I confess, I’d never been to a creation/evolution debate before. Oh, I read up on a few big ones, and of course I’ve done my share of arguing on the Net. And I did attend a talk, way back when, at Ottawa U, on scientific evidence of design in nature pointing to the Biblical God. I was probably still going to church at the time, and had never read any creationist literature before, but I could already tell this twisting of science, logic and Scripture, was pure crap. A few years later at SFU, I went to a couple of events organized by Out on Campus, attended by a mixed group of queers and fundy Christians: “Beyond Homophobia” (a panel discussion on gay-positive Christianity), and a talk by Marc Adams on growing up gay in a fundamentalist environment. I remember it was always so easy to tell the queers from the Xians in the audience, and not just because I knew most of the former group personally. The Xian boys were just a bit too butch, and the girls just a bit too girly. Good times, good times.
So, last night was a first for me: a real formal debate (entitled “War of the World Views”), organized by the BC Skeptics with invited speaker Richard Peachy of the Creation Science Association of BC. This organisation seems to be composed of Young-Earth creationists who believe the Bible is literally true, that the Earth was created in six days just a few thousand years ago, that there was a worldwide flood, and of course that all creatures were made in their present form and can’t change. You know, I didn’t like to believe there were any full-blown creationists in Canada. I mean, that’s a US phenomenon, and aren’t we supposed to be better than the USA? Oh, sure, we’ve got some scary-ass churches out in the boonies, and our own (imported) versions of the Christian Coalition, and Campus Crusade for Christ, and… Damn. Okay, maybe we’re not so much better.
I got there about 15 minutes early, and already the auditorium (seating maybe 400) was three-quarters full. By the time the debate started it was more than full, with a bunch of people sitting in the aisles. I had fun trying to tell the skeptics from the creationists. One guy’s t-shirt a few rows in front of me caused me a bit of confusion. It read, “And God said…” followed by Maxwell’s equations, followed by “And there was light.” Ironically nerdy, or a fundy pretending to scientific literacy? The front of the t-shirt had a wireframe representation of a Black Hole with the formula for the Schwartzchild radius, which… didn’t answer the question. Oh, well.
As expected, all the creationist side had to offer was a round of pathetic attacks on evolution: some vague soundbites about mutation and natural selection being random and destructive, plus out-of-context quotes from various evolutionary scientists (Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, Francis Crick, Martin Gardner) but no creation scientists. No positive evidence for creationism was presented, except lots of Bible verses. And it was pretty clear Peachy’s never had to debate with skeptics or scientists. All of his language, his use of the words “they” and “Evolutionists” and “Darwinists,” indicated he was only used to preaching to the choir. Later questions (mixed with some pretty heavy preaching) from creationist audience members weren’t any better, beating dead horses like polonium haloes, Darwin’s alleged racism and the perfectly fine-tuned universe… Bah. This isn’t science. It’s not even good religion. It’s nothing more than willful ignorance, and using their holy book as a security blanket against the big bad confusing world.
Scott Goodman (representing BC Skeptics) also gave an iffy presentation, though in different ways. He spoke very fast, and his tone felt a little… off-putting. I think he tried for “comedic” in a few places, but landed on “flippant, bordering on obnoxious.” Not that I’d have done much better in his place, but I had expected him to be a bit more polished since he’s dealt with creationists before. His presentation mostly discussed some general kinds of arguments used against evolutionary theory—Argument from Ignorance, Argument from Belittlement, and so on—which may not have been the best approach: skeptics would already be familiar with them, and fundies might find the whole thing condescending and tune out. He was more aware of the mixed nature of the audience, though, and made the excellent point that for most Christians, there is no conflict between their faith and science. This is something creationists need to hear, I think. Peachy said at one point, “The Bible supports ethical science for the glory of God,” or words to that effect. It’s creationists for whom this is a religious issue, it’s creationists who are on the offensive, because evolution—in their eyes—denies the glory of God.
Honestly, part of me was hoping for some crazy Xian freakshow, with brimstone and hellfire and ranting, but none of that happened. All I got was very smooth, very polite fanaticism (which actually made it even more disturbing) along with the same old arguments I’ve heard a thousand times before, from one side and the other. It was interesting to see the opposition face-to-face again after so many years, but also a bit depressing because they haven’t changed. They’re still repeating the same dogma, the same clichés, the same lies (there, I said it) and there’s no sign that’ll end anytime soon.
Did this debate accomplish anything? Well, I don’t expect any minds will be changed. Maybe it was the creationists in the audience who got the most out of it, though. I imagine it was good for them to hear some real scientific information and skeptical arguments, unfiltered by their church. Hopefully a few seeds of doubt have been planted, though it’ll probably be years (if ever) before they bear fruit. But on the bright side, if the creationists don’t listen, if they continue their crusade, at least we’ll have people like Scott Goodman and the BC Skeptics to hold the line.