PZ Myers is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris and writes for a blog called “Pharyngula.” He was invited to debate Geoffrey Simmons, a fellow at the Discovery Institute on the topic of “the evidence of Evolution vs. evidence of Intelligent Design” “Are Darwin’s Theories Fact or Faith Issues?” Audio of the “debate” can be found here.
The reason not to debate creationists or their secular facade known as “Intelligent Design” is because of their blatant, demonstrable intellectual dishonesty. Dr. Simmons has the intellectual capacity and academic background to distinguish between colloquial uses of the word “theory” and the specific meaning with respect to the sciences, he willingly and knowingly chose to misrepresent the opposing side. The other problem is the audience and their background. As PZ Myers mentions in the debate, it is impossible to satisfactorily summarize all the evidence for evolution in 5 minutes.
The misdirection from evolution to “Darwinism” is also intellectually dishonest. For one, it incorrectly links evolutionary theory with “Social Darwinism.” Secondly, evolutionary theory has been continually refined by countless scientists over the past 100 years. While we may laud Darwin for initially discovering the framework, he is not exclusively responsible for evolutionary theory as it stands today. Much like how we would not call the theory of gravity, Newtonism.
The argument Dr. Simmons uses is highly disingenuous. It goes: there are gaps in the evidence for evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory cannot explain those gaps. These gaps are so inexplicable, no natural explanation can ever be discovered. Therefore, we must teach our children about these gaps and open up science to the possibility of non-natural explanations.
The problem is that Dr. Simmons needs to name a gap that can’t be explained. The arm-chair quarterbacking tactic is a relatively easy gig. There are gaps in the evolutionary record because very few animals are fossilized. However, even when transitional forms are found, the creationist puts on the hat of the “serious critic” and declares there still isn’t enough evidence for his/her satisfaction. Dr. Simmons ignorance of the whale fossil record is not surprising, because there is no need for him to be educated about it. The actual evidence will never be good enough.
The claim, of course, is that we need to apply the highest standards of critical thinking. And the answer is that scientists do. The difference between the creationists and the scientists is that they apply the same standard to the evidence. So, even if there are gaps in the fossil record that doesn’t mean that we get to ignore the vast body of evidence that appears to support it. Even if some aspects of evolution are wrong, evolution has already proven its worth and usefulness in the countless verifiable predictions it has already made.
The real problem is that science has gotten a little bit too good at providing explanations that don’t involve supernatural intervention. “The Bible” does make specific claims on how the human species came into being. Unfortunately, its explanation doesn’t agree with the things we find buried in the ground or look at in the sky. However, it is never up to the creationist to defend these claims, they claim them as an article of faith and inconvertible despite contradictory evidence. The greatest affront happens when these same people want to turn around and say scientists are just doing the same thing. It is insulting. It is insulting to those who have a basic respect for the truth and believe what they see with their own eyes. A quality that Christians respect in the Gospels, no matter how implausible or flimsy the physical evidence, but apparently not from scientists no matter how strong the case they present.
So, what was that horrible thing that PZ Myers did? Debate a creationist? No, that is its own punishment. I also see no problem with his combativeness, there is also no polite way to say that the other person just lied, or obviously doesn’t know what they are talking about. No, PZ Myers’ crime is that he left no doubt that the characters in the Bible that creationists most want to emulate are the hypocrites.