Why Debates are Dubious

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In the evolution/creationism controversy, there is a sub-debate about public debates: should scientists and science fans engage in oral public debates with creationists? Sometimes it is said that the answer is always “no” – debates are sport, not serious discussion, and creationists can employ the “Gish Gallop” to rattle off hundreds of bogus claims, each of which would take minutes or hours to debunk in the fashion done on talk.origins. But the real answer is “it depends”, because there are circumstances when it is appropriate – neutral forums, a setup that allows individual topics to be discussed in depth, you are an expert debater like Kenneth Miller, etc. On the other hand, if you are being invited to a debate set up by creationists for the purpose of promoting creationism, with their rules, press, etc., and their audience bussed in from fundamentalist churches, and when they are planning to record, broadcast, and sell recordings of the event to promote creationism/ID – then you should think twice about whether or not you are being “set up,” and whether or not your participation is helping or hurting the cause of science education.

Here is another situation in which you should think twice. On the web, I just stumbled on this announcement of a series of upcoming ID events in Florida, called “Darwin of Design?” See the line I bolded:

Darwin or Design?

Part I: Sept 29-30

Sponsored by Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity (PSSI) * USF’s Sun Dome Friday night, Sept 29, at 7:00 p.m. Dr. Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box Dr. Ralph Seelke, research scientist in microbiology Dr. Jonathan Wells, author of Icons of Evolution

Note: High school and college faculty and students will be admitted free of charge with appropriate ID. The admission fee for all others is $5. For more information, call (813) 974-3111.

* Radisson Hotel Ballroom, Lectures with Open Forum Saturday, Sept 30, 10:00 a.m. until noon* Drs. Michael Behe, Ralph Seelke and Jonathan Wells * 12600 Roosevelt Blvd., St. Petersburg - www.radisson.com/stpetersburgfl Note: Complimentary coffee and tea served. A free-will donation will be requested to help with expenses.

Part II: November 3-4

Co-Sponsors: PSSI and The Campus Humanistic Society * The Great Debate: Darwin or Design? Friday evening, Nov 3, at 7:30 p.m. Grace Family Church in Tampa** Featuring: Dr. Stephen Meyer, Ph.D. in philosophy of science, Cambridge University and Dr. Donald Duh, professor (emeritus) at Whatever State University ** 5101 Van Dyke Rd, Lutz, FL – www.gracefamilychurch.org

* Exploring the Evidence of Design, Saturday, Nov. 4 Calvary Baptist Church, 9:00 a.m.-noon Christ Community Church, 1:30-4:30 p.m.*** Featuring: Dr. Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, Dr. Walter Bradley, Dean of Engineering at Baylor University and co-author of The Mystery of Life’s Origin, and Dr. Thomas Woodward, professor at Trinity College and author of Doubts about Darwin and Darwin Strikes Back *** Calvary Baptist, 110 N. McMullen Booth Rd, Clearwater – www.calvarybaptist.org; Christ Community, 6202 N Himes Ave, Tampa, (813) 879-2077 – www.tampaccc.org

It looks like the promoters accidentally sent out the draft announcement, and then at least one recipient, WTBN, “Tampa Bay’s Christian Talk” radio station put it up without reading it. I haven’t looked for other instances posted at church websites etc., but they may exist.

Anyhoo, if the announcement for the creationism/ID debate, before you are even signed up, describes you as “Dr. Donald Duh, professor (emeritus) at Whatever State University”, then maybe, just maybe, this is a debate you should refrain from participating in.

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So, the Discovery Institute is planning the "largest conference on Intelligent Design ever held," sponsored by Physicians for Scientific Integrity (yeah, this group I wrote about previously) and being held in Florida in two parts--late September and ea... Read More

38 Comments

Bwa Ha Ha!

I can see why Creationists, I mean “ID Researchers” need to continue to fleece their congregations… the cost in foot repair alone must be horrendous!

Bwa Ha Ha!

Co-Sponsors: PSSI and The Campus Humanistic Society

Meaning: we plan to hornswoggle some atheist-sounding organization into lending an illusion of balance. There must be one on some campus somewhere.

I have archived the HTML page here.

Hmm, this page has it slightly different:

Featuring: Dr. Stephen Meyer, Ph.D. in philosophy of science, Cambridge University and Dr. Donald Weinshank, professor (emeritus) at Michigan State University

Someone might want to email him (or maybe he already pulled out, provoking “Dr. Donald Duh”…).

I wonder why Michael Ruse was not recruited for this event. Historically he is one of the most popular guests at ID events. Perhaps he got similar bad vibes about this one.

By the way, googling on “Campus Humanistic Society”, in quotes, gives only two hits – the two announcements of the “Darwin or Design” event mentioned in this thread. Another entity that only exists in announcements for ID events?

Oh, and this is going to be “The largest conference on Intelligent Design ever held”, according to apologetics.org. They’re holding it in the Sun Dome, like most scientific conferences.

Any pro-evolution person attending this event should go with a ‘bunker-buster’! As most readers of PT probably know, PSSI is an anti-evolution organization as indicated by their web address: www.doctorsdoubtingdarwin.org.

A fancy version of the announcement is at: http://ccct.dallasnewmedia.com/MyCC[…]efault.aspx/

After several searches I too could find no reference to any campus humanistic organization at USF. Maybe it was concocted for this event?

“Note: Complimentary coffee and tea served. A free-will donation will be requested to help with expenses”

But if there is an all-knowing god then he already knows if you made a donation or not

Yes, there is no registered Humanistic Society chapter at USF: http://usfweb2.usf.edu/StudentActiv[…]org_list.asp.

Could they be talking about any other campus in the area?

Yes, there is no registered Humanistic Society chapter at USF: http://usfweb2.usf.edu/StudentActivities/stu_org.

Could they be talking about any other campus in the area?

Maybe it’s at Whatever State U., and Dr. Donald Duh is the faculty advisor.

Maybe it’s at Whatever State U., and Dr. Donald Duh is the faculty advisor.

Duh was my advisor at Whatever State. I majored in Who Gives a Crap?

It’s also rather disingenuous that they list Meyer’s affiliation as Cambridge. He earned his degree there 15 years ago, but otherwise has no connection to Cambridge. But I guess that sounds more impressive than his current affiliation, Palm Beach Atlantic University and/or Discovery Institute.

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 3, column 2, byte 127 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

Duh was my advisor at Whatever State. I majored in Who Gives a Crap?

Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t major in “Does shit Matter?”, as I’m sure Oleary would point out that topic is passe.

I wonder why Michael Ruse was not recruited for this event. Historically he is one of the most popular guests at ID events. Perhaps he got similar bad vibes about this one.

Maybe it is a question, as GB Shaw observed, “We are now dickering over the price?”

When the “debate” is taking place at a church, it’s a waste of time for any scientist to take part. It’s also rather surprising that a humanist society would cosponsor a science-versus-religion “debate” taking place in a church. Which is probably why they had to make one up since no real one would be stupid enough to fall for it.

Since most “debates” these days are little more than staged media events, where substantive discourse is nothing and sound bites are everything, I’d think it would be difficult for serious scientists to deal with the more media-savvy charlatans from the DI. Fortunately, Gish-galloping by rote in front of a passive audience isn’t the same as having to answer probing questions under oath in front of a judge, so they don’t do so well in court.

I get invited every other month or so to “debate” some nutjob or another on radio or local TV. I always turn all such requests down. All it does is give the nutters a chance to raise money from a gullible audience, and gives them an air of respectibility that they don’t deserve. If they have something scientific to present, let them present it in peer-reviewed research like everyone else has to. And if they have a legal case to present, let them present it in court. But, of course, they have neither.

Ralph Seelke seems to be getting a free ride from scientists, so expect him to make the most of it at this ‘conference’.

I’m skeptical of the merits of debate when the participants (or some of them, at any rate) are quite clearly not honest …

Sometimes it makes me wonder how much money/effort these churches put into these events. Shouldn’t they be using that money/effort on something more important to the Kingdom… like helping the poor or something? Just sayin…

If they have something scientific to present, let them present it in peer-reviewed research like everyone else has to. And if they have a legal case to present, let them present it in court. But, of course, they have neither.

So they fall back on whining about ‘repression’ or ‘activist judges’.

Waterloo! Waterloo!

IDiots Wrote:

“Note: High school and college faculty and students will be admitted free of charge with appropriate ID.”

So you’ve got to be an IDiot to get in?

I note from the PSSI web site that there are currently (as of Aug 16, 2006) 114 doctors who have said they agree with the following statement:

“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life and we therefore dissent from Darwinian macroevolution as a viable theory. This does not imply the endorsement of any alternative theory.”

Comes up short of even the DI’s list of doubters.

I also note that the alternate web site to “www.pssiinternational.com” is “www.doctorsdoubtingdarwin.org”.

It seems that according to severl web sites, including “http://post-darwinist.blogspot.com/[…]-darwin.html”, “http://www.evolutionnews.org/2006/0[…]_for_th.html”, the PSSI web site was first reported about in late May or early June.

So, we have a debate sponsered by two organizations: one that doesn’t exist, and another just 3 months old who’s purpose is to … sponser this event???

Note that Meyer’s Ph.D. is in THE PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE. He’s not even a scientist!

Is there something wrong with my browser, or have they in fact taken it down? It is in google’s cache for now. http://72.14.203.104/search?q=cache[…]lnk&cd=8

Looks like it’s gone to me also.

Like I said above, I archived it.

Note that Meyer’s Ph.D. is in THE PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE. He’s not even a scientist!

Given that most objections to evolution are basically attacks on all of science anyway, I think someone who knows how science is supposed to work can weigh in on the arguments just as well. You may have a case if anti-evolutionists actually produce scientific findings, but there has been none.

Mark Twain offered advice to never argue with a fool, people may not be able to tell you apart.

I happened across a great headline:

Romanian police cuff 23 ID fraud suspects

“Dr. Donald Duh” :D This reminds me Donald Duck’s cousin “Fethry Duck”. He is in our country (in finnish language) called “Touho Ankka”. And now guess who you can find on this somebit famous anti-bigbanglist…:

http://homepages.xnet.co.nz/~hardy/[…]atement.html ..“Touho Ankka, Independent_Researcher, Finland” ..

Personally, I think debates have value precisely because they’re “media events”. One of the reasons creationism is so succesful is because a large portion of the general public doesn’t know that much about biology or evolution, and a debate might actually clue them in (or at least show them that creationists have no actual evidence to back them up).

What I’d like to see are (more) debates hosted by evolutionary biologists, so there’s none of that garbage you mentioned. However, the question is - would creationists actually participate in a debate where they didn’t have home field advantage?

Personally, I think debates have value precisely because they’re “media events”. One of the reasons creationism is so succesful is because a large portion of the general public doesn’t know that much about biology or evolution, and a debate might actually clue them in (or at least show them that creationists have no actual evidence to back them up).

You give the general population too much intellectual credit. A few may border on the edge of curiosity to actually research the claims. All the others would be watching, saying: “Ooh, you go girl!” like a Jerry Springer show.

The debates have as much pedagogical value as “critical analysis”. None of these techniques clues anyone in. In actual fact, it subconsciously teaches people to sit back and watch too sides duke it out and follow the winner with the belief that the winner won because they were right.

The general public has no idea of the tactics used in debates. That’s why political debates before elections are useless.

What I’d like to see are (more) debates hosted by evolutionary biologists, so there’s none of that garbage you mentioned. However, the question is - would creationists actually participate in a debate where they didn’t have home field advantage?

Evolutionary biologists won’t have the home ground advantage either. They have jobs, because actual knowledge does that to people. The reason why creationists can debate is they have nothing else to do than to preach to their choir.

Creationists like Kent Hovind and many others all had their challenges taken up and none of them were honored. So they would bother with other people’s challenges. Added to the fact that the general public would actually see such an action (ie evolutionary biologists hosting debates) as an actual shenanigan and will be more drawn to the Creationist side mostly because of the “support the underdogs” mentality.

Oh wow! I’ll be in the area on those dates! I’ll do my best to attend the “good” parts and post on it. The only problem is getting around the five dollar profit they would be getting. Maybe accidentlly spill my coffee on some propaganda? Perhaps I’d like to drink over five dollars’ value in coffee!

Lenny Flank Wrote:

All it does is give the nutters a chance to raise money from a gullible audience, and gives them an air of respectibility that they don’t deserve.

There’s a lot of truth in that. Maybe scientists should begin their debates with a disclaimer like the following:

The ongoing discussion between scientists and ID proponents is not an indication that the jury is still out on ID. The truth is that the verdict has been in for years: ID is not science. On this fact the scientific research community, academia, and the government are all in agreement. Of course there are individuals who do not understand this verdict and demand explanations, which scientists try to provide. In doing so, scientists are merely attempting to communicate already established facts. The matter is already settled, notwithstanding some people’s lack of understanding.

a debate might actually clue them in (or at least show them that creationists have no actual evidence to back them up).

How does one tell the difference between evidence and lies? The creationists are expert conmen and can fool anyone who isn’t already well-informed. This is the fundamental error made by those who argue for or engage in debates with creationists – they underestimate the lack of scruples of the creationists and the consequences of such a lack.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on August 19, 2006 3:47 PM.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design Review was the previous entry in this blog.

Et tu, Francis Collins? is the next entry in this blog.

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