Debating Evolution vs Creationism

You’d suppose that on the issue of Evolution vs Creationism, where the evidence is stacked so high on the side of Evolution, it would be impossible for a Creationist to win a public debate. How wrong you’d be! Watch this video of Kent Hovind easily wiping the floor with Michael Shermer!

Now, I’m not saying Hovind is right – he obviously isn’t. But if I was sitting in that auditorium, undecided (and hence uneducated) on this issue and science in general, I’m pretty sure I’d leave with the impression that the Creationists do at least have a pretty strong case.

How does he do it?

First, he devotes practically all of his time making a case against Evolution, making it appear as if Evolution was wrong, the only other possible explanation for the formation of life was Creationism. The only time he does make a scientifically-sounding case for Creationism, it is logically flawed (I’ll go into the details below), but it sounds good enough for the lay audience to buy it.

In making the case against Evolution he brings up so many issues that it is impossible for Shermer to explain them, leaving the impression that he doesn’t have an answer to them, while in reality, there are perfectly good explanations for all of them.

He’s extremely well prepared and has a well sounding, often humorous, answer to everything. For nearly every point Shermer makes Hovind has a slide seemingly rebutting it, as if he knew everything Shermer was going to say a week before the lecture. And in the end, he did! Hovind has been at this for decades and has heard pretty much all the arguments for Evolution there are, and has had plenty of time to prepare slides for every single one of them.

When he does make points, he often (knowingly, I assume – he’s not stupid) commits logical fallacies, hoping the audience won’t catch them. Probably the most severe ones can be seen when he does present his one case for Creationism, where he makes “predictions” based on the creation story in the Bible (starting at 30 minutes). He starts with the assumption that the Bible is literally true. Then he picks a few verses and predicts (not explaining how he arrives at those predictions) a few things. Only he doesn’t predict anything! Some of the things he seems to predict were already known before he made his predictions, so they don’t count. The others are too vague or metaphysical, so they can’t be verified, like the “prediction” that there is a purpose to life. How can you test that? His most outrageous prediction is prediction 6, in which he “predicts” the presence of the Bible.

And quite often, he just makes things up, i.e., he lies. When he talks about the Miller-Urey experiment (at about 1:24), which demonstrated that amino acids could form in the early atmosphere, he raises the point that they excluded oxygen, because they knew it would “oxidize whatever tries to get together”. Actually, they excluded oxygen because there was no oxygen in the early atmosphere, which I’m sure Hovind knows, as does Shermer. The audience, however, doesn’t. At another point (at about 36 minutes) he claims that cosmology (which he lumps in with Evolution) has a chicken-and-egg problem with “chemical evolution”, because elements are formed in stars and stars consist of elements, even though he himself explained before that, according to the Big Bang theory, hydrogen and helium (the only elements needed for star formation) were created shortly after the Big Bang, without stars. He also asserts that elements do not fuse beyond iron, which is not true, either – fusion of very heavy elements just needs more energy and happens in supernovae. Again, the audience does not know that, so he can get away with it easily.

What’s the moral of the story? I suppose it’s that it’s no use debating science vs pseudo-science in front of an uneducated audience.

Instead, if you want to make someone like Hovind look really stupid, you need Ali G

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Clickr 0.2

I’ve just released version 0.2 of Clickr, my Common Lisp bindings to the Flickr API, which can be downloaded here.

There isn’t really much new stuff in there. The biggest thing is probably that it’s now an ASDF package, which isn’t even my contribution, but Jeremy English’s. Another change is that the API key isn’t global anymore, which would be a bigger deal if it meant that Clickr allowed multiple Flickr API sessions simultaneously, which it doesn’t. Maybe in the future…