Creationist Walter Brown makes a big deal of his offer of a written debate with evolutionists, and the fact that no evolutionist has ever taken him up on it. When you look at the details, it becomes obvious why that might be. The debate would be a colossal amount of work - 4 rounds are envisaged, with up to 100,000 words per entry from each side. Brown is retired, and might have the time to spend on such a large project. I don't. Frankly, I can't imagine any evolutionist thinking Brown is worth that much effort, or wanting to go to so much trouble to raise Brown's profile. Particularly since, if they were to pull out, Brown would, according to his debate rules, retain the exclusive right to publish any or all of the partially completed debate.
Although Brown is confident that many publishers would be interested in publishing such a debate, this is highly unlikely. My understanding is that creation/evolution books are of limited general interest and do not sell well. One potential debater contacted over 100 publishers and found only four that expressed any interest. Three of them soon pulled out, and the fourth was vetoed by Brown.
If a publisher was interested in publishing a comprehensive creation/evolution debate book, why on earth would they want to choose Brown as the creationist spokesman? Brown is not a particularly prominent person in the creation/evolution controversy. He has published little except for multiple editions of his book In the Beginning. He is a loner who doesn't belong to any of the major creationist organizations, doesn't publish even in creationist journals, and has no track record of effective debating on the internet. I suspect very few creationists would choose Brown to be their representative in a published debate. The fact that Brown would doubtless want to promote his hydroplate theory makes him an even less attractive choice, since the hydroplate theory has almost no acceptance even among other creationists.
In short, Brown's proposed debate format would boost Brown's visibility, while the publisher bears the cost of publishing a large book whose likelihood of being profitable is low, and probably made even lower by Brown's involvement in it. It's easy to see why Brown likes this idea but others are less than enthused by it.
Despite Brown's stated willingness to negotiate the terms of his debate, the three people I know who considered debating Brown all found him to be very demanding and inflexible.
Brown would have more credibility if he did less talking about debate, and more actual debating. A lot of debate about the creation/evolution issue takes place on internet newsgroups, bulletin boards and email lists, and Brown is conspicuous by his absence. Publishers might be more likely to consider Brown worthy of interest if he had a track record of effective debating. Instead, it seems there's always a reason why Brown can't respond - no publisher has been found, or the publisher is biased, or not enough page space is available, or his work isn't guaranteed publication sight unseen, or ...
In 1997, Brown's website (www.creationscience.com) added an email discussion list for the discussion of scientific questions relating to creation and evolution. A few people criticized Brown's arguments on various topics such as moon dust and subduction of tectonic plates. These critics made detailed and persuasive critiques of Brown's arguments (for example, a physics Ph.D. with post-doc work in geophysics who showed that Brown's subduction models were badly wrong). I posted to the list the address of my web page which rebuts Brown's treatment of human evolution in the 6th edition of his book In the Beginning. I expressed my willingness to discuss any of the points in it with him, and to link to any response he made.
Brown never made any response to any of these criticisms. In some cases, his assistant tried to respond, but was clearly out of his depth. Neither Brown nor his assistant ever made any response to my online criticism, and his erroneous material has been reprinted mostly unchanged in the 7th edition of his book. The email discussion list disappeared after a few months; the impression of many participants was that it was shut down because Brown couldn't handle the criticism.
In one illuminating exchange on that mailing list, Brown's technical assistant responded to Jim Lippard:
Dr. Brown is ready and waiting for you to find the written forum in which you may exchange ideas.(Huh? Why should it be Lippard's responsibility to find a forum for Brown to respond in?) Lippard replied:
There's one right here, isn't there?Deafening silence followed.
Brown even refuses to publish in creationist journals. In a web article Maintaining Creationist Integrity, Answers in Genesis stated (the article is now at a different site) that Brown is welcome to submit a paper on his moon dust claim to their Technical Journal. Brown issued a response which went on at length about how he felt he had been mistreated by AIG, and why he did not want to defend his hydroplate theory or moon dust calculations in the Technical Journal. Some of Brown's complaints against AIG may have justification - I can't possibly know. But it seems Brown always has an excuse for avoiding debate, most of which appear spurious to me. Maybe AIG is biased against him - but send in a paper anyway; if they won't publish it, maybe another creationist journal would, or he could always put it on his website. If nothing else, he might get some useful criticism about it. Real scientists don't expect or get guaranteed publication. Brown claims he would need nearly 160 pages in which to properly present his hydroplate theory. Scientists routinely present important work in journals in eight pages or less; why does Brown need 20 times as much space? Or why can't he choose one small topic which can be treated in sufficient detail in only a few pages?
In short, for all his professed eagerness to debate, Brown seems remarkably adept at avoiding it. One could almost form the impression that his debate offer, with its long list of preconditions and considerable overhead, is designed to avoid debate except on terms that Brown judges favorable to himself. Both evolutionists and other creationists have frequently challenged Brown's arguments, and asked him to respond, without hiding behind conditions and excuses. Brown has always refused. So, who's afraid to debate?
Yeah, Walt, life's tough sometimes. But if you were really so keen to debate, you'd stop whining and just do it. The talk.origins newsgroup is always there waiting for you. I think you'll get eaten alive if you go there. But hey, feel free to prove me wrong.
This page is part of the Fossil Hominids FAQ at the talk.origins Archive.
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