On Pigeon Chess and Debating

by Massimo Pigliucci

Debating creationists on the topic of evolution is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon—it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.

This famous quote is by Scott D. Weitzenhoffer, who wrote it as an Amazon.com review for Eugenie Scott’s book Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction. It raises an important question: When and how should we debate people who hold to opinions that we consider entirely unscientific and either ideologically or religiously motivated?

When I first encountered the notion of creationism, as a young assistant professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee in the mid-1990s, I was astounded that there were creationists around so close to the end of the twentieth century. The mythical year 2000 was looming over the horizon. Not only were the much-promised flying cars nowhere to be seen, but now I had to deal with these nutcases! … (continue at Skeptical Inquirer)

2 Comments

  1. Massimo,

    I love the pigeon chess analogy, I see that kind of exchange often and the humour to describe it is refreshing.

    On debates you wrote : “They are more like what lawyers do when they spar in a court of law than a constructive conversation where the common goal is to uncover the truth.”

    I agree. It also reminded me that our justice system is sometimes at odds with the fact that we are a highly social and cooperative species for whom confrontational frames can easily obscure the paths to positive change, social insight or ‘truth’.

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