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Jerry Coyne’s Statements Turn Out To Be Uninformed Blithering

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Jerry Coyne has a Ph.D in evolutionary biology from Harvard.  Good for him.  Bad for everyone else, because Coyne wraps his opinions on non-scientific topics in the mantle of his academic credentials.  He seems to think his Ph.D in biology allows him to speak with authority on subjects about which he is clueless.  I caught Coyne at this when he spoke a couple of days ago on a topic about which I know a great deal and he apparently knows nothing – the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School.  In his blog “Why Evolution is True” Coyne writes:

In 1999, two students in Columbine, Colorado went on a shooting rampage, killing 13 students and one teacher, and injuring another 24 before committing suicide. That started a needed national debate about gun control and other issues, but there were also the religious nuts who blamed the whole thing on, well, evolution . . . Of course there was no evidence at all that Darwinism or evolution had motivated the shooters. They were disaffected and troubled boys who, thanks to America’s lax gun laws, were able to acquire an arsenal of firearms.

Coyne may be an expert in biology, but I am one of the world’s leading experts on the facts of the Columbine case.  You see, I am a lawyer and in the months and years after the shootings I represented several families of the slain students.  In the course of my investigation of the case I spent hundreds of hours in a detailed review of every page of the journals Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold left behind.  I also listened to countless hours of their audiotapes and viewed over and over the many videotapes they left behind, including the infamous “basement tapes.”  Finally, I spent a week in a closed room in the Denver federal courthouse deposing under oath Harris’s and Klebold’s family members.

In the course of that exhaustive, painstaking investigation I learned a great deal about the killers and their motivations, and those motivations were clear.  Eric Harris especially was quite vocal about what he was thinking in the months prior to the shootings.

And there cannot be the slightest doubt that Coyne is completely, utterly, indisputably wrong — there was evidence that Darwinism motivated the shooters.  In fact, Harris was a worshiper of Darwin and specifically saw himself as acting on Darwinian principles.

The first two sentences of Harris’ journal state:  “It would be great if god removed all vaccines and warning labels from everything in the world and let natural selection take its course.  All the fat ugly retarded crippled dumb-ss stupid f–kheads in the world would die . . .”

Other examples:

“YOU KNOW WHAT I LOVE???  Natural SELECTION!  It’s the best thing that ever happened to the Earth.  Getting rid of all the stupid and weak organisms . . . but it’s all natural!  YES!”

“NATURAL SELECTION.  Kill the retards.”

In the basement tapes Klebold and Harris munched on Slim Jim beef sticks (to this day every time I see a package of Slim Jims I think of Columbine) as they casually discussed how they had reached a higher level of evolution than other people and were therefore not obligated to respect other people’s rights and could kill them at their whim.

There are numerous other examples of this sort of thing, but in summary, it was no coincidence that on the day of the shootings Harris wore a shirt with two words written on it: “Natural Selection.”  He specifically intended to send a message with that shirt.

When Coyne speaks on topics about which I know a great deal it turns out that not only is he wrong, he is spectacularly wrong.  It makes me wonder about everything else he says.

Coyne is wrong but his colleague Daniel Dennett is right when he calls Darwinism a “universal acid.”  For reasons that should be obvious, respect for human life is one of the things at which that acid is eating away.  Columbine is Exhibit A for that proposition.

(By the way, Coyne’s shot at American gun laws is also wrong.  All of the weapons used at Columbine were obtained in violation of American gun laws.  Gun sellers went to jail.  Columbine does not demonstrate the inadequacy of our gun laws.  It demonstrates that criminals don’t respect gun laws – duh).

goodusername, Next you will be telling us that Hitler and Stalin did not justify their murderous rampages by rejecting an objective moral value in every human being, based almost soley on their atheism rooted in Darwinian and Eugenics, whose ideas were flourishing all over the world as an accepted practice directly due to Darwin's notions - but I guess 100's of examples of this through history does not apply to two teenage kids?? You are replying to a man who has direct evidence they justified their "right" to kill those they found repulsive - you fall back on the idea that there inability to deal with bullying is the main reason they walked through classrooms, asking people if they believed in God, etc., and shooting them without one thought of regret. We take bibles out of school in the 50's (which is ok by me), BUT they replace it with the opposite teachings - Darwin's bulldog, and all those Eugenists, including Teddy Roosevelt, and the founder of planned parenthood, Margaret Sanger, who has awards handed out in her name, even though she wrote and spoke on the need to rid the world of the black race through sterilization - NO, nothing to do with Darwin, we just take away any hope, or excitement about life and the universe from our most impressionable and vulnerable, and boil it down to random chaos, and then wonder why we have kids like this.... But go ahead, blame it on bullying.... Tom Robbins
@tiguy What you fail to see is that all religions -- Darwinism, "Christendom", Islam, etc. -- who do not follow the TRUE Christ are an universal acid. Again this is not surprising since we know who the ruler of this world is! This is a serious matter no one should disregard lightly.
As we progress deep into the “last days” there is an ever greater need to keep wide awake spiritually and to intensify our willingness to make sacrifices to serve God acceptably. One reason for this is the fact that Satan the Devil knows that he has only “a short period of time” left before he is put out of the way. (Rev. 12:12; 20:1-3) Since his time by now is very short, we can expect him to intensify his insane efforts to corrupt and destroy. He would like nothing better than to influence Jehovah’s servants to dull their spiritual perception and to lose their sense of urgency regarding these critical times. And he would certainly be most pleased if they would diminish, or abandon altogether, their telling of the “good news of the kingdom” of God to others.—Matt. 24:14 We should not underestimate Satan’s capacity for deception and harm. Jehovah’s inspired Word warns: “Keep your senses, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone. But take your stand against him, solid in the faith.” (1 Pet. 5:8, 9) If a wise person knew that a crazed lion was on the loose in the neighborhood, he would take every possible precaution to protect himself and his family, would he not?
@ Forests First of all, I think you meant to say that natural selection is just the mechanism of Darwinism. Darwinism is one theory of evolution that posits natural selection as the mechanism of evolution. Is that what you meant to say? Yes, IDers and creationists even accept natural selection, but we don’t give it creative abilities. That is not the problem. The problem is that Darwinism leads most people to conclude that everything happened totally randomly. That means that human beings included were not created in God’s image for a purpose, but are mere lucky accidents, bags of chemicals that move and act in response to the chemical reactions on their heads. So an IDer or a creationist who believes in natural selection cannot use that as justification for mass murder, but a Darwinist could because of their view of humanity. That is why Darwinism is a universal acid. It steals the dignity of man. Humans are not exceptional, rather just evolved animals with no real ultimate purpose or future. This thinking influenced Hitler and the Japanese as well in their desire to produce a superior race. The Japanese thought they were that superior race and they viewed themselves as more highly evolved – having less body hair and sweating less than others. We are not saying these conclusions are valid, but if there is no god, if there are no ultimate morals, if Darwinism is true and we are nothing more than accidents, then you can see how some Darwinists could possibly carry that those ideas a bit too far. There is nothing to stop them when they remove God, respect for life, purpose, moral responsibility, etc. from the equation. And no one is saying anything here about the “fact” of evolution. The author is NOT arguing that because these boys applied evolutionary thought in an inappropriate manner that evolution is not true. Even we creationists don’t argue that. There is plenty of other scientific reasons for that argument. Coyne made a false statement and this article was written to set the record straight, not to prove that evolution is false. I think it is perfectly legitimate for the writer to challenge Coyne on his clear effort at deceit, or to correct his mistake(whichever it may be)and this is a good site to do it. We can’t let these guys rewrite history! Somewhere the truth has to be told. Coyne influences a lot of people and he was trying to whitewash his pet theory and insulate it from criticism, but this is one of the big problems of Darwinism, if true. No one has any kind of moral right to criticize these guys as doing something wrong because there is no such thing as absolute wrong in the Darwinist worldview. And yet, we all know that what they did was wrong in an absolute sense so this points out the problem with atheistic Darwinism. It is true that Christians too have gone nutty and committed horrible crimes. But there is a big difference! When a Christian does such things, he is going against his own worldview. He is going against what he believes. He knows he is doing wrong. He knows he is sinning against God and people. But when an atheist does something like this, he thinks he will not be held accountable to anyone for his crime. He thinks that if he is not caught, he is home scot free. He doesn’t think there is absolute right or wrong, so he can find a way to justify anything if he wants. He “knows” that what he did was not “wrong” in any real sense of the word. He thinks the concept of sin is something made up to control people, so he is free from that idea. But the Christian knows this is not true. Still he chooses to sin in spite of knowing it to be wrong, which makes him even more responsible before God. But if you look over history, especially the 20th century, you will see that those who committed the worst crimes against humanity were indeed people who did not believe in God, people who believed they would not be held accountable for their crimes by God, people who didn’t believe in judgment after death, people who think there is no such thing as absolute right and wrong. Hence in their mind, no matter what they do, they are not sinning. They might be doing something that most people think is wrong, but he “knows” in his own mind that all such thinking is just a result of evolutionary change and ultimately meaningless. tjguy
humbled you are setting up straw man arguments. Please look up "Darwinism". Darwinism does not mean evolution. Darwinism is just the mechanism of natural selection. As far as I can see Iders all accept natural selection. You think by attempting to link abortion or suicide or war etc to evolution is going to change the fact of evolution? The world is filled with psychos, thats just more evidence no God exists. If a loving God existed then where was he/she when the Columbine High School killing where going on? Nowhere to be seen as usual. Just becuase two mislead teenagers shot some people does not change the fact of evolution, the two teenagers that did these crimes were not educated they were on drugs , think about how many people have killed in the name of God... theres nut cases from all walks of life atheist, Christian, Muslim, Agnostic whatever... Digusting Catholic priests who believe in intelligent design go out and rape children you all silent on that though? Uncommon descent used to be good I have enjoyed posting on this site but recently theres a weird obession with coyne from Iders and silly posts like this which have nothing to with evolution or the ID debate just silly personal attacks. it undermines this website and everyone is laughing. forests
@ forests: This article is far from 'stupid'. I strongly suggest you read it again. It is clear Darwinism influenced these lads heavily. Statements like “NATURAL SELECTION. Kill the retards.” and “YOU KNOW WHAT I LOVE??? Natural SELECTION! It’s the best thing that ever happened to the Earth. Getting rid of all the stupid and weak organisms . . . but it’s all natural! YES!” are evidence of this. Further, like the article says, on the day of the shootings Harris wore a shirt with two words written on it: “Natural Selection.” He specifically intended to send a message with that shirt. I propose it's your blind allegiance, your faith and commitment to Darwinism that is clouding your better judgement. You cannot tell me kids being taught: "You are an animal and share a common heritage with earthworms." -Biology: "Visualizing Life" Halt 1994 edition, does not affect a childs self image and his view of the world around him. Also, Darwinists initiated public debate and led the movements for abortion, infanticide, assisted suicide, and even involuntary euthanasia. Another tagic example was young Jesse Kilgore who killed himself after reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/darwinism/ideas-have-consequences-jesse-kilgore/ humbled
Ok Coyne is an idiot & not many people like him, but this article is stupid! The two teenagers who did those killing years ago were bullied at school becuase they were a bit different and sunk into depression and their actions came from violent video games DOOM (not violent by todays standards) and also heavy metal music and industrial rock which they got a release from (i have been bullied before a few years ago at school and i also play violent video games and listen to that kind of music, it helps to vent out anger) but these guys got carried away and obviously didnt know how to deal with it and they obviously could not distinguis between fantasy and reality. video games arent real. and one of the teenagers was drugged up he was off his head. They also watched the film natural born killers over 20 times apparently.... it would be real stupid to claim the motives of these guys is anything to do with evolution it was from bullying, depression, drugs, violence etc.. forests
Damn you and your facts, Barry. Coyne has a narrative, and narratives totally trump stupid ole' facts! Deuce
Barry, Not at all. Simply a recognition that anyone willing and able to misrepresent Dr. Coyne's clear meaning is unlikely to be convinced by anything less than a response from the man himself. onlooker
onlooker@20: Ah, a tacit admission that Sal's interpretation is reasonable. Thanks. Barry Arrington
I shall email Dr. Coyne to request that he let us know which interpretation was his intention. onlooker
I trust you’ll stop using this excerpt to suggest otherwise.
No. Evolutionary biology IS at the bottom of science's pecking order. It is story telling. For its most important claims (like macro evolution) it has complete lack of experimental demonstration, thus it is speculation, not empiricism. I'd cut Coyne some slack if he were not trying to lobby for denying people jobs like Francis Collins because they are Christians. That's bigtime bigotry.... http://helives.blogspot.com/2010/02/jerry-coyne-cant-help-himself.html He's out of his expertise talking about Columbine, and given he's promoting a "science" that is at the bottom of the pecking order, he shouldn't be demanding that scientists far more accomplished than he (like Francis Collins) be denied jobs. I don't know where he stands on denying diplomas and admission to universities, but some of his writngs express his prejudice to science students of faith. He certainly is not as qualified as Barry to talk about Columbine, and worse, Coyne showed outright blindness to the truth. As far as Coyne's "science" even a fellow professor at Coyne's own university cites Coyne's misundertanding of biology: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-a-shapiro/jerry-coyne-fails-to-unde_b_1411144.html That said, Coyne is a fine scientist if one counts his work at the fruit fly farm as science. scordova
To onlooker@15: Thank you for quoting Coyne’s “phrenology” statement in its full context. But, as Inigo said to Vizzini, I don’t think it means what you think it means. Sal is right and you are wrong. I read the full passage and Coyne says nothing about “perception.” He makes unqualified statements. Now, you might believe he meant to say that evolution is only perceived as just above phrenology, but that is most assuredly not what he said. If I am wrong, kindly point out in the passage you yourself quoted where Coyne makes clear that he is talking only about perceptions and not reality. Barry Arrington
True, Barry, and willful blindness tends to disappear when it no longer serves a purpose. That was my point about Rev. 20.7. Virtually 100 percent of the people who would refuse to see the source of Klebold and Harris' delusion would immediately see the source of the latter one. News
News, you are, of course, correct. Notice that I did not attempt to argue with goodusername. In the OP I pointed out that Klebold and Harris specifically stated that they believed evolution gave them the right to kill. Only the most willfully obtuse will now try to argue that they did not believe evolution gave them the right to kill, and it does no good to argue with the willfully obtuse. Goodusername’s antics remind me of the man whose wife caught him in flagrante delicto committing adultery. The man denied he was committing adultery. When his wife said, “But I saw you with my own eyes,” the man replied, “What are going to believe, me or your own eyes?” Goodusername is asking our readers the same question. Barry Arrington
He [Coyne] said, "In science’s pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics." Phrenology is a pseudo science, yet Coyne has a blog (whyevolutionistrue) trying to argue that something closer to the pseudoscience of phrenology is true. He himself likens the very thing he champions closer to pseudosceince than to physics. By his own unwitting admission, he is a champion of a theory that is closer to pseudoscience than to physics.
You need to read the line you quoted in context, lest you inadvertently expose yourself to charges of quote mining. The full text is available here. What you may not have seen is this:
In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics. For evolutionary biology is a historical science, laden with history's inevitable imponderables. We evolutionary biologists cannot generate a Cretaceous Park to observe exactly what killed the dinosaurs; and, unlike "harder" scientists, we usually cannot resolve issues with a simple experiment, such as adding tube A to tube B and noting the color of the mixture. The latest deadweight dragging us closer to phrenology is "evolutionary psychology," or the science formerly known as sociobiology, which studies the evolutionary roots of human behavior. There is nothing inherently wrong with this enterprise, and it has proposed some intriguing theories, particularly about the evolution of language. The problem is that evolutionary psychology suffers from the scientific equivalent of megalomania. Most of its adherents are convinced that virtually every human action or feeling, including depression, homosexuality, religion, and consciousness, was put directly into our brains by natural selection. In this view, evolution becomes the key--the only key--that can unlock our humanity. Unfortunately, evolutionary psychologists routinely confuse theory and speculation. Unlike bones, behavior does not fossilize, and understanding its evolution often involves concocting stories that sound plausible but are hard to test. Depression, for example, is seen as a trait favored by natural selection to enable us to solve our problems by withdrawing, reflecting, and hence enhancing our future reproduction. Plausible? Maybe. Scientifically testable? Absolutely not. If evolutionary biology is a soft science, then evolutionary psychology is its flabby underbelly.
Rather than Coyne "championing a theory as true which he himself admitted in a candid moment is closer to pseudoscience than to physics" as you assert, he is pointing out that hard scientists such as physicists look down on the historical sciences and that the sometimes inappropriate claims of evolutionary psycholoogy contribute to this social stigma. Coyne's statement, in context, is about the perception of historical sciences, not about their objective merits. I trust you'll stop using this excerpt to suggest otherwise. onlooker
Coyne was right about one thing. He said, "In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics." Phrenology is a pseudo science, yet Coyne has a blog (whyevolutionistrue) trying to argue that something closer to the pseudoscience of phrenology is true. He himself likens the very thing he champions closer to pseudosceince than to physics. By his own unwitting admission, he is a champion of a theory that is closer to pseudoscience than to physics. So Coyne's insistence on championing a theory as true which he himself admitted in a candid moment is closer to pseudoscience than to physics is evidence of willful blindness. This is all the more ironic given he is someone who presents himself as an ambassador of science. Thus, his willful blindness of the Columbine shooters is no surprise. Perhaps we could just let it all go if he weren't in a position of influence, and he was willing to use his position to try to prevent a real scientist like Francis Collins from getting a job merely because Collins is a Christian. Collins, by the way, is a far moe accomplished scientist than Coyne. Jerry better go back to being fruit fly breeder because his latest pronouncemts make him sound like a fruit cake. scordova
Barry, what's interesting is this: If the kid had put the phrase Rev: 20:7 on his T shirt, goodusername would not experience the least difficulty inferring the cultural source of his motives, however inappropriate the application of that text.* As if a kid would be talking about "natural selection" if he were not drawing his inspiration from the culture that grew up around Darwin - however inappropriate his conclusions! That is, after all, the business half of the key technically correct phrase to describe Darwin's proposed mechanism. goodusername may well wish to rescue Coyne from an embarrassment he merely blundered into - Coyne probably didn't know that Barry was an expert. And friends like goodusername do him no favours, as they tend to make people wonder whether Coyne would be so wilfully blind about so obvious a matter. Guessing no, here. If Coyne had known, he would just not have cited Columbine. As things stand, he is stuck with what amounts to friendly fire, when all he needs to do is walk this one back. And leave it to goodusername to simply deceive himself as a last defense, on his own. * Rev. 20:7 "When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison." News
goodusername, the most pathetic lies of all are the ones you tell yourself. Your attempt at self-deception saddens me. Barry Arrington
"Where were you when I needed you?" He was busy grooming Jerry Coyne's cats. Eugen
Grr, this was the intended link. goodusername
Barry, I’m saying based on what I’ve seen (and I have looked) natural selection is pretty far down the list of most likely reasons for the mass murder-suicide. Ok, they believed in natural selection and discussed it (and lots of other things)… is that all it takes (as if I have to ask)? I can’t rule out that you (and everyone else) is holding out on the good stuff linking the shooting with Darwinism – but then, why would you? This is a beautiful appeal to authority that puts all others here to shame. After the recent hoopla here about that, all I can say is - ya really can’t make this stuff up. Talk about being unintentionally hilarious. No offense, but I’m not going to just take your word for it. goodusername
goodusername, Yeah, you’re probably right. Your tendentious off the cuff impressions are almost certainly more valid than conclusions I drew after hundreds of hours of investigation. How could I have ever thought that Klebold’s and Harris’ lengthy discussions about how evolution had given them the right to kill their classmates actually had anything to do with them going out and actually killing their classmates? I’m so lucky to have you finally straighten it all out for me after all these years. Where were you when I needed you? Barry Arrington
Why are darwinists so afraid to let the public know what their myth truly entails? They can't cherry-pick the parts of their "theory" they like and hide the parts they don't. If there's allegedly no GOD, then "survival of the fittest" is the only law that should govern life since nothing is immoral because all humans lack free will and are just accidental chemicals at the mercy of physics, like lightning. This is why Dr John Lennox and his "strychnine in grandmother's tea" argument is so compelling as it shows why atheism fails when it comes to morality. Blue_Savannah
Statement’s like “NATURAL SELECTION. Kill the retards” and expressing a desire to eliminate vaccines and warning labels doesn’t make it “clear” to me as to the motivation to go into a high school and shoot people in a mass murder and suicide. It seems to me that the comments in their writings about getting “revenge” (a word that seemed to come up a lot) for the bullying they received and the fame they desired if they “outdo” other tragedies like the Oklahamo City bombing do more to explain their actions then some self-sacrificial deep desire to aid natural selection. Maybe that’s just me. If Coyne had said that there was no evidence that they were Darwinists, than you would have an argument. Even if Coyne's statement went a tad too far one way by saying there was “NO” evidence, your statement about their motivations being “clear” go a mile and a half too far the other way. (That is, unless there's something vastly more interesting that’s being hidden from us) I would say the above post says more about your motivations than that of the Columbine shooters. I do, however, agree with you on the gun law issues. goodusername
Bartax, I made no comment on evolutionary science. I suspect you are trying to make some kind of point, but it eludes me. Would you care to clarify? Barry Arrington
Absolutely, Barry. When it comes to evolutionary science what we really need are more lawyers, theologians, preachers, journalists and debt collectors. Viva la Design Revolution! Bartax
Hello Barry Arrington, Natural Selection != Darwinism
Natural selection is an observable process that falls into the category of operational science. We have observed mosquitoes, birds, and many microorganisms undergoing change in relatively short periods of time. New species have been observed to arise. Biblical creationists agree with evolutionists on most of the ideas associated with natural selection, except the idea that natural selection leads to molecules-to-man evolution. http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/ee/natural-selection-vs-evolution
For true Christians there's no mystery why such tragedies happen, since we know who the ruler of this world is. Tobi JWTruthInLove
But musings like this, regardless of their truth content, get Coyne and others like him what they crave most: attention. He and Myers are frustrated satirists/comedians/columnists. If their intent was to inform or learn they'd long ago have changed the way they communicate with their opponents. lpadron
Thanks for putting Coyne in his place, Barry. Coyne's life achievements relates to the breeding of Fruit Flies. That hardly places him in a position to make more authoritative statements about science in general than some of the highly qualified scientists, medical doctors, and engineers at UD. And he is certainly less qualified to offer pronouncements on other topics (like Columbine) as you've demonstrated. scordova

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