It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy

No, really, I’m not being sarcastic. Paul Nelson is a nice guy. But he’s afflicted by an obdurate wrongness and he’s convinced that he’s got the intellectual chops to show he’s right…and he really doesn’t. He’s a young earth creationist and an intelligent design creationist, and he wrote to challenge Jerry Coyne, with much hubris. He said, in part:

Readers who already know about the thinking of workers such as Eric Davidson, Michael Lynch, Andreas Wagner, John Gerhart & Marc Kirschner, or Scott Gilbert (all of whom, among many others, have recently expressed frank doubts about selection) must discount what you say about the centrality of natural selection to evolutionary theory — because they know that just isn’t so.

I know the work of all those people — I could tell you that they don’t discount the importance of natural selection, but they do also consider other mechanisms important. Coyne knows them better — Lynch was even at the University of Chicago that day giving a lecture — and he wrote to them all and asked them personally if they agreed with Nelson’s summary of their position. The results were hilarious: all of them said no way.

Nelson made the big mistake of dragging in living scientists and claiming that they all supported his claim that evolution was on the ropes. Didn’t he get the memo? It’s best to cite long dead prominent scientists, especially ones who died before the middle years of the 19th century.

But then it gets sad. Read into the comments, and you’ll find Nelson commenting, trying to reassert that really, all those people are mistaken, and he knows better than they do, that they really expose a weakness of evolution — that because they understand that many features have a non-adaptive origin (hey, didn’t I just make that argument?), that they are therefore questioning the importance of natural selection. He’s relying on quote mining to make arguments from authority. It’s pathetic. It’s dismal. It’s self-destructive. It’s disgraceful. It’s a typical creationist move.

Stop digging, Nelson, stop digging!

P.S. Oh, no! I forgot to celebrate the 8th Paul Nelson day last April! (Note that I even predicted that I might forget.) Remind me in a few months.


  1. Ichthyic says

    It really was hilarious. One of Lynch’s grad students was trying to set Paul straight on something Lynch said in a published paper, and Paul actually asked him to go ask Lynch about it, then REFUSED to agree with what Matthew, the grad student, wrote was Lynch’s actual response, that he got from walking over to Lynch’s office and asking him!

    it was… remarkable.

    I asked Paul:

    “What’s more likely, Paul, that both Lynch and his graduate student are misrepresenting Lynch’s OWN work, repeatedly, right now, or you are? You, with absolutely no background in the field at all.”


  2. golkarian says

    Just came from the comments over there, very frustrating, at least there are enough people that I don’t feel obliged to get into it.

  3. says

    Oh, jeez, Jonathan M. You know, arguing from differences in dates is exactly the same argument as “if evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?” We don’t expect transitional forms to go abruptly extinct and be replaced world-wide in an instant by a successor species.

  4. says

    Look, it’s group selection, pure and simple. (jk, JC doesn’t like that, if I remember correctly).
    First, evolution, then climate science, followed by disagreement that tobacco causes cancer. Or maybe a straight jump to homeopathy and get it over with.
    These people look for what they think are exceptions among overwhelming evidence, that that is enough to shatter the whole foundation of evolution. To bad they never apply that principle to their own reasoning.

    Okay, that isn’t a case of little exceptions vs. overwhelming evidence, but you get the point.

  5. DLC says

    How in the name of all that’s good in life can anyone possibly be a young earth creationist and claim that there is scientifically credible evidence to back them up ?
    It’s like saying Jesus had a Glock 40 in his pocket during the last supper — a big giant non-sequitur.

  6. Sastra says

    Paul Nelson is behaving very strangely in that thread. He keeps citing the passages from the evolutionary scientists whom he claim support his point — despite the fact that the scientists themselves have written no, that’s not what they’re saying. “But look, READ this!”

    Someone asked him what I think is a very good question: “are you attempting to justify your mistaken impression or are you trying to argue that their statements to Jerry are wrong and that you know their true beliefs as revealed in these snippets?”

    Last time I checked he hadn’t answered it. Perhaps as PZ suggests then he has found a third option: the scientists believe what they told Jerry, but are blind to the implications of their own discoveries.

  7. mnb0 says

    I always find it remarkable how easily christians commit deadly sins like this one: “These six things doth the Lord hate …, a proud look, a lying tongue …”
    Nelson knows better what five experienced scientists mean and think than those scientists themselves. That’s what I call a proud look.

  8. raven says

    Stop digging, Nelson, stop digging!

    The first rule of holes.

    If you find yourself in a hole, first, stop digging!!!

    You would be surprised how often people just keep digging. Nelson kept digging long after it was obvious he had even lost his shovel.

    He’s done this before, many, many times.

  9. tsig says

    He’s a smug, self-righteous, sanctimonious simpleton who thinks he knows better than everybody what they really think.

  10. fastlane says

    I was going to tell you all what I think, but let me check with P. Nelson first, I might be wrong about what I think…..

  11. Rich Woods says

    I wonder if Paul Nelson can read my mind too?


    There, that should give him a sleepless night.