THIS isn’t the first time we’ve written about debating creationists. We’re revisiting the subject today in order to gather together our thinking, which is scattered throughout several posts over the past couple of years. You won’t find anything here about the substance of such debates. We have a whole series of articles on that, starting with Debating Creationists: The Big Lie.
Nor are we going to talk about the totally separate debate that sometimes flares up among science bloggers, which we call the “debate about the debate.” That issue is whether science should take a confrontationalist or accommodationalist approach to religion. The last time we wrote about it was a year ago, here: The Debate About The Debate — II. One of our earlier favorites is this: Religion and Evolution: Part II.
Instead, we’re talking here about the advisability of any debates with creationists, which is a completely separate question. We’ve written about it several times before, for example Would You Debate Ken Ham?
The next few paragraphs repeat much of what we’ve previously said about debates with creationists — and the futility thereof — so bear with us. Feel free to skip over what you’ve seen before.
What is there to debate? There is no scientific debate as to whether the earth is 6,000 years old, or whether there was a global Deluge in the recent past — those notions have been refuted long ago. Nor is there a scientific dispute as to whether all life on earth evolved over hundreds of millions of years and is related by common descent.
We’re aware of denominational disputes about how to read Genesis in connection with the theory of evolution, but such matters are best left to theologians. See: Statements from Religious Organizations. Each side feels that its arguments about Genesis are overwhelmingly powerful — but those boneheads on the other side somehow don’t agree. That’s how it is with denominational disputes, and that’s why we have so many denominations. What do we learn from this? We learn that neither side has a persuasive theological case. If such existed, it would prevail and there would be no more denominational debates. But they never end.
The interpretation of Genesis is strictly a matter to be decided by the denominations themselves. Scientists are — or should be — uninvolved in sectarian disputes, at least when speaking as scientists. If a scientist is also a churchman (or philosopher), then he can debate theology in that capacity. The best case against the creationists’ theological position was made more than fifteen centuries ago. See: St. Augustine on Creationism.
Writing letters and making speeches in support of science are fine things to do, but we have misgivings about live debates with creationists. It’s bad strategy, because the mere appearance of a respected scientist on the same platform gives creationism credibility and creates the illusion that there’s some kind of scientific controversy that’s worth debating — and that creationists are qualified to debate with knowledgeable scientists. It also generates press attention. Creationists are not deserving of this. (Also, journalists frequently fail to understand the issues, which is yet another reason to avoid such debates.)
There is also a tactical reason never to engage in a live debate with a creationist: They typically use their time to make numerous and often erroneous claims, all spewed out in a rapid-fire barrage that is impossible to rebut in the time allowed — the Gish Gallop. Live debates are fine for politics, but that’s not how science is done.
That’s what we’ve said before. In conclusion we’ll leave you with a few additional thoughts:
Your basic, wandering-around creationist lives his life in a haze of ignorance, and there’s really not much point in debating him. Even if you encounter one who is willing to debate politely, why bother? Thinking is a skill. We’re all born with the capacity to think, but doing it well is like any other activity — it must be encouraged and practiced. Creationists just aren’t good at it (obviously, or they wouldn’t be creationists), and in the case of an adult creationist it’s almost certainly a lost cause. It’s fine to give him the opportunity to read your writings or hear your speeches — it’s conceivable that something may come of it; but engaging him in a personal debate is absurd.
Then there are the professional creationists — the ones who operate websites, creationist museums, write books, make tapes, etc. Why would any sane person debate a professional creationist? By now they’ve read and heard and seen all the arguments and evidence against them, yet they persevere. Why? Some of the answer is here: Ignorant, Stupid, Insane, or Wicked.
If you try to debate such people — be they amateurs or career creationists — you will fail, and the greater your sincerity, the greater the likelihood that you’ll break your little heart. You cannot succeed; their brains are encased in concrete. For an example of what you’re facing, see: Young Earth, Old Earth, or Flat Earth?
So don’t try. It’s just not worth it. Oh sure, they’ll say that you’re afraid to debate. If that happens, then it’s appropriate to respond with the truth: Tell them it’s not fear, it’s aversion to futility.
Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.