My colleague, Steven Mahone, a board member of Colorado Citizens for Science and an engineering professional with the largest utility in southern Colorado, agreed recently to debate the well-known creationist Kent Hovind on evolution vs. creation. As Mr. Mahone describes below, he was snookered into leaving his visual aids at home, whereas at the last minute Mr. Hovind was allowed to present his. As I write, it is still unclear why Mr. Mahone and another debater were prohibited from bringing their visual aids, but it seems likely that the Campus Crusade for Christ, a sponsoring organization, was not at fault, and they have sent Mr. Mahone an elegant and sincere apology, which is reproduced below.
Here is Mr. Mahone’s account of the debate.
My Evening with Kent by Steven Mahone
On a calm Friday evening at the base of the Rocky Mountains, I marched onto a stage along with physics professor Sam Milazzo and “Dr.” Kent Hovind to debate the question, “Science or Religion?” at the Colorado Springs campus of the University of Colorado. No, I didn’t heed the advice of the other, more experienced debaters who had come before me and politely decline the invitation. They just didn’t have the passion that I had. They didn’t understand “these people” like me. I was going to make a difference this time I tell you! Four hundred Christians were going to immediately run (not walk) to Borders and buy out the shelves of everything written by Bertrand Russell, Steven J. Gould, and Richard Dawkins after hearing my closing remarks!
Well, it didn’t exactly turn out that way. Perhaps three of the attendees rushed to Borders after the dust settled – but that’s probably because they were late for work. Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience to say the least. Here’s my (admittedly biased) assessment of how the evening unfolded:
First of all, Dale Anderson, the organizer of the debate, sent an e-mail to all of the participants on the preceding Wednesday stating, “Slides and multimedia will not be used for this debate. Your verbal presentation is your only means of communication.” Of course, neither Sam Milazzo nor I brought slides – but guess what, Hovind showed up with his PowerPoint presentation, and the organizers changed the rules five minutes before the debate began to accommodate him! I gave serious thought to bowing out right then and there, but after a deep breath I decided to continue with the evening anyway – mostly out of what I considered to be good manners.
The crowd was decidedly pro-creation. No surprise and nothing unexpected there, since the event was sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. There was standing room only, with probably 400 people in attendance. During my opening remarks, a young man in his twenties sitting five feet from my podium kept heckling me with statements like “There are no intermediate fossils!” and “Newton believed in God!” He was polite enough to stop when I pointed to him and shook my head.
After the opening remarks the questions from the moderator began and all of them were phrased in a way that was critical of evolution. Not a single one put creationism or intelligent design on the defensive. I was really surprised, since I was personally assured by Campus Crusade for Christ that not only would evolution be scrutinized but so would creationism. Just call me a gullible, old-fashioned secularist who expects people (regardless of religion) to keep their word. Additionally, there was no time for audience questions as was promised in the itinerary – I doubt that this omission was purposeful, but it showed how haphazardly the moderator stayed with the debate format.
Hovind has an extensive inventory of slides for just about any subject that could be broached when discussing religion and science – I have to give him pretty good marks for his organizational skills. One of the topics that was brought up was racism and eugenics as practiced by Margaret Sanger. I commented that racism and eugenics had little to do with Sanger, and, in fact, our own “Christian Nation” had an official eugenics department from 1905 to 1945, when it was shut down, not by pastors or religious activists, but by scientists and psychiatric experts who could no longer justify its validity. Hovind then used a rapid-fire succession of slides using quotes and misquotes to claim that evolutionary thinking leads to racism – but he explained nothing!
Another question asked, “How can the evolution of separate sexes (male and female) be explained by evolution, and why are females more complex than males?” Both Sam and I explained that asexual reproduction was how it all began, but when the exchange of genetic material occurred, it provided a distinct advantage to those organisms because a greater range of diversity in the genome was available for natural selection to work with. The male and female sexes grew out of this advantage over the subsequent millions of years of evolution. Hovind simply put up a slide and exclaimed, “God made male and female separate!” Ugh!
When asked about President Bush’s recent statement that students should be taught both sides (which I assumed meant including ID in science classes), Hovind put up a slide about the bacterial flagellum and mentioned Michael Behe as a strong advocate for teaching ID. I countered that Behe does not believe in a young earth, he accepts species-to-species evolution, and he does not support the claim of a worldwide flood occurring some 4,500 years ago – all of which is in direct conflict with what creationists like Hovind believe. I pointed out that ID offers nothing to aid science and asked how would ID even be presented to students, especially if a Hindu, Muslim, etc. was teaching the class. Sam Milazzo also pointed out that he would have no idea how to even teach such a concept. Hovind offered no advice whatsoever on how to address this issue but he did have more slides. Surprise!
Unfortunately, Hovind finally managed to “get the goat” of Sam Milazzo by repeatedly challenging his integrity as a teacher and claiming that Sam is only indoctrinating his students with the religion of evolution. Hovind also accused Sam of labeling all Christians as “dumb.” Sam was (obviously) offended and began walking off the stage, saying that he wouldn’t allow someone to continually put untrue words in his mouth after he asked them to stop. I intercepted Sam and convinced him to finish the debate – which he did. Anyone in attendance could see that Sam is a passionate and concerned teacher whose only intolerance is for misinformation and ignorance.
This was my first time on stage as a participant (I’ve moderated debates before), and I learned a lot about how to approach such events (it’s much different than doing radio, which I’ve done going up against Jonathan Wells, Jay Richards, and James Perloff). I would certainly change a few things concerning my game plan (like more attacking of the creationist claims), but other things I wouldn’t (like remaining composed and respectful even in the face of ignorant statements). When you go into an event like this, you have the expectation of always saying the right thing and having the perfect anecdote at your fingertips – yeah, right! Nevertheless, if you stay the course you’re going to provide strength and inspiration to those already on the side of science, and, every once in a while, you might just make a difference to a mind that is still undecided.
Tiffany Green, student president of the UCCS Chapter of the Campus Crusade for Christ offered Mr. Mahone the following apology for the manner in which he had been treated.
Thank you very much for your constructive criticism. I want to offer my apologies for Kent Hovind using his slides. It was an injustice I was not directly responsible for, but I am truly sorry for how it unfolded. Further, I would like to tell you that I felt it in no way put you at a disadvantage, as both your arguments and Dr. Millazzo’s were moving and eloquently stated.
Thank you for your participation; I feel the debate was a success for both sides of the argument were supported expertly. I am sorry if the questions seemed slanted, I can assure you that was not our intent, and you are right that some of the questions should have been directed toward creation. I have great respect for both you and Dr. Millazzo, it takes courage to stand up for your beliefs. I also know that you both had the harder end of the deal, because you had to think more on your feet than Dr. Hovind because of his experience in debating this topic.
Thank you once again for handling the evening like a gentleman and a scholar.
Sincerely, Tiffany Green
For more background on Mr. Hovind and his scholarly credentials, you may see my essay at http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2004/08/kent_hovind_and_the_civilized_society.html. Mr. Hovind’s “thesis” is not generally available to the scholarly community, but you may read about it at Karen Bartelt’s Web site, http://home.austarnet.com.au/stear/bartelt_dissertation_on_hovind_thesis.htm. If you follow some of my references, you will find that even some creationists consider Mr. Hovind to be unscientific. Finally, Victor Stenger has posted some additional material and an earlier draft of Mr. Mahone’s essay at http://citizensforscience.org/friday_night_debate_in_colorado_springs.