A visiting creationist dared biologists at U.C. Davis to debate him — and even bet $250,000 no one could show “any empirical evidence for macro evolution [sic].” Jonathan Eisen turned him down:
Discussing creationism – fine. Discussing criticism of evolutionary hypotheses – fine. Having a reasonable panel discussion of science and religion – fine. Meeting with creationists to discuss their ideas about evolution – ok too. But engaging in a “debate” and thus even for a second implying that creationism stands on the same ground as evolution – completely ludicrous.
There’s a good discussion emerging below the post; but the consensus seems to be do not feed the trolls. It’s a hard position to take — it certainly goes against my own Aspergers-oid need to refute obvious nonsense when I hear it — but I’ve rarely seen such events work out well.
Picture a local scientist who maybe thinks about creationism a couple times a year “debating” some nut who considers this his life’s work. Advantage: nut.
Consider further that the audience is overwhelmingly on the nut’s side — and, indeed, are there to have their beliefs confirmed — so that the nut has no need to make a coherent argument and can instead focus on scoring rhetorical/ presentational points. Advantage: nut.
Finally, recall that scientific knowledge is necessarily tentative and complex, and a good scientist will have to acknowledge that there are things we don’t know about the history of life on Earth; whereas the nut has an (allegedly) simple and comprehensive story. Advantage: nut.
Of course, ask the two of them do do actual science, develop an answer to an empirical question beyond “because God wanted it to be that way” — then advantage: scientist. But that’s not what a formal debate is.