Monday, April 17, 2006

The Great Debate

How many Darwinists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Charles Darwin: None. But if it could be shown that the bulb entered the socket without a series of clockwise turns, my theory would absolutely break down.

ACLU: None! We have separation of church and state in this country.

Eugenie Scott: None. To say a Darwinist did it is not a scientific explanation.

Panda’s Thumb: None. To say that light bulbs don’t screw themselves in is not a testable proposition. You can’t prove they don’t. That would be an argument from incredulity. You are committing a ‘Darwinist Of The Gaps’ fallacy.

Generic 1: None. Time and chance are sufficient. Eventually it is inevitable that the bulb will be in the socket. Say, in a billion years.

Generic 2: None. The quintessentially non-random process of natural selection is sufficient. Those objects capable of giving off light when screwed into sockets will be in sockets. Those that aren’t will be in the trash.

Richard Dawkins: None. A light bulb that gives off 1% light intensity is very much worth having. A bulb sitting on the shelf at the supermarket gives off a certain amount of light. One in the cupboard at home gives off more. One five feet from the socket gives off more, and one two feet away even more. One in the socket gives off the most of all. It is therefore inevitable that the bulb will reach the socket.

Stephen J. Gould: None. The bulb jumped into the socket when no one was looking. Gradually.

Kenneth Miller: None. The bulb was already serving a function: providing rigidity to its corrugated packaging on the supermarket shelf. Co-option did the rest.

Theistic Evolutionist: All of the above explanations are substantially correct. But the more important question is the meaning of the light.

Philip Johnson: One.

Michael Behe: One.

Stephen Meyer:

William Dembski:

Guillermo Gonzalez: One. But isn’t it interesting that other light bulbs allowed the Darwinist to see what he was doing as he screwed in this light bulb.

Darwin Chorus: Oh, yeah? Which Darwinist? What is his name? If you won’t tell us that, you’re being disingenuous, and therefore no one screwed in the light bulb!

Flying Spaghetti Monster: Two. But don’t ask me how they got in there. Oh. 'Darwinists'? I thought you said 'fruit flies'.

Michael Ruse: Are you trying to create a theocracy? The light bulbs in the reeducation camps will be depressingly dim. Unless they use candles. Do Christians know how to make fire?

Internet Infidels: First answer this: How many priests did it take to burn Galileo at the stake? Huh?!?

Panda’s Thumb: If a Darwinist had screwed it in, it would be an efficient fluorescent, not a wasteful incandescent. Therefore no one screwed it in.

Talk.Origins: We’ve observed all kinds of light bulbs in all kinds of sockets: flashlights, automobile headlights, Christmas tree lights, Las Vegas marquees. There is nothing special about this light bulb and this socket.

Richard Dawkins:
None. Darwin made it possible to feel fulfilled sitting in the dark.

Update: Richard Dawkins has accused me of leaving out one of his best arguments, so I add it below:

Richard Dawkins: To say that it took a Darwinist to do the screwing in of the lightbulb is to explain precisely nothing. The obvious question becomes: Who did the screwing to create the Darwinist screwer? And who did the screwing to create that screwer? There would have to be an infinite regress of screwers. And if you invoke some invisible, mystical Unscrewed Screwer (for which we have no credible evidence) to start the whole thing off, why not just say that the lightbulb screwed itself in and be done with it?

Update: I've been linked at Uncommon Descent where I found these comments:

Eugenie Scott:
No one doubts that the light bulb got screwed into the socket. The only debate is over the details.

Richard Dawkins: Evolution is the study of light bulbs that look as if they’ve been screwed into their sockets for a purpose.

For S.J. Gould’s answer: It’s called punctuated illumination. And then we have to be careful about non-overlapping illuminarium.

Daniel Dennett: Perhaps we should keep fundamentalist light bulb inserters in cultural zoos so future generations can see how “in the dark” they really are!

Comment by DonaldM — April 18, 2006 @ 6:48 pm

Pianka: If we could just produce a directed surge of destructive electricity which would burn out 90% of the worlds light bulbs thereby conserving energy in the long-run and…

…you… you errr… didn’t get that on tape, did you?

Comment by Scott — April 18, 2006 @ 7:01 pm

Also, from my own comment section (Larry Fafarman):

Judge Jones: The inanity of that question is breathtaking.

Update: More from Uncommon Descent commenters:

IDist: The lightbulb emits light and was screwed in by an intelligence. The lightning bug’s rear emits light and therefore it must have been screwed in by an intelligence.

Comment by Fross [apparently a good-humored Darwinist]— April 18, 2006 @ 8:14 pm

Sternberg at Smithsonian: I’m not allowed to question how the lightbulb is twisted into the socket now and they took the lightbulb, the switch, circuit and socket from my office.

Biblical account: Abraham walked with the light, Isaac inherited the light, Jacob stole it and built a ladder to place the light in Yisrael, Moses wrote a “How To” instruction manual for climbing the ladder, Joshua cleared the way for one to climb the ladder to the light, the twelve tribes argued about 613 traditional ways to walk up the ladder for the light, Christ welcomed everyone into his mansion saying there are many rooms and many lightbulbs, sending forth 12 disciples to the world with goodnews of grace that he fulfilled all the instruction manuals steps of Moses, the prophets and Psalms, and even though all others failed, he’d lift them to the light to see how one screws in the bulb if they believed on him. And he would return one day as light eternal for those who repented of not following instructions and they would never have to screw in another light bulb.

Comment by Michaels7 — April 18, 2006 @ 8:24 pm


Generic 3: It is impossible to screw in a lightbulb with any less than four Darwinists. You need one to screw it in and three to act as peer-review referees. Otherwise there will be no light. If an IDist gets three referees to watch, even if the light goes on, someone's going to get fired.


SciAm Editorial: Two MIT researchers have announced the results of a breakthrough experiment, detailed in this month's cover story. To summarize briefly, they first turned on the overhead light in the kitchen. Then one of them donned mittens, got on a chair, and very slowly rotated the bulb in a counterclockwise direction, until it just turned off. The two then proceeded to jump up and down on the kitchen floor, in order to generate random displacement perturbations at the socket site. In an astonishingly short time, the bulb relit.

This experimental result powerfully establishes that lightbulbs are capable of screwing themselves into sockets with no intelligent guidance, demolishing the "one Darwinist" explanation of the creationists, which should now join epicycles, phlogiston, vital elan, and the luminiferous ether in the museum of discredited hypotheses. It is perhaps not too much of an exaggeration to say that Darwinists themselves are becoming wholly superfluous to proper scientific explanation. This important result is something to keep in mind as the nation-wide battle over school district science standards continues to rage.


Michael Ruse: None. Light bulbs in sockets are a fact, fact, FACT!

Richard Lewontin: None. For we take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to self-screwing lightbulbs. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a self-screwing explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to self-screwing causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce self-screwing explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that self-screwing is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Darwinist hand on the bulb.

Update: From my comment section (chunkdz):

Ken Miller: None, because the bulb could be used as a drinking glass, the filament could be a spring, the screw could be used as an archimedian pump and the contacts could be used to make a dandy tie-clip!

Which prompts me to add:

Stuart Kaufmann: None. Notice that both the screw pattern on the light bulb's base and the filament itself exhibit the form of a single helix, testifying to powerful, ubiquitous self-organizing properties in nature.


Talk.Origins: None. The evidence for light bulbs falling up into their sockets is every bit as solid as the evidence for gravity. So why are we still calling it a theory?


NCSE Pamphlet: Scientists have established that the early earth had in abundance all of the materials needed for light bulbs. There was sand. Bauxite. Tungsten. And plenty of electrons. There is absolutely no question among credible scientists that a functioning light bulb could arise from these. The only debate is about which of many possible physical pathways resulted in the light bulb.

Stephen J. Gould: None. The light bulb being in the socket is completely fortuitous. If the tape of evolutionary history were replayed, the bulb would not be found in the socket. Indeed, if you replayed the tape from even further back in time, there wouldn't be a light bulb or a socket. Instead you might find something else entirely. Like a ping pong ball. In a jar of pickles.


Generic 4: None. To just throw up our hands and say "a Darwinist did it" is a science stopper, and will only hamper our efforts to find the real explanation.

DISCLAIMER: This is, of course, a parody. None of the persons or institutions listed above made those actual quotes.

Also, as a pre-emptive point of clarification, I am not a Young Earth Creationist, I do not believe that all the fossils were laid down in a Great Flood, I believe that the universe is around 14 billion years old, that forms of life have evolved, that is, unfolded over time from relatively simple (although there is nothing "simple" about a bacterium) to relatively complex. I am a big fan of science and the scientific method. I am not a big fan of the doctrine of metaphysical naturalism. I believe the ID movement has very good arguments that are simply failing to be addressed in a serious way by its opponents, many of whom refuse to directly examine the books, documents, and fully stated arguments generated by the IDists. It is from that overall perspective that I created this parody.

For those interested, I've been rounding up (list is complete at this point through October 2005) posts I've made on this blog regarding the overall theism/atheism/evolution/ID topic. The round-up can be found here.

This post highlights "A Principle For Examining The Intelligent Design Controversy".


Exile from GROGGS said...

:) I'm sure you could have added a few more to your roll call!!

wikipedia: None. Probably. According to the best research. Though other people have suggested "one", "two" and "many".

P.Z.Myers: None. They were all out beating the pulp out of creationists and ID proponents at the time. By the way, there's this really cool invertebrate called ....

The Glassman said...

A whole bunch... and they still can't get the damn thing to fit.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done I'm saving this one, but exceptional humor includes poking fun at oneself. I always try to include references to both sides when poking fun.
For example you should have included:

Philip Johnson: One, but it was wedged in place.

Michael Behe: One. Light bulbs are irreducibly complex and could not have arisen on their own but once present may have evolved in light sockets.

Stephen Meyer: One, and the diversity of modern light bulbs can not be explained by naturalistic means.

William Dembski: One and I have proven mathematically that it is impossible to screw in a light bulb.

Larry Fafarman said...

Very nice satire !

Anonymous said...

Since nerds have a hard time finding chicks I would say it's improbable that a darwinist could screw anywhere.

Larry Fafarman said...

Here are some more --

Panda's Thumb: That question is off-topic and will be moved to the Bathroom Wall where it belongs.

Panda's Thumb: You shouldn't even ask, because Larry the Troll of Numberless Names will try to hijack the thread of comments responding to the question.

Darwinists: We don't know the answer yet, but we might find it someday.

Judge Jones: The inanity of that question is breathtaking.

Here is how some Panda's Thumb commenters might respond to the question --

Rilke's Granddaughter: Larry, how do you expect us to take you seriously when you continue to unethically violate PT Rule #6 by posting under multiple names ?

Lenny Flank: Shut up, Larry. And what in the hell is a "Darwinist," anyway ?

W. Kevin Vicklund: You've been banned, Larry ! Do you know what the word "banned" means ? It means "banned" !

Mark K. Sprengel said...

As Monty Burns would say - "Excellent"

Anonymous said...


-Doug TenNapel

Anonymous said...

How many darwinists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

As a mathematician I guess that one and at least one is enough if and only if the device you are plugging the light bulb in works correctly.


Anonymous said...

PZ Myers: This reminds me of an idiot student of mine that once....And so you see this is just bad science. *crickets chirping*

Anonymous said...

Mike Gene: The information for "light" and "bulbness" and it's direction towards the socket was already present in the filament, voltage, watt and amperage that preceded the final state.

Anonymous said...

Eh... Shouldn't that be:

Philip Johnson: Who knows?

Michael Behe: Who knows?

Stephen Meyer: Who knows?

William Dembski: Who knows?

Chorus: And what's with all the "screwing"? You're confusing us with Screwationists again. The bulb was Intelligently Revolved, we tell you.

Tob-Sen said...

Generic: It takes two. One who is selecting a bulb from a random infinite number of lightbulbs passing it on via random selection to the other. The other tossing it towards the socket hoping it would get a hold of the socket and by mere chance have the right flight pathway to screw itself into the socket and lite itself. If the bulb will not succeed, it will be smashing to the ground, being discarded as not fit enough. Upon failure, this proceedure is repeated N-many times. Recently it was proclaimed that it was statistically proven that it would work if they would have say 3 Billion years of trying time.


Anonymous said...

Five Darwinists. One to hold the bulb and four to turn the ladder. It takes a network of faithful scientists to defend the faith in the theory.

Anonymous said...

Just one. But it'd take a few hundred million years to generate one from scratch without intervention.

A side note: Larry's characterization of me is closer to what Rilke's Granddaughter would say. A more accurate one for me would be more like "I'd answer you, but you're banned for your behavior (not your ideas), despite all the warnings we gave you."

danielg said...

From our post at

Generic Creationist: Were you there when the light bulb was screwed in?

Uninformed Creationist: Oh, yeah. If that’s a 60 watt bulb, why are there still 40 watt bulbs? And it all breaks the Second Law of Thermodynamics anyway.

Young-Earth Creationist: God screwed in the bulb just before we walked into the room.

Old-Earth Creationist: God inserted various bulbs over long periods of time.

Intelligent Design via WorldNet Daily: Something, which looks a lot like God, specifically designed the bulb, socket, and house. We are not saying that it is God; it could be an alien that manipulates the entire universe, but we must turn the tide back on the moral decay sweeping our once Christian land.

Panda’s Thumb 1: The light bulb was screwed in naturally over long periods of time. Besides, religion is a fairy tale.

Panda’s Thumb 2: Hey, lots of us believe in God and accept that nature screwed in the light bulb.

Panda’s Thumb 1: WHAT!? Then how do you explain the Bible saying all the lesser lights were created on the fourth day?

Evolutionist: None. If we need a new light bulb, the miracle of evolution will provide it, and no intelligent intervention is needed.

Evolutionist: None. It's demise is just part of the process of natural selection. A more robust bulb will probably take its place.

Evangelicals: None. As they don't believe in science, they reject the very concept of light bulbs.

Mike the Geek said...

Physicist: We cannot know both the velocity and the position of the light bulb. Since we have established that the lightbulb is stationary, that is, velocity = 0, there is a small but non-zero probability that the light bulb is in the socket. Therefore, if you wait long enough, it will just show up. Make surer you leave the switch on, or you may miss it.

Philosopher: If a million monkeys are allowed to play with a million light bulbs forever, eventually all the lights in the house will be on. Which is a good thing, because the floor will be covered in monkey poo and you don't want to walk around in the dark'

Anonymous said...

If God had wanted Man to have light bulbs, he would have created a light bulb, probably on the fourth day. Therefore, anyone who would screw in his own light bulb is a liberal atheist.

Now here's the collection plate. Give until it hurts.

Anonymous said...

Ken Miller - none, because the bulb could be used as a drinking glass, the filament could be a spring, the screw could be used as an archimedian pump and the contacts could be used to make a dandy tie-clip!

Anonymous said...

I think you'd do better to have the theistic evolutionist (or, more correctly, the evolutionary creationist) say something to the effect of: One. But when we say "screwed", do we mean that in the literal sense, or is it possible that perhaps God is using this vernacular term to accomodate to our limited understanding of the mechanics of affixing a bulb to a socket?

radar said...

This is so stinking awesome!!! Mark at Mark my Words pointed me here. I have been battling macroevolutionists for months now, and I intend to post your post (and of course link to you) tomorrow for it is far too good not to publish!

Tob-Sen said...

Richard Dawkins: Errr.... Are we talking Bright light bulbs?

rhhardin said...

The light bulb was caused to have been screwed in by its being observed. Until then it was indefinite.

Anonymous said...

"Stephen J. Gould: None. The bulb jumped into the socket when no one was looking. Gradually."

Very funny. I really enjoyed this one!

For those that don't know, Gould is the guy who proposed the proposterous idea of "Punctuated Equilibrium" - the idea of rapid evolution followed by long periods of stasis. He proposed it to make Evolution fit the fossil evidence. But when he heard of ID, he quickly changed his tone, saying there's lots of evidence for gradual evolution. Hmmm.

Anonymous said...

All lightbulbs shines. Using electromagnetic dating techniques, we can proof the lightbulb is 35 million years old. That proofs that it was not screwed in, but the air gradually around the socket evolved into the lightbulb we wee today.

Anonymous said...

That proofs that it was not screwed in, but the air gradually around the socket evolved into the lightbulb we wee today.


That proofs that it was not screwed in, but the air around the socket gradually evolved into the lightbulb we see today.

Anonymous said...

Just one, but it takes billions and billions of years.

Anonymous said...

hi, this may be the first "world-famous" post on the topic that makes the rounds of e-mails; I just wonder what percent of the folks who receive it eventually will understand 90% of it;
this is good

Matteo said...

Anonymous 9:34 AM,

Yes, it is essentially an "inside joke" for those who've been immersed in the topic for a while. Familiarity with the original quotes and arguments from the metaphysical naturalists is assumed for most of them.

Anonymous said...

Blog link sent to me by a friend as "funny". I found it a bit tiresome with occasional flashes of wit, with contributors intellectually patting themselves on the back for knowing the 'inside game' of the DE/ID debates.

I find it esthetically and morally more satisfying to think of the creator as setting in motion, glorious, if often inscrutable natural processes that are to a great extent discoverable by our intellect, and which appear to eventuate in the glorious diversity of life and the wonders of the heavens.

I see ID in apposition to that esthetic, stating in essence, the creator handpicked that (and that and that and that) each step of the way and the Darwinian processes somehow "aren't allowed" to have created this wondrous diversity.

Having set the processes in motion (call that actor 'God'), is the resulting universe essentially random? One hopes not on one level (we'd like the good and beautiful to win out), but it's bracingly inspirational to me on another level (why and to what purpose? What alternate worlds and universes might there be? How can our actions work to the good we long for?) Who are we to say the creator may not work through Darwinian evolution?

I hope this note seems intelligently and constructively designed. I'll be changing the porch light bulb this weekend -- perhaps my wife Lynn will help steady the ladder.

Steve Greene said...

IDist says: Of course, biological organisms are like light bulbs, which is why this humor makes any sense.

— Steve G. ;-)

Matteo said...


Of course, the whole point, from my perspective, is that no sane person would ever use the parodied arguments to explain something so simple as a lightbulb getting screwed into its socket, so why would they use such arguments to "explain" how the vastly more complicated intricate nanotechnology of life came into being and undergoes progressive improvement?

Of course, on the macroscale life does not resemble lightbulbs and sockets. But on the microscale it leaves the relatively simple but still "needing a screwer" complexity of lightbulbs and sockets in the dust. Just my opinion (and I won't be arguing further for it in this comment section).

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Your Flying Spaghetti Monster answer was...lame at best. Try this: Let's address the darkness first. Try two people, one to hold the ladder while the other changes the bulb. Safety first (and do NOT fall down and bleed all over the nice clean forum, if you're smart.) Now, let's address the term Darwinist. Is every valid scientific theory to be made into a pretend life philosophy/religion by people who don't understand science and the meaning of scientific theory? (Newtonists, those silly fools that cling to the THEORY of gravity? See how dumb that sounds?) How about not pretending that the man is the theory. Hmmm. So, that would make us all Gravitationalists? (Well, maybe not Ken Ham. I think he'd be weighed down by his leaden sense of humor. Him and that guy in the banana video with Kirk Cameron.)

If you'd like a humorous answer, I will get a better one: We respect all forms of light, or none at all. If it's the position of even the dimmest bulb that he is right and we are all wrong, we still respect his opinion. However, rather than curse the darkness, we'll get a couple of folks with a ladder and change the bulb. One to actually make the change, and the other to provide safety.

Anonymous said...

This has got to be the stupidest thread I've seen in a long time.

David Wood said...

ME: One. The Darwinist holds the lightbulb firmly in place, while God spins the entire universe several times (without the Darwinist noticing).

Darryl said...

So excellent. You should post this one in the Atheist vs. religion group on MySpace.

Neel said...

LOL, some of these are pretty funny.

Some more to add:

David Berlinksi: None. I've done some basic calculations and determined that the probablity of screwing in a bulb is 1 in 10^934293801991230980980923498. Therefore it is impossible that the a bulb could be screwed in.

Michael Behe: Changing the lightbulb won't answer my question!

William Dembski: I predict that in ten years the light bulb will have met its Waterloo and will no longer be necessary. *makes farting noise*

Jonathan Wells: Using the Theory of Organismal Problem-Solving, I hypothesize that the lightbulb is actually designed to be a Christmas ornament.

Ken Ham: Were you there when the first lightbulb was screwed in? The Bible says God created light.

Ben Stein: None, because Big Science won't allow it.


Ben Stein: Screwing in another lightbulb won't explain where gravity comes from.

Stephen C. Meyer: One, but simply screwing in a bulb is not sufficient for light.

Robert Marks:
None. Why don't you just call the old one a new bulb?

Guillermo Gonzalez:
Only one person is in the right place and under the sufficient conditions to screw in the bulb.

Caroline Crocker: None, because Darwinists have never observed a lightbulb being screwed in.

Anonymous said...

According to the bible: In the beginning the Screwer created the room and the socket. And the socket was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of the Screwer moved upon the face of the floor. And the Screwer said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Anonymous said...

Bertrand Russel: None. If I were to suggest that between the Floor and
the Ceiling there is a china teapot revolving about the lightbulb in an
elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my
assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is
too small to be revealed even by our most powerful

Richard Dawkins: None. I have found it an amusing
strategy, when asked whether I am an ascrewanist, to point out that the
questioner is also an ascrewanist when considering Zeus, Apollo, Amon
Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf and the Flying
Spaghetti Monster. I just go one screwer further.

badcat said...

For the record, putz- Galileo was not burnt by the inquisition, he was subjected to house arrest. You infidels love to exaggerate and collect injustices to build a case against the Old Man.

Matteo said...


The post is a parody. I'm surprised that this was not obvious to you. I'm a Catholic theist, not an atheist. I'm well aware that Galileo was placed under house arrest, not burned at the stake.

julio said...

Thankfully it was a spoof because I was on my head just as he explains in the post.