Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1992 12:09 MST Subject: Re: Info request To: firstname.lastname@example.org Status
Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1992 12:09 MST
From: "James J. Lippard"
Subject: Re: Info request
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.
(Part 1 of 6)
Date: Wed, 19 Aug 92 12:11 MST
From: "James J. Lippard"
Subject: How Not to Argue with Creationists
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
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
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