Ann Coulter, Scientist

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter should stick to politics; her science is too screwed up for words.

Filed under Natural History, Religion

Skeptoid #69
October 9, 2007
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Today we're going to crack open a bestselling book from a prominent author and read all sorts of pseudoscience. Gee, haven't heard that one before, have we? Sometimes it seems that the more popular a cultural phenomenon, the further away from true science it's likely to be. Today's target is a purveyor of claimed science that disputes the scientific consensus on the origin of species. And, in scientific circles, this author is a pretty easy target: Ann Coulter.

Obviously, Ann Coulter is best known as a political figure. She has a very clear, very well known political stance, and you can agree with it or disagree with it. Not what we talk about here. What I want to talk about is Ann Coulter's science, the information she presents in her best-selling books that purports to be factual and educational. In one of her recent books, Godless: The Church of Liberalism, she attacks evolutionary biology, but using only logical fallacies stemming from unfamiliarity with the scientific method to support her points; and urges a religious creation story to be taught in schools instead, even though creation and evolution are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Coulter's attacks on evolution center around the usual creationist arguments. Predictably, she hasn't come up with any original ones. She generally relies on these four:

I respect anyone who has a valid point and argues it intelligently, whether I agree with it or not. But too often, the points you hear trumpeted the loudest are argued only with logical fallacies, straw man arguments, explaining an unknown with another unknown, or just plain good old fashioned nonsense. Ann Coulter may well have numerous valid political arguments and can probably debate them most intelligently, but when she turns instead to science, all she finds in her bag of verbal ammunition is the latter — a cornucopia of unsupportable drivel. This is what happens when you choose to make your opinions about science dependent on your religious convictions.

We hear this when the Kansas Board of Education notes that in two separate places (I Kings 7:23-26 and II Chronicles 4:2), the Bible reports a circumference as three times a diameter; and so the board votes on officially redefining pi as exactly three point zero. This is the type of science Ann Coulter wants our future scientists and engineers to work with. When the courts, the media, schools and parents disagree with this flagrant attack on reason, Ann Coulter attacks them as godless enemies. [Note: Although the Kansas board has never actually voted on this, a few fringe Christian groups have continued to lobby school boards across the US to do so ever since the concept was first published as an April Fool's joke!]

A far more fascinating and useful lesson for our students would be Archimedes' exciting calculation of pi using a circle and hexagons, without the benefit of algebra, trigonometry, or even decimal notation, and he did it in 250 B.C. This was the type of human achievement that we should be proudly celebrating, understanding, and emulating. This was an example of true inspiration of the human spirit. But it wasn't in the Bible, so vilify it. Label it as blasphemous and tear it out of our textbooks. Pi equals three, and we'll hear no more about it, despite the fact that you can't find a single circle anywhere on the planet whose circumference can be measured as exactly thrice its diameter.

How does Ann Coulter, who's obviously very smart and knows what she's doing, justify her science? Does she really believe it, or is she another P.T. Barnum, saying whatever her fans will buy at the cash register? If it's the latter, fine, I can understand that. If it's the former, and she really believes what she espouses, something's wrong somewhere. Very wrong.

Finding evolutionary biology to be invalid as a science because it has nothing to do with the origin of the stars is a logical fallacy, and someone as smart as Ann Coulter should know that.

Finding evolutionary biology to be invalid as a science because some hoaxsters once tried to make money exhibiting a fake skeleton they built is a logical fallacy, and someone as smart as Ann Coulter should know that.

Finding evolutionary biology to be invalid as a science because some examples of one foundation of its evidence are buried under millions of years of rock and can't reasonably be expected to ever be found, despite the fact that other foundations of its evidence such as genetics, resistant bacteria, and observation are perfectly intact, is a logical fallacy, and someone as smart as Ann Coulter should know that. The crime lab doesn't throw out all the DNA evidence, blood stains, and the murder weapon just because many of the fingerprints were wiped clean.

Finding evolutionary biology to be invalid as a science because it's about speciation and not other subjects, like the origin of life, is a logical fallacy, and someone as smart as Ann Coulter should know that.

Finding evolutionary biology to be invalid as a science because we learn new information and incorporate it to improve our theory over time, like you're supposed to do with all theories, is a logical fallacy, and Ann Coulter should know that.

$2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

Finding evolutionary biology to be invalid as a science because you want to pretend that it's about worshipping Darwin rather than about studying and explaining speciation, or even to pretend that anything about the theory forbids you to think God intended it to happen this way, is just plain stupid and laughable and I'm really sorry for anyone who feels that antagonistic against our natural world and against the learning process.

One reviewer notes that Ann Coulter writes "with a keen appreciation for genuine science." But her "genuine science" seems to have no supported theory of its own, and instead consists merely of attacking mainstream science with a transparent collection of hoary devices such as ad hominem, special pleadings, observational selection, non-sequiturs, slippery slopes, and straw men.

Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species, and it was generally correct in its fundamentals. But it was also massively incomplete compared to what we know now, and he was also wrong in many of his conjectures. This is to be expected of any pioneering work. Little or none of Darwin's specific theories of the mechanisms of natural selection survive in their original form. But Ann Coulter characterizes this treatment of Darwin as absolute devotion to a prophet which allows no challenges to the official religion. I wonder how she expects the rest of us to characterize her science.

Brian Dunning

© 2007 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006.

Gratzer, Walter. The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-Deception and Human Frailty. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2000. 1-344.

Gross, L. "Scientific Illiteracy and the Partisan Takeover of Biology." PLoS Biology. 18 Apr. 2006, Volume 4, Number 5: e167.

Han, S., Mao, L., Gu, X., Zhu, Y., Ge, J., Ma, Y. "Neural consequences of religious belief on self-referential processing." Social Neuroscience. 3 Jan. 2008, Volume 3, Issue 1: 1-15.

Harris, S, Kaplan, J.T., Curiel, A., Bookheimer, S.Y., Iacoboni, M., Cohen, M.S. "The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief." PLoS ONE. 1 Oct. 2009, Volume 4, Issue 10: e0007272.

Laverghetta, A., Stewart, J., Weinstein, L. "Anti-intellectualism and political ideology in a sample of undergraduate and graduate students." Psychological Reports. 1 Dec. 2007, Volume 101, Number 3: 1050-1056.

Miller, J.D., Scott, E.C., Okamoto, S. "Public acceptance of evolution." Science. 11 Aug. 2006, Volume 313, Number 5: 765-766.

Ruse, Michael. "Is Evolution a Secular Religion?" Science. 7 Mar. 2003, Volume 299, Number 5: 1523-1524.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. "PUBLIC PRAISES SCIENCE; SCIENTISTS FAULT PUBLIC, MEDIA Scientific Achievements Less Prominent Than a Decade Ago." The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press: Survey Reports. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 9 Jul. 2009. Web. 15 Oct. 2009. <http://people-press.org/reports/pdf/528.pdf>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Ann Coulter, Scientist." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 9 Oct 2007. Web. 30 Jul 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4069>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 48 comments

Ann Coulter may or may not be intelligent as Brian suggests, but there can be no doubt that her influence is destructive.

An intelligent person should understand that masquerading non-falsable statements as facts is a dangerous practice. Without falsability as a standard, a person can define "fact" as whatever they want it to be.

Meaningful debate becomes impossible when everyone makes up their own definition of 'fact' to fit their own cognitive biases.

Ann Coulter is acting with reckless disregard for the truth when she makes up her own definition of the word fact. Coulter should be regarded as a demagogue, similar to Glenn Beck, and be disregarded as part of the lunatic fringe for that reason.

Leo McDevitt, Carlsbad, CA
August 2, 2011 11:19am

Correct if I'm wrong here, as I know nothing beyond what information this podcast has provided on this particular subject.

An easy way to sell a lot of whatever it is you're selling is to create controversy, or to add fuel to the fire of a controversy, and someone as smart as Ann Coulter should know that.

The average layperson is generally quite susceptible to logical fallacies. This is especially when the fallacies are presented in support of their particular side of an issue, and someone as smart as Ann Coulter should know that.

Of course, this isn't the only explanation, or even the best, but I was a little surprised that you did not even mention this possibility. I suppose the episode wasn't about her reasons so much as the falsehoods and fallacies in her book, though.

Sean Martin, New Jersey
August 25, 2011 12:01am

I dont get it..

why isnt it raining creationists in this skeptoid??

Has she offended them as well?

Mud, Back in SinCity, Oz
June 7, 2012 5:21am

Hello!
Oh, I found something I disagree with!
'Ann Coulter may well have numerous valid political arguments and can probably debate them most intelligently'

No, no she can't.

She argues like a six year old.
Her science-based positions are as erudite as her political-based positions
=D

"Sane" Dave, the Wet Coast, Canadaland
August 20, 2012 3:50am

They must be very clever in Canadaland. The general media wavers only on ability to interrrupt prize interviewees..

Thanks Sane Dave for ignoring the normal medi frenzy generators.

This was a quick Mud Quip as...Nurse Rathcett is hanging around and has...banned me from posting until she goes back to work.

Happy New year all skeptoid...

I think, hope, and damn well pray...Its a Niners year in the superbowl!

Mud, At virtually missing point, NSW, OZ,
December 31, 2012 9:28pm

My boss looked over my shoulder at the heading of this article.

His comment: nice tits.

Swampwitch, Gainesville Fl
July 2, 2013 8:56am

I seem to fall into the same dicotomy when trying to explain my scientific beliefs to those with religious beliefs. I can explain how science and the Bible are not mutually exclusive.

Evolution or Intellegent Design, when you speak of first man and woman, you can call them Adam and Eve by either doctrine.

If God created all of us, then it shouldn't matter how you address your Father, be it, Jesus, Yaweh, Jehovah, Allah, God, or whatever, He will still love you with His infinite Love, understand your needs with His Infinite Wisdom, or trust you with His infinite compassion.

So, why do we have wars over how we address God, or not address Him. I son't get too upset if my children refer to me as Dad, or Pop, or even Father. I doubt God is that petty either.

Bruce, Virginia
July 2, 2013 9:30am

I was staggered again when I read these lines: "[...] the Kansas Board of Education notes [...] the Bible reports a circumference as three times a diameter; and so the board votes on officially redefining pi as exactly three point zero."; "[...]Although the Kansas board has never actually voted on this, a few fringe Christian groups have continued to lobby school boards across the US to do so ever since the concept was first published as an April Fool's joke!]"

The only way creationists and their likes know to attack scientific theories is in negative ways. They never offer a serious alternative and they always fail in their objective.

JvZ, Netherlands
July 3, 2013 1:12pm

Frankly I don't know how intelligent Ann Coulter (almost.. [actually did then corrected it] wrote Man Coulter but I'll try refrain from the immaturity that seeps out when I debate these issues that tend to get me... a little bothered) is, I haven't the patience to listen to that (be nice) woman. But I think she's smart enough and greedy enough, to be an intellectual WHORE, and to pander to these troglodytes to feather her nest. However, I do doubt, she's greedy enough to commit wire fraud, to add to her already gargantuan pile of ducats and mess up the lives of the ones around her. There are SOME lines, SOME whores won't cross.

The most hypocritical thing I see in the troglodytes, is the fact that they have no qualms with computers, automobiles, television, modern medicine, cell phones or any other trappings of modernity. If they refuse the science of evolution, believe the earth is 4,700 yrs old, believe in all the miracles in the bible, shouldn't they be living in caves in Afghanistan, shunning modern science?

I guess if they pick what parts of the bible they'll accept and reject, they'll do the same with science. Too bad they don't see the reality of their hypocrisy. I care not a whit, what they want to believe and not believe, but when it effects others, when it is used politically in legislation, then that is WRONG!

Neanderthal MaNNN, Sears Kenmore WA
July 10, 2013 1:04pm

"creation and evolution are not necessarily mutually exclusive".

Where did you get this Brian ?

I suggest you read or re-read the Origin of the Species. No room for creationism or intelligent design there.

Eric, France
April 1, 2014 5:39am

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