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The Arguments for Creationism and the Arguments for Evolution

A Study in Contrasts

PERSUASIVE ARGUMENTATION IS PART OF THE HUMAN experience, and it is just as much a part of science as it is part of other human institutions. Scientists try to convince other scientists of their hypotheses. Scientists and science journalists also try to persuade members of the general public of various scientific claims. Scientists and science journalists are not the only individuals who make persuasive arguments about science, however. Those without any scientific credentials can, and do, argue for and against certain scientific claims. Others who have scientific credentials, but operate outside of the mainstream scientific community, generate persuasive arguments for and against certain scientific claims. For example, molecular biologist Peter Duesberg has scientific credentials, but he has argued for years that HIV does not cause AIDS. Michael Behe also has scientific credentials, but he has argued for a claim very much outside the scientific mainstream: intelligent design creationism (ID).

Several years ago, I became curious as to whether those in the scientific mainstream argued for their position in the same way that those outside the scientific mainstream argued their case. For instance, are the types of arguments used by mainstream scientists similar to the types of arguments employed by creationists? A little digging revealed that there was already some information on this topic. Weaver1 found that the two sides of the Scopes trial argued their case in different ways. Stempien and Coleman2 analyzed the arguments used in five different oral debates about the issue of origins. They concluded that creationists were successful in these debates because their arguments differed in form (but not content) from the arguments used by proponents of evolution. Rebecca Church and I3 described the ways that proponents of creationism and evolution differed in the manner in which they framed their arguments in terms of proof and certainty. They noted that creationists had a penchant for claiming that proponents of evolution had referred to evidence for evolution as “proof” of evolution. Creationists would then point out that the so-called proof was not 100% certain and, therefore, it wasn’t actually proof at all. Creationists concluded that scientists are either liars, or they are floundering because they can’t produce any proof to support their position.

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About Skeptic

WHY IS THERE SOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING? COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Health Freedom, Right to Try, and Informed Consent, by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: Do You Have Traits or Are You a Type? by Carol Tavris • SPECIAL SECTION ON TACTICS FOR DISCUSSING CONTENTIOUS ISSUES Personhood and Abortion Rights: How Science Might Inform this Contentious Issue, by Gary Whittenberger • How to Teach Evolution to Religious Students, by Surat Parvatam • The Arguments for Creationism and the Arguments for Evolution: A Study in Contrasts, by Ralph M. Barnes • Meeting Our “Enemies” Where They Are: The Advantage of Understanding Your Adversary’s Arguments, by Andrew Cooper-Sansone ARTICLES The Grandest of Questions Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing? by Michael Shermer • Reports of Mysterious Attacks on U.S. Diplomats Continue: Separating Fact from Fiction by Robert E. Bartholomew • The God Damners: The Now Not-so-New Atheism by Michael Cohen • Quackery in America: An Inglorious and Ongoing History, by Morton Tavel, M.D. • What Is It like to Be a Human? by Colin McGinn REVIEWS Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress • The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution • The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will • SCAM: So-Called Alternative Medicine • Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life • The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are JUNIOR SKEPTIC Secrets of the Ouija Board, by Daniel Loxton