Sunday, 9 August 2009

Debating with theists about evolution

In a recent discussion on the topic of evolution with a Christian (and a fundamental one by their own admission), the same tired agendas and dogmas were trotted out. I have no problem per se with having a discussion on the merits of the theory of evolution, but I have to say, I tend to find them rather uninspiring.

In my long experience of having these discussions, I have never so much as come close to an intellectually invigorating debate, which is a shame. The reasons are obvious. For a start, theists, by virtue of the fact they are proponents of faith, do not tend to let small things like facts and evidence get in the way of their arguments.

Evolution is a scientific theory, and so demands at least a basic understanding of science. How on earth do you propose to dismantle a theory with as much supporting evidence as evolution, without grasping the basics. This unfortunately is where most discussions begin fall apart.

To think you can undermine one of the most important, and far reaching scientific theories of the last century, simply on a whim because it doesn't fit with your faith-based view of the world, is staggering. Not to mention that it also has a vast body of supporting evidence.

Just because you don't believe a theory, doesn't mean it is false.

One of the most common objections I hear from theists is the "but evolution is only a theory". To any scientifically literate person, this must be the most telling. To clarify, the word 'theory' has a special meaning in science. To be called a theory means the following must be true:

  • It agrees with observation (fossil record, DNA samples, carbon dating)
  • It has been tested independently by other scientists
  • It has been published in the scientific literature for other scientists to make their own comments and criticisms

So a scientific theory has to undergo substantial rigour before it can be called a theory.

While I base my arguments using the language and rigour of science, such formal notions are never reciprocated by theists. Using science as your line of defence will by and large be ignored. Science is either not understood, or worse, undermined. This is in spite of huge advances in medicine, technology and space exploration, all of which rely on science. To undermine science is to display a wanton ignorance, and is one indicator I will use as to whether a discussion is worth pursuing. In all seriousness, you cannot have a worthwhile discussion about evolution if the other party doesn't have the faintest appreciation or understanding of it.

In my most recent encounter with a theist, they accepted they could not disprove evolution!

There is no “controversy” about evolution at all in the minds of intelligent, educated, scientifically-literate people.

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