Author: Rob P. J. Day Title: Public Debate with a Creationist On Friday, October 19, I deb
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
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
"... 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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank