Sometimes it's healthy to step back from the blaring din of political news coverage, separate oneself from the gritty minutiae of polling data and CBO scores, and look at issues of broader significance and deeper meaning, if only to obtain a fleeting dose of perspective before plunging back into the cable news fray. In that spirit, I wandered over to Dan Gilgoff's God & Country blog at USNews.com, which is featuring a written debate on Darwin, evolution, and Creationism between National Center for Science Education executive director Eugenie Scott and New Zealand-born minister Ray Comfort. Comfort, as I noted last month, is celebrating the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species by publishing his own edition of the landmark scientific work with a 50-page Creationist screed tacked on as an introduction, and this re-release of Darwin is the very the reason Scott and Comfort are locking horns.
The initial posts from Comfort and Scott should immediately clue you in to the motivations each person brought to the debate. Comfort's opening statement is little more than a pitch for his books and television program. He carries on about commenters on Amazon.com and atheists, and lobs insults at Richard Dawkins with the likely goal of getting Dawkins to respond. Only once does he attempt to address issues of scientific weight, and the result is comically absurd. Comfort writes that "believers in evolution" cite as evidence "small bumps on whale bones (proving it once had legs), or experiments with bacteria, or conjecture that modern turkeys were once dinosaurs." His response, in its entirety, is a sneering "Sure." To finish things off, he mocks Mormons and "believers in evolution" as being equally foolish and gullible.
Scott's riposte, on the other hand, is a thoughtful dissection of Comfort's publicity stunt. She observes that Comfort, in addition to appending his introduction to Origin, excised "no fewer than four crucial chapters" that contain "some of Darwin's strongest evidence for evolution." Responding to Comfort's mockery of "small bumps on whale bones" and "conjecture that modern turkeys were once dinosaurs," Scott points out that there "are splendid fossils of dinosaurs that have feathers and of whales that have legs-and even feet." (See: Georgiacetus vogtlensis and Beipiaosaurus inexpectus.) I particularly enjoyed Scott's closing line, in which she expressed her "faith that college students are sharp enough to realize that Comfort's take on Darwin and evolution is simply bananas" - a sly reference to Comfort's well-known and widely mocked theory that bananas prove the existence of God.
There's an argument to be made that the media should not grant publicity-seeking clowns like Ray Comfort legitimacy they haven't earned by allowing them a seat at the table, and the best support for that argument is the sort of nonsense that Comfort brought to bear in his opening statement for USNews.com. But if a crank like Comfort is going to get his 15 minutes, then it's helpful to pair him with someone like Scott, whose measured grasp of scientific reality makes Comfort's cynicism and self-promotion seem all the more crass.