An evolution debate worth having


In case you hadn’t heard, Michigan State recently held a creationism conference. Over at Slate, Mark Stern is very happy MSU scientists refused to debate the science of evolution. Stern approvingly quotes Carina Baskett, a science outreach organizer: “We don’t debate evolution because it’s not debatable. It’s like debating the existence of Canada.”

I agree. Debating the science of evolution is pretty pointless. But a debate about Stern’s opening words is very much worth having:

Because creationists are utterly unmoored from science, rationality, and reality…

I wonder what Stern means by that sentence. Is he making a statistical claim about group averages? If so, I would think it’d be important to wrestle with the actual data. I would think it’d be important to acknowledge and explain the existence of people like Ben Carson. Was he unmoored from reality? How does someone like that become a neurosurgeon? How about all those other smart people who reject evolution? How is it possible for practicing scientists to be unmoored from science?

If anyone wants to arrange a debate on this aspect of evolution and creation, sign me up! I’d be happy to participate.


  1. I suspect that Mark is referring to specific Creationist ideas, such as humans sharing no biological ancestry with other organisms on Earth. I do not gather that Mark is making a blanket claim, strongly implying a psychiatric diagnosis of schizophrenia, for example.

  2. Way back in 1971 Etienne Gilson, a French philosopher you may be more familiar with than I am, wrote that evolution was bad science and worse philosophy. I have seen nothing since to change his critique. Perhaps you should substitute “evolutionist” for “creationist” in your debate topic. If you need any help in making your case, I think I could supply you with some new ideas. You might look at my post “What If Everything Is Quantum?”.

    1. Have you read the professional scientific literature driven by evolutionary theory? If not, just say so, and then we can move on quickly; otherwise, please share the literature that you’ve read for yourself. Thank you.

      1. I just read “Confessions of a Darwinist” by Niles Eldredge Some time ago I got about halfway through Stephen Jay Gould’s 1,400-page magnum opus The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. It was then that I realized that what he was saying in it was that evolutionary biologists had a long way to go in acquiring knowledge before they could claim that the theory of evolution contained sufficient understanding of life to support what they are sure it does.
        Gilson presumably thought evolution was bad science because it claimed to have arrived at a final understanding. No physicist would think of making such a statement. It is worse philosophy because it is of absolutely no use to human culture. When it was thought it could be used in that way, remember eugenics, it literally killed people. Now it damages people by making them think they are just primates and entitled to live with no higher values or hope.
        Now here is a question for you. How many kingdoms, empires and domains are there in your classification system?

      2. Neither of those are examples of the professional scientific literature. Gilson is wrong; evolutionary theory has never “claimed to have arrived at a final understanding.”

        Please do not confuse evolutionary theory with social Darwinism. That’s like comparing basketball to war.

        There’s no evidence that evolutionary theory that “people by making them think they are just primates and entitled to live with no higher values or hope.” Rather, that sort of phrasing betrays an ignorance of evolutionary theory; again, please consult the professional scientific literature, because you won’t find those sorts of claims there.

        Finally, I don’t understand your question. It sounds like a social studies question, not one of biology. Perhaps you need to examine your use of the word “empires” in this context.

    2. Thanks for the comment! I’ll be sure to look over your blog. However, as I’ve said repeatedly…I do believe in evolution. I was trying to raise a debate that’s *not* about the basic science…

      Thanks again!

      1. What I think I want to propose for a debate is the proposition that the traditional theory of evolution occupies an empty space in current biological knowledge. Let me try to explain what I mean. First, the gradualism that evolution was founded on no longer can be seen as a depiction of the history of life as it actually occurred. Niles Eldredge is one evolutionist who thinks the traditional theory is wrong on the history of organisms and would rewrite the traditional history. Second, Stephen Jay Gould in his book The Structure of Evolutionary Theory thought that evolution should become a description of ecological systems as an explanation of changes in species. Third, microbiology shows that for an eye, for example, to become more complex there has to be a change in the genetic coding for the eye. There ae two things here. One is that it shows that life is digital rather than analog as held in the traditional theory and the other is that it appears to leave the door open for the transmission of acquired characteristics. Traditional evolutionists, of course, have rejected the latter, although I have seen it stated by presumably knowledgeable current evolutionists. Unfortunately I cannot cite the articles but you may have seen them or similar writings.

      2. waltsamp, why have such a debate? Why not scientifically research along those lines, presenting the results in the professional scientific literature and mainstream science conferences? That’s how scientific questions are answered.

    1. To Victor – I am not sure who your “You” refers to, me, Robert Little or Praj. If it is me I would be willing to stipulate that neither God or creation be part of the debate if the evolutionist side would be willing not to cite unidentified professional scientists as authorities. I think the theory of evolution is twice flawed. First in its fundamental premises and second by the always unavoidable ignorance facing any real scientific enterprise. This second flaw separates true science from philosophy and ideology.

      1. waltsamp, evolutionary theory has one fundamental premise: life exists. From there, we work from what we observe.

        I’m certain that you’re unfamiliar with the professional scientific literature, which provides a great deal of research specifically guided by evolutionary theory. IOW evolutionary theory is true science, contrary to your opinion.

        1. Great discussion everyone. But I just want to gently remind us all that I don’t want this blog to serve as a ground to discuss the science of evolution or whether it’s a correct theory.

          I won’t intervene here because it’s staying civil. Please keep it that way:-)

          Happy thanksgiving y’all.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *