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Sean Carroll and the Den Yers

He's a smart fellow, Sean Carroll is, author of The Making of the Fittest. Nobody here is saying otherwise. I've said kind things about his  book, ImagesCAJLGK1X for the most part, and may in time say more. But.....hang it come he can't spell deniers? He takes aim in the latter portion of his book at those who deny evolution, and again and again he misspells the word. It's not d-e-n-y-e-r-s! It's d-e-n-i-e-r-s! Any schoolboy knows this. Why doesn't he?

Check it in your shelf dictionary. Check an on-line dictionary. Check a Scrabble dictionary; if anyone can stretch a word for acceptable spelling variations, it will be a Scrabble player. Google the odd spelling, if you like. It doesn't matter where you check. One who denies something is a denier, not a denyer! Let's be honest. You can't read that word without thinking...... “den'-yer? 'What the heck is that?”

Well, maybe denyer is the British spelling of the term (notwithstanding that Carroll hails from Wisconsin).....I admit I'm grasping at straws. We all know Brits can't spell properly, just as they can't pronounce properly. Or maybe, in that rarefied scientific world Sean inhabits, they have dispensed with plebian spellings, in favor of lofty revisions more appropriate to their scientific status. Or maybe it's a deliberate misspelling....his attempt at tweaking the idiots...those, in his view, who do deny evolution. But that seems a bit mean-spirited, and I don't think he's that kind of guy. Plus, it seems an inside joke that even most insiders would miss. don't suppose that Carroll's quirky spelling is just an application of his own theory? Has the 'i' mutated into a 'y'?

None of these hypotheses make much sense. They're all lame. And don't misunderstand.  It's just spelling. It's not that big of a deal. It really isn't. But....blast it all....IT IS! It's like the pebble in my shoe that doesn't seem big at first, but drives me crazy (is that the purpose?) the more I walk on it. Sean Carroll's been to college. And grad school. And doctorate school. How come he doesn't know to spell? And what about his editors? What good are they if they can't catch something so blatant? The Ministry School guidebook counsel keeps nagging at me: if you are incorrect in some detail, no matter how obscure or irrelevant, invariably someone will pick up on it and say “huh......he doesn't know that?” And from there it's just a tiny hop to “Maybe he doesn't know anything else, either.”

When I go to his web page, I see he introduces himself with the same Michael Ruse snippet with which I introduced him: “Of all the scientists in the world today, there is no one with whom Charles Darwin would rather spend an evening than Sean Carroll.” That means he thinks like me (or I like him). I tell you, I come to like this fellow more and more. And evolution books like his written post genome mapping advance their case in a powerful way. Why mess it up with a spelling blunder that any orangutan would get right? This makes no sense at all.

Ah well, Sheepandgoats, get over it. Figure it's a mystery. Like the Trinity. Just accept it.

Okay, I will. Enough said.


But it's hard to just get over it because he repeats the error so many times! Carroll likens his book to a full course meal, served in courses (not unlike how Jehovah's Witnesses are apt to describe their meetings as “spiritual meals,” their assemblies as “spiritual feasts!”). His after-dinner dessert conversation, it turns out, consists of a strategy session on how to counter the denyers, some of whom (gasp!) are to be found within his own ranks: “There are some individuals with scientific credentials who doubt or deny certain elements of evolutionary science that are widely accepted by the scientific community; some may even doubt the entire theory,” he observes. “But getting a doctoral degree and making negative arguments are relatively easy – making new, verifiable discoveries is an altogether different matter. The denyers specialize is rhetoric and the mining of quotes, not in laboratory research.   (pg 218)

I'm not so sure I agree with his premise. Even if making “negative arguments” really is “relatively easy,” that does not mean those arguments are not useful. Must everyone be out turning over rocks and growing stuff in petri dishes? Is there not a place for someone to review the conclusions of the discoverers, much as attorneys review evidence collected by the police? They don't just accept police conclusions. Frankly, whenever folks are running herd-like in any discipline, the arguments of those who oppose are always worth looking at closely. You don't just sneer at them because they are the minority.

I'll bet he's taking aim primarily at Michael Behe, king of all the denyers with scientific background, who was even interviewed by Awake! magazine back in September 2006. Behe certainly has “scientific credentials,” and he “doubt[s] or deny[s] certain elements of evolutionary science that are widely accepted by the scientific community.” Behe doesn't doubt that the mechanics of evolution took place, and are taking place still. He has no problem with mutation and gene duplication and fossilized genes. It's hard to have a problem with these since scientists today can grow goo and slime and algae, life forms which reproduce very quickly, and can track each and every gene. They can spot which ones reproduced faithfully, and which ones did not. They can spot which ones build with successive generations, and which ones do not. They can then compare with the genomes of prior life forms and try to piece together how evolution has progressed through generations.

Michael Behe endorses all of this. ImagesCAWYSASV  2nd He simply maintains it doesn't add up to what Carroll and most others say it adds up to, that there's an edge.....the “Edge of Evolution,” per the title of his 2007 book..... beyond which pure Darwinian randomness cannot carry developing life. Follow along on his own blog as he discusses research of the day. It's interesting stuff. he ever castigated for not holding the party line! His book, critics rail, is a blatant attempt to bypass scientific peer review! He takes his case directly to the unwashed masses, unlearned dolts who are in no way qualified to render an opinion! No such objection is made to Carroll's own books, since his represents the majority view. Now, you know I'm going to be sympathetic to Behe's position, since it is much like Jesus' position. Jesus didn't first present his case to religious leaders of his day to secure their prior approval, since he knew their only interest would be to shoot it down. He went over their heads, directly to the common people. And did he ever catch heat from those leaders! Listen to them grouse (and note their contempt for the regular folk):

"Not one of the rulers or of the Pharisees [us] has put faith in him [Jesus], has he? But this crowd that does not know the Law are accursed people."

Look what happens when one of their number....a first-century Behe counterpart?.....breaks ranks:

Nicodemus, …..who was one of them, said to them: “Our law does not judge a man unless first it has heard from him and come to know what he is doing, does it?” In answer they said to him: “You are not also out of Galilee, are you? [a big-city Jerusalem slur against the stupid bumpkins from the rural hills of Galilee]  John 7:48-52

But there's another point Carroll makes, a point that dovetails very well for Jehovah's Witnesses, though not at all for the fundamentalists (which we are not). I'll lead off with it in a future post.


By the way, Sean B Carroll is not to be confused with Sean M Carroll, a scientist atheist to the core, even though he doesn't fly the Atheist Scarlet A on his blog, perhaps out of respect for Nathaniel Hawthorne. I don't know if Sean B is atheist or not. He doesn't say. Although both are accomplished science writers in overlapping fields, a more dissimilar looking pair you've never seen.


[edit: 1/20/2012,  interview between National Republic's John McWhorter and Michael Behe. Sean Carroll & his work comes in for mention, around the 11-12, 22-24 minute marks. He's a nice guy, Behe says.]

[edit   update here]



Tom Irregardless and Me                   No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

The New Cool Mormons Get Even Cooler

Careful readers of this blog, and even sloppy ones, know that I have a thing for Mormons. Don't ask me why....I just do. Maybe it's because their guy founded American Motors, manufacturer of the cars I drove as a kid. Maybe it's that Mormons get to be elders at 19 or 20, and can wear nametags to that effect, whereas we can't touch the word until...oh, at least 30....usually later, and even then we don't get nametags. Maybe it's that, for their brief (but intensive) 2 year stint, they're our “competition” in the door to door ministry...nobody else touches that work with any regularity....usually not at all. Occasionally some awkward moments arise, like when I was on a return visit and the doorbell rang. The householder answered, returned with an odd look on her face, and announced: "This ought to be interesting. Jehovah's Witnesses: meet the Mormons!" They'd also called on a return visit!

 So we all chatted for awhile....I was conscious of a certain air of absurdity.....when the younger Mormon launches into some heartfelt, long-winded, emotional diatribe about, I think, creation. I mean, it was all very fine, but it had absolutely nothing to do with anything. Whereupon the senior Mormon turns on him and says "So?!" I thought the poor kid would melt into the floor.

Of course, this is a human story, not really a Mormon story. Sometimes you have to reign in an underling. Didn't Moe do that with Larry and Curly? The same thing could have happened among us. But, as it was, these guys were Mormons.

But this is back in the day when Mormons competed with us on the basis of spirituality. Now, however, they are trying to "out-cool" us, at least if their new ad campaign is anything to go by. Since starting in nine test markets a year ago, I've recently seen the ads online! Does that mean they're everywhere now? If not, I fear they may soon be.

When I first saw that Mormon TV spot ad a year ago...

..... I'm a surfer, I'm a wife, I'm a nurse, I believe that we're all here in life to make a difference.......and I'm a Mormon!

.....I right away telephoned JW headquarters. 'You'd better drop this Bible schtick right away,' I told them, 'and stress how cool we are, otherwise those Mormons are going to pull so far ahead of us we'll never catch up! They ignored me! Oh, they may have played with a prototype or two...

......I hang drywall, I own five suits, I believe sinners are going down......and I'm a Jehovah's Witness!

......but I don't think their hearts were in it. Well, it's too late now! Mormon coolness has gone viral! Just look at this recent Newsweek cover:

Newseek mormon cover 

See?! This is what happens when you drag your feet and dilly-dally, like our people did. And just what are we to do now? Can we really have a Tommy Lee Jones moment like in The Fugitive movie  “......well.....we're cool, too. Yeah.....we're real cool. I mean, those Mormons, how cool can they be? We're cool also”.....I tell you, it's hard to play second fiddle to Mormons after Newsweek puts them on the cover.

But that's not all....winning the Newsweek top spot! No! They've made a musical about Mormons. And not just some schocky low-grade, 3rd rate production, like those ridiculous evangelical movies. The Book of Mormon is the winner of nine Tony awards! The Broadway cast recording is the highest-charting such album in over four decades. The world has gone after these guys, and just like the Pharisees groused about Jesus: “You observe you are getting absolutely nowhere. See! The world has gone after him,” (John 12:19) I'm so jealous I can't stand it! To be sure, that Book of Mormon musical is said to be blasphemous, but what's a little blasphemy on the road to coolness?

Bokk of mormon musical 

Now.....can I be serious here for a moment?

As far as I'm concerned, this all illustrates Jesus words at John 17:19:  “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own.” As soon as those Mormons decided to remake their image to emphasize coolness, fun, and good vibes, the world grew fond of them. Mormons have become the latest fad, and there's nothing the world loves more than fads. As for us, we're stuck with the 2nd part of that John 17:19 verse: “….Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you.” I don't think anybody, even among the grousers, would deny that Jehovah's Witnesses are no part of the world. So, they're unpopular, sometimes even hated. But I wrong in this?.....seem to have embraced the world, perhaps with a view to reforming it. be it. If that's where we must be, that's where we must be. Christianity, as defined in the Bible, is not the road to popularity with this world.

So firmly is the U.S. in the grip of, as Newsweek put it, the Mormon moment, that, not one, but two Mormons (Jon Huntsman Jr and Mitt Romney) are likely to run for President in 2012 and it seems that......wait a you don't suppose that's what's behind this new image-making of theirs, do you? Helping maneuver one of their own into the top seat? I mean, just like backers feared John F Kennedy could never be elected President solely because he was a Catholic, many doubt a Mormon candidate could ever win, solely because he is Mormon. Evangelicals, to take the most extreme example, would vote for a pig in heat before they would vote for a Mormon....a “cultist”, in their eyes, almost as grievous as a JW. And most of mainstream America is also said to have their doubts, but those doubts are not likely so substantial that they can't be assuaged by slick marketing. The most recent ads are better done than the first ones, IMO. Are Mormons eying for themselves a modern-day application of John 6:15? “Therefore Jesus, knowing they were about to come and seize him to make him king, said 'you know, I'd make a pretty good king. But first I must set up a PR campaign so people will know that I'm fun, I'm cool, and I'm not a bit weird!'” (the Sheepandgoats Translation of the Holy Scriptures)

Oh, alright alright! So it doesn't agree with most other translations, which are apt to render the verse along the lines of: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”  (NIV)  Sheesh! How can a guy have any fun with all these sticklers for accuracy around?!


Read ‘Tom Irregardless and Me.’    30% free preview

Starting with Prince, a fierce and frolicking defense of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A riotous romp through their way of life. “We have become a theatrical spectacle in the world, and to angels and to men,” the Bible verse says. That being the case, let’s give them some theater! Let’s skewer the liars who slander the Christ! Let’s pull down the house on the axis lords! Let the seed-pickers unite!


Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'