Normally, I like to leave a little time between blog posts. This week, however, has been far too full of blog-worthy topics to pass up, so please excuse my break from routine.
One topic doing the rounds of the internet is the launch of a new book by an Irish author, John J May, called The Origin of Specious Nonsense. The author claims that the book will “unceremoniously unashamedly and unmistakably [going to] expose the fiction of evolution”, which is, I think you’ll agree, a pretty big claim for any author to make. Of course, there are plenty of people who launch books that will “change the world”, but what made this one so special was that, for a time at least, it appeared to have the support of our very own Junior Minister for Science (and other stuff), Conor Lenihan.
Mr. Lenihan’s involvement in the launch of this book catapulted what would have otherwise been a banal book launch into the international spotlight, as news services and prominent skeptics (Dara O’Briain, Ben Goldacre, etc) cried foul after picking up the internet buzz about it. Lenihan maintains that he was launching it merely as a friend, and a TD, rather than in his capacity as minister, and therefore saw no issue with it. Perhaps he was not aware that, as a minister for science, his launching a prominently anti-evolution book would cause a stir, or perhaps he was simply hoping that his involvement would not be noticed.
After the story was picked up by news services, there was a dash to back-pedal and save face – the Irish Times tells us that the author asked Mr. Lenihan to withdraw, because he was embarrassed that the minister had been insulted. There was a hurried removal of most (but not all) mentions of Lenihan on the book launch website, and the whole issue seems to have died down. It does, however, raise an interesting question, namely, at what point, if ever, do ministers stop being ministers? Can a minister for science support anti-evolution or similar theories and still be credible in his professional role? Should we require some sort of qualification or relevant experience of our ministers to ensure that they understand the area they govern?
In the spirit of fairness, I perused the author’s launch website, and read the sample chapter provided. After all, it would be unfair to dismiss the author’s theories without first examining them. While you may be expecting me to spend the rest of this post attempting to explain or dissect his arguments, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint, because after a careful reading of the samples provided, and the promotional material, I have found not a single properly constructed argument or point that would stand up to even the most basic of scrutiny. That said, this would be a poor entry if I didn’t at least try, so I’ve examined the varied and unconnected points which he attempts to present as arguments, and dissected them instead.
The author poses 7 questions at the start of the sample chapter, which may lead you to believe that he intends to answer them, or refute the accepted scientific answers for them. In actual fact, he does neither – rather, he repeats the 7 questions several times throughout the chapter, at random intervals, apparently simply to fill space! The questions are:
- How and why do cells split?
- How do toes know where to grow?
- How do cells know how to build a heart?
- How do cells know how to make blood?
- How does blood have all the right chemicals?
- How did the reproductive system develop?
- Was I truly one single cell?
These don’t seem to me like questions that will shake the very foundations of evolutionary theory – in fact, they appear more like the questions of a child who has been studying some basic reproductive biology, and found the book lacking in detail. (And since he continually refers to Cell Diferenciation [sic], one could also say that they are like the questions of a child who possesses neither a dictionary, or a computer with a spell-check function).
The chapter doesn’t appear to have a single coherent point. Instead, it touches lightly on a number of processes that happen during the growth of an embryo and foetus (jumping somewhat erratically around the timeline of foetal development, from 3 weeks to 8 weeks, and back to 7, etc.), deems each of them wonderful (“The triumph of one cell metamorphosing into one beautiful baby”, “wondrous creation”,), and goes on to speculate that they could not possibly be the result of random chance, but must instead be the work of a creator figure: God.
It is irrational to suggest that such molecular action, chemical cleverness, D.N.A. codes, sperm and egg, 46 chromosomes, cellular differentiation, hormones and blood, skin and bone, eyes and heart plus millions of other atomic structures came from nothing – means nothing, will be nothing! And since it is totally irrational I commit it to the realm of ridiculous speculative fantasy. It is far more reasonable to conclude a creator of awesome prodigious intellectual capabilities was – is and forever shall be…
The Cognitive Artistic Genetic Engineer. (God)
He seems to suggest repeatedly that the only alternative theory to his own (which appears to be that we were created by God, i.e. intelligent design) is that we came from nothing, and tries to refute this point. His argument here is moot, however, because the theory of evolution does not state anywhere that we ultimately came from nothing, but that we came from our ancestors, and developed in response to various selective pressures.
In fact, the crux of the “argument” in this chapter appears to be that something so wonderful and clever could not possibly have evolved by accident, and must instead have been designed by God. To support this assertion, he simply refers to random biological occurrences and body parts, and several photos of foetuses, and asks us to agree either that they came from nothing, or that they came from God – in short, a poorly constructed straw-man argument that is barely worth blowing down. Indeed, towards the end of the chapter, his whole argument hinges on a picture of a small child with (presumably) her parents, as he implores us to believe that “It is quite simply not credible that this beautiful baby combining physical characteristics of both parents, plus linkingand [sic] strengthening two humans into three in love came from nothing!”.
In addition to some fairly questionable arguing strategies, there is also the fact that some of his sentences simply don’t make any sense. For example, later in the chapter, after demanding that we stop ignoring God and believing that pregnancy is proof of evolution, he writes:
Mental dysfunction manifests itself clearly through disassociation from reality and evinces shades of psychosis. I think the epithetmost [sic] descriptive of intelligent individuals who embrace evolution and reject reason is FANTASISTS. [sic]
What is he trying to say with the above sentence? That mental dysfunction is a result of belief in evolution, or a lack of belief in God? That psychosis is preventable if you believe as he does? Or perhaps he intends to imply that believe in evolution means that you are a “fantasist”, and that mental dysfunction is merely a side effect of those living in the evolution-believing fantasy? Leaving aside those unpalatable and ridiculous notions, there is also the fact that the sentence construction is poor, and the word usage, appalling – a trait seen throughout the chapter, and doubtless throughout the book. There is little use of punctuation, and where it is used, it is often used incorrectly. I am certain that, given enough time, a child of 10 could produce an equivalent document with fewer errors.
The book promotion website is full of jaded promotional phrases, and ludicrous attempts to attach credible names to the book itself. Below are just some of the more ridiculous statements found on the website. For clarity, my own comments on each are included in blue.
- “From author John J May comes the most controversial book in decades” – I wonder how many “most controversial” books that makes this decade?
- “It is a non academic attempt which is currently very popular worldwide due to the brilliant observationalist naturalist Charles Darwin’s 200 year birth anniversary and 150 years celebration of his monumental laughable fantasy, The Origin of Species which I have read forensically and counted 1550 suppositions.” – Is he saying that non-academic academic books are popular, that his unorthodox approach is popular?
- The international appeal of such a book is evident by four of the worlds best known innocent atheist evolutionary authors, (Plus many others) Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel C Dennett, et al – The appeal of the book is evident by other authors who vehemently disagree with the kind of things he’s saying in his book? Aside from the ludicrous idea that his book is of the same calibre as any written by those mentioned, that sentence doesn’t even make sense! These names are literally pasted in large text, before smaller text decries them as people who have “sacrificed reason on the alter of Chance, Mutations, Randomness which is a concoction for chaos”
- “The Origin Of Specious Nonsense” is a plea for sanity and reason in a dangerous world further morally polluted by the corrupting hoax of evolution as tragically illustrated by the Columbine High School killers ten years ago in the USA. Those two deluded young men spoke on video about “Helping out the process of natural selection by eliminating the weak.” One of them Eric Harris on the day of the massacre actually wore a T-shirt with the words.. “Natural Selection” – Included in the “Mission Statement” on the website is the above quote. To imply that evolution, as a theory, had any bearing on the actions of the teenagers who carried out the Columbine killings is simply ridiculous. In an attempt to weaken arguments for the theory of evolution, he is attempting to attach a horrific event to it, when in fact the two are completely unrelated.
Essentially, the website contains more of the same weak rhetoric found within the book – it’s unconvincing, badly structured nonsense. May’s understanding of evolution appears to be very poor, and based on flawed information, and so all premises based on his understanding are fundamentally flawed. In addition, the arguments he presents against evolution are not based in fact, but rather on opinion, and there is no evidence to support them (unlike evolution, for which there is plentiful evidence).
This is a book that would have faded into obscurity, like so many other self-published works (yes, surprisingly, the book is self published by a vanity publisher in Ireland), without so much as a blip and no hope of a second print run. Sadly, due to the ill-advised involvement of a prominent politician, even for a short while, John J May has received the kind of publicity that every raving lunatic with €2000 and a word processing program can only dream of. I can only hope that the fuss will disappear as quickly as it appeared, and then Mr. May can go back to handing out pamphlets on Grafton Street alongside the other “respected and revolutionary” authors of our time.
September 17, 2010 at 7:49 pm
Hey There thanks for your interesting review.
I am from a poor family and so had to go to work at 14 and so did not benefit from a univerisity degree in literature. I wish i had.
I asked Conor Lenihan to launch my book since he has been a friend for 20 years (approx) I knew he was an evolutionist but that did not bother me as i felt it would show my respect for evolutionists.
In the final analysis we are all entitled to our opinions. However it is the viscious emails i have been receiving which proves the truth of one of Christopher Hitchins favourite quotes; “Those who believe absurdities shall practice obscenities.”
I wish you a good life but dont give a fxxx if you read my book or not but you seem fair and i thank you for that.
John J May
Author of THE ORIGIN OF SPECIOUS NONSENSE (DICTIONARY DEFINITION OF NONSENSE IS ALSO “BOLLOX”
September 18, 2010 at 3:06 am
You and I have clashed before about your allopath/empiricist views, you shied away from responding to me last time and I fully expect you to do the same this time but I’m commenting here more to express my support of John than in the vain hope of any intelligent discourse with someone so passionately entwined with a paradigm spoon-fed to you by big corporate interests and the governments they buy.
While your blog post seems, to the casual (or, in the case of John above, very gracious) reader, balanced and fair, I propose the one possibility that you hadn’t considered: namely that YOU DIDN’T UNDERSTAND IT. How’s that feel to your science-fan ego? Face it, you’re conditioned, institutionalised, and completely incapable (let alone inclined) of thinking outside the tiny box you’ve allowed yourself to be put in. John’s book may as well be in another language for all the value you got from it. You should be ashamed of yourself for spreading intolerance and ignorance on the Internet, for pushing a a corporate agenda, and for victimising the free thinkers like John that, in purer, simpler times, would be regarded as the visionaries and geniuses of their generation.
September 18, 2010 at 1:12 pm
I would like to say thank you to the author of this blog for her well written and sound rebuttal of Mr Mays book.
Indeed Mr May would be wise to spend his money on further education before he puts pen to paper again.
I would also note that the comment above appears to be Mr Mays ‘real’ reply as Jack Mackarupp and Mr Mays writing style appear identical and Jack Mackarupp appears to have no web activity at all. A quick goggle reveals a classic ‘googlewack’.
September 19, 2010 at 6:03 pm
John May is a classic example of the psychologists’ “unable and unaware” phenomenon, more recently characterised as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
Not only is Mr May ignorant about basic biology and evolutionary theory, he is actually incapable of understanding how ignorant he is. The title of his book is clearly too long: the last word alone would suffice as his thesis is nonsense, pure and simple.
The other thing he lacks is humility – why does he think he alone with his bucket of nonsense is right when so many people (with brains!) have found Darwin’s idea and its later developments profoundly beautiful and correct. Modern biology can explain most phenomena through the lens of natural selection and evolution; Mr May’s ideas are not even laughable, just sad.
Of course one cannot engage in a sensible discussion with Mr May; he lacks the framework of both knowledge (factual and theoretical) and reasoning and language powers to engage in a useful debate. The most one could hope to do is to blow away a whiff or two of the thick clouds of his ignorance. So better to just ignore him, and hope that he might enjoy watching a few David Attenborough programmes and learn something from those.
The beauty of nature is seen best when one understands it, not through a fog of fables from holy books and nitwits.
September 19, 2010 at 9:41 pm
Ha Ha Holy books are u serious!
If i am wrong teach me…Show me…Help me..
Richard Dawkins today called me in the Irish Sunday newspaper THE TRIBUNE an ignoramus…a fool…an idiot. And i answer; Richard you are a BRILLIANT writer with a magnificent intellect which i HUGELY admire. In fact i am more ANTI ORGANISED RELIGION than he is. He said in one of his immensibly enjoyable books; he “enjoys the ceremonies of the Church of England>” I answer in my book; thats like Germans after the second world war saying the enjoyed “the ceremonies of nazism”
Anyway mine is simply my opinion and the viscious cruel emails i am getting remind me of another of my linguistic hero’s Christopher Hitchins (so so very sorry to hear he is ill! If any of you know him PLEASE give him my VERY best wishes.) favourite sayings; “Those who believe absurdities shall practice obscenities”
In the final analysis we are all humans on this planet and showing respect for each other surely is the sign of civilised mature men an women
John J May
September 20, 2010 at 1:27 pm
If anybody has €10,000 that they’re willing to put up as a prize, I would like to propose the following challenge for John J May.
Mr May, you are hereby challenged to provide any testable evidence whatsoever for intelligent design under the following conditions:
1) Gaps in evolutionary knowledge does not constitute a proof of your alternative.
2) You are not allowed to merely give the answer: “read my book and you’ll see.”
Whether or not anybody has €10,000, if you could meet this challenge, you’ll sell thousands of copies of your book anyway since you will have done what no creationist/intelligent design website/book/advocate has managed so far.
September 20, 2010 at 1:55 pm
I haven’t read your book, though I am curious enough to have read some of the extracts on your webpages and there appear to be a number of the fairly routine logical fallacies that occur when one tries to mix faith and science. I rather suspect the full treatment would offend my sensibilities, give that I long ago dispensed with the need to believe in magic to explain my existence.
I’m not saying this to have a go, just to honestly and transparently point out that its very unlikely that I will buy/read the full publication as I really don’t think I’d be prepared to spend time on something from which there is probably not a lot I have to learn. Thats my position and I very much doubt that it is particularly unique.
Having said that, its great to see you comment and reply to these articles. I also admire that fact that you are prepared to engage with the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens. Dawkins in particular has become more strident and forthright of late but that is of course irrelevant to the content of his arguments. Have you come across Godwin’s principle?
Its a pity that people seem to want to attack you personally rather than your arguments, I don’t think thats fair or reasonable but its a classic Irish debating tactic unfortunately. I hope that you can/will continue to explore this topic and learn more as you do so. My “simple opinion”, as somebody with a science and engineering background, is that you have substantial gaps in your knowledge. The best way to fill them is through debate and an attitude of being prepared to consciously change your opinion in the light of new evidence.
What makes me slightly uneasy is the apparent ease with which you are prepared to dismiss science that does not tally with your faith. I think this demonstrates and all too common misapprehension as to what science actually is. It seems also to reflect a very strong trend of anti-intellectualism that has become part of the popular consciousness, where those who have an education and possess knowledge are somehow to be distrusted. Surely the best counter to this fear is to increase levels of knowledge, but sadly the more common response is to see knowledge and education as the enemy. This merely strengthens the position of entrenched elites (political, intellectual, financial).
Anyway I have strayed far too much. Just wanted to say best of luck with your future endeavors and keep listening, especially to those you don’t agree with!
September 28, 2010 at 8:17 pm
Why people laugh at John J May
October 5, 2010 at 9:16 am
I’ve corresponded with John J. May, or at least have done my best to correspond with Mr. May. I haven’t yet asked his permission to publicly discuss our private correspondence. I want to find out how he thinks and why he chooses to believe what he believes. I’m surprised at John’s comment here: “If i am wrong teach me… Show me… Help me…” John, if you are willing to be taught, shown, or helped, I am willing to teach, show, and help you.
I will second Colin’s point that “Buy my book” is not a valid argument.
In the case of creationists, I doubt issuing challenges with an offer of a cash prize would be a productive tactic. Consider the unfortunate experience Alfred Russel Wallace suffered when he unwisely took up a flat earther’s challenge.
November 26, 2010 at 5:57 pm
Holy crap…there’re a lot of inflated egos out there. Not one of us knows the answer to man’s origins, we’re all guessing.So could we all grow up and admit that as mere human biengs, no matter how many ologies we come up with, psychology,ontology, eschatology, epistemology etc, etc…we don’t have a damn clue!
November 26, 2010 at 10:37 pm
Ross, it’s true we don’t know everything. But we do know some things. We know humans and the other great apes descend from a common ancestor; that’s a fact, not a guess.
Mr. May told me to stop emailing him. My experience supports Sam Centipedro’s statement that one cannot engage in a sensible discussion with Mr. May.