Someone has taken the Coulter Challenge!

It only took five years. Remember, my Coulter Challenge was for someone to take any of Coulter’s paragraphs about evolution from her book Godless, and cogently defend its accuracy. It’s been surprising how few takers there have been: lots of wingnuts have praised the book and said it is wonderful, but no one has been willing to get specific and actually support any of its direct claims. Until now.

It takes that special combination of arrogance and ignorance to think anything Coulter said is defensible, so I suppose it’s not a huge surprise that our brave foolhardy contestant is Michael Egnor.

After professing his deep and entirely uncritical love of Ann Coulter and everything she has ever said, Egnor chooses the very first paragraph of the first chapter on evolution. He might as well, he thinks she’s “right about everything”.

Liberals’ creation myth is Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is about one notch above Scientology in scientific rigor. It’s a make-believe story, based on a theory that is a tautology, with no proof in the scientist’s laboratory or the fossil record—and that’s after 150 years of very determined looking. We wouldn’t still be talking about it but for the fact that liberals think evolution disproves God.

One thing about my Coulter Challenge is that I specifically wanted just one paragraph, one idea, because the typical creationist tactic is to throw out a hundred cursory accusations in a confused mess, so that the poor scientist has to pick through a curdled puddle of logical vomit to find one addressable nugget…and then, of course, once that’s been shown to be fallacious, the creationist can stand over the incoherent crapola he’s spewed forth and demand that we clean everything up, or he’ll declare victory.

Egnor is no exception. He can’t possibly make a simple point lucidly, but has to throw out a lot of frenzied chum to distract and give him an escape hatch: so he babbles about evolution being a religion, atheists, obnoxious Darwinists, Scientology, falsifiability, yadda yadda yadda. It’s badly written, sloppy thinking, and I give him a D on form alone. Any other people taking the challenge, learn from this: try to write something coherent and on point. I’m asking for a scalpel, and when you yank out the kitchen silverware drawer and turn it upside down making a noisy clatter, you aren’t answering the request.

So I picked through the puke and found one chunk from Egnor that seems relevant to Coulter’s claim, so I’ll address that. I’m going to ignore the rest — it’s all a distraction, in which he wants to suck up my time writing an encyclopedia for him, which he will reject anyway.

The most difficult theoretical hurtle [sic] Darwinism has had to face is not, as some have asserted, the problem of building the New Synthesis from Mendelian genetics and Darwin’s (Lamarckian) theory. The most difficult theoretical hurtle [sic] Darwinists faced is disguising ‘stuff changes and survivors survive’ so that its utter banality isn’t obvious. Neologisms don’t just happen by themselves (unlike life). They need to be created. So Darwinists gave us natural selection, sexual selection, kin selection, group selection, reciprocal altruism, disruptive selection, diversifying selection, selective sweeps, background selection, adaptive radiation, punctuated equilibrium. All Darwinian ‘selections’ reduce to: ‘living things vary heritably and survivors survive’. Of course, ‘survivors survive’ is more precisely: ‘relatively more effective replicators relatively more effectively replicate’, but succinctness is a virtue. The great challenge for Darwinian theorists since the 1860’s has been to make Darwin’s banality/tautology (stuff changes and survivors survive) seem like a scientific theory. Slather on the lipstick. You gotta dress up the banality (and the contradictions) with science-sounding stuff.

Coulter and Egnor have dredged up a hoary old creationist argument, long disposed of, that the definition of natural selection is tautological. It’s not. I could just cite the excellent analyses from John Wilkins and Jason Rosenhouse, but I’ll give it a whirl myself — one thing I know about creationists is they don’t read citations, anyway.

First of all, it is a significant advance to recognize that species are not fixed and do change over time. There was a time when this hypothesis was flatly rejected, and it’s a sign of progress that even the creationists nowadays are forced to recognize evidence of patterns of change in species — they just usually try to impose artificial, unsupported claims of barriers that limit change. This is the fact of evolution: life has changed significantly over long ages, and we are all related to all other forms on earth.

Darwin did not come up with that, though. Darwin’s contribution was an explanation for how that change occurred through differential reproductive success of variants in populations. Egnor has distorted that principle through a fallacious reduction to “survivors survive”. That is not what scientists study. We do not go to a field area for a few years, notice that each generation of birds is the progeny of the living individuals of the previous generation, and declare victory; that would be a tautology. (The alternative, that the birds were spawned by the dead zombie corpses of the failed members of the previous generation, would be rather interesting though. Hasn’t happened yet.)

Let’s fix Egnor’s erroneous reduction. “living things vary heritably and survivors survive” doesn’t reduce to l“survivors survive”. More accurately, it should be “living things vary heritably and better adapted variants survive and increase their frequency in the next generation”. That is not a tautology. We can assess degrees of adaptation to local conditions independently of simple survival.

For example, look to the work of Peter and Rosemary Grant in the Galapagos (hey, look, we even have online exercises in which you can analyze the data!). They examined, for instance, the effects of a major drought on their study island; they did not simply say, “some birds will die, some will live, survivors will survive”, but instead made specific predictions that variants that were better able to exploit difficult or marginal resources in this time of starvation would be better able to survive. And that is what they saw: larger beaked birds that were able to crack the spiny, hard-shelled Tribulus seeds were better able to live through the drought, while the smaller beaked birds that couldn’t eat Tribulus seeds at all died off in large numbers. And in the next generation, what they saw was a genetic and morphological shift in that beaks were on average significantly larger.

“Survivors survive” may be tautological, but “large beaked birds survive” is not.

Neither Coulter nor Egnor seem to have the slightest clue about what evolutionary biologists actually do, and their proud ignorance invalidates what they claim to understand as the subject of study in evolution. Every study of evolution is built around specific hypotheses about mechanisms, not dumb blind counts of nothing but the living and the dead, but measures of differential reproductive success against some detailed parameter of their genetics. All those terms Egnor cluelessly throws around — “natural selection, sexual selection, kin selection, group selection, reciprocal altruism, disruptive selection, diversifying selection, selective sweeps, background selection, adaptive radiation, punctuated equilibrium” — have specific, different meanings, and do not reduce to merely “survival”.

As expected, the outcome of the first Coulter Challenge is that one fool, Coulter, is multiplied into two publicly exposed fools, Coulter and Egnor. I like this game, let’s play some more. Next?

(Also on Sb)


  1. says

    ‘living things vary heritably and survivors survive’.

    Better to attack that than the science that shows the intricacies and subtleties of differential reproduction.

    Make it as stupid as “God did it,” and you think your utterly banal claim has become science.

    Egnorance happens.

    Glen Davidson

  2. Alverant says

    So how well did he take losing the challenge? Assuming he accepts the notion that he did lose.

  3. Rambling T. Wreck says

    Is there a creationist argument that doesn’t ultimately boil down to argument from ignorance?

  4. Anteprepro says

    Alverant: “Assuming he accepts the notion that he did lose.”

    Ahahaha. Accept that they were wrong? About anything? That’s not how creationism works. It’s “deny, deny, deny” all the way down.

  5. says


    …succinctness is a virtue.

    Fuck. I wish he’d take his own advice. He must really like typing, because most of his post was a long, rambling, diarrhetic mess. I guess it’s only a virtue when you are trying to create a nice, compact strawman on which to pound.

    But, bloody hell, does he hate atheists.

  6. says


    Of course for a scientist, a moment’s reflection (a moment too long if you want your job) reveals that nothing in the actual evidence excludes intelligent agency. Intelligently designed stuff ‘changes and survives’, too. Banality and tautology works for anything. So atheists, thesauruses in hand, work feverishly to conceal the fact that every bit of evolutionary data is at least as consistent with theism as it is with atheism. Shhhh….

    Why, yes, unless you actually expect life to look at all like it was engineered, caused by intelligent considerations, and somehow different from the slavishly derivative evolutionary processes.

    That they no longer do shows why Egnor has to take off on a long rant to pretend that “God could do it that way” (a completely untestable–and ridiculous–proposition) makes ID into science.

    Glen Davidson

  7. Umkomasia says

    So evolution is only talked about yet because it justifies atheism. Ronald Fisher – active Anglican, Theodosius Dobzhansky – Orthodox Catholic, Ayala – Catholic, Ken Miller – Catholic. I could go on but you see the point.

  8. Ed H. says

    Surely there must be some lone, innocuous paragraph in the mountainous pile of dreck that is Coulter’s Godless that could be defended. Something? Anything? Maybe?

    I’d go looking (I like a challenge) but I couldn’t bear to give that person even a single dime of support. Maybe a trip to the library is in order.

  9. anatheiststhoughts says

    Michael Egnor is evidently a retard.

    It would be great if the Creotard/IDiot movements could give us JUST ONE argument that tests the current theory of evolution, instead of dodging, misinterpreting and lying.

  10. says

    Evolutionary biology– the actual non-ideological study of the fossil record– reveals that organisms have changed over time. The data are clear.

    Darwinism– the ideological study of the fossil record– asserts that evolutionary change is non-teleological. The data are non-existent.

    See, because we can’t (and don’t) actually rule out teleology anywhere, magic did it is every bit as good as the fact that the data are consistent with known processes of reproduction and change.

    And no, your fictional “Darwinism” doesn’t assert that evolutionary change is non-teleological, it notes that teleological causes up until a few million years ago are in short supply outside of religious texts and fairy tales, and that teleology actually looks ahead. As evolutionary evidence reveals no intelligent look ahead, it would be unwise to suppose that Yahweh in fact was involved in it.

    Actually, Egnorant, we’re waiting on evidence for your Designer acting in evolution. Provide it, and it’s in. Don’t provide it, and we’ll stick with demonstrable processes.

    Glen Davidson

  11. fishdoit says

    For me, evolution is simple. Time. All things change in time. Evolution is a fact in time. Creationists are saying that god changes everything in every moment we live in. For creationists, if we all lived in “the now”, their arguement would make sense. But alas, we don’t. In time things erode, become new, grow, divide, shrink, learn, die, move, become light, become dark, etc., etc. Creationists think they don’t need to explain “millions of years ago”. It’s EVOLUTION people, get over it! How does this NOT make sense??

  12. Rambling T. Wreck says

    some lone, innocuous paragraph in the mountainous pile of dreck

    Maybe, but could you ever get the smell off of it?

  13. DocWebster says

    They just don’t care if their arguments make any sort of sense anymore. I remember that there used to be rules for engaging in discussion, now it just seems to be every moron for himself and damn the consequences. These people want to control our lives and our children’s education but the fact that they’re all consciously, profoundly, and willingly retarded by religious belief should disqualify them from any public discourse and it doesn’t. I grieve for the days when I was ignorant of the evil around me.

  14. Paul Y says

    Rambling T. Wreck: “Is there a creationist argument that doesn’t ultimately boil down to argument from ignorance?”

    Sure there is! Argument from personal incredulity; i.e., “if I don’t understand it, nobody else possibly can.”

  15. Dianne says

    Neologisms don’t just happen by themselves (unlike life). They need to be created.

    Wait a minute. I thought Engor was arguing in favor of creationism (as per Coulter’s quote). He understands that life happened “by itself” (i.e. without the need for a creator, only needing relevant precursors and energy)? I suppose he could be arguing for spontaneous generation, but he follows up with a specific statement that neologisms, in contrast to life, need to be created. It must follow that life doesn’t need to be created. The rest of his argument sounds like someone rolling his eyes and saying, “Evolution’s so obvious why do we have to spend so much time discussing it” rather than someone arguing against it. Are you sure Engor’s not a stealth satire?

  16. Rambling T. Wreck says

    Paul Y:

    I see the argument from personal incredulity as simply being “I’m ignorant of how this works, therefore I don’t understand it, don’t believe it, and neither should you.” It’s still ignorance, at the base of it.

  17. Linus says

    I am scratching my head, between Coulter and Egnor who is a bigger egnoramus?

    Then I give my self a rap on the back of my head, “You fool!” I tell myself, “As if you needed to read all that bilge and wastefully spend the time to read that ton load of s#1t.”

    Chastised, I slink, to the world of sane beings…

  18. Vicki, running low on patience says

    About all “survivors survive” is good for is pointing out that we can’t always know who will survive, because conditions are unpredictable and we may not know all of the organism’s traits. And that nature won’t necessarily follow your aesthetics, or mine. Surviving is not a proof of moral superiority, or that someone/some organism is superior on the particular axis you’re looking at.

  19. noodlehead says

    I was going to submit the “About the Author” page from Coulter’s book for you to refute. I figured that’s maybe the only part of the book that is even remotely based in any reality.

    Unfortunately, I think I forgot all about Ann Coulter, and my life was pleasant for a time.

  20. ThirdMonkey says

    Alverant: “Assuming he accepts the notion that he did lose.”

    Far more likely he will claim victory.

    Anyone ever see the movie “Kung Fu, Enter the Fist”? It’s a martial arts satire. One of the characters, as a joke, was taught by his kung fu teacher that losing was actually winning. He would get is butt kicked and think that he had won. He was most proud of his devastating “Your foot to my balls” technique.

    I think creationists are like that. Doesn’t matter how many times you kick them in the nuts, they still think they are winning.

  21. says

    A man who cannot overcome the “hurtle” of using spellcheck is going to discredit 150+ years of evolutionary science.


  22. HistidineTheCat says

    Can someone explain to me what the tautology argument is supposed to accomplish?

    I’ve always been fine with creationists trying to claim that natural selection is a tautology. Alright, even if it is – so what? YOU’RE the one trying to claim that it’s false!

    The theory of evolution has no shortage of testable hypotheses; why quibble so vehemently about such a minor point?

  23. Psych-Oh says

    I went to read Egnor’s blog and I thought it was satire. It is hard for me to believe that someone with half a brain could take Coulter seriously. Is Egnor really a neurosurgeon? If so, I am truly frightened.

  24. jasondick says

    Great post, PZ! Makes me want to write out my own (succinct as possible) argument:

    Survivors survive is obviously a tautology. This isn’t the important point, though I think I’d prefer to amend it to “reproducers reproduce”, as mere survival doesn’t say much about what goes on to the next generation. With that said, Darwin’s central insight wasn’t the tautology of “reproducers reproduce”, but rather the fact that this tautology mattered.

    You see, 2+2=4 is also a tautology. It’s absolutely true. But it is completely worthless if you’re trying to see how many bits of fruit you have when you combine three apples and four pears. So the insight isn’t that reproducers reproduce, but that this makes a difference. Specifically, Darwin’s insight was the connection of this tautology to the two facts that there are variations within populations, and children resemble their parents. The combination of these two facts shows that the tautology of “reproducers reproduce” matters. And the really cool thing is that when this is combined with a third fact, that there is a mechanism for generating new sorts of variants that have never before been seen, this explains all of the diversity of all of the life on Earth.

  25. zachofalltrades says

    Holy shit! How in the hell does a fucking neurosurgeon not recognize evolution!? I don’t get how that even happens! I could see how, say, an English major could make it through schooling believing that natural selection doesn’t happen, but how much biology do you have to take to call yourself a neurosurgeon?

  26. says

    Someone should tell Egnor that sarcasm only works if not applied to a strawman. Or a straw ‘hurtle’, maybe.

  27. Stonyground says

    He basically falls at the first hurdle by failing to correct or support the notion that evolution is a creation myth. Evolution has nothing to do with the origin of the universe or even the origin of life. evolution deals with the source of biodiversity and nothing else.

    The idea that evolution supports atheism is also false. If your god claims to have created life in a specific way, then yes, evolution exposes your god as being either a liar or non-existant. there are, however, many other concepts of God that could be compatible with the theory of evolution, in fact, many Christians have customised their idea of God to make him compatible.

    The guy does at least deserve credit for allowing hostile comments on his blog, unlike most religious types. It must be a bit demoralising when practically every poster disagrees with you though.

  28. tlawry says

    The only equivalent to this sort of silly verbal tricks that I know of is the so called “post modernist” critiques of science by phony posing academic leftists that were so convincingly spoofed in the Sokal Hoax. I guess there are only so many ways to be nutty, so phony pretentious loons sound the same whether they pretend to be left or right.

  29. lazybird says

    I guess being egnorant means facing some difficult hurtles, like understanding biology and English.

  30. broboxley OT says

    “Is there a creationist argument that doesn’t ultimately boil down to argument from ignorance?”

    hmmm how about “dang! that’s a good lookin monkey!” sets back, checks watch

  31. jj says

    RE: Survivors Survive

    What’s the definition of survive he’s using? In all truth nothing survives, that is, everything dies eventually.

    Reproduction? IS that what he’s getting at? Fecundity? I’, confused to how “survivors survive” has anything to do with anything. Thank you for defining what a survivor is, it really showed me evolution is false…

  32. Vinny says

    StonyBrook is a very credible institution both as a University and a Hospital. If you live on Long Island and need to be in a hospital, you want to go there. Except for the elevators. They suck. And now Egnor.

    I guess I’ll go into the city next time.

  33. tussock says

    Dude’s spiel was all about how evolution was so obviously true (like, obviously anything which becomes more likely to survive at random is going to survive more often) that anyone speaking about it is being tautological, which, given that tautologies are a fallacious line of reasoning, shows evolution must be false.

    Thus using his own faulty logic to show that: if true; then false. Plus, you know, all the ranting.

    Here, I’ll try.

    You “Round Earth” people say the earth is round because satellites fly around it, but that’s like saying round is round, which is a tautology, and that means you’re wrong, so the earth is flat! Ha!

  34. snarkmatter says

    @zachofalltrades #31

    The same way a woman I know plans on being a zoologist and ignoring evolution: memorize the answers to pass the class, then reject it when done. You see, it’s all about mimicry. Functionality and contribution to your field is not a must; “don’t think, just do” is all that is necessary in America.

  35. says

    Holy shit! How in the hell does a fucking neurosurgeon not recognize evolution!? I don’t get how that even happens! I could see how, say, an English major could make it through schooling believing that natural selection doesn’t happen, but how much biology do you have to take to call yourself a neurosurgeon?

    Erm, pardon me, but English major here – English majors may not be required to concentrate their studies in science, but science classes are often required as part of general education in order to get a degree. As someone said on a previous post, one does not need to be scientifically trained in order to be scientifically literate. Seeing as how reading comprehension and analysis is highly emphasized in English major studies, an English major is no more or less likely to be susceptible to the fallacious thinking exhibited by Egnor.

  36. says


    Thus using his own faulty logic to show that: if true; then false. Plus, you know, all the ranting.

    Which makes me wonder if he’s not a very dedicated Poe/troll. Like Landover Baptist, only without the talent.

    I mean, I’m pretty sure he’s sincere, but it’s really hard to accept anyone could be so … well, just wrong. Wrong in facts, wrong in assumptions, wrong in presuppositions, wrong in reason, wrong in conclusions.

    Just, you know, wrong.

  37. nopeter says

    Egnor said:
    Evolutionary biology, which is a field of science within which Darwinism is a theory, is obviously real science and has contributed substantially to our knowledge of life. The cataloging of fossils and species, the study of changes in anatomy and function, the study of changes in living populations, are all genuine and important scientific endeavors. These tasks have long been a part of biology

    Evolutionary biology– the actual non-ideological study of the fossil record– reveals that organisms have changed over time. The data are clear.

    In other words, Egnor disagrees with Coulter, and accepts evolution.
    What makes Egnor ignorant enough to start about atheism as if ‘Darwinism’ is something quite different from evolutionary biology?

  38. Zinc Avenger says

    Ah, the good ol’ argument from non-sequitur.

    Evolution is true. Atheists! Therefore evolution is false. Squirrel!

  39. mastmaker says

    In before reading the 38 comments. Sorry if repeat.

    PZ, you just tore apart the commentary by Egnor, but ignored the original ‘verses’ from the great AC. How about a few lines of ‘refudiation’ of those as well? Especially ‘liberals think evolution disproves God’ bit.

  40. Chris says

    “Darwin’s (Lamarckian) theory”

    I don’t know how you managed to resist that one!

  41. Don Quijote says

    Biology lesson; A hurtle is a close relative of the turtle but it can jump up and give you a nasty bite on the neck.

  42. Lauren Ipsum says

    @31: Hey, I’m an English major and I don’t believe any of Egnor’s crap! I’ll cheerfully admit I only got through freshman biology in college, because it was a degree requirement, but I understand how science and the scientific method work. Just because I focused on Measure for Measure instead of measuring algae colony growth doesn’t mean I don’t grasp the basics of evolution.

    (And I will also admit that I’ve probably learned as much about biology from PZ’s blog as I did from that entire year of freshman biology. PZ explains things much more clearly than our textbook did.)

  43. says

    For anyone who is wondering if Egnor is a Poe, I seriously doubt it. He is much too enamored of Aquinas to really be a Poe – he has spent several blog posts espousing Aquinas’ arguments ad nauseum. He is a dyed in the wool Aquinas fanboy, buying in to Aquinas’ “Prime Mover” argument, the Thoman “mind-body dualism”, and pretty much anything else that allows him to attack “materialism”. He also demonstrates that he has as little understanding of concepts like determinism as he has of evolution by natural selection. His stock-in-trade appears to be to mischaracterize the arguments of his opponents and then knock them down. Classic straw-maning.

    I have noticed that a lot of amateur apologists have been trotting out Aquinas like they think he is some sort of magic bullet. I guess that they haven’t noticed that eight hundred years have passed and Aquinas’ understanding of the world was, well, shall we say it was pretty limited.

  44. says

    There is some good in all this: The theory of evolution says nothing of faith and religion. Science just moves along doing its thing. The religious believers see evolution as a threat, but maybe not for the reason everyone thinks. Think about it. If one person faithfully prays for success and survival in this natural world and another scientifically prepares for survival, who do you think will survive? The faithers are destined via suicidal selection for extinction. Too bad evolution is so slow.

  45. Anubis Bloodsin III says


    “Aquinas’ understanding of the world was, well, shall we say it was pretty limited.”

    That why these jerk off’s love him, he reflects there mentality perfectly…ignorant and proud of it!

    Their sorry excuse for a brain gents overloaded trying to breath and eat at the same time, Aquinas espouses and discusses a simpler world, he is really their fan boy… and the only thing they got!

  46. Owlmirror says

    A man who cannot overcome the “hurtle” of using spellcheck is going to discredit 150+ years of evolutionary science.

    If he had used spellcheck (alone), it would not have caught any error. The word “hurtle” is correctly spelled.

    It’s just the wrong word for the context. He needed to proofread, and read for understanding.

  47. ariamezzo says

    I tried to read Egnor’s blog post. I had to stop when he started claiming that finding evidence of Xenu and thetans was more reasonable than finding evidence of evolution.

    I mean, really? Seriously? What the fuck. There does not exist a word to describe a level of stupidity below even stupidity. Is this why we have the word “anti-intellectual,” because his intellect goes into the opposite spectrum of the negative and sucks the force out of anything good and empirical?

  48. Doug says

    Oof, reading that guy Egnor’s blog literally just made me cringe. I don’t even think Coulter takes herself that seriously with the stupid things she says…

  49. says

    It’s just the wrong word for the context. He needed to proofread, and read for understanding.

    He doesn’t seem to proofread much. Looking through his posts I noticed a lot of other homonyms incorrectly used – one that springs to mind is his use of “tow the line” when he really means “toe the line”. But since he makes the same mistakes consistently – substituting “hurtle” when he means “hurdle”, one can only conclude that he thinks these are the correct words to use. Which makes me wonder just how good his academic work is, since such fundamental misuse of simple vocabulary words does not make me think his academic papers are coherent at all.

  50. Carlie says

    Wasn’t that a Dr. Seuss book? Hurtle the Turtle?

    Differential survival: not a tautology!

  51. IslandBrewer says

    I’m constantly baffled by these people. “Species change over time,” he admits. And they’re always going on and on about “microevolution” (which they don’t really get, anyway).

    But then, the whole “natural selection is a tautology, ‘survivors survive'” contradicts what they just said. Natural selection provides that the genetic frequency and make up of a population may change from one generation to the next as a result of environmental conditions creating selective survival based on heritable characteristics. 1) How is that tautological? and 2) How is this different from their understanding that “species change over time”?

    Are they going to break the switch turning their brains on and off so frequently?

  52. knut7777 says

    A neurosurgeon? I would not trust a single neuron to this guy. He has demonstrated he is a credulous fool.

  53. IslandBrewer says

    Oh, and I dearly hope Egnor posts in this thread. It’s been awhile since I’ve been entertained by a new chewtoy. And does he realize how acute the irony is in his blog name?

  54. 'Tis Himself, pour encourager les autres says

    Hurtle is what you do when you try to explain something you don’t understand. It’s like physical hurting only you do it to your mind.

  55. Brother Yam says

    Hurtle is when you attempt a leap of logic and trip on your shoelace, resulting in a faceplant.

  56. First Approximation (formerly Feynmaniac) says

    If I didn’t know better I would swear this guy was a Poe.

  57. julian says

    Michael Egnor? From Stony Brook?

    Holy crap! I haven’t heard about him since I was filling out college applications. Reading one of Steven Novella’s takedowns of him convinced me not to apply to Stony Brook (ended up not going to any of the schools I got accepted to). Jesus it’s been what? five or six years and he still hasn’t changed?


  58. says

    She’s basically right about everything, and the only thing I don’t like about her books and T.V. appearances is that when she attacks atheists/Darwinists/liberals she’s so clever that my sides ache from laughing.

    I did LOL, for real.

    One gets a pretty good idea of how profound a person is from what they find funny.

    Egnor finds ham-handed and dishonest attacks funny.

    She is a damn sight more clever than this bozo’s earnest idiocy. And she’s not really all that clever–a bit more than most of her detractors generally allow, though. I could actually see Coulter learning, if she ever actually had to–I suspect she’s been coasting since college, other than to learn enough to distort and attack–as she can actually be clever about many matters, with even a dim understanding of the other side on political issues.

    Like the Egnorant troll, though, she fails to even grasp what evolution and its evidence even are and what they mean.

    Glen Davidson

  59. says

    Egnor isn’t all that different from these people.

    Conspiracies. Creationism. Devoid of reality. I know not everyone has a facebook, but the page is public so you can view some of the topics going on here. Maybe I am the only one interested in this- I don’t know much about the age demographics on Pharyngula.

    -Mike G

    (Cross posted from SB)

  60. Aztec says

    Wow, that was a bad text! One would imagine that if these creationists actually wanted to be taken seriously, they would at least try to write a coherent text. This was like written by a 10-year-old. A long list of inconsistent claims, straw men, stupefying ignorance and logical fallacies. How on earth does this Egnor think anyone would take him seriously if he writes stuff like this?

  61. naturalcynic says

    @ 33 stonyground;

    The guy does at least deserve credit for allowing hostile comments on his blog, unlike most religious types. It must be a bit demoralising when practically every poster disagrees with you though.

    If one had any sense, maybe so, but we’re dealing with Egnor here. He is guilty of the sin of pride and he cannot recognize it in himself. In his mind, he probably thinks that his holy self is beset by Darwinist Demons. The fact that he has learned so little in his encounters with the demons is due to his pride in his very own puddle of murky thoughts. It is a common fault in Christians and becomes stronger as one gets further into dogmatic belief. He’d rather be a martyr for his ignorance than learn.

  62. says

    If one could actually prove Intelligent Design it wouldn’t prove the existence of the Omnipotent God the Christians supposedly believe in. Rather it would be strong evidence the designer was inept or lazy given how poor so much of their work is.

  63. naturalcynic says

    @ 61 Aaron:

    one that springs to mind is his use of “tow the line” when he really means “toe the line”

    Actually, both could be correct: “toe the line” would mean that one puts oneself into a proper position [to follow and expound a certain orthodoxy]; while “tow the line” comes from animals or people that pull on a rope to tow a barge [the barge taking the place of the same orthodoxy].

  64. Dave says

    This is a deplorable argument:

    (1) Evolution is tautological;
    (c) Therefore, evolution is false.

    Let’s assume the premise is true (it isn’t, but play along). What do we know about tautologies? Well, for one, they cannot be false! ‘Humans are humans’ is a tautology. So is, ‘it is what it is’. All tautologies must be true, false tautologies are impossible. Hence, if evolution is tautological, evolution is true (and must be true, it couldn’t be any other way). So it is completely and utterly irrational to believe, as Egnor seems to, that evolution is both a tautology and false.

    Furthermore, ‘survivors survive’ does not actually read as a tautology to me. Here is why: no survivors of the Titanic wreck survive; hence, some survivors do not survive; thus, not all survivors survive.

    In conclusion: wtf Egnor? QED

  65. peterh says

    “…Or, he could’ve saved us all a bundle of time, and tried for understanding before he wrote.”

    If he had really tried for understanding, he couldn’t have faced up to PZ’s challenge.

  66. RedGreenInBlue says

    While everyone’s discussing homophones, etymology and the like, can I just say, “ad nauseam“, since I saw it in the comments?

    In Latin the preposition “ad” (= to, towards) takes the accusative case. “Nausea” is a regular first-declension noun, with the stem “nause-“. The ending for the accusative singular case of first-declension nouns is “-am”, and therefore the Latin for “to nausea” would be “ad nauseam“, not “ad nauseum” (which would imply a 2nd-declension noun. Possibly a 4th-decl. noun but I can’t think of any whose stem ends in “e”)…

    I will now get my coat and leave quietly before I bore even myself to sleep and disturb everyone with my snoring. (Still more exciting than rehashing old creationist tropes though :-D )

  67. says

    “Neologisms don’t just happen by themselves (unlike life).”

    So … wait! What!? So he admitted life just happens by itself?

  68. Anteprepro says

    I’m assuming that that was an attempt at mockery on the part of Egnor, The Sailor. The fact that it wasn’t funny is par for the course from someone who thinks Coulter is.

  69. Loqi says

    After reading the third paragraph, I’ve determined that Michael Egnore is what happens when Ann Coulter decides to play doctor. Seriously, they’re the same person.

  70. ChasCPeterson says

    Actually, both could be correct: … “tow the line” comes from animals or people that pull on a rope to tow a barge

    FFS, this crap again?
    No! “Tow the line” is meaningless and wrong. Nobody has ever had to tow a line or tow something along a line. It makes no sense. It’s wrong wrongitty wrongwrong and I do not understand why so many people think it’s defensible.

  71. ChasCPeterson says

    Reading one of Steven Novella’s takedowns of him convinced me not to apply to Stony Brook

    Unless you were trying to get into the med school (and I doubt you were if you didn’t go to any schools that accepted you), that was a really stupid reason for that decision.
    Dr. Egnor has absolutely nothing to do with the University itself, and they have one of the best biology departments in the world.

  72. shawnthesheep says

    Add me to the list of scientifically literate English majors. While I did not take many science classes in college, I’ve always been fascinated by biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, etc., and the reading comprehension skills I developed in school have enabled me to understand a lot of scientific writing. Of course the biggest hurtle to comprehension in any academic subject is unfamiliar jargon. But I’ve always been a hurtler. And hurtlers hurtle.

    Many scientists could actually learn a great deal from lowly English majors. There are a great deal of brilliant scientists who are horrible writers.

  73. says

    Sorry to through this off track, but this is buried deep enough in the comments that I think I can get away with it:

    Well, Vox Day is pissed off enough at me I guess that he went and made a post about me. Should I be honoured or offended?

    Anyway, I explain how he lies about me and ask him a few questions for him to answer. It takes a few posts though: that commenting system over there keeps mangling my posts.

    My message still gets across, but Argh..Damnit, thats why I hardly go over there. The commentators are no big deal, but god fucking DAMN I hate “coco comment”. I’m the only one that has that trouble too, which makes it worse.

    Done venting.

  74. says

    Egnor has signed the Dissent From Darwin list, agreeing with “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. ”

    Here he shows that he knows ‘Darwinists’ are also skeptical of [only] random mutation and natural selection. He shows that he is aware of: “natural selection, sexual selection, kin selection, group selection, reciprocal altruism, disruptive selection, diversifying selection, selective sweeps, background selection, adaptive radiation, punctuated equilibrium. ”

    Perhaps now he can see he is not disagreeing with ‘Darwinists’, but agreeing with them and that the Dissent From Darwin list is dishonest.

  75. Anteprepro says

    I assume that it is a joke because the “unlike life” line sounds like it could plausibly be sarcasm, considering he is in the process of writing a creationist screed and creationists just love to stress how, without thumping the Bible, you have to necessarily believe that Insert Here came from nothing. Am I the only with that interpretation here?

    (I will admit that, since creationists believe 6 impossible before breakfast at minimum, that it might be some admission on his part as his cognitives try to dissonance themselves. Guess it depends which way you squint at the particular part of his nonsense).

  76. stevarious says

    Wow, I took a glance at some of the older posts on Egnor’s blog and he truly is delusional, and not just about evolution. Check out this gem:

    “All Catholic power is exercised without violence and with the consent of the faithful. I can disobey the Church any time I choose. I chose to join it. I choose to give it money, or not. I choose to believe in its teachings and obey its teachings.

    The Catholic Church is the freest and least expensive form of ‘rule’ on earth. Atheism in state power is the most totalitarian rule in human history. “

    Yeah, that’s right, he actually said that. My Poe-meter is swinging wildly but I actually think he’s honest.

  77. WhiteHatLurker says

    Well PZ, you’re braver than I am. I almost “hurlted” reading that.

    So all I need to do to disprove Scientology is not find their DC10 spaceship? Frantic digging through pockets, sofa cushions, … done. Also didn’t find any gods, does that disprove the Judeo-Christian belief system?

  78. says

    Real scientific theories propose extraordinarily specific descriptions of nature, usually expressed mathematically.

    You know, like germ theory.

    Well there you are, Dr. Egnor probably thinks that’s an atheist conspiracy as well.

    Glen Davidson

  79. entropy says

    (I also left this at the other pharyngula blog.)

    That better adapted members of a population will survive is a tautology in the sense that is is necessary true. But that is not evolution. It is one of its premises (an undeniable one, thus they rather attack it as if it were a fallacy). Creationists such as these imbeciles (Coulter and Egnor) are playing with a fallacy of equivocation. Tautogy has many meanings. It is not a problem for evolution that the better adapted necessarily will have a higher probability to survive, just as it is not a problem for science that A is A (the most basic tautology: the law of identity). The same word, tautology, is used to describe the rhetorical trick of repeating something in different ways, as in circular reasoning. That’s where the equivocation stands. They describe a tautology in the sense of something that is necessarily true, while expecting their audience to mistake it as the fallacy or rhetorical device. But if their basic reasoning worked, then they would have to agree that since them being themselves is a tautology, then they are a fallacy.
    Got it? This is a kind of equivocation typical of creationists. One where, if not trained in philosophy, we would just feel that there is something wrong, but not be able to explain exactly why. The trick is bloody good because most of the audience will never notice the equivocation. This is why creationists train so heavily in rhetorics. Their purpose is to confuse, not to attain truth.
    On a side note, it is probably the obviousness of the survival of the better adapted that strikes a newcomer into evolutionary lore as so obvious that only an imbecile would deny it. One main thing that gives us that feeling of eureka. Its other premises, while less obvious, still make for an endorphin-releasing experience: that such better adapted individuals will inherit their advantageous characteristics to their offspring is not a tautology, it is a consistent observation, and we understand now how and why it happens (mostly). That populations are variable (which comes before the “tautology”), is not a tautology either, but it is a readily observable and undeniable fact. That mutations are one of the main things behind that variability is another proposition … Et cetera.
    So, simpler: accusing evolution of being a tautology is both a fallacy of equivocation (mistake necessary truth for circular reasoning), and … something os a straw-man that reduces evolution to one of its premises. It could also be a fallacy of composition whereby because one premise is undeniably and necessarily true, thus evolution, the theory, is undeniably and necessarily true … hum, I like the sound of that! (Shit, as you see, the equivocation easily confuses my discourse. So I stop here hoping not to have made this into a mess.)

  80. RickK says

    Michael Egnor’s sidebar is quotes of people who’ve criticized him. He lies openly in his posts, does a few drive-by snarks at commenters, often using potty humor, then goes silent when the challenges get too hard.

    For some reason, being a neurosurgeon isn’t good enough for him. He needs to measure himself by how much the internet takes notice of his little blog. You’ve done him a great service, PZ, by giving him what he most craves – attention. Your arguments are meaningless, your takedowns of his nonsense, just like Steve Novella’s takedowns, don’t matter. They just play into Egnor’s sad need to be noticed.

  81. irritable says

    Debaters aiming at the dumbest in the audience love potent aphorisms like:

    “Survivors survive.”

    Neatly implies evolutionary theory is tautologous, therefore foolish.

    The remedy is to enlarge the aphorism to make it truthful. For example:

    “Survivors survive because they’re special, and pass the advantage to their descendants”.

    (Not that this version is especially catchy; but you get the picture).

  82. Tim DeLaney says

    IMO, Egnor is not a poe, but a classic example of the Dunning-Kreuger effect. With only the faintest of biological knowledge (and most of that garbled), he presumes that he knows the subject better than scholars who has devoted their lives to the study of evolutionary biology. (I could cite PZ, Dawkins, Moran, Coyne and a cast of thousands.)

    To be blunt, Egnor is just too stupid to know how stupid he is. I know I’m perhaps stating the D-K effect too simplistically, and perhaps not accurately in a technical sense, but it’s plain to me that he is well out of his depth.

    He is also very deficient in argument and writing skills. I have a 14 year old granddaughter who could hand him his head before breakfast tomorrow morning. PZ was generous in grading his essay as a D on form alone; it was a clear F in my mind.

  83. Chris Booth says

    Ah, now I see what Egnor’s problem is: He thinks its hurtles all the way down.

    What a morass of projection this lying imbecile spews.

  84. irritable says

    Is”stupid” the right word? He got through medical school and appears to be a skilful surgeon (yeah, I know, biological mechanics need more dexterity than logical reasoning power).

    I’m not sure that Kruger/Dunning applies, because its not so much that he has low competence in biology, rather that he has a Pet Theory which dominates his thinking and a disordered personality of a type commonly seen in internet debates – the Impervious Troll.

    No humiliation is sufficient to inhibit his puerile jeering.

  85. madscientist says

    Darwin was a Lamarckian? Egnor never misses an opportunity to prove himself a fool and an imbecile.

  86. says

    Yes, survivors survive, but why is the key piece of the puzzle.

    1. There is heritable variation among organisms.
    2. That variation can aide or hinder reproductive success.
    3. Therefore, ‘survivors survive’ describes that which aides in the reproductive process.

    Not a tautology, but deductively necessary. The meaning is derived from the process, not the outcome. This shouldn’t be news either – Darwin explained this in The Origin Of Species in the chapter, funnily enough, titled Natural Selection.

  87. SallyStrange says

    He thinks its hurtles all the way down.

    You win the internet today, sir. Would you like it delivered, or will you be picking it up?

  88. Chris Booth says


    Now I’ve double-posted, too. Sorry!

    The mendacious creationists (I know, it is redundant) have been caught square by intellectual equipage they didn’t posses time and time again. We point out that Genesis is a creation myth; we show their reasoning tautological; we point out their use of straw men and other logical fallacies; and…well, they don’t quite get it, but they know they’ve been tagged and tagged good. So they do what kids do in the playground: accuse the other of what they’ve been laughed at for. Like the fat kid telling another “you’re fat” or the ugly kid saying “you’re ugly”. It zinged them, so they throw it out as a weapon, too.

    So, Egnor begins his blather with the same kind of statement, referring to evolution as a “creation myth”. Because Genesis is a creation myth. In his cloudy mind, he grasps that “creation myth” is not science and he loses all credibility when it applies to his position; but he wants the veracity of science…so its monkey-see-monkey-do all the way down. But for all that, evolution isn’t even the science that corresponds to “creation myth”–that’s cosmology. That is, a science that budded off from astronomy versus a field of science that budded off from biology. So, right off the bat, we have a falsehood from him. A person who can’t tell the difference between astronomy and biology is worse than uneducated, he or she is bogglingly stupid (so stupid that the medical licensing boards should be sitting up in horror) or if he or she is not stupid, then he or she is staggeringly dishonest, because this is a gross false equation. Astronomy /= biology…and a surgeon should be able to tell the difference; if he is able to grok the distinction between astronomy and biology, then he is completely lacking in personal integrity, and the medical licensing board should be sitting up in horror even quicker.

    This monkey-see-monkey-do kind of argument is rife all through Egnor’s blather. Tautology! Oh, he’s been caught good with that one! So he’ll use it! But it doesn’t apply. Think, Egnor think! What to do? Ah! Straw-man tautology! The issue is not that “survivors survive”, that is entirely his mendacity; the issue is that those who survive [to sexual maturity] reproduce [and pass on the traits that allowed them to survive to sexual maturity]. There is only a claim of tautology if he lies and says there is.

    And so it goes. That is the quality of his argument. Intellectual bottom-feeder.

    No wonder he hates those whose outlook is reason-based. Every time he opens his mouth, he shows himself for what he is, he gets caught out, and it is pointed out in front of all the other kids. He is a creationist out of ego: being God’s BFF makes him nigh unto, and he wants to claim authority while having done no more homework than claiming to be God’s BFF. His ego doesn’t like the truth its nose gets rubbed in, and a feedback loop of resentment and mendacity results.

    And so it goes.

  89. TimKO,,.,, says

    “Evolution is a creation myth”

    About changes, not creation.
    Verifiable, not mythology.

    Clearly Coulter just stuck that chapter in the book because she knows what sells to her base, not because it was a lucid argument.

    Egnor will be predictable. There will be ambulatory goalposts, reintroduction of past arguments, word salad, shuffling of direct questions, quote-mining, the ignoring of cited articles/proofs, and avoidance of evidence contrary to the false world he has embraced/built.

  90. says

    The appalling lack of writing skills by pretty much every creationist never ceases to amaze me. I usually have to stumble through their jumbled prose a couple of times just to assemble a coherent idea. How do they even read each other’s stuff?

  91. Dianne says

    On reflection, I think Engor’s argument comes under the category of Not Even Wrong. It’s so completely content free that it’s nearly impossible to argue against simply because there is nothing there to argue about.

  92. says

    (The alternative, that the birds were spawned by the dead zombie corpses of the failed members of the previous generation, would be rather interesting though. Hasn’t happened yet.)

    Wouldn’t that be the bird on “The sole Arabian tree” (to quote the Bard), the Phoenix?   :-)
    Of course, then it’s turtles* all the way down.

    * Dove-y rather than Hurtle-y turtles.

  93. says

    The truly amusing thing about guys like Egnor is that they think that the drivel they spout constitute brilliant, insightful, and devastating takedowns of the science they decry. Egnor compounds his foolishness by thinking that by trotting out the tired and worn pontifications of Aquinas he is somehow destroying the arguments of atheists as well. The level of cluelessness displayed by Egnor is truly stunning in its scope.

  94. Who Cares says

    IslandBrewer (#65) says:

    And does he realize how acute the irony is in his blog name?

    Oh yes he knows. He only started that blog after people started calling his brand of stupid egnorance and rubbed his nose in that a few times.

  95. says

    Chris Booth #116

    So they do what kids do in the playground: accuse the other of what they’ve been laughed at for. Like the fat kid telling another “you’re fat” or the ugly kid saying “you’re ugly”.

    Ah yes, the argument from I’m rubber and you’re glue. A classic.

  96. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Differential survival: not a tautology!

    Infinite regress: a complete turtology!

  97. says

    I encountered this argument when I was a wee philosophy student, and it didn’t impress me then. But it wasn’t directed against evolution alone, it was directed against ALL scientific theories. I think to be consistent, Egnor would have to apply this argument universally AND argue that all language is circular. But that doesn’t leave him with a very tenable position, does it?

  98. David Rolfe says

    Don Quijote says:

    Biology lesson; A hurtle is a close relative of the turtle but it can jump up and give you a nasty bite on the neck.

    So then a hurtle is very similar to a Koopa?!

  99. says

    And Egnor has “responded”. You don’t have to bother go reading it. I can encapsulate everything in his lengthy response in three sentences:

    “Survivor’s survive is a tautology! I don’t understand any of what PZ Myers said in response to my original attempt! Atheists are bad!”

    That’s pretty much it.