How NOT to argue with creationists

Friday, July 24, 2009 at 7:48 PM Bookmark and Share
I'm a big fan of Thunderf00t's work, but I'm going to bet that (like myself) he wasn't on the debate team when he was a kid. When I heard he was going to debate Ray Comfort, I had high hopes that he'd smash some of Comfort's claims regarding science and - for lack of a better term - reality. Instead, I must admit I was a bit disappointed, though it's not like there any resources available for taking religious fundamentalist to task (well, except here, here, here, here, here and probably a few other places).

While some of this is pretty painful to watch, the end has some good moments - Thunderf00t makes Ray Comfort squirm a little over evolution in parts 6 and 7, and I was a bit surprised to hear Ray says some pretty wacky things in part 8, but overall it was pretty non-productive. Anyway, on to the advice section...

So, how shouldn't you argue with creationists??
  1. Rely heavily on the assumptions that (1) a deplorable understanding of science = they can't possibly score points during debate; and (2) debating them will go a long way towards educating the public about science, logic, and critical thinking.
  2. Don't bring notes, or paper on which to take notes.
  3. Let them ask all the questions and choose all the topics, or at least most of them.
  4. If they confuse fact-based knowledge with unfounded belief, just let it go.
  5. Don't mention bananas.
  6. Don't mentioning any baseless beliefs or flawed logic that might arise, and instead explain a more general logical error in great, technical detail. This works way better than asking probing questions to point out their dubious arguments.
  7. If you're an atheist/agnostic/whatever, and they ask you why you don't believe in God, by no means turn the question around and ask them to justify why they do.
  8. Don't ask them to define terms and phrases like "moral being", "create", "soul", etc. Such details won't cause any problems later on in the debate.
  9. If they repeatedly refer to the Bible for all their knowledge, don't question it at all, and don't bring up any internal conflicts or conflicts with solid empirical evidence. Wait until the very end of the debate. This is when the audience is of course most alert, and most capable of understanding those conflicts, and how they apply to the many arguments made by your opponents over the past hour.
  10. There's no need to study up on their style of debate and favorite assertions. They'll never repeat the same dumb arguments over, and over, and over, and over again. For example, they'd never use the old watch-maker argument, false dichotomy, etc., so just don't bother.
  11. If they say "DNA is a language" agree with them (it's basically Quechua, with a hint of Dutch) since it in no way represents a large molecule that encodes information that guides the production of RNA inside the cell.
  12. When they make remarks like "So you're just electricity?" answer "Pretty much, yeah." This totally wins over their supporters in the audience, politely ignores the fact that he or she is missing your point, and it doesn't at all make you look you're not running the show.
  13. Practice by reading the Bible (preferably the version they believe in), and not resources on ways to debate creationists, or debate in general. After all, t's a pretty easy book to read, and will give you deep, deep insights into exactly how Christian fundamentalists think.
  14. Don't compare techniques used by Scientologists "to propagate their religion" to similar evangelical Christian practices... unless you do so by first offering a distracting discussion about anthropomorphizing animals, and then making up some parody of God named Todd to illustrate your point.
  15. When they ask if adultery is wrong, pause for a while before answering - it's great way to win over their supporters. By no means ignore them and continue on making your point. If that's what they wanted you to do, they would stop interrupting you.
  16. In general, let them draw you away from making a good point by asking a handful of irrelevant questions based on tricky concepts like "morality". This will ensure you don't make your point, which always puts you ahead in the debate.
  17. When you ask them to describe a basic scientific concept, like, say speciation, and they change the subject without doing so, don't bother asking them again.
  18. When they deny that man makes camcorders, let it go... After all, we can't even make sand.
  19. Don't correct them when they confuse salamanders and frogs... repeatedly. It's tricky for some people.
  20. Don't wear garments made of both wool and cotton, as it might make you sweat during the debate (oh, and because God said so).
  21. Don't make fun of them for believing in witches and wizards, it's just a common courtesy.
  22. Most important of all? Afterward, let them pay for lunch.


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