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Creation/Evolution Debate – Part 1

In June, 2005, I represented Australian Skeptics in an online debate against the creationists at Answers in Genesis. The debate took place on the Sydney Morning Herald's Webdiary site and was conducted along the lines of a normal spoken debate, but done in writing with each team producing three papers over a week. Here is the first presentation from the side known as "Us". It was deliberately written to try to force the other side to argue the scientific case for their position, rather than the religious argument from authority that "God said that this is what happened so this is what must have happened" or the false dilemma fallacy that "Evolution theory is incomplete so it must be wrong so the world is only 6,000 years old".

I would like to thank Dr Paul Willis, Professor Colin Keay, Barry Williams, Eran Segev, Dr Alex Ritchie, Dr Eugenie Scott, Dr Ken Smith, Martin Hadley and the proofreaders in my family for making suggestions about what should be written and then for making sure that what was written was sensible and accurate.

Second statement | Third statement

Did the universe and life evolve, or was it specially created in 6 days?

The question we have been asked to address here could have the simple answer of "Yes", because the two options are not mutually exclusive. It is quite possible that the universe and life came to where they are today by a multi-billion-year process of evolution following a six-day big bang, but taking this position leaves us nothing to talk about.

This debate then is really about the evidence for two of the many possible scenarios about the origin of what we see around us today. I will call these the Creationist view and the Scientific view. I will repeat that these are only two of many possibilities. Refuting one does not automatically make the other one correct, so what is required is to evaluate the evidence for both and to compare the bodies of evidence to see which more accurately describes reality and accords with what else is known about how the universe works.

Before going on to discuss these two world views, I would like to say what is necessary to turn a hypothesis into a scientific theory. Science requires that any assertion must meet three criteria:

Creationism makes the following claims, among others:

    1. Pre-existing water
    2. Light and darkness
    3. Heaven as distinct from water
    4. Dry land and oceans
    5. Plant life
    6. The sun, moon and stars
    7. Fish, whales and birds
    8. Land animals
    9. Man and woman
    1. The earth and the heavens
    2. Man
    3. Plant life
    4. Animal life
    5. Woman

I will leave it up to the opposing side to provide evidence for these claims, and to say how they can be tested, the sort of evidence which would indicate that they may be false, and what action would be taken to correct or adjust them in the light of additional evidence.

The scientific position makes the following claims, again among others:

None of the above claims is derived from guesswork or wishful thinking or divine fiat. All are based on the principle of Occam's Razor, that is, they reflect the best interpretation of available data and observations. They are what fits the evidence.

The scientific evidence for evolution does not come from just one source, but is derived from research in many fields of science. Some areas of science are so tightly wedded to the principle that they would cease to exist if the creationists are right. It has been said that evolution is the most important theory in all of science, simply because of its pervasiveness and what would have to be thrown away if it were wrong.

Here are just some of the sciences affected and the evidence they produce:

One of the criticisms levelled against evolution is that it is "only a theory". This criticism is disingenuous for two reasons. First, the word "theory" has a specific meaning with a scientific context and it means an idea which has enough evidence to support it such that rejection would require not just philosophical arguments but disconfirming evidence. Second, it is a strawman argument. Science is always a work in progress. The fact that the theory of evolution cannot provide absolute answers to all questions about the origins of life does not invalidate the theory any more than the fact that research has not yet uncovered a cure for cancer invalidates medicine or the fact that oil companies drill dry holes invalidates geology. The world-wide scientific community exists just because there are unanswered questions. That is what science is and is for. Science does not have a book which states absolute truths – if it did it would be religion, not science.

All science expects of a theory is that it be testable, falsifiable and corrigible. The theory of evolution is all three. Creationism is none of the three. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. The evidence for special creation is non-existent.


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