Culture War Correspondence: Evolution, Creation, and Debate

GORDON: Ladies and gentlemen, it has fallen to Kat and I to provide you with today’s topic. Some people would say we arrived at the topic gradually over time, making little changes along the way, others maintain it was created within seven minutes.

It’s evolution and creationism and the place of both in our society.

KAT: Exactly. So Gordon and I were tossing around some ideas for tonight’s CWC and arrived at this one. It was Gordon’s suggestion, so I thought maybe you (Gordon) wouldn’t mind describing why it came to mind.

GORDON: Well, it was posted in my Facebook feed that Bill Nye, acclaimed figure of the scientific community, will very shortly be debating creationist Ken Ham on the subject of creation vs. evolution. What really caught my attention though, and lead to me suggesting the topic, was that the person who had posted it was saying it was a shame that Bill Nye was doing this- that this debate would just legitimate something that had no standing.

KAT: Oh good, ol’ Ken Ham. I remember watching Kent Hoven and Ken Ham videos as a teenager to prepare myself to battle the “misguided” evolutionists I would encounter in university. So I take it (from the fact that we are discussing it right now) that you don’t entirely agree with your friend’s comment?

GORDON: Well, perhaps we oughta clarify our own stances in the interests of total transparency going into this. I was raised in a relatively conservative home and I was taught all the creationist apologetics. I eventually changed my views and started seeing creationism as, well, trying to build very shaky arguments just to defend something that really didn’t need defending.

The clincher, though, was that what got me questioning in the first place was a debate with this very person.

KAT: Very well said, it really is an unnecessary hill to die on. I went through a bit of a faith crisis when I first found my views on creation being challenged, too. It’s been really empowering to find a church in the last few years that is comfortable exploring evolution out of a position other than fear. We were actually recently hosted a professor and contributor to the BioLogos website who stirred the pot a bit by insisting that evolution has happened/is happening and arguing why that doesn’t necessarily mean throwing away the idea of God/Christianity. The website is a fantastic resource for those who might feel torn between choosing to believe in Christianity or evolution.

Personally I’ve come to a point where I don’t really care either way. Since I’m not a scientist and that isn’t my field of study I don’t feel qualified to declare an opinion, plus at this point it really wouldn’t affect my faith either way.

So, if you aren’t personally a Creationist, do you mind me asking what got the debate started on your friend’s post?

GORDON: It was actually just him who posted the news that Bill Nye was going to be debating Ham, and that HE thought the debate was offering a platform to a concept that shouldn’t have one. I guess that oughta be the first question for us. Does this debate legitimize creationism? And is creationism something that oughta be treated on par with the theory of evolution?


KAT: Ah, I see. Here I was thinking a debate was breaking out on his Facebook wall (that seems to happen a lot).

Well, personally I feel like anything that is still believed by a large group of people is worth legitimizing. What about you?

GORDON: I’m tempted to say “hey, let’s debate anything”, but when I think about it, I’m not sure that I’d give, say, the American Nazi Party’s presidential candidate an opportunity to join the debates during election season, you know?
The person who posted the story himself compared the whole thing to an adherent of the flat-earth idea being allowed time at a scientific debate.

KAT: You make a good point by calling attention to what deserves debate/public attention. I agree that we shouldn’t allow hate groups to be included in debate, but is mere misinformation a different story?
Plus I imagine the flat earth debate took a long time to die out too. It’s somewhat unreasonable to expect a paradigm shift to happen very quickly.

GORDON: With somewhere between 31% and 46% of the US adhering to by-the-book Creationism, that’s probably a fair assessment. I guess push come to shove, it’s a question of whether or not the debate’s actually going to make a difference. It did for me, so I guess I’d be reluctant to remove that opportunity from anyone else, y’know?

What about the subject of schools, though? Is it to be expected that both theories be taught in public schools? That steps should be taken to state that evolution is “only a theory”?

KAT: No, I don’t think it’s necessary to teach both in schools. If a school is publicly funded I see no reason to impress a value that is fundamentally tied to a certain faith. That’s what private schools are for. What I do think is necessary, however, is acknowledging where there are holes in the evolutionary theory that we just don’t have answer for. For example, my sister is currently pursuing a B.S. and she is constantly running into professors who “cover up” or try to skip over aspects of evolution that aren’t fully explained yet. I think it’s unfortunate that such a big rift has been created between “science” and “faith” that teachers don’t want to allow any footholds to appear that a creationist might take advantage of.
Also, the “only a theory argument” (which I used to use myself, a lot) only displays a fundamental misunderstanding of what a theory means in scientific terms.

GORDON: I agree with you and I am glad you brought it up. Too often it seems that some of the loudest advocates of evolution (or science in general) totally neglect that the theory is still in the process of being developed, that there are gaps in the fossil record, and there’s still tons left yet to be discovered.

KAT: Exactly. But it seems to generally be that the most dogmatic voices (on either side) tend to get the most spotlight.

GORDON: I guess the next question would be on how we respond to creationism as a whole? According to a Gallup pole, there was actually a 6% increase in adherence to creationism between 2010 and 2012. Should we be tolerating creationism? If so, how much? If we’re supposed to be combating it- how?

KAT: That’s a good question. I think it’s important to remember that minds are rarely changed through arguments. As much as I support the right for both creationists and evolutionists to engage in debate, neither side is just going to change their mind mid-debate. At that point there is far too much pride on the line. I think the best way to combat dogma (regardless of what kind) is through relationships. A lot of Christian evolutionists I know had their minds changed because they just continued to see evidence that forced them to change their position, so in that way education is also key. I just really love the BioLogos peeps because they are really trying to bridge that gap between the two sides that have both become so alienated.

What do you think?

GORDON: I hear what you’re saying, and while I can’t speak for the scientific community (not yet, anyways- things are still in motion), I can only imagine that they’d feel a little, well, indignant at the idea of having to share the table with people who are wrong. I mean, I’m guessing that’d feel a lot to them like truth- y’know, the thing they’re supposed to be advocating- is taking a back seat to the sensitivity of others.

I guess I’m tempted to try to to apply it all to other situations. We shouldn’t tolerate racial segregation, even if the country was divided on it, y’know? If we have strong reason to believe that something is factual, shouldn’t it be incorporated into our legislation? At least until challenged by a theory with better evidence?

KAT: I think the big difference there is that creationism isn’t fueled by hatred or even something that intends to put down others. I also think silencing the creationism community is only going to make them all feel like martyrs. Plus, maybe the scientific community needs to learn the lesson religious groups have had to learn (though not always successfully): you can’t force (what you wholeheartedly believe to be) truth on the community at large, it’s something people have to discover for themselves.

GORDON: Well, we’re just about out of time here, so we’ll go ahead and open up the comment section for continued debate.

Or none, if you feel it’d only legitimize us.

(Please legitimize us…)

11 responses to “Culture War Correspondence: Evolution, Creation, and Debate

  1. Solid points on both sides. Personally, I’m excited for Bill’s debate. I was subjected to Ham’s material quite a bit when I was a teenager, and I’m looking forward to seeing his arguments fall apart. And maybe Bill will have to concede some points on where Evolutionary theory is still lacking. Either way, it’ll be good for people to see. Sure, argument doesn’t tend to actually change minds. But I know that there are a lot of young Evangelicals who want to get into the sciences, many of them with with a mission to legitimize Creationism. If their views are just completely ignored, I think they’re more likely to hold to them stubbornly, or out of defiance. As soon as scientists are willing to engage with them in a civil debate, however, the students who actually care about the truth are going to learn something. We can’t ignore them into silence. We’ve got to openly and calmly reason Creationism to death.

  2. I’m all for open discussion.

    I think you should have pointed out that there are variations within the “creationism” camp, all the way from those (a small group) arguing for creation in six days and a young earth to the “intelligent design” advocates who are much more numerous. These argue that Neo-Darwinianism does not merely have “problems” but is a wreck and that the evidence (note: not “faith” but the “evidence”) demands an intelligent designer. I’m not a scientist. I’m just saying that this is their argument (and they ARE scientists) and plenty of hefty books have been written arguing this. Read “Darwin’s Doubt” that came out over last year. Read Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” and follow up to that.

    Read these and then try to portray the issue of evolution vs intelligent design as settled as round vs flat earth. People who talk like that I suspect haven’t been exposed to serious challenge. Even you guys talk about being raised with the creationist apologetic but the very fact that you use that term rather than intelligent design makes me think your experience may have been with the old school, arguing for a 10,000 year old earth, etc.

    • Hi Ken, I actually did do my fair share of studying in intelligent design, rather than creationism. For the sake of our conversation we focused on creationism because that was the key term being used in the debate that prompted this topic, at least I think that is why we used it. As for Behe’s book, I haven’t read the whole thing, but I have read bits and pieces. From what I have heard from the only scientists I know (both Christian and non) these arguments are all quite old now and doesn’t hold a candle to recent evidence for evolution. That being said, I personally can see how intelligent design could be plausible. At this point I don’t particularly care to take a side in the debate because I think it’s really helped to solidify Christians as “anti-science” in the science community. And since I don’t actually know anything from science (at least not first hand) it seems prudent to leave the debate to people who do.

  3. I think that the point about it not being really essential is key. There is SO much about the world (both scientific and theological) that I don’t understand that the thought of aggressively alienating people because “they’re wrong” seems like a waste of time and love. Whichever way- it’s not going to essentially transform my concept of God and my duty to Him. Therefore, have at it- as long as it’s focused on learning and not fear of being caught out.

  4. “a waste of time and love” — I like that phrase.

    For those of us raised with Ken Ham, I feel like we should make Bingo cards with Hamisms. Does anyone know if/where video/audio recordings will be posted to the interwebs?

  5. Of late I have mostly been thinking that I can’t really understand the harm in a creationist viewpoint. As Nye says, we need engineers that can build stuff and solve problems. Is there really any evidence that creationists can’t do that?

    • In part, I imagine it’s the general principle of denying scientific evidence consensus in favor of deeply-held cultural values that Nye anticipates will be unhealthy for future generations. I don’t know that there’s evidence creationists can’t do that, but in searching for the truth, I think there has to be an assumption that what we previously held to be true could be wrong. Trying to twist evidence to conform to the viewpoint we like best won’t bring us closer to the truth. At least, that’s the idea.

    • My first instinct would be to say no, your beliefs about the origins of life on this planet have no impact on your ability to build a bridge. However, one could argue that a.) creationists have demonstrated an ability to ignore evidence that does not fit with their preconceived notions of the universe, which would interfere with their general problem-solving skills. Of course, creationists would also say the same thing about evolutionists.

      My second thought, and I think that this is much more relevant to what Bill Nye was talking about, is that belief in creationism (particularly young earth creationism–which is NOT a small group relative to the number of creationists total) typically correlates with strong distrust of the scientific establishment, which usually means that their kids aren’t going to become one of those lying scientists. I would argue that this is a result of the false science vs. theology dichotomy, but that’s another topic. The point is, this IS a major problem, because they don’t pursue/engage in scientific training which results in a.) less scientists and b.) a less scientifically-literate population. A.) is a problem because we have massive scientific problems that are becoming increasingly urgent, especially as we transition into the post-antibiotic age, and we need people that can solve them. B.) is also a problem as we need both a public and policymakers that can make informed decisions regarding the discoveries we make.

      • My knee-jerk reaction is the same – whether or not you believe evolution is true doesn’t impact your ability to be an informed and intelligent member of society. I agree. But if it’s okay to just disregard scientific consensus, I think there are some big implications. Like disregarding things like climate change or child vaccinations, like oh maybe it’s real maybe it isn’t. Who can really say. There are two sides to this issue and both should be taught.

  6. Evolution does not make any sense to me. Creation makes sense to me.

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