Discoveroids: “Why Won’t Anyone Debate Us?”

The creationists are very frustrated. That’s a natural consequence of reality denial, of course, but beyond that they seem to be mystified by the fact that no one takes them seriously enough to even debate with them. We’ve discussed this recently in Ken Ham: “Why Won’t Anyone Debate Me?”

Now it’s the turn of the neo-Luddite, neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

The Discoveroids’ latest post is Why Darwinists Won’t Debate. It’s by David Klinghoffer, whose creationist oeuvre we last described here, and upon whom the Discoveroids have bestowed the exalted title of “senior fellow” — i.e., flaming, full-blown creationist.

Neither a lawyer nor a fallen scientist, Klinghoffer plays the role of house mystic — a convenient guise for a retained essayist whose principal job is to enthusiastically function as an unrestrained journalistic slasher whenever his creationist masters assign him to the task. There’s really no conflict between his role as both mystic and slasher. Rather, they’re complementary behaviors. Whenever his mystical view of the world is threatened by science, he starts slashing to preserve his rapturous befuddlement.

In this instance, Klinghoffer is neither slashing nor being mystical. Rather, he’s flailing about as a frustrated slasher, because nobody will play with him. He claims that his non-existent debate opponents are all scaredy-cats. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us and his links omitted:

I have written before about what I’ve described as widespread cowardice on the Darwinian side of the evolution controversy (“Darwin’s Cowards”). But with the U.S. presidential debates under way, I’m prompted to wonder if I should have softened that phrasing a bit.

No, David, you should always tell us what’s on your mind. It’s one of our main sources of amusement.

He continues:

Don’t ask me who I like best in the upcoming election because I won’t tell you (this is a non-partisan, non-political news site). But watching these encounters between the candidates reminds you of what a scary thing a debate is.


If the other guy makes points you can’t answer or can’t answer effectively, when you are right there and everyone is waiting to hear how you respond, that’s devastating.

Difficult questions are never devastating to creationists. They just make stuff up and carry on. They’re very good at it, which is one reason why debating such people is such a grand waste of time. Let’s read on:

That’s especially the case, of course, if the preponderance of the facts and the best arguments aren’t on your side. And perhaps there’s a part of you that senses that.

Klinghoffer is suggesting that this is the reason scientists won’t debate creationists. Not very subtle, is he? Here’s one last excerpt:

So yeah, it’s too harsh to say that prominent Darwinists who duck debates are “cowards.” More likely they sense they’d get creamed, and very reasonably they — I mean the name-brand ones, almost to a man — wish to avoid doing that damage to their own side.

What can we say? To begin with, Klinghoffer is attempting to taunt scientists into debating with creationists. Will anyone be foolish enough to fall for that tactic? We doubt it. For years they’ve been urging schools to “teach both sides,” and backing that up with “What are they afraid of?” That tactic hasn’t worked yet (except for a few moronic legislators), and we doubt that it will suddenly gain traction.

We’ve written several times before on the topic of debating creationists. For example, see Debating Creationists is Dumber Than Creationism, and more recently our Curmudgeonly Collection of Debate Resources. But we won’t leave things there. Instead, we’ll offer you the Curmudgeon’s Challenge Checklist (the CCC) for evaluating debate proposals. If the challenger passes our simple tests, then go ahead and debate him. Here’s the checklist:

1. Is the challenger knowledgeable, rational, and honorable? In our humble opinion, all creationists fail at least one prong of this test, and many fail them all; so there’s no more reason to debate such people than there is to debate someone who thinks he’s Napoleon.

2. Does the challenger agree on the subject to be debated? Creationist opponents usually argue from scripture, or from “creation science” which (even if they don’t admit it) is based on scripture. That’s fine for a theological debate, but that’s not your subject, is it? If you’re interested in science and your challenger’s approach to things is religious, you’ll be talking past each other. The result may be strangely entertaining, but a genuine science debate will never materialize. So why waste your time?

3. Related to the above — Is the proposed topic one that is worthy of a science debate? Creationism (which includes intelligent design), being a totally religious concept, is utterly unworthy of being treated as a scientific subject, so there is no reason for you to participate in such a debate. Religious doctrines should be debated by clergymen, because theology is their topic, not yours.

4. Will participating in the debate be anything other than a degrading experience? Actual science debates are both educational and stimulating, and scientists delight in them. But sharing a debate platform with a creationist offers nothing of scientific value, so why bother?

5. Is the proposed debate merely an attempt for the opponent to gain publicity for himself or his topic? One shouldn’t agree to a debate which, by its very existence, will be exploited for publicity and to claim intellectual legitimacy for an unworthy subject or opponent. All that you will accomplish is to raise them from the bowels of obscurity which is their natural habitat.

And that’s our checklist. But what if your challenger claims that your refusal to debate is based on cowardice? So what? You don’t care if a moon-landing denier, a flat-earther, an astrologer, a faith-healer, or anything comparable claims you’re afraid to debate them, so why should you be concerned about what creationists say? Let them debate an empty chair. Then the two sides will be evenly matched.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “Discoveroids: “Why Won’t Anyone Debate Us?”

  1. And surprise, surprise, no comments allowed. Why won’t creationists debate?

  2. He even threw in a claim that Zimmer “folded” when called to debate. The reality is quite different, but you already knew that. It appears that any direct communication with the creationists at the DI will result in being used and abused for months and years to come.

    Why would anyone ever want to debate with these guys?

  3. Charles Deetz ;)

    After taking a look at one of the big evo/creo discussion forum a couple years ago, I see where these rules come from. Either the conversation suffers from a lack of knowledge, or from talking past each other. Not entertaining, frustrating.

  4. I offered to debate them for years. A formal blog-based debate. Each post by each debater to be posted on both blogs.

    Shockingly none of them are interested. They all know that science is not settled in debate and I’m not a “big name” that they can Gish Gallop to death and then post about how they ‘defeated’ the evil Darwinist (whatever that is)?

  5. Why don’t Discovery Institute jolly good fellows show up to debates?

    That’s a better question. Phillip Johnson wrote “Darwin on Trial” where he imagined darwinists being grilled under oath. Dembski had his famous “Vice (sic) Strategy” which would squeeze the truth out of darwinists under oath.

    Kitzmiller came with ideal conditions to do just what Johnson and Dembski wanted and what happened? All the jolly good fellows ran away, except for Behe who, obviously, didn’t get the memo and got creamed on the stand, thus handing victory to the plaintiffs hook, line and flagellum.

    However, Behe has had his Sir Robin moment ducking out of a debate with Ken Miller who gave a devastating lecture trashing all of Behe’s hare-brained notions point by pitiful point.

    Naw, Foolhoffer is projecting again. Why, just in July the Discoveroids had a great opportunity to “debate” a graduate student, Paul McBride, and a science writer, Carl Zimmer, and passed on both preferring instead to retreat behind their firewall and go silent.

    Here’s how a debate with a creationist goes:

    1. Creationist turns on the Gish Nozzle.
    2. Creationist turns on the Gish Nozzle, again.
    3. Creationist declares victory.

    Why do people not debate creationists? I dunno, ’cause they LIE?
    Why do people laugh at creationists? Same reason.

    Enjoy some Thunderf00t

  6. Charles Deetz ;)

    Went back and looked at EvC Forums to see how the debates online are going. I like this run-down of what a creationist would have to overcome factually to prove Young Earth: Thirteen different, independent measures of the earth older than 6,000 years old. Need prove all of them wrong to win, Kaddidlehopper. Even beat two and the author will say you are smarter than every other creationist. Okay, IDer, whatever.

  7. “Who will be the next to outwit me? This is a game of chance…,” (W.C. Fields issuing sucker bait in Poppy, 1936).

    Kingcornhustler should pack up his carnival and hustle the snake oil elsewhere, where the hayseeds aren’t as savvy. The grammar school stage is an ideal venue — if he remembers to stick to the lower grades and avoid those uppity junior high-schoolers.

  8. If Klinghoffer isn’t himself a young-earther then I think he should debate Ken Ham on the subject of the age of the Earth. Then he’ll see whether “the preponderance of the facts” can win a non facts-based argument…

  9. There’s a YouTube of Berlinski “debating” Christopher Hitchens. It’s not much of a debate, more like a spanking. Berlinkski made some half-assed point and Hitchens reduced it to rubble point by point without referencing notes but quoting sources and text. The moderator then turned to Berlinski who looked quite pale and shaken at this point and asked, “Do you have a rebuttal?” Berlinski could barely stammer out a weak “No” before sitting down hastily. I’ll have to find that clip. It’s a classic demonstration of a bullslinger (not my term, thank you editor.) getting put in his place.

  10. Tony Warnock

    Around 40 years ago (when I was a young math professor), some creationists wanted to bring Gish (not Lilian though) to talk or debate where I was teaching. I coached the presidents of the Baptist Student Union and the Methodist Student Union (a geology and a biology major) in a bit about entropy, probability and the like. When Gish found out that a junior and a senior were his opponents, he backed out.

    Gish and the creationists later claimed that they didn’t want to waste time debating anyone less than a full professor. (Letters to the editor in the school newspaper.) My comment was that we didn’t want to waste a full professor’s time on a job easily handled by undergraduates.

    No matter how things got spun; the answer was always, “Gish Backed Down.”

  11. Can’t wait to read the Curmudgeon ‘s comments regarding Georgia Rep. Paul Broun and his remarks that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell”. This guy and his fellow wackos are the reason why I can’t vote Republican this time around!

  12. Erik John Bertel says: “Can’t wait to read the Curmudgeon ‘s comments regarding Georgia Rep. Paul Broun”

    You don’t have long to wait. I posted about it yesterday.

  13. SC. Powerful, erudite, curmudgeonly.
    This blog helps people like me who
    could use a road map when dealing with irrational people who promote creationism.
    You put a human face on NCSE’s catalog regarding this issue. It is highly appreciated.
    I think people will be reading your articles a century from now. Don’t get a swelled head.

  14. Curmudgeon: “Creationist opponents usually argue from scripture, or from “creation science” which (even if they don’t admit it) is based on scripture.”

    Those who peddle creation science” invariably do admit, if not immediately, that it’s based on scripture. Despite a few half-hearted attempts to throw people off they don’t try to hide anything. Same for ID, if you replace “based on scripture” with “a religious view.” I hope you are not claiming that ID is based on scripture, because that’s like claiming that your grandmother gave birth to you. The ID scam “descended” from creation “science,” and hence scripture (Genesis), when some groups of evolution-deniers knew that there was no evidence to support the mutually-contradictory literal interpretations. So first they gave up the young-earth nonsense, and the explicit denial of common descent. Either they conceded those basic conclusions to evolution or played dumb. Then, after Edwards v. Aguillard, they replaced “creator” with “designer.”

    So the obvious response to Klinghoffer’s game – which peddlers of every kind of pseudoscience play – is not to accept or decline an invitation to debate, but to challenge him do debate YECs, and for both of them to get back to us when they came to a consensus on the basic “what happened when” of natural history. Then it will be clear to everyone who’s afraid to debate.

  15. will says: “You put a human face on NCSE’s catalog
    regarding this issue.”

    I think Genie Scott will be horrified to learn that I’m her human face.

  16. @eyeonicr:

    Thanks! It’s refreshing to not have to always be the only one to make that point. In fact, Klinghoffer does not accept any young-earth or young-life claims, nor do hardly any of the key Discoveroids. Only Paul Nelson supposedly finds young-life-and-or-earth claims convincing. But when someone (on another board where Nelson was posting) speculated that Nelson’s belief was “in spite of conceding no evidence,” i.e. Omphalos creationism, I asked him to confirm or deny. He evaded my question while continuing to reply to others on the board.

    No Discoveroid would ever debate a “scientific” YEC, because that would be bad for the big tent. But most people don’t know that. And if we don’t alert them to the games these scam artists play, who will?

  17. Your CCC is perfectly stated, SC.

    And this line from your last paragraph is directly to the point:
    “You don’t care if a moon-landing denier, a flat-earther, an astrologer, a faith-healer, or anything comparable claims you’re afraid to debate them, so why should you be concerned about what creationists say?”

    Klinghoffer challenging an evolutionary biologist to debate is equivalent to a faith healer challenging a heart surgeon. (See point #3 of the CCC.)

  18. A cute (and current) Guardian blog about such debates — specifically, the insurmountable challenge of trying to frame a coherent Creationist argument: Creative creationists: being forced to argue that creationism is scientific

  19. A story worth retelling. In 1987 or so while Edwards was being argued at SCOTUS a creationist debate came to town. Don’t remember the creationist or the sane person (some guy from Berkley, I think.) Anyway, it was held in the High School auditorium and I was there. (Yes, Ken Ham, I was there!) A bunch of fundies were bussed in from the local Wesleyan college and took up the first 3 rows on one side of the auditorium. I sat a few rows back from them.

    It was my first Gish gallop. The creationist just threw up slide after slide after slide with no rhyme nor reason. Piltdown Man, Nebraska Man, footprints, 2nd Law, flood geology, Cambrian explosion – it was awful. The evolutionist just sat there looking bored. When his turn came he didn’t address any creationist points but just gave a nice, general overview of Darwin’s theory and modern discoveries since. There was one round of rebuttal and a short Q&A.

    Then the moderator asked the audience to pick the winner. He put his hand over the scientist who received a nice round of applause. But when the creationist’s turn came all the fundies jumped up and cheered, whistled, danced, Jazz hands, whooping and hollering with lots of praise Jesus, Amens. It was like a tent revival. They completely overwhelmed the crowd. The moderator was taken aback by the demonstration and declared a tie which got laughter from the sane people and boos from the fundies.

    Things haven’t changed much since!

  20. Evolutionists should follow the dicta of politicians:
    1. Never debate when you’re ahead: you have nothing to gain.
    2. Never debate when you’re even: you have everything to lose.
    3. Always demand debate when you’re behind: you might get lucky.
    In none of these cases is the truth of your arguments important.