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 . . .”
“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).