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Jerry Coyne Hasn’t Understood a Word David Berlinski Said

Are living things designed or not? It’s an obvious question, with what should be an obvious answer. Darwin wrote a whole book, On the Origin of Species, to argue that the design was apparent, not real. The argument was that a simple process, natural selection acting on random variation, was capable of producing the amazing things we see in biology today. Perhaps the idea was plausible when Darwin proposed it, but it has since ceased to be credible, given what modern molecular biology has revealed.
OK, I have just made a straightforward, bald-faced claim. And I can guarantee that Jerry Coyne disagrees, as his post today at Why Evolution Is True (“David Berlinski makes an ass of himself defending intelligent design“) would leave no doubt if there were any doubt to begin with. The question is, does he understand why I said it? Is he going to accuse me of ignorance, lying, or both? Or will he take the time to find out why I say what I do? If not, then Jerry and I would be talking past each other.
In a similar way, David Berlinski and Jerry Coyne are currently engaged in verbal combat. David wrote an elegant homage to Phil Johnson’s book, Darwin on Trial, on its 20th anniversary, accompanied by his usual blistering satirical commentary on Darwinian true believers. Berlinski knows where the bodies are buried, and doesn’t hesitate to dig them up. He doesn’t write to persuade or to prove, however. With a few rhetorical flourishes he dismisses the whole evolutionary shebang as nonsense, and leaves no doubt as to his disdain for Jerry Coyne (and a whole list of others).
Jerry returns the favor by name-calling. It is clear from his response, however, that he hasn’t understood a word David said. As it would appear from what he wrote, Jerry operates in an adaptationist world, where evidence of variation is evidence, if not proof, of natural selection. When he sees a good adaptationist story or a series of fossils that paint a transitional picture, he doesn’t seem to consider whether or not the details are plausible. He mentions, for example, the whale fossil series as proof that transitions happened, but fails to consider the incredibly shrinking window of time available, or the enormous amount of genetic information that is required for the transition from terrestrial to aquatic whales to have occurred. Did it occur by natural selection alone? There isn’t enough time, as David Berlinski and Rick Sternberg realized long ago. But not Jerry.
Jerry also ignores the disputes over adaptationalism vs. neutral evolution. The question is whether natural selection is powerful enough to overcome genetic drift, so as to drive evolution in a forward direction, or whether we are a lucky accumulation due to the drift of numerous genetic accretions. Motoo Kimura, Michael Lynch, and Austin Hughes see the trouble. And so does David Berlinski. But not Jerry.
Most of us at the evil Discovery Institute don’t resort to name-calling, as it is usually a sign of a weak argument. I for one would never accuse Jerry of lying. He sincerely believes what he writes. Berlinski does not hesitate to deploy his wit in defense of the rest of us, however. His insults no doubt leave a mark. But an elegant one.

Ann Gauger

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Dr. Ann Gauger is Director of Science Communication and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, and Senior Research Scientist at the Biologic Institute in Seattle, Washington. She received her Bachelor's degree from MIT and her Ph.D. from the University of Washington Department of Zoology. She held a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University, where her work was on the molecular motor kinesin.



DarwinDavid BerlinskievolutionGregory RadickJerry CoynePaul NelsonPhillip E. JohnsonUniversity of Chicago