The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

A Challenge to Skeptics: Pithy, Non-Offensive Sound Bytes in Response to Creationism?

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 9, 2009

This will be a quick post, one which I hope garners a lot of attention because it addresses an important unanswered question: can the skeptical community come up with a quick, pithy, 30-second sound byte that is non-offensive which conveys the importance of teaching evolution whilst tamping down creationist pseudoscience?

Allow me to provide some context for this question… during my time last weekend at Dragon*Con, I participated in a panel discussion called “Darwin’s Bulldogs, Teachers on the Front Lines” which addressed the question of how educators can deal with creationism in the context of the classroom.


In the photo on the far right is Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, who was on the panel with me.

After the panel discussion, we had audience Q&A, and a woman who works at a history museum came up to the microphone and presented us with a tough question – the one I named above.  In museums, they don’t have the advantage of a science teacher who has many months to educate students and the luxury of being able to craft pro-science arguments & experiments.  A museum worker can find themselves in a sudden situation where they’re on the spot to explain to, potentially hostile, people the importance of evolution.  As Eugenie Scott said in our panel, this is a particularly tough situation to deal with, and we all agreed to try putting our collective heads together in an effort to address the issue because we do not yet have a good response.

So, if you have a suggestion for a sound byte, please leave it in the comments section below and pass this blog post on to everyone you know.  I’ll share my findings with others in the hopes that we can come up with something workable!

2 Responses to “A Challenge to Skeptics: Pithy, Non-Offensive Sound Bytes in Response to Creationism?”

  1. ObSciGuy said

    After he gave at talk at Cornell earlier this year, Massimo Pigliucci was asked by a grad student in the audience how he deals with creationist students taking his biology courses when evolution comes up. He had the following nice one liner (I don’t recall the exact quote) for that situation:

    I’m not asking you to BELIEVE in evolution, but to UNDERSTAND it.

    Granted, this works especially well when there’s a final grade on the line, but maybe not so well in the museum setting.

    To me, what stands out most about this approach, is that it can disarm that “all-or-nothing belief” issue so many religious folks get hung up on. People get really defensive really quick when they feel their core beliefs are threatened, no matter how rational or irrational they may be – so it’s best not to go there 😉

    This lets them know that trying to understand the science doesn’t necessarily threaten their beliefs, and opens the door for learning. Quoting biblical contradictions, etc. only puts them on the defensive and reaffirms their perception of conflict between evolution/science and religion.

    If, without threatening their beliefs, you can convince someone to try and learn what evolution is (and maybe some evidence supporting it) before they pass judgment, you’ve accomplished a great deal more than you think!

  2. ztrewq said

    I think ObSciGuy has a good point in there. Something that advocates the use of your brain, thinking — people who go to a museum are not your general audience; they are curious, interested. Kids are curious (if they are not, no soundbyte will help :-> ).

    Don’t take evolution for granted — cross-examine it yourself

    It’s just a theory — just like theory of gravity that lets us build airplanes

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