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Fighting Creationism[long]

    I figured that with the recent hoopla about creationism, this 
post is rather timely.

        Most of the ideas contained herein are inspired by the book 
_Is God A Creationist?:The Religious Case Against Creation-Science_. 
This book should be required reading by anyone who wants to jump into 
the debate. I found out many interesting things, including how the 
Roman Catholic church has officially denounced creationism, and that 
in the Arkansas "equal time" trial, the main front against it was 
religious. It would seem that creationism is further from the 
religious establishment than it is from the scientific. This book 
also gave me a new understanding about what the debate is really 
about...not creation vs. evolution but faith vs. the scientific 


        The first thing we have to do is set the boundaries of science 
and religion. Science and religion are two different, yet compatible, 
methods of inquiry. Despite what many people, creationist, 
scientist, and lay think, they are not exclusive of each other. They 
are not even in the same proverbial ballpark. Science is concerned 
with the physical, or in other words, the "how" and the "when". 
Religion investigates those things that science cannot...the soul, 
what's there after death, morality. It's concerned with the "who" and 
the "why". Science is concerned with increasing knowledge, religion 
with spiritual growth. Science does not, or should not, overstep it's 
bounds in those respects; and I think it would do us some good to 
remember this.


        Whenever creationists throw another volley, many of us are 
left wondering why the public accepts what is so obviously junk and 
pseudo-science...obvious to us. The public seems generally unable to 
make the distinction between real science and pseudo-science because 
they don't know what makes what we say any more legitimate than what 
creationists say. When we, the scientific community, present our case 
to the public about almost anything, we always seem to be saying 
"hey, trust us...we're the scientists". What we should start doing 
(or at least doing better) is to try and get the public involved, 
teach them about the scientific method, present the "short form" 
evidence to them and let them assess it for themselves. 

        One of the most agravating statements I come up against in 
dealing with creationists, or even just the public, is "ahhh, it's 
just a theory". As though a theory was just something a scientist 
thought up off the top of her head while sipping coffee on a Saturday 
morning. We have to try and get the public to know what is entailed 
in making something a theory. We have to make the public understand 
the process of inductive and deductive reasoning, get them to 
understand the importance of the scientific method; the self-imposed 
set of rules that all scientists adhere to and the stick by which 
real science is measured. They should be able to see why what 
creationists do, or don't do, disqualifies them as scientists.

        In debating with creationists, we can throw-up evidence (so 
to speak) until we're blue in the face...it won't do us any good. 
Quite simply, it's not the evidence that matters. We have to defend 
the method by which we got the evidence. "We have this rock and it's 
X old" won't cut it; we should be saying "We found this rock in such 
and such a context and dated it such and such a way, and that's why 
we think that creationists are wrong", etc. Another example of this 
is the defence of probably the most important principle in 
palaeontology: Uniformitarianism, or, what geological and biological 
processes that are going on today must have been going on back then 
because there is no reason for it to be any different. The infamous 
"gas-bag sauropods" come in handy here. Even the most hardcore 
creationist will admit that the idea of hydrogen-filled apatosauri 
floating along the treeline is absurd (sorry John:-)), it simply 
defeats common sense; yet without uniformitarianism, which is just an 
extension of common sense, it's entirely possible.


        Now for the hard part, we have to get the public to think 
critically. Yes we all know that critical thinking skills are only 
taught in art and english classes, otherwise being crushed out of you 
by the school system. But after we teach the public about our 
methodology, they should be able to question creationists on their 
own, without our evidence or our help. The recent Man-track problem 
for example; the public should be asking where are other human 
remains besides footprints? or where are these humans before the 
dinosaurs and during the time between their extinction and when 
humans become common in the fossil record? Another example lay in 
"Flood Geology". We have to teach the public to wonder "have they 
disproved our dating technique?", "have they disproved 
uniformitarianism?", or "how well do they explain why a flood can 
leave deposits that look like rivers or glaciers or deserts or coal 
forests?". This kind of questioning is also useful against pop 
science as well, like the seemingly rampant "because-I'm-Bob-Bakker-
and-I-say-so-ism" (no I don't mean this as a pot-shot, just an 


        Good question. This is the point where we have to put our 
collective heads together and think. One obvious way is to give a 
healthy treatment of this in every level of school. Maybe we can put 
pressure on NBC or someone else to give us our own T.V. specials (The 
Not-So Mysterious Origins Of Man?). Popular books written on the 
subject couldn't hurt either. How many book store shoppers ever go to 
the "science" section? Maybe even books written for the religious 
community (probably best if done by members of those religions) on 
these subjects? Any more ideas?

    I can't stress to much how important it is that quit trying to 
argue our case to creationists, we're only going to be talking past 
them and achieving nothing. We have to face this issue with 
understanding and go to the public, teach them about how real science 
works, why creationist books sit in the "spirituality" section along 
with books on tarot, Atlantis and UFOs. We won't be able to convert 
die-hard creationists, but at least we can try to end their popular 
support. Thank you.

Cory Gross
Alberta Palaeontological Society
MRC Earth Sciences Society