Told you I wasn’t dead.
PZ Myers has been running an interesting thing lately. He’s challenging some of the regular creationist commenters on his blog to provide answers to various basic questions on evolution, but from a scientific and evolutionary viewpoint – that is, to express the opposing viewpoint as clearly as they can. The first question was “If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?”, to be answered in no more than 200 words.
It’s a question which many creationists do still honestly seem to think will undermine the entirety of evolutionary science, but it’s been explained to them often enough by now. Asking creationists to answer this kind of question is a nifty way of establishing just where the disagreement is, and how well thought out their position. Someone who doesn’t know what scientific answer can be provided to this question, clearly doesn’t understand very well what the theory of evolution actually is. If you’re still waiting to see a cat give birth to a dolphin before you’ll believe it, then it’s not really the theory of evolution you disagree with, but rather some surreal caricature which every scientist would find just as bizarre as you do. Anyone who disagrees with evolution should be able to outline the standard scientific response to a question like this, because only if you can do that (and then further explain why you disagree with it) do you stand any chance of holding a remotely rational position. You can’t disagree with someone if you don’t understand what they’re saying.
Of course, this necessarily works both ways. To explain why I disagree with any particular religious claim or position, I’d need to at the very least understand what it is, and having to provide an opposing response to the kind of questions I might ask would be a good way of establishing that. Honestly, in a lot of cases I’m not sure how well I could do that. I usually make sure I know what I’m arguing against when I’m writing a specific response, or am careful to make it clear when I’m not sure exactly what someone’s position is. But quite often the details of someone’s philosophy continue to elude me, because the temptation is too strong to just group it all into a big bag labelled “nonsense” and assume that any one bit is as meaningless as any other. Which isn’t fair, even if a lot of the nonsense does seem indistinguishable; if I’m not going to make the effort to examine an individual claim on its own merit, and try to understand where it’s based, then I’m in no position to get pissy when someone else just as dismissively says “Monkeys, apes, australopithecines, whatever“.
Okay, I’m not dead, but I’m out of practice. This was all more interesting when it was in my head earlier today. Give it some time, I’ll get back into the groove.