The easiest $10,000 you ever made, or is it?
How would you like to win $10,000? Sounds inviting, doesn’t it? All you have to do is come out on top in a debate, the terms of which are to be set by your opponent. Oh, and you have to stump up $10,000 of your own as a stake, and in the event that you win, you’ll be landed with an as-yet undetermined bill for costs. Still like the sound of it?
The Young Earth Creationist (YEC) Dr Joseph Mastropaolo is the man behind this idea, called the Life Science Prize Mini-Trial, which he’s been pushing for at least 10 years, and is evidently plugging again in the hope of more publicity for his wacky, backward, unscientific ideas. His contention, you see, is that evolution is not just wrong because God, but actually impossible because of “devolution”, a common YEC term based on a misunderstanding of both evolution and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
But if Mastropaolo’s ideas are so crazy, why not take him on? As he contends in his bizarre thesis Science Supports Literal Genesis:
[I]f a mini-trial were held and won on day one and the evolutionist contended five days per week for 20 weeks, then the awards would amount to a million dollars. If each mini-trial took four hours or less, then an evolutionist could reap one million dollars for repetitive half-time work for five months.
All very appealing, but as ever with creationists, the appeal is only superficial, and falls apart under detailed analysis. These additional debates are only hypothetical, and the details of the proposed debate are currently sketchy, only to be discussed once the evolution side has placed $10,000 in escrow. Mastropaolo even manages to try to turn this act of chicanery on his part into a point against his opponents. His FAQ section says:
25. WHY WON’T YOU GIVE DETAILS ABOUT THE TRIAL? Most questions are answered in the FAQ section. If anyone places the required $10,000 in escrow we will be happy to negotiate details. Contenders must confirm they are ready to contend pending some clarification of some details.
41. WHY WON’T YOU BE MORE SPECIFIC? Evolutionists have been given the rules in writing. They might pretend not to understand. They may also pretend that there may be something unfair. Everything is objective, fair and straight forward. The Life Science Prize Challenge is for people who are competent in simple English sentences and who know the difference between right and wrong.
This lack of clarity would naturally deter anyone with any sense. To ante up before the rules of the game are even established would be the act of a born sucker. The most obvious lack of information is on how proceedings would be governed – is there any time limit, or is it open-ended? A time limit would favour a Gish Gallop, but to make the debate open-ended would make it an even less appealing prospect for anyone trying to make a quick buck – remember, one thing we do know (point 10 of the groundrules) is that the winner pays the court costs.
Let’s say that evolution was beating creationism by two falls, a submission and three converted tries. The creationist side could filibuster as long as they liked, raising spurious issues, inconsequential anecdotes, even reading the Bible from cover to cover and then starting again with a different translation. Anyone arguing for evolution would see their $10,000 profit disappearing to pay for this charade, and then their $10,000 stake as well. They would face a choice between being bankrupted and conceding defeat to limit their losses.
Personally, I think there are two even more important reasons not to get involved. First, evolution has nothing to prove. It has no serious competition as an explanatory theory, and Mastropaolo’s brand of YECism is rightly rejected by all serious scientists as unevidenced and nonsensical. Even if the debate were to be as honest and straightforward as it should be, it would be a bad move to give any credibility to this attempt to portray evolution as the challenger.
Second (and this may be partly prompted by my distrust of live debates as a way of furthering human knowledge), scientific truth isn’t a matter of popular opinion or rhetorical flourishes, and it doesn’t have to be easily explained in a mock trial. It’s about the repetitive slog of observation – hypothesis – experiment – conclusion with occasional flashes of inspiration. If Mastropaolo thinks he has better evidence, he would be better advised to put his time and money into producing experimental results, not carnival sideshows.
Dr Mastropaolo might see himself as a sort of creationist James Randi, but this superficially similar challenge is inferior to Million Dollar Challenge in proportion to the prize offered. Doctor, you’re no James Randi.