Hector Avalos to Debate a Young-Earth Creationist

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If you haven’t had your fill of debates about creationism, Hector Avalos (a scholar of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament who happens to be an atheist) will be debating someone named Juan Valdez on the topic “Is Genesis 1-3 a scientifically reasonable account of the origin of our world?” The debate will take place on February 16th, and you can watch it here (the countdown has begun). It will be interesting to see how this debate, which is not between people claiming to be scientists, unfolds differently than the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.

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  • histrogeek

    Juan Valdez? Seriously?
    For once I feel sorry for the creationist. It’s really not his fault that the Colombian Coffee Growers picked his name as their avatar/stereotype.

    • Gary

      But he is like Jesus. Both rode on a donkey.

      • histrogeek

        And both separate the good from the bad.

        • https://www.facebook.com/app_scoped_user_id/100000023960330/ John Pieret

          But he isn’t blue eyed and nordic-looking, so an American audience wouldn’t notice the similarities.

  • Just Sayin’

    I think we should have McGrath vs. Gantt next!

    • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

      Mike Gantt has bid goodbye to James’ blog. At about the same time he bid goodbye to Peter Enns blog, and later to Tyler Franke’s blog

      • Just Sayin’

        I didn’t know that; thanks for the info.

        • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

          I have edited my comment in retrospect, but for the record I confess to rudeness. Mike is not here to defend himself, so I was being a jerk to cast dispersions on his arguments in his absence.

          Shame on me.

  • Sean Garrigan

    Now there’s a debate in which I have zero interest.

  • http://mindsquirrel.com/ Andrew Tatusko

    Are we not ready to put this stuff to rest? Good Lord. I guess it will always sell as it has since Scopes. If it sells, it will stay in the news.

  • arcseconds

    Somehow I missed this the first time around, discovered it in this post.

    My reaction is broadly the same as to the Nye debate: Avalos did quite well, I think better than Valdes (although it’s hard for me to be objective about this) but could have done better.

    He’s got an awesome argument: Genesis literally describes God creating from water, and describes a solid sky. That’s what Avalos has that scientists, including Nye, do not. He also made the excellent point that even if God exists and created the universe, it does not at all mean that Genesis is a scientific account of that. Valdes isn’t committed to some kind of generic creationism, but to 6-day, ‘literalist’, young-earth Creationism.

    But I felt he allowed himself to get sidetracked into side-issues. He should have continually emphasized the above points, I reckon, that’s not to say that side-issues can’t be addressed too, but keep returning to that.

    And Valdes actually practically concedes the entire debate about 6 minutes from the end, where he announces quite happily to an audience question about proving God’s existence scientifically as the creator of the universe, that God’s existence can’t be proven scientifically. Avalos could have made something of that (‘so you admit you’re appealing to a scientifically unknowable entity to explain the existence of the earth? But it is the actions of this being that Genesis describes. Thanks for conceding the debate!’) but he doesn’t, preferring instead to run an opaque theological argument that the existence of the Universe proves that a perfect God can’t exist, as a perfect being lacks nothing and therefore would create nothing. That might get some atheist heads nodding, but no theist (YEC or otherwise) or fence-sitter is going to be impressed by this, and it seems besides the point.

    Valdes follows up immediately with the appeal to incredulity which he makes time and time again throughout the piece, which Avalos just failed to respond to. He could respond substantively (‘really?!’ isn’t an argument, and there are lots of things in science that provoke this kind of response), but he could also go back to his initial point: even on the assumption that life does require an intelligent origin, it doesn’t prove 6-day creationism, there are clearly lots of other options, including old-earth theistic evolution.

    Another point that Avalos makes that I think is an excellent line of argument, but should have been made more of, was the way creationists continually misrepresent the science. A couple of small points along these lines: when Valdes says the cambrian explosion proves the Genesis account, the response should be ‘you don’t believe in the cambrian explosion. So how can it count for evidence for your view?’, and when Valdes says ‘so now we’re hearing that iron can preserve organic material! what next?’ the answer should be ‘yes! that’s how science works: you continually adapt your theory to fit new evidence as it comes along.’.

    Also, the observational science versus ‘stories’ thing was bound to come up, so I was disappointed that Avalos didn’t have something prepared for this. The transitional forms thing was also predictable, and an audience member put it particularly crudely, they wanted an example of a frog turning into a bird. It’s pretty clear that they have a big misconception around how evolution is supposed to work. Avalos did mention that it’s also a problem for creationists with their super-speed evolution, which is a good point, but there was an opportunity to teach the science here.

    He was also challenged on the origin of ethics. Again, this was predictable, and what he really should have said here was to separate out this question from the question of the scientific virtues of Genesis: if it turns out a God is required for ethics, it doesn’t at all show that They created the world six millenia ago in six days. Also, while I wasn’t expecting a brilliant piece of metaethics from Avalos, saying it’s all just evolved won’t win any hearts and clearly isn’t true: at minimum our ethical behaviour is a cultural achievement, built no doubt on inclinations that are evolutionary in origin, but it isn’t just those inclinations playing themselves out.

    Overall, I think Avalos got too drawn in to defending his brand of atheism versus Valdes’s brand of theism. That’s conceding far too much ground to the creationist: they want it to be a clash of worldviews, because it helps support their framing argument that it’s about the presuppositions you bring to the matter, and it also helps with the all-or-nothing deal they offer. Best to just stick to the fact it’s bad science and bad Biblical interpretation: that’s all that’s necessary to win the debate in front of you, and is more likely to win hearts and minds too.