Creative Challenge #59: If You Had To Respond

We’ve previously discussed how to politely disengage from an encounter with a creationist — see Creative Challenge #37: How To Say ‘Get Lost’. The set-up there was a social occasion where you’re introduced to a creationist.

Today we’re going to make it more difficult. This time you are confronted by a creationist and you must respond. Such a ghastly situation would probably occur if you had just finished speaking to a group, and now it’s question time. A sincere (but obviously confused) creationist in the audience politely asks a question involving a well-known creationist clunker, and the situation requires some kind of response.

Whatcha gonna do? If you give him a serious, factual rebuttal of his nonsense, you’re inviting him to start debating, and that’s the last thing you want. But you can’t just ask the security guards to toss him out. You gotta respond. But how?

Your Curmudgeon has his own method of responding, but we’re not going to disclose it — not yet, anyway. The form of today’s challenge is that you must tell us, with reasonable brevity:

How would you respond to a sincere creationist when an audience is watching you and expecting a response?

You know the rules: You may enter the contest as many times as you wish, but you must avoid profanity, vulgarity, childish anatomical analogies, etc. Also, avoid slanderous statements about individuals. Feel free to comment on the entries submitted by others — with praise, criticism, or whatever — but you must do so tastefully.

There may not be a winner of this contest, but if there is, your Curmudgeon will decide, and whenever we get around to it we’ll announce who the winner is. There is no tangible prize — as always in life’s great challenges, the accomplishment is its own reward. We now throw open the comments section, dear reader. Go for it!

Copyright © 2019. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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45 responses to “Creative Challenge #59: If You Had To Respond

  1. Michael Fugate

    I would turn it back on the questioner, asking why do you hold to that account.

  2. docbill1351

    The question is a setup! There are no sincere creationists (excluding children and adults who are mentally children). All creationists are dishonest liars, so the task is impossible.

    But, this charade has played out before, a most notable example being the “debate” between cosmologist Sean Carroll and professional liar con-man William Lane Craig. Carroll completely demolished Craig’s “arguments” but Craig ignored it all and just repeated his demolished arguments as if nothing had happened. And Carroll is no slouch when it comes to historical and theological arguments. Did Craig come out of it looking like a liar, cheap huckster and fraud? Yes, definitely. Will it matter? Nope, not a jot.

    And who can forget old Hambo demolishing Bill Nye, the (Not) Science Guy, by proclaiming his evidence was in “his book.” Stupid argument? Yes. But who looked stupid in the end?

  3. Anonymous

    If the question is the all-time favorite one, “How come there are still monkeys?” there is a selection to be found in rationalwiki.org “How come there are still monkeys?”

  4. I like Michael Fugate’s response. Taking the situation one step farther, the questioner will most likely respond with a reason along the lines of “Because it is stated in Scripture.”

    Which leads in to what I was thinking of for my response:
    “Well, then, that appears to be a matter of religious belief. I’m not equipped to adequately answer such a question since my background is science, not theology. I haven’t deeply studied God’s Word; I have concentrated on what we can learn by applying the scientific method, which uses logic and reason, to study what you would call His Creation.”

    If the questioner persists, I would say that “Religious belief is not debatable. On the other hand, if you wish to ask questions concerning the evidence upon which our scientific theories are based, I’d be happy to share whatever knowledge I have with you. Remember though — if you are going to contradict well-accepted theory, you need to do that by citing evidence or observations to the contrary — evidence and observations gleaned from nature, rather than scripture.”

  5. Actually I’ve been in this situation once; someone in the audience compared a tsunami with the Global Flood. I first politely pointed out that it was a myth and then cut off the talk by saying that I was there to talk science, not religion – to the relief of the rest of the audience.
    No big deal, really. The worst thing that can happen is the creationist getting annoyed and leaving.

  6. @docbill:

    Remember, the situation is a creationist asking a question while you are in front of an audience. You’re right — you will never convince the creationist, but he/she is not the one I’d be concerned about. It’s the rest of the audience that I’d want to reach and sway to the side of reason and enlightenment.

    I think my answer above would work to that end, even if confronted by Ken Ham. The key point — scripture is not evidence. Evidence must come from observation of nature (reality, the universe, the creation — whatever you want to call it.)

  7. Oh Great Hand, if you would capitalize “You’re right” in my response to docbill, I’d be happy. Thanks.

    [*Voice from above*] It doesn’t take much to make you happy.

  8. My reaction would depend very much on the question asked.

    But let’s take a currently popular example: Scientists found ‘blood’ and ‘blood cells’ in dinosaur bones. Therefore the fossils cannot be millions of years old.
    We ignore the fact that they didn’t find blood nor blood cells – that would just complicate and dilute the response. My response would be “But you are using ‘historical science’. According to your reasoning we cannot make any statements about the past. How do you know that blood cannot last that long?”

    This technique also goes down well if they come with the popular earth-magnet-field-decay argument: “You assume that the decay rate has been constant over the past. That’s ‘historical science'”. The response even convinces the rest of the audience.

  9. Tony Konrath

    I’m sorry, but I’m not superstitious.

  10. docbill1351

    Pleaded R-Sci-Guy

    Oh Great Hand, if you would capitalize “You’re right” in my response to docbill, I’d be happy. Thanks.

    Yes, Great Hand, Slayer of Macaroons, capitalize, embolden, font point 24 enlarge, and colorize the Red of Truth those immortal words that, humble as I am must confess I hear so often as to be my very name.

  11. Michael Fugate

    If you lived in fear of saying or doing something wrong, you could act like Punxsutawney Pence and bury your head in the ground
    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/may/04/mike-pence-what-does-he-want

  12. I’m no good in those situations. Too quick to sarcasm. I’ve been ruined/enlightened by early exposure to classics like Mad’s ‘More Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.’

    I never conducted guided tours for the general public at Melbourne Museum, but I heard from those that did that visitors would sometimes pull that Ken Ham shtick and ask: “Were you there?” of the guide in front of the human origins displays, as if they thought they were being really clever.

    Anyone who tries that on deserves ridicule and mockery, and damn the torpedoes.

  13. Dave Luckett

    Of course the perfect answer to the “Were you there?” question is, “Why, yes. As a matter of fact, I was. I saw the whole thing, and it was 13.7 billion years ago, give or take. I watched the sun contract under gravity from a cloud of hydrogen and helium, and the earth condense from dust particles that agglomerated, and the seas form from water vapour. I saw the first stirrings of life in them, and the whole pageant of living things since, down to now. I took a job as a museum guide so that I could tell people about it. Yup, I saw the whole thing.”

    And when they say, “No, you didn’t” (Or equivalent), you ask, “How do you know? Were you there?”

  14. @DaveL
    Tried that once, myself: “Yes, I was there. I’m Doctor Who. I travel back and forth through time, in the TARDIS. I saw it all, believe you me.”

    Got some strange looks, for my troubles. Yeah, like I’M the crazy one!

  15. Jill Smith

    “I’m not comfortable allowing you to trivialize your religious beliefs by discussing them in so secular and profane an environment. It would pain all good-hearted people to see your most sincere convictions held up to ridicule.”

  16. The polite answer to “Where you there?” is simply “No and neither were you, so it’s an unscientific question.” Then you’ll get something about Bible, eyewitness, etc. after which you can reply again “The Bible is a religious textbook, not a scientific one and I’m here to talk science. Next question.”

    The sarcastic answer is “No and I wasn’t there when you were born either, so I maintain that you’re an alien, found in a cauliflower and brought to your cradle by a stork. See, your family tree is full of missing links. You can’t prove that you descend from Adam and Eve, so you don’t. Next question.”

  17. “Were you there?”
    No, and that means that you don’t have to rely on unreliable memories. Solid scientific reasoning and public evidence tells us what happens. That is what science is good at.

  18. Several of you assume that the creationist will ask “Were you there?” But his question might be something about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which creationists have been told prevents evolution, or the fictitious “law” of biogenesis, or the “impossible” complexity of DNA. Thanks to people like Hambo and the Discoveroids, they’ve got a whole library of stuff like that, and they have alleged “experts” who say that stuff is good science. Do you really want your lecture to descend into that swamp? I wouldn’t.

    As for “Were you there?” one could have a swift response ready. Something like: “Sherlock Holmes wasn’t there to witness any of the crimes he solved, but he used evidence and good reasoning to determine what happened.”

  19. Hans-Richard Grümm

    A reference to “God’s Word” can be countered by a request for clarification: “Allah’s Word in the Qur’an or Krishna’s Word in the Bhagavad Gita?”

  20. “Do you really want your lecture to descend into that swamp? I wouldn’t.”
    No. But not addressing the question at all is also a moral victory for the creationist. Do you want that? Not me. So I’d try to follow Aristoteles’ advise and seek the Golden Mean:
    1. A short answer (if not possible then I’d refer to the experts);
    2. Stress that I’m talking about science, not religion (a scientific problem is not evidence for or against any god);
    3. Cut off the discussion.

    Point 1 obviously is the problem. Regarding the Second Law (which I happen to understand) I’d say no, the Sun provides enough energy to enable evolution (and nothing more). Regarding the “law of biogenesis” I’d simply say that that’s made up by non-scientists (and nothing more). Regarding the impossibility of complexity I’d say something “perhaps now, who knows what scientists find in the future” (and nothing more). When a creacrapper refers to “alleged experts” I’d just say “I’m presenting the scientific consensus; this is not the place and moment to challenge it.” Then I’d immediately start to make point 2.
    Such discussions are not about finding the truth (whatever that means). They are about image building, ie cheap rhetorics. It requires a bit of training, but I can do that too – and better than almost all creationists. First principle: start talking about their weak points asap – ie creationism is religion. Then you’ll win over the audience (except when it consists of creationist cronies – then you better run). And keep it short – the shorter the better. Your audience hasn’t paid for their tickets for such discussions. That’s why point 3 is the most important one.
    Basically that’s what I did when I was in a similar situation. The only flaw was that I could have kept it shorter (five iso about 15).

  21. “This technique also goes down well if they come with the popular earth-magnet-field-decay argument: “You assume that the decay rate has been constant over the past.”

    And we know that the decay rate is nowhere near constant since the dipole moment actually oscillates, which is also part of the evidence confirming plate tectonics theory. I was part of a team in the early 1970’s that actually measured the oscillations frozen in the sea floor, which were already well known by that time.
    http://212.201.48.1/course/fall02/c210101/students/PlateTectonics/magbody.htm
    https://www.earthobservatory.sg/faq-on-earth-sciences/how-do-we-know-age-seafloor
    http://www3.geosc.psu.edu/~jte2/geosc20/lect26.html
    etc.

  22. “A reference to “God’s Word” can be countered by a request for [a signature].”

    Neither Yahweh nor Jesus ever wrote nor signed any of the various bibles. We only have the “testimony” of numerous quite ignorant desert dwellers who dreamed things, why is that?

  23. @Zetopan
    I don’t like to disparage people as a group, such as “ignorant desert dwellers”. We have quite enough examples of sophisticated modern cosmopolitan college educated people who say the most shameful things.

  24. chris schilling

    I don’t like to disparage groups of people, either, Tom, but those Old Testament Hebrews were a bunch of deplorables, surely?

    Oh, I get it: if Yahweh refers to them as a “stiff-necked people”, then that’s all right, then. He’s God, he can say stuff like that, and don’t anyone dare accuse Him of antisemitism.

  25. Damn you to hell, Word Press! My enemies are circling like vultures, and you’re making it easier for them!

  26. “And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee.” Leviticus 25:35

    “And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts.” Malachi 3:5

    And many more.

  27. Michael Fugate

    And look how God tried to micromanage them with all those rules and regulations – did it work? Should have spent more time on prevention and less on punishment.

  28. Yahweh’s a control freak, no two ways about it. Anal-retentive (probably not properly toilet-trained as a toddler). Anti-social (not good at playing with all the other neighborhood gods). Secret mistresses stashed away (Asherah). Probably not above trying to grab nubile young goddesses by their unmentionables.

    All in all, a very unsavoury character. Not sure what this has to do with the topic at hand, only that creationists have clearly backed the wrong horse.

  29. Michael Fugate

    If you are going to be an authoritarian – use a proper authority?

  30. I would start with “I will answer your question if you will answer one of mine.” If they agreed, then I would answer their question and then ask them something of the order of “Were their dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark?” This question would actually depend upon my assessment of the erudition of the questioner. This would be the polite me, you understand.

  31. docbill1351

    @TomS wrote

    @Zetopan
    I don’t like to disparage people as a group, such as “ignorant desert dwellers”. We have quite enough examples of sophisticated modern cosmopolitan college educated people who say the most shameful things.

    Well, you’re no fun! Here, hold my beer …

    Back in the previous century I had been given a Book of Mormon which I read. It was a pretty good yarn at first but bogged down in the middle and was dull at the end, but in true Pocahontas fashion, I persisted. At that time I was reading Tolkien, William Tenn, Simak, von Danikan, Maharishi Yogi and all kinds of stuff like that. The BoM fit right in.

    Decades later while working at a research center, I learned that a scientist friend of mine was a “big Mormon” – bishop or grand poobah or something. I asked him how he could reconcile something that was pure fiction, known to have been created by Joseph Smith in the 1830’s, with his scientific training and knowledge. He said he compartmentalized his world and checked knowledge and science at the door of his temple, picked it up when he came out; it was a social thing.

    All I can say to that is “Hasa Diga Eebowai!”

    Social thing aside, Joseph Smith created a story contemporaneous with social fashions of the times. In the 1820-30’s there was a great interest in “things Egyptian” and mysterious. The Rosetta Stone had been deciphered and Egyptian motifs were everywhere. A botanist and antiquarian, Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, “translated” a Delaware Indian birchbark “manuscript” and became the talk of the town. The original artifact was lost or burned in a fire. Years later the manuscript, the Walam Olum, was determined to be a fraud even containing Chinese characters from a tin of tea. Some people, like Eli Lilly, still believed, however, and spent years doing academic research on the fraud.

    Right on trend, Joseph Smith incorporated Egyptian mystics into his story going so far as to claim he translated a papyrus, which was discovered recently in a museum. Not surprisingly, Smith’s translation was fictional.

  32. If the question is a matter of “something is wrong with evolution and therefore there must be Intelligent Design”, the obvious resonse is “What does Intelligent Design do, when, where, how or why?”

    If the question is about the Bible, the obvious question is “Where does the Bible say that evolution is wrong, and where does it say what you tell us?”

  33. Michael Fugate

    The Bible is pure male fantasy – from the very beginning – Eve from Adam’s rib (right!). A proper woman is male property – father’s, brother’s, husband’s – improper women are feared and despised. If you want a woman – sleep with her and she’s yours (snap!). Only women can commit adultery. Not to mention, all manly men with swords and battles and heroes – men swooning over heroes – so much so God needs to redirect their desires. Great stuff for the kiddies.

  34. My response………….. Hi ! I recommend you buy your pastor a science book because your question is religious in nature and has nothing to. do with science.

  35. Michael Fugate

    What always happens – if they neither know the answer nor want to answer, they will switch to concerns about definitions, tone or some other minutia – to deflect the audience. “That’s not how I define kind.” or “I am not using an apologetic filter.” or “You misspelled a word in slide 15.” or “I graduated in 1997 not 1998.” It is like going in to drain the swamp and when you are up to your nether regions in alligators, you forget why you went it in the first place.

  36. @SteveR: your approach means starting an extensive discussion which I’d rather avoid.

    @TomS: your questions do the same. All questions do. Hence I’d prefer “ID is about the supernatural and hence not science. I’m here to discuss the latter” and “The Bible doesn’t mention anything about evolution.”

    @MichaelF: which is why our dear SC wrote “the last thing you want” is “inviting him to start debating”. In this particular situation I agree completely.

  37. docbill1351

    Here is Dembski on responding to what happened when and how:

    As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

    Dembski had a great ability to put the snide in snide. Dishonest to the bone, just like all of them.

  38. Michael Fugate

    ID is not a theory at all – even if it tried it couldn’t provide a single detail.
    And yet they keep telling us that everything was designed with a purpose determined by the designer – as if they could read the designer’s mind or if anything only had a single purpose…

  39. Mike Elzinga

    “Were you there?”

    Yes, I am there now. My answer to you is coming from your past; as do all answers carried by light waves and sound waves.

    Light waves and sound waves don’t have an agenda to distort the messages they carry; contrary to what humans often do.

  40. @Michael Fugate
    Bingo!
    I am beginning to teach myself about design. Someone suggested this book:
    Karl Aspelund
    The Design Process, 3rd edition, 2015
    Blloomsbury PUblishing
    page 1 “A designer’s work is concerned primarily with solving problems by devveloing and explaining ideas.”
    page 14ff is about “reverse-designing” , that is to discover the design process that went into the object. Guess what. It is more complicated than saying, “This ting must be designed.”

  41. p. 43
    “A natural system is not a design. The eagle doesn’t fly because it is meant to; it flies because it can”.
    Who am I to disagree with an expert on design?

  42. @TomS: “I don’t like to disparage people as a group, such as “ignorant desert dwellers”.

    My description was intended to be very accurate. If you have evidence that those desert dwellers were otherwise feel free to show it instead of “Concern Trolling” (the latter form of argumentation will not affect me in the slightest).

    “We have quite enough examples of sophisticated modern cosmopolitan college educated people who say the most shameful things.”

    College educated people who say “shameful things” (whatever those are)
    may simply have rejected their education. Jason Lisle and Jeffrey Tomkins are just two recent examples of people who had apparently achieved PhD degrees, yet all that they write is creationist apologetics which are totally counterfactual to their actual degrees. They actually reject science after achieving such a high level degree in a scientific field and they routinely lie about science to achieve their goal of keeping people within their specific creationist camps.

    Their followers are either incapable of understanding the actual scientific arguments or else they don’t want to hear any counter arguments that can threaten their belief systems. So within creationism you have the lying deluded leading the unsophisticated deluded, and this requires rejecting education to be sustainable.

    “Gawd would not lie” is a mantra among that unthinking crowd. Of course the many thousands of gawds can’t even agree among themselves about the age of the Earth, which science knows to within better than 1% at about 4.543B years old, which is based on multiple lines of evidence that converge.

  43. Whether the authors of the Bible were desert dwellers is irrelevant to their opinions, if any, about evolution. But as a matter of fact, many of the authots were not desert dwellers.

  44. “If you have evidence that those desert dwellers were otherwise.”
    Try Wikipedia.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Jerusalem

    Even according to the most pessimistic estimations the Hebrews inhabited Palestina/Judah/Israel/etc. west of the river Jordan from 900 BCE on. That area hasn’t been a desert for millennia, if ever. Or empires like Egypt and Babylonia would not have been interested in conquering it.
    The expression “desert dwellers” for the Hebrews stems from
    1) either the literalist Biblical theory that the Hebrews roamed the Sinai for 40 years under leadership of Moses – a highly peculiar theory for regulars of this site;
    2) or the unproven theory that the Hebrews conquered the area around 1000 CE under leadership of King David or his father.

    In any case the scientific viewpoint is that even the oldest books of the OT were written a couple of centuries later, ie by people who did all kinds of things (like living in cities or farming on fertile grounds) but not dwell deserts.
    This evidence should be more than enough. The expresseion “desert dwellers” is just another example of New Atheist (as defined by Tim O’Neill) stupidity. And you’re not stupid, Zetopan.

  45. @FrankB thanks.