Support this site with a donation.
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 second presentation from the side known as "Us".
Did the universe and life evolve, or was it specially created in 6 days?
Australian Skeptics has a prize on offer for anyone who can demonstrate paranormal powers. As a member of the AS committee I am ineligible to win the prize, but predicting what creationists are likely to say is not considered to be a psychic power. In 1997, Michael Shermer published a small tract named How to Debate a Creationist in which he lists 25 arguments used by creationists and the answers to those arguments. Answers in Genesis offered 14 of those arguments in their initial statement, and of the other 11 several do not apply here because they specifically relate to the teaching of creationism in schools. This suggests that creationism has not advanced since 1997 and that lessons learned back then have been forgotten. This is consistent with the change of name from the Creation Research Foundation to Answers in Genesis. Once they claimed to do research and science; now there is no need for research because everything anyone needs to know can be found in a 17th century book.
Much emphasis is placed on the scientific qualifications of both sides in this debate, and this fits the question being considered and the fact that we were invited to participate in a debate about science. If someone who claims that the Earth is only about 6,000 years old is going to debate the science of the claim, then those arguments should include evidence to support the claim. Instead, what we get from creationists is obfuscation, misrepresentation and logically fallacious arguments which purport to prove that an alternative theory is worthless because it is not perfect. That there are flaws in the evidence for a very old Earth and universe does not in any way validate the theory that the ages must be very short. Still, when you have no evidence you have to do the best with what you've got.
Before going on it would be worthwhile to say what evolutionary theory is not about. It neither requires nor denies the existence of a god. It is not about the origin of life. It is not about the origin of the universe. It is about the journey which has brought us from there to here; whether that journey was initiated or guided by God is outside the realm of scientific investigation. To say that evolution cannot explain the Big Bang or abiogenesis is no criticism of the theory at all and is just a logical fallacy. To say that evolution is predicated on the non-existence of God is to talk nonsense and attempt to couch the debate in religious rather than scientific terms.
Speaking of religion, Answers in Genesis abandoned any pretence to be engaged in scientific debate when they used the section heading "Evidence for the Creator God of the Bible". That they went on to offer no such evidence was not surprising, nor was it surprising that the evidence offered was of the "they are wrong so we must be right" variety - the same arguments that have been produced (and rebutted) countless times in the past.
As it seems safe to assume that the topics chosen by Answers in Genesis when making their case are those of paramount importance, I will stick to the same topics.
Laws of Thermodynamics
It wouldn't be a creation/evolution debate without misrepresentation of the Laws of Thermodynamics and their implications. The claim that "the universe cannot have existed forever, otherwise it would already have exhausted all usable energy" is classic straw man, because no scientist claims that the universe has existed forever. The best estimate now of the age of the universe is 13.7 billion years, which is a lot shorter than forever (and a lot longer than 6,000 years). And how did scientists come up with this number? By measuring the energy in the universe. See http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/.
As I said above, there is no requirement for evolutionary theory to "explain the origin of first life", because evolution is about changes over time. Scientists simply do not know how life first arose on Earth. There are several competing theories, such as the production of amino acids from atmospheric gases and lightning as demonstrated by Miller's experiments, or panspermia as suggested by Hoyle, where the relevant molecules came from elsewhere in the universe (which simply moves the answer further away), or the effects of ultra-violet light on the contents of ponds. Perhaps God did it. The last option removes the need for any further research into the "little bang", but it says nothing about what happened afterwards. For more about abiogenesis, see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/
Again, it is almost impossible to imagine discourse with creationists without the matter of mutations coming up. The fact that evolution doesn't require mutations (although they are a useful source of genetic change and diversity) has been explained many times, and will no doubt have to be explained many times again. The fact that mutations can be either harmful or beneficial has also been explained before. The statement that "[i]nformation science leads us to expect that random changes during the transmission of information (e.g. reproduction) would generate 'noise' and degrade the information" is wrong, unless Shannon and Weaver were wrong about noise increasing information. (You can see some more at http://helix.biology.mcmaster.ca/721/outline2/node56.html and http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/97/9/4463.)
Another all-time favourite. "Although Darwin expected vast numbers of transitional fossils to be found, only a handful of disputable ones are cited". They might be disputed by creationists, but they are not disputed by scientists. And a very big hand is needed to hold that handful. See horses at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/horses/horse_evol.html and whales at http://www.talkorigins.org/features/whales/. It requires no predictive power to suggest that as these sequences are not complete on a daily basis explanation of the gaps will be demanded.
The age of things
"The evidence for a 'young' earth/universe is, by definition, evidence for biblical creation, because naturalistic evolution, even if possible, would require eons." The brief answer to this is "Show us that evidence", followed by the observation that 4.5 billion years qualifies as "eons". The presence of carbon-14 in coal is mentioned as if such a thing exists. In fact, the absence of that isotope in coal is one of the ways that geological deposits can be dated relative to coal. As for the rapid formation of canyons, anybody who compares Providence Canyon in Georgia (up to 50 metres deep, maximum 400 metres long) or the erosion of ash deposits around Mount St Helens with the Grand Canyon must be hoping that the readers have not seen the actual formations.
There may well be hundreds of societies with flood myths, but this just represents the fact that for most of human history settlement has been near rivers and rivers flood. I have no doubt that the Aboriginal tribes who inhabited the flood plain of the Hawkesbury River for the last 45,000 years had ancient myths about huge floods.
It should come as no surprise that humans from all over the Earth are very closely related genetically. We are, after all, a single species. If this is to be taken as evidence of special creation, then it would seem reasonable to ask why we have any genetic relationship at all with lobsters. Or palm trees. Or tomatoes. (http://www.radiancemagazine.com/issues/2001/winter_01/strange_world_of_biotechnology.htm)
Design and complexity
At last we come to the argument from incredulity. "If I can't understand it, God did it". All complexity means is that there are no constraints on evolution to force it to do things simply. Evolution is not a teleological process, it is a method of trial-and-error, with what works in a particular environment surviving and with what works even a tiny amount better surviving and multiplying better. Evolution has had a long time to do its work, and the fact that we might not know every step in the evolution of roots and leaves into gills into lungs just shows that there are things that we don't know. Yet.
The old "what use is half an eye" argument has been answered long ago, and as for the brain, there are countless examples of different brains adapted to different purposes. Yes, the human brain is one of the thing that separates us from other species. That and opposable thumbs make us human. Plus the poor design of the spine, pelvis and birth canal. You can read about brain evolution at http://brainmuseum.org/Evolution/.
A challenge for Skeptics
"[W]hat tangible basis is there for anyone to reject the claim that there is indeed a Creator who has spoken by His prophets in the Bible?"
None whatsoever. As I said above, evolution says nothing about God and requires neither the presence nor absence of a god. If there is a Creator, He may very well have used evolution as the means to produce the immense variety of life we see on Earth today. An efficient and non-meddling God would work like that.
Now, where is that evidence for a 6,000 year old Earth? Evidence that cannot be dismissed by Occam's Razor.