Jerry Coyne Promotes Cargo Cult Science

Two members of the Raelian Movement did a PCR experiment and Jerry A. Coyne, a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, used his popular blog to promote it as science – “Science proves that consecrated wafers are still wheat and not Jesus.”

Coyne even chooses language to make it sound like the Raelian exercise is standard science:

Damien Marsic and Mehran Sam, identified as belonging to the Association of Raelian Scientists (in Las Vegas), have published a paper in a place called “Scientific Raelian”; the paper’s title is “DNA analysis of consecrated sacramental wafers refutes Catholic transubstantiation claim.“ (emphasis added)

Yet Prof. Coyne is misinforming the general public when he characterizes the Raelian project as “science” and a “published paper.” The Raelian project was not published; it was posted on a Raelian web site. There is no evidence the “paper” was sent out for independent peer-review. Instead, it looks like a couple of members of the Raelian Movement simply posted their work on a web page whose stated purpose is as follows:

SCIENTIFIC RAELIAN will focus on more in-depth articles on selected topics related to the Raelian philosophy. We will explain how recent scientific discoveries support the Raelian worldview, with references to original scientific research and publications.

In other words, the PCR work is an internet posting on a Raelian apologetics site. It is not a published paper and it is not science.

Remember that Prof. Coyne tries to make it sound like he is promoting this work as science because he is standing on principle:

Yes, a Raëlian group did some research, and I’m not going to dismiss it out of hand simply because of who did it (if that were the case, I’d dismiss the Human Genome Project simply because it was headed by born-again Christian Francis Collins). As always, we must evaluate the data on their own.

This is a ridiculous, mean-spirited analogy.  Collins has a long history of publishing his work in the mainstream, scientific journals and the Human Genome Project involved a large team of mainstream scientists publishing their data in the mainstream scientific community. In contrast, the two Realians did not publish their data in a mainstream scientific journal. They posted their results on a Raelian apologetics website that also includes articles that supposedly support “the Raelian baptism…..as a wireless transmission of the baptized individual’s genome to an orbiting computer set up by the Elohim to record the information at the precise time of the ceremony.” That Prof. Coyne cannot see the difference between the Raelian internet posting and Collin’s scienctific acheivements shows us how his hatred of Collins and Catholics disables his brain.

So let’s look more closely at the posting Prof. Coyne insists is science.


We’ve already seen that the results are flawed: true science is not built around a lone experiment where the essential negative control is contaminated. The Raelians need to obtain a non-contaminated control and redo the experiment.  How did Jerry Coyne miss that fundamental scientific problem?

When we look at the introduction section, we can again see we’re not dealing with science. The Raelians introduce their work as follows:

The doctrine of transubstantiation was officially defined during the council of Trent in 1551 CE and holds that the consecration that takes place during Eucharist literally changes the substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ. Understandably, the claim has been viewed with skepticism among non-Catholics, but also among increasing numbers of Catholics who are being disillusioned with the Church’s disconnect with today’s scientific understanding and its insistence on upholding irrational dogmas. We propose to test the credibility of the transubstantiation dogma by analyzing the substance of consecrated sacramental bread.

While this introduction might possibly be good enough for an 8th grade science fair poster, it fails miserably as an introduction for a scientific journal paper (explaining once again why this work would have never been published in a true scientific journal). Note the Raelians give us just one sentence about Catholic doctrine and cannot even be bothered to provide any citations. The purpose of the introduction is to set the stage, allowing the reader to appreciate the significance of the scientific results. But there is nothing in the introduction that makes me think Catholics would expect consecrated sacramental bread should have human DNA. Because the Raelians do not make any effort to consult and interact with Catholic writings, the introduction comes across as nothing more than setting up a straw man for purposes of confirmation bias. This is cargo cult science at work.

Let’s see if I can explain the problem in a way that even Jerry Coyne could understand it. Imagine the anti-evolutionary Raelians instead had posted an article claiming to have disproven evolution. In their introduction, they note (without any citations) that evolution is supposed to be caused by mutations so they proposed to test the credibility of this idea by analyzing fruit flies that have been subjected to a mutagen. In their results, they have a single PCR gel that shows (with flawed controls) the mutated flies were all still members of Drosophila and then argue that evolution has been disproven.  As we all know, Jerry Coyne would never promote that antievolution internet posting as a “published paper” that is part of “science.” Yet the very same logic is being used in the anti-Catholic internet posting that Coyne does promote as a “published paper” that is part of “science.”

So far, Jerry Coyne’s notion of science includes an internet posting with an introduction that sets up a straw man and results with flawed controls. Can it get any worse?

When we turn to the discussion section of the internet posting, we find the following:

This study could be criticized on ethical grounds for using deception to collect samples. Indeed, the individuals who provided us with the consecrated hosts obtained them during communion, pretending to be believers, and transferred them discretely into plastic bags instead of ingesting them. However, these individuals were all former Catholics who had felt victimized by the Church’s dogmatic teachings and saw this action as contributing to their recovery. The moral dilemma of obtaining samples through deception is to be contrasted with the ethics of enrolling non-consenting newborns into a religious organization, endoctrinating children with unquestionable dogmas and instilling fear, guilt and shame in them with long-lasting consequences for their psychological well-being. Anyway, in agreement with our results, we are confident that no sentient being was physically harmed in the course of this study.

Whoa. The Raelians just admitted that they used deception to collect samples. That is, their “study” entailed the use of deception. And this would not be the first time Raelians used deception:

In 2002, Clonaid, a company run by Raelian bishop Brigitte Boisselier, made claims worldwide that they had succeeded in creating a human clone, whom was named Eve. However, the Clonaid has refused to allow independent scientists to examine the child or the technology used to create her, ostensibly to protect her privacy. Lacking any peer verification of the claim, the scientific community generally considers Eve to be a hoax.

You can read more about the Raelian cloning hoax here.
What’s most interesting about the Raelians use of deception to gather samples is that they rationalize it by arguing the end justifies the means. In fact, their rationalization makes it rather obvious the authors are coming from a distinct anti-Catholic bias – “The moral dilemma of obtaining samples through deception is to be contrasted with the ethics of enrolling non-consenting newborns into a religious organization, endoctrinating children with unquestionable dogmas and instilling fear, guilt and shame in them with long-lasting consequences for their psychological well-being. ” Take that!

At this point, it is time to pause and consider what we have.  We have two members of an atheist religious cult that has a history of being anti-Catholic and engaging in scientific hoaxes. They use PCR to supposedly “test” Catholic doctrine, but instead of submitting their work to a mainstream scientific journal, they post it on a Raelian apologetics website. They also admit that their “study” employed deception and justify this deception by arguing the end justifies the means.

Okay, so let’s add to all this with some basic questions derived from critical thinking – Is there ANY evidence, any whatsoever, that the Raelian “researchers” ever had in their possession some consecrated sacramental wafers ?

No.

Is there ANY evidence that they ever obtained DNA from consecrated sacramental wafers?

No.

If we are to believe there exists individuals, pretending to be believers, who obtained consecrated hosts, and we are to believe DNA from consecrated hosts was actually isolated and amplified, we must do so purely on faith.

And that leaves us with the most delicious irony of ironies. Jerry Coyne has a book coming out where he attacks faith and pits it against science. Yet it is the same Jerry Coyne who promotes cargo cult science as true science and does so from a position of faith.

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6 Responses to Jerry Coyne Promotes Cargo Cult Science

  1. J.P. says:

    A complete (and self-interested) misunderstanding of Catholic dogma with a little touch of insults. A tasty recipe.

  2. Mike S says:

    So they got the result that any educated Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox) and a good many Protestants would have predicted, and they think they’ve struck a blow against the Church? I suppose when your audience thinks it’s clever to refer to “Jeebus” this is what would pass for deep thought. Yes, a tasty recipe indeed.

  3. Michael says:

    I see that no one can defend Coyne.

  4. Dhay says:

    Michael > But there is nothing in the introduction that makes me think Catholics would expect consecrated sacramental bread should have human DNA.

    In his blog dated January 19, 2015, entitled, “Americans overwhelmingly support labelling foods that contain—wait for it—DNA!”, Jerry Coyne excoriates the American public for their scientific ignorance. One of their points of ignorance is

    You can see the saddest result in the third bar from the bottom: 80.44% of American think that there should be mandatory labelling of foods containing DNA. You know, of course, what that would cause. The purchase of food and vegetables would drop precipitiously, as would meat, and we’d be left buying sugar and flour (or does flour have any DNA in it?).
    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/americans-overwhelmingly-support-labelling-foods-that-contain-wait-for-it-dna/
    [His italics, my emboldening.]

    Odd, that, for on Coyne’s “About” page I read, Coyne’s work is focused on understanding the origin of species: the evolutionary process that produces discrete groups in nature. To do this, he uses a variety of genetic analyses to locate and identify the genes that produce reproductive barriers between distinct species of the fruit fly Drosophila: …” Hmm, “genetic analyses” sounds awfully like Coyne should be fully conversant with DNA.

    But yes, you did read it — Coyne does not know whether there is, or is not, any DNA in flour, and he thinks there isn’t any. Strange, that, for even a biological ignoramus like me would unhesitatingly have said that of course flour has DNA in it.

    Then I thought back to this blog, and to Coyne’s blog on which it is based: has Coyne, in fewer than three months, forgotten that he had blogged on the analysis of the DNA in bread (and found no fault in that analysis); or is it simply that Coyne does not know that bread is made with flour.

    Bad show, Coyne: you excoriate the American public for their scientific cluelessness, yet demonstrate your own scientific cluelessness.

  5. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne, in that same January 19, 2015 blog, excoriates the American public because, “25% of Americans don’t realize that the Earth orbits the Sun instead of the reverse”

    This is extraordinary, in that it was just a day previously that Coyne blogged, “Why the Sun doesn’t go around the Earth”, in which blog he quoted his “Official Website Physicist™ Sean Carroll” to clarify the matter:

    “The short answer would be that it is possible to choose whatever coordinate system you like, including ones centered on the Earth, and then say “in that coordinate system the Sun goes around the Earth.” Hell, it’s possible to choose coordinate systems in which neither the Earth nor the Sun move at all!”
    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/why-the-sun-doesnt-go-around-the-earth/

    That is, you can use any coordinate system you want to, they are all correct. Carroll goes on to say that a Sun-centred system makes understanding Solar System dynamics easier (and, I would add, vastly simplifies the maths, which is why, if I personally ever decide to calculate precisely where to point a telescope to view one of Saturn’s moons, it will be a Sun-centred system that I will use).

    But what’s easiest in practice is beside the point: as Carroll makes clear, you can in principle use any coordinate system you want to; they are all of them correct; not a single one of them is incorrect; they are none of them incorrect. Carroll makes this clear when he speaks out against “geocentrists”, those who insist that “Coordinate systems where the Sun is at the center are wrong.” :

    … while you can say “I am using a coordinate system where the Earth is at the center,” you can not say “Coordinate systems where the Sun [or the Solar System’s barycenter] is at the center are wrong.” So “geocentrism” is flatly incorrect.

    To which I would add that any insistence that one and only one coordinate system is correct, and that some or all of the others wrong, is likewise flatly incorrect: Coyne’s insistence on a Solar-centred coordinate system (“Why the Sun doesn’t go around the Earth” — note “doesn’t”!) is flatly incorrect.

    It would be nice to trace what exactly was asked in the questionnaire which allegedly determined that, “25% of Americans don’t realize that the Earth orbits the Sun instead of the reverse”, but clicking a whole chain of links takes me nowhere, so I am as ignorant of the precise question as Coyne must be. I rather doubt, however, that the question was, “Do you think that ‘Coordinate systems where the Sun [or the Solar System’s barycenter] is at the center are wrong'”; if it wasn’t the question then it rather looks like physicist Sean Carroll would probably endorse their replies as perfectly acceptable scientifically.

    To summarise: Coyne asks Carroll for clarification of whether the Sun can be said to go around the Earth, and does not understand that the answer is, “Yes”; the next day, Coyne excoriates the American public for a poor understanding of science because many of them would answer Coyne’s question to Carroll with a “Yes”.

    Bad show, Coyne: you excoriate the American public for their scientific cluelessness, yet demonstrate your own scientific cluelessness.

  6. Dhay says:

    My thanks to Michael for finding the actual question asked — see his January 25, 2015 post entitled, “One in Four Americans Believe the Sun Revolves Around the Earth…..Oh no!” — which question was:

    Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?
    (Earth around Sun)

    So, the NSF implies that (Sun around Earth) is incorrect; yet Sean Carroll says, “you can say “I am using a coordinate system where the Earth is at the center”” [my emphasis]; the questionnaire’s (Sun around Earth) supposedly incorrect answer is actually correct, according to a prominent astrophysicist; and it is one of a number of correct answers — these correct answers even include “coordinate systems in which neither the Earth nor the Sun move at all!” — so the NSF’s binary choice of answers is a false choice between two correct answers out of many correct answers.

    (Note that if to any of the answers the supplementary claim is then added that only that particular answer is correct, and the others wrong, the supplemented answer is then wrong, but it is wrong because of — and only because of — the supplementary claim. This is why Jerry Coyne’s insistence on a Solar-centred coordinate system — “Why the Sun doesn’t go around the Earth” was his blog title — note “doesn’t” — is flatly incorrect.)

    “Everybody knows” that (Sun around Earth) is associated with what we now know to be untrue, and with the ignorant Biblical literalists and Creationists; “everybody’s” reason — but not Carroll’s reason, note well — tells them it is otherwise; to know that (Earth around Sun) is, in the popular mind, the sign of a scientifically educated person who has rejected myth and superstition and embraced rationality and progress. That makes it hard for someone to drop the idea that (Earth around Sun) is the one and only true coordinate system (or model) — to drop it is akin to dropping back into barbarity.

    Coyne has especial difficulty in accepting that (Sun around Earth) is perfectly OK (stripped of any supplementary claim) as a coordinate system; but just one day only after getting Carroll’s expert opinion on the matter, and even quoting Carroll, Coyne then blogs about how appalling it is that 25% of the American public have given an answer which this leading astrophysicist would not disagree with. I guess that the idea that “it is possible to choose whatever coordinate system you like, including ones centered on the Earth, and then say “in that coordinate system the Sun goes around the Earth.” — I guess that sticks in Coyne’s throat as a reductio ad absurdum, where the emotionally unacceptable supposedly Christian, supposedly ignorant and supposedly unscientific consequences prove the premise wrong.

    Coyne, I think, based on this and other examples, cannot see and understand what he doesn’t want to see and understand.

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