Friday, February 28, 2014

Should Scientists Debate Creationists?

I spend a lot of time in online forums, chat-rooms, and the comments sections of blogs and videos talking with people about religion, philosophy, and theism.  Often I have great, civil discussions with my "opponents", but in almost every case, I can find that guy whose not willing to offer anything other than bible verses and wild, unjustifiable statements.  And I still attempt to communicate with those individuals until it becomes pointless.

That's because I understand that in those cases I'm not going to change that person's mind.  But there are other people watching and listening.  Debates are often not about the two debaters; they're for the audience.  As in a courtroom, the truth isn't necessarily reached simply because one side has more charismatic orators. I'll answer a person's hate-laced attempt at conversation specifically for the benefit of those who happen to read the exchange (in part as a testament to how civil a nonbeliever can be).

On the Nature of Addressing Walls of Brick
When it was announced that Bill Nye would accept Ken Ham's challenge to a debate at Ham's Creation Museum in Kentucky, many were disappointed or even outraged that Nye would do this.  Scientists should never debate creationists, many said, because it gives the impression that there is something to debate over.  As the late Stephen Gould pointed out, you have lost the moment you step on the stage because what they want is the oxygen of respectability -- to be seen on stage debating a real scientist.  It lends a credibility that is unfounded, similar to an obstetrician debating a stork-theorist.

Now, I'm not a scientist (unless you count computer science), though I am scientifically minded.  Nevertheless, I'm of two minds on this issue. should scientists debate creationists?

On the one hand, I agree that it grants them with far too much clout and makes it seem to an audience that they have an argument that is on equal grounds with established scientific fact.  However, 33% of people reject evolution, despite the observable evidence for it.  That number might seem small, but it makes up for over one hundred-million people in the U.S. that don't accept reality for whatever reason.  That's an insanely large number.  Many of those people are teaching their children to eschew scientific methodology in favor of faith.  Many of those people will never attempt to actually understand what the theory of evolution says on their own, preferring instead to stay inside their bubble of self-confirming feedback.

So yes, at some point those should be forced to confront the evidence.  They have to have the chance to understand if we're going to make any difference at all in lowering that number.  I see it as compassionate, even though we elevate them up to the stage of equal footing with science.  It basically says, "Look, here's your beliefs.  It's okay to believe things, but here's why we believe differently".  I've found in my discussions with them that the less marginalizing you start with, the more they actually listen to.

But we have to be careful how we go about it.

They Win Anyway
Ken Ham announced yesterday that he's raised enough money to begin construction on his Ark Encounter project, due to be finished by the summer of 2016.  He said the debate with Bill Nye earlier this month helped boost support for the project.

The debate in many ways was a win for Ken Ham and creationism the moment Bill agreed to it.  It was held at the Creation Museum, so the money went to them.  The "museum" sells DVDs of the debate, so proceeds go to them.  It projected the idea that creationism was worth debating for those 33%, so they rallied more money.  Ken knew what he was doing all along.

But it was good to at least force science into the closet of faith for the believers and creationists who watched it, and being a life-long educator and champion of science, Bill Nye 'The Science Guy' was the one to do it.  If 33% of the population actually believed that babies come from storks and vehemently rejected the observable evidence to the contrary, at some point a scientist would have to stand up and say, "No, you idiots! Look at the evidence!".  For the sake of our future as a species, learn what knowledge we know, people.  Learn real science.


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