10 questions every creationist must answer…
1. Does the person you are about to ask about evolution have better things to do with their time than listen to your questions?
Seriously. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably met them over the net. Which means that you don’t really know how busy their offline lives are.
The same goes for other social settings. Are they present to discuss evolution versus creationism, or is it someone’s birthday? Is it a family get-together.
Unless they’ve signed on to some forum to address creationism, you should consider that it’s probably an imposture for them to have your ideas foist upon them.
2. Do you think you are creeping them out?
Biologists like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers get death threats in the mail from creationists. Creationists once lied in order to get access to Richard Dawkins’ home. Not his work – his home.
The converse isn’t true. You don’t see biologists sending death threats and sneaking into creationist’s homes under false pretences. Creationists have therefore earned a reputation as being a bit creepy.
You may not be approaching Dawkins or Myers, but the person you have decided to have a chat with could very well find your creationism creepy. Watch your behaviour.
3. Do you expect your ideas to be given “equal time” and if so, have you done as much work with evolution?
Seriously. If you expect your critique of evolution to be given equal time, make sure that you’ve put in as much work on the topic as the person you’ve approached. And I mean on the topic. Exclusively reading the likes of Ken Ham does not qualify. I mean text-book biology.
Rote recitation of other people’s critiques of evolution is neither a familiarity with, nor an understanding of, evolution.
There is only one exception to this rule.
4. Do you really have evidence that really is mutually exclusive with evolution?
One needn’t understand the fine details of a theory in order to reject the lot. I don’t need to know what a certain alignment of Venus spells for my neighbour’s dog in order to reject astrology, and I’m not going to read as much astrology as an astrologer before I reject it.
What evidence do you have that is mutually exclusive with evolution? Do you actually have a knock-out punch, or are you just flailing around trying to score a random, lucky hit for The Lord?
Please note. This is not the same as an absence of evidence where it isn’t clear how something could have evolved.
It is unclear how remains could retain soft tissue for millions of years. This would have implications for evolution if it turned out that dinosaurs were more recent, but there is no positive evidence in this find that says such a thing. It just raises ambiguity for geology at this point. It’s a gap in knowledge. The only controversy this generates at this point is in relation to the understanding of how some fossils form.
The fact that creationists weren’t able to gain access to the tissue in question, which they whined about for a while, also is not evidence. No access to materials = no ability for direct analysis = limited conclusions.
This is negative evidence – a gap in knowledge. We’re talking evidence. Positive evidence.
Like a rabbit fossil in Devonian rock. Or human footprints fossilised in Jurassic deposits. And have you checked to make sure this evidence is credible?
5. Have you critically analysed your own ideas?
This is your job. Not somebody else’s. If the person you are approaching is able to find basic errors that you could have found yourself, if only you’d applied yourself, then they aren’t going to be happy. Unless they want to laugh at you of course. They may got pleasure out of that.
All the same, presenting your ideas (or ideas you are copying from some pamphlet that you trust implicitly) without vetting them first is lazy. It’s rude. It’s a waste of other people’s time and an abuse of their good faith in entertaining you in the first place.
Furthermore, have you asked yourself questions like “with all the money they attract, why don’t the creationist think tank do field research?”, don’t bother trying to proselytize to other people. If you are going to be so careless, then at least don’t be careless at other people’s expense.
6. Is the “evolutionist” likely to have heard it before?
A lot of what passes for creationist thought isn’t new. After being exposed to this stuff in the 1990s, and arguing against it on the Internet ever since, I’ve long since stopped seeing genuinely new material. Just a lot of mutton dressed up as lamb.
If the “evolutionist” is likely to have heard it before, they aren’t going to be amused by hearing it again. Just because I haven’t written about every creationist argument I’ve seen, doesn’t mean that I haven’t seen a lot – it just means that I’m sick of rubbish about polonium halos and divinely rigged decay rates, misinterpretation of carbon-14 contamination, and misinformation about “polystrate” trees.
I’m sick of reading creationists making arguments based on misunderstandings about allopatric speciation, when they claim that according to evolution, suddenly one species gives birth to a member of another! Gah! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!
If the “evolutionist” isn’t likely to have heard it before, and you know other “evolutionists” have and have had reason to reject it, then you’re just being misleading.
7. Are you preparing to move the goal posts?
Irreducible complexity – the idea that the component parts of a functional protein can not evolve, because incomplete, a species can gain no evolutionary benefit from the incomplete version.
This is “negative evidence” again, not actual evidence, but we’ll put that problem to one side for a moment. We’ll also put aside the fact that the component parts of any given feature may in turn have a function we aren’t aware of (something that was found out in relation to one of Behe’s favourite examples - the bacterial flagellum).
The human nervous system is typically the system deigned too complex – for obvious ideological reasons (“God gave us consciousness!”). If component parts of the human nervous system were found in another species, would you abandon your position? It is alleged by ID proponents that these features are irreducibly complex; such a discovery (a reduction of the irreducibly complex) should then be impossible.
Consider the sea sponge. The most primitive of animals, having neither organs nor a central nervous system.
If genetically speaking, the sea sponge had anything resembling these more modern features, they’d have to be in some reduced form. Sadly for the ID camp, DNA coding for much of the component features of the nervous system – specifically the genes encoding for much of the proteins used in synapses. Notably, the sea sponge has a feature that incorporates these proteins and it’s only a matter of time before this structure is given a thorough investigation.
Now, if you are willing to hold that the proteins in the synapses that have component ancestors, you can’t also hold that the feature as it is in the synapse of a modern animal is irreducibly complex. The same is true of the bacterial flagellum – it’s component parts are known to exist and to have functions of their own.
“But we don’t know about the evolutionary origins of proteins! Therefore they’re irreducibly complex!” Yeah, until we find out about them as well…
Examples were picked. Examples were debunked. The original position held that irreducible complexity was pervasive.
To switch to other examples, or to revise the scope of ID to try to keep it in the game, is to change the terms of the debate. It’s to move the goal posts during game play. It’s flatly dishonest.
Now you can’t expect people to spend their time on your queries if you’re not being honest, can you? So don’t be.
8. Have you made a serious effort to develop your primary reasoning skills?
For a start, I’ve never met a creationist that didn’t either have a failure of primary reasoning when it came to evolution, or a general, all-pervading lack of primary reasoning skills.
But even if this is meaningless, even if creationists aren’t worse off than the general population – the development of primary reasoning skills in primary and high school isn’t something that’s necessarily sufficient to make you a critical thinker (the reason for Matthew Lipman’s efforts).
I’ve been told that my primary reasoning skills are pretty good. At the time, I found the logic component of my discrete mathematics course to be easy – and I seemed to be naturally a lot better at it than the others in my lecture, and the lecturer himself (I was however, crap at calculus). That being said, I made, and I’ve continued to make serious efforts to develop my primary reasoning skills since back in the day. And I look back on my prior reasoning and I find it wanting – at some points even embarrassing.
The lesson in this is that no matter if you have a recognised talent, or a disadvantage, there is always room for improvement. There will be even more room for improvement if you don’t make an effort!
So have you made a serious effort to develop your primary reasoning skills?
I’d suggest that if you haven’t, you aren’t in a fit state to be trying to debate anyone, much less to lead them to truth. If your arguments are getting shot down time and time again for logical fallacies, odds on you need to work on your primary reasoning skills.
No amount of “I’m not as smart or educated as you, but…” is going to make foisting the product of poor reasoning onto anyone truthful, nor will it make you meek. There’s nothing meek about preaching to people who have put more effort into their thinking than you.
9. Are you trying to reconcile the evidence with your idea of God?
If you are trying to make the facts reconcile with some pre-conceived notion, you’ve already lost. And I don’t mean the debate – I mean you’re at a loss for believing what you believe. If your notion of a God was such a well thought out concept, it wouldn’t need to be reconciled. The idea’s obviously a poor one if you need to undertake mental gymnastics.
Can you really expect a conversation with someone if you bring this rubbish to the table? A rabbit in the Devonian would compel any “evolutionist” to at least seriously doubt evolution. If you aren’t prepared to seriously doubt your notion of God in light of evidence, then that’s a bit one-sided isn’t it?
People will just call you dogmatic, and probably think you’re a bit silly. And nobody wants to debate with that.
10. Are you writing one of those “10 questions every evolutionist must answer!” pieces?
If you’ve failed to properly address any of the above, odds on you aren’t going to be taken seriously. If you have failed to properly address any of the above, you shouldn’t be taken seriously.
If you’ve failed the above you’ve demonstrated an inability to engage and most probably, a lack of good faith towards your prospective interlocutors.
Seriously, consider getting your act together before you publish any more garbage, thanks.
Photo source: User:Jynus, Wikimedia Commons.