The creationist playbook


Too, too true: a former creationist writes about the strategies they were explicitly taught to use in debates. You won’t be surprised to learn that they’re bogus, dishonest, and only effective with people who don’t know much biology.

The main thing that they taught us was that most people don’t know a whole lot about biology. Most people just take what is taught them and they regurgitate it for a test in the classroom without ever thinking about what they’ve regurgitated. So they hammered on a lot of the various things that were taught in biology class and then they simply reframed them in a new way and asked us to think about them… really, really think about them. Of course, since we were kids, we needed to be walked through how to think about them. Of course, they were more than happy to shepherd us.

I’ve noticed that creationists don’t like to argue with anyone who is knowledgeable — with me, they constantly try to steer the discussion away from my expertise towards geology or astronomy or nuclear physics, stuff they know less about than I do, but which I’m not going to be as comfortable addressing.

But they don’t worry, even if they are talking with an expert. They’ve got another ace up their sleeve. Say stupid shit to piss off your opponent! Then you win.

The first thing they asked us to notice was that there was a dialectic (they didn’t use that word, but that’s what they pointed out). That is to say, that the argument wasn’t really about Science at all. Science, they pointed out, was a *METHOD*. It wasn’t a team or something to cheer. Heck, it wasn’t something to get emotional about at all. But look at how emotional all those scientists got when we were arguing Creationism, they pointed out. And that’s not all! Look at how emotional all of these “Evolutionists” got throughout history! They gave us one of those quotations that’s attributed to everyone from Augustine to C.S. Lewis: “The Truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend It. Get out of Its way. It can take care of Itself.”

The problem with that, and it’s a fact that scientists are often reluctant to acknowledge, is that we don’t become scientists out of dispassion. Good scientists are enthusiastic about their work, and they also care deeply about the truth. Seeing someone who is dishonest and cavalier with the facts is offensive and disturbing, and yes, we’ll be angry with someone who lies. Who lies to children. Who misleads public policy.

Also, fuck CS Lewis. Here’s another quote for you: “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on”. The truth is often hard. It takes work and knowledge and experience to defend it. Any ass with a Bible can defend a lie.

The other thing they learned was to seize upon examples where scientists were initially enthusiastic, and then found to be in error. The example he uses is Nebraska Man, an erroneous classification of a pig’s tooth as belonging to an ancient hominin.

It was the exuberance that they had us focus on. Not the fact that there was nowhere *NEAR* consensus among scientists at the time. Certainly not the fact that once it was found out that stuff was retracted appropriately. It was the enthusiasm for finding this stuff in the first place. The statements that rubbed it in the face of people who believed in The Bible. The drawings. Oh, goodness. The drawings. “They made these drawings of people after they found *A TOOTH*!” (“From an *EXTINCT* pig!”)

The author gets it wrong, still. Nebraska Man was not published in any journal; it was entirely promoted by the newspaper media of the time, the reconstructions were commissioned by the press. Even in explaining what they were taught, the author is still getting it wrong, and exaggerating the scientific response.

Think about more recent and more solid discoveries. The initial response to reports about Homo floresiensis, the hobbit was a combination of enthusiastic interest and outright dissent about the interpretation of the specimens. Look at Homo naledi. Is it significant and representative, or is it a weird relict population of doomed oddballs? Where does it fit on the family tree? Did they actually practice crude ritual burials? Scientists tend not to leap on new discoveries with the certainty the creationists attribute to us — there’s a lot of questioning and demands for more evidence.

So instead the creationists memorize lists of things they barely understand, to use as a confrontational tool.

And then, at that point, it became VITALLY important that we each learned what “really” happened. We had to learn the names and dates of the so-called hoaxes. We had to learn, by memory, the differences between (deep breath) Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man and Java Man and Peking Man and we had to have these facts at our fingertips. (Keep in mind: This was before Smartphones were a thing.) We had to be able to argue this stuff at a moment’s notice because…

Java Man and Peking Man were not hoaxes. That’s one of the dangers here — they blur fact and fiction together, because that’s a way to taint the facts.

Among the tools we were given to expose the dialectic was The Gish Gallop. Named after Duane Gish, this is when you give 12-15 “whatabouts” in a very short period of time. Again: this was before the internet. So the people we were talking to didn’t have all of human knowledge in their back pocket. The best part about the Gish Gallop is that, in a very short period of time, it communicates familiarity with the various theories and, since it’s probably impossible for anybody under the best of circumstances to deal with 12-15 “whatabouts” in a very short period of time, it communicates *GREATER* familiarity with the subject than the person with whom we were arguing. That doesn’t really help with the person you’re arguing with, but wasn’t necessarily about changing the mind of the person we were arguing with.

There have been a few satisfying incidents in my time when I’ve been arguing with a creationist who isn’t smart enough to change the subject to a field I don’t know much about, and they give me those 12-15 “whatabouts” and I’m able to answer every one. It requires a little luck, because I don’t know everything so they can stump me, but there was this time a creationist had been getting batted down with every point, so he dragged out an obscure one — a fossil bed in Peru with many whale fossils, which he argued was proof of a global flood. I’d coincidentally read the paper that morning, so I was able to tell him all about it (it was a shallow beach, the site of frequent strandings over a long period of time), and even cite the source.

Speaking of getting emotional…he was standing there with his mouth open turning purple. It was hilarious. Honestly, though, usually they succeed in bringing up something I haven’t heard of at some point, and I shrug and say, “I don’t know”, which is fine for any scientist to say, but they treat it as some kind of grand victory.

And then there’s the grand kicker, the strategy that you still see in frequent use.

Yet another tool: The Odious Conclusion. You can see this trick above in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Either this good thing is true or this odious conclusion is true. Since we want to avoid the odious conclusion, therefore, the good thing is true! How this worked for Young Earth Creationism was to invoke eugenics. If you were arguing with someone only passing familiar with the theory of evolution, it was easy to set them up and get them to argue that there was a choice between Young Earth Creationism and some particularly odious statement. “If evolution was true, doesn’t that mean that eugenics could work?” was a fun one (remember: no internet in the back pocket). You’d find that most people had never even thought about the question and it was fun to ask questions focusing on whether evolution leads to odious conclusions. Then, of course, you could point out that if God created everyone equal, you didn’t have to worry about whether or not the eugenicists had a point. Force them to choose between something pleasant and something odious.

Unfortunately, that still works on lots of people. “Do you want to die someday, or do you want to live forever” is difficult to address when the honest answer is that everyone is going to die eventually, while the Jebusite gladhander is lying and saying he has the magic formula to live forever. It’s the same con that the alt-medicine frauds use: “Do you want to suffer with chemotherapy, or take my juice cleanse and poop the tumors away?”, said as if both treatments were equally effective.

Comments

  1. multitool says

    Evolution requires diversity. Eugenics destroys diversity.
    It should be pretty quick to put that one to rest before it even becomes an argument.

  2. says

    You won’t be surprised to learn that they’re bogus, dishonest

    If you have to lie to defend your beliefs, does that require you first admit to yourself that they are wrong?

  3. blf says

    If you have to lie to defend your beliefs, does that require you first admit to yourself that they are wrong?

    Perhaps not if one is an autoliar, like hair furor, who is known to lie with seemingly no rationale at all.

  4. says

    blf@#5:
    Perhaps not if one is an autoliar, like hair furor, who is known to lie with seemingly no rationale at all.

    I would say that he has no beliefs at all, except one: his vanity.

  5. jrkrideau says

    I remember reading the story of an escapee from YEC who said that when anyone suggested that dragons dinosaurs existed millions of years ago the snappy reply she was taught to use was, “How do you know; were you there?”

    I have always thought that the correct response would be, “ Yes I was, I am a lot older than I look”.

    It occurs to me that one could also do something like a reverse Gish Gallop by throwing in any extraneous biblical quote one may vaguely recall and claiming it refutes their argument.

    For those whose recall of biblical verse is not great, just invent something, make it sound suitably King Jamesey and you are away. Try not to be too outrageous.

  6. vucodlak says

    @ Marcus Ranum, #4

    f you have to lie to defend your beliefs, does that require you first admit to yourself that they are wrong?

    No. If you’re terrified of ending up in hell if you get things ‘wrong’ (by speaking against anything you’ve been taught by the faith you’ve been raised in) you don’t have to admit any such thing. In fact, you become adept at silencing that little voice in your head that says “this is wrong,” because God can read your mind, and God’s just itching for an excuse to damn you. Not that you would ever allow yourself to think of it that way.

  7. anchor says

    @7 jrkrideau — Whenever someone throws that idiotic “How do you know? Were you there?” response at me, I reply: “The EARTH was there, and it still carries a bountiful record of evidence of the past. If you insist that a god created the world, what the hell prevents you from consulting that rather than a musty old book? Why are you afraid of getting your information directly from the horse’s mouth?

  8. aziraphale says

    Lewis’s use of capitals makes it clear that the Truth he is talking about is God. He is saying that believers don’t have a duty to defend God. Which would make the world a safer place if it were generally believed.

  9. handsomemrtoad says

    There is nothing INHERENTLY wrong with eugenics. It just happens to have been practiced in scientifically unsound, coercive ways. There could be, and, I hope, WILL be, a scientifically sound, non-coercive eugenic program, and that will NOT be evil, and WILL be beneficial to humanity.

    The paradigm for a good eugenic program would be: a very wealthy person endows a fund to persuade people to VOLUNTARILY get tested for disease-mutations such as CF or sickle-cell hemoglobin. Maybe by paying people money to get tested. And also, the fund would persuade people who tested positive to VOLUNTARILY take measures to avoid passing the bad mutation on to future generations, either by not breeding at all, or, by using artificial reproductive technologies such as IVF with selective implantation of confirmed-normal embryos/blastocycsts. Again, the fund could offer to pay people for taking these measures.

    This would be eugenics, but also scientifically sound, non-coercive, and beneficial to humanity. Future generations would be less likely to suffer from genetic diseases, some of which are horrible. Cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, many others. Including, RRM2B-related MDDS, which is what little Charlie Gard had.

  10. Owlmirror says

    From the post being cited:

    For example, there were seals that were freshly killed and were then carbon dated. They were aged as being 10,000 years old. 10,000 years old, we then boggled. How many orders of magnitude was that over a few days? The tools that science is using just don’t work. And people argue as if science is this great tool that is so very accurate, but they can’t even get stuff like fresh meat right. (For the record, carbon dating is a tool that works on a geologic scale… getting to within 10,000 years of when the seals were killed should have had everybody saying “golly, that’s pretty accurate!” rather than looking at them as dealing with orders of magnitude.)

    Sigh, no. There are error bars and limitations to carbon dating, but ± 10,000 years is way too wide for carbon dating, especially for a recent organism (there are indeed other radiometric dating methods where 10ky, or even more, is the size of the uncertainty or error).

    Ah, I see that the author corrects himself in the comments, citing TalkOrigins on ‘A freshly killed seal was carbon-14 dated at 1300 years old. ‘ (Gads, off by an order of magnitude in his original writing!)

    The seals feed off of animals that live in a nutrient-rich upwelling zone. The water that is upwelling has been traveling along the bottom for a few thousand years before surfacing. The carbon dioxide in it came from the atmosphere before the water sank. Thus, the carbon in the sea water is a couple of thousand years “old” from when it was in the atmosphere, and its radiocarbon content reflects this time. Plants incorporate this “old” carbon in them as they grow. Animals eat the plants; seals eat the animals, and the “old” carbon from the bottom waters is passed through the food chain. As a result, the radiocarbon content reflects a mixture of old radiocarbon, which is thousands of years old, and contemporaneous radiocarbon from the atmosphere. The result is an apparent age that differs from the true age of the seal.

  11. Rich Woods says

    @handsomemrtoad #13:

    There is nothing INHERENTLY wrong with eugenics.

    Nature, nurture, bullshit.

    If that statement is too difficult for you to process, I suggest you follow your own beliefs and cut your testicles off before you do any more harm to the gene pool.

    Or you could just stop for a while and try to think why things might just be a little more complicated than that. You might actually go out and try to meet people who don’t quite line up with your simplistic beliefs.

    And then, last but not least, there’s the ethical element of the subject, but, well, if you’re that far gone…

  12. jrkrideau says

    @ 9 anchor
    Re I was there.
    Your response is far too rational and reasonable. It is great for the later discussion if the YEC is still around and not gibbering.

  13. militantagnostic says

    anchor @9

    Why are you afraid of getting your information directly from the horse’s mouth?

    Creationists prefer to get their information from the other end of the horse.

  14. militantagnostic says

    The thing about the “were you there” response that flummoxes me is that they weren’t there either. How is this supposed to bolster their case?

  15. Owlmirror says

    @militantagnostic:

    The thing about the “were you there” response that flummoxes me is that they weren’t there either. How is this supposed to bolster their case?

    The point is to smugly demonstrate piety, of course. They weren’t there, but they “know” Some One Who Was, and Who Cannot Lie, and Who Told Them What Happened.

  16. Walter Solomon says

    How sad for cdesign proponenists to waste so much time, effort and energy on spreading a lie instead of improving one’s mind by learning actual biology.

    Personally, nothing in the Bible came even near to blowing my mind as much as knowing, phylogenetically, humans and chimps are more closely related than are mice to rats and the closest extant relative to birds are crocodiles.

  17. Akira MacKenzie says

    anchor @9

    Why are you afraid of getting your information directly from the horse’s mouth?

    The way I’m interpreted Fundy-speak is that you are not supposed to trust reality, only their god. After all, this is supposedlly a fallen, corrupted world, manipulated by demonic “powers and principalities.” Nothing is as it appears. Sure, those instruments might look like they say that fossil sample is 100 million years old, but that’s what Satan wants you to think. You can’t trust your own eyes; your corrupted, flesh-and-blood eyes that can only see the material rather than the spiritual.

    You can only trust their god, whose literal and inerrant word is printed in this book. Read it, believe it, or burn.

  18. mikehuben says

    What I find useful (personally, because I’ve never debated except in email and blogs) is the fact that I’ve ALWAYS been able to track down the lie in the creationist argument. Even before the internet, I was able to track down many. They bat 0 when you can do research.

  19. jrkrideau says

    @ 19 Akira MacKenzie
    You can only trust their god, whose literal and inerrant word is printed in this book.

    But, but how do I know Satan hasn’t corrupted the book too? He’s sneaky.

    And even if he has not corrupted all the bibles, which one can I trust? The Eastern Orthodox one looks nifty but do I have to learn Greek or Russian?

  20. says

    The thing about the “were you there” response that flummoxes me is that they weren’t there either. How is this supposed to bolster their case?

    Well yes, it’s self-refuting. Their rejoinder is to claim that God was there, and He wrote it down in the Bible, and therefore it’s a perfectly reliable eye-witness account.

    Which of course is just begging the question, since if you’re not a creationist, you have no reason to think that the Biblical account is anything other than myth.

  21. microraptor says

    jrkrideau @21

    Because their book is magic and perfect. Satan only corrupted everyone else’s book.

  22. jrkrideau says

    @ 23 microraptor
    Oh, of course. But are all bibles equal? Do I believe the Vulgate or the King James Version or perhaps Sinaiticus?

    Oh forget it, which way to the local druid?

  23. anchor says

    @14 jrkrideau – “Your response is far too rational and reasonable.” Of course it is. However, its also true. But it always produces delight in others who are not Creationists or fence-sitters who are listening. This invariably dismays Creationists who ask that profoundly stupid rhetorical question they think nobody can answer in the affirmative and shuts them up.

    @15 militantagnostic – Agreed.

    @16 militantagnostic – Just so. They weren’t there either. Therefore they should be made aware of that too while reminding them that it is indisputable that the Earth WAS in fact there. How do we know? Why, there are sign all over the dang place. They would have to deny cause and effect itself to dismiss such overwhelming evidence.

    @19 Akira MacKenzie – The point is Creationists evidently don’t trust their god to be sincere about what their own god has ‘written’ in the pages of the geological record and the rest of the physical universe at large have to say. They ignore the actual ‘book’ their god is supposed to have ‘authored’. It’s rather impudent of them to ignore their god. The account of how the world formed in that other thing containing all the scriptures isn’t even a decent summary, and never in the slightest anticipated a single item that the real thing has revealed to people paying attention to the real physical world over the intervening several thousand years.

  24. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    @handsomemrtoad #13:

    There is nothing INHERENTLY wrong with eugenics.

    Nature, nurture, bullshit.

    If that statement is too difficult for you to process, I suggest you follow your own beliefs and cut your testicles off before you do any more harm to the gene pool.

    Or you could just stop for a while and try to think why things might just be a little more complicated than that. You might actually go out and try to meet people who don’t quite line up with your simplistic beliefs.

    And then, last but not least, there’s the ethical element of the subject, but, well, if you’re that far gone…

    ……yeah, I don’t know that I agree with handsomemrtoad, but you might at least have read beyond the line you quoted.

  25. methuseus says

    @handsomemrtoad #11:

    There is nothing INHERENTLY wrong with eugenics.

    Well, yes there is. Look at our efforts to breed farm animals. There are lots of unexpected things that happen in cross-breeding individuals that result in culling the undesirable offspring. Are you saying you’re fins with culling babies that don’t conform to your expectations of what you wanted when you crossed this brunette woman with this black man? Or whatever other version of “breeding stock” you have for humans. By trying to eliminate sickle-cell anemia, which is actually somewhat beneficial to individuals in areas without good access to malaria treatments, you may introduce some worse blood disease. Why would you start with trying to eliminate sickle-cell anemia and cystic fibrosis? Why not try to eliminate the genes for hereditary deafness or myopia? Try broaching that subject with the Deaf community, why don’t you? They already get so much shit from Hearing people without trying to be eradicated.
    If at some point the human race is realistically about to be eradicated because of reproductive choices, then maybe eugenics will be the answer. But then again, at that point, the human race may have run its course and will need to get out of the way for the next intelligent species, maybe a bird or rat or some other species.

  26. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Of course there’s always “Last Tuesdayism” where everything was creating exactly as it is now, last Tuesday, with all the isotopes in proper proportions that we only “interpret” as evidence of age.
    That’s why “were you there” is so popular response. All physical evidence was created as is and we arrogantly misinterpret it to fit our stupid models without Gawd 😖

  27. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Re 29
    How our memories avoid the LastTuesday symptom is beyond me. Geewizz

  28. ajbjasus says

    @methuseus#27

    Re the eugenics – I agree – but I wonder, should the fear of unintended consequences argument also apply to genetic engineering ?
    I genuinely don’t know where I stand on that issue.

  29. says

    Re 30

    Something like The Mandela Effect maybe?

    Re OP

    Usually when I’ve been confronted with Creationist, I just fast track the convo to “if everything requires a creator, who created god?”
    I’m no scientist so that one I can handle pretty well, I think.

    Re eugenics
    There is no reason, biologically speaking, for eugenics to *not* be possible, AFAIK. Whether it’s good or bad is not a question of evolution.

  30. johnhodges says

    #21, see Jeremiah chapter 8, verse 8.
    8 How can you say, “We are wise,
    and the law of the Lord is with us,”
    when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes
    has made it into a lie?

  31. Jado says

    Eugenics can work – what traits are you breeding humans for?

    I mean, I;’m assuming you are an exceptionally long-lived alien who needs specialized humans for some reason and have determined to kidnap and breed them against their will to select for a specific trait.

    Gonna select for sniffing out truffles? Or fighting bulls? Or going into rodent holes to eliminate vermin? We’ve done all those with dogs. Nothing says it can’t be done with humans. But why would other humans want to suffer all of the congenital defects we have bred into the various dog breeds to try to select for other traits? Eugenics is a crap shoot of advantages and disadvantages, and it’s pretty clear that the benefits don’t outweigh the horrors for the human experience.

    Why would we do this to ourselves? It’s not useful for our purposes.

  32. emergence says

    With regards to eugenics, why bother selectively breeding humans when medical science is rapidly developing ways to treat congenital conditions? We should be focusing on making advances in gene therapy and genetically manipulating gametes to prevent and treat detrimental hereditary conditions. Why bother trying to salvage a blunt instrument like eugenics that we already know doesn’t work well in domesticated animals and has a bunch of racist historical baggage?

  33. emergence says

    Also, with regards to creationists Gish galloping between subjects, I think that it would be helpful if debates focused on very specific issues so changing the subject wasn’t possible.

    For example, you could specifically debate about that paper with the whales getting stranded periodically.

  34. blf says

    emergence@36: Bzzzzzt! Assumes cretinists will play by the rules. Or have any comprehension at all what the rational side is saying, or what the academic literature actually says. Or indeed, what the ToE is at any level, including the most superficial.

    Also presupposes a cretinism–evolution debate serves any purpose suficient / adequate to justify the rational side’s time & effort.

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