ERV vs Steve Kern

Keep this one in your bookmarks for when someone tells you “AWWWWWW! UR JUST MAKING A CARICATURE OF CHRISTIANS! NO ONE ACTUALLY ACTS LIKE THAT!”

Yeah, that guy was for real.

The debate actually makes more sense if you watch it with the nonsensical closed captions turned on.

He is a real Evangelical Christian who, with his intellectual-equal wife, hold political sway in this state.

It. Is. Disgusting.

So why do something like this? Why give this jackass another forum? Why give the appearance of ‘debate’?

1– It was fun.

2– Young one after young one who came up to me afterwords, SO FRIGGEN EXCITED about science.

The Q&A:


  1. #1 MOS
    March 19, 2012

    Thanks Abby ! Appreciate your work.

  2. #2 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 19, 2012

    Thanks! That last point may sway me. I am currently in the other camp, not keen to see people arguing with specific types of crackpots rather than addressing kooks in general.

    Since I shore that up with results from research on advertising, an advertising argument is quite strong to say the least. I wish we had numbers instead of anecdotes, but if pigs could fly… Food for thought.

    However that may be, I am sure you did a good job. In fact that seems to be everyones conclusion!

  3. #3 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 19, 2012

    Oops! Wrong idiom: “”when pigs fly” is an adynaton—a figure of speech so hyperbolic that it describes an impossibility.”

    What about “if a US president wasn’t religious” then?

  4. #4 Duncan
    March 19, 2012

    I’ve just been directed here from Jerry Coyne’s (non)blog. So glad to have a video of an articulate young female scientist to show my daughters. This kind of stuff can be inspiring at a young age.

    On a purely personal level it’s also hugely entertaining to see grade A toolbags taken down a notch or two in front of an audience.

  5. #5 JF
    March 19, 2012

    I’m amazed at your ability to keep yourself from laughing. If the whole creationism thing doesn’t work out for Steve he should keep his act and become a comedian (although most of the comedic value comes from him being serious).

    You did a great job. Keep up the good work.

  6. #6 complex field
    March 19, 2012

    Bring ’em to the Dark Side!!!!!

  7. #7 healthphysicist
    March 19, 2012

    Very nice. You seemed to miss an opportunity when Steve was fixated on fossil evidence. You mentioned that viruses don’t fossilize but missed an opportunity to discuss the fossil evidence which does exist for “macroevolution”. ERV’s dovetail nicely with the fossil evidence. Then you could have pressed Steve on how ERV’s fit within the ID public relations effort.

  8. #8 Bryan
    March 19, 2012

    How you didn’t face-palm every 3min is a mystery to me – that much stupid has to be hard to take.

    BTW, something seems to be wrong your embedded video – the right side is missing. Looks fine at youtube, but not on your page (at least, not on my browser)


  9. #9 hoary puccoon
    March 19, 2012

    re Kern’s quotation from L. Harrison Matthews at about 50 minutes–

    L. Harrison Matthews was born in 1901. And Kern is claiming Matthews “says”??!? According to Google, our boy L. Harrison has said nothing whatsoever since 1986. He probably made the statement Kern is quoting sometime in the 1920’s, 30’s or early 40’s, when there wasn’t anywhere near the mountains of evidence for evolution we have to day.

    This “postdating” of sources has become a favorite creationist scam.

    More generally, refusing to debate Kern on his misinformation and simply talking about what science is and what you do as a scientist seems like a really good strategy, if you are going to participate in one of these so-called debates.

    If a few more scientists (preferably those early in their careers) would try this approach, it might make creationists a little less eager to stage these “debates”– especially if they see young’uns crowding around the scientist afterwards.

  10. #10 Robert S.
    March 19, 2012

    Bryan: Scienceblogs embedding does that for all the youtube videos I’ve seen.

    Can I bill the good pastor for my melted and imploded irony meters and the desk I broke from head thumping? The argument comes down to, “Well, if you believe in science(geology, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, subatomic physics etc …) then sure, evolution makes sense” I’d love to know pastor Kern’s stance on oil drilling and the keystone pipeline, then ask why he would support something (the oil industry) that is based on using all the science he dismisses. Or ask him why he thinks ALL of the dinosaurs would have settled out before every, single, horse.

    Anyways.. Thanks for sacrificing your precious brain cells debating someone who is intentionally ignorant. I may have resorted to beating him about the head with a kindle stocked with basic science texts in a hope that some of the information might transfer into his skull through divine intervention 🙂

  11. #11 John
    March 19, 2012

    Hey, Lo-o-o-ve the fact that we have a perky young lady out to defend science with enthusiasm. As a fellow midwesterner, I appreciate what you’re doing.

    I think a big issue I see in these debates is that you’re talking past him; you’re speaking on a high-school-level understanding of biology, and he doesn’t have it.

    Perhaps and analogy would help. We have a bunch of trains in Kansas, I’m sure you do in Oklahoma too…

    Lets say there are 10 trains, each 100 cars long. And we all know that as these trains pass through different cities, their cars are often “tagged” with elaborate designs of graffiti. So if car 1 and car 2 share a single “tag”, you can assume that they passed through the same city. And if Car 1 and Car 3 share two “tags”, well, you can assume they passed through 2 of the same cities. And so on… (I could draw a picture)

    I think a lot of your problem is that you and your fellow scientists are SOOO well educated, you almost lose the ability to dumb it down enough for the uneducated to understand it. Need a blue collar guy like me to simplify it 🙂

  12. #12 Robert S.
    March 19, 2012

    But its not just the “tag”, well, it sort of is, but its SOOOO much cooler.

    Say the tags are stenciled, and the stencils fall apart, get replaced quickly with changes. So if you see to train cars, with the exact same tag, the went through the same city, at the same time. The train idea breaks down because its the same location in the genome(relatedness of the two genomes) + same inserted sequence (same time) and when you get a strong suggestion that the two genomes were the same, at a give time, you get common ancestor.

    You really need insertion of data at a certain time, a process to freeze the data once it is inserted and copying over time. The one thing that I didn’t hear in the debate was if the insertion + deactivation process on the erv also made it MUCH more stable. I’m pretty damn sure it does, so it would have been nice to hear, or if I’m wrong a correction would be nice so I have a better understanding. That goes double for the rest of my post.

  13. #13 Robert S.
    March 19, 2012

    Oh, and I know it was guano loco, but the Kern’s whole “everything is decaying!!mutations!eleventy!”… He said that applied to everything, so does that apply to nylonase (sp?), HIV’s drug resistances?

  14. #14 Barry Desborough
    March 19, 2012

    Based on notes scribbled while viewing.

    Kern starts by quotemining Crick and then Dawkins. (Mined quotes are not evidence, and misrepresenting other people’s opinion is dishonest.)
    Then he brings up an irrelevance – atheism.
    Then he begs a question, saying that function implies design.
    Then creates a strawman of evolution, saying that it is pure random chance. (Ignoring natural selection).
    Then he regurgitates the “evolution is a dying theory” canard. (It has been dying for 150+ years.)
    Now the information canard. (‘Information’ in DNA is a metaphor.)
    Then C14 in diamonds. (A classic PRATT – a Point Refuted a Thousand Times).
    Then he mentions irreducible complexity, without trying to explain why it supposedly cannot evolve.
    (This is the only place he has touched on any Intelligent Design idea so far, although it is actually a rehash of interlocking complexity, an old prediction of evolutionary theory!)
    Now we hear that ID is not creationism.
    But evolution is atheism is a religion, and ID is creation is religion, so why can’t we teach both.(!)
    And education is about learning other points of view. (Well, no. Science education is about science, Steve.)
    Then we hear that dogma in science holds us back. (But religion, somehow, is not dogma.)
    Still no ID science.
    Then the “random” strawman again. (Selection is not random.)
    Now the ethics canard. (Evolution has a perfectly serviceable account of ethics. Even if it didn’t, it would not make evolution false.)
    Then atheism = evolution = no ethics again. (Irrelevant to the veracity of evolution.)
    Then the poor state of public education. (Again why would this, even if true, imply that ID is true, and evolution false?)
    Michael Lance gets mentioned, presumably critic of evolution. We still have not heard why ID should be taught.
    Then an argument that essentially says, “Evolution doesn’t have evidence either, so we creationist (note, creationists, not cdesign proponentsists) should be able to get away without any too”)

    We’re about 8 minutes in, and Kern is getting just too embarrassing.

    In a bit, Abbie Smith has a turn and tries to put him out of his misery, patiently explaining that in science lessons, kids should be taught science.

    This doesn’t stop Kearn soldiering on, becoming even more shrill and incoherent as time goes on. I start to feel really sorry for the guy, despite the fact that he advocates lying to kids in school.

    Abbie gives us a rundown of her specialist area, virology, brimming with enthusiasm and delight in her subject, talking about all the fascinating and useful work involved – in stark contrast to ID, which has achieved – zilch.

    I couldn’t watch any more Kern after that.

    Abbie’s blog, has been a great source of information about endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) for me, an informal lay student of the topic. It’s difficult to get across in a debate, just how devastating the evidence from ERVs is for the evolution denial industry, but it is. Creationists have no answers to it. See and

    Problem viewing the YouTuve vid now. Keeps resetting to 0 seconds after about 12 minutes of play…

  15. #15 ERV
    March 19, 2012

    OHHH!! I just got word that the Q&A is on its way too!!

  16. #16 ERV
    March 19, 2012
  17. #17 Rhology
    March 19, 2012

    In no way will I claim that Kern did a particularly good job. I am also laughing at this exchange:

    Kern: What creationist books have you read?
    ERV: None.

    You’re kidding! I’d’ve never figured out that ERV was ignorant of the other side of the debate.
    It was also disappointing to hear ERV repeat things on which I corrected her face to face some years ago. Seems Darwinians only learn when they want to.


  18. #18 Poodle Stomper
    March 19, 2012

    I haven’t had time to watch the video yet (I’m on lunch break at lab, atm) but the look on your face at the preview shot for the video just screams “OMG, I can’t believe he’s saying this!” I can’t wait to watch it tonight!

  19. #19 Poodle Stomper
    March 19, 2012


    I’m curious if you could elaborate on a few specifics of which “things on which I corrected her face to face some years ago” you are referring to? I haven’t watched the video yet but I also haven’t heard of your previous “corrections” either (but then I’m fairly new to ERV’s evolution debate history).

  20. #20 Prometheus
    March 19, 2012

    Yes but what about the thermal dynamics and simultaneous Monkey/Man viral ingestifications!!!


    I tend to dumb down even more than you suggest when it comes to the transitional/intermediate dodge. I request an actual physical non-anecdotal material record of any of the great great grandfathers of the speaker.

    I ask them what the odds are that such material remains exist, fossil or otherwise.

    I then produce a couple of locks of hair from the back of my pocket watch and explain that by the speakers criteria I exist and he/she does not and therefore can make no further argument.

    A tart’s argument gets a mack’s answer.

    Considering gap crap is Dembski Dodge territory and he has called Dembski a hellbound heretic that makes Kern worse than a hobo.

    The good pastor is an intellectual whore.

    Sorry I had to miss it. I look forward to the Q&A as does The Bride, The Hellmouth and she for whom I am now an intermediate fossil…The Spawn (5 pounds 18 inches and over two weeks early).

    Bravo Abbie. Keep up the good work.

  21. #21 Brandon
    March 19, 2012

    Nice job Abbie! Like you say, the most important thing that comes from this sort of thing is impressing on kids the importance and fun of science. Your enthusiasm really comes across!

    The thing that stands out, more than anything else, is the difference in knowledge level. I can’t imagine what would inspire someone to hear a know-nothing like Kern and take him seriously. This really is a guy that doesn’t know the first thing about biology and he makes it obvious over and over again. I suppose to people that also don’t know anything about biology, he might not sound that way?

  22. #22 ERV
    March 19, 2012

    Rho– As I explained half a second later, quote miner, when he said ‘Creationist books’ I thought he meant like, baby/childrens books about The Garden/Adam/Eve/Noah/etc. You know damn well that I have read ‘Edge of Evolution’ and ‘Signature of the Cell’ because Ive talked about them here.


  23. #23 Rhology
    March 19, 2012

    Poodle – Here.

    ERV – ID ≠ creationism. Yet aNOTHER thing you refuse correction on. It just makes you look bad.

  24. #24 Brandon
    March 19, 2012

    You’re kidding! I’d’ve never figured out that ERV was ignorant of the other side of the debate.
    It was also disappointing to hear ERV repeat things on which I corrected her face to face some years ago. Seems Darwinians only learn when they want to.

    There isn’t another side that has anything approaching an evidence based on argument. If there was, I’d be able to head right on over to Pubmed and look up their publications.

  25. #25 hoary puccoon
    March 19, 2012

    Excuse me, did this just really happen? Rhology @17 quote-mined a video that is posted above and, in fact, the *entire subject* of this thread?

    Did you really think we wouldn’t check back– to the top of the very same thread? How dumb do you think we are, Rho?

    Oh. That’s right. You’re used to dealing with creationists. Sorry. Forget I asked.

  26. #26 Rhology
    March 19, 2012

    hoary puccoon, What?

  27. #27 Bill Door
    March 19, 2012

    It’s the law.

  28. #28 Rhology
    March 19, 2012

    Oh, I totally forgot that you think judges determine what’s true, except when they don’t. Don’t say stupid things, Bill Door.

  29. #29 Bill Door
    March 19, 2012

    Rhology status:
    [ ] Not told
    [ ] Told
    [ ] fucking told
    [ ] JRR Toldkien’s Lord of the Told
    [X] Toldasaurus rex

  30. #30 Mal Adapted
    March 19, 2012


    ERV – ID ≠ creationism. Yet aNOTHER thing you refuse correction on. It just makes you look bad.

    Wikipedia says you’re wrong. OTOH, Conservapedia says you’re right. I’m going with Wikipedia. I’d say you’re the one who looks bad.

  31. #31 Doc Bill
    March 19, 2012

    Clearly Steve Kern had no understanding of what he was reading. He just read the words with no comprehension whatsoever. He wouldn’t know a ribosome if one bit him on his centrosome. How could he put an argument together if he didn’t even understand the words he was saying? Totally pathetic and fraudulent. Yet, a typical creationist.

    Yes, worth a bookmark!

  32. #32 Doc Bill
    March 19, 2012

    Ah, Rhology, just as stupid and ignorant as ever. I used to think stupid hurt but I guess you take a lot of scientifically designed medicines or do you just bark at the moon?

    Kern: What creationist books have you read?
    ERV: None.

    Doc Bill: Too many.

    And they’re all the same: crap. I must say, though, of all the creationists Michael Behe is the most literate and lyrical, but that’s not saying much.

    Here’s how I define “crap:” fraudulent, misleading or misrepresented data, pure fiction, unsubstantiated claims, appeals to authority, question begging, strawman erecting, mumbo jumbo, repetition of long exposed myths or stories.

    Granted, I’ve read a few science articles that I would label “crap” for one reason or another, but ALL creation “science” books, articles, pamphlets, tracts, websites and amusement parks are crap. ALL of them.

    So, if Behe writes a new book do I have to read it to declare it “crap?” No, I do not. Behe’s reputation precedes him and I would be safe to call it “crap” in advance. In fact, I’ll make a prediction that Behe’s next book will be a huge, steaming pile of crap, as will Rhology’s next comment.


  33. #33 SLC
    March 19, 2012

    Re Rhology @ #28

    What lying fucktard Rhology always fails to mention is that both sides in the Dover case asked the judge to rule on whether ID was science. The clowns in the Thomas More law center didn’t get what they asked for but they got what they deserved.

  34. #34 Ritchie Annand
    March 19, 2012

    Love these debates, but I find I really have to steel myself to watch them… and have something open in another window to help ground the facepalm reflex.

    Creationist books. Hmmmm. If someone hasn’t come up with a Creationist book bingo card, I’m sure it would be pretty easy. Here’s a start:

    * Truthful paragraph was lifted from a science book
    * Makes positive mention of non-creationist but “maverick” scientist
    * Pretends a facile example is the rule (c.f. Mt St. Helens)
    * Offers alternative guess which has already been disproven in the scientific community
    * Offers alternative guess which is only superficially plausible
    * Missing consquences of guess (e.g. “radioactivity happened faster in the past”)
    * Uses quotes from before 1970
    * Quote-mines the rhetorical paragraph before an explanation
    * Quote-mines using an ellipsis to change the meaning
    * Switches between two completely different meanings of the same word
    * Defends strawman creationist point that nobody actually attacks
    * Attacks strawman science point with derision
    * Flat-out denial of scientific facts
    * Inappropriate sarcasm
    * Two words: conspiracy theory
    * Argument from consequences
    * Special argument from consequences: Nazi or communist
    * Other moral derision
    * Poor statistics
    * Poor math
    * Could not have possibly read the source material and come to this conclusion honestly
    * Inflated credentials
    * Quotes from a non-expert
    * Bible quote as scientific fact

    I think that’s 24. Anyone who’s read creationist materials knows how easy it would be to fill that whole card 🙂

  35. #35 vhutchison
    March 19, 2012

    Rho: Abbie did say she had read Behe – a minute or so after saying she had not read ID books. Check the video.

  36. #36 dean
    March 19, 2012

    rho, why do you doubt that ID=creationism is true? Is the fact that god was crossed out and creator inserted confusing you?

  37. #37 EvilYeti
    March 19, 2012

    This is why I don’t bother debating the climate-change deniers anymore.

    Their position is untenable to the point that all that is left is cheating.

  38. #38 Dunc
    March 19, 2012

    I don’t think I’d be able to resist jumping up and demolishing every fallacy spouted here. I feel like his mind might changed a bit by really hammering at the ERV as watermark metaphor. Who am I kidding, he’s made up his mind, just like everyone else.

  39. #39 Childermass
    March 19, 2012

    Rho: “ID ≠ creationism. Yet aNOTHER thing you refuse correction on. It just makes you look bad.”

    It is just a coincidence that ID appeared immediately after the Supreme Court said you could not teach creationism? Bull. ID is a subset of creationism.

  40. #40 JDog
    March 19, 2012

    Rho – You ignorant slut. IDC is Intelligent Design Creationism and IDC most definitley IS creationism in a cheap tuxedo. As proven by the testimoy of the Dover Trial.

  41. #41 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 19, 2012

    Interesting how the pastor early on calls for viewpoint neutral schools and then around 23 minutes when he really gets started he starts going off about the need to teach God in school. I wonder if it is because his actual thoughts are that incoherent, whether he just went with that because Abbie had already called him out on it, or he’s just trying to do the mendacious thing but can’t do it competently.

  42. #42 Curt Cameron
    March 19, 2012

    I never have time to watch an hour-long video, but I can listen to audio. If anyone else is interested, I’ve put the audio-only MP3 of the debate here.

  43. #43 ERV
    March 19, 2012

    Article from a UCO student, who we need to thank for the video up on YouTube!

    Body language FTW in the shot he got.

  44. #44 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 20, 2012

    By far the strongest bit is around 44 minutes where you give a very succinct description of how the ERVs are connected to long-term evolution. It might have made sense to say that earlier. It is very interesting how rather than answer the question at all, he tries to go on to yet another creationist talking about (claiming that mutations cause a loss of information).

  45. #45 Shirakawasuna
    March 20, 2012

    You can’t spell education without ducati!

  46. #46 Someone
    March 20, 2012

    So, did anyone see all of the discussion of this debate from Pee Wee Herman Myers and the rest of the “skeptics” at

    Neither did I.

  47. #47 Ryan
    March 20, 2012


    I wrote a letter to Steve Kern concerning this debate and why some of the claims he made were off. Anyone can read it here:

  48. #48 defides
    March 20, 2012

    Well, on the one hand we had a bored-looking guy who spoke in a monotone, read from badly-prepared notes, and seemed like he wanted to be somewhere else. On the other hand we had an engaging young person who talked to the audience, looked at them, gave them things to react to and think about, was funny and treated them as important people.

    No wonder the young ones were excited about science.

    Outstanding performance, Abby.

  49. #49 Optimus Primate
    March 20, 2012

    Just getting around to watching the full “debate.” Sorry! It’s been a busy week.

    Great job, Abbie! And bonus points for the Arnie cameo!

    Gawd, it has to be tough trying to have a coherent conversation with such a shotgun of bullshit. I mean, after all, he can spew any sort of nonsense he wants, and you’re constrained, not just by facts, but the facts of your field of specialization. I’m almost starting to wonder if panel debates might be better: three or four scientists against three or four nutters. After all, the nutters are all going to overlap in their bullshit shotgun approach, but having a handful of different biologists on stage would mean you might have someone better informed to speak to things like transitional cetaceous fossils and the like, and then someone like you could nail their Jell-O to the wall on issues related to ERVs and the like.

    Either way, kudos! You did a fantastic job given the absurdity you had to deal with.

  50. #50 ERV
    March 20, 2012

    Optimus– I love that pic of Arnie 🙂

    The Q&A is up!

  51. #51 Tommykey
    March 20, 2012

    Wow, I didn’t know Eugenie Scott wielded so much power.

    As for the Chinese guy’s joke about Darwin, since Kern didn’t retell it, maybe it was just a lame joke.

    Cats turning into dogs? What evolutionist ever made such a claim?

  52. #52 Scott Hatfield, OM
    March 20, 2012

    Good gravy. I recognize that the LEGAL objection to ID in the public schools hinges around the fact that as presented by most ID proponents, ID is simply stealth creationism that patently violates the Establishment Clause. So, my side wins the legal argument in Dover because the ID proponents there were guilty of “breathtaking inanity.”

    This by no means, however, addresses what should be more fundamental to the scientific enterprise, which is that some of the ID proponents sought to redefine science in such a way as to permit theories which are untestable. Yes, it is true that ID proponents do so in a way that attempts to privilege their RELIGIOUS views….but I would object on principle to untestable claims that are not religious: poly-water, homeopathy, and the unverifiable assertions of a certain Judy Minkovits come to mind as sterling examples. I wished that point had been made. It’s pathetic to watch Kern literally run his theology up the flagpole, salute it, and assert that it trumps science. That’s vintage Henry Morris for ya.

    That’s a minor quibble. I love your style, wished I could’ve seen the thing in person.

  53. #53 giovanni
    March 21, 2012

    Wow, that video was alternately very interesting and extremely head-desk-inducing.

    I’m not a biologist, so I only know the basics of evolutionary theory (for instance, the stuff covered in Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True”). Before watching this I had never heard about ERVs and how they clearly point to common descent, and I thought all of Abbie’s segments about them were very interesting and informative. So thank you, Abbie, for teaching me something new.

    As for Pastor Kern, well, that was pretty much just Creationist Bingo. I didn’t get much out of his segments except for the ire of my officemates when I kept yelling at my computer screen in frustration.

  54. #54 Justicar
    March 21, 2012

    Is it just me (and I’m just starting to watch), but at about 7:00 in, did Kern say that our nation’s schools had done fine for 327 before 1947? (when we taught god in school I suppose). Well, his wife was born 1946, is a teacher, and is all about teaching god. Why doesn’t know when his own country was founded?

  55. #55 Militant Agnostic
    March 21, 2012

    Shirakawasuna @45

    That was positively desmodromic.

  56. #56 Justicar
    March 21, 2012

    Ok. I’m eating, and I nearly was murder death killed by Abbie’s list of legitimate scientific controversies: is XMRV a genuine human pathogen or lab contaminant?

  57. #57 Justicar
    March 21, 2012

    I’m at 34:30 now:

    Evangelical kid comes home from college with mono: mom, dad, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I have mono. The good news is that I totally don’t have the bisexual strain.

  58. #58 Justicar
    March 21, 2012

    @ 45:20 – um, the ability to ingest viruses? Talking to a researcher who studies HIV 1. He couldn’t have picked a worse metaphor to segue right into ‘man and monkeys have been living together for a long time’. Yeah, I’m told they used to be bunkmates on a large boat during a brutal storm.

  59. #59 Johan
    March 21, 2012

    Kudos, well done. I admire your patience.

  60. #60 William Wallace
    March 21, 2012

    You’re lucky he’s Christian. If he were another religion, he might have been upset about the things you’ve written about his wife (assuming this is Sally Kern’s husband).

    But then again, why he has his wife run for office is pretty sad. The only conservatives with testicles are women these days.

  61. #61 William Wallace
    March 21, 2012

    HOWEVER, I am proud of you that unlike your cowardly colleagues who take their marching orders from their anthropologist taskmaster, Eugenie Scott (who is branching out into AGW alarmism, quite badly, see e.g., Peter Gleick), you are willing to debate. Looks like you’re choosing easier debate partners, however. Dr. Charles Jackson was tougher. This guy could have been beaten by a paper bag. All of his notes make me wonder how this fellow delivers a sermon.

    Keep debating, but try to find more worthy opponents. Round two with Dr. Charles Jackson would be interesting.

  62. #62 TX Skeptic
    March 21, 2012

    Thanks for representing Science, ERV.

  63. #63 Justicar
    March 21, 2012

    Abbie @ 50: your link is hosed. Or invaginated, as the case may happen to be.

  64. #64 zou3gou3
    March 21, 2012
  65. #65 Southern Geologist
    March 21, 2012

    Good work, Abbie. The debate (and Q&A) was enjoyable, though listening to him was painful at times. Your facial expressions when he was talking were hilarious, by the way.

  66. #66 hoary puccoon
    March 21, 2012

    william Wallace @61–

    I don’t know who Charles Jackson is, but, really, presenting the creationist talking points in a louder, more dramatic, or faster manner won’t affect anyone who understands evolution.

    There have been plenty of successful attacks on Charles Darwin’s theory. Darwin didn’t have a clue about endogenous retroviruses, to give a pertinent example. But every, single attack on the existing theory of evolution has come either from the lab or the field. And the *fact* of evolution has emerged from every successful attack on the theory looking stronger than ever.

    Using manipulative debating techniques and making up cutsie terms like microevolution won’t have any effect on modern biology except– and this is what Americans who understand evolution are *really* afraid of– to send the money, the jobs, the discoveries, even our own best people, to Asia and Europe, leaving our own country a sad and diminished presence in the world.

  67. #67 Dave
    March 21, 2012

    hoary puccoon@66 –

    Charles Jackson is a buffoon that Abbie debated several years ago. The consensus of everyone other than Wee Willy was that Abbie kicked ass. See here for more.

  68. #68 dhough6
    March 21, 2012

    I have added links to the video and Q&A session to the OESE web site, Great job!

  69. #69 hoary puccoon
    March 21, 2012

    Dave @67–

    Thanks. I followed the link. Oooh– Charles Jackson is really, really good at talking down to people, isn’t he? Well, *that* should convince anyone!! Right?

  70. #70 minimalist
    March 21, 2012

    Well, you see, Wally *likes* to be talked down to. He likes a good, manly mansplanation and a nice firm daddy-hand on his ass.

    Failing that, a woman with balls will suffice apparently. Wally is flexible in his tastes (as long as they involve testicles).

  71. #71 Jay Goldfarb
    March 22, 2012

    You have tremendous patience!

  72. #72 Thomas54
    March 22, 2012

    Hi Abbie. Just want to say how much I enjoyed watching the videos of the debate and Q&A. I learned about ERVs too, which is a real bonus 🙂 Fascinating how they are clear evidence of shared ancestry.

    I’m with you on the value of these debates. No one in the audience is fooled by Kern’s arguments. Your answers and his attempts to defend his position make it clear to any rational thinker that ID is not science and evolution is scientific fact.

  73. #73 sibaku
    March 22, 2012

    Nice debate, even though it was kinda painful to watch Kern trying to put any coherent thought toghether. He seemed to realize, how much he got floored, judging by the angry sermons he started to give.
    At least it’s a good display to fence-sitters.
    You were really informative and entertaining, Ms. Smith (like in all videos I saw you talk until now).
    Possibly slightly off-topic, regarding the whole complexity issue, that Kern also used. We can show easily observable (although abstract) phenomenons born from simplicity that give rise to some amazingly complex things. Fractals. For example the famous Mandelbrot set. There are pretty much just 3 lines of rules and what comes out is infinite complexity.
    And what about evolutionary algorithms? They mimic evolution and do work! So wouldn’t that be some indication that the general principle is functional? I would like some people to use them as an example, since you can just let it run and see in realtime how change happens.

    Anyways, hope to see more debates/talks of you, for a start I shall read through your blog (didn’t conciously know about it up until a while ago) :>

  74. #74 0verlord
    March 23, 2012

    ERV, well done!

    P.S., a note regarding what Mr. Kern seems to believe education is… Education is supposed to be about imparting knowledge, not “letting kids make their own decisions.”

  75. #75 Phil Giordana FCD
    March 23, 2012

    Oh dear, that Q&A is priceless! Thanks again, Abbie!

  76. #76 tim
    March 23, 2012

    Ms. Smith, honestly the issue is not whether Christians believe in science, but the presuppositions on either side. For instance both sides can look at things and whereas your side would say there are billions of years ago where this event took place which allowed viruses to change this or that, you are basing that on the presupposition that the Bible is not true and that there is no God and at best it is a guess, in fact “faith”, because you were not there. The Christian does the same thing, only they take the Bible at what it says about Creation. They also look at scientific evidence and view it through the presupposition that the Bible is the Word of God and is true. The Christian also has faith because they were not there either. So the reality is, that though you may deal with science in the here and now, your conclusion is purely faith based, because you are assuming millions of years have passed without actually proving they did. Again, both sides cannot actually prove their point. They were not there and can never go back there. They just come to the scientific data with presuppositions. Both sides do this.

  77. #77 0verlord
    March 23, 2012

    @tim, The lack of proof doesn’t mean that there is no correct answer, nor does it mean that it isn’t important that we be correct. Through experience and common sense, we know that the best way to determine correctness is to compare our collective observations to the available evidence.

    As far as debates go, I suppose we can call it a draw.

  78. #78 hoary puccoon
    March 23, 2012

    tim @76–

    How do you know I wasn’t there?

  79. #79 Niche Geek
    March 23, 2012


    So being physically present is the only way to know what happened? Police are deluding themselves when they involve forensics? Newspapers are useless? Wet pavement in summer does not indicate that it may have rained earlier?

    It seems that your position presupposes a deceitful creator, while the scientific position presupposes only a consistent universe.

  80. #80 Notung
    March 23, 2012


    So when the Archbishop of Canterbury talks about “billions of years ago” is he basing that on “the presupposition that the Bible is not true and that there is no God.”?

    It is an inference to the best explanation given the scientific data. The only ‘presupposition’ is the credibility of the scientific method itself, which I assume you happily accept when you go to the doctor and use modern technology.

    Also, I don’t see why you think direct experience is the only way to know anything. It seems to me that you’d have to throw out quite a lot of things we think we know if we go down that route.

    What year was the Battle of Hastings? I don’t know; I wasn’t there…

  81. #81 dustbubble
    March 23, 2012

    tim @76: You see, this is where you kind of go slightly adrift.“.. whereas your side would say there are billions of years ago where this event took place which allowed viruses to change this or that, you are basing that on the presupposition that the Bible is not true ..”
    It’s not about whether the Bible is true or not, it’s actually about whether Geology is Rubbish or not, and whether we can infer the past from the present.

    A local farmer, a fellow called Jamie Hutton, worked out that either what we see around us held broadly true in the past, or we ought not believe anything, even whether the sun might rise tomorrow, or trees be made of liquorice.
    Over two hundred years ago. Four fields away from where I’m sat at the minute.
    He wasn’t Godless, BTW, neither before nor after.

    Who knows, God might have ordered up the whole lot in dumptrucks on a slack weekend, two/three-hundred generations back.
    But until somebody can prove what a busy little Bee He’d been, economy of hypothesis compels me to stick with what we do know about natural processes.
    Requiring millions and millions of your puny Earth years, to get to where we are now.

    Or … Geology (and a whole lot of other sciency stuff that otherwise works a treat) is rubbish. That’s it, all ways up.

  82. #82 William Wallace
    March 23, 2012

    Progressives prefer this type of assertion.

    I don’t.

    If you know something, it’s okay to state it. No need to add “like” and inflections at the end of declarative sentences that make them sound like questions.

    It was a debate, not a freaking conversation among green energy believers.

  83. #83 William Wallace
    March 23, 2012

    (Better link)
    Progressives prefer this type of assertion.

    I don’t.

    If you know something, it’s okay to state it. No need to add “like” and inflections at the end of declarative sentences that make them sound like questions.

    It was a debate, not a freaking conversation among green energy believers.

  84. #84 NJ
    March 23, 2012

    tim @ 76:

    So the reality is, that though you may deal with science in the here and now, your conclusion is purely faith based, because you are assuming millions of years have passed without actually proving they did.

    The actual reality is that you are in so far over your head you could not see the surface with the Hubble.

    What you are engaging in is pure projection: You are making a series of presuppositional arguments and then projecting them onto science with the opposite sign. You then say “See? We’re both doing it!”

    You literally could not be more factually incorrect.

    The only presupposition in science is that our senses do not randomly mislead us. When we (as geologists) tell you about millions of years, it is a conclusion based on an enormous amount of observational data that points in that direction. Other have shown you that the inescapable result of your acceptance of a Ken Ham style “Were you there?” need for proof is that forensic studies and historical records are useless.

    The simple fact is that you reject actual physical science and believe as you do because you have chosen a particular interpretation of a particular translation of a particular set of religious writings. And all you have to do to fix your blindness is to make a less irrational choice.

    I have no confidence that you will do this.

  85. #85 hoary puccoon
    March 24, 2012

    William Wallace @83–

    You appear to be under the misimpression that debating style has an effect on the outcome of scientific controversies.

    The reason scientists reject creationism is that there is no evidence for it, and literally mountains of evidence supporting the fact of evolution. (Yes, I do know what ‘literally’ means. Darwin first doubted the fixity of species when he realized the close association between living and fossil species in the Andes.)

    You touted Charles Jackson’s debating style. I would like you to understand what a poor impression Jackson made on me. I am not a scientist, but I immediately recognized the name of Milford Wolpoff. Wolpoff is virtually alone in clinging to the “multiregional” model of human evolution. His jaundiced view of mitochondrial DNA studies is very much a minority position, as Wolpoff himself will honestly admit. Jackson’s citation of Wolpoff on mitochondrial DNA, as if Wolpoff represents the scientific consensus, did nothing to convince me the modern theory of evolution is in trouble.

    But Jackson did something worse, using that quotation. He made it appear that he had “quote-mined” i.e., deliberately misrepresented the work of an honest scientist. In short, Charles Jackson came across as a man of low moral character, whose word was not to be trusted. Steve Kern, by comparison, at least came across as honest, if not particularly bright.

    Creationists are fond of arguing that accepting the theory of evolution leads to immorality. What I have observed, by contrast, is that scientists are exceptionally honest people. They have to be. Even the suspicion their work is unreliable can derail their careers. Creationism, on the other hand, has produced a long series of scoundrels who lie, bully, and slander without remorse. And using a polished public speaking voice does not make that behavior in any way admirable.

  86. #86 Woden
    March 24, 2012

    NJ @ 84:

    The only presupposition in science is that our senses do not randomly mislead us.

    Eh… I’d also add in that it presupposes that the universe is generally consistent (e.g., half-lives don’t just randomly change, the speed of light is consistent at different times given the same circumstances, etc.), and that it presupposes that we are capable of understanding the world around us.

    I would say that those are all reasonable things to take for granted, though.

  87. #87 kamizushi
    March 24, 2012

    Abbie, please let me bear your baby!!!

    It’s incredible that you have the patience to deal with guys like this and you did it quite elegantly. Keep up the good work!

  88. #88 fnxtr
    March 24, 2012

    He forgot to ask why there are still monkeys. I think he played most of all the other hits, though.

  89. #89 fnxtr
    March 24, 2012

    Ha ha. Q&A reminds me of Graham Chapman. “A virus is what we doctors call ‘very, very small'”. 🙂

  90. #90 William Wallace
    March 25, 2012

    hoary puccoon wrote:

    You appear to be under the misimpression that debating style has an effect on the outcome of scientific controversies.

    How to tell if you’re having a conversation with a progressive. Look for words like “so you mean” or “you appear to be under”.

    In any event, I dare say I understand science better than many. Consensus means nothing, but consensus is what the progressives cite when it comes to AGW and evolution. (Indeed, even you cite a “minority position” to make your case.)

    Debates are forums to have interesting presentations of different sides of an issue. If well done, they get many in the audience to dig deeper later. This is something the NCSE doesn’t want to happen with evolution historically and AGW presently, so they have historically instructed their peons to not participate in debates. Indeed, a point Dr. Jackson makes is that if you present controversies in science, it makes it more interesting to students at the secondary level. It’s people on your side that want to stiffle debate and instead teach dogma.

    Back to debate and the NCSE. Fortunately, Abbie thinks for herself.

    The Dr. Charles Jackson/Abbie debate was better. This debate against Kern was like debating an idiot child. Abbie won this one against Kern. She lost the one against Dr. Jackson. The brass knuckle and steel toed boots gate crashing thug (your hero) won a debate against an ID proponent. I call them like I see them.

    You should learn to read what I write, and use your imagination less in a silly attempt at dismissing opposing points of views. It’s a step toward becoming an intellectually honest adult (read: not a progressive).

  91. #91 William Wallace
    March 25, 2012

    What I have observed, by contrast, is that scientists are exceptionally honest people.

    I submit for your consideration Peter Gleick, who impersonated another and probably forged and inserted a document into other documents he obtained dishonestly, all in the name of discrediting those who are skeptical of AGW.

    As part of NCSE’s expansion to defend the teaching of climate science, Gleick had agreed to join NCSE’s board of directors. On the same day as he posted his statement, however, he apologized to NCSE for his behavior with regard to the Heartland Institute documents and offered to withdraw from the board, on which he was scheduled to begin serving as of February 25, 2012. His offer was accepted.

  92. #92 0verlord
    March 25, 2012

    @William Wallace, One doesn’t have to be a “progressive” or even a liberal to disagree with evolution or AGW denialists, one needs only see how they misbehave. Both spit in the face of all the available evidence, offer no original thoughts that are even close to correct, and exploit the ignorance of people by spreading misinformation. Don’t make me laugh by suggesting they deserve anything but contempt.

    @hoary puccoon, you said,

    What I have observed, by contrast, is that scientists are exceptionally honest people. They have to be. Even the suspicion their work is unreliable can derail their careers.

    Sort of like being good because God is watching, no? That says nothing about the virtue of the individual, only that they’re unwilling to make a losing bet by misbehaving. Thus it seems to me that in reality, scientists are just as corruptible, dishonest, stupid, and immoral as the rest of us, but even in spite of that, science can be trusted.

  93. #93 hoary puccoon
    March 25, 2012

    Overlord @92–

    Actually, in my experience, scientists *are* usually exceptionally honest people. I think most people are more comfortable telling the truth, regardless of their religious convictions. And people who are particularly comfortable with facts and plain speaking tend to be drawn to science. Of course, this gets them in trouble when they can’t resist calling other people’s garbage garbage. (Except they don’t use a term as delicate as garbage.)

    Creationists, on the other hand…. Well, read William Wallace @91. There’s so much waffling there, it ought to be smothered in maple syrup and sold at the International House of Pancakes.

    William Wallace @91– It was sweet of you to call me a progressive. I don’t have a clue what that means, but it sounds pleasant.

    As I tried to point out to you in a previous post, science progresses by discoveries in the lab and the field, not by debates. If Todd Wood and the other baraminologists ever come up with evidence of some uncrossable genetic barrier between groups of species, believe me, biologists will rethink evolutionary theory. As it happens, though, the evidence of hox genes and genomic research is showing more similarities across groups of species, not less.

    As to why scientists are adamantly against creationism being taught in schools, read the part about “garbage” in my reply to Overlord.

  94. #94 0verlord
    March 25, 2012

    I’m not being dismissive of your experiences, hoary puccoon, but mine have led me to believe otherwise. Maybe I just read too many blogs…

    There’s so much waffling there, it ought to be smothered in maple syrup and sold at the International House of Pancakes.


  95. #95 William Wallace
    March 25, 2012

    Peter Gleick

  96. #96 0verlord
    March 25, 2012

    William, don’t prattle on about ethics and honesty when you’re only willing to apply them when it’s convenient. Gleick’s actions were indeed unethical, but hardly significant when you consider AGW denialists in government exerting their political influence to pressure scientists into being dishonest about their findings, and indeed who themselves actively revise the reports to cover up any inconvenient evidence of AGW.

  97. #97 EvilYeti
    March 25, 2012

    An alternative hypothesis, evolution itself was intelligently designed:

    This goes with my general observation that when two parties are arguing, they are usually both wrong.

  98. #98 hoary puccoon
    March 26, 2012

    William Wallace @95–

    How, precisely, does Gleick’s misbehavior disprove global warming *or* modern biology *or* Charles Jackson’s sleasy debating tricks? I can’t see any logical connection there.

    EvilYeti @97–

    Evolution is a fact. The theory of evolution is as rock-solid as any human construct ever can be. This is because, whenever scientists have discovered a legitimate problem with the current theory of evolution– they change the theory.

    The creationists have spent 50 years trying to put a dent in the theory of evolution, and so far, the only change is, they’ve retreated to “well, of course, we accept microevolution,”– and expanded the definition of microevolution until it includes any evolution that can be demonstrated in the field or the lab. Meanwhile, evolutionary biology has entered a new golden age, with astonishing, new discoveries almost daily. When the result of the argument are that lopsided, you can be pretty sure one side is right.

  99. #99 Mithrandir
    March 29, 2012

    Peter Gleick, after having tricked the Heartland Institute into sending him documents demonstrating their fundamental dishonesty, apologized for this action and withdrew from the NCSE board.

    The Heartland Institute, in turn, apologized for the dishonesty demonstrated in those documents and disbanded.

    Oh wait, they didn’t.

  100. #100 Molly, NYC
    April 1, 2012

    If patience was an Olympic event, you’d be on Wheaties boxes.

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