How to refuse to look at evidence and how to evade simple questions

September 4, 2010 | By | 128 Replies More

The arrows of my title are not being directed toward Richard Dawkins, one of the two people engaged in this extraordinary conversation. My title is directed toward creationist Wendy Wright.  Her obstructionist tactics suggest that it is simply not fruitful to discuss evolution by natural selection with someone who doesn’t understand it and doesn’t want to understand it.

I’ve pasted Part 2 of 7 of this exchange above. The other parts are available at Youtube. Richard Dawkins is a model of patience here. Ms. Wright repeatedly invokes a handful of tactics to stretch out this ostensible conversation endlessly. One tactic is to change the topic whenever Dawkins tries to focus upon real world facts. Another is to send out broad accusations, such as  accusing Darwin of racism when, in reality, the Victorian world was filled with people who held views that would now be considered racist and, in fact, Darwin and his writings were notably not racist.  In fact, Darwin expressed abolitionist views.

In a recent comment I wrote the following:

I’m tempted to begin a new “policy” from today forward. Those disparaging the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection must, in order to deserve a reply (other than a copy and paste of this comment) must, in their own words, describe the basic elements of the theory and at least a few of the many types of evidence supporting the theory. They must also make it clear that they know how a scientific theory differs from pure speculation.

It is my repeated impression that those attempting to criticize the facts and theory of evolution by natural selection are actually attacking some something else, something that biologists, geo-biologists, geneticists, botanists and other scientists do not support. In short, they are attacking straw men. The only reasonable reply to such attacks is to direct the commenter to set aside a few hours and to read a good book on natural selection.

There’s a lot more discussion about this video a website with a most extraordinary name: Soricidae’s Blog offers a play by play for one section of the Wright-Dawkins exchange.


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Category: Evolution, Human animals, ignorance, Religion, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (128)

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  1. Tony Coyle says:


    We are not disputing your sense of wonder, nor your desire to see the creator in everything.

    We simply ask – what is categorically different, in your mind, between

    2 + 2 = 4


    Square root of -1 = i


    preponderance of evidence = support for theory.

    Both are formulations of knowledge supported by evidence (the former are based on observed commutativity and associativity, and similar relations. the latter on observations in life sciences).

    Neither require any a priori statements beyond baseline postulates (the ground state axia of math, or the formulary hypothesis of 'natural selection').

    These do not demand that you 'give up' your creator. They merely state that 'in these, there is no evidence that your creator has directly interfered'.

    Is that so hard for you to do? To accept the evidence at face value?

  2. Karl says:

    I can accept evidence at face value – but I will not trust just any claimed scientific manner of interpretation of the evidence because that is not a face value. The interpretation of any kind of evidence can biased for or against a specific desired outcome.

    I look at the similarities in living things and I see first and foremost design, others see common descent, some see both, and perhaps others couldn't give a rip what others are thinking about the "evidence."

    I realize that if you one does enough

    A—>B and




    syllogisms one can eventually become convinced of the the fool proof nature of such logic.

    This would always be true of one knew the actual verity of the original inductive premises being employed in the deductive logical process.

    The evidence for evolution obviously becomes overwhelming to those who must have a mechanism to account for the order and patterns seen in living things once the possibility of a creator has been eliminated.

    Where I see evidence of a creator, I am not allowed to state such as evidence for a creator because the evidence I see for the design and patterns of a creator has been interpreted and used by a different worldview to preclude the necessity of a creator.

    I understand how a real shell game is played. Look under any of these re-interpreted shells of face value evidence and you no longer can see a creator because the interpretations now have a mechanism that explains how all of the evidence is linked together in a way that describe the pointless nature of trying to use science to prove God exists.

    A God confined to a box described and limited by scientific principles and methodology would be a God I would reject for then I would be able to play God myself. I keep the wonder of God outside of the box of my human thinking.

  3. Tony Coyle says:


    I can accept (and I've said that before) that you see and recognize the evidence.

    However, you said it very clearly – I look at the similarities in living things and I see first and foremost design

    You first see design because your desire is to see design. It is circular reasoning.

    Science, in general, approaches the observation without pre-conception. When one does so, one finds no necessity for a designer, and no requirement to presume design – evolution alone is sufficient.

    This is our most fundamental difference, and unless you change your perspective (like Francis Collins*) you will forever be at odds with external reality and with secular analyses of that reality.

    * Note, I don't find Dr Collin's perspective intellectually honest – but it is emotionally honest. As such it aligns with my thoughts on religion in general – that he fails to use the same intellectual rigor (and standards of evidence) in his personal 'religious' life that he does in his professional life is not surprising, but it is disappointing.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Tony: When I look around, I see exquisite design. I see design in my own hand. I'm daily amazed by it's elegance and power to enhance my survival. This same hand-machine that helped my ancestors throw rocks at critters for food allows me to bring home food by deftly clicking on a keyboard and operating phones and copy machines.

      By "design," I don't mean that livings things were sculpted by a sentient supernatural being. I see no evidence of such a being. I don't even understand how something that does not physically dovetail into the world could have causal effects in the world. The idea of such a being thus seems like fairy tale nonsense to me (though I can appreciate the emotional/social appeal of such a belief).

      When I see the ubiquitous design of living things, I also also see and appreciate massive amounts of evidence that all living things were sculpted by their environments over immense periods of time, through a process of breed and weed–natural selection. But I want to make clear that I share a starting point observation with Karl: I see design in the real world, and it is truly exquisite.

  4. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    A man who is blind can still hear an oncoming train. A blind man who is also deaf, can still feel the vibrations in the tracks. A man who stands on the tracks with no understanding of the danger of a fast approaching train will never know what hit him.

    This statement, can be interpreted in many ways. Literally, it is what it is. As a metaphor, it is open to a multitude of interpretations, which can be argued as supporting any side of a discussion

    When Karl, Walter, et al ask why, the why they reference is the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, simply worded "Why does all this exist?".

    For them it is a rhetorical question, as it assumes a reason for existence, which implies rationality, which in turn, implies intelligence. Intelligence requires sentience, which therefore proves the existence of a deity. All of this from a simple question.

    The problem is that we infidels fail to understand the need of a reason for existence. The rhetorical "why?" is meaningless to us.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Niklaus: You eloquently articulated my concern when I suggested that the "ultimate" questions raised by many believers are so vague that scientists have no hope of answering them. This is not a problem with the scientists; it is their job to provide only meaningful information based on experiment and observation. The problem are with the vague "why" questions. "Why is there something rather than nothing?" or "Why is their something complex rather than nothing?"

      Here's another way to look at it. In The Scientific Image, p. 154-157 (1980), Bas Van Fraassen wrote that an explanation is an answer—an informative description evaluated pursuant to the context established by a particular question—a request for a specific kind of information. The "correct" answer to a why question depends on who’s doing the explaining and what kind of information the questioner seeks. People hear the same question in different ways. Consider, for example, commonly encountered explanations of drug abuse:

      Republicans – One’s lack of willpower (“Just say No”)

      Economist – Risk/utility of one’s “choices.”

      Psychologist – Denizens of the brain.

      Biochemist –Internal chemical disequilibrium.

      Geneticist – “The drug abuse gene.”

      Sociologist – Social breakdown and group pressures

      The abuser’s mother – Shortcomings of the abuser’s parents.

      The abuser – a crappy world out there.

      Preacher – The failure to resist Satan.

      When Karl asks the question "Why is there a universe rather than none?" he is asking a different question than when a physicist asks it. When the physicist works hard to give an answer, it doesn't satisfy Karl, because even before he asked the question, he knew that he would never be satisfied by the kind of information physics could offer. We are ships passing in the night, and the passengers are shouting across the water at each other in different languages.

      For more on the multiple meanings of "why" questions, consider the work by Niko Tinbergen.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Could a person as scientifically obtuse as Wendy Wright become a political leader? It's quite possible.

  6. Karl says:

    So now a person that publically states they don't believe in macro-evolution could garner political support . . . who would have thought it possible in the year 2010?

    When will people ever learn that their religious views are not welcome in America? After all doesn't the Constitution protect the public in general from matters of faith and religion?

    OH, My bad. I forgot that freedom of religion is not politically enforced freedom from religion.

    The phrase is “We the people” . . . not just, we the intellectually honest who couldn’t possibly believe in things unseen. Creator or evolution? Intensional design or random design out of chaos and chance. Both are tenants of faith.

  7. Tony Coyle says:

    Karl said

    So now a person that publically states they don’t believe in macro-evolution could garner political support . . . who would have thought it possible in the year 2010?

    Have you simply not been paying attention? The right wing's leaders have been courting creationists and evangelicals (I'll presume there is a difference, however slight) for the past decade or more. The last presidential primaries (on the right) were an appalling show of anti-science, pro-christian piety. Three of the candidates last time around claimed proudly that they "did not believe evolution".

    These are not wing-nuts hanging around the edge of the camp. These were serious contenders for the Republican nomination.

    And, to answer the question – I am extremely surprised that a scientific theory that has been 'settled, done and dusted' for more than a century is somehow still controversial. It astounds me that voicing such an opinion does not make the proponent a laughing stock.

    If evolution is open to debate, perhaps we should reconsider the ptolomeic or copernican debates? I'm sure there are some idiots who still believe the earth to be flat, despite that particular fact being human knowledge since the time of the early greeks (intervening stupidity notwithstanding).

    Lastly – if you actually read the founders writings, you'll discover a hatred for 'institutional religion' among the vast majority – they detested the 'deus rex' philosophy – which is why this republic was founded upon the stance "We the People" and why the bill of rights incorporates the separation of church and state in the form of freedom of religion – which means any, all, or none – and which is why there may be no religious test for office.

    This is, and has always been, a secular form of governance regardless of the personal beliefs of the people who orchestrate that governance.

    You deride intellectual honesty – do you then favor dishonesty?

    I'll be happy when an person in office is only notable for their performance and not for their religion (or lack), their sexual proclivities, or their personal fiscal prudence. For the rest I don't care.

    I really could care less if my congressperson is a donkey-humping, money-for-sex, drug-using, gambling preacher – if he or she executes the demands of the office professionally and well. I don't care about personal. I care about public.

    Unfortunately if the theocratically minded candidates for office have their way, the government will be required to police my personal behavior, and I will be a second class citizen, at best.

  8. Tony Coyle says:

    Both are tenants of faith.

    the word is TENETS. Tenants are people who live in a rented property. TENETS are the principles that govern.


    If you want to use a word so often, learn to spell it!!!!!!!!!

  9. Karl says:


    Intellectual honesty on my behalf requires me to state that if I must resort to appeals to whomever I consider an acceptable peer group in terms of ethos that I do not possess clear enough and non-controversial interpreted scientific evidence to convince others of the veracity of my assumed facts.

    You stand firm behind the interpretaion of evidence and the agreement of the "real" scientists to try and eliminate both deism and faith in God in general from American History and everyday life.

    Tell me that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were not at least deists to some degree and I now have proof that you will only believe what you want to believe about the founders of this nation.

  10. Tony Coyle says:


    Intellectual honesty on my behalf requires me to state that if I must resort to appeals to whomever I consider an acceptable peer group in terms of ethos that I do not possess clear enough and non-controversial interpreted scientific evidence to convince others of the veracity of my assumed facts.

    Facts and evidence should stand alone, independent of the reviewer. At least, if you want your evidence to be considered scientifically.

    That all of your special biblically derived evidence requires additional guidance in interpretation and special pleading is sufficient evidence for me to discount the majority of it. Some may be valid and reasonable. Until you can submit to unbiased external review it remains simply conjecture, not evidence.

    You stand firm behind the interpretaion of evidence and the agreement of the “real” scientists to try and eliminate both deism and faith in God in general from American History and everyday life.

    Erm. No. Conflation on your part.

    I recognize that the majority of the founders were Deists – however very few were Christians (in your sense). I don't discount "faith in God" from anywhere in history. I do, however, recognize the cultural context where that faith was evidenced and exhibited. You wish to pretend that the founders were Christian in the modern evangelical sense. They weren't.

    Today, absent strong societal pressures to conform, I contend that many would be strong atheists. I invite you to prove me wrong, using their own writings, if you can. (I don't think you can since most writings on 'god' and 'religion' from the ten or so I'd consider strong candidates for atheism are fairly unequivocal on their disdain for the practice and teachings of organized religion).

    Tell me that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were not at least deists to some degree and I now have proof that you will only believe what you want to believe about the founders of this nation.

    Read the above. And stop trying to pin stupid labels upon me. I accept evidence. The evidence you purport to present ion favor of your argument is false. Saying so does not make me biased. I 'believe' what the evidence tells me, not what I desire to be true. You, however, start from first principles with the desire and demand that God is central to all.

    Beam. Eye. Extract.

    Deists they were. But for a society that demanded fealty to god in almost every walk of life, to be non-aligned and to be a 'weak deist' as most were, suggests a group of people as far from the 'Judeo-Christian'mainstream as you could get.

    You may think this country was founded upon Judeo-Christian principles. You're wrong and taking a very narrow perspective if you do.

    What happened to the divine rights of kings, a key principle in all pre-revolution Christian writing and thought?

    What happened to "Church as the ultimate authority"? Our republic was founded on the three tiers of government being the only authority, with no religion allowed to interfere (there shall be no religious test for office, freedom of religion – i.e. no state religion either pro or con). Not only is the Church not the ultimate authority, it is deemed to have zero authority in secular matters of government.

    There are many other examples of "Judeo-Christian" tradition that our founders purposefully eliminated from this government "Of the People, By the People".

    The founders may have grown up surrounded by Judeo-Christian tradition, but they purposefully and strongly excluded the worst of those traditions from the documents that forged this nation.

    To say this is a Christian nation is to ignore the historical context entirely.

  11. Walter says:

    Tony, for the record the phrase "separation of church and state does not appear in the Bill of Right". It stems from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to the Danbury Baptists to alleviate their fears of Congress imposing a religion on the people. It was put in place to protect the people. It has been grossly misrepresenting. Imagine at one time, prayer was allowed in schools. Creation was taught in the classrooms and Congress even opened up their sessions with prayer.

  12. Tony Coyle says:


    I know exactly where the phrase was used, and also to what it alludes.

    It pisses me off greatly when people such as yourself are all 'originalist' when an exact phrase is 'missing' from the constitution, and 'interpretative' when pushing your own Judeo-Christian agenda.

    Only an idiot, or an agenda driven demagogue, would demand the literal text to be present. The establishment clause is clear and unambiguous,

    The first amendment begins:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

    For people unable to interpret those simple words, it means that Congress is not in the religion business, and may not legislate on or about religious matters. Likewise, your free exercise of religion (or none) is entirely your personal concern – the government has no say pro or con.

    Sounds like separation of church and state to me.

    You can believe what you want. You just can't make it the law of the land!

  13. Walter,

    If anyone needs an example of a good reason to read what IS in the Constitution the way we have been for lo several decades now, one need only look at Iran (or the Taliban enclaves) where religion trumps civil rights. Now, you may argue that "well, we wouldn't be like that!" but frankly, given the impossibility of arguing merits with a divinity and by extension a "divinely inspired" organization, I would rather take Jefferson and his contemporaries at their word and keep religion as far out of government as possible. "Originalists" of the Constitution are just as bad as fundamentalist literalists are with the Bible.

    The Supreme Court sided with strict separation as being implicit in the First Amendment, not only as it concerns the free exercise of religion but also as a free speech issue—namely that centuries of history showed that religious organizations have been among the most intolerant with regards to speech and there is no reason to believe it would be any different today.

  14. Karl says:

    There was an alliance that existed between Madison, Jefferson and evangelical Baptists that was anything but an intention to remove religion from public life, but just to keep it out of the forms and structures of the government.

    It was a safe guard to ensure individual freedoms and to keep the people in ultimate control of the government.

    "The evangelical passion for keeping church and state separate had theological roots, too. Christians were to render unto Caesar what was his — the religious and political spheres were meant, by Jesus, to be separate. Just as important, both the Baptists and the philosophers believed in the primacy of individual freedom. For Madison and Jefferson, individual liberty trumped the rights of kings or governments; for evangelicals, an individual's personal relationship with God was more important than church and clerical authority."

    It was the repeated realizations that if any one religion was to gain favor and/or it's support from public policy or funding that this would gravely distort the entire concept of individual freedom and responsibility.

    The evangelicals saw it as a personal individual responsibility and their relationship to God, whereas the deists viewed it as the only way to provide liberty and equality to all men that would prevent tyrants, dictator at bay as well as keep the ecclesiastical arms away from the forms and structures of the government.

    Here's a article just recently published from a modern evangelical perspective concerning the matter.

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