Ann Coulter Nostalgia: Behold, For *I* Am The Giant Flatulent Raccoon

By Carl Zimmer | August 25, 2011 8:51 am

It’s been a while since we’ve treated to the spectacle of Ann Coulter lecturing about evolution, but she’s at it again. She’s just written an op-ed in the wake of Rick Perry’s recent statement that Texas teaches evolution and creationism [his word] because evolution is “just a theory out there.”

Coulter takes this opportunity to remind us that she dedicated a third of her 2006 book Godless to demolishing evolutionary biology. Apparently the scientists who have published over 59,000 papers on the topic of evolution since she published her book didn’t get the memo.

To rectify that situation, Coulter now informs us that “it is a mathematical impossibility, for example, that all 30 to 40 parts of the cell’s flagellum — forget the 200 parts of the cilium! — could all arise at once by random mutation.”

Of course, nobody is saying they evolved all at once by random mutation. Nobody except for Ann Coulter. To see what scientists are actually saying, you can start by reading this review that presents a detailed hypothesis about the incremental evolution of the flagellum and the cilium, based on actual experiments. In a case of wonderful timing, it came out just last month in the Journal of Cell Biology. I’m sure it’s right at the top of Coulter’s reading stack.

Reading Coulter’s new attack on evolution, I got a fond flash of nostalgia. You see, five years ago, I had the mixed pleasure of discovering that I was actually in Godless. Here’s the text of the post I wrote at the time:

raccoon.jpgI just want to make one thing clear. When Ann Coulter talks about her Giant Raccoon Flatulence Theory, she’s talking about me. Don’t let anyone else tell you that they are a giant flatulent raccoon. They’re all just a bunch of wannabes. For I am the One True Giant Flatulent Raccoon.

Allow me to explain…

Coulter dedicates the last four chapers of her new book Godless to evolution. She claims that it is nothing more than the religion of liberalism (as opposed to the foundation of modern biology, as 92 national scientific academies and dozens of scientific societies attest.)

When I first heard about this bizarre news, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I certainly didn’t sit down to read the book, since I had more pressing matters to attend to, such as reading papers written by actual scientists about actual science. And as early reports on the treatment of evolution in Godless began emerge–documenting copious errors, illogical arguments, and other sorts of intellectual dreadfulness (see, for example, talkreason, Panda’s Thumb, and Pharyngula)–I decided I had made the right choice.

But then a friend told me that I, or at least one of my articles, was in the book. Now the bizarre had become the personal. I had to investigate. And when I did, I discovered that I had inspired the Giant Flatulent Raccoon Theory.

You see, last July my appendix nearly burst. I got to the hospital in time to have it safely removed, and as I recuperated I wondered why I had an appendix in the first place. After all, it had nearly killed me and now I was perfectly healthy without it. When I mentioned this to my editor, she said, Cool–sounds like an essay. I agreed. I started to read scientific studies of the appendix, and I spoke to some scientists who had written about its evolutionary origins. The question remains open, I discovered, in large part because scientists have a lot of work left to do to trace its history in mammals and to understand its function in us and in other special.species.

The existence of unanswered questions in science sometimes come as a shock to non-scientists, but there are plenty. How does the brain develop in a baby, for example? Scientists have identified some important genes, but they only have the vaguest idea of how those genes work together to create the cerebellum, the cerebral cortex, and all the other parts of the brain. That doesn’t make their work inconsequential or wrong. It just means they’ll be busy for a few more centuries.

I eventually wrote an essay (which you can read here or here) in which I explained what is and is not known of the appendix. I included a speculation from one of the scientists, Rebecca Fisher of Midwestern University, about why the appendix is still with us. She suggested that the appendix provided a net evolutionary benefit. It killed some people with appendicitis, but it also protected them by boosting the immune function in children. Testing this hypothesis is possible, although it will demand an analysis of a lot of medical records. But it is certainly plausible, since biologists have documented similar trade-offs.

This caused Coulter a great snit, which appears on page 214 of Godless:

So there it is: the theory of evolution is proved again. When the appendix’s use was a mystery, it proved evolution. When the appendix was thought to help humans resist childhood diseases–well, that proved evolution, too! Throw in enough words like imagine, perhaps, and might have–and you’ve got yourself a scientific theory! How about this: Imagine a giant raccoon passed gas and perhaps the resulting gas might have created the vast variety of life we see on Earth. And if you don’t accept the giant raccoon flatulence theory for the origin of life, you must be a fundamentalist Christian nut who believes the Earth is flat. That’s basically how the argument for evolution goes.

For some people, this outburst has come to epitomize Coulter’s empty rhetoric. A pretty good analysis of her scientific errors published Friday on the web site Media Matters is entitled, “Ann Coulter’s ‘Flatulent Raccoon Theory.’” The report has triggered the spread of the flatulent raccoon meme around here at scienceblogs, and elsewhere. It has even earned its own Wikipedia entry (although its survival is still up for grabs). [Update: The deliberations at Wikipedia are over: the giant raccoon theory is now a subsection of the Ann Coulter entry.]

There are plenty of passages in Godless’s evolution chapters that are as wrong-headed as the Giant Flatulent Raccoon Theory. But having witnessed my own work go through Coulter’s mangling machine, I can’t help marvelling on just how wrong-headed it is. Coulter conveniently leaves out the fact that when I decribed Fisher’s trade-off hypothesis, I stated clearly that it was just that: a hypothesis. I even pointed out that it was one of several possible hypotheses that might be worth examining. (See, for example, this Scientific American article by George Williams and Randolph Nesse in which they propose that it can’t get any smaller without causing more infection). Again, that’s how science works: people come up with hypotheses that are consistent with the evidence, and then they think about ways to test those hypotheses with new evidence. Instead, Coulter portrays Fisher’s hypothesis as “the answer the Times gave” as to why the appendix has not disappeared–making it sound as if the Grey Lady was handing down absolute truth. She then goes one step further, and transforms a hypothesis-turned-answer into the indisputable proof of evolution. I wonder if Coulter actually read my essay–in which case she presumably knows she is misrepresenting it–or if someone just handed her a passage to quote and told her to make up a joke about farts. In any case, she manages to create a truly laughable straw man.

The theory of evolution is not a pile of imagines and might-haves. It has been tested by generations of scientists and found to be the best explanation science can provide for how the natural world has gotten to be the way it is. Naturally the theory has matured over the past 150 years, and naturally many aspects of it generate fierce debates. That is how science works. If Coulter can only wage her war against evolution by misrepresenting a speculative hypothesis in an essay by a science writer, she really ought to stop and think for a moment.

If she actually did, it might occur to her that she really doesn’t even understand what evolution is, or what evolutionary biologists are setting out to explain. I pointed out in my essay that the appendix does not seem to be intelligently designed. “If I understand the concept of the survival of the fittest,” she responds, “the appendix doesn’t do much for the theory of evolution either. How does a surival-of-the-fittest regime evolve an organ that kills the host organism? Why hasn’t evolution evolved the appendix away? (Another sign that your scientific theory is in trouble: When your argument against an opposing theory also disproves your own.)”

“If I understand…” If only. Here, as elsewhere, Coulter writes about natural selection as if it were a process that can do no wrong. So she thinks that if she just points out flaws in nature she has disproven evolution. Just before Coulter contemplates my appendix, she writes,

But, you say, there must be some characteristics that are inherently desirable without regard to whether or not the organism survived, such as intelligence, strength, or–to take something really obvious–a tendency to avoid eating poison. In one experiment attempting to prove evolution (and those are the only evolution experiments allowed by law), fruit flies were bred to avoid eating poison. One would think that if we could settle on one characteristic that is a priori “fit,” it would be: “Avoid eating posion.” (p.213)

Coulter is then shocked to discover that fruit flies bred to avoid eating poison are outcompeted by ordinary flies. “Yes, it’s been observed for centuries that it’s the truly stupid who are the most successful, live the longest, are the happiest, the wealthiest, the most desirable, and so on,” she scoffs.

News flash: natural selection does not produce traits that are “inherently desirable.” It favors mutations that increase reproductive fitness under a particular set of ecological conditions. And the relationship between mutations and fitness is made even more complicated by trade-offs. Coulter may want to mock the fly research (which for some reason she failed to mention was published in that pseudoscientific rag, the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London), but the fact remains that the scientists found that flies bred for better learning did pay a cost in terms of how well they competed. That may not square with Coulter’s experience with smart people, but it wasn’t people the scientists were studying. Evolution is influenced by all sorts of trade offs, and scientists have done enormous amounts of research on them, in everything from viruses to swans. For heaven’s sake, does Coulter even know about the classic trade-off, sickle cell anemia? What Coulter portrays as the death-blow to the idea that the appendix is the product of evolution is nothing of the sort.

As others have observed, it would take many more pages to explain everything that Ann Coulter got wrong about evolution in Godless than she wrote herself. I will content myself with two pages of a book that now sits atop the bestseller list. And I hereby declare this blog the Original Home of the Giant Flatulent Raccoon!

[Note: The raccoon picture comes from a wonderful new children's book from my old friend Ian Schoenherr, Little Raccoon's Big Question.]

Update 11:30 am: Comments about Coulter’s physical appearance (and other personal details) are irrelevant and, in my view, mean-spirited. They will not be accepted here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Writing Elsewhere

Comments (48)

  1. Sideshow Bill

    “That may not square with Coulter’s experience with smart people, ” which is limited in her social circles… There fixed it for you.

  2. Of course, evolution is the religion of Godless liberals. But when you treat it with insufficient religious zeal, qualifying it with perhapses and mights and experiments and things, that proves it must be a false religion. If it was REALLY true, you’d be speaking her kind of language of absolutism. I’m sure it never crosses her mine, in all this, that scientists don’t treat evolutionas a religion (or if they do it’s on their own time).

  3. Miles B.

    Was Ann the inspiration for Robert Heinlein’s quote “never try teaching a pig to sing – it wastes your time and annoys the pig”?

  4. Jim Mauch

    Being just a dimwitted fan of evolution I won’t attempt to go up against the full breadth of Ann Coulter’s intellectual rigor. I will only make this single hypotheses: After observing the latest evidence I have come to the conclusion that Ann Coulter’s brain was not intelligently designed.

  5. Preston

    The most telling thing about Governor Perry’s answers about the teaching of evolution was that he was wrong. In spite of all the hootenanny, Evolution is what is in the science standards (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). The governor who has appointed three straight Creationists to the Texas school board doesn’t seem to realize those Creationists aren’t having much of an effect. (Other than draining the budget of organizations like the NCSE.) Why doesn’t the Governor of Texas know what’s going on in Texas schools? Doesn’t he read the papers?

    On a side note, I found the video of the mom whispering questions into her kid’s ear yucky. Kids are people, not pawns.

  6. Sarah TX

    I feel compelled to note that Perry is either mistaken or a liar – Creationism/ID is not on the Texas high school curriculum, and is not regularly taught in public high schools. Both micro and macro evolution are tested in the end-of-year course exams.

  7. Coulter conflates a study that applies evolutionary theory to the appendix with one in her mind that attempts and fails to prove evolutionary theory via the appendix. If the appendix is useful like any other organ, it doesn’t provided the same evidentiary support for evolution that it would as a vestigial organ. For most thinking people, the important question is not whether evolution is broadly true – we’ve moved on to more interesting questions about how evolution works.

    This is a common rhetorical device/mistake by people who don’t like an accepted theory. Same thing is done with climate change.

  8. Ekaterina Markova

    Google Images
    Belousov-Zhabotinsky 12,400 hits
    Stanley Miller experiment 104,000 hits
    Sam Adams Utopias 362,000 hit

    Mosquitoes and DDT, flu vaccine, Darwin’s finches, MRSA, slum bunnies, lager beer yeast, adult lactose tolerence, moth melanism… Suck it, Ann Coulter.

    The greatest obstacle to understanding reality is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. Reality is not a peer vote.

  9. Craig Cappo

    When will evolution become law?

  10. susan rampola

    Why do people get so worked up about evolution? I’ve read the website of the National Center for Science Education, and it mentions no logical reason why we should care. The theory of evolution has never been used to benefit the human race. It makes no predictions. It is a useless theory. Teaching it to high school kids would be as useless as teaching them archeology. And don’t try to tell me that evolution explains why insects develop immunity to pesticides. That is not evolution. Fundamentalists don’t object to kids being taught about that. Evolution is about one species turning into a completely new species. When insects develop immunity, they don’t become a new species. It just means that one trait has become a lot more common in the species than it used to be. Instead of wasting time in school with babbling about evolution, we should be teaching kids about global warming and mercury pollution from burning coal. I have a friend with a master’s degree in biochemistry who works in a medical research lab. I asked him once if he uses the theory of evolution in his work. He laughed and said no. I asked him if he knew any medical researcher who used it. He thought for a while and said no again.

  11. Sarah TX

    The theory of evolution covers both what is sometimes called microevolution (immunity to pesticides is one example) and macroevolution (the sum of thousands upon thousands of microevolutions which eventually produces a different organism). Of course, since microevolution is “obvious,” some people who don’t like evolution pretend like it’s a separate phenomenon.

    The theory of evolution is predictive. There is a brief list on Wikipedia. No matter how much we know about statistics, we can’t predict the outcome of a coin toss – does that make statistics worthless?

  12. April Brown

    On a mostly unrelated note, it makes me sad that the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London is a rag. Isn’t this the organization that boasted Hooke and Newton as members? Darn. Perhaps there’s some sort of clever point to be made about the (de)evolution of organizations as well as organisms.

  13. Al Cibiades

    >SRampola -
    On the significance of teaching:
    Astronomy, the position of the stars, revolution of the earth, orbits of planets – worthless; Does not help in daily commute to work.
    Literature: At once, utter nonsense. If fantasy is required, there are endless re-versions of the Panda movies.
    Science: mechanics, physics, math, chemistry. Again, mostly worthless time wasters — who is ever going to refer to stereo eanantiomers?
    All we need is education in Cooking, Plumbing, Car repair and basic restaurant bill-splitting for lunch.

  14. David B. Benson

    Evolution is law. Works better than Newton’s law of universal gravitation. Right up there with the laws of thermodynamics.

  15. Michael Habib

    @Susan Rampola:
    The practical utility of evolutionary biology may not be immediately apparent, but in fact it is among the most practically important scientific principles. Evolution is not defined by what fundamentalists object to. It is defined as those biological changes that occur at the population level or above. So it includes *both* local processes such as pesticide resistance and larger scale processes such as speciation (the latter being the formation of new species). Evolution is the outcome of basic rules of biological systems. Evolutionary Theory combines our knowledge of genetics, statistics, development, and ecology. Your biochemist colleague may not think he (or medical professionals) use evolutionary understanding, but he probably does (just not explicitly). When we use mouse models for understanding human disease, there is an understanding that a mouse is very similar to a human. When we consider the variability of human genetic codes, we are fundamentally considering an evolving system. Evolution is basically a summary statement of “how living things work” – it is not a single process or pattern, but rather an integrated understanding from many aspects of biological inquiry, each of which has fundamental practical importance.

    Of course, this all largely ignores the basis for the political conflict, which is actually social in nature. Fundamentalists object to those aspects of biological study that they feel conflict with their social models. Typically, it would appear that fundamentalists consider evolution as some sort of challenge to their preferred system of morality.

    @Craig Cappo:
    Contrary to what is sometimes suggested in online resources, Theories do not “become” Laws. They are different types of descriptions. Laws are not a higher level of certainty or calculation – rather, a Law is a basic statement of observation. The Law of Gravity is that objects fall towards the collective center of mass. The Theory of Gravitation is the explanatory model that seeks to predict and understand this pattern of behavior. Evolutionary Theory is an explanatory model – it will therefore never be a “Law”. Laws are typically only seen in physics and mathematics, though exceptions do exist.

  16. Mark

    I continue to think we miss the forest for the trees here. What creationists question is whether life forms became more complex over hundreds of millions of years. In other words what they’re questioning is the observation. There are many competing theories to explain that observation, but debate over mechanism does not have amything to do with the accuracy or truth of the observation. Theres a close analogy with gravity, and inertia too. We have only theories for their mechanisms! But nobody proposes to teach children that gravity is just a theory. By Coulter’s logic, they should

  17. Neverspent

    The problem fundamentalists have with the theory of evolution derives from the three poles of basic beliefs about god, truth, and the universe. (This analysis was developed by a smart man named Peter Bishop, not by me.) These three poles of belief are as follows:

    Belief 1. God informs us of who we are and what our place in the universe is.
    Belief 2. The scientific method informs us of who we are and what our place in the universe is.
    Belief 3. Myth and reality cannot coexist, i.e., things are either real or not real and cannot be both true and false at the same time.

    As you can logically deduce, it is impossible to hold simultaneously more than two of the three basic beliefs.

    Liberal Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc. believe #1 and #2, and reject #3. That is, they believe in God, they believe in Science, and they are comfortable and not at all alarmed with the apparent contradictions between the mythical aspect of religion and the holy books and the realities of the physical world. To them, this paradox is part of the Mystery of their faith. (E.g., “God is all-powerful; God is all-knowing; God is all-loving.” No problem for a liberal Methodist.)

    Atheists, skeptics, and freethinkers believe in #2 and #3, but not in #1. Science is real and myths cannot be true if they contradict reality, therefore belief in God is a myth that must be rejected. The Bible is nothing more than a collection of quaint and contradictory myths.

    Fundamentalists believe in #1 and #3, and reject #2. God is real; the reality of God must be true and cannot coexist with myths, so the Bible is the true, literal word of God; and therefore the product of science must be mistaken and cannot inform us about the universe. Fundamentalists must be science deniers.

    Liberal religionists and fundamentalists have one belief in common: God is real and informs us.
    Liberal religionists and freethinkers have one belief in common: Science is real and informs us.
    Fundamentalists and freethinkers have one belief in common: things have to be either real or made up, be either true or false.

    As a liberal Christian-turned-freethinker, I am always amazed at how many of my fellow freethinkers came to their beliefs by way of fundamentalism. But Bishop’s model helps explain why: fundamentalists already have zero-tolerance for the blurring of reality and myth. So they step from Belief #1 to Belief #2 and keep Belief #3. (For a great description of such a transformation from fundamenatlist to atheist see Dan Barker’s book, also named “Godless,” Ulysses Press, 2008).

  18. Rick Perry and Anne Coulter provide two excellent examples of how the least evolved reject evolution.

    http://ow.ly/6dqs8

  19. Craig Cappo

    @ Michael Habib, thank you for the explanation. This is the first time it has been explained in a calm, cool, collected manner. I appreciate it. But referring to a previous entry, @ David B. Benson is incorrect.

  20. Jim Johnson

    Why doesn’t Coulter look at the flip side of her argument?

    If, back in the bronze age, some charismatic person said they were a prophet in contact with The Holy Giant Flatulent Raccoon, which said all life was the product of one of its farts, and if that belief had been passed down from elders to children until the present…

  21. Nemo

    What Brian Schmidt @ #7 said — Coulter’s central fallacy seems to be the idea that any of the examples she cites were intended to “prove” evolution. But that fight is strictly on her side; biologists moved on from there a century ago.

  22. jackd

    What Coulter says about evolution, and probably about anything else, is bullshit. What she writes is designed to please people who identify as cultural conservatives and annoy people who identify as liberals. True or false doesn’t matter.

  23. Jud

    Ms. Coulter enjoys stirring folks up. It’s made her a bunch of money. Whatever must be sacrificed, e.g., the time, money and effort of people who must fight for a decent education for their children, is immaterial next to the betterment of Ann Coulter.

  24. Fred

    Sinners can always repent but stupid is forever. Maybe in Ann’s case we can add “Willful ignorance lasts even longer.”

  25. Daniel J. Andrews

    Susan…you evidently get your “science” from Coulter. Take Carl’s advice and see what the scientists actually say instead of getting it wrong.

    Carl…you neglected to mention the Coulter Hoax hypothesis wherein Coulter isn’t really a strawman building, science-ignorant, logically deficient polemist, but instead is just spoofing those types of people to highlight how silly their arguments are. See

    richarddawkins.net/articles/851

    Coulter has very cleverly written a fake criticism of evolution, much like the way NYU physicist Alan Sokal in 1996 published a fake physics article in a literary journal, an affair that has become known as the “Sokal hoax.” A self-proclaimed “old unabashed leftist,” Sokal was disturbed by the sloppily antiscientific, postmodernistic mentality that had started to replace reason and rationality within the academic left and ingeniously made his point by managing to get his nonsense article published by the very people he wished to expose.

    Coulter’s aim at antiscience is at the other end of the political spectrum. An equally unabashed rightist, she is apparently disturbed by how factions within the political right abandon their normally rational standards when it comes to the issue of evolution. However, whereas Sokal revealed his hoax in a separate article, Coulter challenges her readers to find out the truth for themselves. Without claiming to do justice to Coulter’s multifaceted and sometimes subtle satire, I will attempt to outline some of her most amusing and salient points.

    A great article.

  26. Just a small nit pick. You wrote:

    She’s just written an op-ed in the wake of Rick Perry’s recent statement that Texas teaches evolution and creationism [his word] because evolution is “just a theory out there.”

    Rick Perry actually said, “It’s a theory that’s out there.” It’s a small difference, but for accuracy, it ought to be corrected (unless you’re quoting him from a different incident, but then the way it’s worded is misleading).

    Other than that, great post.

  27. AE

    Susan, I am in the business of recombinant Proteins (actually in the area of blood coag cascade proteins, another former and fallacious, ‘proof’ of intelligent design) I can tell you very much that evolution is useful in the study and design of variants of human proteins. It is necessary in understanding the differences of such proteins across species, and in using such knowledge for the betterment of mankind.

    You may not need such drugs, and you may have no children who might go into such a important profession. But, Please, step aside and do no harm to others. Vote responsibly, at least.

  28. David B. Benson

    Craig Cappo @20 — Actually, I have it rightly unless one picks nits, as a philosopher of science is wont to do. To be more precise, the use of “law” is now out-of-fashion, but remains for the laws of thermodynamics [which is a most sensible thing to do] and for Newton [where we known that his 'law' of universal gravitation is only an approximation as Newton himself appreciated].

    Now in that older sense, it is perfectly correct to state ‘the law of biological evolution’ although Theory of Evolution is more common.

    But these fine distinctions are (i) tedious (ii) not universally accepted by scientists and (iii) largely irrelevant. Use whatever term best communicates to your audience.

  29. Avattoir

    Uh … she does it for the money.

  30. DrG

    I am ashamed to admit that Anne Coulter is also a product of evolution.

  31. John Kwok

    Tis a shame that the Great Witless One, Ms. Coulter herself, can’t learn something about the decades worth of great research in evolutionary biology by several preeminent biological sciences departments at her undergraduate alma mater, Cornell University (She could start by reading Will Provine’s work on the history of the Modern Synthesis, for example.). And I think she needs to be reminded by what none other than Newt Gingrich said back in 2006, that biological evolution is sound, well-established science, and Intelligent Design doesn’t belong in a science classroom (A pronouncement sure to shock her “scientific advisor”, one William A. Dembski.). And, oh yes, she needs to take seriously Jon Huntsman’s concern that the Republican Party could be seen by many Americans as the “anti science party” (Speaking of which, like Gingrich and Romney, he accepts Darwin’s Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection. IMHO, based on his substantial foreign affairs experience, he’s the best qualified Republican Presidential candidate. For these reasons, science literate Republicans should flock to his candidacy, since Perry is no sure thing. Why? Ask the 2007 Democratic Presidential frontrunner, one Hillary Rodham Clinton.).

  32. Shamelessly anonymous

    Carl Zimmer is incredibly hot and sultry, and therefore I think he’s right…

    I couldn’t help myself :)

    [CZ: I'm going to let this one through because I'm *so* distracted with hurricane preparations.]

  33. Not much to add here except thank you Carl, and PZ and all the others who tirelessly explain all that is wrong with the statements made by creationists/IDiots. It’s a shame that you have to soil your eyes reading such nonsense in order to respond, but having the counterarguments by those who DO understand science, out there in the public, is a very good thing.

  34. amphiox

    And don’t try to tell me that evolution explains why insects develop immunity to pesticides. That is not evolution.

    Yes it is. You need to learn more about what evolution is before even thinking about criticizing it.

    I asked him once if he uses the theory of evolution in his work. He laughed and said no. I asked him if he knew any medical researcher who used it. He thought for a while and said no again.

    And I’ve worked with medical researchers who used it all the time. So there you go.

  35. nic

    I once had a creationist tell me that the human eye was so inefficiently designed that it could not be the product of natural selection and evolution. What a gross misunderstanding of evolution! Creationists often understand evolution as a process that leads to better and more efficient creatures, which is absolutely false. Evolution does not lead to efficiency, evolution leads to survival, efficiency being passed over for whatever works long enough to reproduce.

    God, on the other hand, I’m told, is omniscient. All-knowing. And presumably knowledgeable on the inner-workings of efficient human eyes. So creationists, why didn’t God give us more efficient eyes? Or, better yet, why did God give us apparently useless organs like the appendix? Is it so that God can strike us dead with appendicitis whenever He chooses? Have our bodies been ‘designed’ with internal ticking time bombs?

    It makes sense that we’d be left with inefficient eyes and useless organs if they didn’t prevent us from reproducing. Evolution explains that. But why would a perfection-knowing God ‘design’ us to have these things? Creation hasn’t explained that.

  36. EmilyB

    Good discussion. I appreciate those of you who responded in a manner that is aimed to teach… this is good for science. Those of you responded by insulting Coulter’s intelligence or discounting Creationists as idiots are NOT helping the debate. You know her book is on the best-seller list, right? You can’t expect people to listen to your argument when you tell them they’re stupid.

    As for Coulter, she is a self-proclaimed satirist and well known for ruffling feathers. I believe her statements to be intentional. She LOVES to piss off the left <— her own words. She'll do it any chance she gets.

  37. morganism

    The latest hypo for the appendix is that it acts as a reservoir for gut bacteria.

    saying that the old diarrhea diseases would flush the gut lining, and the appendix was there to re-seed the digestive tract with all the necessary bugs.

    read about it at the human biome project. nih has a feeder too…..

    as for the last comment about pissing off the left, my conservative friends always end their messages they are forwarding to each other with the exact statement. Seems like a political policy decision for them.

  38. Ron

    You would think that someone who tries to appear so darn smart, as Ann Coulter does, would be embarrassed to have her ignorance exposed. But her reputation is safe because her audience consists of the anti-intellectual right, which will never catch on.

  39. Mike from Ottawa

    “I can’t even guess what Ann Coulter was expecting a pre-Cambrian animal to look like. Not like a worm, apparently…but like what?”

    A rabbit?

  40. I’d like to offer a hypothesis that explains both Coulter’s behavior and the reason why I’ve been told by a number of science writers and neurobiologists that none of them are aware of any researchers looking into my hypothesis.

    The Twitter version of my question goes, “Do you know if any researchers are looking into the links between dopamine/addiction and all of Abraham Maslow’s d-needs? (Food, sex, safety, approval, esteem.)”

    I even called in to a radio show to pose the question to David Linden, the author of “Compass of Pleasure.”

    The responses have been fairly consistent and ranged from “Wow!” to “That makes a lot of sense.” All ended with “No, I don’t know anyone looking into it.”

    And that’s where the conversations invariable end.

    The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) recently announced that there is only one addiction and it’s to the the chemical highs triggered in the brain by substances (drugs, food) and obsessive behaviors (sex, gambling). In other words, heroin, nicotine, food, and gambling are only triggers that addicts use to score the real drug they’re after, which is dopamine.

    Getting back to Ann Coulter. I believe she’s an esteem addict. More specifically, she’s an attention addict who feeds here dopamine-induced addiction by making absurd comments that get her noticed.

    Ann cares less about science, facts, honesty, truth, accuracy, hypothesis, or being exposed as a charlatan than heroin addicts care about the morality of stealing from family and friends or being exposed as liars and thieves. Like the heroin addicts, Ann is obsessed by a need to score dopamine.

    When it comes to attention/esteem addicts and heroin addicts we’re talking about the same neurotransmitter, psychopathology, and symptoms — self-deception, lying, denial, a marked decrease in reason, and reluctance/inability to admit to their addictions.

    Getting back to scientists. I believe we’re all, to varying degrees, safety, approval, esteem addicts. And just like Ann (and every heroin, nicotine, and gambling addict) we’re talking about the same neurotransmitter, psychopathology, and symptoms — self-deception, lying, denial, a marked decrease in reason, and reluctance/inability to admit to the addictions.

    So here’s my second hypothesis. Researchers aren’t looking into the links between dopamine and (new list) money, fear/safety/power, peer-approval, and attention/esteem addictions because addicts are not interested in proving that they are addicts.

    One reason is that there’s no dopamine in it. The other is that there’s a lot of potential dopamine withdrawal associated with the fear or being rejected by peers and having their esteem significantly reduced, if not entirely eliminated.

    Wayne Dyer has a great quote: “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.”

    I’m finding that the highest form of ignorance is the ability to ignore what can’t be disproved, dismissed, or denied.

  41. I am in Europe and it is still shocking to us when we read that almost 60% of Americans believe in Creationism.

    This article is an excellent demolition of Ms Coulter’s fundamentalist musings.

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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