iSoul In the beginning is reality

Creationist argumentation

Petteri Nieminen et al. have written two similar papers analyzing creationist writings: Argumentation and fallacies in creationist writings against evolutionary theory (Evolution: Education and Outreach, 2014, 7:11) and Experiential Thinking in Creationism–A Textual Analysis (PLOS ONE, March 3, 2015). These are welcome additions to the literature that try to shed some light and reduce the heat of debate. They also show some reasons for the impasse today.

First, they are studies of creationists but do not try to engage their arguments despite the fact that some fully credentialed and experienced scientists in peer-reviewed journals are arguing for creationism. Second, the authors select a non-random sample of texts and then make generalized conclusions — a blatant case of sample bias. Third, the authors ignore the fact that many texts in the creation-evolution debate are written for a general audience and then criticize the texts for not being sufficiently scientific (they also criticize a few pro-evolution texts).

That said, the articles are helpful in illuminating some poor or weak arguments on all sides. The ad hominem arguments are much too common (and I’d say rarely persuade anyone not already persuaded). Other arguments may have a place in a public debate but are inappropriate for a narrow scientific context. The use of quotations is an example of this.

But the authors seem unaware that at those points where “normal science” (Thomas Kuhn’s phrase) is challenged, then “anything goes” (Paul Feyerabend’s phrase), that is, any method of argumentation that works is part of the scientist’s arsenal — Darwin’s “bulldog” Thomas Huxley being a notable example.

This is my greatest disappointment with defenders of evolution — they act as if all the opposing arguments have been duly considered in the past, when that is simply false as a matter of historical record. The 19th century had its peculiarities, which prevented many arguments about creation and intelligent design from being considered. Those arguments are finally being made and the debate is on, like it or not.

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