Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Mmmm…that’s good satire

(Warning: some of the following may not be strictly true)

Alighting the 0715 Great Western Express from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington last week, I found myself seated next to a strangely familiar figure. Closer examination confirmed my suspicions: he was none other than that intellectual giant of the modern age, Phillip E Johnson.

Naturally he was deep in thought (no doubt discovering a dozen brilliant ways in which science was wrong before tucking into his breakfast), so I was reluctant to disturb him, but as he got up to leave the train (Swindon – probably taking advantage of the excellent shopping opportunities at the new retail outlet there), a loose leaf of folded paper slipped from his bulging briefcase.

It was too late to call him back (he was already charging heedless towards the discount Marks and Spencer), so with beating heart and trembling hands, I unfolded the sheet and beheld the following:

Press release: Teach the Coal Controversy, demands Discovery Institute

Fresh from its success in vanquishing the monopoly of the pseudo-science that is Darwinism, the Discovery Institute (always vigorous in applying its methods fairly and disinterestedly) is taking on the self-proclaimed experts in the vital arena of fossil fuels.

For far too long, the baseless and unscientific theory that coal is formed from plant remains over millions of years has reigned supreme and unchallenged. We are even teaching it to our children as if it were FACT!

Take this excerpt from that mouthpiece of the clandestine scientific elite, Wikipedia:

Coal was formed in swamp ecosystems which persisted in lowland sedimentary basins similar, for instance, to the peat swamps of Borneo today. These swamp environments were formed during slow subsidence of passive continental margins, and most seem to have formed adjacent to estuarine and marine sediments suggesting that they may have been in tidal delta environments.

When plants die in these peat swamp environments, their biomass is deposited in anaerobic aquatic environments where low oxygen levels prevent their complete decay by bacteria and oxidation.


The greatest coal-forming time in geologic history was during the Carboniferous era (280 to 345 million years ago). Further large deposits of coal are found in the Permian, with lesser but still significant Triassic and Jurassic deposits, and minor Cretaceous and younger deposits of lignite. In the modern European lowlands of Holland and Germany considerable thicknesses of peat have accumulated, testifying to the ubiquity of the coal-forming process.

And this is supposed to be science?

Where are the experiments? Where are the observations? Where are the measurements, the mathematical equations, the test tubes and the white lab coats?

Has anybody ever actually SEEN coal forming from plants, all by itself, over millions of years?

Yet this UNTESTED theory is considered to be sufficient, self-contained and unworthy of any further examination.

At the Discovery Institute, we are SCEPTICAL!

What the SCIENTISTS WON’T TELL YOU is that for masses of undecayed organic matter to be preserved and to form coal, the environment would have to remain steady for vast periods of time, and the waters feeding these peat swamps must remain almost free of sediment.

But the chances of these fortunate conditions all COINCIDING to give us coal now, AT EXACTLY THE SAME TIME THAT WE INVENT COALMINING AND POWER STATIONS, are surely INFINITESIMALLY SMALL.

All of which points to the interference of an Outside Agent.

Our new theory, which is that coal is formed by a combination of natural processes and intelligent intervention, we have dubbed the Geological and Organics Development, Direction and Intervention by Divine Intelligence Theory (or GODDIDIT for short).

Now, the Discovery Institute, unlike the scientific elite, is far too humble to claim that GODDIDIT is the absolute proven truth. Nonetheless, it is the result of painstaking scientific research, and not just something we made up the other day round my house over a few glasses of sherry after midnight mass.

All that we ask is that the orthodox scientific explanation of coal formation be treated with at least some degree of withering contempt, and that we TEACH THE COAL CONTROVERSY!



Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The problem with satirizing modern life is that you can hardly keep up.

Yours would have been a lot funnier if, three days ago, I had not read the 10 rules of nature, being flogged around the world by an environmental prophet named, as I recall, Bunyes.

Her rule No. 4 is 'Nature recycles everything.'

May 02, 2006 9:55 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

LONDON–May 2nd–

Noted neo-Darwinist, Richard Dawkins, reacted with angry disbelief to the announcement by the Discovery Institute that coal may have been designed intelligently:

“This is not just bad science. It’s hate speech. To expose our children to this nonsense is a form a of child abuse and I demand the child protection authorities investigate. Oh, just forget the investigation and arrest them.”

“Darwin predicted the origin of coal perfectly, as he did everything else. Once there were little things that mutated into bigger things and the ones that are still with us survived. The ones that aren’t didn’t. The man was a genius.”

Scientists have long believed that coal evolved from a decaying biomass that originated in East Africa and hitched rides on the drifting continents from there. “The biomass that created coal competed successfully for survival with other biomass’ that OD’ed on oxygen and disappeared, the selfish little weenies”, said Dawkins. “Current research indicates the successful biomass was a combination of dead crabgrass and the guts of now-extinct dinosaurs, with whom by the way, we share 94.3% of our DNA. This makes coal one of our closest cousins and suggests petroleum may be our common ancestor.”

Dawkins went on to scoff at the notion of any design. “If you were designing the world, would you leave us with such a smokey, smelly fuel that increases global warming? Surely any deity worth the name would have created residue-free, clean burning natural gas instead. As a matter of fact, He would have made us all toasty warm and provided us with free food and cars so we wouldn’t need fuel at all. What an incompetent boobie!

When asked about the Discovery Institute’s assertion that the chances that the biomass would degrade unaided into coal in different parts of the world at different times was 10^386095483262154876978934758703986987059472245476989, Dawkins retorted: “You think that impresses me? You should see my typing monkeys.”

May 02, 2006 10:28 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

The Discovery Institute campaign recieved a mixed response on the blogosphere.

"So coal, which is defined as matter derived from decayed ancient plant remains, is formed from decayed ancient plant remains. Any matter which is not formed from plant remains is therefore not coal," said one commenter from Florence, MA. "The whole thing is entirely trivial, and gives us no pause for thought."

Another blogger, going under the pseudonym Ptah, used a secret mathematical formula to calculate that the likelihood of a particular tree x in the Triassic period ending up in his stove y in 2006 was approximately 10 zillion billion to 1. "The problem I have with the natural coal formationists is that they are innumerate," he spat. "They can only think in four dimensions, and coal clearly comes from the fifth, and that is what I call 'God'."

Another prolific blogger dismissed the argument entirely: "Coalmining has proved itself a Faith. Quote mining is the future. I suggest you read carefully-excerpted sentences from Mayr."

May 03, 2006 1:30 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

The debate rages:

From Hawaii:

“I’ve just been reading Himpeldorpher’s Minerals--Problem or Opportunity. Chapter 23 proves it all. Recessional Moraine. They sure didn’t mention that in the catechism forced on me by the Sisters of Limited Mercy back at Holy Roller High. Even at six I could see it didn’t add up. Bloody Christians!”

From Minnesota:

When I was four, the Church told me God made all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small. Obviously that included the coal. Then at twenty-five, I learn they admit natural processes were involved. What kind of a wishy-washy Church is that? I want Authority and I want it now! If they can’t get their act together on coal, how can you believe anything they say? It makes me so furious, I could just spit. Or blog about it.

From Detroit:

No first-order evidence. Sure, fourth, third, maybe even second-order evidence, but no first. By ignoring recursive systems and feedback loops, the Discovery Institute is injecting the very relativism it claims to oppose and leaving us with both utter nonsense and an irrefutable proof of Darwinism, all at the same time. Cool, as long as we don't tell the kids.

From Bristol:

Still fuming from the removal of two semi-colons and a key conjunction from one of his posts, the sage known as Brit was heard muttering to himself from a corner of his pub: “They really don’t believe that. They say they do, but they don’t. They couldn’t. Why do I waste my time blogging anyway? Guv, another pint, quick!”

May 03, 2006 3:04 AM  
Blogger Brit said...


You could at least have had the decency to put all that in limerick form.

May 03, 2006 3:23 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Darn you! Now I have to clean the coffee spew off my keyboard and monitor.

May 03, 2006 4:28 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

There once was a blogger who said:
"Evolution just goes over my head,
The scientific consensus
Quite baffles my senses,
So I'll just hammer Dawkins instead."

May 03, 2006 4:44 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Boy, this site is turning into the National Lampoon right quick. I guess I set a bad example with my Discombobulation post.

Somewhere in Ontario
"So all you "Old Coal" types are so certain of yourselves, as you sip cognac and smoke cigars with your sexy young coeds, without a thought to the possibility that, maybe, you have Someone to thank for the artificial light streaming from your "wonder devices" that you are totally certain was invented by "scientists" as if the rich Judeo Christian tradition had nothing to do with it. Have you guys read Shakespeare? Didn't the Bible say "let there be light"? This reminds me of something Chesterton wrote: 'the problem with modern men is that they can see everything, but they recognize nothing'. What are you going to tell your daughters?"

"Now I have no opinion as to whether this "Coal Controversy" has any merit, but I find it odd that you secular libertarian types dismiss all questions with the certainty of the Spanish Inquisition (which wasn't all that bad, by the way). For instance, why did all this vegetable matter turn into coal, and not, say, vegetable oil?"

May 03, 2006 6:02 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...


It is true those big words cause me stress,
All the evidence just seems a mess,
It may be I am lacking
a brain good at tracking
the brilliance of wizards no less.

I’ve struggled with Mayr many nights,
With Dawkins I’ve stifled my fright.
With Dennett I’ve dueled
(But I rather like Gould),
How can such clever minds not be right?

Though it arrogant may sound to thee,
I can’t shake what seems constant to me,
They’ve all just found a way
to reverse Doris Day
And sing “what used to be used to be”.

May 03, 2006 6:20 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...



Gentlemen, the time has come to consider an in personem gathering.

May 03, 2006 6:28 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

I vote for Hawaii. I hear it's nicer than Gloucestershire in the drizzle.

May 03, 2006 7:44 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Gentlemen, the time has come to consider an in personem gathering.


Due to an impending career change (does the marketing phrase "The World, Overnight" mean anything to you?), I vote for anywhere.

May 03, 2006 8:55 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Gadzookes, Peter, you nailed most of those impressions.

Good job, to add my praise and admiration to the others'.

May 03, 2006 10:53 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I vote for Hawai'i, Vegas, or Los Angeles, but anywhere's fine, including England or Canada.

I might be able to get us some discount suites, depending on location.

May 03, 2006 10:58 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

from Utah

"The Discovery Institute caters to those overly credulous believers who think that God can't both design coal and the naturalistic processes that produce it. There is no conflict. At the same time Dawkins is ignoring the other modes of knowledge, which include revealed modes of perception.

I predict that coal will increase in abundance the more that we use it. In fact, there is so much coal that we will continue to use it in the afterlife, which will be similar to what we experience now, but there will be no pollution from burning coal there. In fact, the carbon dioxide that is released by the burned coal will be absorbed by the very plants that died to make it in the first place. Everything will come full circle.

Not that we will need the coal very much longer in the future, as I predict in twenty years we will genetically engineer our skin to contain chlorophyll, so that we will be able to produce our own energy from sunlight, which our bodies will be able to use both for nourishment or heat production. In fact coal will be so cheap that it will cost more to say the word "coal" than to buy, transport and consume 100 tons of it. But we won't have to say the word anymore since we will have telepathic implants that wirelessly interface with the internet, powered by our own cells, of course. In fact we will be the internet by 2050, as our spare brain capacity will be running Linux version 278.10311xv4. All human knowledge and experience will be open sourced, and downloadable by anyone anywhere."

May 03, 2006 1:53 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Hilarious !!

And indeed, that is the very essence of what I might say, but with the intensity turned up to "11".

Or maybe just up a couple of notches, because these things I agree with 100%:

The Discovery Institute caters to those overly credulous believers who think that God can't both design coal and the naturalistic processes that produce it. There is no conflict.

In fact, the carbon dioxide that is released by the burned coal will be absorbed by the very plants that died to make it in the first place. Everything will come full circle.

A simple and powerful insight.
The fullness of existence isn't bound by linear time.

All human knowledge and experience will be open sourced, and downloadable by anyone anywhere.

Not all, but almost all. Skipper's "hive mind" come to maturity.
A Golden Age which will make all previous Gilded Ages look like hard-used cast iron.

In fact we will be the internet by 2050, as our spare brain capacity will be running Linux version 278.10311xv4.

Brilliant !
I've never heard that before, but it instinctively rings true.

May 03, 2006 4:15 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I think we've acheived the "Hive Mind", now that we can channel each other.

I vote for any place other than Minnesota. I will have to get a passport if our rendesvous point is outside the US. It's on my todo list. Sadly, I've never traveled beyond the US & Canada. I hope to remedy that once I re-attain bachelor status later this year.

May 04, 2006 5:45 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Hawaii is always nice, except during hurricanes, volcanoes, tsunamis, earthquakes and dock strikes.

May 04, 2006 10:01 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

We can't let this one pass without at least having a crack at the mighty Lou Gots:

That such a notion should be considered worthy of our attention bespeaks the Great Lie.

The coalminers, like the queers, atheists and other folk-traitors, we will tolerate no longer.

And thus we come full-circle. The land of God, guts and guns is not to be be-trifled, merely to succour the whims and tepid sensibilities of this or that minority, nor the enemies of the Volk, and the grey fathers who cluck their tongues, stroke their beards, and talk about what’s to be done.

Let coal be cast down into the depths, and left to the Frog-Eaters. It shall not discombobulate us.

May 05, 2006 1:29 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

And let's not forget our good, much-missed friends from the past, Bart and creeper:

"Personally I think the New Coalers are crazy as loons. I can't understand why the inbred twits need religion at all, but I am grateful I live in a country where they are there to defend us against the revolting, unwashed Mediterranean types and the smelly degenerates from perfidious Albion. My mother slaved away morning to night all her life to support my father's brilliance and his campaign for the extermination of that 99.999% of humanity who are vicious anti-Semites, weeny Canadians or shifty orientals. And don't get me started on those #@*& Muslims or I'll lose my razor-sharp rationality.

Yesterday, I made a delicious bouef bourguinon (simmered at 175 degrees for 57 minutes). While enjoying it with a lightly chilled bottle of chateauneuf-du-pape (the trick is to uncork at least forty minutes before), I realized the solution is to nuke everywhere but the States and Israel. If I had had a second bottle I would have worked out all the logistics, but it was 3:00 am and the @&#* statists and Catholics won't let the liquor stores open then. But every new coaler I've ever met agrees with me. Of course they are off their gourds, but I say God Bless America.

Gotta go. Today is Zoo Day."


"What do you mean by coal? How do you define "new". In what sense is old coal really any older than new coal? What exactly has the Discovery Institute "discovered" and how does it know? What evidence do they have that the new coal isn't much older than they say? How can an Institute, as opposed to a scientist, discover anything? Where did my post go?"

May 05, 2006 6:13 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Assuming we are semi-serious about getting together, does anyone really imagine I could get away alone to places like Hawaii or Las Vegas to wank about the meaning of life without tectonic plates shifting in Casa Burnet? I might have an outside shot at discussing Darwin in a cold Gloucestershire rain, but I fear someone will suddenly insist London shopping is just "down the street".

In a vague, unscientific attempt to apportion the travel burden roughly equally among most of us(sorry, Harry, but if I treated you equally we'd all need scuba gear and wetsuits) what about a nice, well-chosen rural spot in Northern Virginia within an hour's drive from D.C.? After tourist season but before the frost arrives?

May 05, 2006 6:31 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Virginia sounds great! I know a good restaurant in Quantico, the Globe and Anchor. Their Orange Duck is superb! My brother lives in the DC area also. I'm there!

May 05, 2006 7:06 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

My mistake, it is the "Globe and Laurel", and it is nearby Triangle, not Quantico.

May 05, 2006 7:17 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I'm in.


Your caricatures are brilliant -- easily the funniest writing I've read in the last week.

Even better than my project plan, which apparently gave my boss quite the laugh.

May 05, 2006 8:42 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Alas, poor creeper. He was a true champion.

I'm all for a jaunt to Virginia (dependent on the missus, finances, holiday allowance etc etc).


And just so that Bret doesn't feel left out:

Frankly it doesn't interest me one way or the other how coal was formed. If I were to prioritise coal-related subjects for educational purposes, I'd probably go for:

1) how to operate the central heating system
2) how to remove coal stains from your school uniform
99) how coal is formed.

But not necessarily in that order. I'm quite prepared to accept that coal being formed from plants is a fact, so long as nobody insists it's true.

May 05, 2006 8:56 AM  
Blogger Richard Dawkins said...

You all make the mistake of not considering the fundamental commandment of the grass genes. Grass genes are driven to be burned. Therefore, marsh grass has evolved into peat and coal in order to satisfy this primal need.

Richard Dawkins

May 05, 2006 9:20 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

"It's people!! Coal is people!!! Damn you all tho Hell!!!"

Charlton Heston

May 05, 2006 9:41 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Thank-you, Skipper, but Brit sure has added to my laundry load.

OK, so six months to go at least and Duck is already ordering dinner for everybody. That's fine, Duck, but is there some scenery in the area? We creationists like to marvel.

I remember attending a conference at a terrific resort near Charlottesville (further west but about only 45 minutes from D.C.)many years ago. The only reason I mention it is because it is very close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which I've always dreamed of driving a bit before the leaves (and I) fall. It's also near Monticello. Wouldn't it be cool if the lead item on CNN that night was about a massive fistfight there over whether Jefferson was a believer or not?

Before we get into too many details, can I suggest one of you geeky types open a chatroom or e-mail group?

May 05, 2006 9:46 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Scenery? Didn't you follow the link? They got tanks and WWII airplanes, what more scenery do you want? Oooh-raaahh!!

Seriously, that area of Virginia is very scenic. There are several Civil War battlefields, there's Monticello & Mount Vernon, as you mentioned, and all the sights in DC. A few hours south will put you in Williamsburg. I definitely recommend you visit there if you haven't been already.

May 05, 2006 10:13 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Mnay lovely areas outside the Beltway.

I was in Severn, Md., in September, visting my younger daughter and her husband, the beer maven.

Do I know a place to eat and drink beer? I do now!

When the kids were young, we used to throw them in the VW van and trek all over Virginia. Cannot too highly recommend the Blue Ridge Parkway, Peter, although the Skyline Drive part is even better.

One October we were driving down the Shenandoah Valley from Berryville (home of Sen. Byrd and therefore a shrine for all conservatives) when we decided on the spur of the moment to return the long way round, by Skyline Drive.

First time I've ever had an entire national park to myself. Without meaning to, we had caught the last day of the season. We rented a cabin (for about $4, I think) and when we woke up the next morning, everything was covered with frost (OK, I know, no big deal for you) and a herd of deer was grazing about 50 feet away. Magical.

May 05, 2006 11:42 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

If we were all to meet up, to prevent too much disorientation and bewilderment I suggest that rather than talking to each other, we stay in our rooms and write carefully thought-out notes/sarcastic wisecracks, then display them in the hotel lobby.

Just to keep it authentic, I'll get up at 3am to write mine so that they're waiting for you when you come down to breakfast.

May 06, 2006 3:19 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Good idea, Brit, but I'm going to get mighty grumpy if we have a good Civil War battlefield tour planned one morning and Duck decides to call a poetry contest.

OK, Duck, you've convinced me. All in favour of nominating Duck as logistical coordinator say aye. All against, say nay. Good news, Duck, the ayes have it.

I vote for about 3 days in the last week or October or first of November. That should give enough time to both resolve the origins of life and visit a few shrines to American exceptionalism.

May 06, 2006 6:20 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve.

OK, so I'm the logistician. Are we really planning on spending three days together? I thought we were just going to rendezvous for an evening of alcohol-soaked debate and merriment.

First, let's get a headcount. Who is tentatively in? Is the timeframe good for everybody? Why doesn't everybody reply to me at rlduquette@yahoo.com. I'll organize an e-mail group and we can take the planning offline.

May 06, 2006 9:42 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Thanks for thinking of me Brit 'cause I woulda felt left out.

If y'all get together, can I call in via a conference line? I barely get away with writing comments, I'd never pull off a trip.

May 06, 2006 11:16 PM  

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