Sunday, September 14, 2008

Creationist Shindig - Postgame Report

I'm not about to document all the atrocities against science and informed thought at the Creationist talk I attended this past Friday. In such a setting, the creationist is nearly always at an advantage - they have their well-honed lies and practiced rhetorical tricks, while any skeptic in the audience is hobbled by not having a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the facts.

The talk itself began by conflating Dawkin's strident atheism with the entire field of evolutionary study. He then proceeded to misrepresent natural selection, classical Darwinism, and the Modern Synthesis, all the while referring to the field as "Darwinism". (When questioned about this, he insisted that this was because the media refers to it as such, when in fact the media does such because that's the term the creationists use.) He brought up Panspermia and some crackpots to muddy the waters further, and disparaged the entire field of Geochronology (which made me wish that I had my geology grad student acquaintance with me...). He then trotted out a long list of "problems" with evolution, most of which are not problems at all, and then listed some bible verses aimed at asserting God's hand in Creation rather than denying evolution, all before wraping up with another reference to Dawkins' atheism by transposing it onto the entire biological community.

In all, the talk served to confuse the issue of what evolution really is about, what it actually says, and its history, as well as to construe it as a threat to theism in general when such is not the case. If I wanted, I could reply to the whole thing with a string of citations of the Index to Creationist Claims.

Following the talk was a question and answer session, and John's experience with such things became readily apparent. Question time was limited, supposedly because he gets tired of talking, but more likely because he is unwilling to deal with critical questions from the audience for an extended period of time. He is not interested in debating. Anyone attempting to question him in the future is advised to have a single good question thought out in advance, and to be a lot less confrontational about it than I was. Also, having a laptop with wifi internet access is also a good idea, so that one can access Google and the Index while the talk is going on. Had I been so prepared, I could have looked up and questioned John about Uranium-Lead dating, which is used to date things older than 1 million years old and which he completely skipped over in his talk.

In future, the best way to undermine him may be philosophical. He divides the "possible" views on the issue into three: Biblical Literalists, those who aren't-quite-so-literal, and those who believe what science says on the subject. In doing so, he supports the false dichotomy between evolution and Christian faith. Pointing out that there is really a continuum between pure atheistic support of science and literal creationism while also noting that Dawkins' views are not representative of science as a whole may do more to limit John Bilello's effectiveness than any nitpicking over details.

On a related note, I have heard that there's a Young Earth Creationist giving a talk tomorrow evening. I did not get the details, though, since I will be unable to attend. (I have a tonsillectomy scheduled for tomorrow and I doubt I will be up for much beyond drinking gatorade.) If anyone decides to go I would be happy to hear about it, though.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking one for the team, man. Hope that your surgery went well.

Narc said...

Thanks for reporting what went on.

The Squire said...

No problem - I just wish I could've gone to the talk on Monday too. That would've been a lot more fun to mess with him.