How not to argue with the Pope (or anyone)

In a recent speech, Pope Francis affirmed his belief in the theory of evolution, noting its compatibility with Scripture.

The Big Bang, which is today posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creation; rather, it requires it. … Evolution of nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.

This made a few young-earth creationists mad. For those who don’t know, young-earth creationists interpret Genesis 1 very literally—they believe God created the universe in six consecutive 24-hour days about 7,000 years ago (or thereabouts). By implication, this means they believe the theory of evolution is wrong. Some of them even think evolution is heresy, or that believing in evolution is a form of disbelief in God.

Arguing
from Wikimedia Commons

But my point here is not to get into that debate. I’m not ready for that, and probably won’t ever be. What I want to show is how not to respond to people you disagree with.

Below is a comment given in response to the Pope’s by Brian Thomas at the Institute for Creation Research.

Either God really created the cosmos the way He said He did and when He said, or He did not. If He did not, then we should jettison Scripture. Fortunately, historical science—like young-looking spiral galaxies, fast-fuel-burning blue stars, heat-emitting Saturn, and still-icy comets—clearly confirm the Bible’s history.

There are several things wrong with Brian’s response. Some of them have to do with the specific context of this debate, so my apologies to those who haven’t read much about evolution vs. young-earth creationism. But all of them are, I think, examples we should learn from before attempting to debate with our peers.

First, Brian misses the whole point of the argument and instead assumes his position’s truth from the very outset. His evidence for his opponent’s fallacy then derive from that assumption. This is not an argument, but a mere assertion. It also has nothing to do with what Pope Francis said—that God’s plan for creation included evolution.

Second, Brian cherry picks examples. Sure, “young-looking spiral galaxies” and “heat-emitting Saturn” may provide some evidence in favor of young-earth creationism—evidence I’m willing to consider. But there’s lots of evidence against young-earth creationism, too. He doesn’t mention these. Instead, he levels only those pieces of evidence that seem to be in favor of his position (this is my larger problem with the young-earth creationism community in general, by the way).

Third, his response opens Pandora’s box and makes an argument concerning the validity of Scripture as a whole, when all Pope Francis discussed was how God may have created the universe. Why must we “jettison Scripture” if Genesis 1 is found to be less-than-literal? In the context of a formal debate, Brian would have to defend that position before any other rebuttals of his opponent would fly, since he uses that assumption to (try to) undermine his opponent, who he knows believes in the truth of the Scriptures.

Just some thoughts. There’s a lot more to discuss here, but I’ll leave it at that.

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