Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Irish Science Minister nearly endorses creationist book

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The past 12 months or so haven't been the best for the Irish government's relationship with modernity. The turn of the year saw the introduction of a new blasphemy law, which carries a €25,000 penalty for "publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted", leading to criticisms that the Irish Republic had taken a step back into the Middle Ages.

Now there is further cause for Irish secularists to despair, with the news that the country's Science Minister, Conor Lenihan, was set to take part in the launch of a new book, the pithily-titled The Origin of Specious Nonsense: 3000 Million Coded Chemical Letters Fit On Top of This Pin Head This DNA Language Was Once You And I by John L May.

Now you may be able to guess, mostly from the fact that this epic title takes a couple of scientific terms, throws in the word 'specious', and arranges them into something utterly incomprehensible, that May's book is what you might call an "anti-science" book. Further light is shed, again largely on account of the utter incomprehensibility of it all, by the book's official website, where May introduces himself by informing us that "Charles Darwin and his modern 'disciples' Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris - Daniel C. Dennet, Christopher Hitchens et al are; The high priests of the highly improbable foisting the impossible on the impressionable."

Confused? Don't worry, he elaborates on the "Book Synopsis" page:

"These men appear to be intelligent good people who have sacrificed reason on the alter [sic] of, Chance, Mutations, Randomness which is a concoction for chaos. (I have read their excellent books) My cry to many of the worlds atheists, scientists, evolutionists plus tens of millions of their duped followers shall be "Expose organised religion and deny there is a God to your hearts desire.. only STOP pretending you have any facts whatsoever to support 'the greatest deceit in the history of science! 'Evolution is a fantasy of farraginous farcical fatuous feculent facile facetiousness and my book shall lead the charge against this UNSCIENTIFIC HOAX worldwide. This manuscript is extremely controversial and billions of human beings, young and old, black and white rich and poor are quite simply confused and would enjoy for a change some serious solid satisfying facts as opposed to the sorry sophistical nonsense we are inundated with from the media on a daily basis. Incidentally four times last year I visited the brilliant Natural History Museum in London to examine the shrine to a religiously tortured excellent taxonomist Charles Darwin. The tragedy of this pretentious fiction is that most people appear to accept it on face value without realising for a fact THERE ARE NO FACTS to support this delusion.."
Well, that's evolution demolished, now what's this about the Irish Science Minister? Well, Lenihan was all set to attend the book's launch party tomorrow night in Dublin, which is billed on the book's website as a "Gorillas and Girls Party", at which "Charles Darwin and King Kong the gorilla will be present" (presumably this is the creationist equivalent of a "Tarts and Vicars" party). At 7.30pm attendees can see May (who, in what one presumes is an attempt to be the Irish Adnan Oktar, is also offering €10,000 to anyone who "can prove evolution at a biochemical level") deliver his talk "How Evolution Made Monkeys Out of Man". This was due to be followed at 8pm with a "launch" by Lenihan. Which, of course, is just where a Science Minister should be.

Unsurprisingly, this led to some secularist outrage – Atheist Ireland reported it on their website, with both Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers picking up on it, and shortly afterwards May revealed that Lenihan had pulled out. He said the minister was taking part as "a friend", and expressed his anger at the harsh reaction to news of his appearance:
"I am revolted and disgusted by the way my friend Conor Lenihan is being vilified so I have asked him not to launch my book. My book merely presents a different opinion. However, the abuse he is receiving by text and email is outrageous. I have received similar abuse but I can take it."
As for Lenihan himself, he told the Irish Times he “remained to be convinced” by May's thesis, although he believes “diversity of opinion is a good thing”. Ah yes, our old friend "teach the controversy" – I wrote about its intrusion into British education on the Guardian Science Blog last week, and now here it is popping up in the words of the Irish Science Minister. Of course "diversity of opinion" is a good thing, but that means diversity of valid opinions, not any opinions no matter what they are. What Lenihan is suggesting here is that diversity of opinion means placing, say, the theory of evolution by natural selection as posited by Charles Darwin and developed by thousands of scientists in the 150 years since, against the words of John L May, for example:
"There is no scientific verifiable demonstrable evidence in our past or today on a DNA/Biochemical level that evolution ever happened or might occur. So wake up and smell the coffee, see the beauty all around us, and if there is a God then hope in his goodness for our future."
Thankfully for Ireland's collective sanity the Science Minister cancelled his participation in such utter ludicrousness while he still had the chance, but clearly he's one for secularists over there to keep their eyes on.

Update: Our former deputy editor Padraig Reidy informs me on Twitter that there may be a reasonable explanation for why Lenihan was appearing: "It's the nature of Irish politics. Author is constituent. TDs have to go to all this local crap. Even ministers." Although this was followed up by an Irish reader, who said "That's nonsense. He didn't HAVE to go just cos May is a constituent. He obv WANTED to go. Bad judgment call."

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