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Rhetoric and Dogma

Entry 799, on 2008-06-20 at 18:44:01 (Rating 4, Religion)

Some people accuse me of being a bit tough on the religious people I debate with, but I do make an attempt to be reasonable and to consider their side of the story. Sometimes I see their point but still don't accept it but at least I give it a bit of thought first before deciding whether I should reject it.

You can usually tell when your opponent in a debate is being reasonable and when he is just being dishonest (I mean intellectually dishonest here, not necessarily corrupt or untrustworthy). The signs of the latter are usually things like excessive use of the old creationist standards: quote mining, selective presentation of information, and avoiding inconvenient questions.

A creationist I have been debating with recently exhibited all of these and I only realised after about 10 or 20 messages backwards and forwards that he really wasn't listening to anything I said, or even considering my points at all. He just saw the general theme of my point, chose a standard piece of creationist dogma to counter it, and went on to the next question. If there was anything that was too awkward he just ignored it.

I think I still put up a good fight against his ideas (I would say I won the debate but this is open to question of course) even though I was at a disadvantage of trying to be reasonable, but I did eventually realise I was wasting my time.

How can anyone win a debate where these are the rules...

Any quote the opponent uses which shows any form of disagreement amongst scientists is evidence that the science in general is wrong. Any quote I show by a scientist is just someone trying to protect the status quo or trying to protect the naturalistic paradigm. The creationist quote disproves the science quote. And its not even necessary for the creationist quote to be complete. Its OK to pick and choose amongst parts of a larger speech to prove a point.

Any person who supports science and has science qualifications will be automatically accepted as an expert whose opinion should not be questioned, even if he has done no real science for many years. But a working scientist who might be far better qualified will often make the most basic errors such as basing his theory on ideas which contradict basic physical laws.

Creationist web sites are a fair and reasonable source of information about the issues under discussion but evidence from sources such as Wikipedia or Talk Origins cannot be admitted because it might be biased or written by unrecognised contributors. That rule can be temporarily overridden in the unlikely event that the Wikipedia article supports the creationist's point.

Any evidence presented by science must stand up to the highest levels of scrutiny. It must involve direct observation and not have estimates or initial assumptions of any kind. Creationist evidence can be many years out of date, involve only "spiritual" facts, or be as non-specific as required to prove a point.

You might think that I am exaggerating here but, after analysing the emails I have been involved with, I'm actually not! I'm not saying that everything I said was totally above reproach - on occasions I did succumb to a certain amount of frustration - but I can now see that the discussion was completely dishonest on my opponent's part. I could have countered this by using the same tactic back but what's the point? One of the reasons I get involved in these debates is to extend by understanding of opposing views. Getting involved in debates involving nothing but rhetoric and dogma is no way to do that!

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