Readers’ wildlife photos

June 2, 2020 • 7:45 am

We have two contributors today. First, Art Williams sent some photos and videos, which include a fawn. Remember, if you see a fawn by itself, especially a very young one, leave it alone, as it’s almost certain that it was been left to shelter place while Mom went off foraging. Only call for help if it stays in place and mom doesn’t return for a day or so. Art’s captions are indented.

Here are some photos and a video of the suburban wildlife around Loveland, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati. The raptor is a juvenile red-tailed hawk, I think. He or she and mate have been very active, screeching their presence every morning, likely having a brood somewhere close by.

My wife noticed the fawn sunning itself in the yard and couldn’t have been more than a few hours old. Its mom had left to forage and he instinctively knew to head for the dappled shadowy cover of a nearby Hemlock tree. The link to the video shows just how wobbly the little guy is. It’s a little shaky and narrated by my over-concerned wife who fears the baby has been left by its mom. After several hours we were worried that it actually had been abandoned, but Mom came back eventually and the two scampered off into the woods.

JAC: Fawns are so beautiful! They’re the ducklings of mammals.

Art also sent a video he made:

And an astronomy photo by Tim Anderson in Australia:

This image shows NGC4956, a large barred spiral galaxy in the Centaurus constellation. It also shows a number of other, more distant galaxies dotted around the field of view. The galaxy was first observed by James Dunlap from Parramatta in NSW during 1826.

A Trump-ite writes in

March 27, 2020 • 8:30 am

Someone with the monicker “Orcinus Orca” (the Latin binomial of the killer whale) writes in to comment on a post and reader comments: “It’s hard not to be happy with the job we’re doing.“, a short critique of Trump’s mishandling and circumlocution of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. I’ll write Orcinus after I post this informing the person that I’ve posted it. You are welcome to respond to “Orcinus” in the comments, and perhaps I’ll let this person respond. But be assured that the person will know of this post and of readers’ responses. Note that this person claims not to be a Trump supporter.

Apropos, a comment from someone else, which I didn’t post, claims that I am a hypocrite because I used to call out “Trump Derangement Syndrome” but am now criticizing Trump vigorously.

But here’s what Orcinus wrote:

I’m really disappointed by the comments here. Like it or not, Trump is your president. He certainly deserves a lot of criticism, but people need to consider how to work with him so that he does a better job. It’s not helping that the media are being very antagonistic towards him. He deserves criticism, but a lot of it is overboard. Recently, Dr. Fauci asked the media to stop trying to create division between him and Trump. Fauci said that he doesn’t always agree with Trump’s choice of words, but that he has always listened to his advice and hasn’t contradicted him.

Similarly, it probably wasn’t the best idea to hype up chloroquine so much, but it’s a stretch to blame him for people ingesting fish tank cleaner. I’m seeing some of his quotes taken out of context. He is probably naive to think that people will be back in public by Easter, but he didn’t say that they were definitively going to do so. Recently, a journalist accused him of starting a eugenics program aimed at letting certain groups die (as if being elderly is a heritable trait). She was a writer for many highly regarded publications.

Think about how someone like Trump will react to this stuff. He’s stubborn and more likely to double down. He’s less likely to listen to reason the more that he is antagonized. Yes, a lot of people want him to lose the next election (myself included), but this pandemic shouldn’t be exploited to do so.

Lastly, there is a lot of nastiness directed at Trump supporters here. Calling them stupid and ignorant doesn’t help anything. A lot of Trump supporters are poor working class people. It’s a bad look when upper middle class people look down upon the lower classes for being too stupid to vote the right way. While I think that a democrat would make a better president, Biden doesn’t seem to be a great candidate either.

NOTE: Orcinus sent several comments defending him/herself, but also noted that he’s posted here under another name as a “regular commenter”. Investigating that (which is a banning offense), I found that he has posted under at least three different names (not as a “regular commenter”) I therefore have booted him off the site for violating Rule #4 of Da Roolz:

If you try to post under more than one name in an attempt to circumvent moderation or pretend you are more than one person, you will be banned. Stick to one name. If you have to change your posting name for a good reason, let me know by email.



And, in case you’ve been in Ulan Bator and haven’t seen this “perfect” imitation of Trump, I’ll add it to

A creationist reveals himself in two comments

December 11, 2018 • 8:30 am

The first comment below arrived yesterday at 4:24 p.m., it was an attempted comment—after I got Earl’s second “contribution” below, I didn’t let this one go through—on the post “Evolution denialism from the Left.” The name and link to “Earl’s” site were meant for public viewing. (Have a look at Earl’s two short posts on his site.)


I find information which supports the theory of evolution in almost every internet search result, and then I find contradictory information with a strong scientific backing. How does one go about refuting strong scientific conclusion with unfounded claims of evolution? Please advise.

Now this looks like someone who’s on the fence about evolution and simply looking for information (it’s called JAQ-ing off”, with “JAQ” standing for “Just asking questions”). If I think a query is honest, I try to respond; and I almost answered Earl by referring to my book and to criticisms of creationism by other people.

Then 17 minutes later, the comment below arrived, and Earl’s mask had slipped. This was an attempted comment on the post “More dumb antievolution statements from Jews“:


Anti-evolution statements are more than warranted. Evolution is unfounded and goes against anything resembling logic or truth. What is presented as evidence in support of evolution is nothing short of conjecture.

I’ve let the second comment though, and you can find it here. Feel free to educate Earl about evolution if you wish. But be aware that your efforts will be futile. Any person who says “evolution is unfounded” after asserting that he’d found “information which supports evolution” is either completely clueless or, more likely, willfully ignorant.

In which I get testy and respond to a believer

June 16, 2017 • 9:45 am

I get tons of emails like the following, and usually I just bin them. But something about this one—its arrant ignorance, its patronizing tone, and the ludicrous “your friend” signature, ticked me off, and so I responded. I couldn’t help it: laws of physics. My short essay he’s responding to appeared in John Brockman’s edited volume This Idea Must Die (2015), and the idea I wanted to die was “free will”.

I’ve redacted the name of the sender out of kindness:

Sent: Thursday, June 15, 2017 2:35 PM
To: Jerry Coyne
Subject: this idea must die
Dear Professor Coyne
      I read what you said in This Idea Must Die.
      You can go to the Proquest Newspaper Database and read an article by Richard B. Freeman in the July 20, 1986 New York Times. A massive study by Harvard sociologists found that churchgoers are much less likely to commit crimes than non-churchgoers.
      You shouldn’t preach atheism if it is going to raise the crime rate.
      A Harvard sociologist named Robert Putnam wrote a book a few years ago called “American Grace” in which he discussed his research that found that religious people are much more likely to donate money to charity, even to secular charities, than atheists are. See pages 445-465. That of course is logical. There is no logical reason why an American atheist should care about people starving in Africa. If we save their lives, that will not benefit America in any way. If they die, that will not hurt America in any way. The atheist thinks, “I didn’t bring that guy into the world. Why is it my responsibility to feed him?”
      China has an atheist government. What do you see there? Massive corruption and brutal tyranny. The atheists who rule China are logical. They care only about themselves and a few friends and relatives. In Russia, you see the same story.
Your friend, NAME REDACTED

When I say this guy is a “believer”, that’s an assumption. If he’s not, he’s even worse, for then he’d think that a religious myth should still be promulgated because it makes people behave better. (This is the “Little People Argument”.) That, after all, is what belief in Santa is supposed to do: make you behave well.

My response:

From: Jerry Coyne
Sent: Thursday, June 15, 2017 2:55 PM
Subject: RE: this idea must die

Do not write me again, please. You don’t care whether religion is true; only if it has “good effects” (you don’t seem to mention the bad ones, like oppression of women, terrorism, and so on and so on. Would you prefer to live in atheist Sweden or religious Iran?).

As for atheist countries being bad ones, why don’t you check out the Western atheist countries not corrupted by ideology, like Sweden and Denmark? Nearly everyone there is an atheist, and they are moral and well functioning countries. In fact, the correlation between atheism and the United Nations Happiness Index is POSITIVE: the most religious countries have the unhappiest people.
I’ve blocked your address in my email, as you won’t listen; people like you tend to want a correspondence, and I don’t want to hear from someone as ignorant as you again.
And you’re clearly not “my friend”; how snarky can you get?
So sue me: I’m a bad person.

Readers’ beefs

April 23, 2016 • 11:00 am

The bit below was not a comment or attempted comment on the site, but an email sent directly to me.  The article to which it refers, one I wrote for John Brockman’s annual Edge Question book This Idea Must Die, was about how we should dispense with the idea of free will. As I recall (I don’t have my essay here), I didn’t say much about religion. Nevertheless, this person became quite exercised about my short piece. He/she sent this:

Dear Professor Coyne

I’ve read what you said in This Idea Must Die. Why do you want to destroy religion? If you read pages 447-465 of “American Grace” by two very prominent social scientists, Robert Putnam of Harvard and David Campbell of Notre Dame, you will see that religious people are more generous than atheists, more likely to volunteer their time, and even more likely to donate blood.

Plus, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Milosevic, Pol Pot, Putin, and the guys who rule in China right now all are/were atheists. Do you think that is just a coincidence?

I know Dawkins says Hitler was a Catholic. That is a lie. Steven Pinker said in The Better Angels of Our Nature that Hitler, in adulthood, was no kind of Christian. I forget the page number, but check the index for the pages where Hitler is mentioned, and it is on one of them. If you read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer, and go to the index and see the only page where Shirer mentions Nietzsche, you will see that Hitler publicly declared himself to be a great admirer of Nietzsche. Only an atheist would admire Nietzsche.


These arguments are shopworn, and I’m pressed for time, so if readers want to respond, feel free, and I’ll refer the writer to this post. But regardless of the effect of religious belief on behavior, it’s better to know the truth rather than act in service of something for which there’s no evidence. The notion that we need religion, regardless of its truth, to motivate good behavior, is the patronizing “Little People” argument, one refuted by the nations of Scandinavia, arguably more moral in governance than is the hyperreligious U.S.

I’d add that religious people are also more likely than atheists to kill abortion doctors, withhold medical care from their children, refuse vaccination, commit acts of terrorism, brainwash their children, deny rights to gays and women, and inculcate their coreligionists with guilt, as well as policing their behavior, dress, and sex life. And I’m not sure how good those studies about religiously-based generosity are; I haven’t read the original reports. Readers who have can weigh in below.

The Pol Pot/Mao/Stalin argument founders on the claim that although those leaders (Hitler was an exception, I think) didn’t accept or promulgate religion, and were anti-religious, they also acted in service ideologies that were the equivalent to religion, having god-like leaders, punishment for blasphemy, and so on. They killed in the name of these ideologies (to which religion posed a challenge), not explicitly in the name of atheism. The problem is not one of religion per se producing bad behavior, but extremist and irrational ideologies doing so. And religion is one of those extremist ideologies, but it posits a Great Leader and mandates conduct that can be punished or rewarded in the afterlife.

The wider war, as I’ve often said, is not between science and religion, but between rationality and superstition, with science being the most exquisitely refined form of rationality, and religion the most pervasive and common form of superstition. As Sam Harris said, “‘There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.”

As for “only an atheist would admire Nietzche,” that’s a pretty dumb argument to show that someone’s an atheist, for I’ve known moderately religious people who have admired some of Nietzche’s arguments.

Reader beefs at reader

April 19, 2016 • 1:00 pm

On my recent post, “Is there a ‘meaning to life’ for nonbelievers“?, there was some good discussion, but a goddie tried to interpolate him/herself into the discussion in response to the comments.

First, reader jblilie said this:

Posted April 12, 2016 at 10:08 am

I think I agree [with] all that you said.

The things I enjoy make my life meaningful to me. There is nothing else as far as I can see.

I fail to see how abasing one’s self before some overlord provides a “better” “meaning” to one’s life than the things you mentioned.

Maybe their meaning is: If I do these various rituals and abstain from X, Y, and Z, then I get to live forever after I die — and that’s the purpose in my life.

The odious Rick Warren gives the game away in the Title of his most famous book. They find a purpose in their life by boot licking their god. (“I found my Special Purpose!!!!” and “The new phone books are here!”)

And then the goddie, reader “ajmgw,” attempted to post this response, which I’m putting above the fold:

The question of meaning is valid, but must be understood in a different way. How can meaning come from a mindless process, no guidance just time and chance? In that kind of a world an atheist cannot give a justification for a difference between good and evil. If we are simply pond scum, the result of mindless processes over millions and billions of years, who decides what is right and wrong? The atheist cannot explain the existence of mind and morality. In order to do so they unwittingly must borrow from the Christian Worldview. As Greg Bahnsen said, “Like a petulant child they sit on their father’s lap and they reach up and slap his face.” According to the atheistic worldview, right and wrong are the results of chemical processes in our brains, a by product of survival of the fittest inherited from our common ape-like ancestors. In that case one doesn’t even have free will, but the chemical processes are in control.

The response encapsulates basically every misconception about atheists and morality that exists. If you want to discuss what this reader said, go ahead; I’ve informed him/her that the responses will be on this page and in the comments, and I’ll allow him/her to address the comments if the person has something substantive to say.

But note that the commenter makes a sharp a distinction between “free will” and “chemical processes.” Ajmgw is clearly one of those who has a dualistic notion of free will. Maybe the compatibilist readers can educate the commenter on how that form of free will is simply wrong, and the REAL kind of free will—the one we want, the one worth having—is perfectly compatible with a morality reflecting chemical (and evolutionary) processes.

We’re pond scum! I prefer to think of us as Joni Mitchell described it in Woodstock:

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Of course stardust doesn’t give us morality, either. . .



Tom Todesca responds to my critique of his accommodationist comic

April 16, 2016 • 11:45 am

A while back, I wrote a critique of a project proposed by Tommaso Todesca and his colleagues: a comic book (or “graphic novel” if you will) designed to make the point that science and religion are fully compatible. (I found a description of the project on PuffHo.) Todesca a Catholic of Italian extraction and a wealthy banker in Los Angeles, proposed to spread a message of accommodationism he read in an Italian book called Scienze e fede (“Science and faith”). The purpose of the comic-book project?:

The “hook of the project,” Todesca said, is the message that “science and faith are not in conflict with each other.”

“Through the patience of dialogue, science and faith can and should complement each other, and make each other stronger,” he told The Huffington Post.

. . . The graphic novel will feature Savagnone and Briguglia — a philosopher and a physicist, respectively — as comic book characters who go on a journey that takes them from Rome to Florence to Toulouse, meeting with great scientists and thinkers of the past and the present, including Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler and Thomas Aquinas. [JAC: The Kickstarter video also mentions that Savagnone and Briuglia will meet Richard Dawkins, but that meeting is pointedly omitted by PuffHo; possibly because potential funders see Dawkins as Satan incarnate.]

Their dialogue draws from the original book, which Todesca said “makes a compelling case for faith as a type of knowledge that can find its ground in rationality.”

To fund the comic, Todesca set up a Kickstarter site, asking for $10,000. (Why a a wealthy banker would need $10,000 to get this project off the ground eludes me.) You can see some of the tedious and tendentious graphics at that site, or in my previous post on the project, “Oy! An accommodationist comic book.”

Unfortunately for Todesca, the appeal for funds failed: here’s the outcome:

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 2.29.49 PM

I guess Science and Faith is not to be.

My critique of the project was largely along the lines of Faith Versus Fact, attacking several dubious claims made in the proposal for Science and Faith. These include the claim that religion isn’t concerned with empirical realities about the cosmos; that “faith” is far more than “belief without evidence”, and is in fact a “way of knowing”; and that, to Todesca, religion, was perfectly compatible with science. So often, as in Todesca’s case, the last claim is merely a version of the “no true Scotsman” argument: “Well, MY religion is compatible with science, and so ALL religion is compatible with science.” And those religions that prove incompatible with science, like the faiths of more than 40% of Americans, can be written off as “not true religions.”

Apparently, Todesca found out about my criticism and posted a comment on my piece, a comment that I decided to put above the fold. Todesca’s entire comment is indented below, but my commentary on it is flush left.

A few days ago a friend told me: “Take a look, someone wrote a nasty piece on your comic book project. He sounded really angry, you must have pissed him off big time!”.

So I read this article, and oy! my friend was right, it is pretty nasty indeed.

I wondered: “How did my project offend this person so much?”

Dr Coyne, exactly what kind of war are you fighting? Initially I thought it might be a cultural war, as a hero against ignorance. That would be a worthy cause, but in that case you should specify that you are addressing literalism, fundamentalism, and superstition, as those are the common names of ignorant faith.

The title of your blog would suggest that is your mission…. but that’s not the case. You seem to attack “faith” and “religion” in the broader possible sense.

That means your war is being waged against 85% of the world population. That is a lot of anger.

So I understood. That’s what I did to offend you: by being catholic and by talking about my faith in a book (a book that has the utmost respect for science), I offended you.

Here Todesca’s playing the “anger” card in lieu of addressing my arguments. In fact, I wasn’t angry at all, though I was a tad offended that someone with brains could be so misguided about faith and its relationship to science. But I didn’t write the piece to let off steam; I wrote it, as you’ll see if you read it, to go after Todesca’s claims. And I don’t give a rat’s patootie if 85% of the world’s population is religious and that makes them a majority. None of them—not one person—has convincing evidence that their religious beliefs are true, or that a divine being exists.

Todesca goes on:

Just like Dawkins, Hitchens, etc., by stating that faith wants to say something about the natural world, you completely miss the point of religion, and you demonstrate a deep confusion about christian theology.

Catholic faith holds science in deep respect, and catholic theology is very aware that the Bible has nothing to teach us about biology.

In two words, when it comes to evolution, geology and every single statement that pertains to science, we agree. We couldn’t agree more!

Todesca is apparently unaware of three things. First of all, lots of theologians, including Sophisticated Ones™, argue that faith really does say something about the natural world, and that Steve Gould’s NOMA claim that it doesn’t is simply wrong. In Faith Versus Fact I give a many quotes by theologians about this issue. So Todesca is wrong on this point.

Second, Todesca apparently thinks that his own conception of faith is the one that everyone holds. As I show in my book, he’s wrong. And if he thinks his own conception of faith is the right conception of faith, well, he’s wrong there, too. There is no “right” way to delimit the realm of faith.

Third, Catholic theology certainly does make assertions about biology. Here’s one: humans, uniquely among animals, have a soul, and it’s immortal. Somewhere in the evolutionary pathway from ancestral primates, God gave us that soul. Here’s another: as Pope Pius XII affirmed in 1950, all humans all literally descended from Adam and Eve as our sole progenitors.  Because of that claim, and the genetic disproof based on historical estimates of H. sapiens’ population size, Catholic theologians are tying themselves into knots.

Todesca goes on:

What you don’t seem to realize or acknowledge is that you and the catholic theologians are actually talking about two completely different things when it comes to words like universe, beginning, and “God”.

In the words of David Bentley-Hart: “If one is content merely to devise images of God that are self-evidently nonsensical, and then proceed triumphantly to demonstrate just how infuriatingly nonsensical they are, one if not going to accomplish anything interesting”. “The most pervasive error one encounters in contemporary arguments about belief in God is the habit of conceiving God as some very large object or agency within the universe, or perhaps alongside the universe, a being among other beings, who differs from all other beings in magnitude, power and duration, but not ontologically, and is related to the world like a craftsman is related to his artifact”.

Earth to Todesca: David Bentley Hart (no hyphen) is not only not Catholic (he’s Eastern Orthodox), but he’s also not the world’s expert on what God is like. (See my posts on him here and here.) In fact, nobody is the world’s expert on what God is like, because there are thousands of different conceptions of God, many at odds with each other. And the whole enterprise fails anyway because there’s no convincing evidence for God. Hart’s conception is on the apophatic side, but of course many people believe in God as a Celestial Person, with feelings and desires. See Faith Versus Fact for the documentation.

Todesca goes on:

Of course, as you say, scientific knowledge is only one. There aren’t different types or flavors of scientific truths.

But faith is most definitely a form of knowledge: a knowledge that does not relate to protons, neutrons and the stars, but to the human experience. Whether Hindu, Catholic, or whatever else, faith is about our human reality, our traditions, and how to make the best out of our limited life.

Well, Mr. Todesca, can you tell us one definitive piece of knowledge that faith has given us? I’m a bit confused here.

I am also appalled by the preposterous statements of Earth Creationists, Evangelicals who take the Bible in a literal sense, or even Hindu nationalists who insist that Rama’s bridge was actually built by Hanuman’s monkeys.

Of course, just like you, I find these ideas ridiculous. I pity the people who support them, and I’m sorry that they clearly did not receive an adequate education.

So, again, we certainly agree.

Well, 40% of Americans, and about a quarter of American Catholics—Todesca’s coreligionists—are young-earth creationists, and so see an incompatibility between the facts of science and their religious belief.  Todesca’s form of faith, and what it teaches us, is far from universal.

But while my approach is – in a very limited way through my comic book project – to encourage an open dialogue and to try to popularize the ideas of two professors who have been studying theology, philosophy and science for most of their lives, your approach seems to be a full-on attack on all religions based on the statements of those who get catholic theology completely wrong (fundamentalists and literalists). And you even wrote a book on faith, when your credentials in the area of theology are weak at the very least.

There’s the credential card! But I think I know something about Catholic theology, and I suspect it’s at least as much as Todesca knows about science. But let’s put credentials aside because, like playing the “you’re angry” card, it’s just a way to avoid the substantive issue: faith can’t tell us anything about the cosmos, or even limn a way of life that most people agree on. And speaking of Catholic theology, Mr. Todesca, could you enlighten us about how that theology regards homosexual acts, divorce, what happens during Communion, and whether there’s an afterlife? Do we all misunderstand those things, too?

He goes on:

It is such a shame to see brilliant scientists like yourself and R. Dawkins spend so much of your time speaking and writing about things that go beyond your area of expertise, and that don’t really do much aside from making ignorant people even angrier and firmer on their creationist (etc.) positions. You will never change their minds.

My suggestion? Leave it. Relax. Focus on your scientific publications, projects, and use your intelligence for constructive activities.

This is the only part that gets my bile up: the you-don’t-understand-religion-because-you’re-an-atheist claim. Seriously, theology is not rocket science, and you can learn a great deal about it (granted, with much mental pain) by reading for two years, as I did. I deny that religion, or Catholic theology is beyond my expertise. If they are, then they’re certainly also beyond the expertise of the average Catholic, who hasn’t read nearly as much as I have about Catholic theology.

In fact, Todesca doesn’t seem to grasp that his brand of Catholicism isn’t universally shared, and that, at least in America, far more people are young-Earth creationists than are Catholics.

Why do religious people assume that theology is so hard to grasp? After all, it’s just making stuff up about a being for which we know nothing. Theology is, as Dan Barker says, “a subject without an object.” Further, as I often say, while some believers are literalists about nearly everything, nearly every believer is a fundamentalist about something. For Catholics, the literalism involves the divinity of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the claim that accepting Jesus as saviour will grant us eternal life. That must surely be part of the “knowledge” vouchsafed by Todesca’s Sophisticated Faith.

But I’ve gone on too long in response to someone who is just raising the same old arguments. So, Mr. Todesca, so long, thanks for all the bromides, and good luck with your comic book. When you have some real evidence for God, we’ll talk.

Readers’ beefs

April 9, 2016 • 9:45 am

Or perhaps I should call them “Readers’ porks,” as they’re all anti-Semitic this week.

First, two comments on my satire “Gentiles must cease their relentless cultural appropriation of bagels“. Needless to say, these didn’t make it to airtime.

From reader Jakob Aubill (who used that name):

Now I’ve seen it all. I’m not surprised that this level of idiocy comes from the Jewish sector of the Internet.

Poor Jakob’s only unable to read, but an anti-Semite to boot. You can look up Jakob Aubill on Google, but of course it may be a different one, or someone appropriating his name.


From reader “fgfghhh,” too cowardly to use his/her name:

Jews are not real humans. Simply vermin


And here’s a comment from reader “Phalluster” on yesterday’s post, “Pope again pretends to be progressive, but it’s only lip service”:

I guess you heebs are gonna have to make a ‘Vatican 3’ so you can impose more of your perversions on the goyim. If you believe any of your own religious tomes, you’d worry that God will eventually tear his mighty fist up through the earth’s crust and pull you all down into the magma. It will be the world’s loudest “oy vey!”

Just a reminder to those who think that anti-Semitism is a dead issue. Do these comments bother me? Not at all. It’s possible they are ironic (see next post), but somehow I don’t think so. There are such people in the world, and it’s not worth worrying about them—until they try to turn their bigotry into political action.

Readers’ beefs

March 16, 2016 • 2:30 pm

The creationists have been making their egress from the woodwork over the last few weeks. Here are four of their comments that didn’t make prime time.

From reader William, commenting on my post BioLogos tells “The Big Story”, becomes less scientific and more evangelical“:

God did not use evolution for exactly the reasons you have pointed out, Jerry Coyne. Also, because that type of evolutionary biology – crossing over into different created ‘kinds’ – doesn’t occur in the natural world; there is no evidence for it anyway. He created everything ex nihilo, just like the Bible says. The Genesis account is a record which is in agreement with observed science.

There’s no hope for this person.


Reader James Bryonson, commenting on, oddly, yesterday’s photo of me with my voting receipt:

Evolution is just a theory to try to prove a point with the nerds that hate god.

“Nerds that hate god.” Those nerds must include Francis Collins and Ken Miller, and the 40% or so of scientists who believe in gods.


Reader “groovyman 67” had this to say about my post “What are the fundamentals of evolutionary biology?“, which featured a description of the origin of mitochondria and chloroplasts by ingestion of bacteria by other organisms:

Is this science or science-fiction? Really? 2 made-up of one creature eating another and co-opting it’s genes provides the entire foundation of Darwinism (even ignoring the origins question). This idea will be long gone in 20 year, if not 10 or 5, but no matter today is passes as wisdom rather than an entertaining Dr. Suess book. Of course I’m just a regular dude so I can’t comprehend that common sense is disallowed by geniuses.

I’ll ignore the “it’s genes” and misspelling of Dr. Seuss (why can’t creationists spell?), and add that there are tons of evidence that the “ingestion” origins of these organelles is supported by very strong evidence. Besides, they are hardly “the entire foundation of Darwinism.” Groovyman 67 is simply an ignorant evolution denialist who touts his “regular dudeness” as evidence of intellectual superiority.


And reader “bill” on my post, “Social media excoriates British teacher for claiming there’s more evidence for the truth of the Bible than of evolution“:

I stand on the Bible account and am sure at some point you will wish you had also.

When, exactly, will I stand on the Bible account? When I’m about to die? Don’t count on it.


On the non-creationist side, we have reader “idpnsd” commenting on my post, “Another misguided believer claims that science is based on faith“. Always be wary of a comment that starts with “Ayn Rand” said:

Ayn Rand said – “Truth is not for all men, but only for those who seek it.” Or in other words – there is no truth in the mainstream, but truth is out there, on the internet, and a truth seeker will recognize it.

All of science is completely wrong and all of religion is completely correct. There are many ways to prove it. But since space is limited, please refer to the free book on Soul Theory at the blog site

But I give some examples. Take Newton’s first law, which says – an object will continue in motion in a straight line with a constant velocity. But we have never seen such an object, neither on earth nor in space. Thus Newton is wrong. Look at the book for many such examples including QM and SR.

You have said – “but I wouldn’t bet $5 that Jesus was resurrected bodily.” – You do not know that this is correct. Even you can do that also, if you acquire yogic power via yogic meditation. There are many such examples even in modern times. Take a look at the yogic power chapter in the above book.

There was a time when Vedas were known all over the world. You can find its influences in Bible, Judaism, Hinduism etc. Vedas define all the laws of nature like – soul theory, yogic power, reincarnation, destiny, eternal recurrence, birth-maturity-death etc. All of these laws are there in Bible in some form. There is no God in Vedas. [Yogic power in the Bible?]

“You have faith (i.e., confidence) that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has, and there’s no evidence that the Earth has stopped rotating or the sun has burnt out.” – you know it is wrong. Sun will burn out one day. Vedas say – all objects go through, birth-maturity- death process. Scientist have confirmed that by observing the nature.

“It’s what produced antibiotics, computers, and our ability to sequence DNA.” – Not correct. These are examples of engineering. There is heaven and hell difference between science and engineering. See the book.

I don’t want to waste my time refuting all the nonsense packed in this comment. And what good would it do anyway; the person is beyond redemption.


Finally, from reader “tiffany 267,” we have the Flounce of the Year, as she was apparently convinced she caught me contradicting myself. This was intended as a comment on my post, “Apple vs. U.S. government: a big dilemma“:

I no longer know why I’m following this blog. You claim it is impossible to objectively know right from wrong, and yet ironically you make a moral statement in the same essay “My own feeling is that Apple should comply with the government’s request” which is so evil I cannot fathom the thought processes that could facilitate such a vile statement.

My next step is to unfollow you. So long.

I hope the door didn’t hit her on the way out! Clearly “tiffany 267” doesn’t know the difference between “objective moral statements” and making a judgment call about what would be the best thing to do. As for the “evil” of Apple’s compliance, well, that’s just dramatic hyperbole.

I suspect we won’t miss her contributions to our discourse.

Reader’s beef of the month

February 22, 2016 • 10:00 am

Last year, John Brockman, my literary agent as well as the agent for many other popular-science writers, put together his annual book of answers to one Edge question. The 2015 book was This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress. My short contribution was “Free Will”, and since everyone knows why I think that notion should quietly lie down and expire, I won’t go into it. Rather, I wanted to show how it prompted an irate email from someone whose name I have expunged out of mercy:

Dear Sir:

I’ve read what you wrote in This Idea Must Die.

Maybe you should look at Taylor Branch’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the civil rights movement, “At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968.” King publicly asked America’s clergymen to come to Selma to help him, and hundreds of them poured in. He would have accepted science professors too, of course, He needed all the help he could get. But no science professors showed up. They didn’t care. There was a contest here to see who cares about morality, religion or science, and religion won in a landslide.
Branch is a personal friend of Bill Clinton. I doubt that he is biased in favor of religion.
In the 1980s, the same story. Lots of clergymen condemned Reagan’s mass murder in Central America, but when did the Nobel Prize winning scientists sign a petition condemning it? Never. They didn’t care. If they had done that, maybe the American people would’ve woken up a little bit, but they didn’t care. Sagan could’ve written a book called “Reagan Is Committing Mass Murder” but he never bothered. Instead he wrote about comets and “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors,” a completely worthless book.
Read any biography of Richard Feynman. You will see he never showed the slightest interest in politics, or in improving the world. He lived for pleasure.
[Name redacted to protect the clueless]
As far as I can determine, this letter has nothing to do with free will. Rather, it’s an indictment of scientists for being unconcerned with social progress. The problem is that it compares scientists with clergymen, but what about every other profession? Just counting academics, what about economists, art historians, or medical school professors? For that matter, what about plumbers, dentists, engineers, merchants, or baseball players? Clearly the clergy would be overrepresented in matters like the civil rights movement, for Dr. King was one of them. But the workers for racial equality weren’t all clergymen: what about the thousands of students who marched for civil rights—some of them dying? I was one of them (no, I didn’t die!), and I have the lapel buttons to prove it.
As for Feynman, well, he wasn’t totally silent on matters of social import. He cared deeply about education, wrote textbooks, and we shouldn’t forget his presence on the Challenger panel—he zeroed in on the O-rings (as had the engineers who were overruled) as the cause of the disaster.
As for scientists not interested in improving the world, the writer is simply an idiot about that. Many scientists go into their professions to improve the world, or to understand it in ways that could lead to a better world. I’m not saying that all of us are deeply invested in improving society, but I’ll also claim that, as a group, scientists have done a tremendous amount for humanity, and I’m counting here the material and physical well being of humanity, not the bonus of giving us an inspiring understanding of nature.