Debating Creationists: Where to Begin?

“Indeed, where to begin. If Creationism were the brainchild of some religiously backward minds in the former Eastern Block it would die a quick death or at least be considered by the rest of the world as complete lunacy. However, as the world’s most powerful nation as well as its English speaking satellites, Australia and to some degree Great Britain, are the main proponents of this dangerously deluded and aggressive assault on reason, ethics and science, its small but very vocal leaders and followers are well on the way to influence goverments and policy decisions, thereby causing dangerous political situtaions for local and foreign affairs.

Anyone who cherishes democracy, freedom of speech and the right to reject religion ought to start worrying about the negative and very dangerous influence which creationism and evangelical religion poses to all our lives. In order to fight the relentless machinery of these anti-evolution, pro creationism theists, who more and more also support Christian Zionist dogma, those of us who fear for our children’s futuer ought to learn how to effectively debunk their well prepared rhetoric.

Following is an article from 2008 titled “Debating Creationists: Where to Begin?”, hence my heading.”

MANY OF YOU will find yourselves in a debate with a creationist. Whether it’s online, at a local school board meeting, as a caller to a radio show, or perhaps some other situation, unless you’re a professional teacher of this subject you will need to prepare yourself with useful sources of information.

It’s not that you don’t know the science. You probably do. But you’re not prepared for the lies, the distortions, the misquotes, the half-truths, the complete fabrications — in short, the utter lack of integrity which characterizes the other side. You’ll be hit with arguments that seem — and are — absolutely insane. That‘s what you’ve got to be ready to rebut. Knowing reality is one thing; dealing with intentional lunacy is quite another.

We know where the creationists go for their material — to the usual sources of creation “science” about Noah’s Ark, and purveyors of myths about the magical mystery Designer, etc. But where do you go? Sure, there are museums with excellent exhibits, and libraries full of peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject. You could begin a literature search here: National Academy of Sciences. Or you could lug around an introductory level textbook or two.

But as we’ve pointed out before (Debating Creationists: The Big Lie) one rarely accomplishes anything in such situations by presenting facts. Nevertheless, you need handy sources of reliable information. So where are they?

You’ve come to the right place. First, we want to tell you about one that’s been available for a few months, but we just learned about it. It’s a list of informative links from New Scientist: Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions. They introduce the list by saying:

Evolution must be the best-known yet worst-understood of all scientific theories. So here is New Scientist‘s guide to some of the most common myths and misconceptions about evolution.

There are other good sources. Most of you know about this from Scientific American: 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense , which came out in June, 2002. It’s still excellent.

Don’t overlook “15 Evolutionary Gems” (PDF), a new resource summarizing fifteen lines of evidence for evolution by natural selection, provided by the journal Nature, which is one of the most highly-respected peer-reviewed scientific journals in the world.

And (he said humbly) there is your Curmudgeon’s own List-O-Links, in which we tried to provide a link to everything that might be useful when debating creationists. But it’s been a couple of years since we updated it.

Anyway, there are plenty of good places to begin. If you do a bit of reading from reliable sources, you’ll be millennia ahead of the opposition. Now go and write that letter to the editor.

Addendum: Writing letters, making speeches, and similar activities are one thing, but we have misgivings about sharing a live debate platform with creationists. It gives them credibility and creates the illusion that there’s some kind of scientific controversy. It also generates press attention. Creationists are not deserving of this.

There is yet another reason never to engage in a live debate with a creationist: They typically use their time to make numerous rapid-fire claims, often erroneous, all spewed out in a barrage that is impossible to rebut in the time allowed. This is sometimes called the “Gish Gallop,” named after Duane Gish and mentioned in that Wikipedia article about him. We’ve seen the same technique used by others, often in the defense of exotic political schemes, but it’s a well-established technique in the world of creationism.

For a hint of what we’re talking about, look at: Creationist Wisdom — Example Nine. The letter we rebutted had errors in every sentence, factual, historical, logical, etc. It took some time — more than we intended — to refute it all. There’s no way that this can be done in a live debate where each side is given equal time.

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