An Offensive Strategy for Dealing With Creationist Attacks on Science


I’ve been doing quite a lot of reading about the failures of creationist geology. Many people have come before me, tearing this nonsense down bit-by-bit. It’s an extraordinary amount of work, and leaves Flood geology scrambling for ever more bizarre ways to overcome the laws of science.

But maybe we don’t do quite enough. We defend science, we present the reality, we knock down bits of their structure, but there may be an easier way to deal with the creationists and Intelligent Design proponents attempting to force their nonsense into science class, and hanging round the fringes of our professional meetings hoping some credibility will rub off on them. I quite like Donald Wise’s proposals:

If such activities are to be opposed effectively, a first step is to learn the ideas, history, and underlying assumptions of their proponents. A second step is to devise an effective counter strategy. To date, the scientific community has been woefully inadequate in the Creationist battle on both counts. This paper is an attempt to focus our opposition, (1) by providing some readily accessible information on the Creationists, (2) by making a proposal for an offensive rather than defensive strategy, and (3) by giving some background facts to implement the strategy. In public forums, the Creationists should be challenged to defend their total model of earth history, difficulties and all, and to give their supporting “evidence” on an item-by-item basis. Again and again, we should force the point that extraordinary claims require extraordinary levels of proof. Such public confrontations with Creationists may have only the scientific depth of disputes between three-year olds, but at least the proposed strategy will force those fights to occur with their toys in their sandbox rather than ours. [emphasis added]

Yep.

And this strategy is gorgeous for two reasons:

1. It shows up creation science for the incoherent farce that it is,
2. If by some miracle the buggers turn out to be right, it forces them to do the hard work of good science and provide the kind of overwhelming proof it would take to revolutionize science.

So keep after them, when you get chances to confront them in public, or even just casually. Demand the mountains of rock-solid data. Demand the models that explain and predict more elegantly than our current ones. Demand they confront and solve the major problems with their models. Demand the peer-reviewed papers that specifically back up their claims, and if they haven’t got them, demand they write up and submit their work to the reputable professional journals. Settle for nothing less than valid science of such quality that it can win majority support amongst the professionals. If they can’t provide that, too bad for them. They’ll have to come back when they can.

Image is a cat with narrowed eyes. Caption says, "Skeptic Cat demands proof."

This doesn’t mean we don’t stop crushing their arguments. It’s fun and valuable work, and like we saw in the Kitzmiller trial, not to mention the Nye-Ham debate, shooting this stuff down can be a fantastic opportunity to teach real science to the public. But we need to make sure we’re putting the creationists on the defensive at the same time.

They want their version of science accepted? They’ll have to do the hard work, and provide the kind of undeniable evidence it takes to change well-supported scientific paradigms. Until then, they have no place in our scientific spaces.

Comments

  1. jaytheostrich says

    “This doesn’t mean we don’t stop crushing their arguments.”
    I don’t think you meant that double negative..

  2. rq says

    What’s interesting is that this is, from what I can see, the creationist strategy – they keep asking Were you there? and say things like These dating methods don’t work, and they pounce on every “No, but…” with absolute delight, keeping scientists on the defensive – because if you’re always trying to fend off a pile of Wheryoothairs or trying to explain the kinds of dating methods and their applications, you don’t have time to ask questions of the other side.
    You know, something awesome like “Were you there when god wrote the bible?” might do wonders to improve their circular thinking – you know, they say “God said it was so” so you ask, “Were you there when he said it?” and they say, “No, but it’s in the bible” and you say “And how do you know that is true?” and they say “Because god says it’s true” and you say “How do you know god says so?” and then they say “It’s in the bible” and you say “How do you know the bible is true?” and they say “Because god wrote the bible” and you ask “Were you there when he did so?” and they say “No, but the bible says…” and then you pounce in victory, saying “HA! YOU WEREN’T THERE WHEN GOD WROTE THE BIBLE! ARGUMENT DISMISSED!” It might, at the very least, confuse them.

  3. BMcHell says

    rq,
    I was hoping Bill Nye was going to bring that up during the debate, it would have been funny to see Ham squirm for a minute.

    Sadly, for the well indoctrinated, even such clear counter-examples can be easily dismissed with a bit of special pleading and hand waving. Plus the creationists would consider it as a victory of sorts, in that it would imply some kind of equivalency between science and the bible, which would be spun as justification to teach both in the classroom.

    Unfortunately a tie ends in their favor, in many ways. That’s why they have no hesitation in using such self-defeating arguments.

  4. grahamjones says

    I am very dubious about Donald Wise’s approach. The obvious creationist retort is “Thank you, Professor, for all the interesting points you make. It’s good to see someone taking creationist science seriously at last. This is just the sort of thing we want children to be discussing in science classes.”

    I live in the UK where creationism is not a big problem (though there’s plenty of people committed to various kinds of woo, or who trust the Daily Mail more than the IPCC). I have little experience of debating creationists, so maybe I’m a bad person to offer advice, but personally I would concentrate on usefulness, not truth or facts or evidence.

    Evolutionary biology is useful in agriculture and medicine. Geology is useful in finding fuels and minerals, and planning buildings. That’s food, health, houses, fuel, and stuff. Creationism is not useful. The required answers are not in Genesis, the Discovery Institute has not discovered them, and praying hasn’t worked yet either. We should teach our kids ________.

  5. grignon says

    I’m not sure how many of us, the partially informed secular cohort, have opportunity to debate an “informed”
    creationist,. When ever I’ve become involved in a discussion with a believer on this topic, it has rather quickly rolled over the cliff of miraculous events. There is no arguing from scientific principles when the laws of nature may be suspended willy nilly.

  6. says

    The reason the Creationists, both the “out” ones and the IDiots, never put the hard work into proving their case is that they don’t believe they have to.

    They think – some as matter of doctrine – that their position is the DEFAULT position. That the sole reason we disagree with them is because we poor souls have been deceived, led astray… And all they have to do is remove or discredit the corrupting influence and our minds will just POP back into their proper, God-fearing shape.

    That’s why they spend ALL their energy picking holes in scientific theories and none in formulating theories of their own. They don’t try to establish the validity of their views because they believe this validity to be self-evident.

    • jimbo701 says

      The main problem in dealing with Creationists is they suspend logic and common sense the second they start discussing creation. How can anyone argue for reason, logic and rational examination from a group like that? Short answer is you can’t. I suspect the best thing to do is “argue” on their level. When they claim God created the universe, get all offended and say everyone knows it was the Flying Spaghetti Monster, not God, who “created the universe”. Keeping the discussion at this level allows us (1) not to dignify their arguments with a rational discussion (2) allows us to throw our “belief” at them and then demand they prove we’re wrong. Since we’re never going to convince them they’re wrong, may as well have some fun with them.

  7. roxchix says

    this strategy assumes that 1) the sources (Austin, Baumgardner, Snelling et al.) would actually come to public forums with specialists, and 2) that they care to convince the broader scientific community.

    I’d love to see Baumgardner forced to defend his catastrophic plate tectonic crap to his old adviser Schubert (as in, Turcotte and Schubert, Geodynamics), but he’ll never put himself in that venue.

    I’d love to see Snelling go up against any geochemist from the New Zealand geological survey, but he won’t.

    It’s enough for them to publish their science-sounding essays in their internal publications. It gets them their salary, and gives the believers something to quote, and that’s all they want. They have no need to defend their work in a rigorous venue.

    These points might make some headway with the people on the fence, the people who go out looking for out-of-worldview information, and so it should be ‘out there’ for them, but the sources themselves? They are exactly where they want to be.