C Rulon: Creationism & Intelligent Design: To debate or not to debate

By | December 14, 2011

By Charles L.  Rulon

Several years ago I participated in a debate at LBCC on Intelligent Design, the Trojan horse of creationism.  These were my opening remarks.

I want to be up front with all of you.  I have real mixed feelings about being here today to debate those who reject the established fact of our bio­logical evolu­tion.  Let me emphasize that word “fact”.  Evolution (meaning that all species, from trees and insects to fish and humans, have a common ancestry going back billions of years) is as much a scientifically settled fact as the fact that our earth goes around the sun.  We are cousins of apes and even more distant cousins of all mammals.  Our extremely ancient ancestor was a species of fish that went extinct hundreds of millions of years ago.

Scientific evidence for evolution continues to pour in.  Millions of fossils, including tens of thousands of so-called “missing links,” can be seen in museums around the world.  Strong evidence also comes from the fields of genet­ics, molec­ular biology, embry­ology, biogeo­graphy and com­­­par­­a­­tive anatomy and physi­ology.  Few, if any, scienti­fic concepts have been more exten­sively tested and more thorough­ly proven than our evolu­tion. Essentially the entire scientific community worldwide now accepts that biological evol­ution is a fundamental aspect of nature.

Millions of Christians in the U.S. have also now accepted the scientific fact of our evolution as God’s way of creating us.  They believe that, since God is the author of all truth, what­ever is demon­strated as being scientific­ally true is a signal that God made it that way.  They believe that the purpose of Scripture is distorted by those who try to make it a science text.  For some, the vast scope and scale of evol­ution only magnifies their admiration for a god who could set such an incredi­ble process in motion.

So why am I here today?  Have I actually deluded myself into think­ing that I have some silver bullet argu­ments to convert my opponent, not to mention all of the creationists in this audience?  No.  I gave up on that long ago.  Decades of personal experience have convinced me that there’s no scientific evidence I can present that would sway the large majority of anti-evolutionists.  Up to now, the only way that creationists have been defeated from introducing their dogmas into public school science classes have been in court cases where their fake science has been exposed.

So, again, why am I here today?  I guess it’s because I believe that science educators have a duty to defend the scientific method and good science from irrational attacks.  I also feel an obligation toward those stu­dents in the audience who are still undecided — students whose minds haven’t already been snapped shut by anti-evolution pseudo-science.  Even so, there are still several excellent reasons for both scien­tists and science edu­cators to not debate the anti-evol­u­tionists — for my not being here today.  Here are some of them.

Debating skills trump facts

 First, in science it’s the rigorous appli­cation of the scientific method that counts, not the oratory skills of the scientists. Yet, the over­whelm­ing majority of public de­bates are not won by the actual scientific evidence presented, but by the emotional rap­port, pub­lic speak­ing skills, likeability, and appar­ent authority of the debaters.  How could it be otherwise given the way our evolved brain works and given the audi­ence’s lack of scientific expertise?   Creation­ists know this.  Many are excellent deba­ters with impressive, entertaining, power-point presenta­tions.  In fact, for decades many Christian funda­mentalist colleges have been churning out lawyers and other graduates who are highly skilled in de­bating and in attacking evolution science.

Debates legitimize the creationists

The second reason for my not debating creationists is that there is no such thing as bad publicity for their move­ment.  It’s pure Hollywood.  If a scientist shows up to debate, it’s “proof” that a scientific controversy actually exists.  If the scientist declines to debate, it’s “proof” that evolu­tionists are running scared.  Let me say this again.  Creationists set up debates to mis­­­lead audiences into thinking that a sci­en­tific con­troversy actual­ly exists between biological evolu­tion and Intelli­gent Design — that evolution is just a theory, a weak and crumbling one at that.  Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  Regardless of superficial scientific appear­ances, today’s Intelligent Design arguments were mostly fabricated by a handful of Christian apolo­­gists and political organizations with the mission of dis­crediting evolution and of bringing biblical teach­ings and conservative Christian values into public school classrooms.

Debates spread misinformation

A third reason for my not debating creationists has to do with the subject of misinformation.  From my own frustrating personal experiences, the anti-evolu­tionists are capable of presenting more scientific misin­forma­tion in 30 min­utes than I could possibly refute in a week.  It is a relatively easy task for them to churn out dozens of pseudo-factoids in a very short time span.  They are counting on the fact that very few science teachers, much less students in the audience, have the necessary exper­tise in the scientific method or in evol­u­tion­ary biology, historical geology, anthropology and paleon­­tology to be able to quickly and skillfully expose the plethora of half-truths, poor logic, outdated references, mis­leading quota­tions, selective data, and outright false­hoods of those who con­tinue to attack evolution.

Equal time arguments

A fourth reason for not debating creationists is that equal time is given to both sides. So what’s wrong with that?  Isn’t that fair, the democratic way?  What’s wrong is that science is not demo­­cra­tic.  Equal time is not given to competing theories.  Instead, there is the rig­or­ous evalu­­ation of all the evidence on all sides.  Regarding our biological evolution, the scien­tific evidence in sup­port is monumental, enormous, vast.  Not so for creation/Intelligent Design “science”.  Thus, to require science teachers to give equal time to both (only possible by using spurious arguments to attack evolution and to support Intelligent Design) is to require teachers to lie to their students.  This appeal for equal time has been an effect­ive propa­ganda tool for creationists for decades.  By appealing to fair play and by persuading ignorant and/or religiously moti­vated legis­lators, judges and school boards, creationists have successfully wedged their anti-scientific relig­ious beliefs through the back door into science classes in school districts across the country.  Many powerful politic­ians con­tinue to support these efforts.

Debates are membership drives

A fifth reason for my not debating creationists is that these debates are also pub­licity stunts for the bene­fit of increasing the membership of conser­vative Christian clubs on high school and college campuses.  Such clubs across our nation now num­ber in the tens of thousands.  Most are spreading falsehoods regarding evolu­tion, thus creating seri­ous obstacles to the ongoing sci­ence education of those students who believe these falsehoods.  Let’s not forget that when Christian clubs convince students to reject evolu­tionary biology they are, in effect, also con­vincing students to reject large chunks of well-established phy­sics, chem­istry, astronomy, anthro­pology and geology. And they are persuading students to reject the most valuable tool humans have ever discovered to relia­bly advance our empirical know­ledge.  I’m talking about the scien­tific method, itself.  Thus, creationists are, in essence, trying to push us back into the dark ages of ignorance and super­stition.

To make matters worse, many of these Christian clubs hold religious beliefs that can seriously interfere with students’ ability to make rational, compassionate and scientifically informed decisions in other important areas such as emer­gency contraceptive pills, the abor­­tion pill, gay rights, death with dignity and overpopula­tion.  And let’s not forget the extremely scary End Times apocalyptic theo­logy beliefs cur­­rently held by millions of biblical creationists.  After all, why be concerned about global climate change, or the destruction of our planet’s life-support systems, or WMDs when the devastation of our world is inevitable anyway as foretold in Scripture.  Why work for peace and nuclear disarm­ament talks, since doing so could interfere with the timetable for Christ’s return.

In closing

America’s time-tested freedom of (and from) religion means that every sect may worship however it wishes in its own private church, but it cannot use the power of government to push its beliefs on others. Yet, today, the U.S. is being confront­ed with large num­bers of articu­late, scientifically ignorant, politic­ally active Christ­ians who are locked into ultra­-religious, anti-scien­­tific views and who want to force these views on others through our elected officials, our courts and our schools.  To quote Sam Harris in his book, The End of Faith, “Our world is fast succumbing to the activities of men and women who would stake the future of our species on beliefs that should not survive an elementary school education.”

This is why I’m here today.

Charles Rulon is an emeritus of Long Beach City College where he taught in the

ife Sciences for 34 years.  He can be reached at ruloncl@yahoo.com

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