A Response to Aron Ra

By James Umber

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August 24, 2018

I regret that this response must be written. The atheist blogger Aron Ra and I recently participated in an event together. We were at a church, answering questions on the topic of creationism and Darwinism in front of about 300 high school students. Despite the fact that we differ greatly on the topic at hand—I, a creationist, and he, a Darwinist—we had a fairly cordial discussion, if it can be called a discussion. You can watch the video by clicking here.

However, about a week later I discovered that Mr. Ra had written a blog article giving his analysis of the event. You can read it here [http://www.patheos.com/blogs/reasonadvocates/2018/08/10/debatable-inquiry-in-a-church/]. When I discovered his article, I expected that it would be a somewhat fair and respectful commentary on our Q and A session. I was disappointed to discover that the overall tone was adversarial, accusatory, and haughty—completely unsuitable for an academic discussion. Of greater concern, however, were the many baseless assumptions and falsehoods proffered in his article, many of which may be easily exposed by carefully watching the video.

First, I must acknowledge a point of common ground. I can relate to Mr. Ra’s frustrations with the format. I was prepared to have more of a back-and-forth discussion with opportunity to rebut each other’s counterarguments, and was disappointed that no such opportunity was given. Like Mr. Ra, I was frustrated as details of the format were revealed to me. However, the tone of his blog is very accusatory. Given that this is the first time this church has ever done something like this, I would expect a learning curve and would give them the benefit of the doubt. And, by the way, right after the event, the church leaders asked him for his advice on how they can do this better.

Not giving the benefit of the doubt, however, is of little concern compared to the false assumptions Mr. Ra made throughout his article. For example, his article makes a reckless and false assumption about why I insisted on using the term, “Darwinism,” without any evidence for how he allegedly came to know my reasons. Would it not be better to seek to understand my reasons rather than falsely presuming what he does not know? As another example, Mr. Ra says I “seemed to reject even microevolution,” but this is another groundless assumption. He said he came to this conclusion because I “rejected [his] comment that both micro and macroevolution had been directly observed.” He needs to watch the video. I did not claim that microevolution has never been directly observed, nor did I reject his comment that microevolution has been directly observed.

Mr. Ra’s assumptions seem to know no end as he presumes to know what I did and did not do 10 to 20 years ago, what I know about the Kitzmiller case, what I know about Of Pandas and People (despite my response), and whether I read his book. It is a rather arrogant and immature stance to assume that if someone disagrees with him, that person must be lying and ignorant. It probably has not yet occurred to him that it is because I’ve researched the claims of Darwinism, the Kitzmiller case, the history of Of Pandas and People, and carefully read his book, that I disagree with him. His assumptions about my view only serve to demonstrate that he doesn’t understand my view. Given that we didn’t have enough time to explore each other’s view during the event, this isn’t surprising—he just shouldn’t pretend to understand what he doesn’t.

Worse yet were the many false claims Mr. Ra made, many of which can be easily corrected by merely watching the video. First, let me mention two that are not immediately clear from the video. He says that his questions “were deliberately re-worded, replacing all references to ‘evolution’ with ‘Darwinism’.” If he is referring to the three questions of his that were used, then this is blatantly false. Not one of his three questions made any reference to “evolution.” He also said, “My opponent was apparently made aware of my five paragraph explanation [regarding the term ‘Darwinism’]…” This, again, is entirely false. I was never made aware of any concerns raised by him to the organizers until I read his blog. He seems to have forgotten that he has a public Youtube video devoted entirely to his objections to use of the term “Darwinism.” Predicting his erroneous objections was as easy as a single mouse click.

Now, we must address Mr. Ra’s claims that are directly contradicted by the video posted here. For example, he claims that I “wanted [him] to prove that [microevolution] was possible…” I never asked anything of the sort. Rather, I asked him to demonstrate “that there is a mechanism by which a single-celled organism can change, over time, into all the different organisms on Earth today, including plants and even humans, and that this mechanism is capable of building things like eyes, and wings, and organs, and so on.” I suggest that, in the future, Mr. Ra should quote me directly so that he doesn’t continue to make this mistake.

Another example is Mr. Ra’s statement, “He ignored my reference to speciation being directly observed. Saying ‘we don’t see that.’” This is blatantly false. Simply by watching the video he can see that I never said that we don’t see speciation. I also recommend that he watch my description of Dr. Lenski’s work. He will see that speciation is irrelevant to the entire argument I was making.

As yet another example, Mr. Ra accuses me of “misquoting scientists,” and claims to give two examples. The first alleged example claims that I made a “comment about ‘Darwinists’ saying that natural selection was insufficient to explain everything.” He needs to watch the debate. I never said that Darwinists say natural selection was insufficient to explain everything. In fact, I never quoted any scientists on the topic of natural selection. I cited the work of Dr. Margulis regarding scientific observations of mutations, which he mistook for her critique of natural selection (which I corrected during the event), and mistook for her work on endosymbiosis (yes, I couldn’t think of the name, “endosymbiosis,” off the top of my head under a time constraint, just like he couldn’t think of Philip Johnson’s name earlier in the discussion), neither of which were pertinent to her concerns about mutations. The second alleged example claims that I said “that ‘Darwinism’ needed ‘serious rethinking’, (about particular aspects [I] obviously didn’t know about)… .” Not only is his parenthetical comment a baseless insult unbecoming of an academic discussion, but I have misquoted no one here. His attempt to quote me bears some resemblance to my response to the first question, in which I said, “the biologist and Darwinist, Dr. Darrel Falk recently admitted that many Darwinian scientists agree that the entire mechanism of Darwinian evolution needs major rethinking.” I was very careful not to misquote any scientists, and such an accusation is more akin to mudslinging than an academic response.

Ironically, while falsely accusing me of misquoting, Mr. Ra misquoted and misrepresented me several times. In addition to the examples above, he also claims that I “rejected beneficial mutations” even though I clearly stated that we do observe beneficial mutations. He then claimed that I “even said ‘evolution is just a theory not a fact’.” This is outright false and deceptive. He further claims that the only Darwinian mechanism I know is “’mutation plus selection.’ That’s it!” even though I clearly said that “the mechanism Darwinists typically point to is mutation plus selection.” He is not the only one who had to leave a lot of material out due to the tight time constraints. Further, he seemed to have missed the important differences between his characterization of creationism in his book and the arguments I made regarding “adding new [genetic] information,” and transitional fossils (which he calls “transitional species”). Ironically again, his brazen, unprofessional accusation that I am ignorant merely serves to demonstrate his ignorance of my view. I repeat, would it not be better to seek to understand my view before criticizing, rather than pretend to know it?

Mr. Ra even says that I “gave no reason at all to believe anything about [my] own position.” He really does need to watch the debate, as I was careful to give positive scientific evidence for my view. There are many more examples of such errors I could list, but this should suffice. Mr. Ra calls himself a freethinker, yet he says that my view “literally has no possibility…” If he has already decided that views other than his have no possibility of being true, he is not the open-minded freethinker that such weighty scientific issues require. And publishing groundless assumptions and falsehoods further demonstrates this point.

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About the Author

By James Umber

Over the last 10 years James has taught students and adults at various churches, organizations, and conferences throughout Arizona. He is a follower of Christ, formally trained in architecture, and is currently finishing a master of apologetics degree at BIOLA. He uses his design background to help design shirts that start meaningful conversations, which can be seen at examined-life.org. James, his wife Amanda, and their daughter Rachel live in Phoenix, Arizona.