Jerry Coyne on the Craig-Ayala Debate on Intelligent Design

I haven’t been able to find the original source of this quote, but it was cited by someone asking a question on William Lane Craig’s website.  The following is the question, quote, and Dr. Craig’s reply.

*UpdateIt turns out that this quotation actually came from a review Coyne posted of Ann Coulter’s book Godless.  Apparently, someone (the questioner or his/her source) replaced Coulter’s name with Craig’s in the quote.  Coyne brought this to Craig’s attention, and Craig removed the original post.  See their exchange here.

Question 1:

Jerry Coyne replies to your recent debate:

“What is especially striking is Craig’s failure to tell us what he really believes about how the earth’s species got here. It’s clear that he thinks God had a direct hand in it, but beyond that we remain unenlightened. IDers believe in limited amounts of evolution. Does Craig think that mammals evolved from reptiles? If not, what are those curious mammal-like reptiles that appear exactly at the right time in the fossil record? Did humans evolve from ape-like primates, or did the Designer conjure us into existence all at once? How did all those annoying fossils get there, in remarkable evolutionary order?

“And, when faced with the real evidence that shows how strongly evolution trumps ID, he clams up completely. What about the massive fossil evidence for human evolution — what exactly were those creatures 2 million years ago that had human-like skeletons but ape-like brains? Did a race of Limbaughs walk the earth? And why did God — sorry, the Intelligent Designer — give whales a vestigial pelvis, and the flightless kiwi bird tiny, nonfunctional wings? Why do we carry around in our DNA useless genes that are functional in similar species? Did the Designer decide to make the world look as though life had evolved? What a joker! And the Designer doesn’t seem all that intelligent, either. He must have been asleep at the wheel when he designed our appendix, back, and prostate gland.

“What’s annoying about Craig is that he demands evidence for evolution (none of which he’ll ever accept), but requires not a shred of evidence for his alternative hypothesis.

“Scientists gain fame and high reputation not for propping up their personal prejudices, but for finding out facts about nature. And if evolution really were wrong, the renegade scientist who disproved it — and showed that generations of his predecessors were misled — would reach the top of the scientific ladder in one leap, gaining fame and riches. All it would take to trash Darwinism is a simple demonstration that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time, or that our closest genetic relative is the rabbit. There is no cabal, no back-room conspiracy. Instead, the empirical evidence for evolution just keeps piling up, year after year.”

Care to respond?


Dr. Craig responds:

I wasn’t aware that Coyne, a prominent biologist at the University of Chicago, had taken any cognizance of my debate with Francisco Ayala on “Is Intelligent Design Viable?” His response is precious because it illustrates so clearly exactly what I said in the debate: Darwinists tend to confuse the evidence for the thesis of common ancestry with evidence for the efficacy of the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection. Did you notice, Tom, how all of Coyne’s remarks pertain to the former, not the latter? And yet it was precisely evidence for the latter that I was asking for in the debate. It just amazes me how such brilliant men can be so inattentive to the structure of an argument. As for his other questions, I addressed them specifically in the debate and the public Q & A that followed.

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9 thoughts on “Jerry Coyne on the Craig-Ayala Debate on Intelligent Design

  1. If ID’s “creator” is not supernatural then it means that it’s just turtles all the way down.

    If ID’s “creator” is not supernatural then what does it explain?

    Where did the designer come from? If they might have evolved then why might life on earth not have evolved?

    It is these kinds of issues that make ID unscientific.



    • Hi Psi,

      I’m not sure if these comments were for me or for Wade, but I’ll chime in.

      You remarked that “If ID’s ‘creator’ is not supernatural then it means that it’s just turtles all the way down.” Not necessarily, I think. It could be that life on earth was seeded by a highly advanced alien race, which race was created by a supernatural being. Or maybe a previous alien race seeded that alien race. In any case, we shouldn’t ignore evidence for design just because we might encounter untidy results like that. If an alien race engineered DNA and planted it here, I’d like to know that’s the case.

      As you point out, we might discover that the aliens that seeded us somehow evolved themselves. That’s possible, but we would make a quantum leap in our knowledge by finding out that such aliens were responsible for our existence.

      As I’ve mentioned before, I believe the creator and designer is God, but ID isn’t committed to that conclusion.

      Take care,

  2. Suppose it is true that ID proponents believe the designer is God (which I believe) suppose it is also true that all ID proponents have purely religious and no scientific motives for pushing ID (which I do not believe). It would still remain true that intelligent design theory itself does not posit a supernatural creator, because the undesirable qualities of the adherents do not alter the content of the theory. To think otherwise would be to commit the ad hominem fallacy.

    Unfortunately, ad hominem fallacies, straw men fallacies, and genetic fallacies have been popular when attacking ID. Jerry Coyne is not the only person to have done this sort of thing. I find the desire to paint intelligent design theory as “religious” irrational but I can understand why it would be attractive to ID opponents; it would not implausibly bar intelligent design from being a scientific theory while also granting the ability for Darwinists to outlaw the rival theory from being taught in public schools (ironic, when you think about it).

  3. Ben Stein and Richard Sternberg both say they think the designer is god.

    Intelligent design was “created” by changing a book about “creationism” by replaceing the word with “Intelligent design”.


    PS remember “cdesign proponentsists”.

    It is true that sometimes IDM?Creatinists claim it doesn’t have to be god, it just depends what audience they are spinning to at the time.

    Have you read the “wedge”? It’s not as if they even pretend not to be pretending.



  4. “Yes of course Wade – it is Coyne who should somehow of [sic] realised that Craig used this quote without checking it out.” I didn’t say that, but Coyne I thought was overly emotional because he didn’t seem to appreciate that the person who put forth the quote didn’t give any verifiable references to the “article in question.”

    “Well done to Craig for not checking into it at all.” I don’t know whether this is true, but you have to bear in mind it’s harder to verify a quote when no reference is given; and certainly there is less of a motive to try. Still, I do believe Craig ought to have been a bit more paranoid here and should have at least tried a google search of some of the phrases (which may have revealed the bogus nature of the quote; I could find it using google). Sometimes people _are_ out to get you.

    I find Coyne’s reaction a little irritating though because he himself has misrepresented his opponents regarding intelligent design, and he has less excuse because he has read the original material of ID proponents. A quick example, he says that one of intelligent design’s assertions is “that the major features of life are best understood as the result of creation by a supernatural intelligent designer.” As presented by its leading proponents however, intelligent design does not postulate a supernatural creator.

    Well done to Coyne for distorting the views of his opponents even when he had better access to the source material than Craig (Craig was working off a distorted quote someone gave him; Coyne was working with the real thing).

  5. Yes of course Wade – it is Coyne who should somehow of realised that Craig used this quote without checking it out. Silly him.

    Well done to Craig for not checking into it at all.




  6. It turns out that the quote was utterly bogus. Coyne wrote a response saying as much that can be found in Question 139 at

    Coyne was rather testy, among other things saying that if Craig “had done any research” he would have seen that “the article in question” was not about Craig; perhaps Coyne forgot that the person who supplied the quote did not give any verifiable references, thus making it more difficult to verify the accuracy of the quote.

    While I think Coyne was being overly emotional in his response, to be fair perhaps Craig should be a bit more paranoid. Some people really are dishonest and apparently wouldn’t be above duping Craig in such a manner.

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