Debate Tricks Used by Creationists

It occurred to us that although we have compiled a load of information about creationism, such as The Ten Laws of Creationism, we’ve never posted a collection of creationist debate techniques.

We’ve posted about their tricks — they would call them “techniques” — one at a time, whenever we encounter them. One example is the Creationist Scientific Method:

1. Select a conclusion which you hope is true.
2. Find one piece of evidence that possibly might fit.
3. Ignore all other evidence.
4. That’s it.

And we’ve mentioned other techniques. For example, there’s ol’ Hambo’s method of discrediting everything science has learned about the past merely by asking: Were you there? The result, he believes, “proves” that scripture is the only source of truth about the past.

Just before April Fool’s day we discovered a new one that was developed by the Discoveroids. In Why Did Creation Take So Long? we wrote about their new trick — new to us, anyway — of dismissing facts that are inconvenient and defending their warped version of reality merely by asking: “Why not?” Yes, it sounds bizarre, but the Discoveroids think it’s brilliant.

And of course there’s the Gish gallop, defined by Wikipedia as a “technique in which a debater attempts to overwhelm an opponent by excessive number of arguments, without regard for the accuracy or strength of those arguments.”

We know there are more, but at the moment we can’t think of them. Therefore, we’re asking you, dear reader, to add to the list for us. There must be other creationist techniques. And remember, tricks like this aren’t limited to creationists. Politicians can use them too — and they do.

So help us add to the list. It’ll be a useful resource for those ghastly occasions when you find yourself in the company of a creationist — or a politician with whom you totally disagree. Let’s hear from you!

Addendum: Let’s not forget quote mining, described in Wikipedia’s article on Quoting out of context.

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18 responses to “Debate Tricks Used by Creationists

  1. Find an anomaly in any piece of evidence for evolution, preferably one ignored by a prominent supporter of evolution.

    Pretend that the anomaly undermines the use of that evidence.

    Ignore the fact that the resolution of the anomaly leaves the relevant area of evolution science stronger than it was before. Just as Newton’s celestial mechanics were strengthened, not weakened, when the anomalous orbit of Uranus ledtothe prediction,and thendiscovery, of Neptune, so genetic trees are embellished, not diminished, by the discovery of horizontal gene transfer and introgression.

    For a fine example of a creationist using this kind of argument (and of a prominent advocate of evolution having clumsily left himself wide open to it), see

  2. Quote mining.

    Negative advertising. Lack of alternative.

  3. Retired Prof

    Funny. Back in my day the “why not?” question was antithetical to the creationist position.

    There are two answers to the question “Why?”

    Puritanicl answer: “Because.”

    Existentialist answer: “Why not?”

  4. Such-and-such is unlike anything which we have any experience of being designed. Therefore it must be designed.

  5. Ross Cameron

    Experienced the ‘Side-shift’ method while debating creos. Whenever I produced sufficient evidence to have them question their stance on some point, they ignored the conclusion and moved sideways with a totally irrelevant new topic.’ What about So-and-So’ they deflected. Correct their viewpoints and the side-shift reared its ugly head. Again. Talk about trying to build on quicksand.

  6. Dave Luckett

    It reminds me of the ancient joke about the Philosphy 101 exam. The only question on the paper was:


    Marking was very simple. A C would be given for “Why not?”, a B for “Because!” and an A for “Why indeed?” Any other answer would be a fail, except the Dean’s prize was once won for “What a stupid question”.

  7. chris schilling

    The standard creationist ploy — and which is now bearing new fruit in leftist “woke” circles — is to establish powerfully emotive, rhetorical terms and conditions from the outset, as if they were axiomatic, to which the opponent is then pressured to justify themself.

    For Ham and his cronies, it’s assertions such as “the Bible is the Word of God” — therefore cannot be argued with; or: everybody, without fail, is a “sinner” — so must seek salvation through Christ alone. For today’s left liberals, it’s “white privilege” and its corollary, racism. This is merely a variation on Original Sin, but one couched in more secular terms.

    There is no way to fight such coercive rhetoric, other than simply not to agree to such terms in the first place. But the tactic, whether religious or political, is bullying acquiescence to the charge of automatic guilt.

    We think of such tactics as inherently totalitarian, in light of the historical stage on which they took place last century, but the impulse has probably always been there, available to the idealogues of all times and societies.

  8. Dave Luckett

    chris schilling: It’s a strange thing to see opposites join hands. The religious right has no time for science, but the woke left can be just as bad. The first derives from straight-up authoritarianism, the second from the dismissal of objectivity intrinsic to post-modernism, but there they are, working together, both pulling in the same direction. Only for the nonce, of course.

    It’s some reassurance that they have this unspoken alliance, for it can only last as long as neither makes significant progress. But the moment either achieves genuine state power, watch out.

  9. chris schilling

    We live in depressing times. But satire — of the sort we indulge in here at this site — will always have its place. What bothers me is the self-appointed cultural commissars who will try to dictate the boundaries of the permissible.

    Apologies for misspelling ideologue.

  10. Pick your choice:

    @ChrisS and DaveL: “This is merely a variation on Original Sin”
    It’s worse. White privilege and racism, unlike Original Sin, used to have meaning and be scientifically testable.

    “the woke left can be just as bad”
    As “woke” rapidly has become a meaningless term you can safely omit it. Also I’d like to point out that “left” and “authoritarian” are not mutually exclusive at all.

    “What bothers me is the self-appointed cultural commissars who will try to dictate the boundaries of the permissible.”
    Same here. As I’m now for a change criticizing the left (remember, my favourite hobby is pissing off everybody, so including those who think I’m their political ally) I’d like to point out that dictating the boundaries of the permissible is contraproductive – it’s focusing on the symptoms iso tackling the causes. And because analogies usually are not perfect I’ll add that this will turn into symbol politics, that don’t change anything at all in the end. It’s not the first time leftists make this mistake.

  11. Very good, TomS. How did I forget quote mining? I’ll add that to the post.

  12. Presenting outputs as inputs. Presenting confirmation as circular reasoning. Redefining science so that historical sciences don’t really count. Strawmanning opponents (Though lots of other people do that, even here). Flat out misrepresentation. Regarding criticism as censorship. Either-or-ism. Inconsistency in definitions. Condemning natural explanations as materialistic and therefore atheist. And of course the other things that people have mentioned here already.

    What have I missed out?

  13. The issue of so-called “historical science” as inferior to “observational science” is just one example of a misreprentation of the ways of science as it proves valuable. Other examples are reference to the Baconian “scientific method” and Karl Popper’s “falsifiability”.

  14. @TomS, And of course, relatedly,confusing repeatability of observation (eg dating the K/Pg boundary layer) with repeatability of process observed (in this case, asteroid impact)

  15. Like slick carnies, creationists who profess their authoritative sounding spiels to their gullible audiences rattle off their gibberish so fast giving little time for analysis by the listener. The listener becomes overwhelmed and can easily get lost in the torrent of mumble jumble presented, succumbing to a conclusion that “well, it sounds plausible” even if they question something.

  16. How about using contradictions, grasping both horns of a dilemma as if they were both true.
    For example, claiming that a natural process cannot produce order; while saying that hydrological sorting (or other process not involving a miracle) is responsible for the pattern of the fossil record.

  17. A comprehensive list… but it fails at the first hurdle. Item #1 is “never debate creationists”. It can only provide them with air-time, a fresh audience for their views, and enhance their own identity and reputation. At the same time, you are on a hiding to nothing, it does nothing for your own reputation (except possibly tarnish it), and generate more heat than light.

  18. Ross Cameron

    C`mon, Ted, you want to take all the fun out of life? 🙂