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Analyzing the Kent Hovind and Michael Shermer Creation vs Evolution Debate

Updated on December 29, 2012

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In the Great Debate, Kent Hovind and Michael Shermer debate over the controversial topics of Creationism and Evolution. Michael Shermer supported evolution, arguing that evolution was a science that possibly is “like an answer to how God or ID might have done it.” Kent Hovind opposed. He stated that “evolution is a religion”, and subsequently demonstrated how Shermer’s evidences were either lies or inherently supporting creationism. As we explore their evidence arguments, appeals to the audience, and their ability to engage their audience, this essay aims to demonstrate how Kent Hovind’s argument was rhetorically superior to Michael Shermer’s argument.

The Kent Hovind and Michael Sermer Debate

Analyzing the Nature of the Evidence

Both speakers quoted many scientific studies to support their stance, although they interpreted them from different perspectives. Shermer surfaced substantial scientific studies to illustrate how evolution is scientifically supported from scientists all over the world who have reached the same conclusions independently. Similarly, Hovind cited many of the same studies but drew opposing conclusions from them as he was grounded his conclusions in the biblical account of creation in the book of Genesis - explaining for example how kinds and species of animals were not the same. We will deal with more evidences in subsequent parts of this essay.

Early in the debate, Shermer used bandwagon appeal when he said that 96 million American Christians and 1 billion Catholics believe in evolution. These statistics depict evolution as a popular and desirable theory to believe in. However, there are many questions that require answers before we accept this claim – such as the research method and sampling techniques. Shermer also appealed to false authority when he quoted Pope John Paul’s opinion on evolution. The Pope is an eminent religious figure but his area of expertise is not evolution; quoting him might increase the chance that devout Catholics might buy into evolution because of his influence as a religious authority, instead of the inherent theory itself.

One thing that Hovind was too passionate about was his trying to convert Shermer to believe in God. I considered his overly zealous personal attacks as ad hominem argument as it came across as an attempt to discredit Shermer as a speaker and blunt his arguments, which could be regarded as a slightly underhanded and unnecessary approach to debate about evolution.


How they appealed to the Audience

Shermer began with an appeal to the audience’s emotions (pathos) using humor as he greeted them and introduced himself as the director of the Skeptic Society and publisher of the Skeptics magazine that was passing out “propaganda” at the back. It was a light-hearted way of increasing his credibility as he undeniably has rich academic credentials. Hovind, instead, portrayed himself as a devout Christian and family man, introducing his family and all his religious affiliations and involvements (owning the museum) dedicated to evangelizing and teaching others about the truth of creation as recorded in the Bible. Like Shermer, Hovind appealed to the audiences using ethos and pathos; as the majority of the audience were Christians, Hovind would then resonate as part of their in-group, and they would also be more accepting of his academic arguments.

Both speakers appealed to the logos, but in slightly different ways. Shermer spent time to define his boundaries and explain meanings of technical terms and dispel misinterpretations (the cavemen cartoon) so that the audience could see how evolution was scientific and how creationists were deluded. Hovind quickly defined his terms and then plunged straight into dismissing Shermer’s arguments and exposing his lies, grounding all his claims using Bible verses and updated scientific research from prominent researchers. Hovind summarized himself when said “evolutionist argue against design using arguments they design.”

During the question and answer session, Shermer quoted a lot more scientific studies such as the carbon dating, bacteria and meiosis and how studies have shown how things are designed bottom up (evolution) instead of top down (by a creator). He also identified more loopholes in Hovind’s reasoning, citing examples such as the Bible talking about unicorns, comparing Hovind’s logic to that those Holocaust deniers. Not surprisingly, Hovind was fully prepared to defend and refute Shermer with all his powerpoint slides and videos. This last part of the debate used mainly logos to influence the audience as most of their debate revolved answering questions regarding best scientific evidence for certain phenomenon such as the big bang theory, lucy (the missing link) and roaches and pesticides.


Engagement with the Audience

There are four noteworthy observations about this audience that lead us to two useful conclusions. First, the audience overflowed into the aisles. Second, from the number of raised hands, Shermer confirmed his hunch that the majority of the audience were believers. Third, the audience was noticeably international. Fourth, this debate was held at the University of California (Irvine). Beyond establishing a high interest in this topic, we can be certain that many of the Christians would aim to listen out specifically for ways to reconcile their religious beliefs (creation) with what they have learnt in school (theory of evolution). Second, most of the audience would be highly educated, and would enjoy the cognitive process of reasoning. This second conclusion is affirmed as we consider the diverse cultural backgrounds of the audience. Not all cultures have any concept of the Judeo-Christian God, so this group of individuals would possess an even higher and purer level of intellectual discernment as they filter any religious or scientific argument without any religious presuppositions.

Shermer tried to parallel and mediate religious and scientific aspects of his argument when he likened evolution as the means by which God or ID might have created the world. It was thought-provoking when Shermer highlighted the different schools of creationism that sometimes contradicted each other – and asked the audience which kind of creationism they would embrace. However, during his 10 minute and 4 minute sections, after Hovind dismissed much of his evidence as lies and even support for creation, Shermer was unable to defend himself. Shermer chose to argue instead about the definitions of religion or to respond to the personal remarks that Hovind shot at Him. In some cases, the same pieces of evidence examined from the creation and evolution perspective resulted in differing conclusions. Shermer's position was weakened when he was not able to defend the arguments Hovind had found loopholes in.

On the other hand, while Hovind might have imbibed too much of his religious fervor into his arguments, his scientific and logical arguments stood strong – as Shermer neither rebutted him nor clarify his position adequately. Hovind exposed the fallacious logic and the lies that were in the school textbook creation accounts, the fossil layers, the octopus eyes and vestigial structures such as the snake’s legs, whale's pelvis and the apppendix to name a few examples.


Other Aspects of the Debate

Hovind had one advantage over Shermer - he was able to spend more time refuting Shermer in his first 25 minute round, while Shermer had nothing to respond to since he spoke first. This might have given Hovind the upper hand, laying the grounds for the pattern of attack and defense. In fact, Shermer might have intentionally focused more on the philosophy, logic and definitions of evolution during his first 25 min set not wanting to give Hovind too much material to debunk until the question and answer sessions.

Most importantly, it is worth mentioning that the creation and evolution camps bring two differing worldviews to the table, each with its own presuppositions. Shermer filters evidence through the assumption that the universe was created through random chance; perhaps there might be a “god” or intelligent designer who created the first few ‘elements’, but God’s nature as the creator and his existence is not the central issue. On the other hand, Hovind filters evidence on the premise that a purposeful being (in this case, the Judeo-Christian God) created the universe. These opposing worldviews explain their differing interpretations and convictions resulting from viewing the same evidence. Fortunately or unfortunately, this results in an unlevelled basis for debate and comparison of the two issues, as both Shermer and Hovind regard each other’s claims as fallacious. As an audience, the task of identifying fallacious arguments becomes tricky and subjective, as determined by the set of presuppositions and their ensuing conclusions attached to each worldview.

In conclusion, after deconstructing the eloquent arguments both gentlemen presented, I feel that while both were compelling in their knowledge and interpretation of the scientific studies presented to them, Hovind was better able to address the needs of his audience and debunk Shermer’s arguments. Shermer also tried to reconcile the Biblical account of creationism with evolution, which was useful to see how the disjunction between evolution and creation might be bigger than it actually is. However, because Hovind received very little resistance from Shermer during the scientific debates during both the debate and the question and answer session afterward, Hovind came across as the speaker with the stronger argument. Therefore, of the two, I feel that ultimately Hovind made the most rhetorically effective argument.

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    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 

      5 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      I found myself feeling angry at the rhetoric of Kent Hovind that I was hardly able to listen to him. He's rigid, closed minded and accusatory. The only thing he proved to me was that he's a good debater.

      Everyone has their own truth and that's all that truly matters in the end. I do prefer the idea that we can think for ourselves and not take the word completely from another or from a single source.

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