Fisking Charles Colson

Charles Colson, the Nixon co-conspirator turned Christian apologist, can quite often be seen shoveling out nonsense on evolution on his website and in books, but I think this opinion piece may take the cake. His commentary is a follow up on this one by Roberto Rivera, and the subject of both articles is the survival of the giant pandas. Their survival, as anyone who has paid attention knows, is in serious jeopardy right now, with experts estimating that there are less than 1500 left in the world. Zoologists and biologists around the world are very concerned about this and there are projects underway in many countries to find ways to help the pandas survive. You'd think this was to the credit of science, but Rivera and Colson, while praising the effort, go to great lengths of absurdity and hypocrisy to make this an argument against evolution.

After running down the facts about the panda's impending extinction, Rivera says,

For those who take their Darwinism, as Thelonious Monk mightve put it, straight, no chaser, the logical response to the plight of the Giant Panda is tough. Evolution is, if nothing else, unsentimental. It rewards adaptability and punishes, in the medium-to-long term, overspecialization. If your diet and habitat disappear ― and that has happened countless times in Earths history ― then you do, too. Whats more, Ive read many books and watched countless hours of PBS and Discovery Channel programs on evolution and the one thing that I havent heard was a hint that a species felt regret or remorse about out-competing another species into extinction. Do you think that the American Bison feels bad that it is, among late- Pleistocene megafauna like the Columbian mammoth and the giant ground sloth, the only survivor?

Gosh, Mr. Rivera, you're right. No bison has ever gotten on the Discovery Channel or PBS to express regret for having outcompeted other species to maintain their survival. Is he waiting for a cookie for this incredibly obvious statement? One is tempted to respond, "Duh". But he's just getting warmed up:

More to the point: Ive never heard a modern paleontologist express such regret about such previous extinctions. As weve been told over and over, extinction is natural.

What exactly does Mr. Rivera want us to do, weep for the extinction of the trilobites? Hold a wake for the dinosaurs? Are we to wail and cry over the Permian extinctions, or curse the Chixilub impact? And what would it show if we did? What on earth does it show that we don't? Does Mr. Rivera weep for them? Somehow I doubt it.

But you see, now we're getting to the real straw man that Rivera wishes to pummel. The behavior of scientists in helping the pandas is, to Rivera's way of thinking, not "Darwinian":

Yet, no one finds anything noteworthy about the lengths to which humans are prepared to go to save the Giant Panda and other endangered species. In Panda Nursery, the willingness of the breeding program director to spend time away from his child to care for the Pandas was depicted as a sign of his dedication. What wasnt noted was the irony that the a member of the apex species would ― forgive the way Im putting this ― sacrifice the care of its own young to care for the young of a species incapable of doing it on its own. Likewise, in purely evolutionary terms, the mark of out-competing another species is that, at the end of the day (pardon the cliché), youre here and theyre not. Yet, humans are not only willing to surrender habitat ― i.e., create reserves ― to help preserve another species, theyre convinced its the right thing to do.

And it is. Its just not the Darwinian thing to do...

What it has to do with is the qualities that cause humans, alone among the millions of species on Earth, to ponder their obligations to other species. As Leon Kass pointed out in The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, our capacity to ponder that question proves that we are not just another species. Peter Singer, Matthew Scully and, more recently, Jeffrey Moussaeiff, have all written, with ample justification, against the cruel treatment of animals. What often goes unmentioned in the debate about animal rights is that only human beings could debate animal rights. Not just because of the uniqueness of human language but because the arguments and appeals in such a debate only resonate with humans. Pardon the rhetorical questions but do lions care about the suffering of the zebra? Do Orcas, which often toss their prey back and forth like a beach ball before finally killing it, care about the feelings of seals?

Our relationship to the rest of creation is different and we know this is true even if we dont believe in the biblical God. Even if we consider Genesis to be a pious fairy tale, we still see ourselves as the protector of other animals, especially those that are having a hard time surviving. Thats as it should be. Whats not is insisting that man act as if he were special while, at the same time, insisting thats hes not.

Colson speaks much more plainly to the point the two of them are trying to make:

This is the right thing to do, but its not the Darwinian thing. It wouldnt be happening if human beings were, as Darwinists like Richard Dawkins tell us, just another animal.

What a perfectly drawn straw we have here. Evolution does not posit that humans are "just another animal", it posits that we came to be here by the same process of descent with modification that produced other animals (or plants and fungi and microbes, for that matter). That does not logically lead to the conclusion that we either do or should behave like bison do (evolution is descriptive, not prescriptive). Humans have evolved with capacities for thought - emotion, rational consideration of alternatives, compassionate understanding of another's plight - that are, as far as we know, distinct from other animals. Those capacities are intimately tied to the physical apparatus of the human brain. Colson and Rivera are simply attacking a caricature of evolutionary thought.

More importantly, think about the sheer hypocrisy of their argument. They are claiming that evolutionists, if they took evolution seriously (or at least took Colson and Rivera's caricature of evolution seriously), would not care about whether the pandas survive or not. But look at what Rivera writes about why the pandas are at risk of going extinct and then think about his explanation for that:

Because, lets face it, evolutionarily speaking, Giant Pandas are losers. Unlike their ursine cousins who will eat almost anything, Giant Pandas ― as you probably know ― basically eat one thing: bamboo stems and leaves. Okay, two things. (No one is sure why. Its not for a lack of options. Their home range supports other animals such as the snow leopard, golden monkey, golden langur, and musk deer, none of whom share the Giant Pandas dietary restrictions.) If that werent bad enough, bamboo ranks just ahead of cardboard and Styrofoam on the nutritional scale. To complete the nutritional trifecta, the Giant Panda is actually a carnivore with a carnivores digestive system. So, at best, its capable of extracting only 20 percent of the bamboos already meager nutritional value.

Then theres the Giant Pandas reproductive strategy. As one conservationist website put it, Giant Pandas are notoriously unenthusiastic about breeding. Anyone living in the Washington area is familiar with the difficulties the National Zoo has had in breeding the animals: a mating season that seems to last 34 minutes, males who are apparently clueless as to how females should be approached, and other problems that make panda pregnancies rare. And when female pandas do get pregnant, their bamboo diet leads to a very short gestational period and the smallest infants ― as measured by their weight relative to their mothers, a 1000 to 1 ratio ― of all placental mammals. If mom doesnt accidentally roll over and crush the infant, theres still the problem of neglect. Half of all Panda births are twins. Almost invariably, the mother will choose one infant and completely neglect the other, resulting in its death. Thats why the Wolong Center had to develop what it calls swap raising, whereby the twins take turns being with their mother. Its as if the species is implementing the recommendations of some prehistoric extinction consultant.

No, Mr. Rivera, according to your creationist perspective, they are acting precisely the way they were created by God to act. You believe that God created pandas with their limited diet, their short gestational periods and their tendency to abandon their progeny if more than one is born. How else could a creationist possibly explain it? And remember while they're ranting about us callous evolutionists not weeping about 250 million year old mass extinctions that they worship a God that they believe created all of the animals on the earth and then wiped the vast majority of them out with the great flood. And that this slaughter allegedly took place not because the animals did anything wrong, but because we were bad. And never mind that this omniscient being KNEW we would be bad before he created us.

Even without the great flood, their position would be flatly hypocritical for the obvious reason that from a creationist perspective, God is in complete control of which species survive and which go extinct. Did he create the pandas knowing that they would struggle to survive? That's rather irrational. Did the pandas do something to offend him? They don't seem to be terribly offensive creatures, but this God does seem a tad bit sensitive. The bottom line is that, while criticizing evolution as a worldview that shouldn't care about whether species go extinct, they worship a Creator that has killed off 90% of all species that he himself created. Why on earth would a creationist care about the panda going extinct? Is it our job to make up for God's mistakes in creating the pandas with such limited prospects? Would we in fact be defying God by keeping alive a species he has created with planned obsolescence, as he apparently did for millions of other species that he created to die off during the earth's history? The unanswered questions of Colson's silliness are many.


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Damn good fisking!

But actually, well, I am still a little sore over the Permian Extinction. I just can't seem to let it go...


But actually, well, I am still a little sore over the Permian Extinction. I just can't seem to let it go...

After 220 million years, you really should seek therapy.

I don't need no steenkin therapy...

All I need to be happy is a bag of lime, a shovel, some duct tape, and a girl scout.


All I need to be happy is a bag of lime, a shovel, some duct tape, and a girl scout.

Oh god. Speaking of dark senses of humor, my buddy Don jokes about being audited by the IRS for trying to write off the crawlspace under his house, which is where he hides the bodies. The bit ends with the brilliant line, "Whaddaya mean I can't depreciate a cheerleader?" That's a dark sense of humor from which no light could possibly emerge. The black hole of wit.

To quote the infamous Larry Reeb, it's a sick world and I'm a happy guy.

Some evangelicals will seize any opportunity to attack science with consummate illogic. How is it anti-evolutionary for man to seek to preserve the flora and fauna that share his environment? The fact that man has empathy and reason does make him special, but who is saying otherwise? It's like you said, Ed, a classic straw man. The pity is that the readers of Colson and Rivera will lap this up and use it to infect others with their mind virus.

On a serious note, I'm to write up a short (1000 word max) description of one Kent Hovind for my very small local paper. This piece may be picked up by a few local church newsletters. first impulse is to eviscerate the man publicly, but my readers will be a diverse group of fairly conservative neighbors whom I live among and have no wish to alienate. Nor do I have any desire to be in the cross hairs of Hovind's attorney for libel.

I posted this on TO and then realized you are the resident Kent Hovind expert.




I'm all for evisceration. Personally, I'd love to be sued by Hovind. I'll just claim to be a citizen of hell and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the courts. Hovind isn't going to sue anyone and our libel laws are far too narrow for almost anything you say about him to be actionable. I'll say it. He's a con man and a fraud and a liar. If you need to know where to send the summons, Kent, let me know. I would love to see you in court and listen to you explain to a judge why you don't recognize his jurisdiction to impose taxes on you (being a man of God and all), yet you'll run to him when someone exposes you for what you are. I've had two people threaten to sue me in my life. One is Roseanne Barr and the other is Jan Peczkis (who you know as John Woodmorappe). Neither of them meant it, unfortunately. I think it would have been grand fun in both cases.

Now look Ed, don't hold back. Tell me how you REALLY feel about the man :^)


It's not libel if it's the truth.

This reminds me of what Gordon Liddy said about Colson - "If he'd run over his grandmother for Nixon, just imagine what he'll do for Jesus." I guess that we've got worse to look forward to from this quarter.

Knowing Ed as I do, I know he would like nothing better than to be slapped with a law suit by Hovind.

Knowing Ed as I do, I know he would like nothing better than to be slapped with a law suit by Hovind.

You got that right, honey. Boy would that be fun. Truth is an absolute defense for libel. I'd love proving that he IS in fact a conman and a fraud.

I don't know about the rest of your readers...but I think I'd like to hear the Woodmorappe or Barr story sometime.


I don't know about the rest of your readers...but I think I'd like to hear the Woodmorappe or Barr story sometime.

Two entirely different stories, obviously. Several years ago when a friend of mine and I discovered that Woodmorappe's real identity was Jan Peczkis, he and I both mentioned that on a couple of message boards. The funny thing is that we had done all this fancy sleuthing, tracking e-mail addresses and names on various mailing lists, but upon revealing who he was, we found out that Tom McIver had used his real name in a footnote in a book he wrote a decade before that and no one had seen it. At any rate, Peczkis went berserk and threatened to sue not only us, but the owners of the boards it appeared on. He had no case, of course, and none was ever filed. I have heard through the grapevine that it was Paul Nelson who got him calmed down and convinced him he would be making it worse by suing, but I don't know if that is true or not. There was a thread on about it.

As far as Roseanne is concerned, it happened long ago in my stand up comedy days. This was back when she and Tom Arnold were married and I had a really brutally vicious routine I did about them. I called him a no talent, money-sucking leech. I said that at their wedding they should have been pronounced host and parasite instead of husband and wife. I talked about Tom's brother, who they hired to run their restaurant, and I called him a parasite twice removed - a virus in the stomach of a tick on the ass of a pig. It was really brutal, and damn funny if I do say so myself. Anyway, at some point I worked with someone who was a friend of Tom's and he recorded it and sent it to them. They threatened to sue me. My response was, "Please? I'll be on the Tonight Show in a week." The courts have made it very clear that if you're famous and it's satire, pretty much anything goes. They were just bluffing and I knew it. Unfortunately.

oh come on, Ed, don't leave us hanging - what did you do to garner a lawsuit threat from Roseanne Barr? if you don't give us the skinny, it'll eat me for one alive the rest of the year!

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 05 May 2004 #permalink

(whoops. sorry... disregard previous post; i really should quit posting under the influence. :-/ )

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 05 May 2004 #permalink