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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org