Warren on Atheism

Meanwhile, just in case you were looking for something truly stupid, go gawk in amazement at this column by David Warren of The Ottawa Citizen. Here’s the opening:

I get such apoplectic letters, whenever I write about “evolutionism,” that I really can’t resist writing about it again. This is not, of course, because I have any desire to tease such correspondents. Perish the thought. Rather, when a writer finds he has hit such a nerve, he can also know that he is approaching a great truth.

Wow! That’s total amatuer hour.

Anytime you’re reading a columnist who boasts that the negative correspondence he recieves is evidence of his penetrating insight, you’re dealing with an amateur. Anytime you’re reading a columnist who uses the cliche, “Perish the thought” as a way of suggesting sardonically that what he just denied is actually true, you’re dealing with an amateur.

And of course, any time you’re reading a columnist who uses the expression “evolutionism,” you’re dealing with an amateur, at best.

Here’s Warren analyzing the motives of his correspondents:

In this case, we must ask ourselves why so many people get so excited about an area of science that should not concern them. For most of these correspondents know precious little science, and haven’t the stamina to engage in detailed argument. They are simply shocked and appalled that anyone would dream of challenging what they believe to be the consensus of “qualified experts,” whom they assume are a closed camp of hard-bitten materialists, with no time for religious or poetical flights.

Oh, yes, we really must ask ourselves that. I mean, obviously there is something wrong with you if you care about gross distortions in areas of science that do not have a direct impact on your life. Surely his correspondent’s couldn’t think that the promotion of gross scientific ignorance might have an effect on them that goes beyond the specifics of the part of science being grossly distorted. What could the answer possibly be?

The answer to this question is clear enough. People without a stake in a controversy pay little or no attention to it. They will hardly be vexed by assertions of one party or another, when the result of the controversy cannot touch their lives. It is rather when a person does have a stake, that he begins to care.

It follows that my most apoplectic correspondents have a stake in evolutionary controversies. They imagine themselves to have an impersonal interest in defending science against “religious superstition,” and the dangers to society that the latter might present. They in fact have strong and uncompromising religious beliefs of their own, which they are loath to have questioned.

Follow the logic? When letter writers respond to Warren’s ignorance by writing angry letters, this is evidence of brain damage and an irrational desire to prop up atheism. But when he, who likewise has no personal stake in the evolution controversies, writes multiple columns about evolution specifically to oppose atheism (as he makes explicit later in the column) that’s evidence of his own perspicacity and good humor. Makes perfect sense.

So does Warren actually know anything about science? You would think that anyone audacious enough to diagnose that condition in others would be careful to at least get a few facts right. Let’s see how Warren did:

Much of the “star chamber” atmosphere, that has accompanied the public invigilation of microbiologists such as Michael J. Behe, and other very qualified scientists working on questions of design in natural systems, can only be explained in this way. The establishment wants such research to be stopped, because it challenges the received religious order, of atheist materialism. Any attempt, or suspected attempt, to acknowledge God in scientific proceedings, must be exposed and punished to the limit of the law; or by other ruthless means where the law does not suffice.

Wants such research stopped? Is he kidding? The “establishment” has spent the last decade telling ID folks to start doing some research. What we want stopped is the relentless propagandizing about their claimed success in overturning a century and a half of research in biology and paleontology, the outright lying to the public about the state of modern science, the ceaseless lobbying of school boards to include ID as a legitimate scientific theory despite its complete inability to produce a single useful result for scientists, and their relentless demonization of scientists. If the ID folks actually did some research and produced actual results, they would be taken a lot more seriously.

My friends, with that we leave behind the relatively sensible part of Warren’s column.

This last week we learned of the collapse of one of the latest props of “deep evolutionism,” which was also one of the earliest (the ancient Greeks first thought of it): The very popular “panspermian” hypothesis that life was first seeded on the earth by materials arriving in comets. It has been kicked away by Paul Falkowski, and other biologists and oceanographers from Rutgers and Boston universities, studying DNA samples frozen in the Antarctic ice. (See, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.) They showed nothing of any earthly genetic use could have survived.

Like every other modern essay in “evolutionism” (i.e. evolution as a religious cosmology), the idea behind panspermianism is to transfer the problem of life’s origin on earth, out of the finite space and time of the earth’s own geological history, and into some abstract place where the laws of chance have an infinite amount of time to do whatever is necessary. But the game is almost up. We can now roughly date the origin of our universe, and 15 billion years more-or-less is proving much too short a time for random processes to produce a non-random result. Fifteen billion times 15 billion years is still not nearly enough time.

Oh. My. God. What in the world is this guy talking about? Panspermia is a prop of “deep evolutionism,” (whatever that is)? Panspermia has nothing to do with evolution. It’s not even a theory about the origin of life. It is merely a suggestion about how important components of life first appeared on Earth, and one that has never been especially popular among scientists at that.

And whatever else panspermia is, it is not an “essay.” Maybe he meant “assay,” which would at least make sense, though it would still be a strange way of putting it. As for “random processes producing a non-random result,” that is just the standard brain-dead argle-bargle of the religiously motivated scientific ignoramus. It is pure gibberish. Needless to say, Warren has precisely zero basis for asserting what is and is not possible in fifteen billion years.

We may as well ponder Warren’s closing:

Those who refuse to acknowledge God, will not give up. Most have by now moved on to hypotheses about “multiple universes,” in the hope that by allowing an infinite number of other universes in which random processes produced random results, we can excuse this one for being so exceptionally non-random.

Oh for heaven’s sake. Multiple universes also have nothing to do evolution, and they have nothing to do with panspermia either. You do not “move on” from panspermia to multiple universes.

Basically, what we have here is a standard example of what happens when right-wingers try to defend their religious views by appealing to science. They gather together a few talking points culled from their fellow fanatics, mangle them, present them in an utterly incoherent form, and then smile knowingly, certain they have landed a death blow against those on the other side. It never even crosses their mind that they don’t have the faintest idea what they are talking about, or that seriously understanding any branch of modern science requires something more than reading a few newspaper articles or popularizations.

The Discovery Institute blog, by the way, linked favorably to Warren’s essay. Enough said.


  1. #1 Reg Nullify
    August 13, 2007

    Amazing, he actually gets paid to be that stupid! I’m surprised the DI hasn’t offered this idiot a fellowship, he’d fit right in.

  2. #2 IanR
    August 13, 2007

    It’s obvious – unlike the learned Warren, bloggers like you or PZ know “precious little science”. You don’t learn any science by spending 5-10 years working on a PhD – you learn it by reading Behe’s book. What a nut.

  3. #3 Kevin Z
    August 13, 2007

    Whats up with all the “-isms”? Has “panspermianism” ever been used before that article?

    lol, I just googled it and got 8 hits back, 5 are attributed to David Warren, 1 talks about it with Raelians, 1 from a comment on the Pandas Thumb and the last hidden away in some thread about evolution.

  4. #4 DuWayne
    August 13, 2007

    I haven’t yet gotten the chance to read much about the bacteria that was revived out of the Antarctic ice, but why would that conclusively prove that nothing of genetic use could survive the ice? Personally, I find the whole idea of anything that’s been dormant for billions of years, being revived, absolutely fascinating.

    This is also the first time I have heard the term “panspermia,” but regardless of whether it was alive before it got here, all the building blocks for life, indeed the earth itself, coalesced from star stuff. Ultimately, everything that makes up everything on the earth, came from bits and pieces that were whizzing through the cosmos. So in a sense, panspermia did bring life to earth, unless the term is specific to living organisms, certainly many of those have likely graced our planet with their presence.

    I really am confused about what the notion of a multiverse has to do with a discussion about God, much less evolution. I really don’t see why someone supporting ID would have a problem with a multiverse. I mean, if ID really isn’t about a specific, theistic belief system, then a multiverse would just be another possible source for the intelligent designer. I could really get behind ID, if the designer was a pan-dimensional entity, represented in our universe as a hyper-intelligent shade of blue.

    Seriously though, this guy is just nuts. What frightens me, is that people buy into this garbage, sometimes otherwise rather intelligent people. And they get condescending and obnoxious about it too. Like people who believe evolutionary theory are somehow the uneducated, ignorant ones. I recently had a conversation with a close friend about it, someone who grew up as an atheist, got a very good, well rounded education. Then she found Christ and it’s like she got a botched lobotomy. I’m ignorant for accepting the scads of evidence that she is quite well aware of and accepted as common sense, before she became a Christian. Maddening.

  5. #5 h3nry
    August 13, 2007

    Jason, not to mention that the title of his article has nothing to do with with the actual “content” – shame on The Ottawa Citizen.

  6. #6 Crudely Wrott
    August 14, 2007

    Jason, you wrote,

    “What we want stopped is the relentless propagandizing about their claimed success in overturning a decade and a half of research in biology and paleontology.”

    Did you mean “overturning a century and a half of research?”

    Warren must have a brain, obviously. When I attempt to model his brain inside of mine, mine hurts.

  7. #7 T. Bruce McNeely
    August 14, 2007

    Check out this web page where David Warren gives 100 facts about himself:

    He proudly states that he has a Grade 10 education, but more telling are the other 99 facts, in which he boasts of all the reading he has done, with not a mention of a single book of science. He really is a jumped-up little twit.

  8. #8 Gene Goldring
    August 14, 2007

    Ya. We have half baked putz’s up here too. Somehow this one wiggled out of his very long sleeves. With any luck Mr. Warren will once again be welcomed by the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre glee club.

  9. #9 hoary puccoon
    August 14, 2007

    My goodness, all those languages he tried to learn and failed. And then all those books he never finished writing! And the 37 on his ninth grade math test, too. One so seldom meets a man of David Warren’s abilities outside of a sheltered workshop.

  10. #10 jo5ef
    August 14, 2007

    I wonder if he’ll write a column if and when the research group find that the ancient bugs shed light on modern evolutionary theory (i’m guessing such research wont invoke ID as an explanation for anything)

  11. #11 Adrienne
    August 14, 2007

    Excluding his ridiculous views on evolution”ism”, the guy is a terrible writer. He has no idea how to properly use a comma, for instance. How did such an awful writer actually get his own regular column? Yikes, does Canada have a dearth of competent writers or something?

  12. #12 tourettist
    August 14, 2007

    So the guy disproves the x-files, well good for him.

  13. #13 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 14, 2007

    Crudely Wrott-

    Yep. I meant a century and a half. Thanks for pointing that out.

  14. #14 Anon4this
    August 14, 2007

    Ah, the Ottawa Citizen. Locals know that that rag pretender of a newspaper has always been a purveyor of self-important tripe. The only difference between it and the Ottawa Sun is a pretention to literacy and no pinup girls.

  15. #15 realpc
    August 14, 2007

    “The establishment has spent the last decade telling ID folks to start doing some research.”


    Dembski’s lab at Baylor was closed. That’s scientific open-mindedness? Preventing a scientist from questioning the status quo is scientific?

    And it isn’t all that hard to figure out what Warren was talking about. He was not arguing against neo-Darwinism, but against a very central idea of materialism — that life could have originated by a series of accidents, given long enough periods of time.

    Now you know that without that possibility, materialism can’t be defended scientifically. Warren was pointing out that so far scientists have completely failed to explain how life could originate by chance. And he is correct about that.

    The origin of life is an embarrassment for materialists. Why hasn’t there been any progress? And yes, multiple universes have been proposed in desperate attempts to defend the creative powers of blind chance.

    Jason deliberately failed to get Warren’s point. If the origin of life still cannot be explained within materialist philosophy, then how can you be so confident about the origin of species?

    In Darwin’s time, everything looked a lot simpler than it does now. The more science learns about nature, the less comprehensible it seems.

  16. #16 Mark Duigon
    August 14, 2007

    In this case, we must ask ourselves why so many people get so excited about an area of science that should not concern them. For most of these correspondents know precious little science, and haven’t the stamina to engage in detailed argument. They are simply shocked and appalled that anyone would dream of challenging what they believe…

    Sounds very like certain members of the Dover Area Board of Education. Actually, I guess they’re even worse–Heather Geesey, representative of momst of the Board, not only was totally clueless about science but also admittedly quite ignorant about Intelligent Design. I’ve seen many a cogent argument in support of evolution, but not a one that supports Creationism.

  17. #17 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 14, 2007


    Dembski’s lab, such as it was, still exists. Dembski was merely removed as its leader, and the reason for his removal was his own embarrassing conduct, not any conspiracy of materialists.

    Warren spent the whole first half of his article talking about evolution. He specifically praises Michael Behe at length. Behe’s big claims, of course, have nothing to do with the origin of life. Rather, he claims to have refuted Neo-Darwinism.

    Warren has no appreciation of the fact that the origin of life is a separate question from that of evolution. More than that, the specific comments he made on the subject were way off, as I discussed in my post.

  18. #18 Crudely Wrott
    August 14, 2007

    “In this case, we must ask ourselves why so many people get so excited about an area of science that should not concern them.”

    I became aware of science at a tender age. sometime around nineteen fifty mumble. Sputnik, jets, computers, moon rockets and atom bombs. I read voraciously. Anything that came to hand. Especially anything to do with new stuff, new inventions. Luckily for me, this random content included science and applied technology. What else? I had a leg up because I knew about stuff. Not much, but some.

    For part of the Cold War my family lived quite close to an Air Force base which was home for B-47s carrying The Bomb. Used to fly right over the house in the wee hours, scrambling on a mission. Shook my bed and rattled the windows. But I was not afraid. I knew just enough about airplanes and distances and explosive yield that I could put the risk in perspective. I didn’t panic. Most adults appeared to be panicking. I was about eight. I can clearly recall how striking the contrast was.

    Because of this experience, and many more informative lessons precipitated by familiarity with various “areas of science,” I am led to ask of the Warrens of this world just which areas of science they mean. Specifically. And why. Sometimes they answer with silence, sometimes loudly. In either case the reply is deafening.

    Today I faced a problem at work. I needed a tool. Didn’t have it. Couldn’t find it for sale. And a good client was counting on me. I took a look at the materials I had at hand, considered the tools I did have and used this knowledge to make a tool I had never made before. It involved knowledge of the ductility of polymer-based plumbing parts, the heat tolerance of polyvinylchloride, use of fire, coefficients of friction and close tolerances. Each of these bits of knowledge I acquired separately and without an understanding of their usefulness or how they could be related. Regardless, I remembered. And today those useless bits melded into a novel solution to a vexing problem: how to stop a leak in an unfamiliar valve supplying water to a killer hot tub in a house being offered for sale. I “binded” it with science!

    I have yet to know a true thing that didn’t have value. Any true thing is amenable to and falls under the basic definition of science.

    Mr. Warren, all areas of science concern me, just as all of mankind concerns me.

  19. #19 Ginger Yellow
    August 15, 2007

    This Antarctic ice thing is news to me. Where was it published and what does it entail?

  20. #20 Richard
    August 15, 2007

    The Ottawa Citizen is a part of CanWest, a news organization similar to Fox News and the Murdoch newspapers. They dominate the industry in Canada. With several exceptions, this is the level of writing in Canadian papers now, thanks to them.

  21. #21 Vincent Kargatis
    August 15, 2007

    Warren is unremittingly and perpetually awful and cringe-inducing, yes, though good for some blood-pressure elevating seat exercise sometimes. And the Citizen is a piss-poor paper for the most part. But I will note that great columnist >A href=”http://www.dangardner.ca/”>Dan Gardner is as regular a columnist in the paper as Warren, and remains a healthy antidote.

  22. #22 Science Avenger
    August 15, 2007

    “In this case, we must ask ourselves why so many people get so excited about an area of science that should not concern them.”

    It DOES concern us, because many of our political decisions involve biological questions, and we cannot intelligently judge the behavior of our elected representatives if we haven’t a clue. Exhibit A.

  23. #23 realpc
    August 15, 2007

    “Warren has no appreciation of the fact that the origin of life is a separate question from that of evolution. ”

    Evolution is a battle you can easily win, by pretending evolution means neo-Darwinism and intelligent design means bible literalism. You can provide an avalanche of evidence for evolution (hoping your readers will confuse that with evidence for neo-Darwinism) and against creationism (hoping readers will confuse that with intelligent design).

    The origin of life debate is not so easy to obfiscate. Scientists have failed to create simple organisms intentionally, and there is no convincing evidence or argument that life could be created by a series of accidents.

    So you prefer to separate the origin of life question from the origin of species question.

  24. #24 Paul Lurquin
    August 15, 2007


    “Scientists have failed to create simple organisms intentionally, and there is no convincing evidence or argument that life could be created by a series of accidents.”

    Scientists are currently attempting to produce synthetic life in the lab. Two approaches are considered:

    1. The top-down approach where groups of genes (synthetic or not) are introduced into cells. One alternative is to delete as many genes as possible from existing organisms to arrive at a “bare bones” genome.

    2. The bottom-up approach in which artificial lipid membranes are used to encapsulate synthetic genes and a transcription/translation machinery.

    Both approaches have produced promising results.

    Of course, creationists will insist that this is not the same as creating life from isolated atoms… God of the gaps again?

    Also, creationist/ID byzantine reasoning will clamor that synthetic life is being created by designers (humans). Ergo, this proves the existence of the Great Designer..


  25. #25 J Myers
    August 15, 2007

    And I thought Rick Warren was out there… this David Warren guy is a fruit loop.

  26. #26 scienceteacherinexile
    August 16, 2007

    Please explain what you mean by neo-Darwinism as I don’t see how anyone could confuse evolution and anything that would be regarded as neo-Darwinism.
    I am afraid I am no expert on creationism or ID, although I have read plenty about both, and I guess I am one of those that have mistaken one for the other because they seem to be the same thing at the very core.
    I also fail to see how the origin of life is remotely close to the origin of the species.

  27. #27 Ginger Yellow
    August 16, 2007

    Evolution concerns what happens to competing imperfect replicators. Of course it’s a separate question to how the the replicators came about in the first place. It may well turn out that it was a pseudo-Darwinian mechanism of differential autocatalysis, or it may not. We don’t know. We do, however, have ample evidence that imperfect replicators acting in competition undergo evolution.

  28. #28 Jason Spaceman
    August 16, 2007

    Warren is back, with part duhh, errr, I mean part deux; and it only gets worse. Read it here.

    A sample:

    Time and again it is said that the “God thesis” is not proven, while Darwin’s thesis is supported by an immense accumulation of biological research. But read almost any current biology text, and you will find that after ritual obeisance to Darwin and Darwinism in prefatory remarks, the rest of the book hardly mentions them, and the author(s) will keep slipping into the irresistible vocabulary of design, while trying to communicate how an organism works. Res ipsa loquitur, as we say in Latin. (“The thing speaks for itself.”)

  29. #29 realpc
    August 16, 2007

    Darwin’s thesis has never been supported by research. There is absolutely no evidence that the kind of adaptations caused by natural selection can create a new species.

    Evolution was NOT Darwin’s theory. There have been several different theories of evolution, and Darwin’s theory is one of them. Evolution is supported by scientific research and evidence and it is now accepted as a scientific fact. Darwin’s theory, and current versions of it, is a speculative hypothesis.

  30. #30 khan
    August 17, 2007

    In this case, we must ask ourselves why so many people get so excited about an area of science that should not concern them.

    “Breathtaking inanity”

  31. #31 Alex, FCD
    August 18, 2007

    Darwin’s thesis has never been supported by research.

    On the Origin of Species contains hundreds of references to supportive research, for starters. Open it to any page at random. That page will contain a sentence along the lines of “If I’m right, then we should see X in species that live in condition Y. Dr. Z informs me that this very behavior is frequently observed in certain rare species of antarctic hippopotamuses.” Also, a search of scholarly online journals (through the ProQuest database, which the rest of you cannot access unless you are Canadian post-secondary students, unfortunately) for “Evolution AND Biology” returns 1655 hits. Just “Evolution” returns 80228, and “Natural Selection” returns 1230. There has been a bit of research, guy.

  32. #32 Science Avenger
    August 19, 2007

    Don’t sweat the troll Alex. When he isn’t making stuff up, he’s redefining words in ways only he understands (and I’m being generous in assuming he understands them).

  33. #33 SteveG
    August 19, 2007

    “If the origin of life still cannot be explained within materialist philosophy, then how can you be so confident about the origin of species?”

    If the force of gravity still cannot be explained within materialist philosophy, then how can we be so confident that the Earth orbits the Sun?

    Makes perfect sense, no?

    Well, if you’re a creationist, anyway. 😉

  34. #34 Jason Spaceman
    August 19, 2007

    David Warren, part 3: The tyranny of science:

    There was a show trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, two years ago, in which a local school board was prosecuted for having permitted the teaching of intelligent design. This was publicized by the liberal media as, “Another Scopes trial in America!” The defence called Michael Behe, so the plaintiffs brought Eric Rothschild, a high-powered attorney, to lure him into verbal traps. Rothschild made tendentious points on the definition of “science.” Behe wouldn’t play, and noted, rather dryly, that if the current official definition of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences were enforced, most major advances in modern science would have to be ruled illegal. Rothschild then paraphrased Behe’s position as, “So you believe astrology is valid science.” Needless to say, Behe demurred.

    This was then reported, in the liberal science press, with the triumphalist flavour of, “Behe forced to admit that astrology is valid science according to his definition.”

    And now, in letter after letter I receive, the Darwinists have simplified this to, “Behe also believes in astrology.”

  35. #35 Science Avenger
    August 19, 2007

    More fiction from Warren, eh Jason? Here’s the full transcript for anyone who wants to check it for themselves. As usual, Warren’s depiction of the situation departs significantly from reality.

    And just who exactly are these “Darwinists” who have said “Behe also believes in astrology”? Sounds like more made up shit to me.

  36. #36 Frank Sooey
    August 20, 2007

    Do not waste time on Warren. His only goal in writing this kind of claptrap is to delight the Creationist/ID crowd, who promptly circulate his columns among themselves. This in turn means he can tell his editors that his column is a popular feature in their paper, thereby improving his job security. In his “Essays on our Times”, as his website calls his scribblings, he plays exactly the same game with the Iraq war, which he continues to brand a resounding success, and more broadly in his offensively anti-Muslim tracts. He’s playing to one part of the crowd. While it would be nice if The Ottawa Citizen dumped him, the more important task for all is to fight Warren’s brand of ignorance by calling for high-quality universal education.

  37. #37 blog responder
    August 31, 2007

    “If the force of gravity still cannot be explained within materialist philosophy, then how can we be so confident that the Earth orbits the Sun?”

    Exactly. Newton’s positing of acting from a distance (gravity) already meant that a materialist theory was being opposed back then. If there’s only matter, then there’s no force, and no gravity. So supposing that contemporary scientists are materialists would be to pretend that they still hold to a pre-Newtonian theory–maybe Cartesian votices? Which is clearly not the case: they don’t. So how can one imagine that the problem is materialism?

    (I am not an expert on physics, so feel free to correct me if I’ve got it wrong.)

  38. #38 Moshe Averick
    February 10, 2010

    Dr. Rosenhouse,

    You have stated that Evolution and Origin of Life are two separate issues. The truth of that statement is self-apparent, so nothing more need be said.

    Even if we assume the fact of Darwinian Evolution, we are still confronted with the strikingly problematic issue of the origin of the first self-replicating DNA based organism, without which Darwinian Evolution cannot take place. As Dawkins puts it in THE GOD DELUSION: “Darwinian Evolution proceeds merrily once life begins…but how does life get started?” (that may not be the exact quote, but it is close enough)

    Since all of Origin of Life researchers admit quite candidly that they do not have a plausible theory for a naturalistic explanation of life, why would you not, at the very least, consider a Creator as a distinct and reasonable possibility?

    Sincerely, Moshe Averick

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