Oh good, a farce!

Creationists love to debate scientists about evolution. If the evidence was on the side of the scientists supporting evolution, (you know, almost all of us) you would think they would get tired of it, right? Wrong. They’re looking for exposure, are prepared to use empty rhetoric, and can’t wait to debate any scientist that comes their way. Especially Dr. Donald Duh, a Professor Emeritus at Whatever State University.

Yes, as Nick Matzke reveals at the Panda’s Thumb, The Intelligent Design Creationists are so eager to debate anyone that they have set up a series of debates, with their Gish-Galloping selves on one side, and a fake who-cares-get-an-old-guy-that-looks-like-darwin-behind-a-podium professor. You know, Dr. Duh. At Whatever S.U.

You know you want to read the comic

It reminded me of an old Calvin and Hobbes comic, which I believe is particularly apt for this situation. It’s right at the bottom, so clich through and read all about the theatrics of debating evolution.

Debates are a dialogue between two or more people where they try to simultaneously support their own positions while undermining the positions of their opponents. The first requirement for a debate is that you have a topic that is debatable – that is, there needs to be a debate about the subject. Then the two sides draw out their positions, prepare each other with materials to understand each other’s positions, and mutually agree upon ground rules, and a place and time to hold the debate.

The result is, usually, a chance for two or more people to compete against each other with their best arguments and rhetoric in an attempt to sway the opinions of those in the audience one way or another. When done well, audience members who may not know much about the subject learn new information, which may either pique their curiosity to learn more, or cause them to change their position, if they feel that one of the arguments presented changed their perspective.

Debates, when done in this manner, can be helpful to reveal the truth to people, as sometimes, one side is sorely lacking in evidence, or an opponent points out a major flaw in their argument. At the least, a debate may help an oft-unheard side get themselves some exposure. This last benefit is the only thing that ID proponents can expect to get out of a good debate.

Debates can also be bad. One side could use rhetorical tricks, refer to references that cannot be checked during the event, and make too many claims for the other side to refute in the time allowed. The result is the audience feels that one side has the upper hand, when all they did was dash through poorly supported claims and declare victory.

For these reasons, debates may not be very useful for some situations when your goal is to separate what is true from what is not. Written debates, discussion, and well-supported arguments with citations are the best way to do this for complicated topics. It is debatable, heh, whether for some scientific issues, a debate is even the right choice.
But think, for a second, if you could imitate a debate format, what could you then accomplish?

First, the most obvious effect a fake debate could have is creating the illusion that there even is a debate about a particular topic. If all of a sudden, you had a huge debate organized over faking the Apollo Moon landings, you might get people to doubt it merely because someone went to the trouble of setting up such a debate.

Next, set up the debate format yourself, and invite a random opponent who may not be very good at public debates. In the case of one couple of creationists set it up in Davis so that they would present their “creation model” and the two invited professors got to “ask questions.” As an added twist, the club organizing the debate decided that they wanted naturalists on the opposing side. As in, two atheists versus two Christians, and no “theistic evolutionists” desired. Thus, they can accomplish the “Evolution = Atheism” fallacy quite easily. I’m happy to say that even stacked as such, the two professors did very well and called the bluff of the creationists – who had not a shred of data to present.

Finally, if you can set up the location of the debate, and even the audience members themselves, then you’ve got yourself a crowd ready to give the feedback you desire, to again further the illusion that one side’s arguments are better than another. Fill the debate hall with people that already agree with you, and you can seal the appearance of an actual debate.

Now, let’s take a look at what the Intelligent Design crowd is setting up for this September/November.

  • Debate organized by the IDers.
  • One sponsoring organization, “The Campus Humanistic Society” does not seem to exist anywhere except in the advertisements for the “debate.” This gives the false impression that the debate was organized in a fair fashion.
  • The debate is to be held in a church, stacked with people who already agree with their side.
  • The debate was planned far in advance to actually finding someone to take the opposite side of the debate. They sent out the ad with a fake fill-in-later name, showing that having someone on the opposite side of the debate was more of an afterthought.
  • Steven Meyer, the person arguing the ID side, dropped out of Kitzmiller vs Dover, where there were rules of evidence, speaking under oath, and other annoying things.
  • The organization of the debate gives the impression that there is a scientific debate when there isn’t one.

Combine all of these elements, and you have an event which seems like a debate, but is not. Instead, it is a staged theatrical farce. It is intended to give exposure to ID, and reinforce the beliefs of church attendees. It is designed, intelligently, to maximize the impression that intelligent design is a thoroughly scientific field of study with evidence that backs it up.

Featuring: Dr. Stephen Meyer, Ph.D. in philosophy of science, Cambridge University

and Dr. Donald Duh, professor (emeritus) at Whatever State University

Well, not so intelligently designed.

And now, your reward: Calvin and Hobbes.

Okay, maybe I changed it a little. 😀

UPDATE: The above link to the debate ad that I’ve been making fun of now leads to an empty page – which means it has been deleted. So, for posterity, here’s a link to the archive of the page at the Panda’s Thumb.
The internet saves almost everything, especially when there are people watching out for hucksters.


Published by

Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.

8 thoughts on “Oh good, a farce!”

  1. You sick bastard. Changing a Calvin & Hobbes strip to fit your creationist agenda is a horrible thing to do. I hope Watterson finds out about what you did and sues you.

    I can only take the above as sarcasm – since the creationist agenda was what I was mocking. Thanks for stopping by. -KJM


  2. I think the tactics of IDers are even more telling then the shoddy science they advocate. If there WAS an actual scientific controversy, public and schoolboard debates are not a place to resolve it. Indeed the only place to find answers to scientific questions is lab (or field research where appropriate). Unfortunately, that’s a place ID proponents don’t visit very often…


  3. another dead giveaway that one of the organizations is fake is that they called it “The Campus Humanistic Society”. A real organization like that would have used “Humanist”.


  4. Yes, you are exactly right. I would go further – that there is probably no humanist society on a university campus that calls itself the “Campus” humanist society. And it would likely be a “club” or “association,” rather than “society,” if it was based on that particular campus. So yeah, they’ve inserted a general name for the kind of group they’d like to sign on to make it look legitimate.

    It’s all about the marketing: http://www.uncommondescent.com/index.php/archives/1488
    Science is secondary.


  5. I enjoyed reading your blog because it allowed me to further my own beliefs regarding ID. You bring up the point of Creationist pushing their beliefs, however if we are talking specifically over ID we must return to the original issue of ID. It was NOT created by religious leaders, but instead by religious leaders. Whether or not those proposing the debates are doing so for the correct reasons is regardless. The point is that eventually ID will be an actual topic for debate and instead of something seen as an attempt to bring religion into public classrooms. My point is that ID is now an underdeveloped theory. Every theory has large flaws because all science depends on some elements of faith. For example, the big question of where the dust particles from the big bang came from. Evolutionists simply believe you must trust that they were there. Eventually ID will be more developed, and it will still have a big question behind it. That is the beauty of science. So, until ID becomes more developed, we must all just wait and see if it will be allowed in public schools eventually and hope that the theory is more developed by the time it is allowed, if it ever is.


  6. SQ – thanks for stopping by. When you say that ID will eventually be a topic for debate, you are saying that right now it is not. (I suspect you meant to say that ID was created by scientific leaders or something like that, because you reaffirmed what you negated in the same sentence there.)

    There is sometimes a fuzzy line between a proto-science and a pseudo-science, the main difference is that the first suffers from a lack of evidence and loosely defined concepts, the latter fails to offer up anything of substance that can be tested. ID would like to be the former, but it is most certainly the latter. Michael Behe and others who promote ID state that it cannot and need not be tested – and they want to teach it in public schools!

    Biological evolution says nothing about the big bang – that’s a topic in theoretical physics. If ID is meant to substitute for the big bang as well, then please tell me where the designer came from, if the universe had to have come from something as well.

    It may just be that humans were created by alien genetic engineers, and when we find actual evidence of an outside intelligence tweaking life on this planet, it would be a very exciting time and it would expand our view of reality. But that’s just it – we have no evidence of design, (by design, I mean the verb) and the proponents of this “Theory” can’t seem to make up their minds about their definitions, can’t put forward plausible and testable hypotheses, and continually spend oodles of money on marketing (Such as their recent 0.5 million dollar campaign) to invent a controversy based on nothing except religious belief. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want my humanism used to promote a vacuous “theory,” calling it science.

    To the IDers out there, you should be asking the proponents of ID why they turn down the opportunity to do research, and instead waste time with books, PR, movies, and fabricating debates. If ID is indeed a proto-science, they’re the ones killing it.


  7. You know that $250 000 for evidence of evolution thingy the creationists are doing?

    somebody should do a $250,000 prize for any evidence of ID that cant be knocked down by high school science.

    that would shut them up for a while, a no smallprint, no bollocks, blatant prize for proving ANYTHING that ID says is corect, rather than saying ‘this proves it cant be evolution, sooo God must have done it! what else could it be?’


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