Science vs. Religion - What’s a Scientist To Do?

October 19, 2010

My Point of Inquiry interview with Robert Price covers a lot of atheist territory, including the "accomodationist" v. "confrontationist" question.

One specific issue asks whether creationists should be debated. The right answer is "Yes." Any intellectual controversy deserves some debate, since the effort to expand the truth never ends. 

However, scientists should probably not debate evolution with creationists. Indeed, some prominent scientists refuse to debate creationists. The general principle here, with which I agree, is that evolution should not be debated by anyone who isn't a scientist -- and creationists are not scientists. They do not conform to established scientific methodology, tend to avoid to genuine scientific review, and contribute nothing to real scientific advancement. They are not scientists just because they reject evolution by natural selection -- rather, they reject evolution by natural selection because they refuse to do real science. 

It's just a waste of everyone's time for a scientist to debate evolution with a creationist. Lending credibility to a creationist in that manner only creates confusion over what evolutionary theory really is, and might give some undeserved respect to creationism. There is no controversy over the natural fact of evolution.

But creationists should be debated. Debating creationists can be done by science educators who can explain what science really is, and it can be done by philosophers who can dismantle the religious bases behind creationism.  There is no good reason why religious views cannot be publicly debated and refuted by those prepared to take apart non-rational belief systems. 



#1 Strubie on Tuesday October 19, 2010 at 3:03pm

Well said, but I think you also want the educator or philosopher to be trained and experienced in debating and to be able and willing to turn the nasty tactics of the creationist debaters right back on them.

#2 Eric (Guest) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 at 3:37pm

As a science educator I have had to have a discussion about this with a few parents over the course of my career. I fall back on the argument that Creationism is not science, Intelligent Design is Creationism, and therefore is not science, so I am legally bound not to teach it in science class. The establishment of these things as religious proselytizing is part of case law.
There was a great article in the 2003 issue of Bioscience called “Twenty Questions: What Have the Courts Said About the Teaching of Evolution and Creation in Public Schools?” that answered a lot of questions about this.

#3 L. Long (Guest) on Tuesday October 19, 2010 at 5:50pm

There is no need for a scientist to debate 1)most of them are not skilled to do so. 2)there is a platform already in place called experiments, evidence, review, duplication by others.
So no debate needed when one of them trows out BS then just keep questioning their proofs - where are their experimental data - do their theoretical predictions work?  Till they can answer the questions any scientist must answer then they are invalid and THIS is what they must answer.

#4 Pau Cortès Font de Rubinat (Guest) on Thursday October 21, 2010 at 2:32am

“If you discuss with fools, they will drag you to their own level and beat you with experience” B.R.

#5 Dean Buchanan on Thursday October 21, 2010 at 4:42pm

I agree with the comments here and the original post by John Shook.

A public debate is part theatre, part sparring match, part information sharing. It is like a live commercial for our position. We are all smart enough to realize that there is a marketing component that is the real goal. We already know that we have the facts on our side and we know that creationists are being either willfully or ignorantly dishonest.
The only time we should debate a creationist, is when we know we can maximize the marketing goal.
That takes a skilled debater who realizes what the debate is really about.
I think many of our internal debates are simply strategy sessions for our marketing plan.

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