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A Painful Debate

I have just watched a rather disturbing video where Richard Dawkins interviewed a creationist, Wendy Wright. The reason I watched it is that a friend, who is also a creationist, challenged me regarding why Dawkins wouldn’t debate creationists at a recent convention.

Why was it disturbing? Well it was largely because of the disgusting, blatant lies and avoidance of the real issues shown by the creationist. She did this so obviously that I had to conclude that she knew she was lying and just stuck to a formula in the form: when these facts are mentioned just change the subject to this or say these words.

For example, when evolution was mentioned she would demand to see the evidence. When she was told where it existed she would demand to see it again, as if nothing had been said. When it was pointed out that evidence had been offered she would say that its not enough (even though she didn’t even know what it was). When it was pointed out that there is a huge amount of fossil evidence available now she would change the subject to Stalin or Hitler.

The way she spoke gave me the impression she had memorised a series of “sound bites” which should be used in particular situations. I don’t think she even really understood what she was saying a lot of the time.

Even though these are simple tactics they are surprisingly effective and on at least one occasion Dawkins admitted to being frustrated by her continual use of them. I’m sure this sort of approach is one of the reasons his policy is to not debate creationists. Why would anyone enter a debate when the other side has no intention of engaging in a genuine, honest exchange of ideas?

One issue (amongst many) Wright didn’t seem to quite understand is that just because scientists think that evolution is how the various species we have today got here they don’t think that similar ideas should be carried over into how human society and political systems operate.

Wright said on numerous occasions that she couldn’t believe evolution because it lead to misuse such as the actions of Hitler (who I would remind her was a Christian). Its obvious to most people that just because a theory can be misused by people with an extreme political agenda doesn’t mean that theory is untrue. It would be like saying Christianity isn’t true because of witch burnings and the numerous other disasters Christians have unleashed on the world (note that Christianity actually isn’t true, but not for that reason).

Interestingly Dawkins pointed out that political conservatives should support a society based on evolution because that is similar to a traditional competitive, free market system which would be likely to be attractive to conservatives. Oddly she didn’t see the irony in this, in fact she didn’t really respond at all – maybe its not one of the “key themes” she has an automatic response for!

Wendy Wright is more than just a creationist, she is head of “Concerned Women for America”, a conservative political organisation whose mission is to advance a conservative political and religious agenda in the US. Their mission statement states: “The mission of CWA is to protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens – first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society – thereby reversing the decline in moral values in our nation.”

She seems determined to believe that fixed moral laws exist, and are best for everyone. Those laws must come from a higher law-giver of course and naturally she chooses the Bible as her source. She has no justification for that apart from believing her God is real and his laws must be obeyed (including the laws about obeying him). This seems like a very circular argument and one that cannot really be tested. How do we know these laws are the best if we don’t test them?

Anyway, it was very painful but I eventually managed to watch the entire interview (which lasted well over an hour). I don’t think either side changed the thoughts of the other side too much, mainly because Dawkins was only interested in facts and Wright had none, and Wright was just reciting creationist dogma and not even considering the possibility that she might be wrong.

Still at least its a debate Dawkins has been involved in (although it was presented as an interview rather than a debate) and its one where the creationist didn’t look too good. So next time anyone criticises Dawkins for refusing to debate I can give them this as an example. I’m sure it will make lots of difference… not!

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  1. shirhashirim
    January 22, 2010 at 9:11 am

    The rule is: don’t fight anyone who likes to fight!

  2. ojb42
    January 22, 2010 at 9:19 am

    But I like to fight too! I really do. I enjoy the intellectual challenge and sometimes I actually learn something too (even form creationists!)

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