When Bill Nye stood up to debate Ken Ham, his opening focused on the chosen subject: “is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” He made a solid argument that it was not.

So here tonight we are going to have two stories, and we can compare Mr. Ham’s story to the story from the outside, what I call mainstream science. The question here tonight is, does Ken Ham’s creation model hold up? Is it viable? So let me ask you, what would you be doing if you weren’t here tonight? You’d be home watching CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) TV show, CSI-Petersburg. I think that’s coming. And on CSI, there is no distinction made between historical science and observational science. These are constructs unique to Mr. Ham. We don’t normally have these anywhere in the world except here.

Natural laws that applied in the past apply now; that’s why there are natural laws, that’s why we embrace them. That’s how we made all these discoveries that enabled this marvelous technology. Although CSI is a fictional show, it’s based absolutely on real people doing real work, going to a crime scene, where you have evidence and you get clues about the past, and you trust those clues and you embrace them, and go forward to convict somebody.

Ken Ham, in contrast, largely ignored the question.

I assert that the word “science” has been hijacked by secularists in teaching evolution, to force the religion of naturalism on generations of kids. Secular evolutionists teach that all life developed by natural processes from some primeval form; that man is just an evolved animal, which has great bearing on how we view life and death. For instance, as Bill states, “It’s hard for many of us to accept that when you die it’s over.” You see, the Bible gives a totally different account of origins: who we are, where we came from, the meaning of life, and our future.

He did pop in a reference to the actual debate question, but never defended his side.

So, is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era? I say, the creation/evolution debate is really a conflict between two philosophical worldviews based on two different accounts of origins or historical science beliefs. Creation is the only viable model of historical science, confirmed by observational science, in today’s modern scientific era.

This is a common tactic among creationists; on some level, they know that they’d lose a straight debate on the topic, so they instead change the topic to something easier to defend. For instance, here’s Robert Day discussing his debate with Ian Taylor on the viability of creation science, back in 1990.

Taylor’s brief foray into creation science consisted of only a few seconds discussion about his pet project, the alleged Archaeopteryx hoax, and an explanation that the Great Flood produced the current fossil record by “hydrological sorting.” Quite honestly, it was unclear what point Taylor was trying to make, since he stated that, “It is not an objection to evolution, but an objection to such interpretation shown as fact.” What this is supposed to mean is beyond me. In total, Taylor’s presentation seemed to be mostly philosophical, and he managed to avoid any use whatsoever of the phrase “creation science.”

This puts their opponent between a rock between hard place: they have nothing to reply to on the chosen topic, so either they go their own way and ignore what the other person said (opening them up to charges that they cannot rebut the creationist), or switch topics to something they did less research on than their opponent (and open themselves up to a “gotcha” moment).

These isn’t the only tactic, by a long stretch.

One of the most common tactics is misquoting scientists, frequently called “quote mining.” Creationists take the comments of scientists out of context and make them appear as if they argue against evolution (common descent) when in reality the opposite was being expressed or perhaps something entirely unrelated. Because creationists are often devoutly religious, arguments from authority may seem quite attractive — after all, fundamentalist religion is already rather authoritarian. […]

Another popular tactic of creationists is to misstate or misapply scientific principles. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a favorite — creationists often claim that the second law of thermodynamics proves evolution can’t happen. Creationists also tend to use a shotgun approach to try to convince people their views are correct. This approach entails tossing out a large batch of scientific-sounding objections and misrepresentations of science which can’t all be easily refuted because too much basic science has to be assumed or taught to the audience.

This is one of the reasons why smart evolutionists generally avoid public debates with creationists except in controlled environments. A creationist can spew out a vast quantity of convincing-sounding misinformation in a short amount of time but it could take days to correct the misinformation and explain the actual theories and evidence.

There’s also the classic technique dubbed the “Gish Gallop:” bury your opponent in small lies or misleading statements, exploiting the fact that it’s easier to state than explain, then point to the ones they can’t or don’t have the time to refute as victories for your side.

I only state all of the above so that you can understand how much deja-vu I got when I watched a debate between Kirsti Winters and Sargon of Arkkad, on the topic of “is feminism good for the world?” Winters tackled it head-on with a bushel of citations; she brought up reforms to sexual assault laws, the push for pay equality, and nearly everything else suffragettes and second-wave feminists agitated for. She argued against people who say feminism has run its course, she mentioned contemporary international feminist activism relating to contraception, she made a point of talking about how men have benefited from feminism.

When Sargon of Arkkad, also known as Carl Benjamin, got up to the microphone… well…

Feminism is a social science and therefore naturally uses the social science method of asking people things to gather data. As you can imagine, this leads to data that is hard to measure twice.  When 270 scientists on five different continents decided to try to replicate 100 cognitive and social psychology experiments, 75% of the social psychology experiments could not be replicated. Even when the studies could be replicated, the results were consistently found to be exaggerated.

… he discusses how social science is deeply flawed, and how people who identify as “left-leaning” tend to prefer listening to other people who identify the same way. And since feminism is a branch of social science, and is considered “left-leaning,” it follows that

Feminism is not based on reliable empirical data, it has conclusions warped by political bias, it’s on the verge of collapsing under its own inconsistencies and requires Orwellian-levels of control to maintain via the suppression of other people’s rights.

Feminism is not good for the world because the world is where reality is, and reality is the mortal enemy of modern-day intersectional feminism.

Which doesn’t answer the debate question at all. As for quote-mining, Benjamin links to an article by the authors of a now-famous study of sexual assault, and states:

They specifically say that the survey is not representative and includes not only rape but any sexual act that could legally constitute a crime and it was web-based, shared around social media with a 42% response rate. They literally say:

“We simply have no way of knowing whether sexual-assault victims were more or less likely to participate in our study.”

They specifically say that it isn’t representative, but that hasn’t stopped feminists the world over from misappropriating this dubious study to justify their crybully demands for safe spaces and special treatment.

His pull-out quote says nothing about representation, though. On that topic, the authors actually said:

First and foremost, the 1-in-5 statistic is not a nationally representative estimate of the prevalence of sexual assault, and we have never presented it as being representative of anything other than the population of senior undergraduate women at the two universities where data were collected—two large public universities, one in the South and one in the Midwest.

In statistics, a “representative sample” has a strict technical meaning: to attain it, the researchers either had to randomly sample about five and a half million students at  5,300 or so colleges and universities, or use extensive demographic data of all those students to ensure a non-random sample matched those demographics. Since the researchers couldn’t do either, they couldn’t honestly say they had a “representative sample” in that narrow technical sense.

But the lay meaning of representative is much fuzzier, and more like “similar to” or “indicative of.” That 2007 study is “representative” in the lay sense:

Our survey had limitations, as outlined above. However, we believe the results have value for several reasons.

First, all research of this kind faces methodological and logistical challenges, but we approached the study objectively and implemented it with as much methodological rigor as possible given the budget we were given and the state of the field at that time.

Second, our results are not inconsistent with other studies that surveyed undergraduate students about their sexual-assault experiences, and surveying students directly about their sexual-assault experiences using behaviorally specific language remains the most scientifically valid way to measure the prevalence of sexual assault. Survey data have limitations, but they are universally believed to be more accurate than official law-enforcement or campus crime data on sexual assault. A large majority of sexual-assault victims do not report their experiences to law enforcement or other authorities, so official crime statistics dramatically underestimate the prevalence of sexual assault.

So Benjamin is quoting from that article without providing the full context, making two scientists seem to say one thing when they actually said something else. We have a word for that: “quote-mining.”

This also means Benjamin “misstate[d] or misappl[ied] scientific principles” at least once during the debate. Another example is his invocation of the replication crisis in science, in order to discredit all social sciences. As luck would have it, I happen to know a bit on the topic thanks to multiple blog posts about the subject matter.

For one thing, the replication crisis doesn’t just apply to the social sciences; physics has had at least one replication failure, though it was later resolved by improved methods and data, and there’s been multiple failures in biomedicine. For another, a major component of the replication crisis is “p-hacking” or a variety of techniques that can alter the calculation of statistical significance, and the use of “p-values,” which exaggerate the evidence against the null hypothesis… but the 2007 study doesn’t calculate statistical significance at all, let alone invoke p-values.

Small sample sizes, inflating the chance of a statistical fluke? This study had N = 6,821, of which 5,446 were women, of which 1,073 reported an attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college. A naive calculation of the 95% confidence interval gives one percentage point of wiggle room, so their measurement almost certainly isn’t a chance result. No replications have been done? In the paper itself the authors list prior research which is in the same ballpark of their results; in other words, they were replicating other people’s work, and came to similar conclusions.

In addition to generating estimates of attempted and/or  completed rape, much of the existing research has also explored the prevalence of sexual victimization at a general level. For example, in the NCWSV, 15.5% of college women reported being sexually victimized during the academic year in which  the data  were collected (Fisher, Cullen, &  Turner, 2000). Koss (1988) found that 44% of the college women in her sample reported some type of sexual victimization within a 1-year period. A single-site, longitudinal study of 100 college women found that 29% of the sample reported being sexually victimized (including sexual contact, sexual coercion, attempted  rape, or rape) by a dating partner in the 32 months since entering college (Himelein, 1995).

In sum, Benjamin has no idea what the “replication crisis” is or what it means for science, yet spends his opening statement pretending he does.

As for Gish Galloping, Duane Gish himself would have been embarrassed by this amateur:

This leads to first world feminists making media from the comfort of their warm, dry, plush rooms, wearing makeup and smiling at the camera while surrounded by luxury to make the ridiculous claim that they are being oppressed because sometimes they have to do something, all orchestrated by an invisible force whose sole purpose for existence is to make their life slightly less easy than it could have been.

Western feminists have the gall to redefine a word that describes the result of genuine systems of discrimination and subjugation and then appropriate that word to describe their everyday annoyances.

To refute that, Winters would have had to analyze the claim that a significant number of feminists in the first world “make media,” wear make-up, live in luxury, claim that being asked to do things is oppressive, that the “invisible force” known as patriarchy is in fact invisible, that feminist redefine “patriarchy” from meaning oppression by “genuine systems of discrimination” to something else, and that feminists are fixated on “everyday annoyances.” In two short paragraphs Benjamin packs in a breathtaking number of claims, none of which are related to the debate question, all of which are sweeping generalizations free of evidence. Had Winters brought up a counterexample for any one of those, Benjamin would be free to wheel the goalposts back to “most feminists” instead of “all,” and then to “some” instead of “most” should Winters continue to waste time on an irrelevant point.

Sargon of Arkkad is deploying the exact same debate techniques as creationists do. His goal isn’t to sway educated people to his side; as an article I quoted earlier put it:

Creationists know their beliefs are not and will not be accepted by the vast majority of scientists since there is no scientific support for their position. Creationist arguments are geared towards the “everyday Joe,” the average person who is frequently ignorant about evolution and science in general. Their arguments are designed to sound convincing and scientific to people who simply don’t know any better.

Benjamin is no different; he cannot convince people who know something about feminism that feminism is cancerous, so he instead tries to appeal to the ignorant with hollow platitudes and virtue signalling. It’s embarrassing to see this in someone who should know better; his debate against Kirsti Winters appears to have been prompted by a YouTube video where she compiled examples of him using creationist tactics.

It’s amazing to run across someone so oblivious that when charged with debating like a creationist, their response is to debate like a creationist.

[HJH 2016-08-28: Corrected minor spelling mistakes.]