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← Are Darwin's Theories Fact or Faith Issues?

pzmyers's Avatar Jump to comment 87 by pzmyers

Should I have done this debate at all? That's a really good question, and one I wrestled with before hand. I do have a policy of not dignifying creationists by sharing a platform with them. I even mentioned it in my opening when I explained that it was difficult to get a biologist to engage in this sort of thing, because a) the audience usually needs remedial instruction in the basics, not high-level arguments about the details, and b) our experience has usually been that creationists know they have no credibility in science, so they resort to cheap rhetorical tricks, packing the audience with a prejudiced claque, and playing games with the rules of the debate. All of that was definitely true in this debate.

So why did I do this, then?

I'm worried about talk radio. I don't listen to it, most of my peers don't listen to it, when I'm on long drives through rural Minnesota I flip through those channels real fast while I'm looking for NPR. It's easy to dismiss. How many of you tune in to your local evangelical station and actually listen to it?

Yet at the same time, it's HUGE. Where do those yokel creationists get all their information? Two major sources: their churches and their AM radios. I've talked to people at our local talk radio station and they reach a big audience. When I want to advertise our Cafe Scientifique series in town, I get on the dawn news hour -- when all the regional farmers are sitting down to breakfast with the radio, or hooking up the milking machines in the barn while the radio plays.

You might suggest Fox News as another source, but Fox News is the cleaned up, less in-your-face version of talk radio. Fox is the high-falutin', fancy pants big brother of talk radio. If you get incensed at the bias and inanity of Fox News, your head will explode if you spend much time on the AM frequencies.

So I made the plunge. I'm not going to do it often, but we need to at least make a token effort now and then to introduce reason into the swamp.

Other factors that helped me decide to do it: I have friends in the twin cities who listen to this station (in a "know your enemy" sort of way), and they assured me that the hosts were actually decent folks who were sincere. Completely deluded, of course, but they actually mean well.

Another was that this took virtually no effort at all. I sketched out a long list of evidence for evolution beforehand, when I thought that was to be the topic, but it was all off the top of my head, so it didn't take much work. I had to throw it all out when they changed the subject anyway, so what you heard was extemporaneous. So it cost me about two hours of time. No worries.

Another factor was that I was invited. This is a show that regularly hosts people like Ken Ham and Ray Comfort -- a totally wacko lineup of hardcore young earth creationists, and they were asking me to step right into the heart of the domain of ignorance. The audience for this show is almost entirely of people who never get their views challenged in any way. It's different than if a creationist rents a hall on a university campus and tries every trick possible to get academic acknowledgment. If one of my local fundamentalist churches invited me to discuss evolution with them, I'd also jump at that chance.

And finally, I had a strategy in mind: ATTACK. Maybe you noticed? I was not going to debate the details on their terms. I was going to charge in and right from the beginning point out the flaws in their reasoning, highlight their lack of evidence, and talk about how they distort and lie. I was not going to let them borrow academic credibility, I was going to turn that credibility against them. Simmons played right into my hands, fortunately.

Sat, 02 Feb 2008 07:36:00 UTC | #114748