A small New Zealand Christian sect (“TSCF and a few churches” whatever that means) is attempting to organise a debate between a “top Christian Scholar” and a “first-class” New Zealand atheist (see Calling all atheists… we need a debate opponent). “An interesting debate” you might think. But that depends on the subjects debated, the audience and the motives behind it all.
The anonymous author of this post (“admin”) claims that the debate would be about science and reflect “Darwinist versus Christian” views. That’s the give away, isn’t it. The dishonest attempt to present evolutionary science as atheist. No doubt the audience will be Christians, members of “TSCF and a few churches.” The debate format creates a “them and us” situation and clearly conveys the message that evolutionary science (and probably science in general) is on the atheist side and opposed to Chrsitianity. And, of course, that is the message the organisers and “admin” wish to convey. In effect, they want to protect their “flock” from the truth.
And what is the truth they wish to avoid? Most Christians have no problem with science and evolutionary science. They can easily accommodate scientific knowledge with their religious beliefs. In fact, many US Christians are actively campaigning against creationist “intelligent design” and in support of evolutionary science and its teaching in science classes (see Religious opposition to “intelligent design”). This attitude is expressed by a Christian blogger in We Need a New Approach where he admits “intelligent design” has failed as a science and says: “Look, we gave the intelligent design thing a gentleman’s try, lets move on to something else.”
Debate with a Christian opponent
True, some Christians are still uncomfortable with aspects of evolutionary theory – particularly those with little or no knowledge of this science. In New Zealand approximately 40% of Christians prefer a creationist explanation (see New Zealand supports evolution). Clearly the real conflict over evolutionary science is within Christianity – that’s where the big divisions are. That’s where these debates should take place.
I say to the organisers of this New Zealand debate – why not be honest about it? Recognise the differences are within your own religion. Forget about atheists – organise a debate between Christians. They would have no problems finding Christians with expertise in science, and in evolutionary science, capable of providing a worthy debate opponent for their “top Christian scholar.”
The tactic behind this particular debate is a specific example of “framing” – posing a question in a format similar to “When are you going to stop beating your wife.” Scientists are becoming more aware of this tactic as a result of the “intelligent design” and climate change controversies. For more about this issue for science have a look at (or listen to) the following sites:
Chris Mooney & Mathew Nisbet – Framing science podcast
Matthew C. Nisbet – Communicating about Science and Religion
Matthew C. Nisbet – Selling Science to the Public
Tom Flynn – The Science vs. Religion Warfare Thesis
The Scientist Delusion? Nature Column on AAAS Panel