Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ann Coulter vs. Charles Darwin:

Happy Birthday, Charlie!     (And you too, Abe!)

Last week, as a service to this blog's readers, I went to the library and checked out Coulter's book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism (2007) . Coulter writes a lot of things, but many are hard to conclusively disprove. How do you disprove her charge that politician X is a sleazy guy or dresses funny? But I'd always figured that her weakest stance was her (apparent) dismissal of evolution. So I wanted to see exactly what she'd written on the topic.

Forty pages take up the Darwin/evolution part of the book. It's not well written and has multiple unfunny jokes (e.g. Al Franken looks like a chimp). In it, she constantly refers to "Darwiniacs" which are the main focus of her attacks. She doesn't come right out and say evolution is not true - even writes at one point that something (god, alien space beings, even natural selection) could be the motive force - but instead adopts a position of extreme skepticism towards the field.

Of the forty pages, about thirty are devoted to rehashing the following cases:While there have been some embarrassments in science, pointing to these is hardly a refutation of Darwin. The peppered moth case still seems valid and her dismissal of Darwin's finches is a new one for me. Then Coulter goes on to talk about what constitutes a theory and mistakenly compares physics (e.g. Einstein) with a science of events of the past. A science of the present moment, like chemistry or physics, can be tested in a lab. A science of past events has evidentiary rules just as stringent, but also uses inference to reach conclusions, which Coulter sees as not meeting Karl Popper's test (who is accurately quoted as saying "Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program"). The thing is, Coulter confines her assault on Darwin and never attacks geology, astrophysics, or other fields that deal with past events.

Then Coulter says a number of stupid things (e.g. "carbon dating has never proved natural selection; it only disproved Piltdown man", "Why are worms still around? Why haven't they evolved? Wouldn't they want to?"). A bacteria that's become antibiotic resistant is "still a bacteria". She cites remarks by Stephen Jay Gould who, in my opinion, didn't help the debate with his literary ramblings. And she gives a tip 'o the hat to Behe and mentions arguments made by other luminaries of the Intelligent Design movement (Dembski, Johnson).

On the whole, the section on Darwin consists overwhelmingly of attacks on the confusion (and in one case, fraud) in the field that took place 100 to 150 years ago. Coulter's anti-Darwin section is nothing more than a summary of the book Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution is Wrong by Johathan Wells (a member of the Moon's Unification Church, BTW).

So now you know. And I don't plan to read any more books by Coulter. Her style is rushed, not particularly coherent, and filled with eye-rolling "Coulter giggles" (which are drippingly sarcastic remarks about scientists or Democrats).

Could you say that Coulter doesn't believe in evolution? Not exactly. But you could say that she doesn't accept the scientific status of evolution by natural selection.

NOTE: All quotes are from memory. I couldn't return the book fast enough and don't have it in front of me right now.

CODA: All this talk about evolution through natural selection not being proved in the lab (or in the field) hinges on the "species test", which is artificial. If an animal has changed its DNA due to mutations and managed to survive, that's enough to establish that natural selection has worked. Why should the standard be "species", wherein the organism can only mate within its own group? Why not incompatibility of blood types? (In which case humans are "really" four types: A, B, AB, and O.) Sure, given time, changes will occur so that eventually mating between two groups will not produce viable offspring, but why wait for that to occur? A different threshold can be just as scientifically meaningful.


People really should restrict themselves to writing about things they know something about, and leave the more complicated scientific topics to the experts.

Coulter specializes in hate. I should think a sequel to Mein Kampf would be right up her alley.

By Anonymous Screamin' Demon, at 2/12/2009 8:31 AM  

Didn't Coulter already write such a sequel?

By Blogger Shag from Brookline, at 2/13/2009 4:32 AM  

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