There’s almost nothing as frustrating to someone who studies European philosophy of the 1960s-70s as the sheer volume of idiotic things that are written everywhere, from academic journals to science blogs, about “postmodernism” and “deconstruction.” These labels are scattered wildly about and attached to things they never had anything to do with, and held up as dark warnings against dangerous irrationalism that leads to tyranny (or in the conservative Christian case, denial of God’s truth that leads to tyranny). It’s easy to get annoyed at evangelicals and journalists and science bloggers who perpetuate these empty stereotypes. But this Virginia Heffernan affair has made me realize how much we have to face another culprit: people who actually do dress up bad arguments in Derridean garb, thereby helping all the other culprits keep buying their prejudice on the cheap.

It started with a column in which Heffernan, a technology writer who has a Ph.D. in English, confessed that she is a creationist. She doesn’t so much deny Darwin as she has just “never found a more compelling story of our origins than the ones that involve God.” Heffernan is making a fairly banal argument for a romantic view of the world, not all that different from the one I’ve been encountering in G.K. Chesterton. Darwinism doesn’t explain how we got here or why we exist, so why can’t we believe a cool story about those things? What’s all the fuss about?

Well, the fuss comes mostly from what she says toward the end of the column, where she veers from saying something like “science doesn’t explain everything” to something closer to “science is mostly wrong and doesn’t matter.” I’ll just quote those final two paragraphs:

When a social science, made up entirely of observations and hypotheses, tells us first that men are polygamous and women homebodies, and then that men are monogamous and women gallivanters—and, what’s more builds far-fetched protocols of dating and courtship and marriage and divorce around these notions—maybe it’s time to retire the whole approach.

All the while, the first books of the Bible are still hanging around. I guess I don’t “believe” that the world was created in a few days, but what do I know? Seems as plausible (to me) as theoretical astrophysics, and it’s certainly a livelier tale. As Life of Pi author Yann Martel once put it, summarizing his page-turner novel: “1) Life is a story. 2) You can choose your story. 3) A story with God is the better story.”

So though she is still technically on defensible ground here, Heffernan is doing something slightly insidious: she’s letting one of the very least credible social sciences (evolutionary psychology) stand in for science as a whole, without mentioning that the scientific community itself is very critical of ev-psych. Then she presents “the first books of the Bible” as an alternative to science, which you know, like ev-psych, is all just a bunch of hypotheses anyway. And while I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with “You can choose your story,” in this context it comes pretty damn close to suggesting that, at a base level, empirical facts don’t matter and whatever you want to believe about whatever is just fine. In this approach, “science” is insinuated to be on the same level as religious myths: it’s up to you to choose whichever one first your “personality” better (an idea that runs through Heffernan’s commentary elsewhere.)

Things got worse when Heffernan was called upon to defend herself on Twitter, particularly in this revealing exchange with New York Times science writer Carl Zimmer. In this conversation, Heffernan presents herself as some type of literary postmodernist who is radically skeptical of all representation of reality:

@carlzimmer @noahWG I don’t have a positivist’s brain. I suspect there are other mystics/flakes/English PhDs like me who also don’t.

— Virginia Heffernan (@page88) July 11, 2013

@carlzimmer @albertocairo I did read Darwin as literature & Sam Harris &al as cultural docs but my training keeps me from seeing it as truth

— Virginia Heffernan (@page88) July 11, 2013

What she’s basically doing here is saying that her literary personality and her philosophical skepticism allow her to deny that scientific findings have any necessary bearing on life or belief as long as she feels like remaining ignorant of them; all there is is a plane of competing stories. This is, is turns out, exactly what an ideological science blogger, or a quasi-religious scientific fundamentalist like Sam Harris, wants to believe a “postmodernist” is like. In fact, we have a science writer to demonstrate this for us: Telegraph editor Tom Chivers, who launches his jeremiad against Heffernan with one of the most ignorant accounts of “postmodernism” I’ve ever read:

That was true up until around the 1960s or so, whereupon a variety of philosophers in major US universities, mostly French and led by Jacques Derrida, decided that we are, in fact, entitled to our own facts as well. Postmodernist “deconstructionism” began with the perfectly sensible and even banal observation that literature could not be discussed without acknowledging the cultural baggage of both author and reader, and that the meaning of a text was not something fixed and eternal but the product of the reader’s mind in conjunction with the author’s.

But its influence spread beyond literature, into other areas of study.  As Barbara Ehrenreich put it, “Students taking courses in literature, film, ‘cultural studies’, and even, in some cases, anthropology and political science, were taught that the world is just a ‘text’ about which you can say anything you want, provided you say it murkily enough.” She claimed that one of her children reported you could be marked down for writing “reality” without putting it in inverted commas. According to Francis Wheen, in his fantastic book How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered The World, science and politics fell under this reality-denying spell: it became impossible to critique either, since they were fictions, “like truth, justice, law and all other linguistic ‘constructs’”. Michel Foucault, another of the great deconstructionists, went to Iran and fell in love with the “beauty” of its savage theocratic regime. Wheen reports that, when asked about the brutal repression of dissidents and free speech in the country, Foucault replied “They don’t have the same regime of truth as ours.”

Okay, so Derrida never said anyone is “entitled to their own facts,” and it happens that things like truth, justice and law, are constructs, even if they’re good and necessary ones. Obviously Chivers knows nothing about Foucault, whose politics are utterly irrelevant to the topic at hand. But however silly and prejudicial a view of Derrida and Foucault this many be (something Chivers’ colleague Tim Stanley wrote a good analysis of), it’s not quite as a silly view of Heffernan. She’s made pretty clear that when she says “you choose your own story,” she means this in a radical way: you choose reality itself, and empirical facts are of little import. This is quite beyond the central “postmodernist” insight that we are situated in history and social structures that we can’t get out of, even by disciplined, “rational” reflection. The fact that there is no logical, rational ground of nature or reality does not mean that nothing whatsoever can be rigorously observed and known about them.

But Heffernan has a history of wrapping herself in a “Derridean cloak” and presenting a kind of ad hominem science denialism as being part of deconstruction. In her infamous 2010 New York Times Magazine column about the website ScienceBlogs, she set up a grand battle between science and deconstruction, and her entire argument against ScienceBlogs was basically that science bloggers are elitist assholes. That is certainly true in some cases—certain internet science communities can be shockingly Taliban-like for people so opposed to religious fundamentalism. But Heffernan’s column made no argument: it really had nothing to do with “science” as an academic pursuit of human knowledge, and certainly had nothing to do with deconstruction as a philosophical approach. She never read ScienceBlogs as someone who was interested in talking about science. She was doing exactly what Tim Chivers is doing in the post quoted above, and very close to what the ScienceBlog writers were doing to fat religious people: lumping together the good and the bad, mocking and dismissing something they really have no clue about.

This is a weird thing for me to write. I’m more inclined to think that, in American knowledge circles, the ideology and hubris of science are not critiqued enough, especially the dangerous ways that ideology colludes with economics and politics. I’ve even studied Derrida a lot, and am fairly sympathetic. I believe that, beyond anything argued by Derrida or Heffernan, we really have no clue what lies at the bottom or beginning of the universe, and every single bit of knowledge we have is an interpretation and a construct. People realized that a long time before Derrida, even if we haven’t always been as aware of it as we should.

So you’d think I’d be more sympathetic to someone pushing back this way. But I’m afraid that’s not what Heffernan is doing: she’s throwing rocks at an imaginary version of “science” as much as Chivers is ranting about an imaginary Derrida. Just like scientists and science writers shouldn’t be taken seriously when they pontificate on “postmodernism,” newspaper deconstructionists shouldn’t be when they dismiss credible, vital enterprises of knowledge as little more than a personality accessory.

About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

46 Responses to Virginia Heffernan, Creationism and Deconstruction

  1. etseq says:

    Sokal debunked this crap in the 1990s. Pomo, as I call id derisively (or post-structuralism, critical theory, queer theory, etc. – you can never pin these charlatans down because they are obscure on purpose) was never taken seriously by anyone outside of literary theory or its allies in the humanities. Derrida was ridiculed by most philosophers (even continental philosophers hated him). Searle sums it up well in the following clip from one of his lectures:

    David – your entire schtick of being the “enlightened” post-evangelical agnostic is getting obnoxious. The humanities are suffering partly because it devolved into this absurdist parody of “radical skepticism” in the wake of the collapse of marxism. “Theorists” became a new breed of intellectual filled with hubris that has no disciplinary bounds. What qualifies someone with a Phd. is the “Humanities” or “American Studies” or any of these other bogus fields to critique philosophy, science, etc. when they have substantive training in the underlying subjects?

    Chomsky has it right – “theory” is just the death throes of aging french intellectuals who someone managed to colonize american universities in the 1990s.

    Give it up already…

  2. etseq says:

    I left a “no” out of the above – it should read

    What qualifies someone with a Phd. is the “Humanities” or “American Studies” or any of these other bogus fields to critique philosophy, science, etc. when they have NO substantive training in the underlying subjects?

  3. etseq says:

    Not to beat a dead horse but Martha Nussbaum wrote a hilarious take down of Judith Butler in the New Republic years ago that is well worth a read… (copy found here).‎

    Face it – the ‘Science Wars” of the 1990s are over and the postmodernists lost both the intellectual and media war. The Left finally recognized that although science is not perfect, as a method and process of knowledge production it is far superior to anything produced by theology or the humanities. The carping of a few professors and graduate students animated by science envy does not make for a compelling critique…

    Just condemn this dreck outright and be done with it…

  4. etseq says:

    David – you do realize Tim Staley is a right wing apologist for Pat Buchanan, Sarah Palin, and the worst of the republican party, including the denial of global warming. Chivers was spot on in his analysis and he works the bloody Daily Telegraph (though he is one of the few competent journalists at that tory rag)!

    You are not doing yourself any favors playing this goldilocks game – blaming left and right as equally bad and pretending to be some source of platonic wisdom rising above both sides. There is no inherent virtue in being a moderate and playing against both sides like you do is as old journalistic trick.

    • @etseq: The “science wars” are a great example of how bad this conversation is. Nobody “lost”; basically some scientists pulled a couple of big publicity stunts and claimed victory. I’m sure they had a point about the lack of scientific rigor in postmodern critiques of science, and hopefully that was exposed as a problem for “science critics,” whatever they are, to address. You’re completely right: it is an enormous problem to be deconstructing science with no background in it. But the reason the science wars were not a real debate is that they suppose that there is an opposition between doing natural science and thinking about it socially/philosophically/historically/etc. (I’m sure the typical “postmodernist” attitude of the 1990s was the other side of the same coin.) There is a crazy, pointless discussion if it’s framed in terms of “truth disciplines” versus “denial-of-truth disciplines.” I mean, really? What century do we think this is?

      So the lesson for my “side” (I put myself on that side since I’m in the humanities and not much interested in science beyond a minimum to be competent) is that: the critique/historicization/”deconstruction” of science is important, but it cannot really be effective or persuasive if it can’t hold its own with the scientific literature. And its motivation should be to improve, not to discredit, the scientific disciplines. So that automatically disqualifies posturing literary types who just want to win some kind of political battle against science. Doing some kind of “science studies” the right way basically means being (almost) a scientist oneself, and I know a lot of people like me and Virginia Heffernan have no interest in that – we got into this business because we’re writers, not mathematicians. (Which is something like what she’s trying to say, and could have said better.)

      Re: Tim Stanley. Yes, I realize he’s a right-winger, and I by no means endorse any of the things you mention. I know the Telegraph is a “Tory rag” (ha, that’s all I’m calling it from now on), and it annoys the hell out of me. But unlike Chivers, Stanley has actually read Foucault, and realizes how science can be critiqued or analyzed in an evolutionary framework. (Foucault was no religious nut!) People like Chivers think, as Stanley said, that any view that doesn’t have a dogmatic commitment to empiricism “leads to tyranny,” which is just horseshit. All that to say: I’m with for the most part on Stanley, but credit where due.

      As for Martha Nussbaum: a liberal political philosopher “taking down” a post-structuralist in the New Republic? No way! I’m sure that’s hilarious. See my post from July 2 on that.

      • etseq says:

        Foucault may not have been a religious nut but in many ways he was far more of a threat to the liberal left than some hayseed fundamentalist preacher. Along with many french intellectuals of his period, he reacted against the Stalinism that was still the dominant tendency in French Communism by becoming a Maoist. Frankly, I am not sure which is worst – unreconstructed Stalinism or flaming Maoism – but neither is intellectually credible. The defeats of 1968 then led to a further estrangement from the Old Left, especially in France, Foucault seems to have gone off the deep end. He embraced a radical Nietzschean epistemology – the reduction of all competing values to pure power coupled with the paranoid fear of social control by elites. This led him to make some strange bedfellows in the 1970s. Who in their right mind would have championed the Ayatollah in the Iranian revolution not just against the Shaw, who was rightly denounced for his human rights violations and anti-democratic despotism, but even against the existing leftist parties? He believed that radical islam was superior to liberal democracy or even a marxist worker state. He had totally lost touch with reality by this point. His critique of the existing power structures and his contempt for the old (and new) Left left him so disillusioned with politics that he literally embraced a fundamentalist religious revolution, even though he was an atheist and materialist.

        Once you deconstruct Foucault and “historicize” him a bit, he doesn’t look so brilliant. In fact, he comes off as a bit of a nut, not to mention a self-loathing pseudo-closet case. I mean, his critique of homosexuality as an identity is just bad history, sociology, and psychology and seems to be rooted in his internalized homophobia. This was clear to anyone who knew him personally (ignore the fawning hagiography by David Halperin – David Macey’s work is much more accurate) and evidenced by his embrace of some extremely degrading S&M and the fact that he was still practising unsafe sex right up into his death in 1984, by which time he damn well knew about the risk of to himself and others of HIV. Many gay men, myself included, viewed the whole escape into social constructivism in the 1980s and 1990s, as a (weak) intellectual reaction against AIDS and the New Right’s attack on the emerging gay rights movement. Although Foucault was not a pure constructivist and in his later work moved towards a more essentialist position, his work contributed to the naive myth that homosexuality is a recent modern phenomenon that arose only in the 19th century. This lie is repeated so often in the humanities still to this day even after being debunked by many historians since, most notably in Rictor Norton’s Myth of the Modern Homosexual (

        PS – Foucault was not using an “evolutionary framework” if by evolutionary, you meant the scientific theory of evolution. If you meant evolution as in a historical evolution of the scientific method, well that has been standard in the philosophy since the field developed. Foucault added in some confusing and frankly embarrassing genealogical periodization of historical eras – his “epistemes” – that do not reflect the actual historical record (also, sounds like he ripped off Kuhn but we will never know because his footnoting was atrocious). Historians hate Foucault for a reason and not just because they disdain european radical intellectuals!

  5. etseq says:

    Once again typo above – should be “Tim Stanley” not “Tim Staley”

  6. […] the narrative of creation to that of science. David Sessions has a good discussion of the issues here. She is basically taking the line that one chooses one’s narrative of the world. This is […]

  7. […] Wilkins doesn’t do is criticize literary theory, but he does provide a link to an article by David Sessions, which does criticize it. However, Wilkins holds literary studies partially to blame for Virginia […]

  8. Yes, yes and thank you David.

    I’m doing philosophy of technology and working heavily in bridging the science camp (which I’m generally sympathetic to/in agreement with) with the Continental philosophy/science studies camp (which I’m *also* generally sympathetic to/in agreement with).

    This isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds, largely because when you *actually read* people on both sides, the claims tend to coincide or supplement one another. There are certainly exceptions, and the interesting work is in parsing those out (for instance, Chomsky vs. Dennett vs. Metzinger on philosophy of mind).

  9. Stephanie says:

    “The fact that there is no logical, rational ground of nature or reality does not mean that nothing whatsoever can be rigorously observed and known about them.”

    Well, yeah, if there is no rational ground for reality, how could we know anything about it?? Wow. If the author claims to speak for accurate postmodernism, then all he succeeds at is showing just how full of contradictions (and therefore how meaningless) it truly is.

  10. etseq says:

    David, to follow up on Stephanie’s comment, the problem stems from your anti-foundationalism. I take it you a Rortian, which is no insult but it just leads you down a rabbit hole of infinite regress. Most philosophers of science would ground their epistemological warrant in science’s results – i.e., the scientific method yields practical empirically verifiable proof in the pudding so to speak. That it what gives it a leg up on other “ways of knowing” and has basically rendered the mysticism of religion and most of esoteric continental philosophy irrelevant. Do you actually think anyone besides the STS crowd considers their claims legitimate? Hell, even LaTour wizened up in 2003 when he realized the Right was using his critical method to attack the scientific consensus on climate change.

    Another prime example is Steve Fuller from University of Warwick, a sociologist of some sort who testified FOR the creationists in the Kitzmiller trial. He was universally derided by both scientists (and the court) as a fool.

    It is not a case of scientists not understanding your critiques – it is just that they are either so banal as to be unnecessary (yes culture shapes science but no reality is not “socially constructed”) or they are so disconnected from actual science practice that they are absurd on their face – i.e., Irigaray and Kristeva feminist epistemology where e=mc2 is dismissed as too masculine.

    Foucault may have some interesting insights into mental health but his method of historical “archeology” has been almost universally panned by actual historians. The facts just don’t support the elaborate philosophical conclusions he draws from them. His work on sexuality is awful and later in his career and in some of his unpublished works at the time of this death, he completely reversed himself when it came to rejecting gay as an identity category. The fact that he was a gay man conflicted with his own sexuality is apparent to me and all other gay men I know (besides Halperin who literally named his hagiography, er I mean, biography “Saint Foucault”).

    Anyway, I’ve given you a hard time and you have been a good sport about it. Having been a partisan in the Science Wars of the 1990s, I just have a reflexive contempt for what I saw then and now as magical thinking that does the Left no good. I transferred from graduate work in the History of Sexuality to law school in 1994 because the field had been colonized by Queer Theory and social constructivists at CUNY. Constructivism had become a religious dogma and had utter contempt for any hint of essentialism, such as a biological basis for sexuality. It was like arguing with creationists. It also enraged gay activists because they were basically agreeing with the right wing christians that sexuality was some mystical force that was beyond logic and so unstable that mutability was the rule and not the exception and thus could theoretically be changed by prayer and reparative therapy. Luckily, queer scholarship was so bad and the arguments so opaque, the Christian right rarely ever tried to use social constructionism against us. It was just too radical even for them. What really ticked activists off was that our experience as gay men were no antithetical to the presuppositions of social constructivism that we were horrified that other supposedly “queer” scholars could publish what they did without suffering any cognitive dissonance.

    For better of worse, Snow’s Two Cultures divide has never really been bridged. I think scientists and those in the atheist/secularist movement who share their appreciation for the success of science and certain non-scientists, religionists, and a small but hardcore literary theorists and continental philosophers just have a basic clash of worldviews that can be frustrating for both sides at times. Thanks for the hearing me out…

    —Jimmy Green

  11. etseq says:

    PS – David, why are you holding my first comment in moderation?

  12. I’ve always suspected that polls showing American belief in creationism reflected the Heffernan mentality moreso than any genuine embrace of Biblical literalism. You can parse over whether postmodernism is accurately understood by the likes of Heffernan, but in many ways the popular interpretation of postmodernism is more important than the intentions of its philosophers.

    I’ve always felt that in the long run postmodern thought was more conducive to conservatism than progressive thought precisely because of the mental shrug of the shoulders Heffernan espouses. Changing the status quo requires the belief that one set of ideas is more desirable than another. Postmodernism as Heffernan espouses breeds intellectual and political apathy, leaving a vacuum for the people who most passionately believe in something, namely the fundamentalists.

  13. AC says:

    Were we to admit into the pool of live explanatory options non-naturalistic hypotheses, then it would no longer be evident that evolutionary theory is the best explanation of the data. It is in that sense that the theory presupposes naturalism. The theory itself doesn’t imply naturalism; rather it is the theory’s current exalted position as the reigning paradigm which depends crucially on excluding from consideration non-naturalist alternatives. For if naturalism is true, then as Alvin Plantinga likes to say, evolution is the only game in town. No matter how improbable, no matter how weak the evidence, evolution’s got to be true because there just isn’t anything non-natural to account for biological complexity. Hence, the confidence.


    Why can’t one reject naturalism – why must holding such a view be deemed out of bounds?

    • AC says:

      Drawing on a wide body of evidence, I’ve argued in detail that Darwinian evolution is in trouble for precisely this reason. Failure to explain protein folds certainly isn’t the only trouble plaguing Darwinism, but it is major trouble of a particularly stark kind that only gets worse as the science progresses. Poenie ought to grapple with this instead of trying to sweep it under the rug. -Douglas Axe

      Are We Reaching a Consensus that Evolution is Past its Prime? →

      ….Are We Reaching a Consensus that Evolution is Past its Prime? →
      I’m surprised at how quickly Darwinists have abandoned any claim that evolution is a powerful process at work today, retreating to the position that its power is a thing of the past. The convenience of that stance, of course, is that it enables them to insist that natural selection was a powerful mechanism without committing themselves to the more risky proposition that it still is.

      Laurence Moran is among those who seem to favor this approach, at least as I interpret his recent post.

      Ann Gauger and I have shown that Darwin’s mechanism cannot accomplish what appears to be one of the more favorable functional transitions among proteins. Specifically, we’ve presented experimental evidence that the protein pictured here on the left cannot evolve to perform the function of the protein shown on the right, despite their striking similarity and the generous assumptions we granted.

      We completely agree with Moran that this exact transition never happened in the history of enzyme evolution (and said as much in our paper). But evidently we expect more of Darwin’s theory than he does. In particular, we expect it to conform to the established norm of offering universal principles instead of just-so stories.

      If it can be shown that natural selection actually has (present tense) the creative capacity attributed to it, then I will certainly join those who are calling everyone to accept this. But if the facts go the other way, as it seems they have, then perhaps the reality check should likewise go the other way.

      Darwin certainly didn’t make the mistake of relegating natural selection to the past:

      It may metaphorically be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.
      By this classically Darwinian view, all that was needed for our ape ancestors to evolve the intellectual capabilities that distinguish us so dramatically from apes was the right “conditions of life.” It follows that any ape population of today, if placed in those conditions, should evolve in the same way—not becoming human per se, but rather human-like in every respect that we benefit from being un-ape-like. And similarly, all it should take for one member of a protein family to transition to a new function is the right selective environment.

      As old-fashioned as this classical view sounds in a day when very few biologists are proudly waving the flag of natural selection, it did at least have its place in the time-honored scientific tradition of making claims that can be tested today.

      So, to Moran I say, regale us with heroic stories of magically evolvable apes and magically evolvable enzymes if you must, but when you’re finished with the stories, be sure to join us in doing the science that should convince everyone one way or the other as to their plausibility.

      It’s the same challenge I put to James Shapiro at the beginning of the year:

      We can go into the lab and modify bacterial cells by deleting the entire set of genes dedicated to the synthesis of tryptophan, one of the essential building blocks of proteins. When we observe what happens when these modified cells are given just enough tryptophan to grow and reproduce, we will see lots of things happening, but none that can be expected to reinvent a set of genes for making tryptophan, even in a large population over billions of years.

      I know of many processes that people talk about as though they can do the job of inventing new proteins (and of many papers that have resulted from such talk), but when these ideas are pushed to the point of demonstration, they all seem to retreat into the realm of the theoretical. Having followed this debate for some time now, and having made several experimental contributions to it, Ann and I have become convinced that none of the current naturalistic ideas about the origin of protein folds or the functional diversification of existing folds actually works in any general sense.

      But of course, as experimentalists we are very willing to see the evidence that might prove us wrong.

      • Nullifidian says:

        The convenience of that stance, of course, is that it enables them to insist that natural selection was a powerful mechanism without committing themselves to the more risky proposition that it still is.

        Laurence Moran is among those who seem to favor this approach, at least as I interpret his recent post.

        Douglas Axe is either being seriously dishonest or he’s a blinkered fool.

        Larry Moran has always been clear that non-Darwinian mechanisms like drift have always been important throughout the history of life on Earth. The theory behind genetic drift was developed primarily by Sewall Wright in the 1920s and 1930s. By the 60s and 70s, genetic drift was applied to the molecular level to give us neutral and nearly neutral theory. Axe may like to flatter himself that genetic drift is a sudden realization that only occurred after he started conceiving ineffectual experimental ‘refutations’ of natural selection, but the history of science is not with him.

        It follows that any ape population of today, if placed in those
        conditions, should evolve in the same way—not becoming human per se, but rather human-like in every respect that we benefit from being un-ape-like. And similarly, all it should take for one member of a protein family to transition to a new function is the right selective environment.

        Well, congratulations, Dr. Axe, you’ve just successfully described not natural selection, but Lamarckism. The idea that the organism is responsive to its environment in such a way as to guide its evolution in a certain direction (for Lamarck, this was up the medieval Ladder of Nature) is Lamarckism. Any advocate of natural selection, even the most rigidly neo-Darwinian, can tell you that if the necessary genetic variation doesn’t arise within the population—and there is no guarantee that it will—then evolution will not occur in that direction. And they will further tell you that mutations occur independently of fitness. That was established even before we knew the structure of DNA by Luria and Delbrück’s fluctuation test in the 1940s and later by the Lederbergs’ replica plating experiment. Thus, in his attempt to test natural selection, he re-disproved Lamarckism. Nice one, Axe.

        If you want a hint about how to do protein evolution studies right, I suggest looking at this matched pair of articles: “How not to examine the evolution of proteins” (re: Axe and Gauger; link) and “How to examine the evolution of proteins (re: Carroll, Ortlund, and Thornton; link).

        And they wonder why they’re not taken seriously by mainstream biologists….

    • Nullifidian says:

      I know this is an old post, but….

      Why can’t one reject naturalism – why must holding such a view be deemed out of bounds?

      It’s not deemed out of bounds; non-naturalistic views of how things happened were the reigning paradigm for much of the history of humanity. They were abandoned because sacrificing a hecatomb to Zeus doesn’t tell you more about particle physics than the Large Hadron Collider.

      If you think that prayer and ritual sacrifice will better open up the modern world to investigation than positing natural causes, feel free to use those methods and we can compare results. But people like Axe, Gauger, and their like-minded colleagues don’t like doing their own work. They’re lazy. They want us to change the way we work because they don’t like the implications of our work for their religious beliefs.

      Not one of them has attempted to show that “non-natural” views make better sense of the evidence already gathered than natural explanations like evolution do. That’s the bare minimum one would expect of any proposed replacement theory: that it an explain at least as much as the previous theory. And yet there is no coherent account for how intelligent design is supposed to account for the facts of the fossil record, including biostratigraphy and anatomy, how it accounts for the facts of biogeography, for molecular phylogenetics, protein evolution, developmental biology (including genetics), etc. etc. etc. They can’t even account for everything that Darwin adduced as evidence in Origin, much less the evidence gathered in the interim. And how is one supposed to use intelligent design ‘theory’ (it isn’t actually a proper scientific theory, but they claim it is) to guide new avenues for research? What would an ID grant proposal look like?

      All these questions are of the greatest importance to real working scientists, who naturally need something to work on, but they’re less important to IDists than pushing ID into public schools. Their priorities should tell you something about how scientific ID is and how little likely it is to replace evolution or anything else.

  14. etseq says:

    AC – Explain how one scientifically tests an a “non-naturalistic” hypothesis? How does one measure or quantify something that by definition does not obey the laws of nature? Plantinga and Craig are just playing a slightly more sophisticated god of the gaps game and no one outside of the field of evangelical/reformed apologetics takes them seriously.

    • AC says:

      Define Naturalism

    • AC says:

      Are you sure any verifiable testing is even happening – all I’m seeing is theoretical but no real demonstrative proofs….

      Why should a Christian be bullied into accepting the most widely accepted naturalistic theories when are never verified or demonstrated in any kind of functional way – sure the skeptic will be quick to claim victory due to their bias but all am seeing is a perpetual dead-end

  15. Tamela says:

    I’m gone to inform my little brother, that he should also pay a visit this webpage on regular basis to obtain updated from hottest reports.

  16. AC says:

    Fair point but the problem is the ‘scientific testing’ done to prove evolution continously glosses over numerous variables, verifications, probabilities & possibilities while holding onto assumptions & presuppositions required to maintain the course – they are willing to alter the course over time but w/out any confirmation of the futility & shortcomings of deeply held theorized principles – this is arrogance & manipulation bordering on deception – they need to stop playing God & be more forthcoming of their failures

  17. Tara says:

    Hey there! I just wish to offer you a big thumbs up for the excellent info
    you’ve got here on this post. I will be coming back to your site for more soon.

  18. I was pretty pleased to uncover this great site. I wanted to thank you for ones time for this wonderful read!
    ! I definitely really liked every part of it and i also have you saved as a favorite to check out new
    stuff in your site.

  19. etseq says:

    AC – You gish gallop like an old school creationist and failed to answer my question – how does science test and measure things that are by definition extra or super natural – beyond or outside of nature?

    You just repeat the same creationist canards that have been answered ad nauseum. You obviously know what naturalism is or rather you know what Craig has said about naturalism.

    Again, how is anything you have said different than the standard creationist god of the gaps nonsense?

    • AC says:

      I don’t know – you probably can’t – why ID will remain theoretical – you can argue complexity but that could be used to validate different schools of thought

      • etseq says:

        We are obviously talking past each other. The word “theory” has a precise meaning in science and ID fails that definition on many levels. The few testable questions it has posed – Behe’s irreducible complexity for example – have been empirically disproven so it is a failed theory at best. The famous bacterial flagellum has been shown to be subject to natural selection just as every other constituent part of living organisms. Here is Ken Miller debunking Behe if you want evidence:

        • AC says:

          But to more specifically address your claim that,

          ‘The famous bacterial flagellum has been shown to be subject to natural selection just as every other constituent part of living organisms.’

          Read what posted from Axe and this :

          Creationists don’t have a problem with NS & Micro – And I’m sure you know that….. It’s the further leap of face that the skeptics are targeting

          • etseq says:

            You are missing the point – the bacterial flagellum is not “irreducibly complex” which is the main hypothesis ID proponents make. So, it is has been empirically disproven. That is how science works.

            You keep shifting the goal posts every time I try to pin you down. It is a classic creationists debating tactic.

            Again, we are just talking past one another. Honestly, I don’t think you understand how science works and you are being misled by Craig and his ilk.
            You are clearly intelligent and I don’t mean any insult – I just don’t know how to continue the conversation in a productive fashion.


            Jimmy Green

  20. AC says:

    At the risk of talking past you again – skeptics of evolution assert that there remains continuous proofs & evidences that physical traits & characteristics remain w/in kinds or species – time & time again when the evidences are closely analyzed this fact remains –

    Answering Objections to Darwin’s Doubt from University of Texas Biologist Martin Poenie →
    University of Pittsburgh physicist David Snoke has posted a favorable review of Stephen Meyer’s new book, Darwin’s Doubt, on the website of the Christian Scientific Society. Someone writing under the name gandaulf thinks it was too favorable, judging by the series of critical comments he posted in response.

    Although most anonymous comments don’t merit a reply, I knew from multiple credible sources that this gandaulf is a serious scientist: molecular cell biologist Martin Poenie from University of Texas at Austin. I identify him here with his permission. Since some of Poenie’s criticisms touch on my work, I’ll offer my perspective in a few posts, each focusing on one of Poenie’s posted comments.

    Poenie’s first critical comment questions Meyer’s basis for thinking that the Cambrian explosion must have involved the origin of many new protein folds. According to Poenie (gandaulf), “the argument that many new folds are needed at the Cambrian explosion is without foundation.”

    I suppose we could approach this topic by putting on either of two hats: the hat of an engineer (someone who designs things) or the hat of a reverse engineer (someone who dissects things to gain some understanding of how they were designed). But considering how far human technology is from designing anything like life, it would be presumptuous for any of us to wear the engineer’s hat here. The role of the reverse engineer is much humbler, and much more appropriate.

    Poenie may be thinking that Meyer made the mistake of putting the engineer’s hat on, speaking about what is needed to build an animal as if he knows how to build one. But any reasonably charitable reading of Meyer would suggest that in raising the question about the requirements for building complex animals, he was approaching the question retrospectively in the manner of someone attempting to reverse engineer these systems. So let’s assume that he wrote from the perspective of a reverse engineer, not claiming to have mastered the art of making new animals, but rather recounting some of the things science has established after considerable experience in the study of cells and the dissection of animals, both genetically and anatomically, about what the evolutionary process would have needed to generate in order to build a novel form of animal life.

    One well established fact is that individual species carry lots of genes that, so far as we can tell, are unique to their kind. If you search Google Scholar for the term orphan genes, you’ll get over a hundred thousand results. According to a recent paper, “Orphan genes are defined as genes that lack detectable similarity to genes in other species and therefore no clear signals of common descent (i.e., homology) can be inferred.” The term is also sometimes applied to genes that are restricted to groups at a higher level than species, the key point being that many, many genes are specific to particular taxonomic types. In fact, a whopping majority of the full catalog of gene types identified by genome sequencing projects appears to be restricted in this way. As this recent paper put it, “only a small set of genes seems to be universal across kingdoms, whereas the phylogenetic distribution of all other genes is restricted at different levels.”

    Now, since each gene carries the sequence instructions for making a protein, it seems likely that orphan genes tend to encode orphan proteins — proteins that are substantially distinct from any found in other kinds of organisms. And if so, it also seems likely that many of these orphan proteins have distinct structures, or folds, as they are known.

    Again, we could criticize this claim on the grounds that no one presently knows how to design new protein folds with any proficiency, but this is pointless because reverse engineering has shown that the inference is correct. Proteins with no detectable similarity to any protein of known structure have been found to have unique fold structures in about half of the cases examined. Considering that orphan genes typically account for 10% to 30% of the genes in each sequenced genome, and that multicellular animals have about ten thousand or more genes, this means we can expect to find many dedicated protein folds in each specific kind of animal, right down to the level of species.

    So while the passage of half a billion years prevents us from actually examining the proteins that were used within the cells that made up the animals that appeared in the Cambrian explosion, the diversity and number of these animal forms leads us to believe that there must have been a corresponding explosion of protein forms. This certainly follows from the facts as we now see them, so Poenie’s assertion is misinformed.

    To me his assertion also seems a bit disingenuous, in that Poenie appears to be trying to dismiss a critical problem without answering it. Protein folds are a biological reality, presently catalogued by the thousands with more being added all the time. So any theory of biological origins that can’t explain the origin of protein folds is in trouble. Period.

    Drawing on a wide body of evidence, I’ve argued in detail that Darwinian evolution is in trouble for precisely this reason. Failure to explain protein folds certainly isn’t the only trouble plaguing Darwinism, but it is major trouble of a particularly stark kind that only gets worse as the science progresses. Poenie ought to grapple with this instead of trying to sweep it under the rug.

    • etseq says:

      I going to end this here. You keep bringing up fringe beliefs way outside of the scientific consensus or you raise questions that haven’t been answered yet. Neither of these “disproves” evolution, which is an incredibly robust and empirically sound scientific fact. It is the cornerstone of all the life sciences and on the same level as laws of thermodynamics in physics.

      However, science is always provisional – there is no absolute or final truth in the religious sense. Everything is subject to being revised by future testing of new evidence. And for areas in which we do not have answers, we do not just say “well, god is the answer” – that is the classic “god of the gaps” that I have been referring to throughout these comments. Science would be rendered useless if it tried to incorporate supernatural explanations for unexplained phenomena because there would be no progress – everything unexplained would be attributed to god. This is antithetical to the essence of the scientific method.

      Finally, it is not just atheists who accept evolution as a fact – most christians do as well. Ken Miller, one of the biologists who testified at the Kitzmiller trial and spoke in the video I posted above, is a devout Roman Catholic. All the mainline protestant churches also accept evolution. It is only those christians whose epistemology is grounded in a strict biblical literalism that have rejected mainstream science in this area.

      Anyway, it was going sparring with you but I don’t think either of us will convince the other in the comment section of an internet site.

      —jimmy green

      • etseq says:

        Sorry that should have read:

        “…it was GOOD sparring with you…”

        Another sign that it is probably time to retire the conversation is when I start making silly typos 🙂

  21. AC says:

    Sorry JG, I should have stuck with the links and I admit to getting ahead of your argument & defaulting to a snow job position (I admit missing your point about BF)-

    All that being said, there countinues to be studies & support to the claim that BF IS ‘IC’

    The problem with your claim that creationsim or design is merely ‘God of the gaps’ is you imply that evolution has most of it covered & my camp is merely adding God into the mix where the science has yet to provide more conclusive evidence….However, what skeptics of evolution are trying to convey is that ‘the science’ never has been able to advance Darwinian-evolution – this is where evolutionists enter the realm of denial, Evolution has always broken down in the most crucial places – the actual science has never proven the theoretical claims – what we are left with is more than gaps but a theory in crisis – one that has never advanced past (or more accurately – actually fulfilled) its own claims – in a way evolutionists continue to move the goal posts or more accurately redifine the game’s emphasis by backing away from Darwin’s defined rules & objectives (with out actually announcing they are doing so)

  22. AC says:

    David – I don’t know this Hefferman lady nor do I really care about her – I just don’t like when scientists make claims long on (unproven)theoretical claims and short on actual emphirical evidence – as they would have their disciples turn around & conclude evolutionary theory carries the same weight as those scientifically tested theories that actually produce the results required to back the claims asserted.

    Science often goes the way of politics & even journalism – honesty & integrity becomes lost & misplaced as we travel on down the agenda-driven money trail. You are obviously painfully aware of this!

    The more I research & learn (of course I have my own biases) the more I realize that this world is filled with ideological deceptions – everybody cheats to gain an upper hand – propaganda has replaced reality. Conspiracy has become the gateway to truth…..

    • AC says:

      Sorry David – I need to edit my comments better – let me try again-

      ‘I don’t like when scientists make claims long on (unproven)theoretical assertions and short on actual empirical evidence – as they would have their disciples turn around & conclude evolutionary theory carries the same weight as those scientifically tested theories that actually produce the results required to back the claims asserted.

      Science often goes the way of politics & even journalism – honesty & integrity becomes lost & misplaced as we travel on down the agenda-driven money trail.

      The more I research & learn (of course I have my own biases) the more I realize that this world is filled with ideological deceptions – everybody cheats to gain an upper hand – propaganda has replaced reality. Conspiracy has become the gateway to truth…..

      “Professor James M. Tour, who is one of the ten most cited chemists in the world, has been publicly criticized for forthrightly declaring in an online essay that while microevolution (or small changes within a species) is well-understood by scientists, there is no scientist alive today who understands how macroevolution is supposed to work, at a chemical level:

      “I do have scientific problems understanding macroevolution as it is usually presented. I simply can not accept it as unreservedly as many of my scientist colleagues do, although I sincerely respect them as scientists. Some of them seem to have little trouble embracing many of evolution’s proposals based upon (or in spite of) archeological, mathematical, biochemical and astrophysical suggestions and evidence, and yet few are experts in all of those areas, or even just two of them. Although most scientists leave few stones unturned in their quest to discern mechanisms before wholeheartedly accepting them, when it comes to the often gross extrapolations between observations and conclusions on macroevolution, scientists, it seems to me, permit unhealthy leeway. When hearing such extrapolations in the academy, when will we cry out, “The emperor has no clothes!”?

      “From what I can see, microevolution is a fact; we see it all around us regarding small changes within a species, and biologists demonstrate this procedure in their labs on a daily basis. Hence, there is no argument regarding microevolution. The core of the debate for me, therefore, is the extrapolation of microevolution to macroevolution….

      “I simply do not understand, chemically, how macroevolution could have happened. Hence, am I not free to join the ranks of the skeptical and to sign such a statement without reprisals from those that disagree with me? Furthermore, when I, a non-conformist, ask proponents for clarification, they get flustered in public and confessional in private wherein they sheepishly confess that they really don’t understand either. Well, that is all I am saying: I do not understand. But I am saying it publicly as opposed to privately. Does anyone understand the chemical details behind macroevolution?”

      – A Layman’s Reflections on Evolution and Creation. An Insider’s View of the Academy.

  23. danallison says:

    (NOTE: Probably off-topic. But who can tell!) Most of this (thank God!)is either over my head or twaddle (I suspect the latter) but those who like to assert postmodernism is dead do so because it kills their precious idols — like string theory, the wild narrative constructed to keep theoretical physicists employed at universities for outrageous salaries, usually on the public dime. How anyone claiming to be a scientist can accept such unfalsifiable hokum is a sign of the total lack of understanding about what science is. (Christianity on the other hand is based on a totally falsifiable claim, the resurrection of Christ). Leftists must reject anything that deviates from their totalitarian ideology, even if proven time and time again, such as the innate differences between men and women.

  24. Joseph Martin says:

    I appreciate you writing this article. I can tell your breadth and depth of reading into deconstruction and postmodernism give you an interesting approach, along with keen insights to topics in the news like Herrernan.

    I also like the image of the dinosaur with deconstruction’s famous (infamous?) line. Although I wonder if you intended that to be a pun of sorts in good derridian fashion – text and T-Rex.

  25. […] David Sessions complains about the use of the word “postmodern” in this spat.  […]

    • Joseph Martin says:

      Someone complains about a word in a spat
      Though he doesn’t offer the alternative.
      Though he doesn’t offer to cut the fat.
      Someone complains about the conservative.
      Always and already our words are changing.
      Always and already God’s revelation is exchanging
      Between Him and the “other.”

  26. gucci store says:

    rnabzgu Virginia Heffernan, Creationism and Deconstruction | Patrol – A review of religion and the modern world rnabzgu rnabzgu rnabzgu

  27. Hello, Neat post. There’s a problem along with your website in web explorer, could test this? IE nonetheless is the marketplace chief and a huge component to other people will leave out your magnificent writing due to this problem.

  28. Hey! This is my first visit to your blog!
    We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same
    niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work
    on. You have done a outstanding job!

Leave a Reply

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.