SLANTED: The palpable Christian literalist bias at the Whitby “Decide for Yourself” religion debates
In this post I will give a general overview of the slanting that I observed during the portion of the Decide for Yourself War of the Worldviews event in Whitby, Ontario this weekend. I will also comment briefly on Frank Sherwin’s presentation. Finally, I will cite the most ridiculous comment I heard during my time at the event. Unfortunately, I was only present for the atheism – Christianity debate and for about 60% of Frank Sherwin’s presentation entitled “Refuting Macro-evolution”. I wanted to stay for all of Saturday’s events but those that I had come with were all leaving, in many cases because they were fed up with the slanting. In a subsequent post either today or tomorrow I will review the atheist-Christianity debate between Christopher DiCarlo and Dave Hunt, and will begin an ongoing project of posting on areas of contention between creationism and evolution.
Christian Literalist Bias
First off, I was quite disappointed with the Christian literalist bias that permeated the Whitby religion debates yesterday. As I mentioned in my post advertising this event, this event was run by a Christian literalist at a Catholic school with a Christian apologist, Michael Coren, as moderator. But that’s not where the slanting ended. To begin with, the Christian literalist event organizer, Paul MacGregor, stated in his opening remarks on Saturday that in staging this event one of the main intents was to expose people to Christianity.
There was also a bias in how the supposed event rules were being applied. On Friday one of the humanist attendees, Terry Price who was representing the Humanist Association of Canada, was handing out pamphlets on humanism. He was asked to stop by one of the (Christian literalist) event organizers, which he did because he did not have a table at the event; the rule, according to the organizer, was that only those with a table could pass out pamphlets. Then the next day Price observed a Christian literalist who did not have a table passing out pamphlets. Price consequently approached one of the organizers to inform him of this. I am told that the organizer’s response was effectively “so what?”, indicating that he had no idea of any rule against it. So Price told him what he had been told the evening before regarding policy on the handing out of pamphlets. So the organizer took a look at the small pamphlet and said that it was okay because it was just a business card. It was not a business card. It may have been a smaller pamphlet, but it was absolutely a pamphlet. It was filled with anti-evolution declarations and biblical citations spread across 6 small pages. And not only was this “gentleman” handing out these pamphlets, he was witnessed attempting to force them upon people. There were some people who declined to take one and he pressured them to take it. He even spread a bunch of them across the humanist booth even though he knew that this was not wanted. Any repercussions? Not to my knowledge. I wonder what might have happened if the humanists had begun doing these things. Not only handing out pamphlets but not taking no for an answer, and spreading them against the Institute for Creation Research table even though it was unwelcome. I’m sure that would have gone over very well.
Note: Terry also wrote a review of his experiences of this event which I have re-presented here. It is well worth a read. There was much that Terry reports on that I did not observe. His experience of the event as well as that of Justin Trottier, Director of Centre for Inquiry Ontario, were much worse than mine.
Instances of Potential Bias
In addition to the clear cut slanting just described, there were a number of sources of potential bias. First off, the question-answer format. Rather than being able to go up to a microphone to ask questions to the speakers, audience members were made to submit their questions on pieces of paper to who else but the Christian literalist organizer, Paul MacGregor. Now, I know for a fact that not all questions were asked because I submitted a Christian person’s questions for him (his questions, by the way, were “Why don’t humans have tails?” and “When did the first fish become human?”). But given that only one person, a Christian literalist who up front said his intent in this event was to expose people to Christianity, is reviewing the questions, and given the aforementioned self-evident slanting, I am somewhat wary.
Secondly, in the Chris DiCarlo vs. Dave Hunt atheism – Christianity debate, DiCarlo was blind-sided by an unconventional debate format arrangement. The format of the debate had been that Hunt speaks first, DiCarlo speaks second. So first Hunt then DiCarlo gives an opening 40-minute presentation, than each has 15 minutes rebuttal time, then each as 5 minutes to give final rebuttals and last words. At the end of the 15 minute rebuttal period DiCarlo was told that he would give his 5 minute final rebuttals and last words right away. The reason being that up until that point he had had the opportunity to speak second, and thus could respond to what Hunt had just said – an advantage. In order to make things fair, they arranged that Hunt would be given the last word over all. I suppose that is reasonable. There are advantages to speaking second. However, one could argue that there is also an advantage to speaking first in that Hunt had the opportunity to set the initial audience framing of the debate. But all that aside, lets say that it was fair and reasonable to arrange things as they were arranged. Why was DiCarlo the last person to find out? The event organizer, moderator and Dave Hunt all knew that this was how the debate would go before hand; DiCarlo found out as he was sitting down after giving his 15 minute rebuttal. Why was DiCarlo not informed of this before the debate as was everyone else? Secondly, what exactly was he going to rebut in his final rebuttal? Himself?
The last instance of bias I will discuss was not the fault of the organizers. Here, I am not in anyway criticizing the organizers. However, despite the lack of intent, the effect was a biased presentation. In the discussion on evolution, we heard from Frank Sherwin of the Institute for Creation Research. Sherwin and his organization are Young Earth Creationists who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, including a literal belief in the great flood. The problem is that he spoke unopposed. There was no evolutionary biologist to counter his claims. This, however, was not the fault of the organizers. They did make efforts to have a PhD evolutionist speak, but the invited speaker backed out a month ago. It is true that creationists sometimes do have trouble getting evolutionists to debate them. Why? Because evolutionists do not want to enter into a disingenuously titled “science” debate and they do not want to help create the illusion of credibility for creationism. Creationists, of course, frame this as being an instance of fear. And really, who can blame them? I personally am on the fence, but lean toward having the expert evolutionists debate them. Sure by doing so the unintended consequences may include creating publicity for creationism, the illusion of creationist credibility, and the illusion that there is a legitimate scientific debate. But unintended consequences of not debating them is allowing the creationist to misrepresent science and evolution in favour of creationism without being called on it, and the establishment of the illusion of evolutionist fear, of weakness of evolution, and dogmatism are created. Moreover, the scientist fore-gos the opportunity to help educate members of the public on what evolution and science are, and that creationism is not a scientific project but a social-political project of the Christian right. If scientists are reluctant to give an air of credibility to creationism, then participate in the debate but open the debate with a statement that creationism is not science, there is no scientific debate, that the grand majority of the scientific community (including the majority of religious scientists) oppose creationism and view it as nothing more than a cunning attempt to misrepresent religion as non-religious secular science, that many religious communities (most notably the Catholic Church) stand in support of evolution and against Creation Science and Intelligent Design, and that the only people who side with ID Creationism are the devoutly religious.
Brief Commentary on Frank Sherwin’s Presentation “Refuting Macro-evolution”
As I only saw just over half of Sherwin’s presentation, I will present his views with some, but not extensive, commentary. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, some of my criticisms may not be fair. Since I did not see his entire presentation, he may well have addressed my criticisms; thus, it would be unfair for me to criticize him for doing (or not doing) something that he may or may not have done. Secondly, Sherwin has inspired me to investigate Creationist and ID claims in greater detail. So, today or over the next day or two I will begin an ongoing blog project in which I will post daily (or almost daily) on issues of disagreement between creationism and evolution. In so doing, I will focus on claims made specifically by Sherwin in earlier posts.
Firstly, a review of his general presentation skills. Sherwin is undeniably a good presenter. He spoke well, was funny, and regularly solicited audience participation. If one did not view what he was doing as disingenuous, they would be quite endeared by him.
So now to review some of what Sherwin said on Saturday during the first portion of his presentation.
Sherwin continually misrepresented evolution as occurring by way of random chance. Natural selection, the means by which complex functionality is said to develop across generations, is not a random process. It’s a biased probabilistic process: those features that are conducive of reproduction are more likely to go on. He also referred to the time course of evolution as being over “allegedly” millions of years, reflecting his belief in a roughly 6000 year old Earth. Further, he referred to evolution as being a discipline, not a science. He also referred to evolution and evolutionists as Darwinism and Darwinists, respectively. Darwinism is a derogatory term often used to cast evolution in the light of dogmatic religious commitment, to link it to unscientific moral philosophies tied to eugenics, to equate evolution with natural selection, as if there were no other mechanisms and to deflect attention from the evidence for the historicity of evolution, or to otherwise degrade it as being unscientific or conducive of immorality. He referred to evolution as being an unproven theory, and therefore a faith. He also went so far as to say that it is wrong to be funding the teaching evolution in public schools because children are impressionable and evolution is unscientific.
Sherwin said that there are only two potentially viable origin models:
I create myself (evolution); his way of illustrating this is by asking if a car could create itself.
I was created (in God’s image)
No other options, including theistic evolution
Sherwin stated that he has no problem with micro-evolution, or small changes across generations within a species. He says that some creationists refer to micro-evolution as Creationist Adaptations. His problem is with Macro-evolution, or the large scale transition between species. As Sherwin put it, in the creationist view “Roses have always been roses, and dogs have always been dogs”. Sherwin asserts that many leading atheist scientists also contend that small change via natural selection cannot generate macro-evolutionary transitions. He argued that there is no evidence for a beneficial mutation ever having arisen that could result in turning fish into humans— and that isn’t a deceitful caricature of evolution, is it? He also says that there is an absence of transitional fossils in the archaeological record; according to the fossil record, new species apparently just pop into existence in complete new-species form. Further, he cites clams as being found all through the strata — bottom, middle, and top. Clams have always been clams. Sherwin also referenced Tiktaalik, the fish with foot-like extremities that has been touted as a possible evolutionary link between water and land-dwellers. He cites a few evolutionists at Cambridge and Upsalla University in Sweden who view Tiktaalik as not being the link between fish and land-dwellers, but said it appears to be a short-lived “experiment”. He failed to acknowledge that the finding of a fish with feet (the reference of the Darwin fish) was found in a geographic and strata location predicted by evolutionary biology. He also claimed that the famous case of the peppered moths is no longer evidence for evolution (I don’t think the peppered moth case was ever an example of macro-evolution, but it could have been a first step toward the development of a new species by virtue of resulting in geographical separation of light and dark coloured moths).
Sherwin poked fun at the notion of something coming from nothing. He referred to the claim of “change through time” as a copout, as lots of things change through time (e.g., a developing organism). He also says that we know of no cases of abiogenesis (i.e., the emergence of life from non-life). He spoke at some length about Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” not addressing the origin of species. I found it befuddling that Sherwin gave his presentation under the implicit assumption that evolutionary biology has not progressed since Darwin’s pioneering publication. Well, that’s not quite true. He would readily cite newer research when it could be presented as opposing his strawman of evolutionary biology.
Sherwin referenced long-time atheist philosopher Antony Flew’s conversion. Many creationists portray Flew as having become a creationist. DiCarlo, in his presentation, argued that Flew converted to deism. Flew, according to DiCarlo, came to believe that an intelligent force is needed, but that’s it; Flew does not believe in any particular religion, nor does he believe that the intelligent force necessarily gives a hoot about humanity one way or the other.
That wraps up my review of what I saw of Sherwin. As mentioned above, starting either later today or (and most likely) in the next day or two, I will begin an ongoing series of posts on areas of contention between creationists and evolutionists. So stay tuned for that.
The Most Ridiculous Comment of the Day goes to: Frank Sherwin
I heard a number of pretty uninformed comments and questions on Saturday. These included statements that believing in evolution requires more faith than believing in God (and the Christian God in particular), and questions such as “Why don’t all humans have tails?” (yes, all, not any, all), and “When did the first fish give rise to the first human?”. But I can be almost certain that nothing I heard even approached the absurdity of this question posed by Frank Sherwin during his presentation:
If Darwinists are so confident in macro-evolution, then why don’t we see any of them lining up to be subjected to high doses of x-ray radiation? Shouldn’t they want to help accelerate the evolution of the human species?
Wow. I do not know of any words that fully reflect the sheer the stupidity and ignorance of this comment. I don’t know about any of you, but I’m pretty sure that I care more about staying alive and free from discomfort myself than testing to see if I just might be a genetic mutant that can help begin the million year process of the evolution of radiation-tolerance in human progeny. And I’m pretty sure my kin and any sensible individual would side with me on this, as I would with them. Sherwin appears to be feigning ignorance of one of the foundational tenets of evolution: individuals and kin groups are driven to propagate their own genes far more so than they are driven to preserve the species. To risk killing oneself on the off-chance that one might possess a rare mutation is just stupid, both evolutionarily and in terms of general human experience.
Up Coming Posts
Check back for posts on DiCarlo vs. Hunt and on issues of contention between evolutionists and creationists. If we are to listen to the grand majority of scientists as well as a great many religious organizations, one expects that these areas of contention are not at all based on genuine scientific discrepancies, but by the religious convictions of creationists. As I submitted yesterday as a question to Frank Sherwin: If evolution is so weak then why are opponents of evolution always devout religionists? If evolution is so weak, then where are the anti-evolutionist religious moderates, agnostics and atheists? Why does one need the ulterior motivation of fervent religious conviction to see such weakness?