Dr. Dan Ryder’s debate summary

The issue I focused on is common descent: according to evolutionary biology, all life is related in a huge family tree, ultimately leading back, over billions of years, to a common ancestor. According to young earth creationism (accepted by Mr. Mackay), each kind of creature had separate origins at the hands of a creator less than ten thousand years ago.

So there are two accounts on the table. Over 99% of biologists believe that the evidence, as collected in billions of pages of biological journals, overwhelmingly demonstrates the fact of common descent. (My opening argument from earlier in this blog summarizes just one example of the sort of thing that has convinced the biologists.) Young earth creationists deny that the evidence points this way. One of the two must be deluded about where the evidence actually points – who is it? Both sides claim that the other side is deluded because of an adherence to some unquestioned dogma. I set out to test both proposals.

Young earth creationists’ proposal: Biologists are deluded by their adherence to atheism. But this can’t be right, because 40% of biologists believe in God.
Biologists’ proposal: Young earth creationists are deluded by their adherence to a literal or inerrantist interpretation of Genesis. This holds up, because all of the small number of biologists who accept young earth creationism are conservative Christians (or conservative religionists of some other variety). Also, there are no biologists who accept some non-religious version of separate origins.

So I concluded that it is the young earth creationists who are being misled by dogma: the dogma that Genesis is inerrant or literally true. Therefore the biologists, who are not being misled as the creationists claim they are, must be right that the evidence points massively towards common descent.

I then considered the following response a young earth creationist might make: Even if the biological evidence points massively towards common descent, this is outweighed by the evidence to be found in Genesis. That evidence is simply more powerful than all the biological evidence; the Bible is inerrant.

I rejected this move on two grounds: 1) It is dogmatic; no piece of evidence can be assumed to have such power; and 2) There are independent reasons to reject Biblical inerrancy or literal truth. My main example was the Biblical claim that homosexuality is an abomination, and gays & lesbians deserve death. (This is a claim that Mr. Mackay accepts on the basis of his stated view that the Bible is inerrant.) This claim is obviously false, and so demonstrates that the Bible is not inerrant.

Therefore I concluded that biologists are right to insist that the evidence points massively towards common descent. This does not strictly entail that common descent is true; but it certainly demonstrates that it would be irrational to believe otherwise. Young earth creationists should admit this.

In passing, I pointed out that Christians can – and most do – accept both evolution and the Bible. All that need be rejected is a literal interpretation of a few chapters in Genesis. That tiny concession does absolutely nothing to undermine the value of Christianity.

Addendum: There has been some controversy over my use of the homosexuality example; some people are under the misapprehension that I raised this point only to discredit Mr. Mackay, and that it was not relevant to the issue. While I agree that it amply discredits Mr. Mackay, I used it simply because it was essential to my argument as an independent reason to reject Biblical inerrancy. I also mentioned some other examples, but I focused on this one because I knew for certain that Mr. Mackay accepted it. Another good example is “When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.” [Exodus 21:20-21 NAB]. But I do not know what Mr. Mackay thinks of that particular outrageous claim.

Biographies for John Mackay and Dr. Dan Ryder


John Mackay is the Australian Director of Creation Research. He has informally debated Richard Dawkins on Youtube, and the NCSE’s [National Center for Science Education] Eugenie Scott on radio.

John has formally debated the Centre for Inquiry’s Christopher DiCarlo, John Polkinghorne (the UK’s leading theistic evolutionist), among others.

John has presented his research at geological conferences and lectured extensively in universities, schools and churches throughout North America, Europe, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia and Asia. He is a published author and has appeared widely on radio and television.

A favourite quote submitted by John:

“The truth shall set you free.” –inscribed in the Sandstone mantle above the old entrance to the Science Department at Queensland University, and quoted from Jesus Christ.


Dr. Dan Ryder is UBCO Assistant Professor of Philosophy, where he has taught since 2004. Dr. Ryder has a background in both philosophy and biology, with a BSc in Cellular, Molecular, and Microbial Biology, an MA in Philosophy and Neuroscience (both from the University of Calgary), and a PhD in Philosophy (from the University of North Carolina). His current research focuses on theoretical neuroscience and its implications for longstanding questions in the philosophy of mind. As an active member of the Centre for Inquiry, he is also interested in the promotion of good thinking practices in the general public.

A favourite quote submitted by Dan:

“What is the aim of philosophy? To be clear-headed rather than confused; lucid rather than obscure; rational rather than otherwise; and to be neither more, nor less, sure of things than is justifiable by argument or evidence.” –Geoffrey Warnock

Rules for the Online Debate

I would like to apologise for not making this clear earlier. The online debate will be between Dr Dan Ryder and John Mackay only. The format will be as follows:
1.) The main points of the debate will be posted on the blog
2.) Both debaters will be able to discuss their positions by posting comments on the main points

The debate is being done this way to prevent people from posting spam or irrelevant comments. This blog is intended as a continuation of the debate between Dr. Dan Ryder and John Mackay. If you would like to discuss anything with the debaters, e-mailing them directly would probably be the best idea.

John Mackay’s Opening Argument

I will show that the genetic and fossil evidence better supports the
biblical creation model.

The founding fathers of genetics (Gregor Mendel) and modern palaeontology (Nicholas Steno) interpreted the scientific evidence in harmony within a creationist paradigm. It was Steno who first began to unravel the true nature of fossils, unlike the understanding that was inherited from the ancient Greeks. Still, Lamarck, Lyell, Darwin, and others rejected the creationist paradigm and moved towards the alternative of naturalism and atheism.

I will present abundant genetic and fossil evidence for biblical creation,
and discuss the faith basis inherent in both origin models.

Dan Ryder’s Opening Argument

Why are French and Italian so strikingly similar? Common sense dictates that they are descended from an earlier language: Latin, as it happens. The massive similarities alone are enough to demonstrate common descent, although we also happen to have “fossil” evidence in the form of writing. Just as linguists have constructed vast family trees of related languages on the basis of similar words, biologists have done the same on the basis of similar genetic codes. Young earth creationists’ denial of common descent forces them to deny common sense, motivated only by a dogmatic adherence to a literal interpretation of Genesis.