Friday, September 18, 2009

Creationists and The Boy Who Cried 'Wolf!'

This is a post for Creationists who want to be honest. Of course, many of my readers will probably mentally snark along the lines of "there's no such thing!" as they read that first sentence. That right there is one big problem you will have to overcome: We've seen so many Creationists who seem prone to compulsive lying, that it's become a default assumption for many of us. Because of that, you'll often need to put some extra effort into your appearance of integrity. After seeing so many ways to not do that, I think I can make some suggestions on how you should approach a skeptic:

1. Know that many of those on your side are dishonest, and that you may have been fooled by one of them: There are a lot of dishonest questions, assertions, and so forth floating out there in the internet that have become detached from the liar who started them. Ask about things as honest questions in as soft a tone as you can manage. Many of us skeptics are veterans of these debates and will probably have an answer. If the skeptic points out the source of the lie, try to be gracious in response.

2. Ask honest, basic questions: By this, I mean ask about very simple concepts and definitions. Aside from the aforementioned "urban legend" deceptions, there are many misunderstandings of what the theory of evolution, abiogenesis, and the Big Bang actually are. Before a debate can really begin, you need to know what your opponents are actually arguing about. Otherwise, you're just ridiculing a straw man.

3. Don't use quotations: The dishonest Creationists absolutely love what has become known as "quote mining": The practice of taking a quote out of context to make something sound ridiculous or contrary to what a person actually believes. Darwin himself was particularly vulnerable to this because of his rhetorical style: He would raise an objection he expected opponents to make and then rebut it. Dishonest Creationists would then clip off the rebuttal and make the quote about the objection viral.

4. We don't really care about Darwin that much: This may come as a surprise, but as scientifically-minded people, we don't particularly care about Charles Darwin in terms of science. We only care about him from a historical perspective. Science is a self-correcting process, and the more we study a topic, the finer details we are able to examine and understand. We appreciate Darwin for getting the broad concept right, but no serious scientist would use the Origin of Species to research the answer to a modern question. It's essentially the same as with Newton: We can use Newtonian physics to answer some simple questions about the "medium world," but when dealing with super-massive objects, objects traveling near the speed of light, or tiny particles and quantum events, we need to refer to more modern theories about the things Newton did not yet know about.

5. Don't say "Darwinist": As said before, we appreciate Darwin's contribution to biology, but putting an "ist" on the name is a propaganda tactic popular with dishonest Creationists. They do this because they try to dismiss the science as a form of priesthood with Darwin as a saint or a prophet. He was not. We can look at the world and see the effects of evolution. Darwin was just one of the first people to figure it out and express the concept clearly. That's all Darwin is to people like me. He wasn't a saint or a prophet. He was just a guy who happened to have the smarts, luck, and data to put together a useful explanation for the diversity of life that modern scientists could build on and improve.

6. Credential don't matter: Though many of my fellow skeptics like to ridicule Creationists who tout their PhD's from diploma mills, I don't believe credentials matter: A valid point is a valid point, no matter how many letters its speaker has after his name. Credentials are merely a way of saving time in evaluating someone's opinion. When you're discussing the topic in detail, it's best to drop such distinctions and take your time to work out the quality of the evidence and the logical steps from there to conclusion.

7. Don't pretend to know us: Deception is rampant among Creationist circles, so do your best to remove any prejudices you may have developed as a result of viral arguments. Skeptics like me often have to face "woos" from many fields who treat us like stereotypes from Hollywood and network television without ever knowing how or why we've reached our conclusions, or what it takes to change our minds about them. Even if you think we're mad, there is a method to our madness.

8. Look back and remember: One way I've heard to spot a chat bot is to ask what it was talking about earlier. I sometimes feel like accusing dishonest "woos" and Creationists of being such when they can't remember an earlier rebuttal or present an argument that contradicts one of their earlier ones. Too many attempt to play "gotcha" instead of learning and adapting. Try to show that you're learning about our side of the argument. If you spot what looks like a contradiction, ask if there's an explanation, an exception, or whatever. We can make mistakes or oversimplify things. We might even learn something new if we have to look up an answer or correction if we didn't realize the mistake.

9. Don't cite faith: Many of us are vehemently opposed to the "accomodationists" who talk about reconciling faith and science. By "faith," I mean belief without or in spite of evidence. Belief without basis is essentially an act of hubris. There needs to be justification for a belief, and in science, that comes in the form of evidence and logic: The evidence must agree with your premises, and your conclusion must logically follow from those premises.

10: Do your homework: Read up on logical fallacies to avoid and existing rebuttals to common Creationist claims. Yes, I realize this may take up a lot of your time, but if you can learn more about us and our arguments, you'll be better equipped to discuss the issue. A great deal of frustration we experience is having to rebut commonly repeated arguments. If you find an answer confusing or even ridiculous, politely ask for elaboration or clarification while providing a link to it. People like me will appreciate your efforts.

Though my skeptical friends and I are known for having sharp tongues, if you practice these things while doing your best to maintain a polite tone, we're much more likely to be civil in response. A great many arguments fall into trolldom when someone violates these sorts of 'rules'. In many cases, they don't even realize why we react so negatively to the behavior in their first post. I'm not vicious by nature, just sensitive to perceived injustice, deception, and apathy. Honest curiosity is a beautiful thing that can tame this copper alloy canid into showing off the tricks he knows. I enjoy putting effort into explaining things if I believe someone is interested in hearing it.

22 comments:

Dweller in Darkness said...

Oh, and lest you creationists think you'll only be tangling with godless atheists, I'm a Christian who . . . well, I can't say "believes" in evolution because the use of that word implies that there's an aspect of faith acknowledging a process clearly visible in nature and history. Hey! That works. I'm a Christian who acknowledges evolution.

Valhar2000 said...

Begone, Christian! Skeptical blogs are verboten to your kind!

Dweller in Darkness said...

So, if you use crosses to ward of vampires and atheists, what do atheists use to ward off theists? Up until a few years ago I probably would've thought a copy of something by Darwin, but I'm guessing maybe something from Dawkins or Gould.

"Exorcizo te, omnis spiritus immunde, in nomine Pharyngula omnipotentis . . ."

MWchase said...

I suspect that Gideons could be warded off with a bible, but that's a special case.

"Want a free—oh, you're set."

Jacqueline said...

Dweller in Darkness said...
".. I'm a Christian who . . . well, I can't say "believes" in evolution because the use of that word implies that there's an aspect of faith acknowledging a process clearly visible in nature and history. Hey! That works. I'm a Christian who acknowledges evolution."




In the absence of a creationist to get into a dialogue with I'd like to ask Dweller about his religious beliefs.
Dweller, do you believe in God?
Is Jesus the son of God, or a manifestation of this deity?

Do you think that God influences reality in any way that would be measurable to scientific investigation?

I ask these questions as I'm genuinely interested in what you, as a Christian, believe.

JS;)

Dweller in Darkness said...

"Dweller, do you believe in God?"

Yes.

"Is Jesus the son of God, or a manifestation of this deity?"

I don't think I could give a definitive answer to this, and I would distrust anyone who says that they can. Generally speaking, I think Christians have far too little respect for one of the characteristics of God that he talks about almost more than any other: his ineffability.

[QUOTE]Do you think that God influences reality in any way that would be measurable to scientific investigation?[/QUOTE]

If you mean, "on a consistent and daily basis," no. In the majority, the universe hums along swimmingly. God does not hold the atoms together and he doesn't play mix-and-match with the human chromosome when it comes to genetics.

I don't see God as a watchmaker, blind or otherwise, or as a control freak. More like an extremely good pool player. Several billion years ago, he called the yellow ball in the corner pocket. After that, it's mostly been a matter of physics.

Tom Foss said...

The professor of a theology class I had a few years back said that a God who can build the machinery and set it in motion so that everything goes according to his desires from the start is infinitely more impressive than the God who continually has to tinker in his creation in order to achieve what he wants.

DwellerinDarkness said...

Very much my reasoning. Any even the oldest texts, like the book of Job, you here God referred to as the one who puts the stars and planets in their orbits, who sets the paths for rivers. No involvement with the actual pushing of stars or the pneumatics of limnology, just there at the start.

There's also an aspect of God that I really have a hard time explaining to people who don't have kids. There's so much of the "problem of evil" that makes more sense when you have children, when you consciously choose to bring life into the world knowing that your choice means that another living thing will endure pain and misery, but in the knowledge that you truly do love the life you've created.

Jacqueline said...

Thanks for answering my questions Dweller. If you don't mind I'd like to ask you a few more. You wrote:


"If you mean, "on a consistent and daily basis," no. In the majority, the universe hums along swimmingly. God does not hold the atoms together and he doesn't play mix-and-match with the human chromosome when it comes to genetics."

So your God generally has a hands off approach, that is so subtle (ineffable) that science wouldn't be able to detect Him?
Do you think that praying to God has any measurable affect on reality?
Do you believe that the vengeful God of the old testament is real or just a myth?
Did God know that humans would appear as a by product of ongoing evolution on this world, or does he "fire and forget" and see what sentient beings turn up after He set the whole thing in motion?
Does God demand worship? If so why?

Lastly, why do you believe in one creator? Why couldn't the universe have been produced by the effort of a group of deities?

JS:)

Sqrt(D) said...

I agree with this post. Even if you believe in creationism, a thorough knowledge of the theory you argue against is necessary before your arguments can be taken seriously.

I suppose that I would be closer in agreement to Dweller in Darkness. I see God as the Ultimate Mathematician/Physicist. God only very rarely interferes with the world (if at all). The religious stories are metaphors that have advice for living and insight on how things work (although science is making it more clear as time goes on).

Regarding prayer: I think that it does have an effect, but not as typically portrayed. Prayer and meditation do help reset the mind in the same way that a nap does. They also help refocus attitudes towards the positive and reinforce goals. Consistent prayer about something creates self-fulfilling prophecies and the need to believe can help edit out more negatives in life (especially if they do not support the underlying beliefs).

DwellerinDarkness said...

"So your God generally has a hands off approach, that is so subtle (ineffable) that science wouldn't be able to detect Him?"
More or less a good summary.

"Do you think that praying to God has any measurable affect on reality?"
It's a bit like Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. The character was written by Alan Moore, a deeply spiritual man, so I'm not surprised that he gets the idea. Do you remember the bit where Doctor Manhattan informs Silk Spectre she'll later inform him that she's sleeping with Night Owl and then, when she tells him, he reacts with surprise? It's a bit like that.

"Do you believe that the vengeful God of the old testament is real or just a myth?"
I don't see the contradiction between that God and the one of the New Testament. In the Old we get God smiting at fifty or sixty year intervals, and usually through political machination, using humanity's innate corruptibility as a weapon. We get the highlights because, like any well written book, the Bible isn't as interested in the lulls.

"Did God know that humans would appear as a by product of ongoing evolution on this world, or does he "fire and forget" and see what sentient beings turn up after He set the whole thing in motion?"
I'd be surprised if we were a surprise, but I suppose it's possible. While I don't take the first chapter of Genesis as a chronological chain of events, it seems pretty clear that he knew what would be happening at each step.

"Does God demand worship? If so why?"
I think it's an anticipated reaction to joy. Worship as a symptom isn't a particularly popular idea among evangelicals, but it's really the general idea.

"Lastly, why do you believe in one creator? Why couldn't the universe have been produced by the effort of a group of deities?"
I don't know that it wasn't.

And, as I said, I don't think God made overly much, if anything, so much as set things into motion. The earlier legends - never made it into the standard Hebrew texts, and are usually of questionable historicity - that talk about the "Court of Stars" and the like might be best explained by there being more than one purely spiritual entity.

Gabriel said...

Sqrt(D)

Tell me, because you do believe in some sort of, I guess, deistic god, do you somehow believe human beings are special?

Why?
Why are humans the only one that openly show the knowledge of this god etc?
Are human beings above other animals?
If so, why? If not, how is this god concept related?

Jacqueline said...

Gabriel wrote:

"Tell me..."

Gabe, you ass. Either fuck off and stain some other post with your presence or be polite. Its "PLEASE tell me" if you want to ask questions.

Jacqueline said...

"Do you think that praying to God has any measurable affect on reality?"
It's a bit like Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. The character was written by Alan Moore, a deeply spiritual man, so I'm not surprised that he gets the idea. Do you remember the bit where Doctor Manhattan informs Silk Spectre she'll later inform him that she's sleeping with Night Owl and then, when she tells him, he reacts with surprise? It's a bit like that.


Alan Moore manufactures deities to worship, like the glove puppet Glycon, but I'm digressing.
I don't understand your reply Dweller can you restate it for me please?


JS:)

Jacqueline said...

"Does God demand worship? If so why?"
I think it's an anticipated reaction to joy. Worship as a symptom isn't a particularly popular idea among evangelicals, but it's really the general idea.


Again I'm having difficulty understanding your reply.

JS:.

DwellerinDarkness said...

(Sorry, had forgotten to mark this thread for follow-up comments)

Your quest was, "Does prayer make a difference?"

The answer depends on how you're taking your measurements. If you're meaning, "If you track, over time, the prayers of a group of people and determine whether or not those prayers were answered, do you expect that there will be more answered prayers than unanswered?", then the answer's no.

That's a misappropriation of the purpose of prayer. It's not a door to getting stuff, not a binary response generator. Again, I'm reminded of parenting: If my son asks me to turn down the music in the car, I may do so, I may not. I might turn it down even without him asking - I drive an old Volvo where the volume supposedly changes to match the sound of the car, which rarely works. I may turn it up more if I particularly like the song. If he asks, I might or might not turn it down.

I haven't run statistics on it but, from my son's perspective, I'm fairly certain that the changes in volume appear pretty much random even though they aren't. This is based on supposition in part, but also my memories of being in my parents' car as a child.

Your second question was, "Does God demand worship?"

The answer is a sort of yes. First of all, we need to decide what's meant by "worship." If you mean slavering, grovelling, bootlicking worship, I'd say no. There are bits of the Old Testament and the New where particular people in particular times, and those time are typically rather unclear.

If, on the other hand, we're talking about deep-felt gratitude and devotion based on an acknowledgment of the impact and importance of God, personally.

I will say, here and now, that any belief in God isn't reasonable. It's not, it just isn't. But I've not believed in God and I've believed in God a few times in my life and I know the different between those two states well enough to have a strong devotion to the One who showed me how I ought to live.

Don't take this as a criticism of atheism or atheist moral philosophy - I know that it is quite possible to live a moral life without a belief in God, but I just as surely know that I wouldn't.

Sqrt(D) said...

Gabriel-

Are human beings special? I think that depends on how you approach that. Certainly, every species has some degree of uniqueness, else it would not be a species of its own.

While I don't question God's existence, I do question the nature of God, as typically portrayed. I tend to think that our views of God evolved along with humans. Our concept of God is a metaphor for certain structures of the universe. We don't really understand them, so we explain them using stories.

Then, as our understanding deepens, our need for the poetic language and thinking is lessened, as it can be replaced by more precise language.

Jacqueline said...

Thanks for clearing up those questions for me, Dweller.

"Don't take this as a criticism of atheism or atheist moral philosophy - I know that it is quite possible to live a moral life without a belief in God, but I just as surely know that I wouldn't."

A lot of people who believe in a "hellfire punishin' type o' God" do morally questionable things. So even a belief in God doesn't always keep a person "on the straight and narrow".
Are you sure that you need a "big sky daddy" watchin' over your shoulder 24/7 to be a decent human being?

JS:)

Jacqueline said...

Sqrt(D) said...

"I suppose that I would be closer in agreement to Dweller in Darkness. I see God as the Ultimate Mathematician/Physicist. God only very rarely interferes with the world (if at all)."


So your God is almost the Spinozan/Einsteinian/Hawking type, which is merely a metaphor for physics. Except that you are undecided wether It engages in meddling with the universe after creation.


"Our concept of God is a metaphor for certain structures of the universe. We don't really understand them, so we explain them using stories."

How can a metaphor be an ultimate mathematician/physicist?
Are you saying that "certain structures of the universe" are sentient and godlike?


"Then, as our understanding deepens, our need for the poetic language and thinking is lessened, as it can be replaced by more precise language."

I'd agree with the above statement, but add that such a process is already happening. It is a pity that more religious people don't apply your view to their faiths.

JS:)

Dweller in Darkness said...

"A lot of people who believe in a "hellfire punishin' type o' God" do morally questionable things. So even a belief in God doesn't always keep a person "on the straight and narrow".
Are you sure that you need a "big sky daddy" watchin' over your shoulder 24/7 to be a decent human being?"
Less a hellfire and punishment, big sky daddy, and more a really, really good AA sponsor. Shearing off the Old Testament law - which is a good tutor, but not the standard I'd hold anyone to - I'm hard-pressed to find any of Jesus' directives that I have serious problems with in practice, even the really tough ones.

The strange thing about grace, the bit that I can't explain even a little bit, is that it's complete, even if I'm not.

And I'm not clear on the whole hellfire thing anyway. That really only comes up in context with people who were cruel and/or misanthropic, not those who failed to find the right Scriptural Decoder Ring in their box of Holy-Os.

MWchase said...

And I'm not clear on the whole hellfire thing anyway. That really only comes up in context with people who were cruel and/or misanthropic, not those who failed to find the right Scriptural Decoder Ring in their box of Holy-Os.

I don't want to misrepresent anybody's experience, but I expect I'm not alone in having the really crazy-nuts fringe dominate the discourse that I hear.

I kind of feel like the anti-fundy stuff needs more moderate Christians calling them out just as vocally. This would do nothing to convince them, of course, but I think it would really help those on the fence see that it's possible to have the beliefs they want without also believing that <poe>the Pope is having the Eucharist doped so he can transmit mind-control rays through Catholics' fillings more effectively</poe>.

DwellerinDarkness said...

Part of the problem is that the moderate Christian view is really rather boring. The right-wing fundamentalist appeal to vengeance and rock-solid assurance that you aren't just right, you're righteous and you're right isn't easily balanced out by, "love your neighbour" and, "clothe and feed the needy."