Why Creationists Win Evolution Debates

Creationists win most evolution debates, but it's not because there's good evidence for their side.

I want to prove this to you below, where I have embedded a video in which Ben Waggoner turned the tables on anti-evolutionist Kent Hovind. He put the evolution side in the seat that the creation side is normally in.

Creationists and Scientists

I don't like using the term "creationist" to refer to those who oppose evolution. I am a creationist, and I don't oppose evolution.

In the same way, it's tempting to use "scientist" to refer only to the scientists who accept that life evolved. Of course, we all know there are some scientists who don't believe life evolved, just as we know that there are plenty of creationists who believe it did.

For this page, however, it seemed impossible to avoid using "creationist" and "anti-evolutionist" interchangeably. Therefore, on this page, "creationist" means a Christian who opposes evolution.

Typically, what happens in a creationism vs. evolution debate is that the evolutionist presents a sweeping case for evolution. The theory of evolution is the result of a conglomeration of evidence from all fields of science. The evidence is overwhelming because it is so consistent, but it is hard to present in a debate just because it is so overwhelming and so interlinked.

The creationist has no such huge task. He need simply trip up the evolutionist. Since he doesn't have to make a sweeping case, he can devote his time to throwing out this tidbit or that tidbit, and those tidbits need only seem to make the evolutionist stumble. Thus, well-prepared creationists, like Kent Hovind or Ken Ham, show up with a long list of bits of misinformation, misquotes, and outright falsehoods that serve the purpose of stopping the evolutionist and making him explain.

Complete falsehoods work best of all. If the creationist has invented a bit of scientific evidence that really doesn't exist, how will the evolutionist know about it, and how will he explain it?

One of Kent Hovind's invented pieces of evidence is a 70-foot tall giant plum tree supposedly found in northern Russia. A more honest researcher took the time to get a reference from Hovind, then track the reference, then track the reference given in Hovind's reference. He had to go four references deep before he found out that original find was a 20-foot alder tree, which was only notable because it was on an offshore island, a few miles further north than it is found today.

If the creationist can produce several pieces of "evidence," as dishonest as those pieces of evidence may be, and the evolutionist cannot explain them, then the creationist is sure to win the debate in the eyes of the audience. How can we believe in evolution, when there are these unexplainable tidbits of information?

Of course, in a laboratory or in the field, scientists have all the time they need to pursue the truth of these creationist claims. Over and over and over, they are proven to be inaccurate, but there is no end to the claims.

I give two recent examples of creationist dishonesty in the text boxes below the debate video. I ran across these myself. The examples are typical of everything I've found for 15 years.

If I've gained any regard as an honest man through this site or my others (Christian History for Everyman and my blog), then I ask you to believe me.

I hear creationists say all the time how they've researched the issues, and for 15 years I've been tracking down their claims without once finding one who had properly done his homework (a recent example). I've read both sides, dug deeper, and gotten to the root over and over and over again. The liars, very sadly, are the Christians. Scientists are human. They make mistakes, and some are dishonest. But the only side with a systematically dishonest and purposefully ignorant approach to the evidence is the Christian creationist side.

I hate that as much as you do, but it's true.

A scientist named Ben Waggoner, however, found a way to solve the problem. He engaged in a debate with Kent Hovind, and with a brilliant tactic, he put himself in the position of throwing out tidbits that Hovind had to explain. The result is a powerful win for the evolutionist.

Two More Examples of Creationist Dishonesty

I recently (June, 2011) attended a creationist conference in Birmingham, Alabama. Both of the follow example come from that conference.

Terry Mortenson and Whale Evolution

At the conference, Terry Mortenson of Answers in Genesis represented the young earth view. While I was there, I picked up several of their videos.

In one of them, Dr. Mortenson brings up Pakicetus, a species considered by most to be an ancestor of whales. He quotes Dr. Philip Gingerich, one of the leading experts on the evolution of whales as saying that Pakicetus is quot;an important transitional form linking Paleocene carnivorous land mammals and later, more advance marine whales."

He then shows a slide of the fossil evidence at that time, which included only parts of the skull. This is the screenshot of the slide, which is taken from the Journal of Geological Education:

Pakicetus fossil diagram

Dr. Mortenson presents this slide as though it is laughable that they built a whole species from so little in the way of fossils. He shows another slide with a drawing of Pakicetus as a dweller in shallow water that turned out to be a highly inaccurate drawing. Later findings showed Pakicetus to be a land animal.

What's dishonest about this?

Look again at the bones that were found in the diagram above. Do you notice that it includes the bones of the ear? Cetacean (whale) earbones are unique among all mammals. Consider this quote:When Gingerich looked underneath the skull, he saw ear bones. They were two shells shaped like a pair of grapes and were anchored to the skull by bones in the shape of an S. For a paleontologist like Gingrich, these ear bones were a shock. Only the ear bones of whales have such a structure; no other vertebrate possesses them. (Carl Zimmer. I'm not sure the quote is referring specifically to Pakicetus, but the point is that cetacean ear bones are unique.)

It really wasn't worth mentioning that Pakicetus has this unique ear bone structure? It wasn't worth mentioning that this explains why Dr. Gingerich was leaping to conclusions based on a jawbone and part of the skull? It wasn't worth mentioning that there is an entire lineage of fossils with this ear structure, fossils progressing in time, fossils which become more and more marine, and in which the nostrils slowly progress up the skull from its front to its top?

It wasn't worth mentioning any of this, just showing a slide giving an impression that really isn't accurate?

In the context of this page, the truth is that creationists devote their time to finding inaccurate potshots like this.

Michael Behe and Bacterial Flagellum

Having seen the video "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial," in which Behe's Bacterial Flagellum argument was torn apart by the very scientist he had quoted in support, I was shocked to hear him present the bacterial flagellum as an argument for his irreducible complexity argument. (That link will explain why the argument's been debunked.

As an aside, Michael Behe was an exceptionally charming speaker. I was astounded at how likeable he was. He also looks a lot like Richard Dreyfuss.

The next day, after a question and answer session, I listened to him talk with several men who cornered him before he left. This was a church, so most people were on his side, and even these post-session questions were polite—softballs, if you will.

Nonetheless, one of the men asked him about the fact that the bacterial flagellum isn't really irreducibly complex. There's a bacteria using only some of the proteins in the flagellum and using it to inject poison into other bacteria and cells. Thus, there is an example, in nature, of the bacterial flagellum reduced to about half its proteins, yet still usable.

It appears to me that Michael Behe is never rattled. He calmly explained that not only is the injection mechanism in the other bacteria a subset of the proteins that make up his supposedly irreducibly complex flagellum, but the bacteria with the flagellum actually uses the injection mechanism to pump the extra proteins out of itself to make the assembly that completes the flagellum.

Somehow, though, Dr. Behe managed to miss how this destroys his irreducibly complex argument. He gave two reasons that his argument still stands:

  • The injection mechanism is a different function than the flagellum
  • Evolutionists can't explain the exact evolution from no appendage at all to the injection mechanism to the flagellum.

Michael Behe
Picture by University of Maine. Used with permission.

Michael Behe

I'm not sure what to say in response to this. Like I said, Dr. Behe was really charming. I hate to charge him with dishonesty, but it's that or stupidity. Maybe there's something about being bent on an argument that makes you blind to what's being said to you. Blind seems better than dishonest or stupid.

Those arguments hold no water. The fact that the injection mechanism is a different function than the flagellum is exactly the evolutionary model. Evolution consistently uses change in function. Lungs are thought to have developed from fish's swim bladder, for example, not from their gills.

As to the second, his original argument was that the flagellum was irreducibly complex. Obviously, it's not. So now he wants to argue that the injection mechanism is irreducibly complex because science has not yet found the next link in the chain? That's not going to fly.

It's simply not true that science is some large conspiracy to prove anything at all. Evidence came in, and scientists together, with a lot of argument, worked with what the evidence says. It's clear enough that creationists aren't doing that. I hope the debate above helps give a better picture of the real case.

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There is something outrageous about such a huge body of evidence being put together, then being confirmed in all kinds of other scientific disciplines, particularly genetics, and having other people just sort of deny it for reasons that have nothing to do with truth.
– Matthew Chapman, Darwin's great-great-grandson, from the movie:

Great home school video with reenactments of the Dover trial on Intelligent Design.

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Paul Pavao and daughter Leilani

Me with my daughter, Leilani