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Fighting Fair

Entry 801, on 2008-06-24 at 21:50:59 (Rating 4, Religion)

I often get involved with discussions and debates (and arguments) over religious, spiritual, and paranormal issues. I'm already quite well informed on these issues and have the resources of the Internet at my command, and I have science and rationality on my side so why can't I always achieve a decisive victory?

I think its because I fight fair. I make it clear what I think and I give all evidence, on both sides of the debate, credit and consideration. And above everything else, I look at the big picture, including the merits of the opposition's points. And I never pretend that I have absolute knowledge or final proof.

A while back I blogged about the creationist I was debating with. It turns out that he is a very well known creation "expert" and the author of several books, so I was certainly arguing against a formidable opponent, even if his beliefs are nonsense when viewed from any reasonable perspective. I broke off the debate when he refused to play by the same rules of fairness I had adopted but later I started the conversation again and things went much better once I took him a lot less seriously.

About a week ago I sent him two questions which he never replied to. Up until then he had been quick to respond to my comments but I don't want to imply that I had beaten him on this occasion. Maybe he was away from his email, too busy, etc. I don't really know.

The two questions were good ones though. One was very general and one very specific. The general question asked him to distance himself from existing beliefs and look at the creation versus science debate impassively. What was more likely: that almost every branch of science (astronomy, biology, botany, cosmology, evolution, geology, etc) were all wrong, or that an old book with no support from any other source was wrong. The second question was what was his explanation of endogenous retroviruses. These are, in my opinion, one of the best proofs of evolution.

As I said, I never got an answer. I expected that he would have some sort of canned answer to the second question because by carefully selecting his evidence he had produced refutations of other scientific proofs which seemed superficially reasonable (but of course weren't really reasonable when considered together with all of the other evidence available).

The first question would be more problematic though. If creation is true then those sciences must all be substantially wrong, yet the huge majority of (although not all) scientists believe they are essentially true (and I admit there is debate over some of the details).

So either all of those scientists, with hundreds of separate and independent threads of evidence, are wrong or one old book is wrong. The answer seems clear, but there are a few possible explanations. First, maybe there is an agreement amongst scientists to deliberately distort the evidence to support naturalism. Or maybe God has deliberately left false evidence to test our faith, or give us some sort of freedom of belief, or something else along those lines (how can we understand the mind of God?).

Unfortunately for creationism all of these explanations are essentially conspiracy theories. As I blogged about in my 18-03-2008 entry "Conspiracies" its dangerous to assume that all conspiracy theories are false, but as they become more complex and involve more and more people they become increasingly untenable and its safest to assume they are false until better evidence becomes available.

Since science is built on revolutionary and original ideas it seems likely that, if there were major problems with the sciences such as evolution that a Nobel Prize would await anyone who could prove it. But the people who have tried, like Michael Behe, have turned out to be woefully inadequate. They presented their evidence, it was tested, and found lacking. Until something better comes along we should stick with the established theories which have been supported by the vast majority of evidence for many years. That's not what I call a conspiracy, its just common sense.

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Comment 9 (1533) by SBFL on 2008-08-22 at 20:49:06: (view earlier comments)

Actually I was debating the point, so far as the thread was progressing. Your comments were consistent with what I thought to be leftist (in the current environment) as per my 2008-07-16 at 21:54:09 comment. I wouldn't have considered that a rant or diversion.

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Comment 10 (1538) by OJB on 2008-08-23 at 14:12:00:

I have sort of lost track of what the problem is here. I pointed out that books and comments by individuals should be treated with suspicion, not that they should be banned. At least scientific publications are peer reviewed so there is some greater chance of quality there.

Now the debate about the merits of creationism and similar beliefs has turned into something about political bias, and that really isn't relevant.

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Comment 11 (1543) by SBFL on 2008-08-23 at 15:09:02:

Yes, but I can see where it was heading. It starts off with just 'view with suspicion' then eventually it's an all out ban, and freedom of expression is doomed!! Wouldn't worry too much about it.

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Comment 12 (1546) by OJB on 2008-08-24 at 11:56:15:

I would never suggest a ban on anything because I disagree with all forms of censorship. But there are particular subjects and particular sources of information which should be viewed with suspicion. They shouldn't be ignored because things change, but often its just the same old junk over and over (creationists, for example).

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Comment 13 (1549) by SBFL on 2008-08-24 at 23:08:55: Oh dear, you are trying.

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