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 third presentation from the side known as "Us".
Did the universe and life evolve, or was it specially created in 6 days?
The original question asked: "Did the universe and life evolve, or was it specially created in 6 days?". The only interpretation of this question which makes sense is that the two sides are being asked to offer evidence and arguments to support either of the two views:
We have been told that evolution is impossible because there has not been enough time for it to happen. When we offer scientific evidence that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, we are asked for evidence and told that there has not been enough time. We are told that there are no intermediate fossils, and when we provide evidence of intermediate fossils we are told that there are no such things because now there are even more gaps to explain. We are told that the Grand Canyon (350 kilometres long, 1,600 metres deep, between 6 and 25 kilometres in width) was made in a few months. When we offer evidence that it took a very long time to build the surrounding rocks and then carve the canyon, we are told about an erosion gully that is 400 metres long and 50 metres deep as if this is somehow relevant.
What is relevant, however, is that the only form of argument offered by our opposition seems to be to say "You are wrong so we must be right".
Our opponents have consistently refused to provide any evidence in favour of their position other than by referring to things that they have themselves said before or by reference to the Bible. It is hard to imagine any paper in a scientific journal being taken seriously if almost all of the references were to the same author's previous work, but we are expected to believe what Answers in Genesis say because the same things have been said before on the Answers in Genesis web site. One of the spurious arguments used by creationists is that the dating of rocks and fossils is circular because one is used to support the other. Even though this argument has been shown to be false many times, it is hard to resist the temptation to say "Pot, meet kettle".
It is the reliance on the Bible which is most puzzling, however, as our opponents have now stated that the Authorised King James version of the Bible from 1611 is not inerrant and is, in fact, an unreliable translation! That's right – the most important and influential book ever written in the English language (the works of Shakespeare and the Book of Common Prayer make up the trifecta) is, as many have surmised, merely a magnificent work of literature and not the Word of God. What was God thinking when He let King James's editors put this book together? Why did He allow them to make mistakes? Could it have been a test, or perhaps, as Phillip Grosse suggested with regard to fossils and Adam and Eve's navels, just God being deceptive?
The real question becomes "What else in the Bible is wrong?". If we cannot accept that Genesis 2 is correct, then what can we accept? If translation errors are possible, who is to say that the English translation of the Sermon on the Mount in the King James Bible is anything like a true account of what Jesus said? After all, it was translated from Greek and the author of Matthew was working from a third-hand account of a speech given in Aramaic. Much emphasis has been placed on the lack of first-hand, eye witness accounts of evolution happening, but surely the same caveat must be placed on hearsay filtered through multiple translations. What a mess! If the King James Bible can't be trusted to tell us about the Rising of the Sun, what can it reliably say about the Rising of the Son?
Perhaps this problem with the Bible not being accurate and reliable might help to explain another observation about this debate. Despite a quite explicit mention in the question, our opponents have very carefully avoided any mention of the six days of creation. They make it quite clear in their web site that these days are what we call "days" – 24-hour periods of time. If the Bible as we read it is wrong about one thing perhaps it is wrong about that too and the word "yom" really should be translated "period of time". After all, there are 14 different meanings of "day" in English.
Enough theology, let's talk about science. But we can't really do that any more as our opponents have redefined the debate to be one between creationism and materialism. If they are going to suggest that their claims and "evidence" only apply in a non-material universe then we have gone beyond the concept of non-overlapping magisteria and into the realm of fantasy and fairy tale. Anything can happen in a fictional universe, but science operates in a real universe. To redefine the debate as not being about science but about material existence has a technical name known to even children in the earliest years of school. It is called "running away".
There are many lists of logical fallacies on the Internet, and I would like to spend the remainder of my 1500 words identifying as many fallacies as I can in the creationists' arguments.
There's ad hominem, of course, where my opinions are attributed to my atheism and we are all "long-standing public anti-creationists", plus the special case of ad hominem tu quoqe because Ken Smith should know better, being a "committed Christian"; there is massive Appeal to Authority (ad verecundiam); there's Appeal to Belief (a lot of people believe in creationism and they can't all be wrong) which segues nicely into Appeal to Common Practice; there's Appeal to Consequences of a Belief, because people who reject creationism are going to Hell; Appeal to Emotion is there for people who just feel bad about evolution; Appeal to Fear (ad baculum) is there because evolution apparently threatens Christian faith (it doesn't); ad populum, an Appeal to Popularity, is in there as if science is some sort of plebiscite.
There's the old Appeal to Ridicule, where evolutionists (whatever they are) are presented as poor, deluded fools who wouldn't know a fact if it jumped off the page of a holy book at them; there's the Appeal to Spite (evolutionists just do this because they don't like God); needless to say there is Appeal to Tradition; there's the Bandwagon fallacy, where scientists just agree with evolution because it makes life easier; could there be a better example of Begging the Question than "God must exist because it says so in the Bible, which was written by God"; the Burden of Proof is placed on evolutionists to prove that creation didn't happen; there's the False Dilemma, where the truth of creationism is claimed if evolution can be seen to be flawed; the exquisitely named Genetic Fallacy appears when the Bible is given as the source and it is assumed to be true.
Red Herrings are all over the place (except, perhaps, fossilised at Canowindra as evidence of a mass extinction not caused by a flood), and we are all on the Slippery Slope to Hell as evolutionists have no moral compasses; Special Pleading lets creationists change a debate by saying that it is unfair to expect them to provide evidence because they aren't materialists; Straw Men are everywhere, such as those scientists who say that the universe has been around forever and that Darwin person who admitted that transitional fossils would be hard to find.
That should be enough, and I would like to acknowledge that the list I used came from Ken McVay's Nizkor Project. (http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/) There are more fallacies in the list, but space is limited and some had to be left out.
I will finish by paraphrasing from my original statement.
This debate is really about the evidence for two of the many possible scenarios about the origin of what we see around us today. 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 evidence to see which more accurately describes reality and what else is known about how the universe works.
Science expects a theory to 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.
And this, from our second statement: where is that evidence for a 6,000 year old Earth? Evidence that cannot be dismissed by Occam's Razor.