Lame creationist/evolutionist debate at the BBC

Four days ago the BBC “Religion and Ethics” site posted a written debate on evolution between a Muslim and a Christian.  Unexpectedly, the evolution side was argued by the Muslim, Inayat Bunglawala (media secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain), while the wrong side was represented by the Christian: young-earth creationist Greg Haslam, senior pastor of the Westminster Chapel in London. The BBC describes Bunlawala as “a strong believer in the evolution of man in line with accepted scientific theory”; Haslam as “an avowed creationist who believes the world was created by God in six days between six to 10,000 years ago.” (I didn’t think there were any YECs left in England!)

The debate is predictable—if anything, even lamer than the average of the genre. The sides don’t engage, and of course none of these debates ever arrive at any common ground. Nor do they change minds. There are just a few bits to highlight:

Greg: Creationists are not enemies of true science and should never be afraid of the true facts, for “all truth is God’s truth”. Checking false claims, however, is mandatory.

Often, fictional stories are told about origins by scientists similar to Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, like “How the Elephant Got its Trunk”. But no one was there to see these events or God’s creation as they unfolded – let alone the alleged 14.5 billion years old “Big Bang” and 4.5 billion years ago earth formation.

Humility is therefore required, not hubris. Long ages are assumed because with evolutionists time is the hero of the plot. Anything can happen given enough time. But can it produce complex order and information if the universe is blind, purposeless – the result of an explosion, random, chaotic and undirected?

Creationists are not enemies of true science? Doesn’t it give them pause that their doctrines are rejected by 99% of real working scientists?

The trope that “we weren’t there to see it” is, of course, completely dumb.  How does Greg know that Henry VIII or Julius Caesar existed? Was he there to see them? We know evolution is true in the same way we know Henry VIII lived: we have a checkable historical record of their existence.

Finally, when you see a call for “humility,” it’s either by a religious person or an accommodationist like Paul Davies (more 0n him later).  Scientists don’t need to remind themselves to be humble because it’s built into our discipline. There’s always a little voice whispering in our ear, “But remember, you might be wrong.”

The call for humility is really a cry of desperation by the faithful to scientists, and it means, “Hey, you’ve accomplished so much more than we have. Can’t you tone it down a bit?”

Greg: But, Inayat, evolutionary science asserts that things made themselves!

The first great problem then, is where did the universe itself come from? Where did all the “raw material” for evolution originate? It is a proven axiom of science that “nothing comes from nothing”. For every effect you require an efficient cause. The materialist’s explanation is no explanation at all. It is simply an assumption, and a wild one at that.

Well, Greg, where did God come from? He is something, too, so did he come from nothing? It is very strange that theologians think that the question of God’s origin is a stupid one: they say he was always there! But what did he do before he made the universe, then—sit around twiddling his apophatic thumbs for eternity? And if God could always exist, so could some form of a universe or multiverse.

Inayat’s response, however, leaves something to be desired. He not only doesn’t raise the criticisms I just mentioned, but talks about steam engines and agency, muddling the whole debate. He also sucks up to religion:

Inayat: We need to distinguish between an agent and a cause. Let’s take Robert Asher’s example of a steam engine. Science helps explain how a steam engine works i.e. the process by which its action is caused: heated water boils into steam which rises and powers the rotation of a turbine which then spins the wheels of the steam train etc.

Note that it is also valid to say that Thomas Savery designed the steam engine (and James Watt later improved upon it). However, this is a different kind of explanation: it is one of agency, not cause. Just because science helps to reveal the naturalistic cause behind the function of the steam engine, it does not mean it denies the agency of Savery and Watt.

Similarly, Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection is an immensely compelling explanation for the mechanism of how different species have come about. It does not deny an agent.

Of course it denies an agent, if by “denying” you mean “such an agent is not part of the process, and is explicitly posited to have no effect on it.”  Evolution is a materialistic, naturalistic, and unguided process, regardless of what the National Center for Science Education wants to tell the faithful. It does not need the agency of Savery and Watt. Of course science can’t tell us absolutely where or not there’s some kind of god (particularly a do-nothing deistic one) but what it does posit is that there’s no evidence such a God affected evolution. (Let me add quickly here that science has given us evidence against a theistic god, in the form of the existence of gratuitious evil and the absence of evidence for the Abrahamic God, which is evidence of absence.)

Here Inayat is playing to the crowd, trying to have his Darwin and Allah, too.

Greg then goes on to blame Hitler, Stalin, Atheism, Naturalism, and all the bad “isms” on Darwin. Inayat replies, among other things, that “Blaming Darwin’s theory for all sorts of evil is like blaming the printing press for Hitler’s Mein Kampf.”  Well, not exactly: the printing press was the means by which Mein Kampf was made into palpable books.  Evolution was not the vehicle for promulgating Communism or Nazism.

Finally, Greg make a Big Fail with respect to physics:

Greg: Let’s talk about one abused idea – the Big Bang, a concept which seeks to explain the origin of the universe, claiming that billions of years ago all the matter and energy in the universe was condensed into a particle no bigger than a pin-head.

No one knows where it came from, but its heat and density were unimaginably great. Then for some unknown reason it exploded, then expanded and cooled so that helium and hydrogen gas could be formed. Our solar system appeared and the rest is palaeontology.

Dead things don’t re-create and re-order themselves to become living entities again.

Every explosion we’ve ever observed results in chaos, never order. Why would physical laws break down for the formation of the universe in the “Big Bang” and its aftermath? No scientist can yet tell us.

The man needs to read up on the Big Bang and abiogenesis.

I’m curious why the BBC even decided to present this “debate”. It gives, by virtue of publication alone, unwarranted credibility to creationism and to Haslam.  There is no real debate in the scientific community over evolution, and putting this “debate” on the BBC site isn’t going to change the minds of creationists. If the BBC wants to show people the truth of evolution, I’ll be glad to write them a summary of the evidence.  And that doesn’t need a rebuttal, any more than does the assertion that the earth is round. Further, I won’t claim that “agency” could be involved in evolution.

Oh, and there’s a typo that wasn’t corrected:

Michael Denton wrote that book [Evolution: A Theory in Crisis] back in 1985. It’s arguments have not found wide support amongst scientists.

“It’s”? Come on, BBC.

51 Comments

  1. Hugh
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Both those people appeared on the programme ‘The Big Questions’ on Sunday morning, and to be fair to the BBC, the show also featured Steve Jones, Matt Ridley and Robert J Asher.

    • Posted January 16, 2013 at 6:34 am | Permalink

      A link to the video of that edition of ‘The Big Questions’ is here . It’s an hour long.

      • Posted January 16, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        Nicky Campbell frames things pretty well, I think.

        /@

        • Posted January 16, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink

          Yeah, he constantly points out to the creationists that the scientific evidence is overwhelming which was refreshing to see.

    • Posted January 16, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      I wish they’d had a scientist in the online exchange, like they did in the programme.

    • gravelinspector
      Posted January 16, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      I tried watching it when it was broadcast. I decided to use the time having breakfast instead.
      A waste of oxygen, calories and accelerated electrons. As such debates usually are.

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted January 16, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        A waste of oxygen, calories and accelerated electrons.

        I’ve had breakfasts like that. Best stick to porridge.

        • gravelinspector
          Posted January 17, 2013 at 3:38 am | Permalink

          I cheated : Lidl’s finest cherries (from the jar, not fresh) in the porridge instead of salt. I know that no true Scotsman would, but I ain’t a true Scotsman (which is why I wear a County Cork kilt).

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted January 17, 2013 at 4:41 am | Permalink

            As a Scot, one thing that really irritates me about some of my fellow Scots is their tendency to tell people that there is only one correct way to eat porridge. Like all matters pertaining to food, it’s purely about taste, and whatever tastes good to you is the correct way to eat it! My preference is: made with milk (not water)and a little salt, and served with honey and a jug of double cream, to be added a little at a time to keep the porridge warm. The cholesterol reducing properties of porridge nicely balance the cholesterol producing properties of the cream :-).

            A Cork kilt – could be a lifesaver.

            Our posh neighbour refers to Lidl as “the German delicatessen”.

            • gravelinspector
              Posted January 18, 2013 at 3:48 am | Permalink

              A Cork kilt – could be a lifesaver.

              If only the Titanic had picked up some at Cobh.

              Our posh neighbour refers to Lidl as “the German delicatessen”.

              Cool! I like it. Consider it appropriated, with attribution.

  2. Posted January 16, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    “Anything can happen given enough time. But can it produce complex order and information if the universe is blind, purposeless… ?”

    What don’t you understand about the words “anything can happen”, Greg?

    /@

  3. Posted January 16, 2013 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    “Every explosion we’ve ever observed results in chaos, never order.”

    Talk about overusing a tendentious, anthropomorphized lens.

    The tree always looks like chaos to the soil and vice versa.

  4. Scott Reilly
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Creationism is alive and well in the UK, with one of the most recent skirmishes being in Northern Ireland. I don’t know if any readers of this blog have been to or know about the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim. But it’s a spectacular rock formation on the North East coast, supposedly formed around 50 million years ago. Recently, a new visitor’s centre was built which contained the scientific explanation. Religious groups complained that they wanted the biblical interpretation included as well and amazingly, they capitulated!

    Read about it here. The decision is under review now so hopefully they’ll see sense and remove this nonsense.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/05/national-trust-creationism-giants-causeway

    • Posted January 16, 2013 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      Yes, that was discussed in a couple of posts on this bl— website at the time.

      /@

      • Scott Reilly
        Posted January 16, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

        Oops, sorry. Was that a faux pas to use the “b” word? Apologies.

        Thanks Ant, I’ll have a butchers for that article now.

        • Kieran
          Posted January 16, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

          There’s a bit more to it than just the National trust capitulating to the Caleb foundation, there is some evidence to suggest that funding was to be tied to presenting a creationist view point as the minster at the time was DUP and involved with Caleb which is mostly DUP anyway.

          There was a counter campaign and while we didn’t get it completely removed it was very much water down except for one weasel word. Info can be found here https://www.facebook.com/groups/CausewayCampaign/

  5. @eightyc
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Creationist debates are mental masturbation.

    They’re entertaining as hell. Lol.

  6. John K.
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    This is as clear an example of how religion hamstrings scientific thought as I have ever seen. Dr. Conye is a very practiced counter-apologist, but the ease with which he can dice up the arguments of both sides compared to the floundering attempts of Inayat is extremely telling.

    How the heck is the first cause argument at all related to evolution? As if establishing any god at all narrows it down to the Abrahamic god that magicked everything into existence in the last 10,000 years. Discrediting the Big Bang does not leave us with creationism as the only option either. Maligning Darwin also has nothing to do with the efficacy of his theories.

    One logical fallacy deserves another, I guess.

  7. Alex Shuffell
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Good for Greg for actually saying the Universe is 14.5 billion years since the Big Bang and 4.5 since the Earth formed. The dates are slightly off but he is the first creationist I have heard that actually knew something like this, he may have read some real science in the past.

    Then I read the rest and see he’s just the same and confused as the rest.

    • Posted January 16, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      At least Greg notices the fact that a god that created humanity by a savage process involving the elimination of the weak, over billions of years wouldn’t be totally consistent with the loving god he believes in. That’s a point that seems totally lost on the other religious people there, including some of the scientists.

      Really TOE should be seen as being totally corrosive to any kind of faith based on a loving deity.

    • derekw
      Posted January 17, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Ummm..there are such curious things as old-earth creationists though Haslam is not one.

  8. Brygida Berse
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    This is ridiculous. The BBC does a great disservice to society presenting this exchange as a serious debate – it legitimizes unscientific superstition. What’s next, a debate about whether the Earth is flat?

    And, as far as I understand, Steven Hawking has already presented a model that eliminates the need for a “first cause” of the Big Bang. All that’s needed are the laws of physics. It’s physics that’s going to answer these big questions, not some fantasies of the uneducated.

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted January 16, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      *Stephen*

      Sorry, Professor Hawking.

  9. blitz442
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    “The trope that “we weren’t there to see it” is, of course, completely dumb.”

    I find that the easiest example to give someone who thinks this way to ask them what police and detectives should do when there are no witnesses to a crime such as a murder. Should they just throw their hands up and toss the case into the unsolved forever pile, or should they avail themselves of things such as forensic evidence?

    To make the point even more forceful, it can be pointed out that eye-witness testimony, even if it does exist, is less reliable than other forms of evidence.

    • blitz442
      Posted January 16, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      “is less reliable than other forms of evidence” s/b “may be less reliable”

      • Posted January 16, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        It’s a bit like when they say “No one has ever seen evolution!” and think it’s a valid argument. No one’s ever seen a tree grow but few would argue that they don’t. We just appreciate that it takes place on a timescale beyond our ability to witness.

  10. Posted January 16, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    “Dead things don’t re-create and re-order themselves to become living entities again.”

    He should read his gospels.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted January 16, 2013 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

      +1

  11. NoAstronomer
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    “… a written debate on evolution between a Muslim and a Christian.”

    If there was a point to this so-called debate it has completely elluded me.

    Mike.

  12. Alex
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    “Here Inayat is playing to the crowd, trying to have his Darwin and Allah, too.”

    How do you recognize a catholic evolutionist?

    They want to have their evolution and eat Jesus, too.

    but bad jokes aside, why did it have to be two religionists? As usual, they are afraid to present science as inherently atheistic and of thus scaring away the watered down mainstream christian crowd.

  13. blitz442
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Are there any debates out there where the creationist is actually pinned down on the MECHANISM of special creation? I would ask a question such as this:

    “So you think that there was once at least one elephant who did not have a direct ancestor. Please elaborate on the following:
    – Was there just one female elephant without an elephant parent, or was it whole herd? If the first elephants were fully formed adults, where they implanted with knowledge of the local environment as well?

    – Was/were the elephant(s) instantly created from particles that already existed, such as dirt, feces, and water on the ground, or did the creator poof new matter into existence? For either case, please explain how this is consistent with known physics and chemistry.

    – If the sudden poofing into existence of a complex organism from thin air (delivered from where???), or the sudden transmogification of dirt and water into a complex organism, is inconsistent with known physics and chemistry, then please offer an alternative, TESTABLE model of physics and chemistry that could plausibly explain it.

    – If the preceding point is deemed impossible to satisfy because you claim that special creation, or the poofing of creatures into existence, is a gross violation of natural law, then how can it be studied and how is creationism a science?

    – Were Indian and African elephants separately created, or are you willing to admit that they shared a common ancestor?

    – If you insist that Indian and African elephants were separately created, then are you asserting that every species or variety that breeds true must have had a member that did not have a parent? In that case, since it is conservatively estimated that 1-5 billion species have ever existed (of 99.9% are now extinct), you are saying that billions of separate creation events happened all over the Earth at the same time, perhaps staggered over 6 days, yet this never, ever happens now?

    – Following from the last point, how could an ecosystem support so many species?

    – If you are willing to grant that evolution does occur, but is perhaps limited to change “within kinds”, please define a kind. Is a mammal a kind? How about a primate? How about ape? Still too close to “macroevolution” – ok how about the “chimpanzee kind”, of which we have only 3 remaining species.

    Something like this. I’m tired of creationists never having to explain their alternative model.

    • Geoff Boulton
      Posted January 16, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      Duh! If he couldn’t perform miracles he wouldn’t be god would he? Sorry, but unfortunately you can’t overcome irrationality with rationality, at least not when it comes to creationists ;-)

      • blitz442
        Posted January 16, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        “Sorry, but unfortunately you can’t overcome irrationality with rationality, at least not when it comes to creationists”

        But the problem is that many people, I think, feel that special creation makes more sense intuitively – they think that it is in a sense the more rational position. Evolution seems at odds with their understanding of how the world works, and therefore creationism gets to be the default setting.

        The utter silliness of the DETAILS of special creation is not emphasized enough in these debates, IMO.

        • Notagod
          Posted January 16, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

          Yes! The christian gods diminish in value even to the christian when unable to stand for honest inquiry.

        • Geoff Boulton
          Posted January 16, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

          I agree, people should point out the idiocy, but I still don’t think it will make any difference to the vast majority. Take here in Poland – Evolution is false, all together now, God did it!, God did it! – Pope John Paul announces acceptance (sort of) of evolution – Evolution is true but, altogether now, God did it!, God did it!

          • Notagod
            Posted January 16, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

            I think there is a better chance of changing the “god did it” deception if one person is challenging than if no one is challenging the delusion of the christian religion. If no one challenges It won’t change.

  14. Posted January 16, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately it is not the case that creationism has died out in the UK (although I appreciate the suggestion was somewhat tongue in cheek). One advantage the US has that we don’t is that it is still possible here to have faith schools and for “fairness” reasons no distinction is made between say Church Of England schools, which are relatively harmless and creationist or muslim schools, which clearly have the agenda to inculcate their students with fundamentalist nonsense and subvert science teaching in any way they can.

  15. Woof
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Greg: It is a proven axiom…

    Head asplode.

    • AlexK
      Posted January 17, 2013 at 3:54 am | Permalink

      Haha I missed that. What an idiot.

  16. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    With all television shows, just getting the product into place, on time, with advertisers on board and in agreement (and paying up) is what the whole production is all about. Content be damned, lasting effect, be damned. If people exclaim about the show, post-show, _why_ they exclaim about it is unimportant (see The Jerry Springer shows, and the fights). All that is desired is a springboard to launch future shows.

    Not sure where BBC is these days regarding advertising (I’m in the USA) but this philosophy of television producers still holds, even for them: quality (and veracity) of content is about 14th in order of importance. In the USA, just look at the “History Channel” and Edgar Cayce.

    • Posted January 16, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

      The BBC is not funded by advertising, but by a licence fee (currently circa £150) that is compulsory for all owners of a TV in the UK. Whilst they do produce some quality programming, I’m not sure that they currently make the best use of this vast budget (easy come, easy go)… but that’s another story.

  17. Posted January 16, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Has nobody cracked the far-too-obvious pun: “Islam vs. Haslam” yet?

    They have now …

  18. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    By Haslam’s logic he couldn’t see anything, since light from afar would be sent out awhile ago and he wasn’t there.

    The earliest light we see is the CMB. It originates from ~ 0.4 million years out of 13.78 billion years, or in other words we can see 0.99997 of 14 billion years.

    That is 2 million times further than Haslam’s decrepit religion allows him to see.

    But can it produce complex order and information if the universe is blind, purposeless – the result of an explosion, random, chaotic and undirected?

    The universe is not an explosion out of a specific volume, it is an expansion in every volume. Redshift 101.

    No one knows where it came from, but its heat and density were unimaginably great.

    Not so:

    “We don’t know what caused/came before inflation, and we don’t know how long inflation lasted (save to say, long enough). But inflation was the thing that happened before the Big Bang, and the Universe could not have been as small as a singular, collapsed point at that moment of transition.

    So, with all of that in mind — which is the story every physical cosmologist knows — what can we define as the Big Bang?

    The Big Bang is the first moment in the history of the Universe where we can describe it as a hot, dense, expanding state, full of matter, antimatter and radiation. It has a temperature of at least a quadrillion Kelvin (but no more than 10^29 Kelvin), and it coincides with the time where inflation ends and the Universe’s expansion rate is dominated by the matter and radiation density.

    [ http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/06/06/defining-the-big-bang/ ; my bold.]

    The Planck temperature, the temperature limit of the universe, is 10^32 K.

    [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_temperature ]

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 16, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      I forgot the moral of the story: Haslam can’t have it both ways.

      Either his universe starts with big bang, and it had a heat and density far from the limits of the universe.

      Or it starts with inflation, and it had neither heat nor pressure.

      • AlexK
        Posted January 17, 2013 at 4:05 am | Permalink

        That is a very subtle and excellent point, but just to annoy you I will nitpick and say that during inflation there is large negative pressure :D

  19. Pray Hard
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    A Christian and a Muslim walk into a bar … hey, where’s the scientist? This joke doesn’t work with only two people!

    • AlexK
      Posted January 17, 2013 at 4:10 am | Permalink

      Ok I can lameify this joke:

      – You know that muslim scientist?

      – Salam? I like him!

  20. guilherme21msa
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Living organisms have a property that machines don’t have, which is autopoiesis or self-assemblage. That is, all living cells and therefore all organisms made of cells absorb molecules from their environment, break those molecules down and then reassemble the pieces of those broken molecules into new molecules, some of which are incorporated as part of the living cells. This means that living organisms literally build themselves and this means that they have a property that machines don’t have.
    Watches or any other machine built by human beings don’t absorb raw metal from their environment, break that metal down and then use it to build machine parts that are incorporated intro the machine itself.

    Ignoring the fact that living beings can build their own components using materials gathered from their environment, then comparing machines to living organisms and asserting that since machines have builders then organisms must also have builders, is like saying that cabbage is a living organism, humans are also living organisms, and that therefore humans must sustain themselves through photosynthesis, while ignoring the fact that humans are mammals and cabbage is a plant.

  21. Nick260682
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    Thinking the printing press/Mein Kampf analogy, regarding the accusation the ToE motivates people to behave badly, I always thought a better one would be: since we found out about gravity, shouldn’t we blame Newton and his nefarious, dangerous theory of gravity for all the times people drop things on other people’s heads. That long haired evil bastard.


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