Pharyngula

Turn out the troops and give them hell

Scott Hatfield is asking for assistance: one of the old school Liars for Jesus, Don Patton, is going to be speaking at his public high school. This is disgraceful. Patton is a sleazy fraud, and to have him abuse public school facilities with his dishonesty is completely inappropriate; confine him to the churches, where nonstop lies are a regular feature.

Scott asks what can be done. Here’s my general prescription for dealing with these slimy hoaxsters:

  • Advertise. These guys feed on an ignorant audience; they get a lot of praise by packing auditoriums with the most stupid people they can find by farming the churches. Counter that by recruiting at colleges. Get people to volunteer to drive attendees to the venue. It doesn’t take much — getting a few people to raise their hands and ask informed, critical questions usually discombobulates them.

  • Research. Find out ahead of time what the subject of the talk will be, and study the actual science. Usually, you don’t have to have an advanced degree to counter the creationists — you will discover that their talks tend to be far more moronic than you would ever believe.

    One difficulty here is that creationists tend to be nonspecialists themselves. While Patton’s idee fixe is that the earth is young, he’s such a blithering boob that he’ll probably wander all over the place, and if you start to pin him down on radiometric dating, for instance, he’ll skitter over to biblical archaeology.

  • Find experts. Getting a skeptical audience is a good step, but finding an expert who can refute the guy on details is invaluable. I note, for instance, that the title of the talk at the high school is “The Record of the Fossils”. Get a paleontologist to show up! This has two useful effects: one, it will mean someone there can refute the creationist in detail; two, the expert will probably be so outraged at the putrid lies the kook is spreading about his discipline that you will have a lifelong ally.

  • BUY THIS BOOK: The Counter-Creationism Handbook(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), by Mark Isaak. Buy a couple of copies. I guarantee you that the creationist will recite fallacies straight out of that text, and even if you aren’t comfortable with public speaking, you’ll be able to get up to the microphone at the Q&A and simply read the short refutations provided. Wave the book around and tell people where they can get a copy. You might even let your town bookstore know that you’re going to be plugging it so that they get copies in stock.

  • Be polite. Seriously, I get lots of credit at creationist talks simply because I don’t show up and throw tomatoes or gnaw on a baby’s arm while I’m there. Critique the claims of the speaker without compromise and in the strongest possible terms, but do so professionally. For instance, Patton is one of those frauds with a fake Ph.D. from an unaccredited institution — don’t touch that one, unless he starts slandering the qualifications of legitimate scientists first. Focus on his arguments. Criticize him, and the audience will tend to side with him; show that he isn’t as smart as he claims he is, that he doesn’t understand some basic idea that anyone in the audience can grasp, and they’ll begin to doubt him. They might want to believe in creationism, but if you can show him up as a poor representative for creationism and Christianity, they’ll turn on him.

  • Get an evolution-friendly blogger on your side. You know, one who will tell all his readers in the Fresno area to turn out with blood in their eye. Maybe you can also advertise a pre-talk session at a local bar where the sensible evolutionists can meet up, get to know each other, talk about their expertise, and coordinate a little bit.

Rarely, you can go over the creationist’s head and complain to whoever is providing the venue and get them to back out — that might be a possibility here, since it is a little shocking that a public school is hosting the event (it’s after hours, though, and they may be leasing the auditorium, which makes it more difficult to block). I don’t generally favor that, though: let the enemy occupy a position, and then send in the scientific troops to attack it, I say. In some ways it actually makes your position stronger that they are using secular facilities to promote religious nonsense — the church-based audience is on unfamiliar ground.

Comments

  1. #1 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 13, 2008

    If I were in the neighborhood I’d be strongly tempted to create picket signs and brochures denouncing the speaker for ducking the issue of the the earth being a flat disk (Isaiah 40:22: “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth”).

    A circle with four corners, eh?

    Cool. The Bible contradicting itself, and both assertions are demonstrably wrong :-D

    While it’s good to challenge creationists at events like this with solid evidence, the creationists in the audience are unlikely to be persuaded. This debate is not about evidence.

    Make it about evidence by holding up a “[citation needed]” poster. Like this.

  2. #2 Kseniya
    April 17, 2008

    Which is, in translation of course, no respect at all.

    Why? Because he doesn’t completely agree with you?

    I don’t think you’d have responded that way a few months ago. Hmmm… losing patience with the lefties? :-)

  3. #3 Sinbad
    April 18, 2008

    Why? Because he doesn’t completely agree with you?

    No ill will — just a pet peeve. When someone says “with all due respect,” they typically disagree without offering any respect (irrespective of what’s due). In this case, poor Scott is utterly clueless about the law, but disagrees incoherently anyway while not offering even a whiff of respect. Even if not ill-intended, that’s dishonest.

  4. #4 Kseniya
    April 20, 2008

    No ill will — just a pet peeve.

    Understood.