The following is an excellent message originally posted by Joe Martin to Fidonet Conference HolySmoke:
Sooner or later, if you have any interest in science, or in education, you will encounter a Creationist Argument. Creationists are always trying to sneak Biblical Creationism into the curriculum by any means possible. To this effect, they will try to convince parents, teachers and school boards that they are presenting real science.
When presenting their arguments to any except the converted, these people are too canny to advocate anything that too strongly resembles the Biblical account of Genesis as their theory. Instead, their beliefs masquerade under such aliases "Scientific Creationism", "Creation Science" or "Intelligent Design Theory". Any time someone claims to have a theory that will overturn what the "establishment" is teaching in the schools, you have reasonable cause to be skeptical. The use of any of the terms quoted above should be considered a red flag.
Since "Creation Science" is not science, creationists cannot use scientific arguments to support their cases. By "scientific argument", I mean an argument in favor of creationism based on the evidence.
Scientific theories win acceptance because the bulk of the evidence provides support for them, and because no evidence proves the theories to be false. Creationist ideas are backed up by isolated bits of data which were usually refuted not too long after they were published. By citing an article published in some scientific journal, the creationist hopes to convince the public that there may be something of substance to his claims.
The majority of creationist arguments are intended to discredit evolution in various ways. Since they can't make a case for creationism, they attempt to dismantle the case for evolution. This fallacious argument assumes that there are only two possible explanations ■creation and evolution.
Here is a sampling of the techniques used in creationist arguments. You will often see a large number of these techniques used in one presentation. A really gifted creationist can often combine two or three of these techniques in a single paragraph.
1. INTERPRET ANY UNCERTAINTY ANYWHERE IN SCIENCE AS IMPLYING TOTAL UNCERTAINTY EVERYWHERE IN SCIENCE.
Science is by nature tentative. Anything on the cutting edge is going to have considerable uncertainty attached to it. Anything science is certain about now will be found to have had considerable uncertainty attached to it at some point in history. As soon as any evidence of any uncertainty is found, present it and claim that scientists therefore don't know what they are talking about.
2. TRUMPET ANY MISTAKES MADE BY ANY SCIENTIST, AND IGNORE THE FACT THAT THESE MISTAKES ARE CORRECTED.
Most people in your audience will not be well versed in the history of science. You can flood an audience with accounts of mistakes in science, and accounts of things scientists thought that are now known not to be true. With enough such accounts, you can build a superficially compelling picture of "Science Always Getting It Wrong". Even experts in the history of science will not be able to directly address all the examples you bring up. Anything left unadressed can be waved in front of the audience as "not refuted". You can then use the fact that something has been left unrefuted to claim that everything has been left unrefuted.
3. SHIFT THE BURDEN OF PROOF TO YOUR CRITICS ANY WAY YOU CAN.
Remember, your position is indefensible. The only way you can present anything like a compelling argument is to make your opponents look ignorant. Force them to prove everything they say. If they refuse to accept the burden of proof, force them to prove they don't have to prove what they say.
4. ANY FACTS OR EXPLANATIONS NOT IMMEDIATELY AT HAND MAY BE REGARDED AS NONEXISTENT.
If a critic makes a statement about science and doesn't present all the evidence to prove it from the fundamental level on up, you can seize upon any missing step and declare the entire statement as "unproven" or "a wild guess". If a critic manages to refute any of your statements, ignore the refutation. As soon as the refutation is no longer being actively presented, re-assert your claim. After all, the refutation's not right out there any more.
5. BURY YOUR OPPONENT IN QUOTES.
Nobody is an expert in everything. The more quotes you pull up, the greater the chance that your opponents will not have the knowledge or data to refute at least one of them. You can then emphasize the quotes not dealt with and announce that "science has no response to them". (Note that this will not work unless you have managed to shed the burden of proof, as advised in step 2.)
6. USE "CAFETERIA SCIENCE"
If you look around diligently enough, some scientist somewhere will say something that will bolster your case. Even at the rate of one oddball case in a million, you can accumulate literally thousands of quotes if you mine a long enough time period. In true cafeteria style, you can seize upon these quotes and ignore the science that refutes these quotes.
7. FIND AN INSTANCE OF A SCIENTIST BEHAVING BADLY, AND USE IT TO MAKE THE CLAIM THAT ALL SCIENTISTS WILL DO THE SAME.
Ideally, all scientists would base arguments against bad science on the science. Fortunately, scientists are human. Sometimes they will engage in personal attacks, censorship and other unsavory techniques. Use this fact to tar all scientists with the same brush, and also to make the claim that no crank scientists have been "refuted", but rather censored.
8. SCIENTIFIC FACTS AND THEORIES NEED HAVE NO EFFECTS EXCEPT WHERE CONVENIENT.
Whenever some bit of cafeteria science has implications you don't want to deal with, you are free to ignore them. For example, if you like the possibility that neutron radiation might have changed the ratios of radioactive elements and their decay products, ignore the fact that neutrons have observable effects elsewhere in nature.
9. WHEN CORNERED, CHANGE THE SUBJECT.
Always have material from several different subjects ready to present. When you find yourself out of your depth in one, be ready to duck into another. Chances are, your opponent will not be an expert in that other subject. This is particularly true if you choose subjects that are distantly related, such as cellular biology and astrophysics. Ideally, you will have set this dodge up while you have been burying your opponent in quotes.
10. WHEN REALLY CORNERED, CALL NAMES.
With sufficient imagination, any of society's ills may be attributed to the beliefs of "evolutionists". Ignore the fact that most, if not all, of these ills existed long before Darwin ever drew breath. Asserting links between evolution and such movements as Marxism, Communism and Nazism is a popular form of mud slinging. If you have been making use of technique #7, accuse your opponent of being as bad as the people youAve been citing.
This is even more effective if you can manage to goad your opponent into a display of impatience, disdain or temper using any of these techniques.
11. WHEN AN EXPLANATION SHOWS YOU TO BE ABSOLUTELY WRONG, IGNORE THE EXPLANATION AND REASSERT THE ORIGINAL CLAIM.
This works on the principle that "Any Lie Repeated Often Enough Will Be Believed". It's also a very good way of goading your opponents into bouts of ill temper.
Being aware of the techniques creationists use may be of some help, should you ever find yourself engaged in a "discussion" with one of them. The entire purpose of these techniques is to keep the audience from noticing that the creationist never actually defends his own position, but merely attacks everyone else's.
The recent discovery of living specimens of coelacanth, a species of fish thought to have become extinct millions of years ago, discredits the idea that species can evolve into other species. Evolutionists claim that primitive fish like coelacanth evolved into modern fishes millions of years ago, yet we find these same primitive fishes still living today!
Evolution is a process where new species "branch off" from old species. Because of environmental pressure, gene mutation, or other causes, some members of a particular species may undergo evolutionary change while the rest do not undergo change. Furthermore, evolution does NOT require that all species evolve at the same rate.
Fossilized human footprints have been found along with dinosaur footprints in the Paluxy River formation in Glen Rose, Texas. This proves that mankind and dinosaurs co-existed!
The depressions claimed to be human footprints do not have any identifiable human characteristics. In some cases they consist of obvious fakes, with crudely carved "toes" that resemble sausages more than human toes.
Careful measurements have shown that the earth's magnetic field has been decreasing over the past hundred years. At the measured rate of decrease, 600 million years ago the earth must have had a magnetic field greater than that of a neutron star, clearly an impossibility! Evolutionist's claim that the fossil record goes back 600 million years is preposterous!
The creation argument assumes, entirely without justification, that the earth's magnetic field has continuously decreased over the past 600 million years. This is like saying that because Jones lost 20 pounds last year, 20 years ago he must have been 20 X 20 years = 400 pounds heavier than he is today! The earth's magnetic field is created by the convection motion of its iron core, and varies in accordance with the core movement.
In fact, measurements of the residual magnetism in lava upwellings in mid-ocean ridges provide conclusive evidence that the earth's magnetic field varies in a cyclical manner, building to a maximum, then declining and reversing itself.
Measurements of the rate of accumulation of meteorite dust show that over a period of 600 million years the moon would have accumulated a layer of dust many feet thick. Astronauts landing on the moon have found that this is not the case. Therefore the earth and moon could not be older than 600 million years, and there was simply not enough time for evolution to have taken place.
The measurements referred to in the creation argument were merely rough estimates based on atmospheric sampling. A correction factor was assumed in order to subtract out the dust originating from the earth itself. As it turned out, the correction factor was grossly in error. Subsequent measurements taken in outer space by satellite gave results consistent with the actual thickness of the moon's dust layer.
Additional information is available in talk.origins faq: Creationism Claims
A single tooth that was positively identified as that of an "ape man" turned out to be that of a pig! This shows that evolutionists are willing to stretch credulity to the breaking point in order to obtain "evidence" for the existence of "ape men" that never existed in the first place!
The creation position assumes incorrectly that whenever a discovery is announced scientists immediately accept it as gospel. This is not true, and certainly was not true in the case of the "Nebraska Man." A single tooth was temporarily mis-identified until the rest of the fossil jawbone was recovered (way back in 1927). The real notoriety of "Nebraska Man" resulted from the publicity of the Scopes "monkey" trial, where it was supposedly introduced as "evidence" by Clarence Darrow. In fact, there is no record that this ever happened.
Piltdown was a hoax in which a human skull was combined with the jaw of an ape to represent a fossil "ape man." For years it was accepted without question by the scientific community as an authentic fossil. What guarantee do we have that other fossil discoveries are not hoaxes?
The Piltdown hoax was perpetrated in 1912; things have changed a lot since then!
The scientific community never accepts a discovery without question. Although individual scientists may occasionally err, the community never rejects legitimate factual evidence disproving currently held conclusions.
The creationist claim that Piltdown was immediately accepted without question by the scientific community is simply not true.
In 1913 clear evidence falsifying Piltdown did not yet exist. As actual hominid fossils were subsequently discovered it became apparent that Piltdown was an anomaly inconsistent with the facts. By the 1940's serious doubts about its authenticity were raised in the scientific community. I lived during that period of time and can attest to the fact.
Sometime prior to 1953 scientists, not creationists, proved Piltdown to be a hoax. This was done by an analysis of the flouride content absorbed from groundwater. The results revealed that the skull contained a much higher level of flourine than the jaw, showing that it had lain in the ground a lot longer.
Creationists are unable to provide any post 1953 science reference that treats Piltdown as a legitimate discovery. Why, after half a century, do they still make an issue of Piltdown?
Nowadays all important fossil discoveries are subjected to a variety of chemical tests and radiometric dating. If these tools had been available at the time of the Piltdown hoax, it would never have succeeded.
The concept of "punctuated equilibrium" is an attempt to explain away the fact that the fossil record shows species suddenly appearing, instead of evolving from previously existing species, as postulated by Darwin! If evolution is fact, then species can not just suddenly appear; the fact that they do disproves evolution.
The statement that the fossil record shows species suddenly appearing is a gross exaggeration. A change that requires a million years to take place is not a sudden change! All the scientific evidence shows that animals with hard parts (like shells, for example) first appeared about 600 million years ago. Over a span of 600 million years a significant change taking place over a million years may appear to be "sudden," but in fact is not sudden at all.
Evolution is not tied to the concept that all species are undergoing continuous change at more or less the same rate. Whether or not Darwin believed this to be so is immaterial; evolution is not based on Darwin's personal beliefs, but rather on the preponderance of scientific evidence. The fossil record shows that the rate of evolutionary change for different species varies greatly, depending on circumstances.
Additional information is available in talk.origins. faq: Punctuated Equilibria
Evolution can not be proven because no one has been present to observe its development from the very beginning and keep a written record. Therefore there is no real evidence to support it. Evolution is not science; it is merely a system of beliefs.
There is a great deal of geological and other evidence to support the basic concept of profound evolutionary change over the past 600 million years. Suppose you walk into a room and find a body with its hands tied behind it and a gunshot wound in the back of the head. Although there could be alternative explanations, the evidence is very clear that a murder was committed, even if no eye witnesses can be found! There is no reasonable basis for the creation position of rejecting all evidence except a contemporary written record.
If evolution did indeed occur, then there should be transitional forms between species. Yet the fossil record fails to show a single transitional form! The evolutionist position that Archaeopteryx was a transitional form between reptiles and birds is without foundation. Although there are some minor differences between Archaeopteryx and modern birds, Archaeopteryx was a bird. It had feathers. It flew. It was not a transitional form! The Australopithicines are not a transitional form between mankind and apes, but are, in fact, merely apes. This was the conclusion of Professor Oxnard, himself an evolutionist, in a 1975 review in the British journal "Nature."
Creationists claim that if evolution were valid, then we should expect to see evidence of intermediate forms in the fossil record.
The basis of this belief is completely flawed, and does not stand up to critical thinking. Evolution states that new species arise as the result of mutations causing a genetic change in species, which over a period of time gives rise to new species through a process of natural selection. Many creationists assume that each minute step in this process must necessarily produce descendants whose lineage extends up at least to the recent past. In other words, they believe that evolution would require that a range of present-day creatures must necessarily exist showing a complete gradation of physical characteristics between genus, families, etc. For example, they believe that evolution would require that creatures representing a continuous change between reptiles and birds should exist at the present time.
Of course, this is exactly what evolution does NOT predict. Evolution predicts that most creatures were not able to fit into their survival niche and therefore did not survive. Only a relative few did survive, and that is why there is generally no continuous graduation from one species to another.
Nevertheless, creationists believe that at least a continuous gradation from the most primitive to the most advanced forms should be present in the fossil record. As a matter of fact, the fossil record does display a continuous gradation in some cases. The change from amphibians to primitive reptiles has been well documented in a number of cases. This alone is sufficient to prove the point that evolutionary change can and does take place.
Fossilization is an extremely rare event, especially among terrestrial creatures. For thousands of years, millions of buffalo roamed the plains of what is now the United States and Canada. Yet, to my knowledge, not a single fossil remains of these billions of creatures has ever been found! It is unreasonable to expect that every creature that ever lived must have left the evidence of its existence in the fossil record. In addition, it should be kept in mind that most fossils are completely and permanently entombed in massive rock formations, never to be brought to view.
Creationists are so caught up in their belief that all species existed at least up to the recent past that they cite any discovery, real or imagined, of any creature thought to be extinct as "evidence" that: (1) All creatures (and plants) co-existed with humans up until at least the recent past, and (2) Evolutionary science is refuted because a creature once believed to be extinct has been discovered.
Both conclusions (1) and (2) are non-sequiturs that defy logic. It is reasonable to conclude that a creature has become extinct when no trace can be found in either in the recent fossil record or among present-day living things. If a living species is discovered, then the obvious conclusion is that the species is not extinct. Unlike creationist dogma, scientific conclusions are not cast in stone, but are based on the evidence.
The skeletons of reptiles and birds are fundamentally very different. Among other things, reptiles have teeth and tails, while birds have neither. The skeleton of Archaeopteryx has all of the characteristics of a reptile and none of the characteristics of a bird, yet it has feathers! The skulls of the Australopithicines are clearly intermediate between humans and apes; the body skeleton is more like humans than apes. Professor Oxnard's article merely raised the possibility that Australopithicus may not be a direct ancestor of the genus Homo (i.e. mankind). It raised the possibility that both the genus Homo and Australopithicines may be descendants of some earlier ancestor.
There are several species in the genus Australopithicus, all clearly intermediate between modern humans and apes. In addition, there are several species in the genus Homo (only one species now surviving, Homo sapiens). The more primitive species in the genus Homo are clearly intermediate between modern humans and Australopithicines. Just how all these species are interrelated is not clear at the present time. What is clear, however, is that these fossil remains have characteristics intermediate between humans and apes. The creation position rejects, without justification, the possibility that an intermediate form could, in fact, be a transitional form.
Let it be emphasized once more: Fossilization is an extremely rare event. The vast majority of living things have lived and died without leaving a trace of their existence. Therefore the fossil record will probably never be 100% complete. Whenever a transitional form is found, creationists insist that transitional forms between the transitional forms must be found. They resort to "Gish's Law": The number of gaps in a fossil record is directly proportional to the number of transitional forms.
Additional information is available in talk.origins faq: Transitional Vertebrate Fossils
Still more information is available in Lenny Flank's web site sections: Archaeopteryx, Therapsid Series, Triadobatrachus, and Ambulocetus