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(Part 5 of 6, continued from previous message. Copyright 1991 by the National Center for Science Education. Redistributed in the Evolution Echo by permission of the author.) Conclusions Ray Hyman (1987), professor of psychology and executive council member of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), has constructed a list of suggestions for proper criticism of paranormal and fringe science claims which should also be taken to heart by critics of creationism. His eight suggestions are: 1. Be prepared. 2. Clarify your objectives. 3. Do your homework. 4. Do not go beyond your level of competence. 5. Let the facts speak for themselves. 6. Be precise. 7. Use the principle of charity. 8. Avoid loaded words and sensationalism. My criticisms of Price and Plimer have primarily been based on their violations of 3, 5, 7, and 8. What I would like to focus on briefly in my final remarks is number 2, the issue of clear objectives. In correspondence with me, Ian Plimer and others have defended his style on the grounds that creationism is a political rather than scientific movement. It is my impression that they think it must be stopped at any cost, by almost any means available. This view is not only short-sighted, it doesn't seem to justify the means I've been criticizing. While the heavy- handed style might convince some people that creationism is ridiculous and not worth serious consideration by scientists, misrepresentations are bound to come to light (as they have). When they do, all of the short-term gains and more are lost. We must not lose sight of the fact that no matter how silly creationism looks from an informed perspective, those who adhere to it are human beings. Most creationists are sincere believers, even if some of the leaders of creationist organizations are not. There is probably no hope of convincing an insincere leader, so why argue rationally with one? Why not just ridicule and abuse such a person? Because sincere people are watching. Ridicule and abuse simply confirm their suspicions about evil conspiratorial evolutionists who are out to suppress the creationist viewpoint. (This does not require us to forego humor or sarcasm which are not abusive and counterproductive.) It is possible to deal with creationists effectively yet politely--Philip Kitcher's 1985 debate and Ken Saladin's 1988 debate, each with Gish, are prime examples.(8) Presentations like these are probably more likely to persuade people than those like Plimer's. Price and Plimer have engaged in the same sort of tactics we complain about creationists using. The only result of such tactics can be the loss of credibility. The creation versus evolution debate is already one which tends to generate more heat than light. To attempt to gain converts by means other than reasoned argument supported by evidence is to engage in a war of propaganda, in which the first casualty is truth. It is my hope that this criticism will serve to discourage such counterproductive battles in the future. Acknowledgements Thanks to Robert Doolan of the Creation Science Foundation, who responded to my every question and provided me with copies of all documents which I requested, to Ian Plimer and Barry Price for their cooperation in the early stages of the preparation of this article, to Erika Mitnik for reviewing early drafts of this article, and to the editor of this journal and this article's reviewers, who provided numerous helpful comments on style and content. Notes 1. All debate quotations have been transcribed by the author from videotape. Plimer's attacks on Gish included: "They are telling lies for mammon. Here is Satan [gestures towards Gish]. He wants God's blessing for the devil's work." (Plimer 1989, p. 12, also quotes this.) 2. It wasn't just the creationists who were unamused. In the Australian Skeptics' summary of the debate (Roberts and Mendham 1988, p. 13), it is reported that "The adjudicator summed up by saying that, rather than a debate, the evening was more like a presentation by Dr. Gish and a series of derogatory replies by Dr. Plimer. He would award poor marks to both speakers, neither of whom had properly expounded his point of view as a science." The same page of the summary states that "Dr. Plimer's style of speaking excited comments and polarised the passions of quite a few people. Many Skeptics have said they were disappointed in his manner of presentation and his handling of the topic, preferring that he had presented purely the scientific evidence supporting evolution in a sombre and more scientifically respectable manner." 3. A possible source of Plimer's remark (or perhaps they share a common source) is Stan Weinberg's (1986, p. 22) report in the _Creation/Evolution Newsletter_ that "According to [paleontologist Michael] Archer, Denton acknowledged that before he wrote his book he had never heard of the mammal-like reptiles. He added that had he known of them beforehand, he would have written his book differently. But there are no indications that a corrected edition is forthcoming." Denton (personal communication, October 1, 1991) says that this is a misrepresentation--his book discusses mammal-like reptiles on pages 180 and 181 (U.S. edition). What he did concede to Archer is what I have noted in this article about the significance of gaps in the fossil record. 4. This remark from Gish was garbled in transcription by Australian Skeptic Steve Roberts, who wrote in his summary of the debate that Gish had agreed with Plimer that Denton had recanted his views on evolution and considered it "possibly now a provable reality." (Roberts and Mendham 1988, p. 12) This error made its way into the _Creation/Evolution Newsletter_ (July/August 1988, p. 17) and was recently corrected by me in _NCSE Reports_ (Summer 1991, p. 19). The Australian Skeptics have yet to print a correction of this and other errors in their debate summary, though they have admitted them in private correspondence. It should be pointed out that the Summer 1991 _NCSE Reports_ correction contained a mistake introduced by the editor--that of referring to Denton as a creationist. He is not. As he wrote to me (personal communication, October 1, 1991), "I am sure that the cause of evolution will turn out to be perfectly natural even though as yet we have no satisfactory naturalistic explanation. However, I am inclined to the view that when the natural explanations are elucidated they will represent deeply embedded laws or tendences in the nature of things which will largely restrict life forms to designs similar to those actually manifest on earth or in other words that life's design is not contingent as Gould claims but directed in large measure by physics in the most general sense of the term." 5. The CSF says it did not threaten legal action, though CSF managing director Carl Wieland did write a letter to the Catholic hierarchy in Sydney, New South Wales expressing concern about allegedly defamatory statements in the booklet (Robert Doolan, personal communication, April 10, 1991). (continued)


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