Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1992 12:09 MST Subject: Re: Info request To: Status

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Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1992 12:09 MST From: "James J. Lippard" Subject: Re: Info request To: Message-Id: <01GNRK5WPM7C8Y5DPW@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU> Status: R Yes, I've heard from Lawson English about the Evolution Echo. I will send you a copy of my article, and you have my permission to redistribute it over the Echo. Jim (Part 1 of 6) Date: Wed, 19 Aug 92 12:11 MST From: "James J. Lippard" Subject: How Not to Argue with Creationists To: Reply-To: Message-Id: <920819191150.747337@SYSTEM-M.AZ05.BULL.COM> Status: R The following article appeared in issue XXIX of _Creation/Evolution_, vol. 11, no. 2 (Winter 1991-1992), pp. 9-21 and is copyright (c) 1991 by the National Center for Science Education. How Not To Argue With Creationists Jim Lippard The scientific method involves a disinterested search for truth. Ideally, scientists apply empirical methods and follow the results wherever they might lead. In reality, however, science is practiced by human beings committed to particular theories. When commitment to a particular theory is greater than commitment to scientific methods, the scientist becomes a "true believer" who falls back upon irrational modes of defense. This analysis is frequently applied to creationists, but unfortunately there are times when it applies to the opponents of creationism as well. This is particularly unfortunate since, as readers of this journal know, scientific methods are completely adequate to the task of refuting the empirical claims of creationism. It is with regret that I write this article, but certain opponents of creationism in Australia have engaged in tactics that have led to public apologies to creationists by radio and print media, criticism by other creationism opponents, and even legal action. These events have, until now, gone unnoted in anti- creationist circles. It is my hope that this article will discourage these sorts of tactics in the future, as well as setting an example of self-criticism that creationists would do well to follow. There are legal issues involved, but it is not my intent to judge or evaluate them. Rather, my intent is to advocate a more careful style of debate and dispute. Australian Debate: Plimer vs. Gish On March 18, 1988, Duane Gish of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) took on Ian Plimer, professor of geology at the University of Newcastle (and now chair of the department of geology at the University of Melbourne). Plimer, rather than treating the event as an academic debate, used the occasion to abuse and ridicule Gish--at one point even offering Gish a chance to electrocute himself on bare wires to demonstrate that electricity is "mere theory."(1) The mostly creationist audience was not amused.(2) The ICR (_Acts & Facts_ 1988) characterized Plimer's behavior as "by far the worst behavior ever encountered by Dr. Gish." Plimer's opening volley was that "'Creation science' is a contradiction in terms. I've accused the leaders of fraud, perversity, heresy, fabricating their evidence, and lying about the scientific evidence." He gave as his first example Michael Denton's book, _Evolution: A Theory in Crisis_, which Gish had already mentioned in his own opening statement. "What we were not told," said Plimer, "was that Michael Denton, at this university [the University of New South Wales] last year, said and admitted he was wrong. That was published. He also said that he was unaware of the fossil record when he wrote it." Plimer explicitly states that Denton was unaware of the fossil record and implies that Denton has retracted his entire book.(3) Neither is the case. Denton's book contains a chapter entitled "The Fossil Record," and what he _has_ conceded is only that "the discontinuities in the order of nature might not be as biologically significant" as he implied in his book. His view is that "an objective interpretation of the gaps [is] impossible given the current state of biological knowledge. They could be basically only 'sampling errors' and biologically trivial, [or] they could be determined by fundamental restrictions on what is possible in the realm of organic design and hence of deep significance" (personal communication, October 1, 1991). Gish, who had lunch with Denton the previous day, responded to Plimer's statement in the debate by saying that "Dr. Denton did not deny or go back on anything he put in his book. This is what he did say: that if he were going to write a book on this subject that he'd take a different approach. The evidence that he discussed in here he said is subjective. ...But from the perspective now in genetic research he believes that possibly it's possible to objectively establish that [sic] if evolution is possible or not. And certainly from his present state of knowledge he believes it can be objectively proven that it's impossible."(4) Here Gish exaggerates as well--according to Denton, Gish's quote is vague but reasonably accurate except for the last statement, about which he says "I am practically certain I didn't make that statement. It's not true (probably never will be) and I have never made such a claim." (personal communication, October 1, 1991). The truth is that Denton has neither retracted his entire book nor remained entirely unswayed by his critics (though the latter is closer to the truth than the former--he still believes that the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is "a theory in crisis"). Analysis: Plimer, like Gish, is guilty of exaggeration in his remarks about Denton. His statements about Denton's position were inaccurate and misleading. Plimer is at least partially to blame for the spread of the legend of Denton's "conversion" in the skeptical community.


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