I get email

Sometimes they are polite requests, but they smell fishy.

My dad is a christian who says he would be willing to read a book on evolution that includes a comprehensive list of dig sites and photos of transitional forms. Can you recommend something?

I replied. I was not kind.

He’s lying to you.

Lying, lying, lying.

He’s setting you up with preconditions so he can reject it outright. “Comprehensive list of dig sites” makes no sense at all: there are paleontological digs of fossils all over the world, in just about every state of the country. What does he want, a map of the planet?

There can be no photos of living transitional forms; the term doesn’t make sense except in the context of a phylogenetic series, which means by definition that the ‘transitional forms’ you’re looking for are extinct species.

His demands make no sense at all, except that they allow him to accommodate creationist lies and ignore the evidence. Most of that evidence for evolution is molecular and genetic; fossils only provide a partial window into our history, while most of the linkages between species are demonstrated by molecular homologies.

I’d just tell him that you’re ashamed that he’s setting such a poor example for his children. Honesty should matter more.

Sometimes, I can delude myself a bit: it’s just the leaders of creationist organizations who are dishonest, sleazy frauds; the majority are just misinformed and ignorant. And then I see stuff like that (and it comes up often) and I realize…no, the true believers are dedicated to their ignorance and actively work to maintain it.

This guy is lying to his own son. Either that or he’s a colossal idiot in all ways, which would be a whole ‘nother kind of depressing, but I’m assuming he knows that no one was standing around with a camera in the late Devonian, so sending him a photo of Tiktaalik is out of the question.

No, it’s clear what his game is: predefine the whole issue out of existence. If he were sent a photo of the Tiktaalik fossil, he’d declare it just an old fish, because he doesn’t know the anatomy. Send him a reconstructed image, he’d reject it as a fake, not a photograph at all. He has assembled a battery of rationalizations to reject every piece of evidence shown to him, rationalizations that don’t even make sense, and he doesn’t care.

These are the emails that make me cynical: the testimony to a whole world of stupid people with blinkered minds who don’t give a damn about the facts.


  1. #1 blergh
    September 20, 2012

    Why not just send the old guy to that site that has answers to all creationist arguments. It works wonders if (and that’s a big if) the person honest/curious enough to actually read it. That reader’s dad obviously has what he thinks is a big unanswered argument that instantly kills the idea of evolution. It’s funny and sad, but sometimes it’s not that those folks don’t want to listen, they actually think no one tried to answer some of their claims. You can’t argue with people who are just stubborn and cover their ears, but some people are genuinely trying to get a good picture of it all. They’re just failing at it.

  2. #2 Chris
    September 20, 2012

    @blergh: What’s the address of the site you mentioned?

  3. #3 Richard Simons
    September 20, 2012
  4. #4 Richard Simons
    September 20, 2012

    Try again (why can’t we have preview?)
    Chris: It is An Index to Creationist Claims.

  5. #5 Mary
    September 20, 2012

    Talk Origins has tons of information.
    One can use the search feature and type in ‘evolution. or ‘transitional forms’ or ‘creationist arguments’, etc. It is all there. Or, use the Archive or Index to explore numerous topics.

  6. #6 Jenka
    September 20, 2012

    So, I mean, what, you have to understand paleontology and evolutionary biology before you’re allowed to be interested in learning more about evolution? Right, his requests can’t be fulfilled, but that doesn’t mean he knows that already. Unless there was more context in the email, you shouldn’t have assumed bad faith so readily.

  7. #7 Paul
    September 20, 2012

    My experience is that people like this are what happens when you don’t internalize skepticism, but view it as a tool. They understand that being dogmatic and close-minded is a negative thing, but they think that by applying skepticism to anything they don’t already believe, they’re being more intelligent than everybody else. So they accept falsehood X dogmatically, and then skeptically evaluate the truth ~X, further believing that everybody else is just gullible believing ~X.

    If you give him a high-level, approachable view of the evidence he’ll think, in essence, this is just an appeal to authority. This book says scientists say ~X, but without the original evidence, how do I know they or the scientists aren’t lying? Hence the demand for dig site maps. Which is good skepticism, being interested in 1st hand evidence.

    However, if you give them raw supporting evidence they won’t understand it. And because of inflated self-worth, it won’t be “I guess I’d need to learn molecular biology”, it’s “this doesn’t make any sense. The scientists are just using jargon to hide the fact they have no good evidence. I’m smart enough that if the evidence was good I could understand it”.

    They believe they’re open minded and skeptical and that evidence could exist that would change there mind. But they set the barrier so high that such evidence couldn’t exist. It’s not so much that they’re lying when they say they’d believe good evidence, as that they’re lying to themselves about whether or not they’re close-minded and dogmatic.

  8. #8 anna
    September 20, 2012

    Never mind this guy specifically. I’d like to know, what are some good books that explain the evidence for evolution in a way a layperson without a biology degree can understand?

    Yes, I know evolution is true, I’m just trying to promote it.

  9. #9 Mary
    September 20, 2012

    Why Evolution Is True by Jerry Coyne
    The Greatest Show On Earth by Richard Dawkins

    Written for children to undersrand, but good for everyone:
    Evolution How We And All Living Things Came To Be by Daniel Loxton

  10. #10 Mary
    September 20, 2012

    There is also as bit in
    The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins

  11. #11 David
    September 20, 2012

    Written in Stone – Brian Switek. A former SB’er.

  12. #12 Mary
    September 21, 2012

    Go to YOUTUBE type in
    Carl Sagan Evolution
    you will find a lot of good stuff

  13. #13 Bill Rabara
    Monroe mi
    September 21, 2012

    Geez, I think you are being a tad harsh. To believers, religion is the most important part of their lives. And if one such believer views evolution as incompatible with god then what should we expect? Well, exactly what we see– mama bear gnashing her teeth, protected her cherished cub. Delusion? Yes, but some people, sometimes, reality seems unbearable to even comtemplate let alone accept. So in context idiocy is completely undertandable and certainly does not imply stupidity.

  14. #14 Chris
    September 21, 2012

    @Richard Simons and Mary: Thanks!

  15. #15 Gene
    September 21, 2012

    Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin is a great book too.

    Aron Ra did a set of “Foundational Falsehoods” of creationism. Along the way, you not only learn why creationism is false, but why evolution is true. He speaks VERY quickly so you may need to replay some sections.

  16. #16 BaronP
    September 23, 2012

    Here’s a new book that takes issue with Creationism, but also with the stochastic theories that oppose it. It claims to concern
    the basic functions from which all life has essentially evolved itself.
    It’s called: The Strategic Intelligence of Trust.
    Subtitle: Life, an Evolutionary Force of Nature.
    Read the introductory preview here.

  17. #17 Zach
    September 23, 2012

    give him a copy of Prothero’s book.

  18. #18 Chris
    September 27, 2012

    I see the troll is back. This is the same troll that always claimed that I had no chromosomes and would lurk around Orac’s site all the time. He drove Ed Brayton crazy as well.

  19. #19 mike
    Los Angeles
    September 27, 2012

    If he want’s a photo of a transitional form, give him a photo of himself… a transition between his father and you.

  20. #20 weirdwillis
    September 29, 2012

    Take that old picture from the San Diego Zoo of you as a kid, dad, and the chimpanzee. Frame it and give it to him for Christmas.

  21. #21 RossM
    New Zealand
    October 1, 2012

    >So, I mean, what, you have to understand paleontology and evolutionary biology before you’re allowed to be interested in learning more about evolution

    Well, some understanding of how nuclear physics and radioactive decay gives us dates would be extremely useful. Its a lot easier to understand evolution once you have seen the unchallened evidence as to the age of the earth from the radioactive decay of the nuclei of various elements.

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