From Roland J. Watts, posting to FaceBook

Gidday Bill,

Have you read any of Ken Ham’s little book “The Lie: evolution” (my copy, first Australian printing, 2001)? Presuming Ham still thinks along such lines, it might be worth a read. In it you will find many arguments articulated by creationists across various forums.

One argument is that evolution cannot be science because “You were not there to observe” or “The past is unobservable”.

I often find this one countered by pointing out that no creationist was there to observe:-

1) any text of the Bible being written to ensure that God had a hand in its authorship;
2) that Moses wrote Genesis;
3) that he based his writing on anything he saw or heard;
4) that he recorded anything real and did so with 100% accuracy.

The above all happened in the unobservable past.

Besides, even creationists tacitly acknowledge that their argument makes no sense when they claim to accept as scientific, ideas such as the domestic dog deriving from the wolf, and when they claim to accept microevolution. This is all in the unobservable past. Ditto to the concept of a fossil. That a fossil constitutes the remains of an organism that once lived and died is equally unobserved, given that this was all in the unobservable past.

And creationists generally don’t seem to find unscientific, ideas about unobserved processes and structures in existence now, for example the earth’s semi molten core, the generation of light at the sun’s unobservable core etc. No one can be there to observe.

No grumbles are heard about how unscientific the idea of Copernicus was, given that his claim that the earth orbited the sun had no hope of being observed until the invention of satellites, some 400 years later. At best, all scientists could do is observe data and infer that Copernicus was correct.

Creationists often assert “same data different interpretation”. Hence it can be legitimately claimed that the Bible was written by space aliens. Same data, different interpretation. Or it can be pointed out that the claim that fossils are the remains of once live animals can equally be considered to be things Satan put there to deceive us, or things put there by God to test our faith. Again, same data different interpretation. It’s just as likely that the earth rests on a series of turtles, resting on an elephant as it is that God hung the earth in space. Same data different interpretation.

Creationists will sometimes claim that evolution is just “random chance” in action, often with the insinuation that the process is random chance acting out on inert matter. Point out that because genetics is at the basis of the mechanism of evolution then there is more than just random chance to the process. Genes and proteins are chemicals and chemicals obey the laws and processes of chemistry. Matter at the level of the atom or the molecule is not inert. It’s constantly in motion. It has electrical charge. It has underlying laws. And if Darwin’s and Wallace’s ideas about the process are correct, then natural selection itself certainly takes evolution well beyond just random chance. Random chance on inert matter would do very little at best and nothing at worst. It’s not the evolution that scientists study. Randomness plays an important role in nature, e.g. chemical reactions, atmospheric dynamics etc, but even in these areas it is not the only thing operating. And so it is with evolution.

Random chance (on inert matter) is not even suggested as the only thing underpinning abiogenesis (the origin of life). Physical and chemical laws also underpin our understandings of this, even though we do not yet have a workable theory as to how life originated by natural process. Only in the minds of creationists is the abiogenesis studied by scientists one of random chance.

If links are made between Darwin and eugenics, then one can legitimately make links between Newton and the deaths of tens of millions of folk across the world, ever since his theories began to be used to launch artillery shells and bombs. I believe that creationists think Newton to be a preeminent creation scientist, yet going by how Darwin’s ideas are abused by creationists, then Newton was little more than a killer.

If it is claimed that the theory of evolution has no practical use, unlike Newton’s ideas about gravity, then point out that these days, engineers are using mutation+selection in genetic or evolutionary algorithms to help solve design problems, problems that are too complex for human intelligent designers to work out.

Should it be asserted that evolution is about death, (another claim seen from time to time), remind him that evolution is about birth, life, competition, cooperation. It is about much more than just death. It is also about life. Creationists who argue this way really do need to read up on the theory and understand what it argues and why it argues the way it does.

If it is said that because Genesis asserts creation in six days then so it was, point out that the Bible equally proves modern meteorological and embryological theory to be wrong. Job 37:6, Job 37:10, Job 37:12, Psalms 107:25, Nahum 1:3-4, and Zechariah 10:1 all show that God makes the daily weather. Natural process has nothing to do with it. Rain and snow fall because God commands it, and nowhere does the Bible state that a force due to gravity does this. Psalms 139:13, Ecclesiastes 11:5 and Isaiah 44:24 all show that modern embryological theory is false because God makes babies and we have no idea how babies are made. Well scientists think that we do have some ideas at least.

If it is objected that many of the above verses are poetry, not history (= fact in the creationist mind?), then ask when it has necessarily been so that history is truth and poetry is lie.

And of course, there is Biblical “proof” that the sun orbits the earth as some YECs continue to maintain. If it is in the Bible, then who is any creationist to call geocentricism “bunk”?

If you consider the above in the light of creationist claims against theistic evolutionists, then you will find that creationists themselves are often great accomodationalists, very keen to trust the word of fallible humans above the word of the Bible, a charge they are too often prepared to hurl at other Christians. It all depends on what verses they choose to cherry pick with the insinuation that God agrees with their pickings.

When creationists claim that evolution is about the untestable past, then it should be simple to point them to the following kinds of papers showing how ideas about the past are tested (just like forensic science does things):-

History of Studies on Mammalian Middle Ear Evolution: A Comparative Morphological and Developmental Biology Perspective
http://www.cdb.riken.jp/emo/pub/pdf/Takechi_10314.pdf

Embryology of the lamprey and evolution of the vertebrate jaw: insights from molecular and developmental perspectives
http://www.cdb.riken.jp/emo/old-japanese/pubj/pdfj02/kuratani_01356.pdf

Then there is this kind of thing, testing the underlying mechanism of evolution:-

Genomic Analysis of a Key Innovation in an Experimental E. coli Population
http://europepmc.org/articles/PMC3461117

Technical stuff. But they are papers published in scientific journals and they do show how evidence for evolution is collected and used and how evolutionary claims are tested. There is nothing different to how evolution is studied any more so than how the earth’s unobservable core is studied, how the sun’s unobservable core is studied, how unobservable (always in the past) microevolution is studied, how unobservable quarks are studied, and so on.

And there is the old workhorse that has been around for some years now, Douglas Theobald’s:-

29+ Evidences for MacroevolutionThe Scientific Case for Common Descent
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/

It will be interesting to see if your debate actually is about creationism. For many creationists, it seems to be that the “proof” of creationism is made by arguing that because evolution is all bunk then clearly there is only one alternative - God did it as per the Bible. So naturally, a set of false claims about evolution are offered as evidence that creationism must be true. Discussing creationism itself is almost always avoided.

All the above leads one to consider the issue raised by creationist distortions about what the theory of evolution claims and why it claims these things. If it really is so that God is omnipotent and perfect and is pure truth and justice and that creationists, having an intimate relationship with him are guided by him, then why do these folk need to distort what we think and why we think it? How can that be Godly? Why would a God of pure truth and justice lead his followers down such a path?

Even if the theory were false, misrepresenting what we think about it, surely cannot be a Godly thing to do.

I posted something akin to this on Ken’s Facebook page yesterday. It was addressed to Ham specifically, was much shorter, raised fewer points, and was worded differently. However it seems to have been pulled down a few hours after posting. I could be wrong, but cannot find the posting anywhere.

Such is the way with many creationists sites I find.
"G" posting @
http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2013/10/02/pro-tip-for-science-denialist-how-to-win-a-debate-with-a-scientist/
In summary, “attack wins, explaining loses.” This runs counter to our rationalist beliefs, as does “emotions determine behavior,” but this is how the vast majority of humans’ minds work.
The game can also be played in the opposite direction, with devastating results.
Get your troll to start “explaining” one of their points. Pepper them with questions. Use emotional indicators such as sighs and yawns to belittle their explanations. Use logical double-binds, and reductio-ad-absurdums carefully applied. There comes a point where your questions can become overtly rhetorical but the troll will react to them anyway. Ideal case, get the troll to over-react and crash his/her/its own credibility.
The real battle is not fought and won on the level of facts and reason, it’s fought and won (or lost) on the level of emotions. Internalize that point ,or at least use it as a working hypothesis, and you start winning.
Modest proposal: Graduate-level science education needs to include training in practical social psychology and in rhetorical techniques & tactics. Otherwise most working scientists who venture into the realm of public debate will be eaten like Bambi stumbling into a den of hyenas.