More email from evolution-haters

Well, maybe “evolution hater” is too strong a term for this woman from Virginia, who wrote me an email this morning. She said “there is no need to respond,” but given that she sent me an unsolicited email, I’ll send her the link to this post, along with the comments. Feel free to respond, but again—be polite. (I informed the retired Air Force officer who wrote me yesterday of the readers’ responses.)

Dear Professor Coyne,

I read with interest your review of Behe’s book.  As a nonscientist, I am not in a position to make any critical judgment on either view.  As the mother of five and grandmother of seven, I know what the younger generation is seeking- authenticity without vitriol, Truth without preaching and a genuine desire to tackle the “Tough” questions of our time- which include  open discussions of the Four big questions- Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny.

Personally, I find evolutionary theory sorely lacking in any meaningful answer to any of theses questions and the attempts to address them fall into the hubris and arrogance of scientism rather than the humility that stems from wonder at the order of the universe and a willingness to admit we do not know everything.There is no need to respond.

There was a postscript:

The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing.  Pascal

My comments:

1.) It saddens me to see a non-scientist claim that they’re not capable of making a critical judgement of ID. The arguments are not that arcane and have been addressed in many popular venues. I think this is just intellectual laziness, or perhaps an unwillingness to engage with the criticisms of ID.

2.) Why is a scientific discussion, or promoting evolution, which happens to be true, “preaching”?  In fact, any attempt to say something that contradicts another person’s religious beliefs is always construed as “vitriol.”

3.) Evolutionary biology doesn’t really deal with the questions of “Origin, Meaning, Morality, and Destiny” except insofar as abiogenesis (the study of how life began) can be considered part of evolutionary biology, and insofar as some aspects of morality—its roots in our animal ancestors—can be examined scientifically.

But, of course, religion, while it may tackle these tough questions, doesn’t answer them. For example, what is the proper moral behavior? If you’re a Christian it’s one thing (actually more, depending on what kind of Christian you are), if you’re a Muslim it’s another thing, and if you’re a Scientologist it’s still another.  The fact is that evolutionary biology actually answers the questions it asks, while religion does not. (Is there a God? Who knows? If there is one, is it the Christian God, Allah, or Shiva? Who knows?) Or if religion does provide answers, there are better (and more consistent) answers provided by secular humanism and ethics.

4.) Once again we see the scientism canard leveled at people like me (at least I presume it’s me, since she’s reacting to my book review). Well, I admit that we don’t know everything, and I know of no scientist who disagrees. The thing is that in 100 years we’ll know more about biology and evolution than we do now, while theologians and believers won’t know one iota more about the divine. It is not the scientists who have hubris, but the believers. And any changes and improvements in morality will, as Steve Pinker argues, come not from religion but from humanism.

 

115 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    “I am not in a position to make any critical judgment”… so here’s my critical judgment..

    Say what?

  2. Roger
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Every time I read a creationist letter I learn something new. This time I learned a Pascal quote, and the Four big questions.

  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    “… Truth without preaching and a genuine desire to tackle the “Tough” questions of our time- which include open discussions of the Four big questions- Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny.”

    … gonna take a wild guess that the rarefied notion I evince from this glorious word salad is coming straight from the cutting edge of Fantasyland, where all that matters is that you believe.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      [ re-reads post ]

      Oh, it says right there – Virginia. Ergo, Fantasyland.

      I suppose the virtues of knowing to admit when you don’t know is supposed to mean that anything can be true, nothing can show anyone is wrong, because “who are we to say?”

      And the “hubris and arrogance of scientism” means, likewise, one’s Sincerely Held Belief, being a precious heirloom of Fantasyland, can live forever as long as you just believe – despite learning where your ignorance is greatest.

      What can anyone say? Go ahead and believe. Believe until belief begets belief.

      Meanwhile, with all this mile-wide inch-thick verbiage, nary a good question about anything – even “Morality” was raised.

  4. notsecurelyanchored
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    A scientist once told me that science can answer the questions of how and where and when but not why.

    • notsecurelyanchored
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      Perhaps I should have added that I am not sure there is an answer to the question why. So we just have to deal with what we got.

      • Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        It depends on what you mean by “why”, as sometimes “whys” blur into “hows”. For example, if you want to know why humans care more for their own children than for other people’s children, the answer, kin selection, could be either a “why” or a “how” answer.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted March 11, 2019 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

        ‘Why’ has two meanings.

        One is analogous to ‘how’ – ‘Why did your car break down?’ ‘Because the (electrical) lead fell off the coil’.

        The other is ‘for what purpose’ – ‘Why were you going to the shop?’ ‘To buy bread’.

        These are sometimes quite distinct, sometimes blurring into each other.

        Of course (as Feynman notes in the video below), either of those meanings can lead to an almost endless recursion of further questions. Sometimes exploited by young kids as an endlessly exasperating game.

        cr

    • Roger
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      Sounds like they were coddling religion. Possibly out of pity. We don’t need religion being a giant crybaby so let them have something.

    • Кузман
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      Science still answers the only meaningfully constructed “why” questions: “why is the sky blue”, “why do people get sick”, etc. These are admittedly a combination of the hows and wheres and whens.

      Science only fails to answer the teleologically-loaded questions (“for what Divine Purpose (TM) is the sky blue”) because some people won’t accept that anything just happens to be so.

    • docbill1351
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Here is Richard Feynman on “Why.”

      BTW, “Grandma climbed up on the roof” is the punchline to a great joke.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      “Why” can readily be converted to “why not”

      “Why” is helpful but it doesn’t get us all the way.

      I used to try avoiding “Why” but I found it merely an exercise, not a hard-and-fast rule to follow.

      Why not! :^)

  5. Mike
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Four big questions- Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny. I presume she gets her answers to these, from a Book written 400 yrs after the so-called events took place, by people whose lives were governed by Myths and Legends, much like today’s Creationists.

    • grasshopper
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      The bible was essentially a completed work by about 160 A.D. During the fourth century, in 325 A.D., the First Council of Nicaea sat to settle doctrinal issues, and the date of Easter. The idea of the bible being assemble four hundred years later is an unfortunate meme that once parasitized my mind, too.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Council_of_Nicaea

      I use ‘meme’ in Richard Dawkins original sense.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme

  6. Michael Fisher
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Truth without preaching and a genuine desire to tackle the “Tough” questions of our time- which include open discussions of the Four big questions- Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny

    That is the mantra of the Canadian-Indian “Dr” Ravi Zacharias who started his career at seventeen by claiming he’s being rescued from suicide by a blurb from the Bible. He got slapped on the wrist for liberal use of “Dr.” in front of his name in articles, when all he has is a handful of honorary degrees. He is one of those nice spreaders of bullshit who wants us all to be good mates & love each other.

    He’s written a whole bunch of nicey nicey books – very shallow stuff that ought to be sold with a pack of crayons.

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Wow, how easy is this one.

    She says she is not in a position to make any critical judgment and then does exactly that.

    You think this is a subject for the younger generation? And these younger ones are looking for truth and authenticity into things that really have very little to do with evolution. Origin and morality? Whatever made you think these are attached to evolution? I think you either went to the wrong class or were not paying attention.

    You do get one thing correct. You say that evolution is sorely lacking in answering the questions you are looking for. Wherever you find the answers be sure to look for the evidence as well.

  8. Dominic
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    There is nothing worse than wilful ignorance.

    As Hobbes of Calvin & Hobbes says, “why bother learning, when ignorance is instantaneous”…

  9. littleboybrew
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    The letter writer seems to fall into a trap that I seem to run into quite often. That trap is the notion that if we cannot know everything then we can know nothing. And no matter how many facts one piles upon the table I will refute them on the basis of the lack of complete knowledge.

    What I find frustrating is for years people have heard their preacher tell them you cannot believe scientists and their facts. And now we are in a world where people don’t trust vaccines, people believe the earth is flat, and any fact you disagree with is “fake news”.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

      “Science doesn’t know everything. Religion doesn’t know anything.”

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I don’t like shoes. Shoes don’t tell me the answers to the big questions like the origin of life or what is it to be a good person. Damn shoes!

    • Taz
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Cast aside the sandal – follow the gourd!

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        He’s been taken up! Oh, no he hasn’t, there he is over there.

      • grasshopper
        Posted March 11, 2019 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        Seek the truth – follow the son of gourd.

    • grasshopper
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      Unsaved shoes? Baptise their soles.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 11, 2019 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        😁 wishing I had added a sole now at the end.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      I fervently agree. Shoes are a pain in the – foot. Also, they give me blisters. Never got that from bare feet.

      Sadly, my doctor has told me that I have flat feet and I should actually wear shoes when walking. Nikes were mentioned 😦

      (I don’t do trendy! If evolution were any good it would have equipped me with feet that didn’t go flat. Evolution sucks!)

      cr

  11. Kevin Meredith
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Short as it is, this snippet suggests to me an intelligence and a curiosity that is often lacking among evolution’s detractors. I don’t sense knee-jerk tribalism or an embrace of ignorance here. But I do sense from her words that she is prevented from accepting evolution by two more fundamental anti-evolution tenets — one explicit, one implied.

    The explicit tenets are the creation myths — never involving evolution — that are usually a central feature of the thousands of gods humans have invented through the millennia

    The implied tenets are that all components of this creation — origin, meaning, morality and destiny, per above — were established as intrinsic and known (or ultimately discoverable) elements at the time of creation.

    Therefore, to those holding belief in any such god, evolution appears not only historically inaccurate but, more importantly perhaps, also inferior to faith because it does not arrive with built-in answers, leaving frail and fallible humans to reach those answers on their own — a terrifying prospect for those who lack faith in human decency.

    The fact that humans have been engaged in a stunning march toward humanity over the last two or three centuries — without any identifiable divine guidance — typically escapes the notice of the superstitious. But it was this awareness of self-driven human progress that played a leading role in my own apostasy, after decades of belief.

    I was only the father of three when I rejected blind faith, however. Can a grandmother of seven get to the same place?

  12. Posted March 11, 2019 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    “I know what the younger generation is seeking- authenticity without vitriol, …” This seems to be saying that the mellow minded youth just want the dream to be true and don’t want anyone telling them that it isn’t. “Truth without preaching” has a bit of a ring to it. That is truth comes not from words, but from a mental connection to the supernatural. Ah, now I get it. GROG

  13. Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Your point #4 is especially important, and if there is but one small snippet that she does absorb I would hope it to be that one.

  14. Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    For nearly two thousand years, clerics, theologians and their devout followers absolutely “knew” what happened, and derived from such “knowledge” how one ought to behave in micromanaged detail: do this, but not on Sunday where you ought to do that; eat this, but not on that day, and not together with that. Here’s how to think, eat, make love, and die. All of this on pure “faith”, as Martin Luther said, in the “darkness of belief” where one just trusts that God exists. Of course, in reality, this darkness turned out to be the closed eyes of obedient followers who were told to follow orders and not question the powerful.

    Now for about 150 years, scientists found out how some part of living nature works, new species emerge, and strings of molecules become organs and fully fleshed creatures. But now that scientists have adduced a lot of evidence, for a limited, highly specific domain, that’s suddenly arrogance and hubris. Biologist don’t tell this woman how to lead her life. But it seems to me that it’s exactly Enlightenment’s Sapere Aude! that she sees as conceit. She wants everybody to submit to grey men in Churches who “know” what to do, for she and everybody else is but a child in need of guidance. It’s hubris and arrogance to not be obedient. We see deeply entrenched authoritarian thinking that views intellectual indepdenence as a threat.

    I hope that she discovers your site, and learn about the fascinating wonders of nature, and how intellectual honesty does not lead to nihilism and doom.

  15. cicely berglund
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Golly, you guys are a hard nosed bunch. The lady says nothing about what she believes, or is trying to defend. You may be able to sleuth out something from her use of some language-But you presume a whole world for her from essentially zero information.you take her statement as aggressive criticism of science altogether and presume deliberate ignorance.
    The short clip of Richard Feynman demonstrates a more generous, good natured wayof actually conveying how curiosityand wider knowledge can be cultivated. It takes patience, humour and a flexible understanding to give such an answer on the spot. Knee jerk defensiveness cultivates alienation.

    • Ross Foley
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Being “hard-nosed”, as you put it, Ms Berglund, comes I think from reading in the past far too many similar, or worse, statements from non-scientists presuming to tell scientists where they have “gone wrong” because they haven’t factored a god into their equations, hypotheses or theories. That is where we see hubris and arrogance, and this woman compounds hers by stating that Jerry need not reply. Talk about picking up your ball, walking out of the game and going home! Jerry’s response to her email is, I reckon, on a par with Richard Feynman’s take on “Why?”

    • Posted March 11, 2019 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      I understand your point, and I suspect from her position the responses must seem to be generally reactionary. It is good to be reminded that this is a human being.
      I hate saying “but…” about this, so I won’t. However 😉 there are reasons for the reactions. Ok, I will stop now.

      • cicely berglund
        Posted March 11, 2019 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        Well, to your surprise maybe I also find myself in similar circumstances from both sides fairly frequently.I hang out with a whole variety of people and frequently get categorised in ways I choose to regard as negative-as only being able to think in one way,which I almost inevitably react negatively to and feel frustrated(very).So, I don’t want to lay that feeling on anyone else. So, instead of responding to religious people(if she is religious)with derision etc and litanies of scientific knowledge which isn’t even addressing the questions asked.we should try to come at questions like that more freely, spaciously. Know that a defensive and derisive categorical reply will only widen the gap. We might recognise that that customary and habitual type of response brings only negative and frustrating results and be a little more flexible. If something comes at us in life we don’t automatically Have to retreat to our designated cages. We could open the cage door and address the situation more freely. Whatever free means. Free will, free speech. We keep talking about it but nobody mostly ever does it. Rather we use our credentials to stay safe.
        I also, to speak to Mayamarkov below, tend to be a bit hypersensitive to this kind of stuff. And getting thoroughly fed up with getting frustrated with such stuff decided to try to figure out just why it was frustrating and painful.

    • Posted March 11, 2019 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      Cicely,
      This is because every single one of us has confronted too much “aggressive criticism of science” and “deliberate ignorance”, so we – I at least – have become hypersensitive. I’ll try to write this as coherently as I can.

  16. cicely berglund
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I am happy that at least one other commentor has a more generous take on this letter -as I do. She seemskind of smart and open hearted to me. Would benefit greatly from a response more akin to that of Richard Feynman than knee jerk defensiveness. She says nothing about her involvement in any kind of religion-yet many comments here have made giant presumptions on essentially no data.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      “Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny” – she uses those words in that order. Straight from RZIM – it was RZ who coined that phrase & her views are in line with his. She is a Christian with the full set of misunderstandings about what evolution is & isn’t.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Smart/not smart is irrelevant. The data is the letter in total, seeing the forest for the trees. Remember, PCC(E)’s review of “Darwin Devolves” started this whole thing.

      The letter insinuates that there’s some problem with evolution because there’s some questions that evolution doesn’t address. There is no effort to support this notion besides again insinuating that the answer has something to do with “… humility that stems from wonder at the order of the universe and a willingness to admit we do not know everything.”, and that in essence that everyone should be civil. It is peculiar to write “we do not know everything” in this letter, which again, is asserting some problem with evolution. I wonder if the author has a problem with the germ theory of disease.

      The letter originates from scientific illiteracy. Convoluted with that are the valuable notions that nobody can really have the answers to everything, and we all should be civil. Meticulously avoiding the notion of any specific faith – as I think Behe does, though I have’t pored over his output – is meaningless. Beyond that, I am at a loss, because part of the letter outsources the origin of concern to twelve other people.

      How, then, is anyone to reason with an individual who asserts such a position? Where would you start? At some point, individuals will be unreachable having discovered that they can just believe.

      • cicely berglund
        Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        I certainly agree that the letter arises from scientific illiteracy- so maybe what she might benefit from is an intro duction to scientific method, critical thinking, orderly thinking, self questioning and all that and basic view of curiosity towards the phenomenal world-not what is basically rejection and derision and, dare I say it, hubris. If you cannot tune in to what her view of the world is( not that you have to accept it-it exists much as the multitudes of very weird Batesian mimics who nevertheless find niches to suvive)then it is even less likely that she can tune into yours-especially if it is derisory. Not an easy task.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          Well, her tone wasn’t open-hearted to me when she suggests those of us who are not religious are hubristic and arrogant. I know she doesn’t say it directly but it’s a pretty strong suggestion.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          Those are substantial topics, even assuming the parties care at all about them, especially when the letter suggests that nobody can say what’s correct or incorrect, because that would be arrogant.

          I suspect the author simply doesn’t care to be bothered with all that stuff. It’s understandable because it takes a lot of work…. though I think Neil DeGrasse Tyson would be the most likely to help in such a case. That’d be my plea if I wrote to the author – go watch Cosmos! It’s great!

  17. cicely berglund
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Sorry for double post. The first one did not appear as quickly as expected and I have been having trouble with posting recently.

  18. Martin
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I guess I’m offended and saddened that the woman from Virginia accuses me of not showing humility at the wonder of the universe or that I’m not willing to admit that I don’t know everything.

    Recognizing that I don’t know everything and that the universe is wondrous is the very reason I study these things in the first place.

    • Janet
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Beautifully said, Martin! I do hope the woman from Virginia pays careful attention to your words.

    • rom
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      I know very little about a hell of a lot.

      • Posted March 11, 2019 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        You need to cut down on the number of comments you’re making, particularly since some of them, like this one, add little to the discussion.

  19. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    … I find evolutionary theory sorely lacking in any meaningful answer to any of theses questions …

    The universe doesn’t owe you meaningful answers, ma’am. Science endeavors to produce accurate answers to questions concerning the natural world, but there’s no guarantee that you or anyone else will find those answers meaningful or satisfactory.

    Just because we humans seem to have a proclivity for seeking a certain type of meaning doesn’t mean the type of meaning we seek exists in the universe.

  20. Jamie
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    open discussions of the Four big questions- Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny

    One has to have a religious outlook to begin with in order to think that these are “the four big questions”. In my view, religion uses these questions to distract young people from much more important questions of social justice, communal wellbeing and equitable sharing of resources. (Just because there are SJWs and a regressive left doesn’t mean these are not important questions.) Also, what can we do to survive global warming? may not be an eternal question, but there are few, including “the big four” that are more important and urgent for our young people to be considering just now.

    Origin is an interesting but not critical question.

    Meaning is something I have personally thought a great deal about, but clearly the importance of meaning is inversly proportional to the reliability of the information surrounding one. The need to think deeply about meaning only arises when one is surrounded by lies and/or confusion.

    Morality is a truly important question that does not need religious prescriptions getting in the way. The emphasis of religion on personal responsability and following a static moral code degrades the kind of open discussion the poster claims to desire. “Morality” has been used to keep the little people in line (i.e. don’t poach off the lords estate) and doesn’t seem to touch the powerful who live by their own rules.

    Finally, ‘destiny’ is, I think, a poor choice of word to describe the problem of “free will”. But the problem of free will is pretty academic. The two related questions of what can we do to improve social relations and what ought we do, together define our political path. But one can certainly discover what one can do without an academic discussion of free will. The question of what one ought to do, however, is always with us.

  21. Roo
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I just feel like there’s so much backstory missing from these types of letters that it’s hard to respond in any kind of meaningful way. Does she believe in creationism over evolution, or does she believe in evolution but is sad about the idea that evolution does not include an objective morality, for example? Or, if she disagrees with evolution, what part, specifically (As I have said before, and I realize I’m being really annoying by saying it in this particular venue, but it’s true – the idea of random mutation as the sole source of new material for evolution is just something I can’t wrap my brain around. Even if it’s true, it will never click for me at an intuitive level, so I can sympathize with people struggling to intuit certain aspects of evolutionary theory as it stands now – the idea that all the world’s animals arrived here on an ark is a very different mindset, though.) I feel like I would need a lot more information to understand what she’s getting at.

  22. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    As the mother of five and grandmother of seven, I know what the younger generation is seeking-

    You might think that you know that. I bet that most of your “younger generation” contacts would look at you gob-smacked if you told them that they are seeking that.

    a genuine desire to tackle the “Tough” questions of our time- which include open discussions of the Four big questions- Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny.

    The likely concerns of any rational actor are, in order Oxygen (will I get some in the next minute?), Food (will I get some in the next day?), Shelter (will I get some in the next month?) and a Job (will I get one, ever?
    Your questions are ones that preoccupy those who think their positions in life are quite secure.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      I think you forgot Sex in that list 😉

      cr

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted March 13, 2019 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

        “Sex” yes ; far fewer are really interested in reproduction.

  23. Filippo
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    ” . . . I find evolutionary theory sorely lacking in any meaningful answer . . . attempts to address them fall into the hubris and arrogance of scientism rather than the humility that stems from . . . a willingness to admit we do not know everything.There is no need to respond.”

    Just congenially curious – would you construe any response as prima facie evidence of “hubris and arrogance”? Have you yourself ever been told, “There is no need to respond”?

  24. denniskeane
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Carl Sagan “The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counter intuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.”

  25. Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    “. . .them fall into the hubris and arrogance of scientism rather than the humility that stems from wonder at the order of the universe and a willingness to admit we do not know everything.”

    Oh, writer! That’s so opposite of my experience in science! I look at the universe with awe and wonder. So much diversity for form among living things on earth. So much beauty. Beauty in organisms, in their anatomy and physiology, terrible beauty in their behavior. Beauty in geology and in what we’ve learned about earth’s long, amazing history. Take a look the the science blog “Bad Astronomy” for scientists know about the rest of the universe. Beauty even in the abstract world of numbers. That’s why I do science, to experience this wonder, this amazement, and to figure out even a small part of this truly awesome universe.

    I am so small before this world, before even what we know about it, and scientists know only a small part of it.

  26. Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Theologian Friedrich Naumann writing in 1909 said a few things that this person might find edifying.

    He noted the shock that the religious felt when they learned of evolution.

    “Through the writings of Darwin and Haeckel, what was until then the preserve of scientists erupted into public awareness. For many, “Darwinism” came as a completely unexpected “anti-religious” revelation… Those of us who experienced the years 1860 to 1890 in the company of pious Christians, remember how powerful the waves were. Even today the waters have not been stilled…”

    He lays the blame for this shock squarely at the feet of schools and the clergy.

    “Darwinism would have come as less of a shock to the pious if they had already been speaking more openly with each other about scientific discoveries and the implications for religion. This rarely happened. Although some religious thinkers like Schleiermacher familiarized themselves with current scientific learning and “adjusted” their Christianity accordingly, those who preached in the church or taught in the schools deliberately and timidly avoided presenting these new ideas and discussing their implications.”

    Had the school system and the church not built a wall of denial around believers, the fact of evolution would not have arrived, as he memorably puts its it, “like a hail storm on the field of religion”.

    “Look, we’ve long known that the Bible does not place the sun at the center of the solar system; that it presents heaven as being located above the earth… Similarly, the Creation and the Great Flood were known even before Darwin to have been derived from earlier oriental myths, and cannot be taken as historical events. Had the faithful already been clearly and unreservedly informed of these facts, then Darwinism would not have arrived like a hailstorm on the field of religion.”

    Naumann was rather too optimistic, I fear, that Christianity can somehow accord with evolution, (though in his 1909 this was still somewhat more plausible than now), but he was unflinching in his acceptance of evolution as established fact.

    (From a collection of essays marking 50 years since the publication of The Origin, Berlin 1909, my rough translation.)

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      The theologian Friedrich Naumann stuff. V interesting thanks Yakaru.

  27. Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Evolution does indeed answer question about origin—the origin of species, as a great man once titled a book.

  28. Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    the Four big questions- Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny.

    I didn’t know those were The Four Big Questions. I’d say bigger questions include: How old is this potato salad? Did I leave the stove on? Does your dog bite? Do you really think there’ll be another gas station between here and Barstow?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Those are the four immediate questions; the for big questions are,

      1) Will my head fit into that?
      2) Can I fit that food into my mouth?
      3) Is my stomach big enough to eat all that?
      4) Is this sweater big enough for my big stomach that is digesting all the food I put into my mouth after I fit my head into the can that contained the food?

      • Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        I was once asked “do these jeans make me look fat?” and made the mistake of replying, “why are you blaming it on the jeans?”

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 11, 2019 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

          Ricky Gervais does a bit about that, “no the fat makes you look fat”.

          • Posted March 11, 2019 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

            Speaking of Ricky Gervais, I am enjoying his latest, “After Life”, on Netflix. It even has Diana Morgan (aka Philomena Cunk) in a regular role.

            • GBJames
              Posted March 11, 2019 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

              We binge-watched the series on Saturday night. Pretty good, IMO, although not great. The atheism bits were too familiar to me. They might go over more with a broader crowd.

              • Posted March 11, 2019 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

                Yes, it isn’t as funny as some of his earlier work, “The Office” (original UK version) and “Extras”. One of my favorites of all his work was the episode of Extras that guest-starred David Bowie as himself.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 11, 2019 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, I agree; as atheists, we’ve heard these thing before but I think to people who don’t frequent online discussions with atheists, the arguments might be new.

              • Posted March 11, 2019 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

                I would think Ricky Gervais fans have heard it all before as well. He’s fairly vocal on atheism in his stand-up comedy and on Twitter.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted March 11, 2019 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

              Yes, i just finished watching that yesterday. Diane Morgan plays a character called Kath who is pretty much a “straight man” to Ricky Gervais’s character, Tony. It’s pretty good.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted March 11, 2019 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

              After Life: Plenty of pleasing oddballs in the show – postman “Pat” for example. Anne at the graveyard bench was an interesting character & like many of the cameos we’re left wanting to know more. Gervais has a tendency to look down on people so he wrote himself a perfect part with an excuse for being the loveable arsehole he naturally is.

              The arc of the six episodes was too ‘Hollywood’ with most problems [except one major one that went bad to add verisimilitude] resolved happily. His redemption in episode six wasn’t convincing because Gervais is Gervais & he didn’t let me forget he is Gervais. Thus the atheist preaching was shoehorned in & sat there like a pool of cat sick on the rug – entirely out of place.

              The work environment was tidy & slack – a real local English newspaper today would have everyone doing six jobs under stress & they’d be scrambling for classified ads & trying to push double page spreads to the Rover dealership up the road.

              The Office & Extras were far more adult & didn’t try to pretend that people can drastically change their lives or fix the broken bits in a weekend. Gervais obviously wrote this for the American market with sunny days, no litter anywhere, grubby Hemel Hempstead moved 40 miles to the coast & only the old part of town displayed sans the charity shops. Where are all the shoppers? The exterior shots must have been done early on a Sunday with no beeping delivery trucks nor tribes of young mums with pushchairs.

              It will sell like hotcakes worldwide in all the NetFlix regions. [I assume NetFlix pays Gervais’ production company x amount per 100k views – not just a flat fee].

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 11, 2019 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

                I was amused at how Tony spent more time wandering the neighbourhood than sitting at work.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted March 11, 2019 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

                His home was well done – ghostly evidence of the missus’ interests in the background of shots. I didn’t believe her reactions to his juvenile pranks though. A normal spouse would have delivered a right verbal kicking & finished with “…and when are you going to finish painting the back bedroom you lazy sod?”

              • Posted March 11, 2019 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

                Yes, I thought the same thing. Being woken up by an air horn would definitely not be taken as a joke. Still, it does go a long way to explaining why he loved her so much. LOL

    • Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      I don’t know where “here” is, but if it is anywhere within a fifty mile radius of Barstow, the answer is likely “no”.

      • Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        You clearly recognize the profundity of that question.

  29. Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    “. . .any attempt to say something that contradicts another person’s religious beliefs is always construed as ‘vitriol.'”

    When you title a review “Intelligent design gets even dumber,” it’s a big disingenuous to suggest that someone is misconstruing this as “vitriol.” It is vitriol. (Though perhaps, as has happened with me, the publication manufactured the title for dramatic effect–in which case, never mind.)

    • Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      This is the definition of “vitriol” from my online dictionary:

      vit·ri·ol
      /ˈvitrēəl,ˈvitrēˌôl/Submit
      noun
      noun: vitriol
      1.
      cruel and bitter criticism.
      “her mother’s sudden gush of fury and vitriol”
      2.
      ARCHAIC•LITERARY
      sulfuric acid.

      I don’t think even “dumber” rises to that level. It’s one word in the title and the rest of the review is measured. And please do not accuse me of being disingenuous, which of course means “insincere” or “not candid”. No, the title was mine, so I guess I’m disingenuous according to your characterization.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        The delicious wit of the title is everything.

        • Mark R.
          Posted March 11, 2019 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, that cracked me up.

          • Posted March 16, 2019 at 11:56 am | Permalink

            Well, the title may have cracked you up, but it also signaled that the reviewer considered intelligent design dumb from the get-go, which isn’t conducive to an objective review. As Jerry rightly notes, the review itself is measured, and IMO would have been more effective without the provocative title.

            • GBJames
              Posted March 16, 2019 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

              IntelligentDesign is objectively dumb from the get-go. One need not be falsely impartial when summing it up any more than one should be when talking about flat earth “theory”.

            • Roger
              Posted March 16, 2019 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

              it also signaled that the reviewer considered intelligent design dumb from the get-go,

              Because he already knew about intelligent design. And then, now it got even dumber.

  30. ladyatheist
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Only four big questions? “Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny.”

    Here are some questions that I have for the letter writer:

    Why would evolutionary theory be expected to explain “Origin,” when it is the explanation for appearance of new species over time?

    Why would evolutionary theory be expected to explain “meaning” when it is the explanation for appearance of new species over time?

    Why would evolutionary theory be expected to explain “morality” when it is the explanation for appearance of new species over time?

    Why would evolutionary theory be expected to explain “destiny” when it is the explanation for appearance of new species over time?

    Note that the theory of gravity offers something of an explanation of question number 1, but not of 2,3 or 4 either. Does the LW also expect the theory of gravity to answer those questions?

  31. rom
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    open discussions of the Four big questions- Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny.

    It would appear in an physicalist’s universe the answer to these big questions the intrinsic of meaning, morality, and destiny is that they don’t exist. Regarding origin I don’t think we have a handle on that in that there is recursion. But I can’t say I am worried by this.

    • rom
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      that should be … intrinsic meaning, morality and destiny

  32. Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Dear non-scientist person,

    This should be obvious since you emailed Dr. Coyne, however apparently it needs to be said plainly: please read Why Evolution is True.

    Sincerely,
    Educated people everywhere,

  33. Posted March 11, 2019 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    The proper term is primate change denier!

    I did not come up with this but pretty good one I think…

  34. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    A thought occurred to me, for some reason, due to this thread and my commenting on it.

    A common criticism of internet discussion is that the members of the peanut gallery (guilty as charged) are intensely interested in proving that they are right.

    But a couple things occurred to me:

    1. Isn’t it good to be interested in _knowing_ one is correct or incorrect?

    2. how else would anyone know if they are at all correct or incorrect unless they speak up and ask questions?

    That’s all.

  35. Posted March 11, 2019 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I think your #3 hits the nail on the head. Some of these anti-evolutionists, like this one, think of science and/or evolution to be a choice of religion. This is a big category error but a common one.

    Of course it is easy to see how they fall into this way of thinking. After all, science and evolution do contradict a lot of what their religion is telling them.

  36. Stefano Portoghesi
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Evolution is a fact ! Just like planet Earth is a round sphere orbiting the Sun in space , what people don’t understand about evolution is that evolution is around us everywhere and all the times. From the great apes skeleton structures to that of hominids , to the disappearance of the grasping big toes on the feet of early human species. We can see evolution at work by looking back at earlier animal fossils , the further we look back in time and the simpler animal structures becomes until we reach a point so far back in the Archean Era of planet Earth when life consisted of single-cells organisms that were the last common ancestors of just about every complex life form we see around today on our planet earth , including us, homo sapiens sapiens. Complex living organisms didn’t pop up out of the blue , like the holy Bible wants you to believe, created by a mythical God , complexity rose from the bottom up, gradually over billions of years. It took over a billion years to go from single-cells organisms to tapeworms ! One billion years is such a immesely long period of time that our biological brain can’t even begin to grasp it’s real size. And yet it did happen , against enormous odds.It was like hitting the lottery jackpot every few millions years, the complexity we see around us, in our human brain in particular , is the result of an enormous number of lucky breaks in the history of Evolution. The odds of complex life non being here at all far outnumber the odds of it emerging in the varieties of forms and shapes we see today . And just as your Biblical God didn’t get it right as far as the history of life on our planet Earth , so he didn’t get it right as far as morality is concerned either. There is a story in the Bible ( Book of Numbers ) that tell us of how Moses and Aaron came across a man who was gathering wooden sticks in the wilderness on a Sabbath. They reprimanded him then they took the man into custody, finally they asked God what they should do with the man and God replied that the man should be certainly put to death by stoning him. So that is exactly what Moses and Aaron did. They took the man out of custody then they began stoning him until the man died from his injuries ! Now I am asking you : would you kill another human being if your God asked you to do it ? I think not and I hope not . So there you are , you don’t get your morality neither from God nor from the Bible ! You do get your morality however from : Reason , Logic and Common Sense , all attributes that go to make up Humanity and the Human Intellect.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      After you kill all the males, including the children, you have to kill all the women that are no virgins. The virgin girls you have to keep for yourself -presumed sexual slavery (Numbers 31: 17-18). Talk about morality!

  37. Mark R.
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing. Pascal

    This is just a fancy way to say the existence of God can’t be justified rationally (no argument here). But Pascal believed the “heart” (intuition/emotion) were first principals (superior to reason) and the only path to God. So suspend reason and have faith- horrible advice! Though not surprising coming from a philosopher 400 years ago; they didn’t have much reason to go on. Why do people think they sound profound by quoting 17th century philosophers who didn’t (by no fault of their own) know much about anything?

    Interesting that since this person has 12 children and grandchildren, she “knows what the younger generation is thinking”. Really? You can extrapolate your 12-person sample-size onto the millions of youth out there? The religiously addled can’t help but project “hubris and arrogance”.

  38. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I take scientism over religionism any day.

    Science does not pretend to know everything, and in fact it knows some things.

    Religionism on the other hand precisely pretend. And as the moniker suggests, it pretend it has a private line to Someone(s) Who Decides Everything.

  39. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Dear ‘no need to respond’, maybe no need, but you are inviting a response.
    If you are aware you are not in a position to make any critical judgement, why are you making a critical judgment?
    The four big questions? I could easily add some more big questions without being facetious, eg. What is time? What is matter? Etc.
    Note that although evolutionary theory (a theory in the scientific sense, ie. an explanation so well supported by facts that it would be perverse not to accept it) does not contend to answer these four questions, it does give some partial answers.
    Origin – evolutionary theory explains the diversity of life, it’s complexity and functionality. No mean feat. That may not be the origin of life or the universe, but I find it weird you want a theory to explain something it does not contend to explain.
    Meaning: we don’t even know there actually is ‘meaning’ to life at all in the ‘house and garden’ philosophical sense.
    Morality: evolutionary theory does not prescribe morality, but it goes a good way in explaining why humans (and some other animals to a lesser degree) actually do have a sense of morality, and why morality is the way it generally is. No mean feat.
    Destiny: destiny is in the future (and related to ‘meaning, I suspect), and we all know that “predicting is difficult especially the future” (quite ascribed to many).

    I suspect that Origin and Morality are answerable questions, and that evolutionary theory -despite not aspiring to- has made great contributions there, more than any religion or philosophy.
    I guess that meaning is unanswerable, at least does not have an answer that is not bogus, As for destiny, only the future can tell. For humans probably extinction sooner or later, but that is just speculation

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 11, 2019 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      “‘house and garden’ philosophical sense.”

      That’s interesting – where did that … idiom?… come from? “House and garden “?

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted March 12, 2019 at 2:24 am | Permalink

        In Dutch: “Huis tuin en keuken” [or house, garden & kitchen] means “ordinary or commonplace” – just like the English “common or garden”

    • Posted March 12, 2019 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      Destiny : Heat death of the Universe.

      /@

  40. Posted March 11, 2019 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Dear Commenter,
    For people like me (and I believe Prof. Coyne as well), science and education are the cause of our lives, our quest for knowledge and our way to try and make the world better. Against this, creationists like Behe produce vitriol, preaching, falsehoods, hubris and arrogance. We are lucky that today they lack the power that allowed people like them in earlier ages to humiliate Galileo and burn at the stake Giordano Bruno. You seem to me a sensitive and intelligent person, so I wonder why you look at the speck of sawdust in our eyes and pay no attention to the plank in theirs. Maybe because you have been convinced that people calling themselves Christians are virtuous, no matter how much they lie and how much evil they do, while atheists like us are evil and have no souls, no matter how truthful we are and how much good we do. Best wishes!
    Maya Markova, biology teacher

  41. Posted March 11, 2019 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    If I had a nickel for every time I’ve spoken to people with this mindset. “No need to respond” aka “I know I’m right and even if you have facts on your side you wont change my mind”

    Willful ignorance is the most vitriol and recurring problem in our society. Great response!

  42. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I hate evolution too!

    I didn’t say I doubted it, just a bit of intelligent design could have done a much better job.

    😎

    cr

  43. Matt Foley
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    By humble does she mean claiming knowledge of a god with no evidence?

  44. Tom Besson
    Posted March 11, 2019 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Some of the people I hang with urge me to never utter a word that would cause turmoil in the minds of others, so that is the way I will treat you, the person in Virginia. However, I cannot not speak the truth (something that is unarguable), so I’ll paraphrase something I once read in “The Winner’s Bible”, which goes: Your beliefs determine how you view the universe and how you see your part in it. Your beliefs are important because, unless they match reality, no matter how sincerely you hold them, you will always end up with second best results. Have a nice day.

  45. Posted March 11, 2019 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Impoverished and bland is the best you can expect from denying science… and a life lived shackled to a lie albeit a lie chosen by a miserable non existent soul

  46. Posted March 12, 2019 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    I recently drove from the DC area to Michigan and back. There were lots of big, Christian billboards along the way, including one showing the usual graphic of the transition from ape to man inside a red circle with a cross through it, similar to a “no smoking” sign. Charming.

  47. Posted March 12, 2019 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Well, the theory of evolution also can’t answer another Big Question: What is the square root of a moose? Since the theory of evolution can’t answer that question, evolution must be false!

    Checkmate, atheists!


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