Field of Science

Dumping emails from creationist

In June of last year I wrote a post about a local Tennessee teacher, Jason Groppel, who organized a course on creationism. I couldn't find much information about the class - just a little from a news article that has now been taken down.

Then a little over a week ago, Jason Groppel posts a comment:
Very negative, sorry you couldn't make it to hear what was taught.
I happen to be an ex-evolutionist and I DO happen to know quite a bit more about evolution than you apparently.

By the way, a good journalist, Blogger would have contacted the person in question before making such heinous assumptions. You have never met me and do not know anything about me. Simply negative attitudes and assumptions.

It is a bit cowardly not to approach me about this first and make such public comments without knowing anything about me or what was taught.


I still welcome you to contact me. I am not hiding. I am easy to find online.
So I found his email online, and emailed him, and back and forth it has now gone.
Okay, Jason. Tell me what you taught in your class, then. Prove my 'heinous' assumption, that you don't know enough about evolution to teach such a class, wrong, and tell me why you assume that you know more about evolution than me, please (an equally heinous assumption?).


You are obviously closed to the idea of anything I would ever say.
If you were interested at all in what the class was about you would have asked before making such asinine assumptions about me personally, and the class before publishing them.

I notice you have listed that you have earned your PhD. If so, perhaps you have taught classes, and may have had a student come to you and ask if they "missed anything" in a single class, much less a whole semester. This is demeaning and objectionable to any educator that takes their classes seriously, and so it is for you, to casually ask what you missed in the class.

It is unfortunate that people who claim to be so open minded also claim to be scientists or worse, educators. Scientists will humbly seek out and even entertain the possibility of knowledge from what may appear as unintelligible sources when their quest is truth.

A condescending and closed mind will not be rewarded in any search for truth.

> You are obviously closed to the idea of anything I would ever say.

Why is that obvious? I am not closed to what you have to say. I even asked you what you taught, but you gave no answer. Seems like you only want to talk about my person.

> If you were interested at all in what the class was about you would have asked
> before making such asinine assumptions about me personally, and the class
> before publishing them.

I made just one assumption, and that was that you don't know enough about evolution to evaluate the evidence (though stated somewhat more on edge, to be fair). Just one, and that was based on your statement that "Evolution and creation are both religions — you have to have faith to believe either one of them," which I contend that anyone who understand evolutionary theory would never state.

But you're right that the point of my post was not that I was interested in your class, but rather to call you out on offering a class motivated by the stated fact that "Studies show that 75 percent of kids raised in Christian homes lose their faith their first year of college. That is why we are gearing the class toward high school and college-age students." That is not search for truth, but indoctrination.

> "Why is that obvious? I am not closed to what you have to say."

Most would consider, "Okay, Jason. Tell me what you taught in your class, then." a very condescending statement to open up with, or did I just misinterpret it as tongue-in-cheek?

I wonder sometimes if people such as ourselves with such antipodal ideologies were to meet first while on vacation, or at a bus stop how such discussions would eventually pan out. I would hope that our discussion could begin on such a basis...mutually-respecting, as people - not with disdain, not based on that of a credo.

I suppose that is why you "hit a nerve" with me, because I feel that until one understands and knows a person, and knows what they have to say one should not make prejudicial public statements about them.

What is your field of expertise related to our discussion? Perhaps, if you are truly interested, I could give you some food for thought, and vice-versa?

We could start over and discuss this in a more dignified way if you like.

As long as we agree that we both make assumptions, then.

The truth is both that now that we're talking, I would like to hear what you taught, and that I do honestly think that if it is what I gathered from what I read and quoted on my blog, then is is not a class I would agree with at all. My preconception, based on what I read about the class, is that you are a Christian who do not believe in evolution because you interpret the Bible in a way that is irreconcilable with evolution. Also, I assumed that you don't really know a lot about the scientific method and evolution, because you made the statement that evolution is a religion. If any of this is wrong, I would of course greatly appreciate to be corrected.

It is true that meeting face to face makes for a different conversation. There are good and bad things about that, really. However, I often find that in such conversations I withhold what I really mean, because I am (we are all) so reluctant to be frank in front of someone when what we have to say is contentious.

My field of expertise is evolution. I actually defended my PhD thesis in evolutionary modeling this morning. I am also an atheist (and always have been). I am from Denmark, but live in California.

When I was a "tween" we had a young man from Copenhagen come stay with us as an exchange student. He tried to teach me how to say "strawberry pudding" and unnecessarily greedy with his Danish black licorice...I didn't care for it at the time, but my taste buds have 'evolved' since then. :)

Maybe we should start with something simple. Let me ask you a question or two. Please be patient, I know you may find it tedious, but I think I can make a point from the answers you give. All I ask is that you are truthful and serious with your answers. Your answers don't have to be drawn out and complicated, just short and to the point...even a word or two.

1. Can a person know everything there is to know on our Earth?
2. If not, what percentage of everything can one person know about anything there is to know?

In answering these two questions one must consider even the love-life of a flea for example, the maiden name of Benjamin Franklin's mother, the number of men and women who died in the making of the Great Wall of China, the average life span of a ruby-throated hummingbird, the end result to a baby which breast-feeds while its mother takes Minoxidil, get the picture. As with everything you could look these up onilne, but they are examples of what might be known in comparison with what a person actually knows.
Thanks for bearing with me on this.
> 1. Can a person know everything there is to know on our Earth?

No (not in principle, though it depends on how you define "everything
there is to know", and certainly not in practice).

> 2. If not, what percentage of everything can one person know about anything
> there is to know?

I have no idea. A small percentage.

My question (again): what did you teach in your class? (Also please answer why you still haven't told me.)

Hi Bjorn
I am sorry to take so long in getting back to you.
When taking on such conversations one must do so in moderation by taking "one bite at a time."
I did say that we would start small by asking you a few questions and for you to bear with me.
You have answered well, even if a bit hesitantly or precautiously.
You are right, there is no person that can know all things.
And you are also right; that which we humans do know is such a miniscule percentage of all things that it would probably not register beyond a .10%.
For that reason I would like to challenge your assertion that you are an atheist.
Since you say you are an atheist, I would surmise that you probably know the definition of the word "atheist."
I would suggest that since you acknowledge that no person can possibly know everything that any clear-thinking individual with such doubts about the existence of a deity would at least claim to be an agnostic instead.
This seems to be a conscience rationale to make my point.
I hope I may have persuaded you to at least change your nomenclature.
If not, why not?
I look forward to our discourse on the hypothesis of evolution.
By the way, as a teaser, I do believe in the literal definition of evolution, but because of the adopted, connotational, and popular definition I like to use the term adaptation.
Jason, why are you not answering my question?

> My question (again): what did you teach in your class? (Also please
answer why you still haven't told me.)

From my blog:
"Personally, I believe there is no God, but I fully acknowledge that this
cannot be known with certainty. I am, then, both atheist and agnostic.
Similarly, it would indeed be possible to be both Christian and agnostic.
In fact, everyone who are not insane should admit that whatever they
believe about deities, we cannot ever know for sure. Thus, everyone should
be an agnostic. The insane would then include all those who claim to have
proof positive of their favorite fairy, say through revelation (but
exclude those who are lying about that, like the Pope)."

Hi Bjorn I am not avoiding answering your question, but I wanted to see if you would even concede that you could be wrong about something so simple as the point of view as an agnostic as opposed to being an atheist. One CANNOT be both an atheist and agnostic by definition just as a Christian cannot be an agnostic by the connotational definition as referring to God.
Atheists strictly deny the existence of a deity based on a limited knowledge and conceited self-important ideologies. They are simply agnostic until they can prove conclusively that there is no deity. This was a bit of a test just to be sure you were open to what I had to say. I suppose you might understand how difficult it would be to attempt a rational discussion with someone who thinks they are never wrong and unable to concede that.
So you are, by definition, an agnostic not atheist.
With this concluded, let's narrow the topic a bit. After all, you are asking me to summarize the content of an entire course. First let's define evolution. How about you tell me what you believe evolution is so we can be on equal understanding so we can begin properly?

By your silly and self-centered definitions, only. By those used by many atheists, I am an atheist.

Three different dictionaries:

- a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or
- one who believes that there is no deity
- One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.

I disbelieve in gods, thus I am an atheist. I don't really are what you call it, though. Fact is I don't believe in any particular gods, and definitely believe that the one described in the Bible does not exist. Call that whatever you want.

> First let's define evolution. How about you tell me what you believe
> evolution is so we can be on equal understanding so we can begin properly?

Absolutely not. It really is your turn to say something here. Just give me an outline of the course. A list of topics. Examples of what you taught. Five points you made. Something. So far, after all this fruitless talk you do, nothing.

Bjorn it seems you are only interested in criticizing and continuing a negative attitude.
eg: "your silly and self-centered definitions" and "Certainly not..." as examples of such.
I am not only a scientist by definition, I am an etymologist; speaking a little to a lot of up to 32 languages. I am also very knowledgeable about the hypothesis of evolution.
It seems you will not join me in this discussion wishing it to be on your terms only and ridiculing any attempt I might proffer.
How can anyone come to a discussion without knowing the other person's ideas and beliefs? You are the one that has chosen to kill this discussion, not I.
I am ready to go, but you won't even tell me what your definition of evolution is.
You had no problem giving me three definitions of atheism (literally meaning:no deity), but refuse to give the definition of something you should know all about.
If you decide to come back to the table instead of huffing away in a childish, "I am going home and taking all my toys with me!" attitude then I will be waiting to discuss why I believe in evolution, but not the kind you believe in.
You are totally hilarious, Jason. Why do you refuse to tell me what your class was about?

I didn't want to give you a definition of evolution because that's silly, and because it really is your turn to tell me something by now.

I am an evolutionary biologist, and I believe in common descent. Evolution is descent with modification. It's micro- and macroevolution. It's a change in population allele frequencies over time. It's the change in inherited traits though the generations.

My bets are that the next email you send me will not tell me what you taught in your class.

When sending that email, I decided that if Jason did not finally tell me what he taught in his class on creationism, I would just dump the whole thing here. Today I got this email:
Hi Bjorn
"Refuse", I think not.
Thanks for answering my question about what you believe evolution to be.

Actually, I am excited to tell you what we discussed, but was hindered most recently, by your decision not to participate rationally, until now.

I see that you believe that all evolution is the result of change or modification. Good, I agree, but only to a point.

In one part of our course we discussed the importance of mutation to the assumed process of evolution.
Without beneficial mutations there can never be evolution, right?

I am eager to hear your response so we can continue the discussion.
"In one part of our course we discussed the importance of mutation to the assumed process of evolution." That's it? You discussed mutation. That's all I get about the class after all this emailing? Mutations!? Why so reluctant to discuss the class that I was initially reprimanded for not having asked about?

That's too lame, so here it ends. At least via email. Perhaps we can have more fun-filled exchanges in the comments...

P.S. If you enjoy this sort of thing, check out The Rzeppa game show.

Update 8/10:
I just received this email from Jason, and have added comments in red:
I don't know what you mean by forthcoming, but I have clearly begun sharing with you the contents of the course. [Yeah, "mutations".] Apparently you wanted a list instead of a discussion.
I could tell all you wanted to do was shut down our conversation and make it look like I had tucked my tail and run in order to "prove" that I have nothing to say. [Certainly not. I wanted to hear about your class. Got nothing, though, even though I asked many times.]
I don't mind you publishing it, but I do not like the way you have hijacked the "discussion" to make it look like I pushed away from the table by not giving you a list of things we discussed. [Then you should have given me something about your class, I think.]
I, in fact, did in our last email give you the first of many aspects of our class, but you failed to read the email or just don't want me to prove you wrong through a step by step, topic by topic discussion of the rationale. [No, I clearly read it, as you can see from my comment to it above.]
I could see what you were trying to do from the beginning and it is no surprise to me that all you wanted to do was shut me up so that you would not have to listen to any scientific arguments against evolution. [I wanted to learn about your class, from the beginning.]
Now you will post only what you want to post in order to prove that "he had nothing" to offer when in fact I have much to say, but you refuse to participate in a discussion. [I did not refuse. I think that's apparent to everyone who reads our emails above. I'm glad to discuss the class you gave.]
You still have not answered my question about the importance of beneficial mutations. ["Still have not answered..." You don't smell the irony, here?]
I would say that if anyone is running low on answers at this point, it is you. [If I knew you weren't kidding, I would have thought you were kidding.]
Just be sure to include this "last" email in your posts. [Done.]
You have been very impatient throughout this "discussion" in my opinion and I am ready to continue when you decide to come back to the table. I should have known it was a waste of time to attempt any rational discussion with you when I saw you original postings about the matter. [Impatient?! Me? I think you can call it patience when I asked you this many times for the contents of your class, but got nothing. Besides, I answered your questions about atheism and knowledge and evolution. You didn't answer any of my questions. If you want a discussion, post a comment here explaining what your class was about.]


  1. That's hilarious. Very passive-aggressive of him.

  2. Lol,

    his mails feel like coming from a bot or a program like elisa...

    The cool thing about it is that I am now actually curious about what he taught in class.

    Also: What is the literal interpretation of evolutionary theory? And is there a literal and a symbolic interpretation of the Pythagoras Theorem? In the context of abstractions, and science in order to generalize is all about abstractions, literal and non literal interpretation makes as much sense as the "definition" of an atheist, or the defintion of the noToothferryist... you don't need to define absense.

    Bjorn, do you mind relaying his email, I have a history of picking up your leftover discussions :), I would love to ask him what the literal definition of evolution actually is?

    Cheers Arend

  3. I couldn't get all the way through it. I started to lose interest when he started going with the Fundamental Unknowability Gambit. I mean, yes, anybody who thinks deeply about anything realized sometime circa high school or early college that you can't really know anything -- and then most of us grew up and realized that no philosophy can be even marginally useful unless it assumes that you can "know" things with a reasonable certainty. Ho hum.

    So I started skimming at that point, and landed on "You can't be an agnostic and an atheist". Yeah, forget it, I don't need to read that claptrap.

  4. Too tedious; could not finish.


  5. People who can't make themselves these the whole post are forgiven. It is indeed a tedious read, which is why I ended the communication.

  6. I couldn't get very far, either. It's always the same crap. This is why I told you that debating them is pointless. Hell, talking to them is pointless.

    What is the deal with fundies and anonymous Blogger profiles? They believe God has got their backs. What are they afraid of?

  7. Wow, I don't see why it's so difficult to just explain what the class was all about. He's definitely avoiding the issue with vague questions and diversions.

    I also thought it was interesting that he was more interested in trying to convince you to change the word to describe yourself than he was in actually clearly stating his understandings of evolutionary theory.


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