Perhaps you’ve heard of these absurd creationist challenges: Kent Hovind challenge of $250,000 for scientific evidence of evolution; Joseph Mastropaolo’s challenge of $10,000 to “prove evolution”; Ray Comfort’s challenge of $10,000 to show him a transitional fossil. They all sound like easy money, but don’t try: they’ve loaded the dice in every case.
Dana Hunter gives a 19th century example I did not know about before. Alfred Russel Wallace accepted a bet to show the curvature of the earth by a flat-earther, and he did it, too, with a simple and clever observation. You’d think he’d be wallowing in the cash — £500 — that he’d won, but you don’t know denialists. They never change.
The flat-earther, John Hampden, did not accept the results. Surprise.
They were at an impasse. At first, Hampden refused an umpire to decide between the referees. Eventually, he agreed to have Walsh review the results, and both sides sent in sketches and reports. Walsh weighed the evidence, decided it did indeed prove the earth was spherical, and published both materials and his conclusion in the Field.
Hampden threw a fit. Carpenter wrote “a long argument to show that the experiments were all in Mr. Hampden’s favour.” This diatribe didn’t sway Walsh. He declared Wallace the positive winner, and, despite Hampden demanding his money back, gave the winnings to Wallace.
Unfortunately, British law didn’t protect gentlemen’s interests when it came to bets, even if the wager was strictly along scientific lines, and would eventually force Wallace to give the money back. Of course, by then, that amount was offset by the judgements entered in Wallace’s favor against Hampden, who had embarked on an extraordinary 15-year campaign of abuse and libel that landed him in both jail and court several times. He sent vitriolic letters to everyone he could think of, including Wallace’s wife:
“Mrs. Wallace,—Madam, if your infernal thief of a husband is brought home some day on a hurdle, with every bone in his head smashed to pulp, you will know the reason. Do you tell him from me he is a lying infernal thief, and as sure as his name is Wallace he never dies in his bed.
“You must be a miserable wretch to be obliged to live with a convicted felon. Do not think or let him think I have done with him.
Eventually all the costs and hassle were worth more than what Wallace had won.
So let that be a lesson to you. Don’t bother taking these ‘challenges’ by creationists, they’ll never pay up, and they’ll just make you miserable. And also, there were internet trolls before there was an internet.