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Debating Creationists: a self evident approach
Posted: 14 July 2006 10:04 PM   [ Ignore ]
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My own take on the best approach in debates with the scientificaly illiterate, is to argue from simple observations and in small bite sizes:

First, seperate "Evolution: the creation myth", from "Evolution: the phenomenon". These are two seperate issues that often get conflated. "Evolution: the phenomenon" is well supported by science,  "Evolution: the creation myth" relies mostly on extension of the phenomenon back in time.

Second, understand that race, species, genuses, etc. are man-made dividers. There’s nothing natural or sacred about them. The fact that two animals can’t mate to produce fertile offspring, is evolutionarily speaking, no more significant than two animals that can’t mate because there’s a physical or psychological barrier blocking them from mating. "Speciation" is only significant because it marks a physiological point of no return.

SIMPLE OBSERVATION #1) Variation: Every generation of life is born with a different genetic blue-print than the previous.

SIMPLE OBSERVATION #2) Variation Means Inequality: Some genetic blue-prints will produce living creatures that are better breeders than others.

SIMPLE OBSERVATION #3) Inequality Forces Selection:Which genes produce the best breeders will depend on the envronment in which the genes live. A "best breeder" in one environment, might be a total failure in another.

SIMPLE OBSERVATION #4) Selection Modifies Design: Genes from the best breeding creatures will dominate the gene pool of the next generation.

Stop here.
These are the essential conditions that make evolution inevitable.
These should be easy to defend through simple logic and observation.

Once these observations are accepted by your creationist friend, you can then go on the attack. Request that the creationist advocate show evidence for the mechanism that could PREVENT evolution from occuring given the reality of the four observatons above.

If a breeding population were seperated into two populations, the genetic make-up of each population will inevitably diverge . . . even if the environments in which each population lives are identical, genetic drifting (a statistically unavoidable result of breeding and mutation) will occur. The divergence will be especially rapid if the two populations experience different environments favoring the success of different genes. Again, this is self evident.

The phenomena of evolution is happening now. It’s a statistically inevitable phenomenon. What could have prevented such a phenomenon from also occuring 5000 years ago? 10,000 years ago? 10 Million years ago?


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Posted: 14 July 2006 10:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Debating Creationists: a self evident approach

My own take on the best approach in debates with the scientificaly illiterate, is to argue from simple observations and in small bite sizes:

First, seperate “Evolution: the creation myth”, from “Evolution: the phenomenon”. These are two seperate issues that often get conflated. “Evolution: the phenomenon” is well supported by science,  “Evolution: the creation myth” relies mostly on extension of the phenomenon back in time.

Second, understand that race, species, genuses, etc. are man-made dividers. There’s nothing natural or sacred about them. The fact that two animals can’t mate to produce fertile offspring, is evolutionarily speaking, no more significant than two animals that can’t mate because there’s a physical or psychological barrier blocking them from mating. “Speciation” is only significant because it marks a physiological point of no return.

SIMPLE OBSERVATION #1) Variation: Every generation of life is born with a different genetic blue-print than the previous.

SIMPLE OBSERVATION #2) Variation Means Inequality: Some genetic blue-prints will produce living creatures that are better breeders than others.

SIMPLE OBSERVATION #3) Inequality Forces Selection:Which genes produce the best breeders will depend on the envronment in which the genes live. A “best breeder” in one environment, might be a total failure in another.

SIMPLE OBSERVATION #4) Selection Modifies Design: Genes from the best breeding creatures will dominate the gene pool of the next generation.

Stop here.
These are the essential conditions that make evolution inevitable.
These should be easy to defend through simple logic and observation.

Once these observations are accepted by your creationist friend, you can then go on the attack. Request that the creationist advocate show evidence for the mechanism that could PREVENT evolution from occuring given the reality of the four observatons above.

If a breeding population were seperated into two populations, the genetic make-up of each population will inevitably diverge . . . even if the environments in which each population lives are identical, genetic drifting (a statistically unavoidable result of breeding and mutation) will occur. The divergence will be especially rapid if the two populations experience different environments favoring the success of different genes. Again, this is self evident.

The phenomena of evolution is happening now. It’s a statistically inevitable phenomenon. What could have prevented such a phenomenon from also occuring 5000 years ago? 10,000 years ago? 10 Million years ago?


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Posted: 15 July 2006 05:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Fossils

Doug,

I agree that the fossil record provides a better verified example of evolution, but by involving the fossil record you are falling into a trap that I specifically try to avoid. What I’m trying to resolve with my approach is two main issues that hinder debate with creationists:

1) The creationist mindset that relies on a world of insurmountable gaps existing between “kinds” of life. Arguments from the fossil record usually rely on stepping back through time betwen two “kinds” of life to find a common ancestor. This approach immediately reinforces the mind set of gaps and barriers among life - and this is why I think it inevitably fails (even though scientifically it’s solid). Evolution is in fact a contiuum of tiny steps, and seeing genetic differences between just one generation is no less important evidence for evolution than viewing the great differences between more distantly related life. This approach pre-empts the “God in the gaps” arguments (by getting rid of the gaps), and hopefully avoids the difficult-for-amateurs-to-discuss topic of fossils all together which is also good because such arguments with non-scientists ultimately devolve into ad hominem anyway.

2) That evolution is always on the defensive. This I think emboldens creationist antagonism and makes evolution defenders appear to be making-up excuses. The quicker I think you can turn the tables on the creationist and implicitely (or explicitly) demonstrate how devoid their own thinking is of evidence, the harder it is for them to nitpick the evidence for evolution. That genetic variation occurs from one generation to the next is undisputed, and is easily made and quickly accepted. Once it is, challenge the challenger to show the mechanism that would prevent ongoing successive changes over multiple generations. Here’s where a lot of fun can begin, here’s a way to kick it off: “All life on earth is made from the same genetic building blocks (GATC) arranged in different patterns. Given that genetic variation occurs between every generation, what evidence do you have of a mechanism that is preventing ever-increasing differences from occuring in isolated populations over multiple generations?”

Imagine the amount of change that could occur over hundreds of thousands, millions, and hundreds of millions of generations.

The fossil record certainly puts the cabosh on the Genesis account of origins, but neither does it extend far enough back to provide evidence of origins for the first life forms. we don’t yet have any direct evidence of how the first life-like stuff actually formed and evolved . . . do we???

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Posted: 15 July 2006 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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You could well be right in your approach ... I suppose it would depend precisely which creationist you were talking with. All I meant was to avoid words like “myth” which make it sound like you are also rejecting the fossil story ...

You are of course right that there is as of yet no evidence for the ‘first’ life forms. For all we know, these simple forms may not have been able to fossilize—not everything does fossilize, particularly not things at the level of DNA or bacteria. So there will likely always be some room for guesswork at the margins.

We do also need to disallow a ‘god of the gaps’ there as well, of course.

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Posted: 17 July 2006 03:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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cant relaly debate a creationist

you can debate “how” god did what they believe he did, but you can’t debate whether or not god created things

as soon as science makes a statement about god, science ceases to be science and instead becomes philosophy and/or religion

the best response a scientist can give to the claim that god made all things is “really?  cool.”

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What’s the point?

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Posted: 19 July 2006 04:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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[quote author=“thakkus”]cant [really] debate a creationist

That’s a bit overly harsh and broadly categoristic I think. In some cases you’re certainly right, but not in all cases - in my experience not even in most cases.

[quote author=“thakkus”]you can debate “how” god did what they believe he did, but you can’t debate whether or not god created things

Exactly. Debate the “how”.

If a true believer wants to believe that it was God’s plan to use a natural process to create life and such, I certainly wouldn’t try debating against such a claim without clear evidence to the contrary . . . and even then I would avoid conflating the two seperate issues.


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Posted: 19 July 2006 04:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The wathc on the beach alegory

I think I’ve come up with a good short retorte to the famous intelligent design story about the watch found on the beach:

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the reasoning behind and allegorical story from 18th century English theologian William Paley, but just in case:

[quote author=“John Bice”]
Imagine you are walking on a beach, and come across a watch which has been deposited in the sand, so you pick it up for a careful examination. You notice the intricate construction, the watch is made from a dizzying array of parts that all come together to perform a specific task; this watch obviously has a purpose. If any part had been placed randomly, in any other location, the watch would no longer function. We, therefore, must deduce that blind natural processes could not possibly have produced an item of such purpose and specific complexity; thus, it must have had a watchmaker.

I think a good retorte to this would be:

Unlike a watch,  life grows into existance. Each life on earth assembles itself from a microbial state, using a natural process, the mechanics of which we understand well enough to predict the outcome.

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Posted: 19 July 2006 10:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Hi Riley,

Just FYI the famous Paley argument (the watch on the beach) has been refuted many times. Perhaps the most famous recent refutation, and one I highly recommend, is Richard Dawkins’s The Blind Watchmaker. I think you can guess where the title comes from.

:wink:

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Posted: 20 July 2006 08:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I know its been refuted many times over . . . as has every other creation/ID argument. But since the scientific explanations never seem to sink in, I keep searching for the non-scientific ‘duh’ kind of explanations.

Personally I love Dawkins’ explanations (I happen to be reading The Ancestors Tale right now).  My favorite explanation from Dawkins I think is his use of a treasury safe combination to demonstrate how evolution works. He illustrates the difference between what it would be like trying to get the right combination to the safe through random trial and error, versus what it would be like if occassionally you were rewarded with part of the treasury when your random guesses were close to being right.

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Posted: 20 July 2006 08:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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[quote author=“Riley”]
If a true believer wants to believe that it was God’s plan to use a natural process to create life and such, I certainly wouldn’t try debating against such a claim—

The true believer begins with gods existance as the given.  If god exists, all natural things are a product of that existance.  If god doesnt, nothing is a result of his existance.

This cant be debated in any effective way, especially not using any kind of real science.

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Posted: 20 July 2006 09:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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[quote author=“thakkus”]The true believer begins with gods existance as the given.  If god exists, all natural things are a product of that existance.  If god doesnt, nothing is a result of his existance.

This cant be debated in any effective way, especially not using any kind of real science.

You are right about one sort of “true believer”, but even then there are those believers who believe in a deist sort of god who started the universe off and then stood back (allowing Darwinian evolution full reign), and those who think that god is always meddling.

Scientific research could decide between some of the more outlandish versions here.

Also, since time immemorial one of the classic arguments for the existence of god was the argument from design: that natural creatures were so well designed they required an omnipotent, omniscient designer to get them started. This sort of argument for theism has been effectively refuted, and shows why biologists are some of the least religious scientists.

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Posted: 03 September 2006 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Doug, you bring up the design inference theory.  The thing about it is that it is almost a valid theory (and I do stress ‘theory’), but its own premises nullify the one thing it was created to do—which is to prove that God exists (presumably the Christian God, since all other religions haven’t had the aptitude to come up with ANY working scientific theories).

The design theory mainly focuses on extreme complexity and the fact that it couldn’t randomly occur.  While the science used to prove even that is questionable, it is still somewhat logical.  It breaks down when they then deduce that as a result of this complexity an omnipotent being MUST have created it. 

But the real problem for design theorists is that they are Christians at heart and that they want to prove that their god exists.  But the “omnipotent being” they are assuming must exist does not have to be a god of any sort.  It could be an intelligent alien from another galaxy.  While that sounds far-fetched it is a possibility.  The movie “Mission to Mars” was about that very thing.

Bottom line, the design inference theory provides ZERO proof that “God” exists.  All it does is state that something that “could” be a god might have created life on earth.  And this is hardly scientific.

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Posted: 03 September 2006 03:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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[quote author=“rogerflat”]The design theory mainly focuses on extreme complexity and the fact that it couldn’t randomly occur.  While the science used to prove even that is questionable, it is still somewhat logical.  It breaks down when they then deduce that as a result of this complexity an omnipotent being MUST have created it. 

Right. But the argument from design is better described this way:  even though it isn’t strictly necessary to have an omnipotent being do the designing, the existence of such a being is the best explanation we have for the designedness we see in creatures.

Of course, this argument also doesn’t work for many reasons, but I just wanted to clarify the argument a bit. They aren’t saying god “must” have created the creatures, but that the existence of god is the best explanation we have for the existence of these creatures. The latter is a slightly different and slightly stronger argument.

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Posted: 03 September 2006 04:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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dougsmith wrote:

But the argument from design is better described this way: even though it isn’t strictly necessary to have an omnipotent being do the designing, the existence of such a being is the best explanation we have for the designedness we see in creatures.

Of course, this argument also doesn’t work for many reasons, but I just wanted to clarify the argument a bit. They aren’t saying god “must” have created the creatures, but that the existence of god is the best explanation we have for the existence of these creatures. The latter is a slightly different and slightly stronger argument.

Yes, that is correct.  And I’m sure you are just pointing that out and not saying that the theory is any better off when put forth in such a way.

I don’t even believe that “God” is the best explanation for design.  In fact, it is a very bad explanation.  As Richard Dawkins once said (paraphrased) ‘If God created the universe it would be very different than what we now see.’

The only sense in which “God” is a good explanation is when someone ignores science and reason and takes an abstract and creative approach to how they “think” the world should work.  When I was a kid I thought there was a little man in my television making all of the images.  That was a good explanation to me because it made sense in my childish mind.

The weak-minded religious folks think that God is good explanation because that appeals to their mindset.

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Posted: 04 September 2006 04:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Agreed. Another point Dawkins makes, which is also on the mark, is that the argument from god simply assumes what needs to be proved.

That is, it takes the phenomenon of designed complexity as the thing to be explained. Then it explains it by positing or assuming the existence of an infinitely complex being who did the designing.

Well, that doesn’t really explain anything. If we are allowed to assume the existence of an infinitely complex designer, why can’t we just as well assume the existence of a finitely complex design and have done with it?

As Dawkins says, the only really explanatory account of designed complexity is Darwinian evolution, which begins from simple un-designed bits and slowly builds design through natural selection.

Of course, there is another problem with using ‘god’ as an explanation for the world: the existence of evil. Given the evil and suffering we see around us in the world and throughout history, positing an ethically perfect, omniscient and omnipotent ‘god’ is actually a very poor explanation.

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Posted: 04 September 2006 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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And the biggest problem I have is that if the idea of “God” as an intelligent designer truly was a farse then it would appear to be exactly as it is now—contradictory, non-sensical, and outlandish.

What I’ve never understood is how people refuse to believe in evolution when it makes so much sense and then they choose to believe in intelligent design or creationism when it makes utterly no sense.

But I think it is just a matter of them determining what they are going to believe ahead of time and sticking to their guns.

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