Oh, yeah, I did a workshop last Friday titled “Bad Evolution”. It was fun! Not quite as I anticipated, though.
It was a workshop. As I understand it, a workshop should involve audience participation, not just lecturing at them, and that’s what I prepared for. I had an exercise prepared, and I came with 50 handouts, just in case a lot of people showed up.
About 120 people showed up. Whoops. I might suggest that, in the future, Skepticon have some kind of workshop registration that allows us to set limits on the audience size, because that was too many, and it was kind of chaotic. Chaotic fun, rather than chaotic evil, so I guess it was OK, but it was still a little overwhelming.
Also, it was in a room with rows of chairs lined up, all facing straight ahead, which is also not conducive to workshopping. At least that was easily disrupted, and I had everyone destroying the tidy arrangement of the room.
Anyway, what we did is fairly simple. I talked for a bit, giving an overview of good strategies for handling discussions with creationists. I gave them this list of suggestions:
- Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Honesty is always a good idea.
- Go meta if you’re asked a difficult question. Do they know the answer? Why are they asking you? Is it a sincere question?
- If you have an answer, don’t let them dodge it. Follow up. Pursue a line of argument.
- Focus. It’s better to skip an opportunity for a good jab in order to build a strong story.
- Ask questions of them. You are not a passive oracle at their bidding.
- Question their assumptions. Be prepared to have your assumptions questioned.
- Demand sources. Science is built on the shoulders of giants, they must be acknowledged.
- Patience pays off. You’re not engaged to go in for a kill, you’re having a conversation.
- You will not convince the creationist, or “win”. Resign yourself to that.
- Keep your perspective and a sense of humor. These people are ridiculous.
I walked them through a couple of simple examples (“If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?”), and then handed out a long list of much more difficult, more subtle creationist claims, and had one person in the group pretend to be a creationist, present one claim, and then let the others try to rebut them. The main point was to both cultivate a little empathy for the creationist argument, stupid as it might be, and to show that even someone on the side of science might be stymied fairly easily.
For example, here’s one question from my list (which was taken from a collection of bad arguments from the mindless pen of David Buckna):
Microsoft programmers utilized complex codes to create the Windows 95 software. The genetic code, which is more sophisticated, controls the physical processes of life and is accompanied by elaborate transmission and duplication systems. How does evolution, using natural processes and chance, solve the problem of complex information sequencing without intelligence?
The average person would have difficulty responding to that. I think it’s important for us to not take for granted that the answers are always obvious…even when I might find anyone question easy to answer.
Go ahead, try to answer it in the comments, but note that “You’re stupid” and “Citations to the peer-reviewed literature or GTFO” are not on my list of recommended strategies.