Re: "Facts" and Facts

Greg Laden (gladen@HUSC.HARVARD.EDU)
Thu, 7 Dec 1995 19:11:21 -0500

On Thu, 7 Dec 1995, Brian Michael Howell wrote:

> I'm glad that you are willing to debate creationists although it sound
> like some of their tactics are questionable to say the least. I would
> suggest, however, that it really is not a debate regarding evolution and
> its merits, but a philsophical and theological debate. I'm sure you
> already know that, but by debating creationists in that sort of
> "I-have-more-stuff-that-you-can't-explain-than-you-do" it perpetrates the
> belief that this is a debate to be settled by the fossils. Perhaps the
> debates you do have a different tone than I have heard. How exactly have
> these debates gone?

A few guidelines I've learned may help answer this question.

1: Evolution does not need to be defended.
2: Evolution can't actually be defended (by a single individual) in the
face of a well prepared creationist, because they always come up with
some problem in some part of this vast field that you never heard of. I
always insist that my expertise is on human evolution to help mitigate this
3: Even though a well prepared creationist can often come up with stuff
a given evolutionary scientist may not be prepared to answer, that
requires a bit of reaching (to say the least). But creationist positions
are very easy to attack. Thus, the key idea is to get the creationist to
declare which kind of creationist they are, then get them to try to
explain away any of a few dozen problems that that position has. If the
debater (the creationist) says often enough that he dosn't happen to hold
t[Bhis or that particular belief, after a number of these denials, you can
point out that this is the general problem with creationist approaches:
Very few, indeed none that I know of, proposals that explain life's
history on earth have ever held up under scrutiny.

All the above (and more) I've more or less learned from the NCSE and
their publications, and talking wiht Genie Scott. But I've added a bit
of my own tactic:

4: Many of the main creationist positions have to do with the science of
dating, stratigraphy, etc. Radiometric dating (and other forms of
analysis that we use) are based on the same physics that our nuclear
power industry, our communications technology industry, and indeed, yes,
our all-American Defense System and Industry are based on. I have been
known to suggest to the audience that if they are truely concerned about
our dating techniques, then they should immediately contact their local
nuclear power plant (and virtually everybody has one!) and ask them if
their reactor is working, because if Olduvai Bed 1 is not ca 1.8 million
years old, then how do we know that plant's not going to blow any second
now! Or, call your congressional representatives and find out if our
nuclear fleet is OK, because you never know!

5: Lurkers, indeed even semi-creationists, and all other non-creationists
cannot help themselves but to find much of what we do interesting.
Regardless of how the debate is going, make sure to get in some
intersting facts!

6: As a nation, we must be good competators in many fields. We are (I
say this even though I may not actually believe it:) never going to be
good at cheap labor, so we have to use our brains, our technology, and
ultimately, this means using our education. The effort to get
creationism taught along side evolution in our classrooms is
counterproductive, and is likely to damage our educational system.
Evolutionary theory is part of good biology, and good biology is
important to medical sciences and other fields. This is why current
evolutionary theory is what they teach at all the great American
universities, including all of the Catholic universities. If we let our
educational system slide, then we have no one but ourselves to blame when
the (fill in latest villan, i.e, Japan, Europe, whoever) surpass us (as
they are already doing) in development of this important resource (part
of this approach is from the NCSE: pointing out the catholic colleges
view on evolution).



Greg Laden
Department of Anthropology
Harvard University
11 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge MA 02138

"It is a wise child that knows his own father."

"It is a wise father that knows his own child."
--William Shakespeare