An earlier version of the following message was posted to the Talk.Origins usenet group, Christianforums.com, Darwintalk.com, Creationtalk.com, and Penn & Teller's Showtime discussion forum. It was also emailed to science advocates with Beliefnet.com, the Texas Citizens for Science, the National Center for Science Education, the James Randi Educational Foundation, the Texas Freedom Network, the Texas State Board of Education, and several other interested parties including University of Texas Law Professor, Brian Leiter; all of which have responded with interest.
Several weeks ago, I challenged young-Earth creationist, Mark Ramsey, to a public, moderated, written scientific debate contesting his claims of having found numerous "scientific weaknesses of evolution" in science textbooks. Ramsey is the head of a fundamentalist propaganda-mill ironically called "Texans for Better Science Education". Although the word "better" in this case seems to mean "undermined", "subverted", or "anti". http://www.strengthsandweaknesses.org/
Surprisingly, he accepted that challenge, perhaps because I told him I was only a college student, and that I had no degrees as of yet. In my initial proposal, I named five potential moderators including two members of the Texas Board of Education who had voted in the past to teach Ramsey's alleged "weaknesses of evolution" to Texas high school students. The other moderators included a fundamentalist high school principal from Richardson, Texas, a senior rabbi from Los Angeles, and a paleontologist/Pentecostal preacher from Colorado. I insisted that all the moderators be theists. Through a mediator, Ramsey consented to my proposal for a moderated debate. http://texasevolutiondebate.bravehost.com/proposal.html Ramsey then demanded in subsequent negotiations that the proposal be removed from the website so that no one could see it.
The fundamentalist principal was (ironically) once my best friend back in high school. Yet he declined to participate, as did Beliefnet columnist, rabbi David Wolpe. They were replaced by geneticist, Jill Buettner, a Dallas professor of cellular biology, and by Glenn Morton, geophysicist and former author for the ICR before he renounced young-Earth creationism, and began to publish articles for mainstream science. The Pentecostal paleontologist was Dr. Robert Bakker, evolutionary proponent of avian ancestry among dinosaurs. These moderators were all established at least two to three weeks prior to the start date given for the debate. I explained all this, and the reason for having moderators, -in articles posted to the website's discussion board. http://pub22.bravenet.com/forum/1870360870
Steven Schafersman even said he would post a link to the debate on the home page of the Texas Citizens for Science, in an effort to fulfill my obligation, stipulated in my proposal that Ramsey and I must each provide a prominent link to this debate on our own websites. Ramsey, obviously has refused to post anything about this to his own anti-science group's website. But Shafersman did post the link to his pro-science group's site on my behalf. http://www.texscience.org/
I also submitted a position statement answering the columnist's question of what I feel is at stake in the controversy over teaching evolution in Texas high school science classes, and included a brief bio introducing myself to the readers. Something I expected Ramsey would be anxious to do also. http://www.studentofnature.org/debatenelson.htm
For some reason, despite repeated requests, Mark Ramsey never submitted his own bio, nor did he write anything to answer the columnist's central question. He did say that he did not like my rules, adding that they were both too restrictive and too broad at the same time. But three weeks went by without any clarification of what he meant by that, and no suggested revisions from him, even after accelerated requests, including a couple of posts from myself inviting him to negotiate the terms amiably in the website's discussion forum. http://pub22.bravenet.com/forum/1870360870/fetch/403632/
Then only two days before the debate was to begin, he suddenly complained adamantly about virtually every part of the independently-maintained website. For some reason, he thought it unfair that my personal bio mentioned my "beliefs" and why I hold them! He demanded that my bio, and my answer to the central question both be removed from the website! Somehow, he thought he was expected to "rebut and correct" my account of my own past personal experience! And he thought I was "goading" him to correct my position statement, which was never subject to his opinion anyway. For some reason, he seemed unable to understand any of that. http://www.studentofnature.org/debatestakes.htm
Despite many repeated invitations, Ramsey still refuses to answer the central question of what is at stake in Texas' science classrooms. To that point, he still refused to submit any information of his own; no statement at all about who he was, what he stood for, or anything about his background or motivation, nothing. In fact, he formally refused to negotiate anything with me directly, either in email or in the discussion forum. He said he didn't want any of his words to be viewable in public, and he said he didn't trust me in one-on-one negotiation, citing suspected conspiracies between myself and members of what he believed were shadowy science organizations whom he thought were attempting to "ambush" him. He alluded to "typical fraudulent evolutionist tactics" such as the appointment of "false clergy" which he claimed was common practice amongst us allegedly evil evolutionists, but of course couldn't produce an example of that. I have never encountered anyone more paranoid than Mark Ramsey. http://www.strengthsandweaknesses.org/NewsletterArchive/2005.05.MAY.htm
He finally posted his counterproposal, in which he requested we dismiss all the moderators who were all interested enough to have already signed on despite busy schedules for all of them. Then he wanted to waive all the rules, saying that he shouldn't be impugned for using logical fallacies! He said he should be able to change the subject to include whatever topic he likes, and that he should have the right to "simply ignore" anything he didn't want to answer or deal with! His entire counterproposal can be summed up in a single sentence; "I will not be accountable." http://texasevolutiondebate.bravehost.com/counterproposal.html In subsequent mediated negotiations, Ramsey demanded that his own counterproposal also be hidden from public view.
He even refused to negotiate for any mutual set of invariable definitions. I proposed a tentative list of them, and invited Ramsey to negotiate any of them that he didn't accept for any reason. But believe it or not, Mark Ramsey wants all our terms to remain undefined! He wants concepts like "macroevolution", "transitional species" and "theory" to be vague, conveniently-flexible, and subject to the layman reader's personal interpretation. He even demanded that my definitions be stripped from the website so that readers wouldn't even have them available as a reference. Since he refused to allow any direct negotiations, there was of course some confusion in that. I agreed not to force him to negotiate or accept any mutual terms prerequisite to the onset of the debate. But I refused to allow these definitions to be taken away, there being no possible reason in the realm of honest intention why clarifying terms should be deliberately concealed or rejected without discussion. He wants all the goalposts to be mobile, so that they are all unfalsifiable. http://www.studentofnature.org/debatereference.htm
After many harried and hurried emails of last minute, frustrating, mediated negotiations, Ramsey did accept some reduced version of the perfectly-fair arrangement I had originally offered, which was no longer either fair or appropriate. One thing he demanded was that the moderators be "even" (three young-earth creationists vs three evolutionary scientists). And he requested at one point to be allowed to call on substitutes to debate on his behalf. So I offered to let him choose a 6th moderator. My only stipulation to that is that it could not be anyone with a formal agreement to reject physical evidence which stands contrary to Biblical interpretation, which is the oath Ramsey himself has taken as part of his membership in the "The Greater Houston Creation Association." http://texscience.org/files/tbse.htm
The debate was supposed to begin on Saturday, April 23rd, with the first submission posted that morning. But after three weeks worth of repeated prodding, there was as yet still no personal bio info from Ramsey, and still no other input from him that he hadn't already demanded to have removed. The debate site's creator and mediator felt slighted by his indifference. She was originally more on his side than mine. But she said that Ramsey's tactics to that point were already irritating. So I withheld the opening submission until he submitted something to vindicate her efforts thus far. We did finally receive his bio, wherein he claims to be a former evolutionist, and where he makes no mention at all of his commitment to the Greater Houston Creation Association or the oath he took with them to deny any scientific evidence contrary to a literal interpretation of Genesis. http://www.studentofnature.org/debateramsey.htm
At this point, four weeks into this debate, we still have not received Ramsey's position statement. Although he has found a 6th moderator, who of course is a homeschooling advocate and young-Earth creationist with a vow of defending Biblical "truth" according to his interpretation. http://www.ministrywatch.com/mw2.1/F_FullRpt.asp?EIN=363541024
Apparently, Ramsey feels that his arguments could only be compelling to those with a prior doctrinal obligation to agree with him. From what I have seen so far, I have a good idea what to expect out of all of this, having already read some of Ramsey's (and his supporters) earlier attempts to manipulate the school boards. http://www.ntskeptics.org/2003/2003december/december2003.htm
My intention is to prove that Ramsey's "scientific weaknesses of evolution" can't be taught in school because they are all inaccurate or misrepresented, and I have no doubt but that they are deliberately so. Further, I will prove that biological evolution is the truest, best explanation there is for biodiversity and the origin of our species, -that it is the only one with either practical application, evidentiary support, or scientific validity, -that there is no other competing concept which even meets any of the criteria to be considered theory, and that no part of Ramsey's position would either be legal or moral to teach to our public school children. My first submission to that effect was posted two weeks ago. http://www.studentofnature.org/texasdebate.htm
In it, I moved for moderator intervention to finally force my opponent to adhere to invariable scientific definitions. His moderator replied with proof that neither of them used any accurate definitions to begin with, but only knew strawman parodies of the things they oppose. http://www.studentofnature.org/motions.htm
Ramsey was so adamant about not defining any of the central terms, that when I forced the issue, he lashed out against the mediator who put all this together, saying that he shouldn't have to define anything, nor defend nor adhere to those definitions, and that it was her fault that he was in this position now. http://pub22.bravenet.com/forum/1870360870/fetch/420254/
Ramsey has one week left to post his reply. In his own words, "let the fittest theory survive."