The Intersection

Debating Jonathan Wells

Well, summer has been fun, but it’s time to get back in business. So I just agreed to debate anti-evolutionist Jonathan Wells on the Alan Colmes Show on Fox Radio, next Tuesday, August 22, from 11:00 to 11:30 ET. Wells, you may or may not know, is author of Icons of Evolution, and now he’s got a new one out with Regnery Press (publisher of Tom Bethell) entitled The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. I will be reading his book soon and posting some of its arguments for your reactions…in the meantime, here’s where all of you get to tell me I’m crazy for agreeing to do this (wink)…

Comments

  1. #1 Tara C. Smith
    August 16, 2006

    You’re crazy for agreeing to do this… 🙂

    I have his book waiting for me, but haven’t cracked it open yet. I assume you’re already familiar with this FAQ on Icons?

  2. #2 Corkscrew
    August 16, 2006

    Yup, nuts. It’s Fox, which gives a high probability that Wells will have the sympathy of Mr Colmes. Wells to the best of my knowledge doesn’t debate much, which means you have no idea precisely which daft argument he’ll spring on you – could be anything from complicated CSI to godawful thermodynamics. It’ll take ages to adequately explain the problems with his arguments, and the host will cut you off before you can finish.

    Having said that, good luck 🙂

    I’d say the point to hammer home on is the almost total lack of peer-reviewed papers. Make sure you have a list of all the ones they usually lay claim to (it’s not a long list so that won’t be a problem), and have explanations of what’s wrong with them to mind.

    For a more concrete point, it’d be good to note that the only concrete prediction any IDer has made (“from our good Mr Wells here, in fact”) was the idea that centrioles, due to their resemblance to little turbines, must be acting like turbines – generating the Polar Ejection Force. This idea recently bit the dust in a suitably conclusive fashion. Compare and contrast with something like the predicted fact that one human chromosome closely represents two chimp chromosomes (or alternative less controversial prediction).

    Again, good luck. Not sure if it’s possible for Brits to tune in, but I’ll do my best.

  3. #3 somnilista, FCD
    August 16, 2006

    You’re crazy for agreeing to do this.

  4. #4 quitter
    August 16, 2006

    Be sure to ask him about the DI’s many publications.

    We spotted him at ASCB trying to slip a pro-ID poster under the radar. Amusingly, his hypothesis from his poster (no real data of course) has been disproven. You can ask him if he feels sad about that.

    Ask him if the ID has ever had a real peer reviewed publication. Not some book chapter, not some poster they’ve slipped by the lax review of conferences (and subsequently get published in proceedings – hence they say they peer reviewed publications), I want them to describe for us their real, peer-reviewed scientific contributions. Papers that have been submitted to important journals, survived review, and been published based on the quality of data, not metaphor and argument. I want to hear about their data.

    Dammit, I’ve just read corkscrews comment. Take this as a hearty second.

  5. #5 SLC
    August 16, 2006

    I can only repeat the advise given by the late Stephen Jay Gould to Richard Dawkins when the latter asked the former whether he should agree to a debate with Duane Gish. The answer was, don’t do it! By agreeing to debate a whackjob like Wells, you are giving him an unearned forum. If you insist on this insanity, I would suggest you ask Dr. Wells if he agrees with Reverend Moon that the latter is the second coming of Jesus, as he claims. Play up as much as possible his connection with the Unification Church and its looney claims.

  6. #6 John Wilkins
    August 16, 2006

    Chris, I agree with the previous commenters. Debating Wells might make sense if you have an hour, and an impartial moderator. But you’ll be cut off, misrepresnted, and there will be a “Gish Gallop” which will be a rapid fire series of stupid claims. At best you’ll be reduced to making assertions to the contrary, and it will look like a “he said, he said” shouting match. This will not go well.

  7. #7 Chris Mooney
    August 16, 2006

    You folks are entitled to your opinions, but I wish you would think twice. Should I also not have gone on Science Friday with Tom Bethell either? If the media wants to talk about evolution, should science defenders always simply abandon the field of intellectual battle?

  8. #8 DarkSyde
    August 16, 2006

    Shoot me a reminder on this later in the week and I’ll see if I can add it to the openthread links or the science open thread. That would be somehting I’d like to see get some press.

  9. #9 Fred Bortz
    August 16, 2006

    Well, Colmes is the Fox News “house liberal,” so he may be biased in your favor, Chris.

    But sometimes he seems to be playing what he thinks is the liberal role, and he goes off the deep end, in my opinion.

    I’d rather hear a similar debate on Thom Hartmann’s show. Thom is even more liberal, but he’s also very well-versed on scientific topics. Colmes is more style than substance.

    I’ll try to listen, though our local Pittsburgh a.m. radio station has a weak signal and I lose it here in the suburbs when the ionosphere reflects competing signals from 10 kz higher across the state. Sometimes their internet streaming is working, so I may try that alternative.

    Have fun!

  10. #10 Adrian Melott
    August 16, 2006

    Actually, you may be an exception to the no-debating rule, since you are not a scientist. At least you are not giving
    him credibility as a scientist by doing so. I agree about how the thing is likely to proceed; I do not think you can discuss any science. You may however, do well with the lack of”real papers” thing, BUT they often use that as evidence ofdiscrimination against them. I vote for playing up the Rev Moon real big. This is likely to score points with the kind of audience that watches the foxes. Wells writes, “Father’s [Moon’s] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me to enter a PhD program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.” See Coyne’s review of Icons here:
    http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/Coyne-IconsReview.htm

  11. #11 Jon Winsor
    August 16, 2006

    OK. This is going out on a limb a bit, but it may be an interesting angle. Wells talks about people “devoting their lives to destroying Marxism.” Well, what about the fact that the gentleman who developed the strategy of supporting institutions for the sake of effective propaganda (e.g., the Discovery Institute) cut his teeth on Marxist politics?

    From Paul Krugman’s piece from a while back:

    [Irving Kristol] is the father of the political strategy that lies behind the intelligent design movement – a strategy that has been used with great success by the economic right and has now been adopted by the religious right.

    Back in 1978 Mr. Kristol urged corporations to make “philanthropic contributions to scholars and institutions who are likely to advocate preservation of a strong private sector.” That was delicately worded, but the clear implication was that corporations that didn’t like the results of academic research, however valid, should support people willing to say something more to their liking.

    Kristol makes no bones about the fact that his Marxist background was formative for him:

    I was graduated from City College in the spring of 194O, and the honor I most prized was the fact that I was a member in good standing of the Young People’s Socialist League (Fourth International)… If I left City College with a better education than did many students at other and supposedly better colleges, it was because my involvement in radical politics put me in touch with people and ideas that prompted me to read and think and argue with a furious energy.

    This is from an essay by Kristol titled Memoirs of a Trotskyist.

    No doubt the 30’s was an entirely different time from now, so I’m not saying it’s scandalous that Kristol was a Marxist. But my point is that the propagandistic tactics that Krugman is talking about may have some Marxist origins…

  12. #12 quitter
    August 17, 2006

    I think you should absolutely debate him. The problem people seem to have is that they think it is crazy to engage him as a legitimate opponent. I think they are right, but that is not necessary requirement of this particular debate.

    Approach this in a different mindset. Debating him like an equal or someone with a legitimate worldview is nuts, as your critics in this thread have suggested, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t debate.

    Instead, think of it like you’ve been put on a radio show with a guy who is convinced that the FBI has put a microchip in his brain to control him. To debate him over the existence of the microchip is insane, your critics are right on that point, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable for someone to show up and point out the problem of crazy people complaining about FBI microchip mind control and the organic causes of the disorder.

    In other words, show up, contribute information for science, but don’t, for the love of god, argue with a crazy person as if they are a legitimate opponent. Jon Wells is the crazy guy on the street corner compaining about the microchip in his brain. The only guy crazier that they microchip-guy is the one who honestly engages the schizophrenic in debate about the existence of his microchip. The appropriate scientific response is to instead engage the audience in a discussion of the phenomenon of denialists, and their inability to incorporate factual information into their worldview because of the damage it causes to preexisting overvalued ideas.

    That’s my approach. Debating Wells is of course insane. The most important question that proves this is simple. Merely ask Wells, what data would prove to you that Darwinian evolution is true? The answer you will get, is essentially, that no data would convince him. The only proof they will except would be if Jesus showed up and told them Darwin is right. Once you get them to acknowledge that you realize you’re not involved in an honest intellectual debate, instead you are locked into a debate with a crazy person, who will not accept any evidence that challenges his fundamentally religious world view. As such the debate does not exist with Wells, it is a battle between irrational denialism, and empirical fact.

  13. #13 matthew
    August 17, 2006

    Best of luck to you Chris, I’m really looking forward to the interview. This site may be somewhat helpful to you as well: http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/creation/icons_of_evolution.html

  14. #14 GCT
    August 17, 2006

    Two words: wedge document.

    This would be right up your alley in showing the political motivations behind the push for ID. I agree with quitter that you don’t want to debate the crazy guy, but instead want to point out how crazy he is. Also, as others have said, playing up the Rev. Moon connection would be beneficial in this regard.

  15. #15 Chris Mooney
    August 17, 2006

    Thanks to everyone for the comments, and the very useful links. I would like to add a note on tone, however. I don’t think it’s a fair debate tactic to attribute mental illness to those we disagree with (i.e., words like “crazy”). Let’s keep it substantive, okay?

  16. #16 mark
    August 17, 2006

    Speaking to the audience, rather than to Wells, enumerate example after example of disingenuous and downright dishonest things Wells has said in the past (including from Icons. Try to get the point across that this person, like his colleagues, eschew honest scientific debate and employ deceitful rhetoric rather than research. And if the “theory” of Intelligent Design is THE alternative to the theory of evolution, then why can’t anyone speel out exactly what this alternative theory is?

  17. #17 Chris Mooney
    August 17, 2006

    Folks,
    Just FYI, this debate and my new paperback get a plug this morning over at Daily Kos:
    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/8/17/75220/3988

  18. #18 John Timmer
    August 17, 2006

    As someone who went to grad school at Berkeley with Jon Wells, i’d love to see him discredited. One place to start looking for how Wells will approach the material is his testimony at the Kansas show trial – Talk Origins has that up:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/kansas/kangaroo2.html#p681

    He mostly focuses on how some textbook descriptions of evolution are out of date, poorly chosen, etc. and uses that to suggest there is an actual controversy about evolution itself. One option for this would be to ask whether current physics research is based on the text books in that field (finding some poor descriptions in physics texts might help) and use that point out it’s a text book issue, not a scientific one.

    Wells rarely does anything more than bring up negative arguments against evolution – as you can see with the Kansas transcript, it takes a lot of work to just nail him down to admitting to be an ID supporter, so this might not be a fruitful tack. He did readily deny common descent between humans and other primates, though, which might give you a good angle. Ask him why, if the chimp and human genomes have been out for years, no ID research has been able to identify what’s designed there. How does he explain the extensive fossil record. etc.

    BTW, is this going to be in the fox studios in NYC? If so, is there a way to get into the audience?

  19. #19 quitter
    August 17, 2006

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest that he’s actually insane. Although, the combination of creationist and Moonie makes you wonder. I just meant to point out that when someone is making an insane or irrational argument, there is no point debating him on the merits. It only makes you look foolish if you engage them on that level. That’s why Wells is like the guy on the streetcorner yelling about the microchip in his head. I didn’t mean to suggest he should be medicated or anything.

    So, Wells is probably not actually insane, but the creationist argument really is. It’s totally irrational, and as such isn’t a legitimate counter argument to Darwinian evolution. All they can do is argue from analogy, fuss and nitpick about debates in the field, and then use that to suggest we don’t agree on the basic principles.

    That reminds me, don’t let him argue from analogy. If he tries it, remind him that analogies are not data, and science is not the process of choosing the most appealing analogy. They will try to get you to debate on their false analogies a lot of the time, and there is just no point. They’re not scientific arguments, they’re not even logical arguments.

  20. #20 Jon Winsor
    August 17, 2006

    Well, the Discovery Instiutute/Marxism connection may be a bit tenuous, but the fact remains that it’s an institution designed to produce propaganda, not science. As Paul Krugman put it, the Discovery Institute and its ilk form a “parallel intellectual universe, a world of ‘scholars’ whose careers are based on toeing an ideological line, rather than on doing research that stands up to scrutiny by their peers.”

    DI is not an institution built on the shared goal of producing the best science. It’s not an institution built on producing the best scholarship. It’s an institution whose main goal is producing the most workable propaganda that will advance its agenda. This is what they do all day.

    You should call Wells on that and ask him what he thinks of the intellectual integrity of this approach. Is this the kind of thing he learned in his Phd programs at Yale and Berkeley?

  21. #21 RPM
    August 17, 2006

    I can only repeat the advise given by the late Stephen Jay Gould to Richard Dawkins when the latter asked the former whether he should agree to a debate with Duane Gish. The answer was, don’t do it!

    As a previous commenter pointed out, Chris is not an evolutionary biologist — Chris isn’t even a scientist. I would play up this angle. Wells is, apparently, one of the leading “lights” (dim as it may be) of the creationist movement. And he’s being debated by a writer. Imagine if Einstein (c. 1920) debated theoretical physics with a newspaper columnist. It doesn’t take a trained biologist to show that creationism is a waste.

  22. #22 rubble
    August 17, 2006

    IMO the “moonie” argument is better played as “agreeing with the Rev. Sun Yung Moon that Darwinism must be defeated” — play to his bias while merely casually mentioning the “moonie” connection. Note that Wells was willing to “testify” at the Kansas “science hearings” set up by the Creationists, but apparently was unwilling to testify at the Dover trial; does Wells insist upon a biased playing field? Why isn’t the health care industry hiring Wells for his expertise — shouldn’t the allegedly scientific “intelligent design” paradigm provide a competitive edge over those unwilling to exploit that paradigm? Above all, attack the clear lack of positive biological research done specifically within the intelligent design framework of ideas, while casually mentioning that the evolutionary paradigm produces thousands of peer-reviewed results annually — don’t waste time defending evolution per se.

  23. #23 George
    August 17, 2006

    I concur it is nuts to do anything on FOX. I have deleted all FOX channels from my home TV’s.

  24. #24 Chris Mooney
    August 17, 2006

    Two things. First, this is on the radio, not Fox TV. Not that I would turn that down either. Science needs its defenders in all media, and I strive to be one of them.

    Second: You guys have given me plenty of ideas for going on the attack. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but bear in mind that slinging insults doesn’t come off well to the audience when you’re trying to debate someone. It just makes one appear mean and vindictive. Again, let’s keep it above the belt, let’s keep it substantive.

    For that matter, in this thread I’ve generally seen less substantive refutations of Wells’ arguments, so those would be useful. A future post will be devoted to this but you can let ‘er rip now…..

  25. #25 Corkscrew
    August 17, 2006

    Oh, make sure you read out the quote about Father telling him to devote his life to destroying Darwinism. Then mention the identity of the person he’s referring to as Father, taking special care to casually note that Moon considers himself to be the Messiah.

    Not only will that make it obvious to intelligent listeners what a phoney he is, it’ll also turn the Christian fundies against him (there’s no way to reach them through reason, so rhetoric is a legitimate tactic).

    I’d recommend reading this tongue-in-cheek FAQ – it’ll give you a repertoire of good one-liners to cut through any waffle.

  26. #26 quitter
    August 17, 2006

    It probably wouldn’t hurt to brush up on the evidence for evolution from talk origins. One of the common, and irrational, arguments the creationists make is there is no evidence for macroevolution. It’s just such a stunningly dumb thing to say that often you can’t think of a reply. Talk origins is great place to start for the basic evidence that the IDers simply refuse to acknowledge. Might be nice to have it at your fingertips.

  27. #27 DarkSyde
    August 17, 2006

    I gotta agree with Chris on this and believe me, I despise Wells. My first impulse would be to call him a Moonie shill and work down into the gutter from there. But you only get a few precious seconds per response and that time is better spent putting the other guy on the defense on the merit of the science, rather than personal attacks, especially when apealing to a mostly conservative audience of laypeople who probably aren’t up to speed on the intricacies of evo-devo, let alone how Wells’ distorts them into unrecognizable crap. And there are cleverer ways to bring up his underlying motives without screaming out “You’re a crazed moonie asshole”, which I must admit would be my first thought ….

  28. #28 Fred Bortz
    August 17, 2006

    Just followed Chris’ link to the Alan Colmes show ( http://www.foxnews.com/alancolmesradio/index.html ) and found a “listen live” link. I think I’ll use that rather than trying to pick a weak a.m. signal out of the ionospheric clutter.

    Chris, you’re definitely going to be put up as the voice of reason vs. a “Moon-atic.” This looks like a classic case of the media giving false balance to two opposing views as if they are equally credible scientifically. You might be able to point that out. Or maybe one of us can call in and ask Chris if he thinks science is being given a fair shake in this discussion. (I’m not volunteering!)

  29. #29 alex
    August 17, 2006

    surely your opening shot has only to be:
    “Well Alan, perhaps surprisingly, I’m expecting a degree of agreement here today, on account of us both being Moonies (sic)” 😉

    sorry.

    a

  30. #30 Jon Winsor
    August 17, 2006

    In this thread I’ve generally seen less substantive refutations of Wells’ arguments, so those would be useful.

    I think point-by-point refutations of Wells’ arguments would be useful, but even more useful would be pointing out that his arguments masquerade as science, but are propagandistic in origin. If you could give people a sense for “how the sausage is made”, so to speak, then I think this would be more effective than just a bare, point-by-point refutation of each argument. A bare point-by-point would just come off as “this expert says”, “that expert says.” You want to both give the scientific answer and pull the curtain back on the wizard at the smoke and mirror machine.

  31. #31 rubble
    August 17, 2006

    The real question is which framework of ideas provides the best explanations for biological phenomena. The evolutionary framework wins, hands down. ID has very little to offer in a positive way; ID’s only positive contributions, such as Wells’ ideas concerning centrioles, have been found wanting and better explained by the evolutionary framework. Meanwhile, ID’s criticisms of evolutionary theory are little more than the standard Creationist garbage that’s been around for decades, refuted over and over, yet still repeated as if it’s not been refuted. Point to a specific example from Icons, show how it’s just Creationist rehash that’s been repeatedly refuted, then extrapolate to the rest of ID’s criticisms. You may complain that this is slinging insults, but that merely begs the question: where’s the positive scientific contribution from the ID camp? Shouldn’t we be seeing the goods by now?

  32. #32 Dark Tent
    August 17, 2006

    Both Yalies too. That must be a pretty elite group (like Skull and Bones Society members). Perhaps you have a special handshake?

    My only suggestion would be this: whatever you do, don’t try to debate molecular and/or cell biology with the guy. Even if he is a Moonie, he also has a PhD from Berkely so I expect that you will lose (no offense intended).

    The reason I bring this up is that some of the favorite arguments of ID proponents (eg Michael Behe) are about supposedly “irreducibly complex” cellular systems and if you get into debating details of such systems, good luck is all I can say.

  33. #33 KC
    August 17, 2006

    By all means keep the argument from being about Wells, and focus on his arguments only. Make sure you know all of them and the relevant literature rebutting them. I can guarantee Wells will be nothing like Bethell, who came off incredibly incompetent.

  34. #34 Lee Allison
    August 17, 2006

    In a recent article on Iran (in Business Week?) talking about the conservatives chilling influence on science and technology in that country, it was reported that U.S. creationist posters have been hung in the national natural history museum.

    So, is it appropriate to ask Mr. Wells if he views the Iranian system as the model for the U.S. and if he endorses the Ayatollah Khameni’s claim that you cannot believe in God and evolution?

  35. #35 TAW
    August 17, 2006

    I think it’s great. Colmes is very liberal, and from what I’ve heard in his radio show he WILL be in your side. Just remember to simplify things a LOT, maybe be on the border of oversimplifying them, and to keep telling people to go get more information in talkorigins or whatever. Can’t wait to hear it 😀

  36. #36 matthew
    August 17, 2006

    Here’s a nice list of links concerning Wells “Icons” book brought to you by the National Center for Science Education: http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/
    4523_more_reviews_of_iicons_of_ev_10_31_2002.asp

  37. #37 Phobos
    August 17, 2006

    Crazy debate or no, we’re rooting for you!

    The authoritative Wells rebuttle…
    http://www.ncseweb.org/icons/

    Matzke’s past experience debating evolution on Fox…
    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/04/my_encounter_wi.html

  38. #38 Phobos
    August 17, 2006

    will a podcast or transcript be made available afterwards?

  39. #39 Molly, NYC
    August 17, 2006

    Considering who will be listening, you might consider that ID vs evolution is in no way a debate in the scientific community. The debate is almost entirely about what’s to be taught in public schools. So you don’t want to get side-tracked into the details of the Cambrian explosion or whatever. You might ask him, for example:

    – Why, out of a few million scientists in the States, the Discovery Institute could only rustle up a few hundred who thought ID was worth more than a bucket of warm spit?

    – Why does he think our limited public school science education resources should be wasted on a notion (you can’t really call it a theory) that almost no scientists support?

    – ID’s support–among both non-scientists and the handful with any science background at all–is based almost entirely on religious beliefs, not science. In fact, Wells and the other Discovery Institute minions are among the few who even bother to pretend otherwise–and he knows they’re lying and you know they’re lying. Why does he feel that our (hell, MY) tax dollars should subsidize his religion?

    Anyway, you get the idea. Wells wants crap taught in public schools and you don’t. Wells wants American kids to grow up unable to compete in the global marketplace and you don’t. Wells wants to lie to children and you don’t.

    Kick his ass.

  40. #40 Dark Tent
    August 17, 2006

    First, the ID’ers seem to presume that if they themselves can not see (understand) what the Darwinian mechanism for the evolution of some aspect of a living system might be, that such a Darwinian mechanism simply does not exist.

    But history is replete with cases in which people proposed God (or other supernatural powers) as an answer simply because they lacked the knowledge to explain things otherwise, only to be proved wrong later by those with more complete knoweldge of the natural world.

    Second, ID’ers seem to presume that if Darwin can’t explain it, then it must have been due to ID. They effectively rule out the possibility that there might actually be an alternative way** (ie, not Darwin and not ID) to explain the existence of something that may not yield itself to a plausible Darwinian explanation.

    So, the ID’ers would have us accept on faith that “If Darwin can’t explain it, it must have been ID”. But, there are good reasons for not accepting this (or anything else) on faith. In his book, A New Kind Of Science, Stephen Wolfram proposes a viable alternative to Darwinian selection for the development of the elaborate patterns in seashells.

    This is not to imply that Darwinian selection is incapable of accounting for the patterns, just to point out that Darwinian selection need not necessarily be (and most probably is not) the last word when it comes to explaining through science** every last aspect of living things. Darwin himself never presumed as much and most biologists today would also not presume as much.

    Today, the only ones who seem to be omniscient are the ID’ers — having perfect knowledge, as it were, that Darwin was wrong and that there can be no alternative other than ID.

    **ID is not a scientific theory because it is not falsifiable.

  41. #41 jre
    August 17, 2006

    I hope you will forgive me for bringing it up again, but …
    Jonathan Wells’ error was in stopping when he did!
    We need urgently to apply his methods to the rest of the disciplines!

  42. #42 melior (in Austin)
    August 17, 2006

    Please don’t hurt him, Chris!

    Well, okay, you should make him squirm a little. Put him on the defensive, and off his silly, lengthy list of debunked ‘problems’ with evolution.

    I would love to hear you ask Wells whether he will support or denounce the “Creationism Dinosaur Museum” which displays humans riding dinosaurs. Either he commits himself to be a complete YEC goofball, or he dissociates himself from many potentially sympathetic creationist listeners.

    This is a simplification a Faux audience will get: you can have great sport with him if he supports it, otherwise we get to listen to him try to explain that some creationists are wrong, or sometimes the Bible is wrong, or most likely, stammer and try to change the subject. Then you get to ask him about the evidence, and exactly where Intelligent Design disagrees with the Bible if it’s not really about God, whee!

    See, it’s not really the scientists who can’t agree after all, is it?

    And remember to have fun. 🙂

  43. #43 rbb
    August 17, 2006

    I actually think a debate is a wonderful thing, but you have to be the agressor from the very beginning. Rather than responding to his talking points, you need to force him to respond to yours.

    Evolution has a spectacular body of evidence – nested hierarchies of relatedness among organisms in which the paleontological evidence, the evidence from DNA/genetics, and the evidence of body morphology all point to common descent and relatedness. Lab and field experiments demonstrating evolution in the wild and in the laboratory exist (talk.origins, as someone noted above, is a great place to find much of this evidence documented). If you start your time on the debate describing this as reality and telling him that _he_ is obliged to come up with a compething theory (supported by evidence) to explain the world, I doubt he will ever recover his equilibrium. Hammer away – when he spouts an absurdity, simply say it is an absurdity and return to your request that he cite some real world data that would support an alternate explanatory theory and ask him to state that theory in a way that it can be tested and challenged (which is the essence of science). I seldom hear people debate evolution this way with the loonies, but when they do, they almost always win.

    The folks who make a living questioning evolution usually frame the debate in a way that has scientists, or the science literate, going nuts just trying to unravel the illogic, false analogies, misstated theories, and misconceptions in the first long-winded paragraph of their diatribe. The only way I’ve seen to counter this is to make THEM answer for and explain the evidence. They can’t and they won’t, but it’s great to make them try.

  44. #44 Scott Hatfield
    August 18, 2006

    Chris:

    Don’t listen to those who say don’t engage. I’ve seen you. You’ve got what it takes to keep the spin squarely on the real issues. Wells is not all that media-genic, for that matter. In fact, I envy you the opportunity to engage him. I would trade places with you in a heartbeat. I agree that we should always strive to maintain a very high tone and stay on point, and I am sure that you’ll do an excellent job.

    BTW, this high school science teacher participated in a local debate in Fresno with ID types against the advice of some senior scientists whose opinion truly mattered to me. The debate, get this, was in a church. They were afraid that we would be set up, get the ‘Gish gallop’, etc. Well, you know what? We won that thing, even though the believers in the audience were easily in the majority. It wasn’t even close! So, it can be done. Give ’em hell.

    Rooting for ya…Scott

  45. #45 Ron Tolle
    August 18, 2006

    Why not take this approach–Rather than try to fit 150 years of evidence that supports evolutionary theory into the short time slot a radio show allows, just say something like: “Here’s the problem with ID. The Disco Institute loves to talk about the bacterial flagellum, and claims that such an intricate organelle just can’t have evolved naturally. Let’s say–just for the sake of argument–that it actually DOES show design. Now, Dr. Wells, please explain to the radio audience how you plan to use that revolutionary insight to cure a disease, or solve some other problem in biology.”
    The point to that is to show that ID really IS just religious apologetics and is useless as actual science. Also point out to the audience that Disco Institute has had almost 20 years of lavish funding from the religious right, and then ask him to list for the audience all the diseases the DI has solved to date. The silence should be deafening. And for damn sure–hammer him good about the Wedge document. In public, it’s all about the silence. But when the DI talks to their base, it’s about saving society from evil materialist Darwinism!

  46. #46 argystokes
    August 18, 2006

    If you do use Ron’s arguments, make sure you can back them up with contributions that evolutionary thinking has had on medicine; for example, antibiotic resistance, effective vaccine design, and using appropriate animal models.

  47. #47 pough
    August 18, 2006

    1) I thought it was effective when Jon Stewart asked Dembski which came first, his conversion to Christianity or ID. This is particularly helpful with Wells, since he is on record as saying that he only took biology to defeat “Darwinism” for his nutty overlord and not to really learn it.

    2) Don’t ask why there are so few “dissenters” – he’ll say that there are many more who are afriad to be public, which is impossible to disprove and easy to believe. Ask instead what that whole thing is about. Dissent from Darwin? Modern biology is to Darwin what modern Physics is to Newton. Are there dissenters from Newtonism? No, because what Newton did effectively is still in use and what he got wrong has been superceded. Same with Darwin. Also, if it weren’t for the source of the dissent statement, any biologist worth her salt could sign it; it is in no way a real criticism of evolution. So what is it really? How could anyone misunderstand it so badly and still expect to be taken seriously? To say that statement is critical of evolution in any way is a sign that they’re the ones who need a proper education; either that or they’re liars. Lunatic or liar, which is it? (Throw a little C.S. Lewis at them!)

  48. #48 Ron Tolle
    August 18, 2006

    “If you do use Ron’s arguments, make sure you can back them up with contributions that evolutionary thinking has had on medicine; for example, antibiotic resistance, effective vaccine design, and using appropriate animal models.”

    As far as that goes, here’s a great link to help you tune up:

    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/

    It goes into the impact evolutionary theory has had on conservation, medicine and so on.

    (BTW–I misspelled ‘science’ as ‘silence’ in my previous post. I meant to say that when the DI speaks to the public, their only motivation is the integrity of science education in the public schools–or so they say. But when they speak in private to their Christian base, that’s when the Wedge document comes out. Be sure to use that!

  49. #49 Beth
    August 18, 2006

    Chris:

    How about asking Wells if he is a language creationist too — you know, as described in the Chapter in Pennock’s Tower of Babel. I think that is a good anaology for many–I think most people who are falling for the ID/Creationist stuff don’t buy into the literal story of languages.

  50. #50 TAW
    August 18, 2006

    Just skimmed through the comments, but I didnt’ see it so here it is- http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/wells/
    talkorinins’ page on wells.

  51. #51 kenh
    August 19, 2006

    Just a few ideas:
    1) Michael Behe’s admitting at the Dover trial that for ID to be science, you would have to change the definition of science, and that astrology would qualify as science under his re-definition.
    2) Judge Jones was a Bush appointed Republican and the religious right had no problem with him before the trial. He was convinced by the evidence. He suddenly became an activist judge.
    3) If IDers don’t want to be called creationists, why don’t they make forceful statements supporting a 4.5 billion year old earth and exclude those who think otherwise.
    4) Get examples of ‘unintelligent design’ like rabbits eating their feces.
    5) Statements from the National Academy of Sciences, and various professional associations (chemists, biologists etc) supporting evolution. These associations represent literally hundreds of thousands of scientists.
    6) Two ideas do not deserve equal time in the media and classroom if one is wrong.
    7) ID is not science. It might have an equal footing with the hypothesis (not mine) that we were all created 5 minutes ago with implanted memories.

    Good luck.

  52. #52 Corkscrew
    August 20, 2006

    1) Michael Behe’s admitting at the Dover trial that for ID to be science, you would have to change the definition of science, and that astrology would qualify as science under his re-definition.

    You could try hitting a few fundie buttons here by going for a “would you want astrology taught in science class? How about alchemy? How about black magic?” Anything that highlights the slippery slope is good.

  53. #53 Steverino
    August 23, 2006

    Is someone going to record and post this??? Please???

  54. #54 J-Dog
    August 30, 2006

    Chris – So how did it go? Please post your feedback!

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