Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The JoMo Creationist Challenge, Take 2

In a posting last week, I discussed a challenge that has been made by Joseph Mastrapaolo to pretty much everyone he can find who defends evolution. After sending out this challenge and getting no response from scientists who have better things to do with their time than play JoMo’s absurd little game, the True.Origins archive predictably posted an article crowing about the lack of response and claiming that those who were challenged were “debate dodgers” who knew they couldn’t win. Here was the challenge:

1 The evolutionist puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
2 The creationist puts $10,000 in escrow with the judge.
3 If the evolutionist proves evolution is science and creation is religion, then the evolutionist is awarded the $20,000.
4 If the creationist proves creation is science and evolution is religion, then the creationist is awarded the $20,000.
5 Evidence must be scientific, that is, objective, valid, reliable and calibrated.
6 The preponderance of evidence prevails.
7 At the end of the trial, the judge hands the prevailing party both checks.
8 The judge is a superior court judge.
9 The venue is a courthouse.

I have two follow ups to the article.

Follow up #1: The article on True.Origins has been “withdrawn” from the webpage. Personally, I’d love to know why. Perhaps someone realized how juvenile and ridiculous the challenge was and that it made them look infinitely worse than those who turned down the offer.

Follow up #2: Ed Darrell, an evolution activist who was part of the textbook battle in Texas last fall, replied to my entry on the subject on my message board to make a point that I’m embarrassed to say never occured to me until he brought it up. I’ll let Ed’s words speak for themselves:

First, no judge may offer a court for such a contest. Judges in the U.S. may judge only real legal challenges, not hypothetical ones.

But, second, there WAS a real legal challenge just as JoMo states it: The creationists arguing creationism was science or science was religion, or some combination of the two that made it so creationism should be presented alongside evolution in science classes.

The stakes were much higher than JoMo’s challenge, and the money involved hundreds of times more.

Judge William Overton issued the decision in McLean v. Arkansas in 1982: Evolution meets the legal tests of what is science, and creationism does not; moreover, creationism is based in religion (according to sworn testimony from creationists), and therefore is religion.

Creationists lost the 1981 trial, and that was the basis for the 1987 Supreme Court decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, which took national the ruling that creationism cannot be taught in science classes because it is religion, and teaching it would be a violation of the Establishment Clause.

My thanks to Ed Darrell for pointing out something that should have been obvious to me in the first place – this debate has already taken place in a court of law, and the ruling was in favor of science and against creationism. The decision in McLean vs Arkansas is available in the Talk.Origins Archive, and the decision is based entirely on the conclusion that creationism is religious and not scientific and therefore the Arkansas law that required the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in public schools violated the establishment clause of the first amendment. And as Mr. Darrell points out, the Supreme Court extended the ruling in McLean to apply nationwide in Edwards vs. Aguillard in 1987. Mr. Mastrapaolo’s “challenge” was in fact answered and defeated 2 decades before it was issued.

Postscript to the follow ups: I am mentioned by name once on the True.Origins site – and it’s actually in a positive manner! I am mentioned by the creationist film producer Gillian Brown in her response to an article accusing her of dishonestly editing an interview with Richard Dawkins. It’s a situation that I will probably write an article about one day soon, as it seems to be coming up again. Suffice to say for now that Ms. Brown was wrongfully accused by Barry Williams and Richard Dawkins and I and a colleague stood up for her after investigating it for ourselves. It’s a story that was supposed to be told in the journal that Barry Williams edited at the time, but he welched on his offer to publish it. I intend to work on that article and post it soon.