Creationists Flee from Criticism

A few weeks ago, I was alerted by a Google alert to a post, “Conversation With An Atheist“, on the site Everyday Christian. Since I’m always interested to find Christians who want to converse with atheists, to see what they have to say about us and to us, I checked it out. It turned out to be a fairly run-of-the-mill creationist argument by a Christian apologist named Jack Wellman.

Since my interest was piqued, I posted a comment in reply to Mr. Wellman, and then another when he responded (you can see them by following the link to the thread). Several others chimed in as well. Wellman kept responding, using the typical creationist tactic of changing the topic to a new argument every time the previous one was refuted. He also posted several remarks that showed a spectacular misunderstanding of evolution, such as inexplicably claiming that the universality of the genetic code was evidence against common descent, rather than one of the strongest pieces of evidence for it. I tried to correct these fallacies in as civil a manner as possible.

However, at some point, it seems that either Wellman or the site moderators decided he wasn’t faring well enough in the debate, and simply stopped allowing new comments to be posted. I subscribed to the thread by e-mail and got one final message several days ago, from another contributor complaining that his previous comments had been censored. But when I checked the thread, this comment had been deleted. Since then, no new comments have been allowed to appear.

This was my last comment, which was submitted over a week ago and hasn’t been posted. There’s been no explanation from the site moderators as to why it was rejected:

And so you, evolutionists, and biologists had expected to see something that would link a primitive ancestor to the middle Cambrian animal Pikaia. Explain the archeological evidence that Pikaia had a less-complex ancestor then.

Easily done: Haikouella isn’t an ancestor of Pikaia. You’ve jumped to the erroneous conclusion that a species living at time X must necessarily have been the ancestor of a species at time X+Y.

If you really want to understand this, Jack, I’m happy to explain it. Evolution rarely, if ever, works in a single, smooth trajectory of change – species A changes into species B, which changes into species C, and so on. Instead, what we usually see is a path of descent like a branching bush: species A radiates into species B1, B2, B3… and so on. Most of these go extinct, but B2, say, speciates into C1, C2, and C3, and again, some of the daughter species go extinct and others diverge in their own ways. But species don’t have fixed lifespans, and there’s nothing to dictate how long a particular species will survive before it goes extinct. There may still be living species from the A or B generation existing side-by-side with far more advanced descendants. It’s like having an uncle who’s younger than you: for humans, it’s unusual but certainly possible. But in evolution, it’s downright common.

For obvious reasons, it’s difficult to reconstruct an exact line of descent from fossils, just as you probably couldn’t put together an exact family tree just by looking at photographs. It’s possible that either Pikaia or Haikouella is the common ancestor of all vertebrates, or it may be another species we haven’t discovered yet. But what’s certain is that evolution was doing a lot of experimenting with chordates in the Cambrian, and what’s equally certain is that we came from one of those lineages, because true vertebrates – primitive fish called ostracoderms – start appearing in the Late Cambrian and then in greater variety in the next period, the Ordovician. This was why I wrote “Pikaia or one very like it” – all this detail is what lies behind that little phrase.

Irises and humans have 25% of the same DNA, so based upon your faulty logic, we should be at least 1/4th part Iris.

It would be more accurate to say that irises and humans are very similar when it comes to the most basic functions of life, which is true, and is a prediction of evolution via universal common descent. Really, why are you so surprised by this? Sure, irises and humans don’t look much alike, but at the lowest levels of organization, we have a lot in common.

We’re both made out of eukaryotic cells. We both store genetic information in DNA, copy it into messenger RNA, and transcribe that RNA into proteins. We both use ATP as the cellular currency of energy. We both share basic components of cellular metabolism like glycolysis and the Krebs cycle. We have these and many other traits in common because we (that is to say, animals and plants) are both descended from an ancestral eukaryote that did all these things. We’ve both inherited a common toolbox of genes for performing the basic functions of life – genes that perform functions so basic, it would be essentially impossible for evolution to change them in any major way – and as the human and iris lines diverged, we each added our own specializations on top of that.

Incidentally, you failed to mention the fact that the genetic code for protein-coding genes is nearly universal in eukaryotes and prokaryotes. Millions of alternative genetic codes exist, so why do all organisms have nearly the same one?

Again: because we’re all descended from a common ancestor. This is actually one of the most powerful lines of evidence for evolution. Why do you think it should be a problem for us?

Note that an omnipotent creator could easily have created every single species with a completely different genetic code, a completely different way of turning genes into protein. That’s the kind of evidence that would prove evolution impossible. Instead, what we find is near universality, with just a few very minor variations – the only signature we could reasonably expect from a process of descent with modification.

If you see anything so inflammatory in this comment that a site moderator would have cause to reject it, please tell me what it is, because I’m stumped. The only conclusion I can draw is that Jack Wellman realized he wasn’t doing well and didn’t want to deal with any further criticism, and prevailed on the site admins to stop letting it through. (I’ve also saved a copy of the thread in case they go back and delete earlier comments, which wouldn’t surprise me at this point.)

Sadly, in my experience, this isn’t uncommon. I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that it’s pointless to debate creationists and other religious fundamentalists in any forum that they control, because they’ll shut down the discussion as soon as they sense they’re losing, even if the contrary comments are polite and on topic. They simply can’t be trusted to allow a fair and open debate; they have too much to lose. And this isn’t true just on web forums, but in wider society, where religious believers constantly try to shut down criticism with blasphemy laws, “hate speech” claims, threats, and every other method fair or foul available to them.

After some searching, I found Mr. Wellman’s own site. I’ve sent him an e-mail to let him know about this post and to invite him to continue the debate here, or even just to explain why my comments stopped being posted. I don’t expect much to come of it, but we’ll have to see.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Gilker

    Thanks for posting this and thanks even more for acting as a mirror to a creationist. By remaining civil and answering his errors with verifiable corrections, you not only corrected misinformation, by your actions, you showed this person an accurate image of just how he is misleading others.

    I am a former fundamentalist Christian and one of the basic, but seldom advertised ideals followed in Christianity is introspection, mostly through prayer. Since prayer is not likely to be any sort of real communication with anything supernatural, it is therefore a matter of self-reflection. You have offered this person an outward reflection of his misinformation that won’t be easy to discount.

    In effect, you have said to him, “Look at yourself and what you are saying. You have been shown exactly where what you say is false and enough clues to verify its inaccuracies. From now on, whenever you repeat these things, you will hear the cheap tinny sound of the lies.”

    And if this person is so far gone into their delusion they can deny that tinny sound, there is very likely to be someone less far gone who will read your rebuttal and begin to wonder what else might not be factual about what they believe.

  • Steve

    No, your post isn’t inflammatory in any conventional sense. But I think you know that already.

    In the days of Usenet’s transcendence for this sort of debate, and later on discussion groups of various types, it was not uncommon to see this played out. I can tell you how this discussion goes after this, if you’d like…

    Mr. Wellman: “Look, I have a life, and I don’t have time for *you* to suck all of it up. If you haven’t seen reality by now, you’re not likely to ever do so, so I think I’m through with this discussion.”

    That’s if they were in a good mood. If not?

    Mr. Wellman: “Look, you’ve demonstrated over and over that you can’t perform basic reasoning or critical thought. Your rejection of my arguments and your thinly veiled ad hominems and straw men show that you’re willing to be disingenuous in support of your religion, evolution. Come back when you learn to think.”

    Or if they were really cranky:

    Mr. Wellman: “I would tell you to go to hell, but that would be redundant.”

    Meaning, roughly, that he ran out of arguments before he ran out of arrogance. Don’t take it too personally. :D

  • http://davidellisart.blogspot.com/ David Ellis


    However, at some point, it seems that either Wellman or the site moderators decided he wasn’t faring well enough in the debate, and simply stopped allowing new comments to be posted.

    I’ve had this happen several times lately when commenting on Christian apologetic blogs. It used to be something I had happen only very rarely.

    I wonder if Christian bloggers are beginning to realize how badly they come off in these discussions to those Christians who have some doubts about their religious beliefs.

  • http://unikraken.wordpress.com Unikraken

    Previously, the usual reasoning I heard given for why atheists would debate apologists was not necessarily for the apologist himself, but for the masses who would see the debate but not participate and whose minds may be swayed, because they are not financially invested in the argument. I think that creationists have finally realized this and have shifted their game to change that. By killing the discussion at his last post it looks like you gave up after that and the apologist bested you. Of course that isn’t what happened, but when you control the conversation you can make it look however you want.

  • Hermes

    Long time lurker, big fan.

    One brief nit. You probably know this, but just in case;

    * Speciation results in differently adapted species, not necessarily a ‘more advanced’ later species.

    Details;

    An “A” organism may be ideally suited for an environment that an “F” would not be.

    The “F” may have adapted from an ancestor “A” and be more capable in dealing with a smaller less complex and less rewarding environment. “F” may be successful only because the ancestors to the “F” were able to gain a slight advantage by using some of the more limited resources of a specific ecological niche.

    In either case, an “A” or “F” organism may experience different ecological pressures if either the niche resources that either relies on change too much.

    Examples;

    Eyeless deep ocean or cave dwelling organisms; “A” had eyes, “F” doesn’t, “A” often still exists in more well lit environments.

    Anaerobic bacteria vs. anaerobic bacteria and the rise of atmospheric oxygen ( see also: banded iron formations(BIF) ex: http://www.ux1.eiu.edu/~cfjps/1400/atmos_origin.html ).

    A strong argument can be made that humans aren’t the most advanced organism on Earth, just the one with an abnormally large brain. Bacteria out adapt us. Fish out swim us. Like ants, we are feeble without tools and a social structure. We were almost wiped out once as a species (and probably more times) over the last few hundred thousand years. It looks as if other human branches were wiped out over the last half million years.

  • Proud Kuffar

    Creationists: I really do not like them. You have shown why!

  • Bornagain A Theist

    Thank you for a thoughtful, accurate and useful response/education.

    BAT

  • Demonhype

    Like Unikraken said. You can’t really argue these things on their turf because they will sculpt the record to reflect what they want to have happened.

    Creationists are lying cowards. Well, most woo-peddling nuts are, and anyone who tries to forcibly silence criticism is doubly suspect. Even Sylvia Brown uses judicious amounts of litigation to silence her critics, but try getting her slobbering zombie fans to understand what that says about her. The brainwashed will usually just buy into some half-assed “defense against persecution” BS. My mom really thinks that Browne is a convicted criminal because of some skeptical persecution and/or lying from her ex, but certainly not because she committed fraud. Even when they get caught with their pants down, it’s never their fault and the unwashed uneducated masses will oink for more.

    I keep bringing this up on different sites, but Comfort/Cameron have done this on Way of the Master on Youtube with that old Nightline debate with the RRS. I looked it up and couldn’t figure out why so many of the atheist arguments were gone–particularly one where Brian Sapient pretty much made Comfort look like an ass (in the opening comments, when he pointed out Comfort breaking his own cardinal debate rule). Then I noticed the poster and the mystery was solved.

    Of course, they didn’t have personal control of the material in that case like they have personal control of their websites, and so the full video is available through other sources. Because of this, I really do think that Dawkins was really smart when he said he’d only do interviews if he had a full unedited copy of the video for himself–though I don’t know if he does that anymore.

  • Eurekus

    Actually, I’m having a debate with a creationist on a ridiculous website called Amazing Discoveries. When I ask a few questions at a time they seem to pick only one and tell me it’s irrelevant and begs the question. Huh? What the hell are these people on about? Obviously this tact of theirs is to gain at least some credibility in a hopeless situation.

    Unfortunately this debate isn’t on a public forum but I have to ask and see if it can be put on one. If it is, I’ll buy a lottery ticket.

  • Zietlos

    Eurekus, here’s what you do for them: It may be a (statistically-supported) stereotype that atheists are on average smarter people, but you need to accept that, so you need to slow yourself down a bit. They can’t deal with a whole bunch of things at once. You give them a single aspect of a single topic to discuss, and then keep at it until you are through your points. They will appreciate it more.

    In more reality, it is a form of a strawman argument what they are doing, but more of a “cherry man”: They cherry-pick one argument from a list of those given, usually the weakest one, reword it into oblivion, and then beat down that straw man. While not a valid argumentative technique, it is an effective one, since then asking your other questions, they can say “they already addressed that block of questions”.

    Editation/restriction of content is the same thing.

    I actually can see where the site may have gotten the inclination of thread-modding: Someone smarter than them (*cough* the stereotype again *cough*) proved that they were smarter than them. This eliminates the view of all beings being equal under the law, and is therefore illegal! :p

    The ideal forum for this sort of discourse is one with no moderation. Something like this site, just enough modding to prevent bots from spamming, and that’s it. I know Ebon rarely deletes comments, and mostly because they are, in a word, inflammatory, but the most ideal would be to force all comments to stay, but ones that are deleted be like, I dunno, Youtube with the “marked as spam, click to show” option, cleaning up the posting board, but also making sure no one can complain of being silenced through anything other than the other commenters. Or otherwise, a third-party site that does not particularly care about the outcome, though I suppose in a debate as “large” as all religions vs atheism, there really isn’t any bystanders (the church of FSM, perhaps?).

  • http://www.wearesmrt.com/bb/viewforum.php?f=11 BathTub

    Standard Operating Procedure. Check out any of the major Creotards on YouTube they all delete or outright block anyone who doesn’t kiss their ass. There are channels that are actually dedicated to simply mirroring their stuff so that people can actually respond them. Examples youtube.com/creationistcrap & youtube.com/shockofshite.

  • Valhar2000

    So the original post was another one of those conversation with an atheist that exist only in the believer’s mind? Isn’t it amazing how those fictional atheists are so very god-damn stupid? You’d almost think that the person writing their dialogue had an agenda or something!

  • Valhar2000

    I know Ebon rarely deletes comments

    Wow! Dude! Ebon routinely deletes comments by race realists, stalwart defenders of a visionary future were truth and justice are held supreme!

    In other words, he’ll delete very aggressively racist crap (as in arguments about why we need to go out right now and kill us some Mexicans), but that’s just about it.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Millions of alternative genetic codes exist,…

    A philosophical conundrum. Does a genetic code “exist” if there are no instantiations of it?

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Not that it answers Reginald Selkirk’s question but technically the genetic code isn’t a code, it’s a cipher [/pedantry]

  • Elizabeth

    I know this isn’t the point of your post, but I really liked your explanation of species development – it was very clear and understandable. It makes it even more obvious that it was purely selfish reasons they stopped comments.

  • Quath

    I use to debate with Christians a lot on some Christian web forums. I always stayed polite and on topic. Most of my experiences (but not all) usually ended up with posts deleted and threads locked.

    The few things I figured out is to keep responses simple and brief; pull back the debate to be on track; and be polite. When arguments start to repeat, I ended the dicussion with “we will have to agree to disagree.” That lets the other readers make up their own mind based on what they have read so far.

    But overall, I don’t know how well it does to debate Creationists. Sometimes, I think it gives them extra credibility to say their side is worth debating. I wish that human nature was rational enough that a good debate would settle issues.

  • http://holocenehominoid.blogspot.com Stephen Moore

    Explain the archeological evidence that Pikaia had a less-complex ancestor then [my bold].

    Dagnamit! He’s got us: there is no such evidence. Methinks it may be time to give up this evolution lark. Oh, well. It was good while it lasted.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Reginald: It exists in the Library of Mendel, I suppose!

  • Tom Coward

    Are there any Christian sites that don’t shut down debate as soon as you stray into any line of discussion that shows weaknesses in their arguments? This happens to me all the time. I’ve had the Banhammer (without explanation) more times than I care to count!

  • http://www.croonersunlimited.com Jim Speiser

    I enjoy reading debates with higher-functioning Creationists, those who at least appear to have a semblance of understanding the basics of evolution, have done their homework, and seem to have more “cutting-edge” arguments (i.e., ones I haven’t heard before). Being a complete layman, I’m always hopeful I might see a glimmer of sense to their side; or at the very least, learning a great deal from the debate. I thought this guy might be one of them, until he started in with “Its like saying that dandelions evolved out of Irises, which clearly they did not, since they existed simultaneously and still do today, just as humans and chimps or apes have existed simultaneously and still do today.” OMG, the old “If man evolved from apes why are there still apes?” I thought even Kent Hovind had moved beyond this kindergarten concept. Disappointed again.

    PS: My favorite answer: If Christians evolved from Jews, why are there still Jews?

  • Dan L.

    A philosophical conundrum. Does a genetic code “exist” if there are no instantiations of it?

    I took it in the sense of the logical existential quantifier. These genetic codes “exist” in the same sense that “there exists a number that is equal to the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter” (i.e. Pi) or “there exists a number that is equal to the length of the diagonal of a unit square (i.e. sqrt(2)). In the real world, neither number really exists because there aren’t enough atoms in the world to give the full binary expansion of an irrational number.

  • Joel Wheeler

    FYI: He has a new thread going here:
    http://www.everydaychristian.com/blogs/post/7784/

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    How does one argue in good faith with someone who can’t?

  • Edwin North

    Did you really expect anything less? It amazes me that atheists usually never argue with insults or name calling or the usual troll techniques (sure we have our fair share of trolls but most are just outsiders who just want to get a rise out of anyone) we apply logic reason and debate techniques approved for eons.
    On sites like this and more public sites such as youtube atheists are not afraid to allow a dissenting opinion so they almost never screen comments or hinder voting on their videos (even when botted by creationists with inane “yur stoopid” or “believe or die” rhetoric.) They also seem more prone to poor spelling and horrendous sentence structure
    Yet a creationist will almost screen and hinder responses. Interestingly now that the thumbs up/down has been in effect most of the popular science based and atheist vids (thunderf00t, darkmatter2525 et al) show vote results for the positive can be considered landslides, being in the thousands for some, while the most vocal dissenters on the same page are limited to the same 5-6 creationist trolls.
    It was a noble try, and in my opinion, in our own stupid stubbornness we are guilty of simply, in a desperate attempt to open minds, trying with futile insanity is that we actually continuously try to reason with these fools. Given their track record, we should cease this hopeless task, but I suppose we have a hope for that spark of rationality that we may ignite in some young budding mind before it gets swallowed by religious zealotry and applied ignorance.

  • Brady A.

    Sadly, I’ve found this to be my experience as well. Several other evolution-defenders and myself were actively combating mistakes and misconceptions on a creationist debate forum, and after a warning from a moderator to cease questioning the Bible and God (we repeatedly brought up contradictions in the Genesis account), we were all banned from the forum, our comments deleted. They only want an echo chamber, not a debate.


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