email - September 2010

Discussions, Not Debates

Discussions about evolution are beneficial—debates are not. You need to know how to tell the difference.

We don’t know why, but recently we’ve been receiving a marked increase in the number of emails asking us how to win on-line debates with evolutionists. What these people don’t seem to realize is that nobody ever wins a debate on any subject. Debates are a waste of time. Discussions about evolution, on the other hand, are not. Discussions are about learning. Debates are about winning.

In a criminal trial, the prosecutor may present such a compelling argument that even the defense attorney is convinced that the defendant is guilty; but the defense attorney never says, “You’re right! Throw the book at my client!” That’s because the defense attorney isn’t seeking justice—he is seeking acquittal. It is the defense attorney’s job to win, even when the defendant is guilty. A good lawyer is one who can win a case even when he is wrong. When the truth isn’t on his side, he uses tricks to win.

We get emails from people like Phil who don’t want to discuss evolution—they just want to win a debate. We know that no matter what we respond to Phil, he will not agree because to agree is to lose.

We don’t waste our time debating people who are just debating for the sake of debating; but we do try to answer people who are genuinely seeking the truth and want to discuss the theory of evolution. We try to glean the essence of what reasonable people might really wonder about evolution, and discuss those things in our email columns.

We encourage you to discuss evolution with anyone who is interested; but don’t waste your time debating people who just enjoy arguing. To do this, you need to be able to tell the difference between people who want to discuss an issue, and people who just want to debate. We are going to use Phil’s email to show you how to tell the difference.

Portrait of a Debater

Phil is a typical debater. He has written to us six or seven times in the past year or two. We’ve never published anything he’s written to us because he’s never written anything worth printing. We almost printed his response to our Seventy-five Theses in June of 2009. But we received similar emails from Devin and Eddie almost simultaneously. Eddie’s was the best of the three, so we published Eddie’s email.

(The fact that we received three nearly identical emails regarding a year-old column within a few days of each other, and hadn’t received any other emails about that column before that time, and haven’t received any since, suggests there may have been some discussion about our Seventy-five Theses on a blog somewhere at that time, but we don’t know what it was.)

The first clue that Phil was just a debater was in the subject line of his first email to us. The subject line said, “Do you have a blog or discussion group where people can discuss your assertions?” It was clear from the body of the email that Phil simply wanted a forum where he could display his rhetorical skills. If Phil wants to debate people on whatever subject, he can buy his own website and do that. We are under no obligation to provide that opportunity to everyone who writes to us.

When we told Phil we don’t have an open blog, and don’t ever plan to, he started writing us emails attempting to draw us into a debate using typical, easily recognizable tricks.

Personal Attacks

The first trick a debater usually tries is a personal attack. Phil attacked my religion, intelligence, education, honesty, and motivation. None of those things have anything to do with whether or not the theory of evolution is true. He hoped that by attacking my credibility, he could win the argument without ever having to deal with the scientific facts that argue so strongly against the theory of evolution. He would rather argue irrelevant religious issues. Personal attacks not only change the subject, they sometimes provoke embarrassing emotional responses. That’s why we never address personal attacks; and neither should you.

Stick to the Issues

Since we didn’t take his personal attack bait, he had no choice but to try to address the issues. He wrote, “OK.  So you don't want public discussions.  Would you at least be open to correcting errors on your website if I point them out?” Our response was, “Sure.” Here’s what he wrote, in its (boring) entirety.

Hi Do-While,

Thanks for your worlds shortest email reply.

Here's something to chew on for a while.  Please respond when you get a chance.

From the “Our Theses” page:

17. If the theory of abiogenesis is false, then the theory of evolution is false.
Darwin conceded that God might have created the initial life form, and that all species evolved from it.  Since “descent with modification” only involves something to descend from, the Theory of Evolution does not address the initial life form, so they are not linked in any way.

19. There is no known way in which the first living cell could have formed naturally.
This implies that the odds are zero.  You can’t compute the odds of something happening unless you know the mechanism.  The first life form was probably not a cell, in any case.  To get to the cell stage probably involved evolution.  Since there is evidence of life on earth for 3.5 billion years, and since that life didn't fossilize well, it’s very hard to speculate what the first life looked like when looking at even the simplest bacteria. So when you look at the simplest cells today, they don’t look simple, because you’re seeing the end product.  There are many examples of proven bacterial evolution, even examples of bacteria evolving new genes that gives them an advantage.

28. There is no scientific explanation for how a single cell could or would naturally change function.
It’s been observed.  Here’s one example:   Boraas, M. E. 1983. Predator induced evolution in chemostat culture. EOS. Transactions of the American Geophysical Union. 64:1102 as summarized at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html

35. There is no satisfactory explanation how complex systems such as these could have originated by any natural process.
Maybe “no satisfactory explanation” to you, but I have read about it, so let me just say that there is a satisfactory explanation to some people.  Sponges are colonies of cells that are little different from individual cells.

41: There is no satisfactory explanation how optical elements (typically including a lens, an iris and light sensors) could have assembled themselves by any natural process.
They talk about it in an excellent booklet: Science Evolution and Creationism, from the National Academies Press.  You can download it for free (once you sign in) from: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11876

47. No mutation has ever been observed that provides a new function (sight, hearing, smell, lactation, etc.) in a living organism that did not previously have that function.
I don’t think there was ever a need for bacteria to be able to eat Nylon, since it does not occur naturally, and was invented in 1935, but bacteria have evolved the ability to break it down and “eat” it.  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nylon-eating_bacteria .  I’ve heard the argument that mutations can not add information.  The way they do this has been observed many times, including some 400+ times in our own genome.  The normal way is start with a gene, replicate it, then mutate it until it does something different.

53. Mutation and artificial selection have not been demonstrated to be sufficient to bring about new life forms from existing ones.
Google “speciation” and look at the results.  There are many example of observed speciation.

54. Similarity of features is not definite proof of common ancestry.
The best proof of common ancestry is found in the genome.  It’s no accident that species that are more closely related have more working genes that are identical, and more non-working genes that share the same exact mutations.

58. There is disagreement about hominid lineage because the “evidence” is meager and highly speculative.
Not when you look in the genes.  Please read the book: The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Francis Collins, who happens to be a Christian, but also believes in Evolution.

61. Explanations for how apelike creatures evolved into humans are fanciful speculations without experimental confirmation.
Not when you look at the genes.  There is another book that’s good: Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA

63. There is no evidence to suggest that mental exercises performed by parents will increase the brain size of their children.
I think this is where you show that you don’t understand about evolution.  Your statement is true, but misses the point.  The species didn’t get smarter because the parents wanted their kids to grow up to be doctors.  The species got smarter because individuals that were smarter had some advantage over the dumber ones.  And since hominids are slow and weak compared to many predators, they needed all the advantages they could get.  If the smart sibling survived and had more descendants (some of which inherited its smartness) than the dumb sibling, then this would drive the species to be smarter.

65. There is no evidence that if apelike creatures sometimes stand upright to see over tall grasses, it will make it easier for their children to stand upright.
True, but if the tall sibling that could stand and walk upright increased it’s survival rate, even by a small fraction, and that characteristic was passed on to it’s decedents, then the natural selection process would make the species taller and more upright.

66. Sedimentary layers are formed in modern times by such things as floods, mudslides, and sandstorms.
Yes, those layers can happen quickly.  On the other hand, salt layers happen today also, but very slowly, when an inland sea dries up.  Limestone and chalk, by their nature, have to be formed slowly.

68. The concept of geologic ages is based upon the evolutionary assumption that the kinds of fossils buried in sedimentary layers are determined by time rather than location
Wait a minute.  Doesn’t it take both?  I don’t know where you’re going with this point; but I don’t like it.  A layer’s age can be calibrated by radiological dating and unique occurrences like mass extinctions, or the KT Iridium rich layer (which only occurred once).  If you think that the Flood caused the geologic column, then how do you explain species sorting, with the more primitive species on the bottom, and modern species on top?

70. Radiometric dating depends upon assumptions that cannot be verified about the initial concentrations of elements.
When multiple isotopes with different decay rates are measured together, and they all point to the same initial starting point, more than just speculation is involved.  As far as C14 dating, there are continuous overlapping tree ring samples that calibrate the dating, so for dating up to about 10,000 years, C14 is pretty accurate.

71. Radiometric dating of rocks brought back from the Moon is not a reliable method of determining the age of the Earth.
It’s plenty good enough if you just want to prove the earth is older than 10,000 years.  In any case, there is good evidence about how the moon formed by a planetoid striking the earth.  If that’s the case, then you can safely say that the moon is younger than the earth.

75. Public schools should not teach any fanciful speculation that is inconsistent with experimentally verified laws as if it were true.
I agree, but most scientists (95% +), would say that the Theory of Evolution is well supported by the facts, including experiments.

BTW, would you consider yourself a Young Earth Creationist, or Intelligent Design’er, or what?

Regards,
Phil

There is nothing here that we haven’t addressed many times before. That’s another problem with debates—both sides keep saying the same thing over and over, only louder each time. It gets boring in a hurry. Therefore, we will comment on the debating techniques more than the content.

Redefining the Debate

The first thing Phil tried to do was to try to redefine the debate. The evidence against the natural, spontaneous origin of life (abiogenesis) is overwhelming. Therefore, Phil tried to declare it out-of-bounds. But without abiogenesis, the theory of evolution is (literally) a non-starter. Open any biology textbook and turn to the section on evolution. You will see that the textbooks always begin that section with a discussion of abiogenesis. The spontaneous origin of life really is part of the curriculum, even though evolutionists try to insist that it isn’t.

Confusion of Terms

Evolutionists often try to win debates by intentionally confusing microevolution (variation of a species through loss of genetic information) with macroevolution (origination of a new phylum, class, or family through the spontaneous addition of genetic information). They like to avoid the terms “microevolution” and “macroevolution” and refer to both as “evolution.” Microevolution is an observable, repeatable scientific phenomenon about which there is no disagreement. Macroevolution is a controversial hypothetical process which has never been observed in nature or in the laboratory. Evolutionists like to say evolution has been observed (meaning “microevolution has been observed”) as proof of the theory of evolution (implying “macroevolution has been observed”).

When someone correctly points out that microevolution is being confused with macroevolution, the evolutionist generally tries to claim that, given enough time, microevolution becomes macroevolution (as if one can gain information by losing more and more information). This fools some people because “micro” means “a little” and “macro” means “a lot.”

The confusion of terms has to be subtle to work. We hope you can see that Phil intentionally confused “speciation” with “evolution.” Yes, speciation does occur; but evolution doesn’t.

Phil also tried to compare a colony of sponges with the evolution of single-celled animals to multi-celled animals. They are similar, but completely different. He hoped you would not notice.

Ignorance of Details

Phil also tried to use the argument from ignorance. (That argument is basically, “Just because we don’t know how it happened doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”)

Our theses enumerated many things that evolutionists claim must be true, but scientists can’t explain how they happened. For example, nobody knows how vision or digestion evolved. Some people have speculated about how these things might have happened, but those speculations are based on unreasonable assumptions and have never been proved in the laboratory.

Phil is convinced vision and digestion did evolve, somehow. He thinks people evolved from apes, somehow. But he has no proof.

The point of our Seventy-five Theses is that evolutionists have to believe so many fantastic things happened by accident. But, in Phil’s words, “You can’t compute the odds of something happening unless you know the mechanism.” Since nobody knows the mechanism, he argues that one can’t say it didn’t happen.

If you don’t know how it happened, it is unscientific to claim that it happened a certain way.

Ignorance of Other Explanations and Facts

Phil says that similar genetics is proof of common ancestry. There are two flaws in this argument.

First, similar genetics could just as easily be proof of a common designer. Phil totally ignores this other, equally likely, explanation. He hopes you will think that since he didn’t mention any other explanations, there aren’t any other explanations.

Second, some creatures that evolutionists think have common ancestry actually have significantly different genetics. He doesn’t mention that. He wants you to think that the most closely related living things always have the most closely related genetics. In some cases, they do. In other cases, they don’t. You aren’t likely to know about all the difficulties genetic studies present to evolution unless you read the scientific literature.

The genetic argument is technically poor; but the rhetorical trick is excellent. By omitting pertinent facts, one might reasonably assume that genetic similarities are the result of common ancestry, and that genetic similarities have been shown to exist. The trick works well because most people don’t know much about genetics.

This is the trick evolutionists love to use in public schools. By censoring all evidence against evolution, they make children believe that there is no evidence against evolution, so it must be true.

Prejudicial Terms

We reluctantly use the phrase “most closely related” because it is common English usage; it is really awkward to use any other phrase. What we really mean is “most physically similar.” But common English usage confuses “related” with “similar.” The underlying (but false) assumption is that the more similar living things are, the more closely they are related by ancestry. It is impossible to talk about “related species” without appearing to accept the premise of evolution from a common ancestor.

Lies Become Truth

Evolutionists, like Phil, claim that radiometric dating of rocks is accurate and consistent. Radiometric dating is neither accurate nor consistent; but the accuracy claim has been made so often that many people believe it.

Radiometric dating is based on the notion that one can tell how old a rock is by determining how much of a particular radioactive element has decayed since the rock was formed. How does one know how much has decayed? Evolutionists say it is easy. Just measure the amount of that element left in the rock today, make a wild guess about how much was there when the rock was formed, then use subtraction to find the difference. It should not be necessary to point out that the radiometric age depends entirely upon the wild guess regarding initial conditions.

Radiometric dating is so expensive that rocks usually aren’t dated more than once. If the first radiometric date confirms the evolutionist’s belief, there is no need to date it again. If the first radiometric date isn’t acceptable, the sample must have been “contaminated,” and another method is used to get the “right” answer.

The Apollo 11 moon rocks were dated by 9 different groups of highly qualified scientists. Their results were presented at the Apollo 11 Lunar Science Conference, and published in a special issue of the journal Science. Two years ago we gave you a detailed report on the results, with this summary:

Scientists computed the age of the Apollo 11 moon rocks 116 times using methods other than rubidium-strontium isochron dating. Of those 116 dates, only 10 of them fall in the range of 4.3 to 4.56 billion years, and 106 don’t. The non-isochron dates range from 40 million years to 8.2 billion years.

When faced with this obvious discrepancy, evolutionists sometimes backpedal by saying that although the radiometric dates may not be perfectly accurate, even 40 million years is much older than 6,000 years, so the radiometric ages still prove the Earth is old. That reasoning fails because the ages aren’t simply inaccurate—they are invalid. All of the ages were calculated using baseless assumptions about the initial concentrations of radioactive isotopes and erroneous speculation about how those concentrations changed over time. The calculated ages have nothing to do with how old the rocks are, and have everything to do with how much of each kind of isotope was in the rocks when they were formed. 1

We hope you will read that article in its entirety, and follow the links in it to other articles we have written regarding the unreliability of radiometric dating. Let us just add this final thought.

Suppose you went to five fortune tellers and asked them how long you would live. The first asks your birthday and uses astrology to tell you that you will live to be 84. The second uses a Ouija Board that says you will live to be 72. Another reads the tea leaves, which says you will live to be 107. The Tarot Cards say you will live to be 99. A palm reader says you will live to be 93. Since the lines on your hand are the most closely associated with your general health, it must be the most accurate indication of how long you will live. Therefore, you will live to be 93. The fact that the ages range from 72 to 107 proves you won’t die in your 30’s.

It is silly to think that just because five bogus methods of predicting how long you will live (which don’t exactly agree) are accurate indications of your life expectancy. It is just as silly to think that bogus radiometric dating schemes (which don’t exactly agree) are accurate indications of how long it has been since rocks formed. But Phil said the Apollo 11 data is “plenty good enough if you just want to prove the earth is older than 10,000 years.”

Non-existent Survey Data

Phil concluded his email by saying,

I agree, but most scientists (95% +), would say that the Theory of Evolution is well supported by the facts, including experiments.

There is no survey that says 95% of scientists believe the theory of evolution. He just pulled that number out of his rectal orifice. There aren’t any experiments that have proved macroevolution, either. Making up data is a common debate trick.

Furthermore, opinions, even expert opinions, are just opinions—not proof. Even if 95% of biology professors (who are experts when it comes to evolution) confidently say the theory of evolution is true, it would not be any more compelling than if 95% of priests, rabbis, ministers, and imams (who are experts when it comes to theology) confidently say that creation is true.

Phil’s Parting Shot

We hope you noticed that Phil ended his email with a combination of four debate tricks. He (1) made up survey data, (2) repeated the lie that evolution has been proven experimentally, (3) intentionally confused microevolution with macroevolution, and (4) tried to change the subject to my irrelevant personal religious beliefs.

We Hate to Repeat Ourselves

Most creationist and evolutionist sites just repeat the same old arguments over and over again. There’s nothing in Phil’s email that you haven’t read over and over on the major evolutionists’ sites and been refuted over and over on major creationists’ sites. That’s why we talked mostly about his tricks rather than his substance.

We prefer to address new discoveries in the scientific literature that you likely haven’t read before. So we apologize for taking this detour down well-worn paths.

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Footnotes:

1 Disclosure, June 2008, “The Age of the Moon