Thursday, September 20, 2007

Debate down the rabbit hole

I'm finding this interesting, today:

"Suckered Into A Creationism Debate"

It all started in April 1985 when I was asked if I would talk informally on the creation-evolution controversy to the Georgia Tech Faculty/Student Christian Forum. I agreed to do so.

Normally, when addressing such an audience as this, my talk emphasizes how religion and science supplement each other. Since I have a background in religion, I also discuss the origin, meaning, and significance of the Old Testament. This talk was intended to be no exception.

However, a week later, at the end of April, I was asked by the meeting organizer if I would mind having a local creationist opposite me so that there could be an informal exchange. "Fairness" was used as the reason. Having previously debated several local creationists in the Atlanta area, I had no misgivings. So I agreed.

A week later I was informed by the meeting organizer that an out-of-town creationist would be in town at the time of the talk. It was then suggested that I debate him. By now I was getting concerned—but rather than withdraw and thereby foster propaganda that I was afraid to debate the creationist, I again agreed.

On May 16 I received a letter stating that the out-of-town creationist was Walter Brown. A brochure listing his qualifications was enclosed: he is a mechanical engineer and director of an organization whose purpose is to "bring glory to our Creator." He debates suckers like me all over the country. By this time I was upset, but more was to come.

A week before the debate, slated for May 30 (during final exam week at my university), a packet of materials arrived including:

1. An agreement to debate (which prohibited the discussion of religion and stated that the creationist was to speak first)

2. A descriptive list of suggested support personnel for such a debate.

3. The text of before-and-after questionnaires for the audience

4. A suggested stage diagram (where the moderator is placed on the same side with the creationist)

5. A copy of Brown's now famous The Scientific Case for Creation: 108 Categories of Evidence (which lines up against evolution an array of mostly physical and chemical technicalities that take a lot of time to research and refute)

The agreement to debate is illustrative...

After receiving the above material, I reminded the organizer that I had originally agreed only to a small informal meeting with a Christian organization, that now this had grown to a full fledged formal debate, with religion prohibited, in a large auditorium with the public invited, and that if he wanted me to participate there would be no more preconditions, no questionnaires, and no more trickery. He seemed to back off, but that may have been only because he had already emptied his bag of tricks on me.

Such maneuvers appear to be common.

... Dr. Brown opened our debate with the standard creationist line of argument. At the end of his allotted time, he posed a number of questions for me: an obvious strategy to gain the offensive and keep the opposition busy. I didn't fall for it.

In my opening remarks I included a brief account of how I was manipulated into the debate and the nature of the creationist preconditions. Audience reaction indicated a lack of approval for such creationist machinations. I then pointed out that this exchange could not be a typical scientific debate in which participants are stimulated to test ideas in the field or lab. Rather, this was to be a philosophical discussion in which nothing would be settled; that even if all of Brown's arguments were answered he would probably say the same or similar things to other audiences later, as creationists consistently do. I added that, for these and other reasons, many scientists feel that such debates are a waste of time.

Next I proceeded to explain the nature of science: reproducibility, rejection of authority, concern with the physical world, description of how the world works by statements, testability, falsifiability, universality, and so forth. The scientific approach was contrasted with other ways of viewing the world. One example I used was law, which is based on authority and precedent, is variable from court to court, concerns itself with personal interrelationships, is "moral," and so on. (The example of law is useful because most people can accept it more easily than if religion is selected. Once the example of law is in place, however, religion can then be compared with it and both together contrasted with science.) I used art as another perspective, saying "Heaven help the person who has an appendectomy by a surgeon who studied anatomy under Picasso." ...


via NoBojo


Rootietoot said...

the creationism debate, the abortion debate, feminism vs sex all boils down to who can shout the loudest, in the end. It's why I refuse to participate.

Nadia said...

But at least this goes to show that some kind of reason can - or could 20 years ago - still get at least a few people thinking. Otherwise, yes, reason and rationality are poor competitors to rhetoric and bombast. The latter will probably always get a bigger response because it's simply easier to follow a hard-liner than to actually *think* for oneself.

Still, it was good to read this. Thanks for posting it, Belledame.

belledame222 said...

yeah, i think part of the point of this was that actually it's "work smarter, not necessarily louder." Remembering that in cases like this you're -not- actually arguing -with- your purported opponent, you're making a case for the undecided third parties. As such, yeah, there are dirty tricks to win 'em over, but it's easy to fuck up with those and alienate people too.

and sometimes you just have to hand people enough rope and stand back.

belledame222 said...

so, yeah, if anything though, i think it's not so much "stridency" so much as

1) being able to tap into peoples' emotional hooks

2) repetition, repetition, repetition.

I think that if the opposition has more money and volume on its hands, it is probably not only acceptable but smarter to try some other technique -besides- outshouting them, since you know you can't.

bint alshamsa said...

You know, it really irks me that as religious as I have no choice but to root for the "evolutionists" to win because the "creationists" just behave so ridiculously that no one with a decent science education can put any stock in anything they say. I mean, do we really have to resort to trying to prove some "it was all created in six days" theory in order to make the case that it's totally possible for there to be something greater than us in the universe and perhaps that something greater played a role in why life developed on this lonely planet of ours? I mean, what the heck do these people have against the concept of allegory?