Saturday, July 7, 2007

Debating Creationists: Vox Day vs PZ Myers

PZ Myers posted on why creationists should not be debated, and Vox Day offered a response, which I address below:

Myers:It pits oratory against science in a venue where you'll be judged on your rhetoric.

Vox: Of course, if you actually know your stuff cold, it shouldn't be a problem.

Right, that's why we see so many scientists in arenas where rhetoric counts so much, like sales and politics. Debate is a skill like any other, and it correlates far more with the ability to think and speak quickly, than it does with being accurate. This is, in fact, why creationists insist on live spoken debates rather than written ones. In written debates, every point can be fully addressed, complete with references, whereas in a live debate, a fast speaker can overwhelm his opponent (ie the Gish Gallop, see below).

Myers: It gives publicity to creationists.

Vox: Oh no! You would think that allowing them to expose their stupidity, which we are told ad infinitum is just painfully obvious, would be something PZ and company would support.

Vox is attacking a straw man here. What we on the scientific side of the debate say ad infinitum is not that the creationists are stupid, but that they are unscientific, and that they are wrong. Debating them as equals will give the impression to the casual observer that they ARE equals. The trappings of scientific validity is what the creationists desire above all else. They are unable to earn it as legitimate science does, through experimental validation and peer review, so it is important to not allow them to do an end run around the process.

Myers: Creationists can generate more lies more quickly than you can refute.

Vox: Not if you know your subject well and are capable of articulating it properly.

Bullshit. "Archaeopteryx was a fake" takes 4 words to assert. Refuting it takes considerably more time, as refutations to most poor arguments do. Any logical fallacy takes longer to explain than to use. Also, repeating the point from earlier, being articulate is not a very valuable talent for a researcher. It IS a valuable talent to being a lawyer, and not coincidentally, several prominent IDers/creationists (Philip Johnson, Casey Luskin) are attorneys. A scientist not speaking well off-the-cuff not only doesn't say anything about the legitimacy of his POV, it is pretty predictable.

Vox:Of course, if all your answers rely on claiming that no one can possibly understand what you're saying without a PhD, you might as well recognize that you're always going to lose in any venue. In fact, why even talk, since no one can understand you anyhow?

Creationists are fond of trotting out these straw men, but you'll notice there are almost never references to any real scientist talking like this. Three guesses as to why.

Myers:Debates artificially give equal time to two sides, falsely elevating creationist trivia to equality with scientific substance.

Vox: Of course, debates in which only one side is allowed to talk isn't really a debate now, is it? Again, we see that the evolutionists simply can't defend themselves, so they demand an unfair playing field.

Quite the contrary. The scientific playing field is very open. It is in the peer-reviewed literature. Of course the creationists avoid that like the plague because they lose in that arena (you know, the one where evidence and all matter). There is a reason the scientific community chooses a public written medium over a spoken one like debates: it is far more effective for highly technical and complicated exchanges.

The best short response for a scientist challenged to a debate in his field is to accept: as long as it is in writing. A written debate has a ton of advantages over a live spoken one:

1) Filibustering/Gish Galloping is impossible.

2) All points get their due attention, and lies can be exposed.

3) It draws a larger audience.

4) The audience has time to ponder the points made fully and can return as needed for a reread.

Of course, all of the above (except #3) are exactly what creationists are trying to avoid, which is why they insist on spoken debates in the first place.


grendelkhan said...

The blog's name is "Vox Popoli"; the blogger's name is "Vox Day".

Would you be so kind as to, in future, not refer to the blogger as "Vox Day", but rather has (with the hyperlink) "Future Toddler Chopper Vox Day"? I think it would provide some much-needed perspective.

ScienceAvenger said...

Thank Grendelkhan. Perspective indeed.

Hawks said...

You've been tagged. Don't blame me. I'm just following orders.

Hawks said...

You've been tagged. Don't blame me. I'm just following orders.

The Physicist said...

I offered to debate PZ in the written word and he declined, looks like your wrong.

Matt said...

I happen to believe that Darwin was right, but I disagree pretty strongly with most of the points you raise here. Vox has addressed these points quite well, I think- and in fact, there are quite a few scientists of my acquaintance who are well-trained in rhetoric, so I know that they can be found. Likewise, refusing to debate them as equals will not lose you any credibility in the scientific community, but outside of that, you'll lose a lot. What the general populace believes is important, I think, to the future of science and to society's support for it, and most people don't read peer-reviewed magazines. Public debate would be a good way to address the easily defeated arguments of creationists, to push the burden of proof to them, and to show the public how ludicrous they are. I'm not sure if you've seen the debate where Kirk Cameron tried to prove the existence of God without reference to scripture, but if so, this is exactly the kind of thing that I mean (and if not, you can find it on youtube, I'm sure).

ScienceAvenger said...

Physicist, I think the response of PZ and others was sufficient. If you have a case to make, make it, that's what blogs are for. Do it on your own site, or in the comments at PZ's. I am confident you will have no shortage of people willing to engage you.

Matt, debates are for subjects like politics, where the facts are often difficult to discern, and even the questions themselves are up for challenge. To pretend that this describes science, and that there is actually something to debate, would do far more damage in the eyes of the public in my opinion. Science is the closest thing to a pure meritocracy we have. That is how it should be promotede and why it deserves respect.

See, this whole call for debates is a sham at its core. There are not hoards of people sincerely interested in the issue of creationism/evolution who have studied the evidence to the best of their ability and yet are still confused and need a debate to help them settle the issue. Those people who have studied the evidence overwhelmingly accept evolution. Those who don't aren't interested in the evidence, they are interested in rhetoric that allows them to cling to their tenuous beliefs. Having a debate for them isn't going to persade them, it will merely reinforces their flawed views.

Creationist arguments are NOT easily refuted, that's why they have been so succesful in their PR campaign. They are wrong, no doubt, but they tend to involve very arcane issues like bacterial flagellums and blood clotting cascades which require a lot of detailed knowledge to refute. Even refuting Kirk Cameron's idiotic crocoduck argument involves a lot of technical knowledge. Better to note that he, like all creationists, does no science, and merely plays word games and makes shit up.

And finally, no one has yet given a single reason why a public oral debate is superior to a written one on the web. A written debate would be more complete, and would reach a wider audience. The only reason creos push the oral version is because their debating tricks won't work in writing.