Posted by jlwile on December 12, 2011
I spend a lot of time discussing the creation/evolution debate. It is a popular topic on this blog, I have an entire series of young-earth creationist textbooks that discuss the debate, and I even discuss it among my own friends, many of whom are either atheists or theistic evolutionists. Every now and again, I even get the chance to publicly debate an evolutionist. This is a rare occurrence, however, as it is incredibly difficult to find an evolutionist willing to actually defend his or her view in a public debate. My last opportunity was in 2009, when I debated Dr. Robert A. Martin, vertebrate paleontologist and author of Missing Links: Evolutionary Concepts and Transitions Through Time. The debate was held at West Kentucky Community and Technical college. The audience was huge, and their response was enthusiastic. After the debate, I talked with many students, some of whom disagreed with me. Nevertheless, they all said that they appreciated the debate and were very happy that they attended.
Of course, the bigger question is whether or not such debates make any difference at all. Do any minds actually get changed as a result of a debate? I can tell you that mine did. I was an atheist at one time, and what led me down the road to accepting the truth of Christianity was an “Atheism versus Christianity” debate that I attended. The debate made me actually investigate the evidence for the existence of God, and when I did so, I found the evidence to be overwhelming. As a result, I ended up believing in God and, eventually, I came to realize that He is the God of the Old and New Testaments. However, I often wonder if a debate has changed anyone’s mind on the creation/evolution issue.
Well, I received an E-MAIL from a homeschool graduate who is now a biology major pursuing an MD/PhD. He says:
I was home educated from preschool all the way through high school and thoroughly enjoyed all of your science textbooks throughout high school…In fact your biology textbook was what got me interested in science in the first place.
It’s nice to know that contrary to what Dr. Jerry Coyne claims, good young-earth creationist textbooks do encourage students to study the sciences.
The reason I am blogging about his E-MAIL, however, is that he tells me from his own experience that a good debate about evolution can change people’s minds.
He says that his humanities class at university required the students to do a formal debate, and the professor asked for possible topics. When he suggested evolution:
…the professor’s response was “That’s a good topic… but… who would argue against it?” She (as well as the rest of the class) seemed surprised at the idea that anyone would even think to question the theory.
This is a typical response for those who have not investigated the issue. Most people who know little about evolution seem to think it is a scientific fact, probably because they have been told as much by irresponsible educators and scientists. However, a little education goes a long way. The student wrote:
But after we had a class discussion on it, (which was basically the rest of the class vs. me, and thankfully due to your blog I was able to answer everything that the class brought up which they thought supported Evolution), and after the professor read my essay on the problems with evolution (which we had to write before the debate), she began to realize that I had some strong arguments and presented my case with plenty of evidence.
So in the end, the debate happened. What was the result?
After the debate, the class voted unanimously that my team won the debate against Evolution.
Now please don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that because the class voted the anti-evolution side the winner, they are now all creationists. I have no idea whether even one student became a creationist (or even an anti-evolutionist) after listening to the debate. However, I can say this – their minds were clearly changed when it comes to the certitude of evolution.
When this student brought up the idea of a debate, everyone else in the class (including the professor) thought no one could possibly argue against evolution. By the end of the debate, however, the class agreed that the anti-evolution side won. If nothing else, then, you can see that the class learned that there are real scientific issues that speak against evolution. As a result, regardless of whether or not they changed their minds about the reality of evolution, at least they learned that the case is not as clear-cut as many irresponsible educators and scientists want you to believe.
In my mind, that is a big victory for science, at least for one university-level humanities class.