The Big Debate!

You always remember your first! I have now participated in my very first debate about evolution and creationism. Earlier today I was a guest on Harry Allen's radio show, where I discussed things with Sean Pitman, who maintains this pro-ID website. “Discussed” is a polite term for what transpired. The first segment was cordial enough. Things got more heated in the second segment, during which Sean and I were often talking over each other. Not so informative, perhaps, but probably good for ratings.

Let me know how I did! Click here for the audio. But don't tell me I say “y'know” too much or that I smack my lips a lot. I know I do that! Alas, when I'm actually doing it I don't realize I'm doing it.

Be warned that the audio seems to jump right to the middle of my answer to Harry's first question, which was, “How did you get interested in this?” Harry's introduction got cut off. I think you will quickly be able to pick up the thread. Also, keep in mind that while I was in the studio, Sean was on the phone.

When we started Harry told me two things. He said the hour would fly by, and that right after the show I would think of all the things I wished I had said. He was certainly right on the first point. I couldn't believe it when he said the show was over. I thought we were just getting warmed up! As for the second point, I'm mostly happy with what I actually said, but the subject kept changing in such a rapid fire way that I never felt like anything ever really got developed properly. Par for the course in a discussion of this sort.

I have to say, I had an absolute blast doing it. Harry also seemed pleased with how things went.

From there it was off to Long Island for my talk at CFI-LI. That was also a lot of fun. It was a small crowd of about forty, but everyone was really into it and the questions during the Q and A were actually really interesting. My hosts told me that the talk will eventually appear on YouTube, so I'll post a link as soon as I have it.

It's been a long day, but my reward is a free day tomorrow to hang out in NYC. I live in the sticks, recall, so I have to take advantage of these opportunities when I get them.

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Why would anyone except your mother be interested in this article?

Good job, Jason! You're right, you have to stop saying "you know", but other than that, you made your points effectively.

By Jeffrey Shallit (not verified) on 18 Jan 2014 #permalink

But don’t tell me I say “y’know” too much or that I smack my lips a lot.

Can I say you talk very fast?

Dr. Sean Pitman is a blast from my past on He was always the most "reasonable" of the creationists that showed up there, in the sense that he would try to make cogent arguments in support of his ultimately irrational positions. BTW, Pitman is a YEC who is too smart to make it plain in this kind of forum:

Dang, I missed an announcement of the CFI-LI gig or I would have been there.

By John Pieret (not verified) on 18 Jan 2014 #permalink

As John noted, you did kind of blur through things. As a knowledgeable listener, I got it all, but some might have had a problem. That said, you did a generally good job, and in particular you were willing to get testy over some of Pitman's distortions. That was well done.


I instructed a course in “ID vs. science” as part of an adult lifelong learning program. Most of the students were creationist oriented but wanted to know of science. I presented 2 DVDs in their entirety made by ID people. Some creationists noted they learned some things about ID.

I think you did a reasonable job. I offer some critique:
1.You let him set the frame of the discussion – that is, you were put in a position of defending evolution on his terms. His terms were on the outskirts of science knowledge (where the models are not complete) in a field little known by the general public (microbiology and probability). Therefore, the one statement that, I think, you could have used was lost and ignored. I noticed it because I was looking for it. (The statement: science produces results – predicts observations - and ID does not. You did talk of the scientist going into the lab to get results, but this is lost on the general public because they don’t understand what this means to them. The part of “ID does not” was really lost.
2.How to set the frame – define science in a 15 second sentence or 2 in the beginning. Include what purpose science serves to people and how it works. Talk of the computer not the semiconductor/solid state science.
3.Suggestion: Science is a part of human knowledge that helps people and our species survive by advancing our ability to predict observations (you said “results” that I think is a bit too esoteric). Our knowledge is limited and growing. Predicting brings us the ability to make machines, to lengthen our life span, to be comfortable, and to control our environment. Evolution is a science because it has predicted and continues to help us expand our knowledge. How does ID help us expand our ability to create the future?
4.You could follow up with a statement specifying religion’s purpose without triggering the creation part of Judaic philosophy: Religion also serves us by enforcing morals that hold society together.
5.The frame could be science helps people and ID does not. ID is useless because it overlaps the other great aid to people – religion. What part of ID offers anything more than traditional Judaic religious belief that also offers the moral glue that holds society together?
6.Then question repeatedly “How does ID help people?” “How does ID help us advance?” You haven’t said anything positive, you only attack.”
7.Avoid getting hung up on some esoteric part of science such as microbiology and probability (favorites of IDers). When the subjects on the edge of science arise – so note it is a field of investigation and we will know it sometime as we have often learned these thing through science.
8.The BIG BANG also plays into the ID discussion. It begs the question of what caused the bang. Turtles all the way down should be avoided because it suggests ID. Better, I think, to focus on the idea science knows only a portion of the universe and is learning more. Not “going into a lab” but “learning more”. Traditional religion serves the remaining need of humans therefore ID is unnecessary.
9.Drop the “not fair” kind of thing. Nature is not fair. Selection is not fair. “Fair” today is a liberal goal. Your opponent did not pursue this but the attack could be nature is cruel and definitively not fair. How can this unfair process of natural selection be good for us?
10.What purpose in nature do humans serve? Why did we evolve? Answerers to these could have been used in a few contexts of ID propositions.
11.The ID idea of a better mousetrap being designed only by design could be fought a bit better. (In my day it was a better mousetrap which was solved by noting the tie clip.) The watch seems to be the thing now. What is needed is an example of a (simple) machine created by man that serves as a missing link.
12.I noticed your opponent chose to not pursue the “goldilocks” issue. The two DVDs I showed the classes were about the goldilocks and mousetrap issues (“Where does the evidence lead?” and “Unlocking the mystery of life”).
13.Sometimes when the discussion reaches a point of the ID has nothing more, the ID discussion turns to personal attack, slander and shouting (or conversation hogging) – definitely not collegial. I don’t know how to handle this. The moderator’s job is to stop this as he did in your tape. My approach has been to note they lose and stop trying. This may not be possible in your venue.
Good luck.

I like John's(#5) comment

Think of religion as the best distillation of ideas in that time frame and use this idea to remove 2,000 year old "facts" from the argument. Simply assert as a fact that science and religion have both moved beyond these ideas and let others try to assert dogma.

I really think this would disarm scripture quotes.

It's funny. When I first moved to Kansas, and then Virginia, after living in the Northeast my whole life, I was struck by how slowly everyone spoke. On the other hand, if I could learn to slow down I'd probably say y'know a lot less.

I was taught in the Army to speak/lecture slowly and distinctly for clarity. Wm Buckley spoke (too) slowly, but he was rarely interrupted or had to contend with interruption. I evolved into faster speech patterns when the possibility of interruption increased. The other pattern is to make your point succinctly. This last is aided by making the same point repeatedly – ID contributes nothing to mankind that science and religion don’t contribute now.
I think the “ya know” derives from the need to occupy time (like “ahhhh”) and keep the floor.
Don’t worry about it. It is barely noticeable if you have something valuable to say.

I’ve read posts connected to the science blog site about the “debate” of science vs creationism. I have a few questions.

What is the debate about? That is, in a debate there is usually a proposition or motion. What is that proposition or motion? I have debated the proposition that “creationism or ID is a science”. ID appears to me to be pushing the idea creationism is a science and should therefore be taught in schools (at least it use to be when I was debating) and be treated like any other science. Is this still the case? If not, why are the debates happening? What is the question?

I think ID is not a science, and is vacuous. Yet, I confess I think science LOST “The Big Debate” in this thread. I think the general public (over the radio) would look more into ID than into science. It was a victory in the PR campaign for ID.

Yet, the appearance of the current threads is that the proposition seems related to whether there is a God or what is the nature of God. I suggest science should not be engaged in the God issues.

By John (not verified) on 19 Jan 2014 #permalink

In reply to by Ryan (not verified)

“Probability theory is simply the wrong tool”

All kinds of factors concerning mutations can and should be evaluated for plausibility. What other tool would serve better?