Author: Rob P. J. Day Title: Public Debate with a Creationist On Friday, October 19, I deb

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=============================================================================== Author: Rob P. J. Day Title: Public Debate with a Creationist =============================================================================== On Friday, October 19, I debated the merits of creation science with Ian Taylor of the Creation Science Assoc. of Ontario (CSAO) at the University of Winnipeg, an event sponsored by Christian Education Consultants (CEC) of Manitoba. This event was notable not only for what transpired at the debate itself, but for the underhanded tactics used by the organizers before, during and after the debate in order to discredit me in any way possible. In a sense, this article could be subtitled, "I Was Set Up For a Creationism Debate -- and Survived," and what follows is a personal account that I hope will alert othersrs who, like me, are naive enough to expect fair treatment from the creationist lobby and their supporters. To appreciate what happened, it is necessary to know who the players were. I was originally invited to participate in the debate by a Mr. Geoff Casey, who was acting as a liaison for Terry Lewis, head of CEC. Lewis was undoubtedly looking for some measure of revenge against me due to my public criticism last fall of one of his invited speakers in Winnipeg, none other than Dr. Richard Bliss of the California-based Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and he must have seen the opportunity to administer to me a public thrashing at the supposedly capable hands of Ian Taylor. Once I heard that it was Taylor who would be the opponent, I accepted immediately, and it was shortly after that that my shoddy treatment at the hands of CEC began. Although Casey seemed thrilled initially by my participation, within days of my acceptance there seemed to be a deliberate effort on the part of the organizers to downplay the entire event, for reasons I can only suspect but will hazard a guess at later. An inordinate amount of time passed before I was given final confirmation of both the location and time of the debate, before which I obviously could not begin my own promotion. During this time, I was discouraged by Casey from inviting any members of the media and was asked not to advertise the debate anywhere off of the campus of the U of Manitoba, where I had been a faculty member. Finally, only ten(!) days before the debate, I received from Casey the poster to be used for promotion, a poster which I not only considered unacceptably slanted and biased, but which mentioned a three dollar admission fee that I had not been warned about, and which would have been enough to discourage a number of students from attending. The explanation for the admission was to cover the costs of the event, even though CEC publicly claimed to be "sponsoring" the event and were getting the hall for free. Casey then explained that the fee was also to cover the cost of the honoraria for the two speakers, something I had never asked for. Despite my protests, Casey and Lewis remained adamant on the issue of the admission fee. By this time, I had very little patience left, and proceeded to print and distribute my own version of the poster, adding the qualifier that there was no charge for students, justifying this by stating that I was refusing my honorarium and would personally cover any shortfall in Taylor's. Having finally dealt with all of these indignities, I assumed that the worst was now over and that all I had to worry about was the debate itself. Wrong again. When I entered the lecture hall the evening of the debate, I was astonished to find a four page CEC handout being distributed to all attendees. Advertised as a debate evaluation form, it was chock-full of absolutely absurd scientific misrepresentation and creationist bias, clearly designed to portray creationism in as favorable a light as possible. Entitled "Science -- A Search for Truth", it opened by stating that one Winnipeg poll indicated that 72% of people in Winnipeg wanted a balanced treatment of creation science and evolution in public schools. It then went on to quote (hideously out of context) a carefully extracted excerpt of a policy statement of the National Academy of Sciences, which promoted, among other things, "...intellectual freedom, without religious, political, or ideological restrictions...". This was particularly galling to me, as CEC head Lewis had, only months earlier, attended a presentation of mine where he read this same excerpt during the audience feedback time. I carefully explained at that time that the statement referred to the freedom of creationists (and anyone else) to do whatever research they wished and had nothing to do with allowing pseudo-science into the public school classroom. Despite this, Lewis was using the same misrepresentation yet again. Following this was yet another out of context quote, this by G. G. Simpson, which deserves careful examination since it demonstrates clearly the lack of scholarship on the part of whoever designed the handout. The statement attributed to Simpson, referenced only as "Science Vol. 45", reads as follows: "It is inherent in any definition of science that the statements that can not be checked by observation are not really about anything ... or at the very least they are not science." Based on this, the handout then concludes that, since neither evolution nor creation were observed, falsifiable or repeatable, "What part of evolution or creation can be considered a science?" What I did not realize at the time was that a handout that I had by Ed Friedlander, discussing creationist misquotations, described exactly this example. The same quote is contained in the work "Evolution is Not Science (I)", by Duane Gish, and reads as follows: "It is inherent in any definition of science that statements that cannot be checked by observation are not really about anything ... or at the very least they are not science." Compare these two versions with what Simpson actually wrote: "It is inherent in any acceptable definition of science that statements that cannot be checked by observations are not really (Italics) about (End italics) anything -- or at the very least they are not science." In the first place, Simpson was discussing armchair speculation about life on other planets and, in this context, his statement is perfectly reasonable. This context was carefully removed. However, note how the CEC quote has omitted the word "acceptable" and changed the hyphen to ellipses, normally used to denote missing text, which is not happening here but is more consistent with Gish's incorrect reproduction of the quote. Conclusive evidence that the quote came from secondhand sources is that the reference is simply wrong. The correct reference to Simpson's article, given by Friedlander, is p. 769, vol. 143, not volume 45, which makes it abundantly clear that, wherever the quote came from, it was not from the original source, a practise quite common among creationists. It is likely that whoever designed the handout never read Simpson's original article, and had no idea what its subject was. If this was not enough, the audience was then invited to evaluate the debate based on a number of points, the first three of which I include here and whose merits I leave to the reader to ponder: 1) What are the presuppositions of the debaters? 2) What are the facts -- observable, repeatable, falsifiable? 3) What are the assumptions? The remainder of the form was little better, asking the attendee to consider the speaker's academic credentials. Apparently, the poor speaker was to be judged on virtually everything except the logical consistency of his presentation. At this point, it is vital to point out a short but crucial exchange that I had with Casey weeks before the debate, in which I insisted on two conditions for the debate, which he accepted. The first was that there be no restriction on what either speaker could discuss with respect to creationism or evolution; the second, that there be absolutely no evangelism allowed by either Taylor or the audience, and that the moderator would enforce this. Before the debate began, I approached the moderator and reminded him of these conditions, to which he agreed. Having won the coin toss, I elected to give my 30-minute presentation first, and I wasted no time. An article in the U of Manitoba student newspaper covering the debate describes it best: "Mr. Day opened debate with his arguments against creation science. He immediately went on the attack, calling creationism 'wretched science'." In fact, this was just in my title slide. I defined creation science as a belief in the literal accuracy of Genesis of the Old Testament with respect to human origins and history, but added what I believe is an important qualifier. I pointed out that this belief is clearly religious in nature and, as such, people are entitled to hold this belief just as they are entitled to hold any religious beliefs they choose. What distinguishes the creationists is their additional qualifier that this belief is supported by scientific evidence, and that creationism is based on objective, honest scientific research, which is a very different thing indeed. I further emphasized that my criticism was not aimed at the religion involved, but at the allegedly scientific basis of creation science. This was not, and would not become, an exercise in religion bashing. My next slide asked the question "But is it science?", and answered this question with quotes from Drs. Duane Gish and Henry Morris admitting that creationism has no scientific basis. My next slide, "What is it then?", had answers from Gish and creationist Richard Elmendorf openly admitting that creationism had a religious foundation. Having demonstrated that the creationists themselves admit that creationism is not science but religion, I next turned my attention to the demand for "equal time", explaining the implications of such a notion, such as the flat earth being introduced into geography classes. For support, I held up an issue of the periodical "Flat Earth News", to show that there was no notion so unorthodox that it did not have its champions. The next slide was, in my opinion, the most important of the presentation, as it explained why the audience was going to hear nothing about evolution during my entire presentation. I compared two scenarios: what we have now, "Evolution In, Creationism Out," with what the creationists, with their demand for "equal time", seem to be asking for, "Evolution In, Creationism In." I then pointed out that, in comparing the two scenarios, there was NO DIFFERENCE IN THE STATUS OF EVOLUTION; that is, both evolutionists and creationists agree that evolution should be taught and evolution was therefore not the issue here. Rather, the controversy hinged on the inclusion of creation science in the public school curriculum; my task, in wanting to exclude it from science classes, would be to show that it did not qualify as science, while Taylor's job, in trying to include it, would be to defend it. I stated that any attacks on evolution by Taylor would be completely irrelevant, since evolution clearly was not an issue. In doing so, I deprived Taylor of his most effective weapon. This approach was, in fact, successful far beyond my expectations, as there was not a single objection to my lack of discussion of evolution during the audience time, and it left me free to use my entire presentation to eviscerate creation science. (Actually, I had a secret weapon to back me up on this in case anyone protested. In a previous letter to me, Casey had unwisely discussed the format for the debate, writing, in part, "... we expect you'll make a case for why [creation science] is not science while Ian will make a case for it being science." If anyone had objected to my presentation, I would simply have produced the letter from Casey, explaining that I was fulfilling my agreement to the letter. This was never necessary.) I then explained that it would be impossible to dissect all of the "evidences" used by creationists to support their case, so I concentrated on a single example -- Taylor's own population growth curve, obtained from his book, which showed how a single couple 4300 years ago could have produced a world population of 5 billion today. I demonstrated how the formula used is hopelessly flawed and contrived, since it assumes a perfectly uniform world population growth rate to two decimal places for the last 4300 years (the alleged time since the Flood). What makes the formula even more indefensible is that it contradicts a literal reading of the Old Testament since it forces the Exodus to have occurred no earlier than 346 A.D. In a spirit of fairness(?), I invited the audience to ask Taylor about it later, to give him the chance to defend it. I then simply listed another dozen or so other "evidences" currently in vogue among the creationists (moon dust, dinosaur and man tracks, the Archaeopteryx hoax, etc.), and explained that, because of time, I could not deal with each one but that each had no scientific value and anyone was welcome to ask me about them later. After briefly discussing the creationist talent for misquotation and misrepresentation of legitimate scientists, it was time to go for the jugular. I proceeded to demonstrate that creationism had a blatantly religious foundation by displaying excerpts from the CSAO's own Fall 1990 Newsletter, in which an editorial stated that a central tenet of CSAO was "To glorify God as he has revealed himself ... to obey him and enjoy him now and forever. Certainly this is central to CSAO ... Creation evangelism is indeed a major unique thrust of CSAO." I emphasized that, if groups wished to gather together and publish for the purposes of evangelism, I had no objection. However, it was deception for the CSAO, and consequently Ian Taylor, to indulge in evangelism in their newsletter, then to state at their presentations that creation science has nothing to do with religion. Someone later told me that, during this portion of my presentation, Taylor was becoming noticeably uncomfortable, but I was not quite finished. Having exposed the religious basis of the CSAO, I turned my attention to Taylor himself. Using extracts from a 1987 debate between Taylor and Fred Edwords, I showed that even Taylor admits that creation science is indefensible as science. In responding to a question about how all of the animals had been collected for their journey on the Ark, Taylor answered: "... it was not Noah who went out and collected the animals -- God did that. He sent them in. So that took the problem out of Noah's hands, didn't it? It also takes it out of our hands." In doing so, Taylor had abandoned any hope of scientific explanation for this aspect of creation science, had clearly thrown up his hands, and simply invoked divine intervention in an attempt to salvage his model. In case there was any further doubt about the religious foundation for Taylor 's beliefs, I produced, as my final exhibit, a personal letter of Taylor's written five years ago in which he openly admitted, "My faith is based upon a personal and experiential relationship with Jesus Christ and my mandate in writing IN THE MINDS OF MEN was to help others find that relationship. If Genesis, the foundation document, is shown to be true, then the remaining books describing salvation are more readily accepted." I emphasized that, if Taylor, or anyone else, wished to write a book to share their experiences, to promote religion, to evangelize, or whatever, they were certainly free to do so. However, it was deceitful for Taylor to write a book for that purpose only to try to pass it off as a science book when its primary purpose was, as he had admitted in the letter, evangelism. At that point, I was told that my thirty minutes were up, and Ian Taylor took the floor for his defense of creation science. I was pleased with having gone first, since it gave me the opportunity to undermine as many of his potential arguments as possible, and I was curious to see just how he attempted to recover. What followed was a virtually content-free discussion of the sorry state of science education, at least in Taylor's opinion, with a few personal attacks on (who else?) Charles Darwin. The audience was told about some science textbooks which were published as recently as 1972 (this is recent?) which contained obsolete information, that Darwin stole the ideas of evolution from Lamarck, and that some schools are actually teaching astrology in their classes. Taylor's brief foray into creation science consisted of only a few seconds discussion about his pet project, the alleged Archaeopteryx hoax, and an explanation that the Great Flood produced the current fossil record by "hydrological sorting." Quite honestly, it was unclear what point Taylor was trying to make, since he stated that, "It is not an objection to evolution, but an objection to such interpretation shown as fact." What this is supposed to mean is beyond me. In total, Taylor's presentation seemed to be mostly philosophical, and he managed to avoid any use whatsoever of the phrase "creation science." (One member of the audience later told me that he was so frustrated with Taylor's talk that he wanted an opportunity to question him later, just to ask him, "Mr. Taylor, what is creation science?") After skirting the issue completely, Taylor concluded his speech with some rather blatant evangelism, linking evolution with atheism, accusing evolutionism of dismissing "God and his rules," and concluded, "If we continue to disregard the laws of God in the schools, then welcome to Huxley's brave new world." While this was happening, the moderator made no effort to interrupt in spite of his agreement that there would be no evangelism. When Taylor sat down and I arose to start my five-minute rebuttal, I angrily approached the moderator and, in a voice loud enough to be heard throughout the hall, demanded to know why he had broken our agreement. I repeated the conditions that I had insisted on and asked again why they were not upheld. The moderator's response was to demand that I start my rebuttal as he was now starting the timer. Seeing that further discussion was pointless, I did just that. In fact, I never had any intention of refuting any of Taylor's arguments (whi ch was just as well, since there was precious little to refute). Instead, I spent most of the time reading excerpts from the book "Christianity and the Age of the Earth," by geologist and evangelical Christian Davis Young, in which Young shows clearly and forcefully why creation science is actually harmful to Christianity, as its nonsensical and pathetic science is more apt to turn away potential believers than recruit them. As an example, Young writes, "Can we seriously expect non-Christians to develop a respect for Christianity if we insist on teaching the brand of science that creationism brings with it?" Of everything I presented that evening, this easily had the most impact among Christians in the audience. Taylor's response was rather surprising, as he admitted (and I paraphrase), "Of course we're talking about the Bible here, and I'm not ashamed to admit that," and again launched into some obvious evangelism, again with no interference from the moderator. The floor was finally opened to questions from the audience, and the moderator was responsible for hand-picking those to ask questions. (This was yet another opportunity for the organizers to control the flow of the debate, as several attendees later told me that it was obvious that the moderator was attempting to pick people sympathetic to Taylor's case. In fact, the moderator himself came over to my table later after the question period was over to plead Taylor's case and criticize my presentation. A paragon of objectivity this man was not.) The first questioner understood clearly my criticism of Taylor's growth curve, and asked Taylor to explain it. Taylor dismissed my criticism and stated that the values that I had extracted from his book were only "minimums" and that, if they were increased, the problem would go away. Taylor did not acknowledge that, if the values were increased so that intermediate values became valid, the terminal values would be hopelessly large. This was the THIRD different defense Taylor has used for his wretched curve. When debating Richard Wakefield, he dismissed Wakefield's objection with "I've never heard anything so ridiculous in my life." In a debate with Fred Edwords, his defense consisted of a rambling exposition, suggesting that people get a calculator and try it themselves, all the while avoiding any discussion of the actual results that they would get. With me, Taylor apparently admits that the values are wrong and must be increased, without admitting that it would make the rest of the curve hopelessly inaccurate. One can only imagine what his next explanation will be. In response to another question, Taylor digressed to attack my logic which showed that I had no need to defend evolution. Rather than present any sort of rational argument against that part of my presentation, Taylor simply dismissed it as illogical and making no sense, while providing no evidence whatever. Sadly, I am getting used to this approach by Taylor by now. One audience member stated that I had directly accused Taylor of being dishonest, and demanded that I produce evidence. Actually, in my discussion of creationist dishonesty, I had produced the CSAO's Fall 1990 Newsletter and stated that there were at least three examples of blatant dishonesty in a periodical put out by Taylor's own organization, and I would be happy to produce evidence of this in the question period. The attendee understood this to mean that I accused Taylor personally of this dishonesty. When I tried to clarify my statement, the young lady refused to listen and continued to demand that I produce my evidence, even though another attendee interrupted and agreed with my interpretation. (This second attendee subsequently had her hand up for over an hour to ask a question but was never selected by the moderator.) Finally, I pointed out that Taylor, in his presentation, suggested that the fossil Archaeopteryx was a forgery, yet when he gave a talk about this at the recent Creationist Conference in Pittsburgh, one attendee at the conference, Dr. Kurt Wise, totally rejected his findings. Yet here was Taylor, promoting the same nonsense, not admitting that even other creationists disagree with him and accuse him of having not a shred of evidence. I then invited the young lady to come down and see my evidence of CSAO dishonesty for herself, but she declined. There were a number of other questions, but my records of that evening are sadly incomplete, as I had expected the proceedings to be videotaped and I did not come prepared to take comprehensive notes. Because of this, there were undoubtedly many moments that deserve to be discussed that will never get the chance. However, once the debate officially ended, a number of notable events happened during the informal discussion period that inevitably ensues when attendees gather around one of the two speakers. Several people surrounded my table to ask for any free literature I might have, and I gave away pamphlets and booklets in copious quantities. (I drew the line when someone wanted to take my stack of "Creation/Evolution" journals. There is a limit to my charity.) There were three memorable individuals at my table who were obviously not happy with me. The first was the young lady who demanded I produce evidence of Taylor's dishonesty. When I produced my evidence of outright lies in the latest CSAO Newsletter (discussed elsewhere in this newsletter), she refused to read it and, in a fit of pique, referred to the files and books that I had brought along and sniffed, "You need all these books, but we only need one book," clearly referring to the Bible. What possible response could there be? Another middle-aged gentleman, with his 8-year-old son, did his best to discredit me any way he could, and had pumped his son full of standard creationist nonsense, who now proceeded to explain to me how lightning striking a tree could cause it to have an erroneously large radiocarbon date. It was clear that his son did not have the faintest idea about radiocarbon dating and was simply regurgitating information he had been fed. This episode was not irritating so much as depressing. The third notable individual was none other than the moderator, who discarded any semblance of fairness and objectivity when he came to my table to plead Taylor's case and criticize my presentation. My patience with him had long since vanished and I wisely, in my opinion, chose to ignore him. Apparently, things were considerably more interesting at Taylor's table, as the sounds of some very hostile conversation constantly drifted over to me. For the rest of this report, I must depend on hearsay from other attendees. One report has it that a Catholic biologist in the audience was extremely unimpressed with Taylor and his "evidence," and let him know in no uncertain terms. Another rumor was that a small number of Catholics pressed Taylor for his opinion on the link between evolution and Christianity, until he finally admitted that he did not believe the Pope was a Christian, and that the arguments of these Catholics were "just theology." I have no way of confirming this, but it certainly makes for interesting speculation. Another audience member challenged Taylor to supply the name of a single school he knew of that was teaching astrology. Taylor back-pedaled, admitting that such subjects were taught only in the evening, apparently only as non-credit community service courses or strictly for entertainment. This is quite a different accusation from saying that astrology is part of an official school curriculum. Another observer happened to be standing within earshot of the organizer, Lewis, while some attendees were complaining about Taylor's presentation. One audience member, obviously quite irate, referred to Taylor as a "buffoon," while another was clearly quite upset with Lewis for having invited Taylor, complaining that Taylor had no credibility whatever. Amazingly, Lewis tried to distance himself from Taylor by claiming that the audience member was practising "guilt by association," then tried to claim that he did not support Taylor and had only provided a forum for the two participants. No one bought this pathetic attempt at saving face, whereupon Lewis made things worse by then claiming that neither participant really had the proper credentials to have participated. One attendee responded by asking why either of Taylor or myself was invited in the first place if this was the case. Lewis also suggested that, if creationists like Duane Gish or Richard Bliss had been there, the outcome would have been different. It is amusing to note that, in order to salvage his own reputation, Lewis has clearly thrown Taylor to the wolves. Apparently, even Lewis admitted that Taylor's population formula looked bad, and he promised to ask Taylor about it later. The Fallout --- ------- Earlier, I had described the rather odd behaviour of the CEC in organizing the debate, only to then attempt to keep it as quiet as possible. My suspicion is that Lewis had originally planned to give the event as much coverage as he could, and only found out after I had accepted his invitation that I am quite familiar with Ian Taylor's arguments and presentations and that I would undoubtedly do well in the exchange. This is the only possible reason I can think of to explain the concerted effort on the part of CEC to downplay the debate to the extent that they did. It would also explain why Taylor said virtually nothing about creation science, as he must have been aware that I am familiar with most of the arguments he would otherwise have presented. (Regular readers of this newsletter may recognize the same strategy used by creationist Lambert Dolphin at a previous annual meeting of the Science Teacher's Association of Ontario, in which Dolphin stripped all creation science out of his public talk when he found out about the attendance of two members of this organization (OASIS).) There was one other event that occurred after the debate that deserves discussion. Because of what I perceived as outrageously shoddy treatment at the hands of CEC in organizing the debate, I wrote Lewis a several page letter, outlining many of the objections I have listed here in some detail. His response, accompanied by a seventy-five dollar honorarium which I did not ask for, is included here in its entirety, verbatim: Dear Mr. Day, Just a quick note to acknowledge your letter and to send you a small honorarium for the debate. I will not bother responding to your comments for I see little reason for doing so. However, if you make some of the unfounded accussations [sic] in public again as you did in the past two episodes I witnessed I might take the liberty of distributing the evidence that would nulify [sic] not only your argument but also your credability [sic]. However, perhaps allowing you to continue as you are doing will be to our benifit [sic]. P.S. I do appreciate your youthful energy and your apparant [sic] strong convictions. I hope they also have a positive side.


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