Sunday, November 13, 2011

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Make 'Em Look Bad

As I have mentioned before, a few months back I was given the opportunity to write a guest post about evolutionary biology for the Evangelical Conservative Christian blog, The idea was actually originally pitched to someone else --- after months and months of on-again-off-again debate about intelligent design and evolutionary biology, one of the other atheist commenters over there was challenged with the task of writing a short essay on evolutionary biology (specifically "macroevolution"), around 2000 words. The commenter declined, and I offered to do so in his stead. The blog host accepted, and although it took me much longer than I'd originally expected (due to personal drama and some unrelated business endeavors), I eventually managed to complete the paper and submit it, where it was promptly posted and where it still remains as of this posting. Shortly after, a Mr. John McLatchie submitted a response of his own to counter mine.

That is the simple version of that story. There's actually a little more to it than that; a couple of acquaintances and friends from various internet forums, with whom I'd shared the details of this situation as it developed, had warned me in advance that my posting would either be ignored, misunderstood/misinterpreted, or downright misrepresented. But I felt that, since I'd basically been given free reign to write in my own words, there was no way that my work could be misconstrued. And to a fault, I was correct. My work itself was not necessarily misconstrued --- no edits or alterations were made to the article, with one exception (the title, which I had wanted to be "What Is Evolution?", and which Mr. Turek seemed to have preferred as "Why I Think Macroevolution Is True." Not a big deal, really, so I didn't care much about that).

With this in mind, I made it very clear several times during Mr. Turek's and my exchanges that I was going to try to write on a more scientifically elementary level, given the quality of debates I'd had on in the past. Most of the frequent commenters there (with a few exceptions) seemed to have no real scientific background, and even less knowledge about evolutionary theory outside of that provided by various third-rate Christian propaganda pamphlets and programs and the like. Also, given my strict word limit, I figured it would be best to stick to the basics (so as to prevent long and detailed tangents).

So anyway, barring a few (rather long) delays, I was finally able to complete the article. I basically came to an impasse regarding the wordcount limit; given that the site was a Christian fundamentalist blog, I didn't want to clutter Mr. Turek's blog with a series of lengthy posts that most of his regular readership would probably not even give a second thought to; so I decided to try and put the gist of my argument into a single, compressed posting. I capped it at just under 3000 words, having torn and gutted out almost all of the real substance of the article even then (I am rather long-winded, but even after cutting out all my tangents and irrelevant points, it was still quite lengthy) and sent it off, along with a short note explaining that this was the best I could do, and that I would understand if they decided not to post it for me after all.

So after some brief (slightly awkward) discussion of the title, which I ultimately conceded, I sent him the article in full, which was posted either a few hours or a few days later (I don't recall exactly how long it took, but it was pretty quick all in all). I then received this email shortly after:

 ...which, having just submitted the final draft of my article, I found quite interesting. For if I had known that I would be "up against" someone with some professional background in biology, I would have written a very different article indeed! Given the word count under which I was operating, it would have been impossible to give a properly-worded response on a more detailed level, but I could have at least tried. Instead, what happened was that Mr. McLatchie was able to take advantage of my disadvantage, and focus on criticizing my arguments for being "elementary" and for "lacking evidence."

This is certainly the result of the fact that I was forced to remove many important examples in order to reach my desired word count (which, even then, I was stretching by almost threefold). This is not an easy subject to tackle in so few words! A more complete version of my original, uncut essay can be read here, and I will also be posting another rebuttal to Mr. McLatchie's counter-argument piece over on Of course I will be posting it here instead of there, where it is significantly less likely to be viewed, but this is for two main reasons: (A) over here, I am free to write as many words as I please, and on my own schedule; and (B) I will be able to satisfy my aforementioned concerns with flooding a creationist website with scientific postings that will most likely go almost completely unnoticed (if you take a look at both posts on, you will see that there are almost no comments whatsoever besides my own and Mr. McLatchie's). At least here, I feel like it's in the right place, amongst other writings of similar nature. Over there, it just feels weird and out of place, I guess.

In any case, I have mixed feelings about how this all turned out....on the one hand, I was the one who made the conscious decision to take an elementary approach to this subject. So if I'm attacked for being elementary about it, I really do have myself to blame. And to be fair, Mr. Turek did offer me to post a series (instead of just one part) to complement my original article (which I ultimately declined because, although it would've been longer, with the word count per article limit, it still wouldn't have been enough). On the other hand, I can't help but feel just a *tad* bit slighted that Mr. Turek withheld from me that he would be submitting this for a more thorough rebuttal --- if I had known that, I would certainly have tried to argue from a different level. I had to waste so much time covering basics that I had almost no room left for the actual meat and potatoes of my arguments and evidence....if I had known that my primary rebuttal would come from someone who already knew all of that stuff, I could have used that valuable space to cover other more important arguments and ideas.

In the end, I guess I learned to be on my guard when discussing science with creationists....I can't help but feel that this was done with some degree of deliberate ill intent, perhaps to "weaken" my arguments and make them seem easier to rebut. I feel like giving myself a slap on the wrist for not listening to all of the friends and acquaintances who told me, in so many words, "it's a trap!"

I'd like to believe that the folks at are better than that, but after similar experiences (such as one of the other bloghosts' botched handling of an argument about intelligent design creationism, wherein he actively edited posts written by other users to cover up specific arguments made by those users), I have really begun to wonder if my faith in the appeal of reason to creationists is, perhaps, sorely misguided.

--Tim D.

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