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.