn’t that be an evolutionary advantage?? And then every step of the way from there, the ability to add nuances from the ability to make more sounds steadily advances survival chances by the ability to share observations (teach!).

    (In any event, zero interest in reading the book – no time // others already in line.)

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 25, 2016 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      And our speech comes from soft tissues that don’t leave a fossil record, right? Is that part of the problem?

      Well, damned little fossil record. There is some, but it’s not the clearest evidence one could desire.
      The primate (not so clear for other mammals) voice box is formed of cartilage, which does sometimes fossilised (going down hill, with a following wind) but it’s less than reliable. Then there is the distressing tendency of feline and canine (hawk, spit) apex predators to bring their dinner to the ground with fangs in the throat for strangulation and or exsanguination to calm dinner. This tends to mess things up early in the taphonomy.
      However the voice box is suspended from a Y-shaped bone called the hyoid bone, and that dose fossilised. Unfortunately, the hyoid is also infamous in anatomy exams as the one human bone without any sutures or joints. It is supported in the throat by suspensor ligaments of … cartilage. And we’re back down the snake to square two. It’s not all doom and gloom though – the shape of the hyoid and direction of its processes (sticky-out bits) can give evidence to argue on the approximate position of the voice box compared to the tongue and lungs. This has certainly been used to argue that Homo neanderthalensis was not prevented from speech by her anatomy. But it’s a long and flexible line of argument.
      Another line of evidence is to look at the “command & control” structures. The nerves that innervate the tongue and larynx in mammals exit from the brain case by easily identified holes. And these holes are in tough, indigestible bits of bone. I only found out about this recently, but people have used the relative sizes if these holes to suggest, again, that Hom.neanderthal wasn’t much restrained in it’s speech by its anatomy. Whether she had the “wetware” to drive that anatomy to La Scalasaig remains unknown.
      TL;DR version : just because IDers are personally ignorant doesn’t mean that there is no evidence. Though I have to admit that for this subtle behavior, the evidence is faint, scrappy, and less than wildly convincing. “Must find more fossils!”
      I’ll let someone else discuss the foxp2 evidence. That’s really convoluted and vague.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 25, 2016 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

        There is a palaeontological demon whispering “palaeopathology” in my ear. I’m not going to follow that Siren song tonight though.

        • Hempenstein
          Posted October 28, 2016 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

          🙂 Thx!

  15. Posted October 25, 2016 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    I don’t see the need of that first tenet of naturalism (“There is only one world: the natural world”), science endeavour and methodological naturalism work as well as they do without assuming philosophical naturalism.

    • eric
      Posted October 25, 2016 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      In principle, yes. In practice, organizations at this time have high confidence that testing supernatural hypotheses are a waste of time. Few private and no public science investors think supernatural hypotheses are equally worth investigating and funding as natural ones. Based on past experience, these funders generally always decide to fund research into natural hypotheses. But, importantly, the fact that we’ve decided this based on experience makes it not an assumption of science, but rather a conclusion of science. Like all conclusions, its held provisionally and is subject to change should new evidence arise. The tenets of naturalism are themselves another type of scientific theory. Like the theory of gravity, we recognize that our idea (of one natural world) could be wrong. But just as nobody goes jumping out of windows citing the provisional nature of the theory of gravity as their motivation, the NSF isn’t going to fund supernatural hypothesis testing just because of the provisional nature of naturalistic tenets.

      • Posted October 27, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        “The tenets of naturalism are themselves another type of scientific theory.”

        They’re not, since they are unfalsifiable.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted October 27, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

          How so? Seems to me that #1 could be falsified by communication with spirits of the dead, #2 by verifiable miracles, and #3 by reliable knowledge about the physical world obtained by intuition, dreams, or spiritual revelation.

    • Carl
      Posted October 27, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Roberto Aguirre Maturana writes:
      … science endeavour and methodological naturalism work as well as they do without assuming philosophical naturalism.

      But isn’t methodological naturalism, by definition, the assumption that, or proceeding as if, philosophical (i.e. ontological) naturalism is the case?

    • Carl
      Posted October 27, 2016 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      There is a very slight misquote made by JAC, and repeated here. The “:” should be a “,”. Sean Carroll’s item 1 should read:

      There is only one world, the natural world.

      This is a statement of monism: There is only one world. The clause following the comma should be read as definitional, not a factual claim. He’s defining what the “natural world” is (the only world that exists).

      Item 1 is better read as

      There is only one world, let’s call that “the natural world.”

  16. colnago80
    Posted October 25, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    It should be noted that Commentary Magazine a couple of decades ago published several articles by the pompous jackass David Berlinski on evolution, a theory he was critical of (Berlinski, who has lied in the past about having a PhD in mathematics in actuality has a PhD in philosophy). His articles were total rubbish.

    IMHO, Commentary’s motivation in publishing such nonsense has nothing to do with their religious opinions but is an attempt to suck up to born again Christians because of the latter’s support for Israel. Like casino owner Sheldon Adelson, the publisher of Commentary, Norman Podhoretz, believes that support for Israel outweighs all other issues.

  17. RBH
    Posted October 25, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink


  18. Posted October 25, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    And again the borrowing from the pomo left – all that stuff about “transgressing” and “deference” is straight out of that playbook. (Cf. Sokal’s paper title.)

    Of course, as I realized in retrospect, the reactionary right was “using” pomos from almost day one – J. A. Campbell, for one, was a DI fellow who looks all the world like a pomo “rhetorician of science” – because he is – but for what one could call “2nd order rhetorical” purposes.

  19. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted November 5, 2016 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if this science site article criticizing Wolfe while referencing Jerry has figured on WEIT. [No doubt Jerry is aware of it.]

    “Tom Wolfe’s denial of language evolution stumbles over his own words

    Language is a tricky thing to write about. You’re using it while dissecting it. That sort of recursion can trip you up. As a philosopher friend of mine once said, a zoologist studying tigers, while riding on the back of a tiger, should be very careful.

    Of all the writers who’ve ever taken on the task of writing about language, nobody of any consequence has ever tripped himself up quite so much as Tom Wolfe.”

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