I attended a debate this past Thursday between ERV and one Dr Charles Jackson because I spotted it on ERV. And of course, since I'm a creotard and a Trinity spawn, I thought it would be a good time. The topic was: “Does Molecular Genetics Support Human Evolution?” and it took place at a local evangelical church (or at least I'm pretty sure it's like an evangelical Bible church).
A few impressions:
-Charles Jackson is kind of a weird guy, but oh well. I would imagine extended exposure to studying these topics might mess one up a bit. I can feel it creeping into my own psyche as well. Plus, I can't say that any YEC creation-scientist type has ever come across to me as what I'd call "normal", for better or worse.
-ERV herself, in person, is quite personable, even courteous, even friendly. I have never, ever met someone whose online persona differs more from their real-life persona than ERV's does. It is absolutely amazing - one would never expect that the person who appeared at the debate was the same person who blogs at ERV. I can't help but ascribe that to a fair amount of intellectual dishonesty, really. I admit that I'm bolder behind the keyboard than I am in real life, but not much, and part of the difference in tone is the lack of vocal nuance and body language, etc, that is invisible through a screen.
-The initial presentations from both sides were garbage. Each side made, as far as I could tell, precisely 1 ½ points. I didn't know what to expect from Jackson; to be honest, I expected a bit of a Kent Hovind type. I suppose he fit that sort of, but Hovind is at least far slicker in his presentations. The weird thing is that ERV had a, if you will, captive audience, and 20 whole minutes to make her case to a group of fundies, myself, Vox Veritatis, and 2 other Bible-thumper friends included. ERV used perhaps 13 minutes of her initial presentation, and the main point (illustrated through an exposition of her research of endogenous retroviruses and suchlike) was "The genetic differences we see only make sense in an evolutionary paradigm." That's it? Really? Out of the mountains upon mountains of evidence you allegedly have, you were able to pare it down to that?
-The moderation was nonexistent, and that ended up being a good thing, because the structure was: 20 min initial presentation, 10 min rebuttal, audience Q&A. No cross-ex, which is the heart and soul of any good debate. But since the format was pretty open and audience members felt the freedom to stand up and speak to the debaters, which happened occasionally but not overwhelmingly, and since there was no time limit fixed, the debaters interacted sometimes with audience members and increasingly with each other as well. The nearly 2-hour Q&A period was thus by far the most enjoyable part of the debate. Jackson shined in this interaction period, repeatedly overturning points from ERV and even surprising me by shutting down an audience member with whom I'm quite familiar on a fairly obscure point about the Permian extinction or something. He didn't win them all, far from it, but he did far better than I'd expected and easily won the debate.
-Jackson is very evidentialist in his apologetic orientation. Numerous times my friends and I would feel him closing in on a great point and would prepare for jubilation as he closed the noose...only to lapse back into frustration as he veered aside from the jugular to snarl and tear at the opponent's shinbone again. Too bad.
I was able to ask ERV a set of questions not too far into the Q&A session. I know that live Q&A in debates like this generally turn to irrelevant and emotional diatribes, so I resolved to stick to the topic at hand and got my chance when ERV made her "The genetic differences we see only make sense in an evolutionary paradigm" point.
First question: I repeated her point back to her, then asked her to consider a different paradigm in which God created the world and humans good, but then humans fell into sin. Sin has a seriously deleterious (noetic) effect on the world as well as humans and leads to bad mutations, death, etc. Thus these genetic differences are accounted for by God's design and the subsequent effects of sin.
ERV responded that she agreed - that would account for the genetic differences.
What I should have then said was, "So, given that this was your main point and that you concede it, do you concede the debate?"
Without the audio of the debate, however, I can't recall exactly what occurred in between, unfortunately (edit: See the interaction here). It ended, however, by ERV saying something about not being able to take the miraculous or supernatural (or sthg like that) into acct in actual research in the lab.
I then said "Thank you. Final question, then - would you say that you have an a priori commitment to naturalism?" and gave the mic to someone else. She responded in a way that made me want to grab the mic back, actually - "Well, of course - in the lab I have to follow the evidence". (Edit: Apparently, some don't hear her answer that way, and I can kind of see where they're coming from, enough to concede partly that there's a good chance I heard wrong. See this comment for more information.) This doesn't answer the question at all, but it was a cute sidestep. Had I had the chance, I would have continued, "Oh, what is your evidence for naturalism?" and had a good time that way, but it was not to be. Again, too bad.
Further comment from me is found here.