Dr. Coyne gets religious pushback

December 7, 2011 • 11:52 am

I am dispirited. I’ve just returned from a two-hour lecture and Q&A session at the Woodlawn Charter School, a public school run by the University of Chicago on the South Side of the city.  Some of the high-school biology students are reading Why Evolution is True, and I gave a presentation on the evidence for evolution—with a tiny bit about why religion prevents Americans from accepting evolution, for I was asked to mention that topic—followed by an hour of questions.

Some of the questions were good, and some of the students really interested, but there was also a lot of religious pushback.  One student, I was told, sat through the entire lecture muttering about how she shouldn’t be forced to listen to this stuff since it went against her faith.  Another student’s “question” was to inform me that she was offended that I said that Adam and Eve never existed (I talked about the human bottleneck of 1200 people), and asked me how I knew that.

And the teacher who invited me told me she encountered stiff resistance from many of her kids about evolution—resistance based solely on their religious upbringing.

It’s all a bit depressing.  These kids are not southern fundamentalist Bible-thumpers: they are disadvantaged black kids who were simply brought up in religious homes or among religious peers.  And there’s no doubt that that upbringing is rendering many of them resistant to the idea of evolution.  I spent an hour showing them the evidence for evolution, and some of them were simply impervious.

The problem with America and evolution is not the lack of instruction. We have more evolution education than ever (after all, these kids are reading my book), and we tons of books and eminent scientists lecturing about evolution.  We have Dawkins, and the works of Sagan and Gould, the shows of Attenborough, and high-school textbooks that deal in depth with evolution.  But statistics show that acceptance of evolution in America has hardly changed since 1982.

The problem is religion.  Until America becomes less religious, we have no hope of educating people about the wonders of evolution.  Remember this from the Pew Forum website:

When asked what they [Americans] would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people say they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding, according to the results of an October 2006 Time magazine poll. Indeed, in a May 2007 Gallup poll, only 14% of those who say they do not believe in evolution cite lack of evidence as the main reason underpinning their views; more people cite their belief in Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%) as their reason for rejecting Darwin’s theory.

Religion poisons everything.  The National Center for Science Education can put out the fires in school boards and courtrooms, and the rest of us can teach ourselves silly, but not much will change until we weaken religion’s death grip on America.

259 thoughts on “Dr. Coyne gets religious pushback

    1. Dr. Coyne,

      You make daring statements.

      As a scientist, don’t you teach that every theory is subject to Scientific Method.

      You propose a theory that Religion is to blame.

      Ironically, as Religion has been in decline in America, we see more problems than we did before.

      And for our Country’s first century and a half, most scientists received formal religious training.

      So, using Scientific Method, how do you prove that “The problem is religion,” and “Religion poisons everything.”



      1. Oh, Wayne, Wayne, Wayne. Jerry Coyne’s statements are about as controversial as saying that the Earth rotates around the Sun. Your comments illustrate complete ignorance about scientific method and the role of evidence, to say nothing of when to use capital letters. Assertions like your “as religion declines problems increase” are unsupportable. All evidence is to the contrary. Go troll elsewhere.

        1. It’s a bit harsh calling Wayne a troll for expressing what appears to be his sincerely held belief.

          But I do agree that “Ironically, as Religion has been in decline in America, we see more problems than we did before.” is an assertion which requires backing up.

            1. I understand how frustrating it is to deal with anyone who, with very little research, would realise that the opinions they are expressing are complete toss (who doesn’t?). But this covers pretty much every creationist who ever walked the earth. I guess trolling for me means anyone expressing a view which they don’t actually hold, but does so just to be irritating. If Wayne is being genuine (even if misguided), I wouldn’t call him a troll

              1. Wayne is a persistent troll. “In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory,[2] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[3] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.[4]” [Wikipedia]

                That fits Wayne, who isn’t interested in an actual analysis or even argument. For instance, he makes unreferenced assertions as a basis for asking what has been discussed and supported over and over on this blog.

              2. Griff, I retract my “I don’t know” sentence, made with no prior knowledge of who Wayne is. I now know enough to be sure, by all common use of the term “troll”. Wayne is a troll. He is a dishonest liar for Jesus who has no interest in honest conversation. I was convinced of this fact by looking at his use of the first paragraph of Jerry’s blog post. (See comment #17, below.)

          1. Exactly.

            Things are better. Wayne, learn some history.

            We do not “see more problems than we did before.”

            E.g.: We have an economic downturn–we haven’t yet had a crash like the Great Depression. The science you hate and fear is why your life expectancy is longer and probable morbidity less, and it is why you have the Internet to wank to and troll by. Etc. Etc. Crime, disease, social injustice, availability of food, ability to educate oneself…these have been improving steadily over time, and inversely to the decline of religion. In fact, in spite of religion, which is a social-improvement, social justice sea-anchor.

            Your right to speak loudly and stupidly on any subject you want without penalty, Wayne, was given to you by secular idealism (if you are in the U.S., by the Constitution, and anywhere by the nerds that developed the hardware and software that gave us computers and the Internet–by people you decry). If the religions had their way, unless you are a part of the oppressive group in power, you’d have no freedom of speech, etc. Learn some history–the secular Internet makes education more broadly and equably available than any other movement or system in history; you should make use of it for something more than screaming for a return to the Stone Age while eschewing knowledge and literacy.

            Contrary to your feelings, it is not a virtue to be ignorant, willfully so over time, and to shoot your mouth off incoherently.

          2. One could argue that Wayne is secretly a double-agent troll, posting absurd arguments to rally the troops and bond WEIT’s loyal readers.

        2. Jerry Coyne should stick to educating about his specialty, evolution, not religious studies, history or philosophy. Why is he traveling around to spread his message which is usually sponsored by atheist organizations. I have a degree in Chemistry and doctorate in pharmacy with a few evolution coursed I had to take. I have a basic understanding of evolution. I have to admit, evolution doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t believe the evidence points to a common ancestor but why does it matter so much what I believe? If I take his class he can fail me if he wants to but he shouldn’t travel the country insulting those who don’t believe what he says. The origin of the universe is outside his area of expertise.

          1. by the way, those who do not believe in evolution may believe in God because we see God’s hand in creation not necessarily because of some dogma. Many who believe in evolution are atheists, why is that not mentioned as an obstacle to learning? Coyne is quick to point out that religion prevents learning but he ignores that most of those who believe in evolution also believe in God. Coyne is anti-religion and he is frustrated that others don’t share his views.

            1. most of those who believe in evolution also believe in God.

              Really? Well, apart from evolution not being something requiring belief (any more than, say, the periodic table is), how many of those religious believers insert God at some point? Either as a guiding hand or inserting souls into the human lineage? If they do that, it is no longer the theory of evolution, which is wholly naturalistic.

              In fact, according to a 2010 Gallup poll, only 16% of the US public “believe” in naturalistic evolution; and only 2% of those who attend church at least weekly.


            2. Seriously? That’s a serious question? OK: Because non-belief in invisible friends is not an obstacle to learning.

              Most atheists would gladly believe in one or more of the thousands of deities humanity has invented. Except… there is not the tiniest bit of evidence for such an being.

              Well, maybe “gladly” overstates it. I, for one, have no desire to believe in anything as horrific as the god of Abraham. Still, if there was any smidgeon of evidence for the reality of the dude, I’d have to acknowledge it.

            3. see God’s hand in creation not necessarily because of some dogma

              Holey bibles! Dude! John McCain saw his god’s hand in the grand canyon. Now you see your god’s hand in creation (whatever that is). Was your god’s hand right or left? Maybe you and the McStir ought to get together, maybe together your god’s could cure Their impotence.

          2. If you have a degree in chemistry and a doctorate in pharmacy it would seem that both evolution and the origin of the universe are outside your area of expertise. Perhaps you should stick to commenting about your speciality.


          3. By pulling the “Coyne should stick to his own specialty” gambit, you negate your own argument. By that logic, you should stick to mixing pharmaceutical compounds and not comment in a thread like this.

            There is only one reason you don’t “believe” evolution: your commitment to belief in the supernatural. (fwiw… I, too, don’t “believe” evolution. But it is the inescapable conclusion I must come to from mountains of evidence.)

          4. So…let me get this straight.

            You have a hard time understanding how minor generational differences of the type that we’ve seen can transform the wolf into both the Great Dane and the Toy Poodle can, over billions of years, account for the diversity of life on Earth…so therefore you think it has something instead to do with an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry giant?

            Whatever. Fine.

            If that’s what makes sense to you, fine. Go enjoy your zombie wine-and-crackers party with your friends. Just keep things down, will you? The adults have work to do.



          5. You don’t believe the evidence points to a common ancestor? Only someone who hasn’t taken the time to examine the find out could possibly say such a thing. And you have a science background as well? Have you actually examined ANY of the evidence?

        1. This has been discussed and supported many times on this blog – read it first. Wayne is just trolling.

      2. So, using Scientific Method, how do you prove that “The problem is religion,” and “Religion poisons everything.”

        Well, for starters, religious fundamentalists say that openly. For example, in a Gallup poll that Dr. Coyne mentioned, people who rejected evolution were asked a straightforward question about their reasons and most of them gave the straightforward answer: because of my religion. To me, that’s a big indication that religion played a role :-). And of course, this is not an isolated result.

        By the way, I suspect that for the majority within the 14% who answered that the reason was “not enough evidence for evolution”, religion also played a role (for example, in the form of religiously-motivated misinformation in their school). Not many people reject other well-established scientific theories, like the germ theory of disease or electromagnetism “for lack of evidence”.

        1. Ask these people how they explain the appearance of bacterial strains causing the dreaded hospital infections.

      3. Ironically, as Religion has been in decline in America, we see more problems than we did before.

        We do?!?!?!?

      4. Oh my, Wayne. Who are you kidding? Coyne presents evidence for that almost every day.
        Take a look a these, for starters:



        So where did you get the “religion is on the decline” bit? With over 80% of the public being believers?

        As for “most scientists received formal religious training”, don’t you think that is just like saying, until the 1950s most doctors smoked?

        1. How is “formal religious training” helpful for Wayne, seeing how education and a science carrier moves people from religious to agnostics and agnostics to atheists?

          It shows a) religion isn’t effective b) education and science are secular areas that are improved by keeping religion out of it c) religion is forced onto secular people.

      5. “we see more problems than we did before” -really? I wonder if you would have said that had you been a black person living under slavery, or a victim of the Civil War, or any number of diseases before modern medicine.

      6. Also, Sir, just curious; do you agree with the New Testament admonition to wives to submit to the authority of their husbands (and by extension women in general to the authority of men)?

        Are “uppity” wimminfolk one of those things you allege to be “worse”?

        1. Filippo,

          I do not agree with your defining women as ““uppity” wimminfolk.”

          Talk about sexist …. I expected a professor to have followers who were literate and cultured.

          1. “Filippo,

            I do not agree with your defining women as ““uppity” wimminfolk.”

            Talk about sexist …. I expected a professor to have followers who were literate and cultured.”

            Sir, nice try at an artful, prevaricating twist of my words.

            It’s obvious that I’m being facetious in the use of “uppity wimminfolk,” in my reference to women to have resolved to stand their ground with patriarchial authoritarian men who, taking offense at these women so standing their ground, think of them as “uppity wimminfolk.”

            Feel free to answer my previous question about the New Testament warrant for wives’ submission to their husbands.

      7. Wow.

        I ask a sincere question about a blog. And I am attacked by a bunch of trolls.


        Since the 1950’s and liberalism’s social liberation of women from the marital problem caused by religion, divorce has increased more than 3 fold.

        The number of children now living in poverty has risen at least as much.

        I won’t adress more controversial societal problems resulting from liberalism’s social experimentation.

        But, unless you can show my math to be wrong, I have a valid point.

        1. Oh, Wayne, Wayne, Wayne. Crank up the Google machine and look up the definition of “troll”. Then go climb back under your bridge.

          1. Not so much. One of the christian like gods is forcing a woman to
            marry her rapist (who impregnated her) under threat of punishment. Oh, but wait, she has to publicly forgive her rapist otherwise the god won’t accept the marriage as legitimate.

      8. The best scientific proof can be found in polls taken to measure the attitudes of the American public. Faith in God correlates to lack of understanding of science and refusal to accept proven evidence.
        You right though that a world of pure atheist would still not be heaven for Dr. Coyne. He would still have to deal with pounding some knowledge into the heads of atheists. Still not an easy proposition.

  1. Dear Dr Coyne,

    I understand why you are dispirited. But you did the right thing by doing this conference, and you must not believe that it was useless.

    They are kids, they are in the process of forming their opinions. They may very well change their mind, even if they hate you today.

    Keep up the good work.


    1. Exactly. Indoctrinated people don’t change their minds right away. You’re planting seeds, if nothing else. Maybe someday they’ll tell their friends and family that their turning point was that day that Dr. Coyne came and talked to their class.

    2. Amen!

      Deconversion for a teenager is going to take a lot longer than an hour in the classroom learning about reality. But, before you spoke to these kids, for them it was a “debate” about believing in Jesus’s salvation or facing eternal hellfire. Now, it’s a debate between population genetics and an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry giant.

      I’d be most surprised if we didn’t hear from more than one of these kids in a few years, including some of the most die-hard religionists, about how your lecture today opened their eyes and made it possible for them to embrace reality.

      Please, please, pretty please, do as many of these lectures as your schedule will permit. And get your own students to fill in for those your schedule won’t allow!



      1. “Please, please, pretty please, do as many of these lectures as your schedule will permit. And get your own students to fill in for those your schedule won’t allow!”


      2. I wholeheartedly agree. I will confess that during my middle teen years I was under the spell of evangelical Christianity and, in my ignorance, skeptical of evolution. In Northern Ireland, where I lived at the time, teachers skipped teaching evolution completely to, I assume, avoid controversy.

        My education on evolution came from the works of Prof. Dawkins. And how mind-opening it was! Despite the resistance from the religious indoctrination, the more I understood evolution by natural selection the more it was clear to me just how much better an explanation it was than any version of creationism.

        The moral of the story is that young minds, even indoctrinated ones, can come to see just how much better scientific explanations are to religious non-explanations. It just takes some time. And someone willing to expose them to it. So thank you Prof. Coyne for doing what you do.

    3. I agree… its best not to be depressed by the ones that have hardened their hearts, but think about the ones who would have otherwise listened to the evolution deniers. Now they can realize that the questions the evolution deniers throw out not only have answers, but that the evolution deniers deliberately refuse to listen to them.

      I think that’s a pretty powerful realization, and one that steered me away from religion, when I realized that it tended to exist by cloaking itself in deliberate ignorance rather than seeking knowledge.

      1. Well put. I also think that many of these young people have unfortunately fallen for the false notion that accepting evolution is akin to ‘hardening their hearts'(natural selection isn’t exactly a comforting process at first glance) When one’s current beliefs rely on accepting metaphor as literal fact, it’s easy to see how simple emotional fear can build a strong wall. Not to mention that creationism has been marketed very well..nice and clean, easy to understand for children, when the world is still half fantasy already.

        1. Not to mention that creationism has been marketed very well .. nice and clean, easy to understand for children, when the world is still half fantasy already.

          Exactly. That’s why indoctrinating children in religion should be considered a particularly pernicious and odious form of child abuse, and laws should be formulated to charge the parents and institutions that do so. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child seems like a reasonable starting point – if the US would actually ratify it since they haven’t yet done so – only some 15 years after it was promulgated – something that Obama called an “embarrassment”.

    4. See, Dr Coyne, none of these kids’parents was so lucky to have a conference by Dr Jerry Coyne done at their schools.

      Thanks to you they will not end up as uninformed as their parents.


    1. This situation is really depressing in Africa, where countries are introducing laws calling for 14 years of imprisonment to the death penalty for gay people engaging in sexual activity. And this state of mind is entirely imported by the Christians, and more than ever actively supported by their bishops. Before the Christians did their dirty work, there was no problem with homosexuality in these countries.

      1. It’s also contributed heavily to the AIDS epidemic in Africa, thanks to the Catholic Church’s rabid anti-condom stance and blatant lying about how HIV spreads.

        1. Yes, I’m trying to figure out how many deaths the Popes have caused in Africa–there are millions of people infected with HIV.

          1. Not long ago the Pope actually “allowed” the use of condoms in AIDS stricken places and took back the lies(not in so many words, certainly not accepting any responsibility for the damage), but only for prostitutes and gay people! Because we don’t want the married people to stop having Catholic babies now do we. Who cares if the great majority of HIV cases in these areas are heterosexual couples, married people and their children… Ffff

        1. These were just recent events, just reported in the news (BBC). But yes, the Arabic Spring seems to turn out as an Islamic Spring.

  2. In addition to my research position, I moonlight at the local community college because I think it is important to teach.

    I teach an introductory cellular/molecular class and tie up the quarter by putting all of that basic information into the context of evolution.

    Last night was that lecture and during the early stages where I was outlining Darwin’s ideas on species sharing common ancestors, a student raised her hand and asked if I “believed that.” I said yes, and proceeded with my planned lecture on the evidence. I wish I had talked with her afterward to see what her thoughts were after hearing all that evidence.

    1. Hmm… I’d have been tempted to say, “No. It’s not a matter of belief. It’s an inescapable rational conclusion based on the evidence that I’m going to talk about.”


      1. Well I did sort of say that. I should have been more specific in my comment. I said yes, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that I’m about to go through to show it.

        1. OK, then! I’m just chary of saying (or accepting) that this is a “belief”, leaving the religious free to infer that it’s just a matter of faith, and on no firmer footing than their nonsense.


          1. Seems the “take-home” fact or lesson is that there are different degrees of belief and levels of justification for them. Might have been the opportunity for a “teachable moment” to ask the kid how much relative weight they might put on a belief that their parents would feed them again tomorrow and one that they will win a million dollars that week.

            Reminds me of something I recently ran across in Paul Davies’ The Mind of God [a rather good exposition of, among other views, the “metaphorical or pantheistic god of the physicists” that Dawkins refers to]:

            As explained in chapter 1, inductive reasoning has no absolute security. Just because the sun has risen every day of your life, there is no guarantee that it will therefore rise tomorrow. The belief that it will – that there are indeed dependable regularities of nature – is an act of faith, but one which is indispensible to the progress of science. [pg 81]

            1. Ah yes, Paul Davies is one of the people confusing things. Scientists don’t have “faith” in anything. Science as a belief system is what the Postmodern sociologists of science want us to believe. In fact this view, called “relativism” (science is as much a belief system and social construct as religion) is one of the weapons of the attackers of science (and of evolution). Of course, there are differences in opinion, such as does “dark matter exist,” but the scientific community is not going to go into convulsions if clear evidence of the non-existence of dark matter would be found. Just look at what came out when scientist realized that the “ether” (as the carrier of electromagnetic radiation) did not exist. The fact that we expect the sun to rise “every day” (can we have a day where the sun doesn’t rise?) is really a bad example, and has nothing to do with how scientists think.

              1. Ah yes, Paul Davies is one of the people confusing things. Scientists don’t have “faith” in anything.

                I think you might be misreading Davies. If you’ve actually read anything of his. For instance he is not at all saying that the facts of the matter are anything other than real, only that the theories are approximations at best:

                It is important to understand that the regularities of nature are real. Sometimes it is argued that laws of nature, which are attempts to capture these regularities systematically, are imposed on the world by our minds in order to make sense of it. It is certainly true that the human mind has a tendency to spot patterns, and even to imagine them where none exist. Our ancestors saw animals and gods amid the stars, and invented the constellations. And we have all looked for faces in clouds and rocks and flames. Nevertheless, I believe any suggestion that the laws of nature are similar projections of the human mind is absurd. The existence of the regularities in nature is an objective mathematical fact. On the other hand, the statements called laws that are found in textbooks clearly are human inventions designed to reflect, albeit imperfectly, actually existing properties of nature. Without this assumption that the regularities are real, science is reduced to a meaningless charade. . [The Mind of God; pg 81]

                And one of the progenitors of the science of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener, said in his “The Human Use of Human Beings” that:

                I have said that science is impossible without faith. By this I do not mean that the faith on which science depends is religious in nature or involves the acceptance of any of the dogmas of the ordinary religious creeds, yet without faith that nature is subject to law there can be no science. No amount of demonstration can ever prove that nature is subject to law. [pg 193]

                There is a difference between the blind faith of religious fundamentalists and the informed faith of scientists which is generally based on mountains of facts. Failing to recognize that difference only seems to promote an unnecessary vulnerability to the attacks, the “push-backs”, of the former.

                Science as a belief system is what the Postmodern sociologists of science want us to believe. In fact this view, called “relativism” (science is as much a belief system and social construct as religion) is one of the weapons of the attackers of science (and of evolution).

                Again, that seems an all-or-nothing philosophy: “you’re with us or you’re against us”. That some parts of science are in fact “human inventions” and “social constructs” should be virtually self evident. What else should be self evident – and what should be impressed upon postmodernists and religious apologists with some vigor – is that, as Hawking noted, science works while religion doesn’t – and that largely because of the mountain of facts backing up the theories. Human inventions and social constructs aren’t themselves the problem – the decoupling of them from some obligation that they “work” or give some evidence that they correspond to underlying reality or otherwise yield some practical benefits is.

              2. What else should be self evident – and what should be impressed upon postmodernists and religious apologists with some vigor – is that, as Hawking noted, science works while religion doesn’t – and that largely because of the mountain of facts backing up the theories.

                Real postmodernists, as opposed to straw ones, do understand that science works. (Many are close to innumerate, if not actually dyscalculic, but that’s quite different from “stupid”.) However, humans, including scientists, remain humans and defective. The great achievement of science is that it works even though scientists are stupid, defective, fallible humans. We actually managed to philosophise ourselves smarter in our results.

              3. Davies published an Op Ed in the NYT entitled “Taking Science on Faith.”


                I object more specifically to the use of the term “faith.” In the view of Davies, we have faith in the fact the if we flip a switch, the light will go on. I would rather use the term “expectation.” We expect that natural constants are constant, but we cannot say that we have faith in the fact that natural constants are constants (there is research trying to show that that they may vary over time, or location in the (this) universe). The result of the use of the term “faith” and the use of “believing” for what scientists think is possible, is that the public and politicians starts viewing scientific statements as something that is not always based on evidence (hence the discussions in society about evolution and global warming). Also many scientific hypotheses, such as strings, or supersymmetry, confuses the public.

                As to the term “social constructs,” you can view religion, legal systems, views on democracy, as social constructs because they vary, depending on the society and culture. Views on democracy are different in China, for example, than in the US. Science however, is not culture dependent. However, interest in science, and the way it is done can depend on cultures. For example, French and Russian astrophysicists have accused American astrophysicists to be sloppy with mathematics.
                I’m not concerned about how scientists view science, but how the public views science.

              4. David Gerard said:

                Real postmodernists, as opposed to straw ones, do understand that science works.

                Would you have an example of a “real postmodernist”? Also and in passing and maybe of some relevance, while I have argued and will certainly argue that science does in fact work, the evidence being largely incontrovertible, I also think that many traditional naturalists seem not to give much credence to the idea, for which there seems to be no small amount of evidence, that it also has its limitations – and ones that might be intrinsic and insurmountable and profound. Losing sight of that I think tends to promote scientism – which isn’t in anyone’s best interests.

                The great achievement of science is that it works even though scientists are stupid, defective, fallible humans.

                Agreed, although I would definitely qualify that categorical statement with “a few” or “some” or even “many”. Apropos of which Leon Lederman has a rather moving description of that in his The God Particle:

                Along the way I have tried to insert some irreverent details about the scientists. It is important to distinguish between the scientists and the science. Scientists, more often than not, are people, and as such they span the enormous range of variability that makes people so … so interesting. Scientists can be serene and ambitious; they are driven by curiosity and ego; they exhibit angelic virtue and immense greed; they are wise beyond measure and childish well into their dotage; intense, obsessed, laid-back. ….

                Now if there is any unifier in this collection of human beings we call scientists, it is the pride and reverence with which each of us adds our contribution to that intellectual edifice: science. It may be a brick, fitted meticulously and cemented into place, or it may be a magnificent lintel (to stress out the metaphor) gracing columns placed there by our masters. We build with a sense of awe, heavily tinged with skepticism, guided by what we found when we arrived, bringing all our human variables, coming to this effort from all directions, each carrying our own cultural dress and language, but somehow finding instant communication, instant understanding, and empathy in the common task of building the tower of science. [pgs 406-407]

                One might even suggest that it manifests a religious sensibility, at least in the sense that Einstein used the term ….

              5. Steersman said: “One might even suggest that it manifests a religious sensibility, at least in the sense that Einstein used the term …”

                The term “God” (Der Liebe Gott) in German culture is often used metaphorically, and doesn’t mean anything else than “Mother Nature.” Einstein used this term that way. Many Christians argue that Einstein was religious, although Einstein categorically rejected the idea of a “personal God.”

              6. Alexander Hellemans said,

                … although Einstein categorically rejected the idea of a “personal God.”

                Yes, I know and I quite agree with that and largely with his definition of “true religiousness”, which is what I was alluding to:

                To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull facilities can comprehend only in the most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the centre of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the ranks of the devoutly religious men. [What I Believe; A.E.]

                Which seems to be, more or less, the same perspective that Lederman has, as suggested by my previous quote of him.

  3. I remember making fun of my high school science teacher for his ONE DAY evolution lecture. Now I deeply regret it. I’ll apologize to you twenty years later since I don’t know how to find him. The kids are put up to it, but something you said will make them think. I’m living proof.

    1. The more I learn about Evo, the less I understand why it doesn’t comprise 50% of any biology class. It permeates everything we see in the living world.

        1. My daughter goes to a French school. When I went to her open house I met the high school science teacher. I scanned the Biology textbook and said, “This is all evolution!” He shrugged in a Gallic fashion and replied, “But of course, That is what Biology is all about!” I felt so stupid.

          Just to press the point. I had ONE DAY of evolution in high school. The French have one year. In fact, my daughter spent her third grade year studying human evolution. I imagine evolution will come up again several times before she studies it in depth in high school.

          1. Out of curiosity, if you don’t mind me asking, where abouts are you? French schools sound a little incongruous for the US. Not to mention ones that spend the entire third grade studying evolution; can’t have been using textbooks from Texas. Though they are, of course, to be commended – an encouraging sign.

            1. Aha, Texas. Many years ago I wrote the entire section on astronomy for an encyclopedia called the “One Volume Library.” I didn’t know the publisher was in Texas (I got this job via a writers group in New York) and to my surprise they objected to the Big Bang and wanted me to include the Biblical creation story. I said “no way.”

              1. “Religion poisons everything”

                Did they publish the section as written or did they rewrite it?

          2. Yeah, in my high school biology class, the topic of evolution consisted of the teacher saying “we believe in evolution in this class, even if you don’t” and that was it. He didn’t even explain what the theory actually was or how natural selection worked.

  4. I see Woodlawn has their seniors do research projects, and that they expect the students to work with professional advisors.

    May I suggest? Get in on the action, and get as many of these kids as you can doing publication-quality research. Have a multi-year contest that includes you and all of your graduate students to see who can rack up the highest number of Woodlawn students listed as authors in peer-reviewed journals.

    To hell with the creationism / evolution “debate” — there’s real work to be done, and it’s high time these kids started to earn their keep in society.



  5. There must be a proven method of giving people delusionectomies (I’d share it if I knew). Why not push back at them?

    JC Why do you think humanity sprang from a single couple?

    Student Because the bible says so.

    JC How do you reconcile that with the bottleneck?

    Student Because the bible says so.

    JC That’s not the answer. [Rinse and repeat].

    BTW you have an unfortunate acronym.

    1. “That’s not the answer” is a miserable response. “How do you know the Bible is a trustworthy source of information?” would be much better.

      But that sort of pushback is almost guaranteed to be a bad idea in the first place. Your opening question for JAC would probably get him in trouble on First Amendment grounds if nothing else.

      Far better to simply remain professional and keep the discussion to the topic at hand — specifically, the Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection, and the evidence that supports the theory.

      If a student wishes to present evidence that challenges that theory, fine…but any such evidence will come from the Bible, and that’s the teacher’s opportunity to play the First Amendment trump card. “This is a science class, not a religion class. If you have questions about the proper way to interpret the Bible, please bring those up with your parents and your spiritual advisor. You are of course free to reject the validity scientific evidence being discussed today or to differ with the appropriate conclusions to draw from it, but you will be graded on your knowledge of that evidence, so I suggest you pay attention.”



      1. Ben,

        I don’t agree with you, but I think your suggestions are more considered than mine. Do you have some experience with this?

        1. Direct experience? Only peripherally. I’ve taught non-science classes at community colleges, so I have some idea of what sorts of bullshit you can get from students. And I’ve long been a student of the Constitution.

          From my personal experience, I’d say that your hypothetical exchange is bad pedagogy. And the Wall of Separation puts dissing religion as much off-limits as promoting it does. Teaching science is just fine, even when it contradicts religious beliefs. But you can’t outright say that religious belief x is worng or contradicted by the science; all you can do is say that science says y, and it’s up to the student to reconcile religious beliefs with what’s taught in class.



      2. One of my anthropology Profs in college said on the opening day of a class titled “the human story”: “This class is about mankind, and you’re going to hear about the evolution of mankind. Believe it or not, I don’t care, but at the end of it I expect you to at least understand exactly what it is that you don’t believe.”

        It also brings to mind a story from my high school days; my biology teacher gave us extra credit to attend science lectures that were given at the St. Louis Zoo and sponsored by Sigma Xi. One of them was on the topic of evolution. A group of kids from one of the area’s religious schools was in attendance (many were wearing school T-shirts), at the end of the lecture during Q&A one got up and asked the ever popular “If humans evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” to much applause from the surrounding group.

        The speaker asked the questioner if he’d ever had a biology class in which the teacher discussed evolution. The kid replied yes, and (I thought) nodded toward one of the adults in the group. The speaker proceeded to say “Well, if you don’t already know the answer to that question then your teacher should be fired.” To the applause of everyone else in the room.

            1. Because the Chihuahuas don’t want to make love with the Great Danes, they prefer an intermediary. It is amazing how christians can avoid the obvious in order to submit to those that pull their god’s puppet strings.

  6. Of course. Because Christianity teaches that doubt is a sin, and faith a virtue. It directly teaches that they mustn’t listen to this stuff – that it is temptation by the devil. You cannot reason with someone who has been taught that defeating reason is what their life is FOR.

    Religion turns the brain to mush. The reasoning-in-relation-to-religion part of the brain, anyway: I am not one of those who say that all religious people are stupid. They aren’t: many of them are perfectly intelligent in other areas of their lives. But Dan Dennett got it right in Breaking The Spell: religion is a self-replicating virus, with survival built right in.

    I don’t know how to tackle it, but I agree with others who have posted that it is important to keep planting the seeds of doubt. Even if they are vehemently resisted at the time of planting, you don’t know how they’ll develop later. For me the crucial question that led me from religion was ‘How do I know? And how do I know that my take on all this is correct, when other religious people use precisely the same kind of ‘evidence’ but arrive at completely different beliefs? What is there REALLY to suggest that what I believe is TRUE?’

    Because this is what worked for me, I am naturally predisposed to think it could work for others too; but of course, every believer is different; and I suspect I must have already freed myself from the worst bonds of religion at the time of asking myself those questions, otherwise I would never have asked them.

    Still, ‘Why do you believe that?’ and ‘Do you really, truly, believe that?’ are good questions to ask, I think. It’s amazing how many religious people don’t ever stop to ask themselves whether they TRULY believe what they claim to believe, but just repeat it by rote.

    1. >> It’s amazing how many religious people don’t ever stop to ask themselves whether they TRULY believe what they claim to believe

      .. or WHY they believe it. If they were truly honest with themselves (as I and probably most atheists once were), they’d have to admit their beliefs are derived from their parents’ beliefs, consolidated from years of ignoring or avoiding counter evidence.

    2. My experience of the religious has always been that they claim their beliefs ENCOURAGE them to question. It’s total BS of course, because the limits of their questioning end at the existence of their deity.

        1. I wanted to find out more about Jesus. Read the OT books that mentioned heaven – not Jesus’ idea, as I had been told. Read “James, brother of Jesus” – realised that the whole “Jesus” construct rested on people who had never met him. There was no way of knowing anything about him. Faith slipped away from that point on, almost painlessly.

          Fortunately, I hadn’t been indoctrinated with faulty science, beyond “God guided evolution”, which was easy to ditch. In fact, Creationists started the whole edifice of faith crumbling, because through them I recognised that some religious people lie for their religion. That was a new concept for me (I laugh now).

  7. As a retired professor, I remember receiving student evaluations and focusing on the few evaluations that railed on me for being excessively difficult in grading, being arrogant, being a mean SOB, etc. while overlooking the vast majority of favorable evaluations and comments. I urge you not to focus on the few. And to echo the comments of others on this site, I’m sure you had a much greater positive impact – now and in the future – than you realize. I admire you for having taken the time and energy to share your expertise and enthusiasm of science with these students.

    1. I’ve known professors who took a great deal of perverse pleasure in racking up the most possible SOB points. Those were also the professors from whom I learned the most.


      1. Indeed. My first real analysis teacher at the university delighted in complex, pity proofs, making us sweat over the details. When asked at gun point his answer was to recline his chair even more and tell us: “it is good to be lazy”.

        Meaning: buckle up and do the work yourself and you can solve more problems, with less work, later.

        He was a great SOB, and all of us were the better for it.

  8. Yeah, I know how it feels, I teach in the Bible Belt. But if you put this in evolutionary time-scale terms, the progress has actually been quite remarkable from just a century ago and the Scopes trial. So progress in the long term is being made, I think, although in the last twenty years it seems like we’re going backward. Just a little counter-reformation going on.

  9. A meaningless but potentially heartening statistic: there are more people who accept evolution today than there were people on the planet when Jesus was walking around (200 million circa 0 AD).


      1. To me, the strongest evidence for the non-historicity of Jesus is how he’s never described as human in the Pauline letters. On the other hand, Mark’s gospel (the oldest one, and the one all others get their biographical data from) tells this really embarrassing story of the Messiah getting killed by the cops, promising to come back real soon, then … not.

        I just don’t see why, if you’re gonna make up this character whole cloth; you would leave in there the story of the crucifixion and JC’s failure to return during the lifetime of the apostles. I think the most parsimonous hypothesis is that there was a street preacher, he was way into magic tricks, he pissed off the elites, and they nailed him. There were plenty of messianic preachers running around at the time; it makes most sense to me that the stories are actually based on an actual dude.

        Now – whether a single quote attributed to him is verifiable… now that’s a whole ‘nother debate!

        1. Santa is real!

          His name is Harold, he lives year-’round in Florida where he retired to a decade ago at age 65, he hates kids, and it’s been a half-century since he’s given anybody a Christmas present…but he’s the real Santa Claus!

          …seriously, your “real” Jesus is so unlike anything ever documented or seriously proposed that it’s utterly meaningless.

          Besides, we’ve got amazing records from that era, including an entire library’s worth of original documents penned in and around Jerusalem before, during, and after the alleged Jesus incident. Add it all together and you’ve got lots of rabble-rousers, lots of preachers, lots of crucifixions, lots of millennialists, lots of random nobody schmucks — hell, even lots of guys named, “Jesus.” But we don’t have any combination of any more than a couple of those properties in the same person, and we most emphatically don’t have anything that could even remotely be mistraken for “the” Jesus, no matter how hard you squint.

          What we do have, in the second century, are lots of Greeks writing to each other about this archetypal Greek hero running amok in Judea. And we’ve got a couple Christians, including Justin Martyr, going to great lengths and in excruciating detail to explain how Jesus is exactly like all the other contemporary pagan gods. And we’ve got lots of Romans discussing the wacky antics of this new nutjob fringe cult — and we’ve even got one Roman (Lucian) who laughs uproariously at how another Roman (Peregrinus) so easily conned the stupid, gullible Christians into adopting Pagan mythology wholesale into the most sacred heart of hearts of their fledgling religion.

          So, if you can add all that up and take away from it that “Jesus is real!”…well, I hate to break it to you, but Jesus’s real name is, “Harold.” Hark, how his angles sing!



          1. Yeah, if there was an actual historic person that Jesus was based on, the two have roughly the same level of similarity with each other as the chimera (three headed monster from Greek myth) has with the chimera (deep sea cartilaginous fish).

            1. That’s it in a nutshell, what colour where Jesus’s eyes, was he tall or short, long haired or short (or going bald.) Clean shaven or had a beard or stocky or thin, none of this exists and if we are dealing with a real person form history it would be well documented. It’s all bullshit.

        2. My personal favourite new testament blooper is that the alleged year of birth of JC is given only in Luke and Matthew, and the given years are AT LEAST 10 years apart.

          25th December? They can’t even decide if it was after 6 AD or before 4 BC!!

        1. I’ve walked on water. Its cool.

          But you have to be careful. It is slippery, and if the top part, which is hard when it is cold, is not thick enough, it can break under your weight, and you might fall into the stream or pond.

  10. “Until America becomes less religious, we have no hope of educating people about the wonders of evolution.”

    And, until we teach Americans to think critically, America will not become less religious.

    Universal education in basic thinking tools, reinforced and emphasized at all ages, is the key.

    American culture teaches us that the three worst sins of all are to say:

    1) “I changed my mind”,
    2) “I was wrong”, or, worst of all,
    3) “I don’t know”.

    Is it any surprise that most Americans will seize upon answers when handed to them in advance of what they think of as the ultimate test—particularly when they have not been equipped with the necessary tools to figure the answers out for themselves, or even understand what the questions are?

    Religion & other ideologies tell Americans WHAT to think, relieving them of the challenge to think for themselves and the risk of being wrong.

    Unless Americans are taught HOW to think, the paternalistic certainty of religions & other ideologies will continue to appeal.

    Inerrancy beats error bars every time, in a culture where the worst sin is doubt.

    Railing against religion will not diminish it, any more than railing against heroin will cure an addict.

    The thing that has undermined religion since the dawn of modern science has been the spread of the thinking tools of the scientific method.

    We have not only stopped teaching basic civics to our citizens, endangering our republican democracy, we have stopped teaching them to think, endangering our very existence.

    1. We have not only stopped teaching basic civics to our citizens, endangering our republican democracy, we have stopped teaching them to think, endangering our very existence.

      There seems to be no small amount of support and justification for that view, that the educational system in general must accept some responsibility for that state of affairs, although human nature in general is probably equally culpable. For example, you’re probably familiar with Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World which apparently argues – haven’t read it yet myself – along those lines.

      But you might not know of an interesting review of that book by Richard Lewontin in the New York Times Book Reviews that seems to go quite a bit further in charging many in the scientific community with retailing and using excessively what he argues are largely “just-so” stories:

      As to assertions without adequate evidence, the literature of science is filled with them, especially the literature of popular science writing. Carl Sagan’s list of the “best contemporary science-popularizers” includes E.O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas, and Richard Dawkins, each of whom has put unsubstantiated assertions or counterfactual claims at the very center of the stories they have retailed in the market. Wilson’s “Sociobiology” and “On Human Nature” rest on the surface of a quaking marsh of unsupported claims about the genetic determination of everything from altruism to xenophobia. …. Even “The Demon-Haunted World” itself sometimes takes suspect claims as true when they serve a rhetorical purpose as, for example, statistics on child abuse, or a story about the evolution of a child’s fear of the dark.

      Now, no doubt, there are some necessities and challenges associated with the process of popularizing science – one can’t really quote all of the detailed experiments that have gone into the various conclusions nor can one address all the ones that don’t really support the conclusions. But the readers – the receivers of the information – also have some obligation to be weighing that information with a skeptical eye and, regrettably, many don’t – maybe an excess of gullibility – which only tends to promote the cause or phenomenon of scientism in the pejorative sense. Which reminds me of a passage in Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid on the topic of epiphenomena and gullibility:

      In the human brain, there is gullibility [as an example of an epiphenomenon]. How gullible are you? Is your gullibility located in some “gullibility center” in your brain? Could a neurosurgeon reach in and perform some delicate operation to lower your gullibility, otherwise leaving you alone? If you believe this, you are pretty gullible, and should perhaps consider such an operation. [pg 309]

      I remember thinking, as I was reading that passage – more than a few decades ago I might add, something along the lines of “Gee, I wonder if that’s true?” But it does tie into or highlight Lewontin’s conclusion:

      Conscientious and wholly admirable popularizers of science like Carl Sagan use both rhetoric and expertise to form the mind of masses because they believe, like the Evangelist John, that the truth shall make you free. But they are wrong. It is not the truth that makes you free. It is your possession of the power to discover the truth. Our dilemma is that we do not know how to provide that power.

      Seems that there is a natural tendency for us to believe anything that figures of authority tell us – and some have argued that there is an evolutionary justification or explanation for that – and that it is rather difficult to teach children to question everything.

      1. Steersman,

        I cannot read every post. And too many of them are pure dribble.

        But, yours was a well thought out post. What intrigues me is that you have spent some time studying …. and thinking …. and no doubt arguing with yourself as you have sought truth.

        Critical thinking is rare in America today. Ironically, that was common when most Universities were actually Seminaries teaching men how to think critically so they could teach people the Bible.

        1. Wayne, we have a specific term for those in seminaries who think critically: “heretic”. Such “critical thinking” in religion could historically get you killed and/or start wars. It is absurd to suggest that religious education was a bastion of intellectual freedom and critical analysis. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and presume that you are being intentionally disingenuous, rather than actually that ignorant.

          1. We did not evolve a social instinct for truth, we evolved a social instinct for groupthink. The willingness of the clan or tribe to subscribe to common beliefs provided a social cohesion, regardless of whether the beliefs were in fact, true.

            This is not limited to religion (which is a particularly archaic form). It’s also deeply embedded in national and cultural identity, and particularly political identity.

          2. Tulse,


            I cannot read every trivial post of every armchair historian who has never read anything except Wiki.

            Harvard, Yale, Princeton, et.al., were founded as seminaries to train pastors. Everyone first studied a Bachelor’s degree in general religious studies which used to be a B of Divinity.

            It is absurd for so many people to claim to be learned and be so ignorant of the truth of history.

            They studied latin and greek. And then our “Greek” system was established. All but, one greek society and all but one of the old Universities were CHRISTIAN organizations.

            It is sad that so many people claim enlightenment, but want to indoctrinate our children …. I do not want to indoctrinate children. I want them to learn to think for themselves …..

            1. I do not want to indoctrinate children. I want them to learn to think for themselves …..

              Oh, what bullshit.

              You want to teach children to pledge allegiance to a zombie who had a penchant for having his intestines fondled though his gaping chest wound in the hopes that you’ll thereby be able to convince yourself that you, too, will get to fondle the zombie’s intestines in the after-death.

              Care to enlighten us as to your most-hoped-for technique for zombie frottage? Or is that getting a bit too personal for you?



            2. Wayne, you did not address my point. The goal of seminary training is to teach “orthodoxy”, a word that comes from religion. So-called “critical thinking” about orthodoxy is, in many circumstances, considered heresy, and historically could end up with you murdered by the religious authorities. It is absurd to suggest that there is something inherent to seminary training that promotes critical thinking.

              Yes, Harvard, Yale, Princeton etc. were all founded with a religious orientation, but you will note that they are now secular institutions. There are very few top-notch explicitly religious universities in the US.

              1. Tulse,

                You make good points. But, your points are based upon today.

                However, would you spend the billions of dollars necessary to fund a new Harvard, only to see it Christianized?

                Look at what Christianity built in America?

                But, you will no longer read, “George Washington prayed for our country and then he began his speech.”

                Yes, many seminaries today teach orthodoxy (a greek word, btw).

                But, many more like the University of Chicago teach liberalism …. I believe at least half of the seminaries (Harvard still has a seminary) are secular or liberal. http://www.ats.edu/MemberSchools/Pages/geo.aspx Check out you local seminary, and go ask an “orthodox” pastor of your choice if that seminary is liberal.

                Before the Revolution, education took the best from the Enlightenment and applied it.

                Afterwards, education moved towards a much weaker view of history and the Enlightenment. IMHO.

                And the reason there are very few top notch religious schools left, is that they were all taken over and converted to secular schools …. And most of them still have secularized seminaries ….

              2. You make good points. But, your points are based upon today.

                No, actually they’re not — and again you’ve failed to engage with my argument. You’re the one talking about how “seminaries” have become secularized compared to the past. My point was that your claim of “seminaries” as past bastions of critical thinking is absurd when those institutions were responsible for conveying the orthodox understand of the particular religion they were instructing, and not promoting questioning and alternative interpretations of received wisdom. You still have not addressed this point.

                Also, to be clear, when I say “orthodox”, I am not referring narrowly to a specific sect, but instead to the notion that only certain ideas are acceptable to be entertained (which is the heart of notions of “critical thinking”). Thus, even in the most “liberal” divinity school will not accept challenges to their own orthodoxy (such as whether Jesus actually existed, or whether Jesus was instead an ancient astronaut from an alien civilization, or Brahman is a better explanation for the universe, or whether Quetzalcoatl was really one of the four sons of Ometecuhtli).

                And I have absolutely no idea what you mean by “secular seminaries”. There are seminaries which are not attached to any particular sect of Christianity, but all seminaries are religious, not secular, in that they are run by and focussed on a particular variety or branch of religion (almost always Christian, by the way — as far as I know there are no Asatru schools of divinity).

        2. Critical thinking is rare in America today.

          Group-think and the like seem, regrettably, to be fairly common in the human species in general – as evidenced by such books as Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Nonsense on Stilts, The Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense: A Guide for Edgy People, and, most recently, The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life. But, one might argue, at least science recognizes and tries to keep in mind a principle enunciated by Richard Feynman: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that”. But religious practitioners generally seem to go out of their way in doing precisely that – fooling themselves.

          Ironically, that was common when most Universities were actually Seminaries teaching men how to think critically so they could teach people the Bible.

          I will quite readily agree that the Catholic Church, in particular, was instrumental in disseminating knowledge, particularly throughout the Middle Ages – but only until such time as the foundations of the Church itself were called into question. For instance:

          The Scholastics’ exhaustive critical discussions of Aristotle and their often shrewd suggestions of alternative hypotheses were forging a new intellectual spirit, increasingly perceptive, skeptical, and open to fundamental change. …. By the fourteenth century, a leading Scholastic such as the Parisian scholar and bishop Nicole d’Oresme could defend the theoretical possibility of a rotating Earth (even while personally rejecting it), out of sheer logical vigor proposing ingenious arguments against Aristotle concerning optical relativity and falling bodies…. To solve difficulties presented by projectile motion, Oresme’s teacher, Jean Buridan, developed an impetus theory, applying it to both celestial and terrestrial phenomena, which would lead directly to Galileo’s mechanics and Newton’s first law of motion. [The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View; Richard Tarnas; pg 201]

          And, of course, the Church eventually came to charge Galileo with heresy for those same ideas, and the related philosophy of Ignatius Loyola came to dominate (apparently still does); from his “Rules for Thinking with the Church”:

          That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.

          Seems that one of the saving graces of humanity is that we are able to evolve – not only physiologically, but morally and intellectually as well. Religion in general seems to insist on sticking with dogma rather than being willing to question the foundations of its beliefs. The antithesis of a scientific or, maybe more accurately, a realist perspective, neatly summarized, again, by Richard Feynman:

          Our patron saint, Richard Feynman, in the essay, “What Is Science?” admonished the student: “Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. …. Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” And later: “Each generation that discovers something from its experience must pass that on, but it must pass that on with a delicate balance of respect and disrespect, so that the race … does not inflict its errors too rigidly on its youth, but it does pass on the accumulated wisdom that it may not be wisdom.” [The God Particle; Leon Lederman; pgs 192-193]

  11. “Our religion is made to eradicate vices, instead it encourages them ,covers them up, and nutures them”.
    Michel De Montaigne

    The theist among us are relentless in their efforts to spread their supernatural dogma, especially with young people, but at least these kids are reading your book and perhaps in time some will have the poison of religious indoctrination, through evidence and reason, removed from their impressionable minds.

  12. Reblogged this on luvsiesous and commented:
    The good Professor got juvenile inquiry.

    I for one am glad that he finally met students who challenged him. For too long academia has expected students to learn by rote.

    It is excellent that this High School teaches their students to inquire and even to challenge the status quo and establishmentarianism.

    Isn’t that what the 1960’s, Hippies, Rock and Roll, and too many drugs were all about?

    1. Challenged him…with what, exactly? A bad faery tale about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry giant?

      Oooh. I’m impressed. Stop the presses! A few poorly-educated pimply-faced know-it-all teens who think their favorite grade-school swords-and-sorcery fantasy anthology Really Happened made one of today’s leading evolutionary biologists feel depressed about the state of public education in America today.

      You really think that there’s some substance to their childish antics? Really? Honestly?


          1. There isn’t really enough swordplay, and the sorcery is pretty low-grade, too. Nothing any pre-pubescent amateur magician couldn’t do if he were preoccupied enough with it. Alas, it is just fantasy, not good ol’ Sword and Sorcery–and its not very good fantasy, at that.

            The better JC was John Carter. Lots of sword action there! And Barsoom is cool….

            1. Indeed. Not only does Edgar Rice Burroughs wipe the floor with Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul, he even gives Homer a run for his money.

              Of course, ERB, having studied Homer, had the distinct advantage…but what excuse does that then leave the Gospel authors?



              1. I recently read, for the first time, one of ERB’s Westerns. It was awful. Then I re-read, for the first time since pre-adolescence, At the Earth’s Core. Garn, it was a ripping read!

                ERB was formulaic, simplistic, racist, cliched, and a host of other criticisms…but at his best, he was wondrously creative, compelling, entertaining, and he did, to some degree, explore “the human condition”. When reading At the Earth’s Core, there were moments when I found myself admiring the intelligence and internal consistency of his story, and moments when I had to facepalm. But it was great stuff!

                Ben, I hope you don’t mind, though, if I beg to differ as to his giving Homer a run for his money. But he certainly learned a lot from reading Homer, as you pointed out.

              2. Hmmm…It’s been a long time since I actually read any ERB, and longer still since I read Homer, so I won’t argue with you, Chris, about how they compare with each other. All I really remember is having a blast reading both.

                Guess it’s time to break them out again….



    2. I charge that you have dishonestly “reblogged”, posting only the first paragraph and misrepresenting what led to Jerry’s post in the first place. He was not dispirited by young people asking questions as you suggest. He was dispirited by the blind foolishness of some of the questions. You are lying for Jesus.

      1. Yup, Wayne’s post was thoroughly dishonest. And stupid. But the predominant characteristic was dishonesty. Science is not religion, nor is it done the way religion is. It is a system of questioning, with the entire historical record of questioning available for examination, replication, and further inquiry. It is religion that is the establishment. The troll substituted the characteristics of his superstition-club for science, and then sniped at that. It is projection and strawman.

        Its like the fat kid telling the other kid “you’re fat”. It dinged him, so he tries it on someone else. Never mind that the other kid is thin, and everybody sees it.

        No, the kids were doing the opposite of questioning the establishment, they were shilling for it against the questioner.

      2. GBJames

        You guys are a bunch of trolls.

        When you “reblog” it only shows the first part of the other blog. And it allows you “the intelligent” reader, not the troll, to follow up on what I wrote about.

        BTW, these are my readers, so they would not normally read something by the kind professor.

        Further, I did not disparage the kind professor, nor did I disparage his talk to the kids.

        I, rightly, admired the courage of these children to speak up.

        Why do we demand children sit there and be indoctrinated? Our institutions of higher learning taught critical thinking.

        I am saddened that that led to the last 40 years of decline in America.

        But, I am not saddened that Schools of Religion thought enough of their students to teach critical thinking.

        Reading the responses here, I doubt 10% on this thread can think critically.

        Can they be critical? Yes.

        Can they be mean spirited? Yes.

        Critical thinking is about logical thought. It is not about winning an argument.

        I would rather lose an argument and learn something than to win and argument and be like the other 90% on this thread.

        1. Oh, Wayne, Wayne, Wayne.

          You said: “When you “reblog” it only shows the first part of the other blog. And it allows you “the intelligent” reader, not the troll, to follow up on what I wrote about.”

          And does it also allow you, the re-blogger, to completely misrepresent the original blog? That is dishonesty, plain and simple. Lying for Jesus.

          I think I remember that the fiction you believe is a divine instruction manual has something to say about dishonesty. Go look it up.

          But first, please, go look up the definition of “troll” as used in the context of Internet communications.

        2. You might have a valid point about re-posting only the first paragraph.

          You might have a valid point that the courage of these children to speak up merits admiration.

          But the suggestion that in speaking up these children were demonstrating critical thinking rather than merely voicing the irrational anti-evolutionism – “it goes agains my faith”, “it offends me” – that their parents or pastors had inculcated them with is entirely risible.


    3. “It is excellent that this High School teaches their students to inquire and even to challenge the status quo and establishmentarianism.”

      Automatic gainsaying of evolution is not exactly inquiry and challenge. There’s no thought process there, only indoctrination.

      1. Besides, if they are so open to challenging the status quo, wouldn’t they be open to questioning the teachings of their church as well?

    4. It is excellent that this High School teaches their students to inquire and even to challenge the status quo and establishmentarianism.

      The students were challenging the existence of a national church? As a wise man once said, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

    5. They sound as if many were spouting the garbage passing for ‘faith’ drummed into them by inane bible bashers. If you get a Mormon president, will you review your ‘beliefs’ Wayne?

    6. “The good Professor got juvenile inquiry.”

      What Dr. Coyne rather got (and what I myself not infrequently get substitute teaching full-time, mostly science and math at the middle and lower high school level), was not so much juvenile inquiry but a good – apparently toxic – dose of adolescent hubris and arrogance. There’s no one so self-assured of her/his opinion as a teenager, particularly in Amuricuh.

      We’ve heard the old saying (as we’ve heard Hitchens reflect words-to-the-effect), “There are those who know that they don’t know, and there are those who don’t know that they don’t know.” Seems there’s a third – and the worst -category, those who know that they don’t know, and don’t care – the willfully ignorant.

      Dr. Coyne, if the “opportunity” presented itself, would you deign to labor full-time in the secondary school pedagogical vineyard and be graced with this loutish adolescent behavior on an almost daily basis?

      As I heard a crusty navy admiral exhort, “Press on regardless!”

      Perhaps it will catch on that top-tier university evolutionary biologists en masse will run the secondary school science guest lecturer gauntlet and put a big burr under the saddle of adolescent self-regard.

    7. “Isn’t that what the 1960′s, Hippies, Rock and Roll, and too many drugs were all about”

      Actually (I’m from that era) a lot of really stupid stuff came out of that time. Challenging concepts was a good thing but rarely practiced. Instead we had mindless repetition of slogans and unsubstantiated belief systems.. much like religion.

      If one of those students presented a logically challenging question, rather than ‘I don’t believe this’, it would have been a totally different post that we are discussing now.

  13. Dr. Coyne,
    As an avid reader and occasional snarky commenter on your website; I wish to add my voice to the chorus of voices encouraging you to continue holding these types of conferences. You only heard from the from the strongest advocates of religion. These kids may be disadvantaged but they are not stupid. You probably reached more kids than you know. They just were not the type to speak up. You may have not reached the kids who did speak up but I guarantee there where several kids that will remember this conference and have come away with a better understanding of evolution. Do not despair, even if only one of these kids is encouraged to learn more about evolution and biology it was worth it.

  14. I expect the problem arises from western religious belief being driven by emotions (be good and god will love you, god – merely by existing – simplifies your life, you have a perfect leader to follow, etc.)

    Because religious belief is already validated by emotions intellectual evidence never becomes important enough to be considered beyond ‘noise’. Until the emotional balance is upset.

    Bad things happening to good people is a poke at the emotions. Godly people behaving badly is a poke at the emotions. Contradictory practices poke at the certainty of belief. Only then does the steady drip, drip, of factual evidence get a chance to be valued.

    Keep on. Evidence suggests that religious belief needs a critical mass of local society to propagate itself. Once the critical mass shrinks the collapse of belief is rapid.

    1. Critical mass??? Critical cash is what matters. Who pays the Evangelical kids in their suits and black ties swarming over Europe. One of them told me that there are 10,000 of them in France alone–I think there are a few thousand. I can just imagine what they do in Africa. And the Wahabi-Saudi funded mullahs have an important impact on the religiosity of the European Arabic population-the Saudis funding 600 Islamic youth organisations in Europe. When I was a student during the 1960 in the Netherlands, my Arab friends at the university, but also outside of the university, without an exception, didn’t give a hood for Islam. Things are very different now.

  15. I think there’s more to it than just childhood indoctrination, Launcher, although that’s an important factor, of course. I think many Christians truly long for their stories to be true, and genuinely fear what their lives would be like if they weren’t. Of course, their religion also reinforces this by preaching to them week after week how pointless and empty life would be without God, so it’s self-perpetuating.

    Never underestimate how important a believer’s faith is to him emotionally. Christianity allows the believer to cling respectably to the magic world of childhood stories, where good always triumphs, the baddie always gets found out, reality can be conquered if you just wish hard enough, and nobody ever has to die. I don’t mean that at all facetiously: I honestly think that, psychologically, that’s what’s going on. ‘Theres a magical extra dimension that will ensure a happy ending!’

    It’s an appealing proposition if you’re poor, or vulnerable, or fearful, or bruised. Some people find reality just too plain scary. And those people will resist with all their might if you try to tell them anything that puts their cosy safety-net in doubt.

    Perhaps the answer isn’t to teach more science and more critical thinking skills, after all. Perhaps the answer is to teach life skills, assertiveness, coping strategies, confidence, independence. Or perhaps the answer – in the USA, at least – would be to introduce a European-style welfare state, so that mere survival becomes less precarious.

    1. You nail it in your last sentence.

      It’s societal insecurity that fuels religion. Whether we make society more secure by trickle-down Reaganomics or the “socialism” of providing the same support services for the working class as we recently have for bank CEOs and auto executives is a matter for political debate, but it won’t be until Americans as as wealthy as Europeans that we’ll see religiosity in America fall to European levels.



    2. Perhaps the answer isn’t to teach more science and more critical thinking skills, after all. Perhaps the answer is to teach life skills, assertiveness, coping strategies, confidence, independence. Or perhaps the answer – in the USA, at least – would be to introduce a European-style welfare state, so that mere survival becomes less precarious.

      I think both of those are part of the answer. In fact, I think the former will be necessary to achieve the latter.

  16. I don’t think you should be overly disappointed. I grew up on the south side of Chicago and Woodlawn is a tough neighborhood. I think that is part of the problem you’re facing. These kids have a rough time staying away from gangs and drugs while trying to get an education. For a lot of them it’s the “religious leaders” who jump in, keep them safe and counsel them. Unfortunately, that assistance comes with a price, a steep religious price. Education is the key, but with some people there’s a lot of outside influence to overcome.

    1. Huh. So basically, the kids there are being pressed into one of two different types of gangs. Both try to leverage to-the-death membership and long-term profit thereby. Dirty business, god-botting.

      At least education give a kid the option of getting out, and becoming his or her own person in his or her own right.

      This is an important distinction: If education is done correctly, the kids fly away and don’t come back, because they’ve gone on their own journey. Its sad to see your students go, but its a point of pride that you helped them grow those wings that take them so high and so far.

    2. These kids have a rough time staying away from gangs and drugs while trying to get an education. For a lot of them it’s the “religious leaders” who jump in, keep them safe and counsel them.
      Is the ‘price’ steep enough to outweigh the positive influence of the faith community in their lives?

      1. Is the ‘price’ steep enough to outweigh the positive influence of the faith community in their lives?

        What’s the going rate for a soul or, in secular terms, being or having an autonomous self not in thrall to bronze-age dogma and superstition?

        I’ll quite readily agree that the “faith community” can have some positive influences on some individuals in some cases but the results can be rather horrific in others. Seems the appropriate question or modus operandi is to separate the wheat from the chaff, to keep the baby but throw out the bath-water. And one relatively well-known Christian priestess – Greta Vosper – argues that literalism is the monster in with the bath-water that similarly needs to be thrown out.

  17. Don’t despair Jerry, you are doing excellent work, and we WEITers… WEITees… website readers love what you do, and that you continue to do it. As others have mentioned above, the hardcore cases are not the average case; you will have enlightened someone today, and that is a good thing.

  18. I’ll only add that black churches teach a fundamentalist doctrine every bit as odious as their all-white colleagues.

    Anti-gay-marriage? Check.
    Anti-abortion? Check.
    Literalist interpretations of scripture? Check.
    Belief in literal demons that cause disease? Check.

    And on and on.

    Just because their singing is better, that doesn’t mean their dogma is.

    1. Yes, and also there’s a heavy sense of “You must respect my views because they’re mine.” in the inner city. So once the preachers get them on board, they’re doubly locked-in.

    2. Kevin, they all say and do the same things, just with their own tribe, bow down to the Lord and master …ohh never mind.

    3. The fundamentalism exhibited by such groups is somewhat ironic if you think about how the ancestors of much of the congregation ended up Christian and in America.

  19. They’re kids. In school. It cheers me up quite a lot when a notable scientist and author meets the kids head on and challenges them to think. Call me an optimist.

    Now, THIS, on the other hand IS dispiriting:

    “I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a Christian,” says Perry. “But you don’t need to be in the pews every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” (Presidential candidate Governor Goodhair, yesterday.)

    Hard to blame the kids for their ignorance, when their leaders are such morons.

      1. Why am I put in mind of the Randy Newman line from the song “Rednecks”?

        We got no-necked oilmen from Texas
        And good ol’ boys from Tennessee
        And colleges men from LSU
        Went in dumb. Come out dumb too.

    1. Funny, I think there’s something wrong in this country when Christians can openly celebrate Christmas or pray in the military but our kids can’t be openly gay safely in school.

    2. “They’re kids. In school.”

      I understand that sentiment – cut them some slack. But, when are they going to start outgrowing it? More specifically, these adolescents can’t be troubled to have the good manners they had in the early grades, if they had them at all.

      Years ago, there was a hit song called, “Blame It on My Youth.” For how long is “youth” a valid excuse? I feel shortchanged – I never got (or rather chose not) to impose my “youth” on others. (But I suppose I’ll get another chance if I make it to my “golden” years?)

      “They’re kids” won’t cut it if they presume to indulge their fatuous adolescent impertinances in a courtroom.

  20. Religion closes minds, and once minds are closed, they are very hard to open. Moreover, churches capture their victims young, so religion closes minds before science can get its boots on.

  21. What I find sometimes interesting in discussions of free will is whether if you don’t have free will, you can’t be “faulted” for your decisions.

    Well, if the only way “fault” can be ascribed is by violating the laws of physics, then the problem is with the definition of “fault”.

    A lot goes into our decision-making systems in the first place. Is it not enough to have experiences, prior valuations, reactions, emotions, attention capabilities and predictions of the reactions and behaviour of others pulled in for decisions, such that if we did not have shortcuts for most decisions, we would hardly accomplish anything? Is it not good enough to BE that decision-maker?

    We take pre-existing issues into consideration in our justice and medical system.

    There is no “Grand Debugger in the Sky” for us as automata – if we want to think about ourselves that way – but limited debugging can be accomplished by other automata, hence the utility of parenting, education, science, psychiatry and skepticism.

    Besides, if we try to go too far in thinking of ourselves “riding” our machines instead of being our machines, then things like desisting from property and personal crimes becomes a mere hoop-jumping test of the “riders”. What cares a physics-defying ghost about burglary?

  22. As many said above, it would be dispiriting had they ignored you altogether or denied you the chance to speak to them. Also, though you may have a better view of people than I do, you have to imagine that some smarter children WILL think about what you said, or it may may them ask questions of their religion. There will always be some poor sods who refuse to see the bleeding obvious, so please do not get too down!

  23. You have my sympathies.

    But such confrontations, energy vampires as they are, are apparently effective in the long run. The trick is to feel less like a hamster in a wheel and more like the leader of a marathon.

    1. I think everyone should have the occasional “opportunity” and “privilege” to tangle with a herd of oppositionally defiant adolescents. Teachers do this on a daily basis. I would compare it to what Lyndon Johnson said about being U.S. President: “It’s like being a mule out in a hailstorm; you just have to stand there and take it.”

      In the U.S., approx. 50% of newly-minted teachers leave the field by the five-year point. Approx. five years ago, the pct. of teachers who were male was at a 40-year low.

  24. Please don’t get too dispirited, Jerry. I think that the impact that you made on “those students who were really interested” is really important. Also, who knows, maybe some of those resistant to the idea of evolution, in response to your presentation, will look up information on their own and in doing so may come to question their own beliefs and thought processes. Keep up the good work!

    1. The question is, would you do the same thing again if history could be repeated right up to the point where you pushed the post comment button.

  25. Jerry, As you noted, the word “evolution” is a stumbling block. Substitute “natural processes” for “evolution” and there will be less resistance. In spite of the resistance of the brainwashed kids, you are making progress. Congratulations!

  26. We would propose that in fact it is the human reflex to magical thinking and ideology (wishful) thinking that is the enemy.

    Pretty much everyone is against facts, and evidence-based knowledge, in America, because evidence challenges ideologies that confer power over others.

    So the kids, literally or verbally, will likely get beat up if they don’t mimic their parents words/beliefs. BTW, our brains code verbal abuse the same as physically getting hit. Sensible.

    So there are political and economic false belief systems (ideologies) that “hate” science and evolution as well.

    “Science,” evidenced-based knowledge, has innumerable enemies in the US.

  27. I taught English classes and was the Dean of General Education at a junior college in Chicago for over two years (I won’t say which one) where the student body was 85% African American, and I ran into this problem on a daily basis.

    As the Dean of Gen Ed. it was my responsibility to oversee our biology and earth science classes. Most (though I can’t quantify exactly) of our students held to biblical versions of…well, everything.

    When I asked them to cite their sources against evolution (or a nearly 14 billion year-old universe) they couldn’t. They would say someone (preacher, parent, grandparent) told them that their “grandma wasn’t a monkey.” They don’t even know why they believe what they believe other than they were told. Most have never even read the bible. When I pointed this out they assumed, since I was an out atheist, that I hadn’t either. When I quoted chapter and verses to them (I attended five years of Hebrew school and my parents are from Argentina so I studied in English, Castilian, and, of course, Hebrew) they would, at least, five me the time of day.

    On a weekly basis my English classes would become forums to discuss evolution, and I would gladly oblige (though as I wrote, my professional background is in English and literature). There were a few students (maybe 8 or 10 in over two years) who were swayed by the evidence. Most would literally close their eyes or turn their heads. One student actually told me that she just didn’t “believe that things that big ever lived.” When I mentioned that many dinosaurs were no bigger than a person or a dog, and that blue whales are the biggest creatures that ever lived, she asked me, smugly, if I’d ever actually seen a blue whale and how did I know.

    When I asked them if we were all descended from the same couple why they were of a vastly different complexion that I am (and my eastern European ancestors) they couldn’t answer. When I asked if Adam and Eve were Black or white (or Asian, or Hispanic…) they would almost always answer ‘white.’ Some of them would say they were Black (as, they believed Jesus was). Then I would ask where my Ashkenazi ancestors came from. Silence or hostility were usually the answer, though some would try convince me of God’s mysterious ways.

    It is, indeed, depressing.

    1. You were paid to teach English in a public school ….

      But, you decided to preach Evolution instead …..

      And you wonder why you lost the attention of your audience when you did not deliver the education they paid for?

      I am proud of your students.

      1. Well, Wayne, You obviously didn’t read my post. You looked at the words, but you didn’t read it. Where did I say that it was a public school? I didn’t. Where did I say that I “preached” anything? I used the word “discuss.”

        What, exactly, are you proud of? Their entrenched and willful ignorance? Their inability to formulate a coherent argument using basic logic and citation?

        I used my English class as an English class, in which students had to write papers in modes, those being persuasion, compare and contrast and descriptive. The students always chose the topics, and very often they would use religious topics.

        Maybe you should take my English class to develop your sense of reading comprehension.

  28. A LOT of comments here so I don’t know if it’s been said, but your choice to say anything at all against religion in your discussion of evolution was a very big mistake. I’ll go further and say that it was inappropriate.

    If you went there to teach evolution, why didn’t you do just that? If you were surprised that many of the kids were fundamentalist, let me tell you, you shouldn’t have been. I grew up in a storefront fundamentalist church on the south side and could easily have been one of those kids. I was inoculated from an early age against any and all attacks on the literal truth of every word of the bible. I was, and surely some of those students were, raised a bible thumper–there are black ones.

    There is this concept in fundamentalism of “being in the world, but not of the world” that encourages fundamentalists to flee anything that might challenge biblical inerrancy or the fundamentalist worldview. It is a recognition that even though you must be amongst “sinners” at work, at school, etc., you must do all you can to stay away from their “sin”. So even though your children must go to school, you teach them to be on the lookout for anything that compromises their religious beliefs. Even now, in middle-age and long past my strict religious upbringing, I find myself continually amazed at what passes for “Christian” these days. So they’ve already got their antennae up. And then, sure enough, here you come, blaspheming in the name of Satan’s evolution.

    Think of it this way–if you sent your kid to school to learn science and he came back talking about Jesus, what would you think? So what do you think these kid’s parents are going to think when their kids run home to tell them (and they are telling them right now) that you took the time to attack religion in a high school science class? What gave you the right to do that? What did you imagine that would do?

    Here’s what swayed me from religion: exposure to history and science. And time. No one had to discount religion and tell me that my parents were wrong and that my church–for a long time easily the most influential institution in my life, was a lie. No one *could* have swayed me that way.

    So next time, IF you get invited back again (and I doubt it), I would just stick to the facts about evolution. They work just fine.

    1. I have to restrain myself here from getting angry at this supercilious and gratuitious advice. I went there to teach evolution, which is almost all I did. They also ASKED me to say a few words about the relationship of evolution to religion. I said that the reason why antievolutionism was so pervasive in America was because of religiously based opposition–because religious people felt that evolution robbed them of morality, meaning and purpose. And I told them that if evolution had that effect on them, they should think about it and perhaps ask their minister for guidance.

      I didn’t attack religion at all, as you suggest, but pointed out that it is the factor that is responsible for most opposition to evolution in Anerica. And they asked me to talk about that. So don’t go shooting your mouth off unless you know what I said, and what I was asked to talk about.

      1. Heh, before I even read Jerry’s reply I had the same feeling about that post (Robinson’s, that is, not Jerry’s). I would have called it ‘condescending’, myself.

        The kids may be ill-informed but they’re not stupid. They can see perfectly well that evolution flatly contradicts Adam-and-Eve. Any attempt to dodge the issue – if raised – was going to make them think “What’s he trying to hide?” and they’d regard everything else Jerry had to say with suspicion. I’m sure the fundamentalist ones (and their parents) equate “evolution” with “attack on religion” already anyway.

        1. Ditto.

          I was going to point out that in your post you said that you had been asked to discuss why religion opposes evolution.

          The leap to Jerry “attacking religion” seems to reflect a bit of a reading-comprehension problem.

      2. I am almost 100% behind you on this, Jerry. Except for that part about asking their minister for guidance. A complete waste of time.

    2. Chris,

      You write well. And your critical thoughts are clear.

      However, reading many of the responces here, I doubt there are many open minds.

      And I doubt they are aware of the difference between critique, criticism, or critical thinking.

      Sad … many of them claim to be academia ….

      1. I’m convinced, Wayne, that there is an online community out there that you will find more conducive, more welcoming and supportive of your particular point of view. I think you’d find it beneficial if you left us here in our closed mindedness and sought your new online home right away.

        1. Marta?

          Ironically, I should be accepted and encouraged among intellectuals …. should I not?

          Unless maybe, the intellectuals are intelligentsia.

          This should be a blog read by academics, professors, scientists and researchers.

          It certainly reads like a blog followed by uneducated cult-members.

          1. Acceptance among intellectuals, in my experience, is earned. Especially here. If you do not feel accepted or encouraged, it’s our fault, I’m sure.

            As far as I know, this blog IS read by academics, professors, scientists and researchers. There are a few musicians. And at least one librarian.

            I’m sorry that so many of us sound uneducated to you, but as I suggested upthread, there is undoubtedly an online community that you will find more to your liking, where you will get the respect and accolades you feel you deserve.

            Now if you’ll excuse me, I must notify the other cult members that you might be leaving us.

            Au revoir.

            1. I must say, this response is better written than most. And you did not call me “stupid.”

              I do not want a community that gives me accolades. I have never had a big ego.

              But, I have asked a very simple question that no one wants to answer:

              “The problem is religion,” and “Religion poisons everything.”?”

              Why is it that I reasonably question these statements and I get called “stupid” amongst other things?

              Give me real data.

              If I attacked Evolution in that manner, everyone here would laugh at me.

              Personally, I think Darwin was one of the best writers I have read in the last 3 years. A much better than say, a Dawkins …. much better writer.

              But, I am not reading anywhere near his level of prose, nor understanding his level of Scientific Method in the responses on this thread.

              There is a lot of name calling. I ask a very simple question in response to strongly worded assertions, and I get called a “troll.”

              Are these responses worthy of a group of “academics, professors, scientists and researchers…a few musicians…And at least one librarian?”

              1. You didn’t reasonably question the proposition that religion poisons everything. You praised some high school students for shutting out things they didn’t want to hear.

              2. Elsewhere in this thread, Wayne, you said that you haven’t read all the comments.

                In the first place, if you haven’t read all the comments, you are not well-positioned to whine that your questions aren’t being answered.

                In the second place, and since I HAVE read all the comments and therefore know that your questions were, in fact, answered, what you’re actually saying is that you aren’t getting the answers you want.

                You’ve already received plenty of attention, and your demands for respect notwithstanding, my suggestion to you is to stop being petulant and go seek the answers you want to hear elsewhere.

    3. Granted, we don’t know exactly Dr Coyne said when asked to comment about the relationship between science and religion, but I’m sure I agreed 100% with his sentiment, having read his books and seeing his videos (the Haught “debate” is priceless.)

      Having said all that, I can see Chris’ point. It’s like going to your friend’s house for dinner and being asked to comment on his sister’s inability to get a prom date. “She’s ugly and obnoxious” might be truthful, but don’t expect to get invited back. Sometimes the truth just needs to be said, maybe one of those schoolkids’ will have a lightbulb go off, maybe most will just hunker down into their cultural stupidity. Who knows?

      I love reading and listening to JAC, and it’s a guilty pleasure knowing that he’s ticking off the religionists, but my guess is that his sentiment is also resonating with some, albeit a small number of, fundies who might change their minds. It’s an uncontrolled social experiment.

      1. Tony61:

        I agree with your point about the dinner guest. The point is that Jerry was asked to address the issue of “why religion prevents Americans from accepting evolution”. It is in the second sentence of the first paragraph.

        Chris Robinson’s criticism would have been better aimed at those who invited Jerry and asked him to address that.

        I agree with Chris Robinson’s point that many people react negatively to a perceived threat to their world view, particularly if it is one that does not stand robustly on its own.

        Science is a vast interactive network. There are a number of sciences and many sub-fields, and most significantly, there are fields that combine two fields of science–such as biophysics. Not one is currently at odds with the others. Geology is in concert with biology, which violates no aspect of chemistry but is informed by it (biochemistry), astronomy is very happy employing physics, and throughout all the sciences math is interwoven. Each field of science is verified and validated by others; they all step outside of their own context, and there is no branch of science that fails this test. Religion has no such robustness. Within each religion there are schisms and sects–for which they kill each other when they may–and no two religions are in harmony. The closest to that are Hinduism and Buddhism, but they don’t nod when the other speaks and say, “Yeah, what he said!” But all the religions, sooner or later, deny science–and then shout, like the Hulk: “science wrong, me right…me smash!” And they conveniently ignore all the other religions; its a flow chart: science wrong ==> therefore me(ignore all other religions) ==> claim self sole winner. They need to do two things as requisites: 1. lie 2. completely ignore the vast extended interactive network of all science (see 1) and pretend that, like their arguments, each point stands alone. They lack robustness of external verification and they lack internal consistency. Science has both, up the cosmic wazoo.

  29. Hey, it could have been worse.

    I went to high school in a small rural school. I think I was the only person in my class who considered evolution to be true.

  30. “To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.” – James Carse

  31. Jerry, don’t get dispirited.
    Keep educating until blood comes out of your pores, then the religious will think it is a miracles and listen 😉

  32. Yes, it’s frustrating. But if one student was reached then maybe the trip to the charter school was worthwhile. Or maybe the notion of natural selection had been broached before and every new explanation, every new wording of the process, will bring a few more minds closer to the concept.

    Darwinian evolution is not completely intuitive–even PhD’s have a hard time wrapping their minds around the explanation of the diversity of life on earth. Like this one.

    Religion is misguided, certainly religion based on supernatural gods, but the truth will out. And the kids have been indoctrinated in idiocy, but they’re worth the trouble and never underestimate the ability of individuals to grasp the truth of science when it’s presented to them.

    1. Tony61, the page you linked to is the really disheartening issue in this thread. She is brighter, more subtle in her fallacies. Her argument is convincing. Yes, its the same stupid argument, its Paley all over again, and her own new faith has rejected Paley. But she’s better than the majority of illiterates who try to make the same argument, and for those who are less educated than herself, it seems a slam-dunk.

      The Halmark version of the Gish Gallop she presents is so heavily loaded with emotive points. Its tough to refute that presentation while being “nice”. She cooked up her slideshow with a lot of toes in it–its hard to address her argument without stepping on some.

      Of course, when someone calls themself a “scientist”, it usually means they are not and never were. An actual scientist would say “biologist”, “physicist”, “chemist”, “paleontologist”, “geneticist”, “astronomer”, or whatever. She’s more interested in authority than facts when she identifies herself as a “scientist turned homemaker”.

      But, if she claims to understand carbon dating because of her background in chemistry, and fails to understand why it can’t be used to date dinosaur remains, then she was not a competent “scientist”. A bright fourth-grader with an interest in science would grok why carbon-dating doesn’t work.

  33. I find it highly amusing when people brag about their training in subjects like chemistry, biology, genetics, pharmacology etc. proudly announce that they don’t “believe in evolution” and expect their interlocutors to conclude that therefore, the theory of evolution nust be flawed.

    The more obvious conclusion is that a lot of scientific training was wasted on a bonehead.

    1. There are, unfortunately, two ways to approach science. One is as a scientist… looking to expand one’s understanding of the universe by open-minded inquiry. The other is to absorb some subset of the known fact-base and act like an auto mechanic, approaching the discipline like a technician practicing a trade. The latter seems to be quite common in the medical and dental professions. And, it seems, pharmaceuticals.

      1. I think I’d concur that most healthcare practitioners are not real scientists, even though their subjects have a scientific basis. They stand in relation to medical and pharmaceutical researchers as car mechanics do to automotive engineers.


        1. PS. There’s a “joke” of Asimov’s that I frequently reiterate, that the “Ph” in my Ph.D. stands for “phoney”. Most M.D.s who hear this say, “Oh no: You’re the real doctor.”

  34. Point taken about Technical “training” vs “education”.

    Still, most of us expect when we ask a mechanic how combustion of hydrocrabons produces the forward motion of a vehicle, the answer won’t be “Well, I haven’t seen any carbon atoms actually combining with oxygen, so I guess it must be magic.”

    Pharmacists learn about genetic variability as it relates to drug interactions. Peter, the inspiration for my first post, said he had taken at least one course in evolution. So, he can’t use ignorance as an excuse, and keeping in mind that it’s a big world out there so all of us are ignorant about most things.

    In my opinion ignorance is a legit excuse for skepticism of ANYTHING and, since I recommend it (skepticism not ignorance) as the default attitude of choice, I wouldn’t fault anyone for being skeptical of ideas they are unfamiliar with.

    However, once you have been given the facts supporting the ToE or any other idea with predictive success that is supported by both logic and evidence (as a part of training or education), you are either a liar or not very smart if you continue to deny the idea’s elegance and explanatory power. The third option is that you are being willfully unpersuaded for one psychological reason or other, in which case you are lying to yourself, which makes you both a liar and a fool.

    1. Andrew, an emphatic thumbs up for your last paragraph, in particular. Yes: liar OR not-very-smart. I reserve the right to add that the word “or” in logic means A or B or A-and-B; exclusive or has to be specified, though exclusive or is the dominant use in everyday speech. However ignorant, I always find them to be enthusiastic liars, too….

      One of the ways that they get otherwise capable scientists to sound-byte for them, is that scientists, who are skeptics perforce, tend to assume that others have done the same amount of homework and taken the same degree of care in their respective fields. As The Amazing Randi has pointed out, physicists are easily fooled by “magic”, because they assume the level of honesty they practice to be matched outside of science. This is the one danger of skepticism. Yes, we must all be sceptics, but we can not all do the requisite study; we each need to develop the sceptic’s toolkit to filter the cranks and frauds out from other fields. That even that is difficult is to be seen in the roster of “tame” scientists that run with various modes of crankery. The price of vigilance is sleep deprivation, but we all have to nap sometime. But we should have the toolset and the honesty to let us see through the smoke and mirrors when its pointed out to us.

  35. Do you really think that if you just beat enough ‘sense’ into those poor kids and they will reject one of the few things that give them hope and meaning in their lives? The church is one of the few institutions that actually cares about people in inner-city communities. I had lived and taught in the same part of Chicago for several years and I personally know how important religion is to their psychological and social well-being and some privileged white guy swooping in to enlighten them with the Truth of Atheism is not going to save them from the Evils of Religion and Superstition.

    I seemed to have a little better luck getting my students to except evolution. When I got religious pushback–which happened quite a bit–I just remind them that evolution is not inconsistent with religion (if they don’t take the Bible too literally) and several protestant denominations, as well as the Catholic Church, have no problem with evolution. Trust me, that works a lot better than using evolution to win converts to Atheism.

    1. Who are you to come to my website and call me a “privileged white guy” who “swoops into schools to enlighten kids about atheism”? Do you have any idea of what I said? I certainly did not preach atheism–nearly my entire lecture was about the straight evidence for evolution, and then I said that the reason Americans resist evolution (as opposed to members of other countries) is because we’re much more religious than many other countries that deny evolution. And then I listed the reasons that religious people give for resisting evolution (morality, loss of specialness, meaning and purpose). And I told the kids that if they had those problems, they should consult their religious leaders or pastors.

      You have no fricking idea what I said; all you are doing is puffing yourself up while insulting the host of this website–in complete ignorance of what I said or what my intentions are. You weren’t at my talk so I don’t appreciate your misguided take on my intentions or efforts.

    2. Whether or not that “works a lot better” would depend on what the goal is.

      If the goal is to rally troops around the banner of Darwinism, sure, it probably works.

      If the goal is to honestly and truthfully answer the questions the students ask of you, it fails miserably.

      You might note above that I’ve repeatedly urged Jerry to become a professional mentor for Woodlawn students for their senior theses, and to get his graduate students to join him. And that I think the goal of his involvement should be for the students to get original research published in peer-reviewed journals. Frankly, I don’t care what that may or may not do to their religious beliefs. I am confident, however, that it would do wonders for their future endeavors (in whatever career they might choose) and benefit society as a whole.

      And I think that’s the real solution to the problem. Blow right past it. There’s no reason these kids can’t excel today, even if they haven’t excelled in the past. Insist that they do so and pull them up to that level. All this bullshit about what team one belongs to is irrelevant, and the sooner one starts ignoring it the sooner it stops being a distraction.



      1. I could not agree more. I have seen kids raised in broken homes and deplorable conditions, and yet they have the curiosity and will to do things like original research and publish. I think the biggest obstacle is often us, their teachers and mentors, who think they ‘are not ready’ for that level of work and that they should be stirred into more ‘realistic’ goals like nursing and vocational training. I think it’s great what you and Dr Coyne are doing and I wish you all the success. Many people who come from poor backgrounds have very strong religious beliefs. Religion is not just for the right-wing. Have you not heard of Jessie Jackson or Michael Pfleger? It is not necessary, nor does it seem to be very helpful, to rid yourself of religion to be successful in science or engineering. I have a dentist who is a Creationist, and no it does not effect his work. When we wrap up the wonders of science with a requirement that you have to stop believing in God or Adam and Eve, or when we claim religion and science are incompatible, we are turning away a lot of bright curious people.

    3. Dan M, you make the accomodationist argument. Paraphrased: “If I pretend that religion is compatible with science, then it isn’t so hard.”

      The problem is that it isn’t true. You are in fact lying to your students, at least as far as theistic religion is concerned.

      So, fine, teach evolution without addressing the conflict of religion with science. But don’t pretend that the conflict doesn’t exist.

  36. Andrew,

    Your post made great sense until you threw in, “However, once you have been given the facts”.

    One man’s facts is another’s propaganda.

    As long as you are not making this into propaganda, I think I can follow your argument.

    1. One man’s facts is another’s propaganda.

      Bullpucky. Do you think gravity is just “propaganda”?

      “Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but not their own facts.”

    2. Evolution is science, and it is supported by facts. A vast, cohesive, coherent, interrelated body of facts. Evolution is true.

      Evolution is the only scientific theory that explains the diversity and characteristics of living things, and it is the only scientific theory that explains and unifies the living world we observe, and it is the only theory of the diversity of life that is validated by observation and prediction. It is consistent with other branches of science, and it is utilized with success by other fields, such as paleontology, medicine, and epidemiology; and it is utilized in industry, such as the oil industry. Evolution matches genetics and genetics matches evolutionary theory. There is no other theory that parallels evolution.

      One of the strictures of Occam’s Razor is that to supplant an existing, accepted theory, a new or alternative theory must not only explain some new problem, it must also explain all of the points that the extant theory explains. There is no competitive theory that accomplishes that.

      Evolution is the wellspring of all of terrestrial biology.

      To teach evolution is teaching science. Period. It is not “propaganda”.

      It is propaganda–lying propaganda–to say that teaching evolution in science classes and lectures is “propaganda”. Pot calling snowdrift black.

      There is no motivation for objecting to the teaching of evolution except for a wish to impose superstition in place of science. It is an ego-driven compulsion to vandalize the minds of others.

      There is no “debate”, there is no “doubt”, there is no “controversy”. But there are many, many, many lies presented in the service of different schools of superstition. They lie because they have to.

      The only way to compose an argument against evolution is to lie.

      But the lies don’t begin and end with evolution. There is absolutely no branch of science that is in concert with superstition, so they are all targeted by the superstitious. Geology is lied about; physics is lied about; astronomy is lied about; anthropology, paleontology, genetics; the list goes on and on. Evolution is seen as a foot in the door, because it takes more time to refute the gibberish, and the concepts are, in their way, as difficult to grok as many in cosmology. So real scientists and teachers have their time leached by the mind-vandals, to the detriment of all.

  37. Jerry,

    I asked how you support your claims that ““The problem is religion,” and “Religion poisons everything.”?”

    I am interested in your answer.

    And again, I am amazed that you got any students to even speak to you …. High School students are not known for their gregariousness about science.



    1. “And again, I am amazed that you got any students to even speak to you …. High School students are not known for their gregariousness about science.”

      Sir, pray tell, about what else are high school students not gregarious – intellectual curiosity for its own sake? And, while we’re at it, what are they gregarious about – using technological gadgetry (for the most fatuous of purposes), the scientific basis for which they cannot trouble themselves to seek to understand?

    2. Religion poisons everything by virtue of poisoning epistemology, and poisoned epistemology – also espoused by, as Stephen Law would point out – Freudianists and conspiracy theorists – is a large part of the problem of sorting out the real from the not-real.

      Also, as the husband of a science teacher and even from my own experiences back in high school, I would note that high school students ARE gregarious about science when the science teachers are remotely personable.

  38. There is plenty of evidence that religion is poisoning scientific progression (among other things) in the U.S. The average test scores in schools, related to scientific teachings, are below the global average. I don’t believe that this is solely related to poor teaching practices which has been the primary focus. Dr. Coyne’s recent experience lends support to this.

    1. Mary,

      That is neither evidence nor support.

      That is merely data tied to conjecture.

      Would someone either support Coyne’s statement or concede that it was an abuse protected only under his First Amendment guarantee of Religion clause?

  39. You are one of our champions, we are proud to have you represent us. Thanks, and though things may be truly depressing in terms of public acceptance of reality, we must never compromise, never give up, never surrender in hopes that good/light may one day ultimately triumph over ignorance/darkness.

  40. Wayne, as I get older I get more tolerant of ignorance in others and in myself for the “it’s a big world out there” reasons. I have sympathy for the view that ” there is more in heaven and earth, Horatio…”. Religious faith is pernicious in my opinion, but not necessarily fatal to proper thinking.

    However,epistemological relativism is a putrid sewer pipe on the path of learning that should be plugged so that the young, naive and the easily-impressed by syllable-count and opacity can avoid a slide into what that pipe leads to. If one man’s facts are someone’s propaganda, then there were no facts to begin with. We should all go through periods of radical skepticism and solipsism when we are young. These are techiques that can sharpen our mental tools.

    Propaganda and facts are only coincidentally related. Propaganda works as well –often better– with ficitons.

    But getting back to relativism: if anything in epistemology can be said to be evil, it is relativism. (Note I am not talking about moral relativism, which is a WHOLE OTHER topic).

    Epistimelogical relativism is the ultimate anti-democratic, authoritarian, despotic, weapon.
    It asserts that truth is purely a social construction at best, or a whim at worst. Thus, one’s social or economic superiors are right in any disagreement. It means a punch in the face always bests evidence and reason. It is used by third rate pretend-intellectuals to advance in their careers and create pseudo-disciplines (Postmodern theory). It is the cover used by people who get rich selling water as treatment for cancer. It is the shield of repectability used by people as they lie, steal, mass murder from the safe havens of “economic theory”, “realpolitik”, and “no spin zones”.

    If there is only subjective reality, then empathy is pathological, Maggie was right: there is no such thing as “society” and power is the final arbiter of human values.

    Facts are little things. Mere observations. Without a unifying theory or model to connect them into a map of reality (however imperfect) that we can use as a basis for action, facts are almost useless things. they need context.

    But they have one transcendant, beautiful, inspiring quality: without using force, authority, bribery or trickery, there are facts that I and any other person in the world –regardless of race, religion, social status or language can gree upon. It could be a measure of length or temperature or whether or not a car starts when you run the key.

    I realize that there are many subtleties glossed over here, but I think the point remains: however much our apprehension of reality may be asymptotic to Reality, to deny that there is an underlying reality is the province of the mentally ill or the criminal.

  41. I might add to my final sentence “…or to the very young mind”. I have been both a theist and a relativist.

    But I’m better now.

    “Also TURN the key”

    1. Andrew,

      I think I am following what you intend.

      And I agree.

      Sadly, I still do not have an answer to what I asked. I only posted for an answer to a very simple question.

      Again, IMHO.

      1. Kind professor,

        I have suffered enough verbal abuse. Your readership is not composed of individuals trying to advance your position.

        So, please, give a reasoned response. You should have intervened already. You are quick to defend your opinion of what is right to call you. But, you have not called anyone into question for their verbal abuse in regards to my simple question.

        I have respected you and your blog, and you deserve respect.

        I deserve an answer.

        But, forget about me, your readers need you to give them an answer. Then when they are asked why they make the same claims you do, they can use your answer. You know that is why they read you. So, give them an answer.

        And I will read your answer to them.


        1. Wayne: Insightful Ape already answered your question. (December 7, 2011 at 1:35 pm.) Your persistent repetition is patently disingenuous and antagonistic.

          Now, please, just [REDACTED]!


          1. Ant,

            No one has answered the question. And since you claim to have read the link yourself, You either know that and are willingly misrepresenting the facts, or you are being antagonistic.

            This has gotten old.

            All I asked was a simple question.

            If it the professor has made claims he cannot support, then kindly say so.

              1. Ant,

                I have remained respectful …. But, this is getting old.

                Either the good professor does not have support, or he died on his way to the keyboard with his answer ….

                Which is it?

                This was the main reason I was never able to believe in atheism. I would ask simple questions and get all sorts of confusing answers. Or, I would get no answer at all.

                As an agnostic, I could discuss simple things with other agnostics and get clear answers. We did not always agree, but people would then disagree amicably.

                My brain is to ordered for confusion.

              2. You asked for support for the statements regarding the problems with religion.

                You received links to several posts talking about problems caused by religion.

                How much simpler of an answer do you need? Are there too many big words, does it have to be broken down into a two sentence soundbite for you to understand?

                Seriously dude, this incessant whining about how you’re being treated is way old.

  42. “These kids are not southern fundamentalist Bible-thumpers: they are disadvantaged black kids who were simply brought up in religious homes or among religious peers.”

    Where is the essential difference? Most southern fundamentalist Bible-thumpers got that way because they were disadvantaged (not necessarily black) kids who were simply brought up in religious homes or among religious peers.

    For my Dutch course, I’m reading a book, Het Diner, by Herman Koch. One of the characters makes the point that Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a racist film since the whole idea of Poitier’s character being able to surprise the parents of his girlfriend hinges on the background “fact” that he is different than most black people.
    (I’m not saying this is necessarily my view of the film, it’s just appropriate that this scene in the book, which I read just this morning, seems relevant here.)

    (Robert Pirsig, in Lila, explores the fact that the religions of slave owners and slaves were remarkably similar, as were the philosophies of cowboys and Indians.)

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