I think I've got it.
The reason why we, as evolutionists have such difficulty in speaking to creationists is because the idea of it is so far removed, so abstract - indeed, so patently wrong - that we have literally no idea where to start.
[This stems from a comment that I was writing which has spiralled out of control. I thought I'd siphon it off into another blog post, as the other thread is bloated enough as it is]
I think of the amount of hours that I spend studying the intricacies of fossils and their evolution. I look at the career of people like my colleague Dick Aldridge has put in, who is now retiring, and so has contributed 60 odd years of figuring bits here and there about fossil groups and evolution. Even this pales into insignificance when you think of all the paleontologists around the world that are working away, filling in gaps, day by day, in what we previously knew. Sure, I'd be the first to admit that a lot of it isn't earth shattering. Indeed, most of it is filling in little bits here and there about certain groups and certain time periods. All in all, though, it's all part of the grand objective; to understand the minutiae of the process of evolution and the history of life on Earth.
So when some bloke - whether he be some nutcase in the southern US, or a tenured university professor* - has the temerity to boldly declare that, the accumulation of all our work is false; the initial reaction is not to make us think and search within ourselves. Our first reaction, would simply be to laugh at such a ridiculous proposition.
Let me put it another way. I used to work part time in a card shop when I was growing up, in Norwich. I knew all the locations of the cards, the pricing strategy, the envelope size nomenclature, and how the till works. I knew the different deals, the retail strategy, and most importantly, how to store and sort cards without getting a papercut.
Now, the equivalent here would be someone saying to me that they believed that the card shop didn't exist. Not only that, they believed it was impossible to buy cards from shops, that people don't write cards, and indeed, that Norwich, where I grew up, doesn't exist.
The suggestion is so absurd that my first reaction would be that the person was making a massive and not very funny joke. Upon finding that they are sincere, I would obviously assume that they were mad. Why on earth would to object to the existence of Norwich or card selling? Naturally my first reaction would be to ignore them. I'm busy, and I've got other problems to deal with.
If push came to shove, however, ultimately, the task of explaining the principle behind card-based retailing would be incredibly onerous and take a lot of time. But, in a way, it would be achievable. This is because it might only stem from ignorance. It might be like trying to explain vector calculus to a 6 year old, but in the end, they might finally accept that there is a place called Norwich in the east of England. They might even come to embrace the idea that people enjoy sending short messages written on a folded piece of card. It might then not seem inconceivable that cards can be bought in shops, and that some of these can be found in Norwich.
However, let's imagine that we start talking to our man and he says that, it's not that he didn't realize that Norwich and sending cards didn't exist, but that he actively denies their presence. I try to help him through it; perhaps he is embarrassed at his own ignorance of personalized gift cards and Norwich. I present a map of England with Norwich clearly shown, but he claims it's been forged. I get a similar reaction after presenting my old name tag from the card shop, and even after presenting him with a card I've written myself.
Now if that sounds tricky, if we compare it with the struggle we face when talking to creationists, it is the easiest task in the world. Because here, the problem has become entrenched in religion, something that is very, very close to peoples' hearts. And so, to tackle the problem is to go about deconvolving the issue from religion; a veritable minefield. The funny thing is that ID has done exactly that, and so has made creationism palatable to those who don't want to feel out of place in a technologically literate western democracy.
The point is, we don't really care what the alternative theory is. It simply doesn't matter. Sure, you can have an alternative theory for some part of modern evolutionary theory; that's how science works. But there's no point wasting our time entertaining the rather stupid notion that the whole lot is wrong.
Because evolution is so patently not wrong, it doesn't matter whether you state that we've all been plonked there by an angry alien 500 billion years ago, or made out of dirt by some invisible deity 5000 years ago. One's not more wrong than the other, they're all just wrong. The real issue at stake is that people have been deluded into thinking that the accumulated grand theory that we've spent over 100 years working on is a delusion in itself.
Essentially, it's a simple matter of truth and trust; we want people to believe the truth and to trust us. We are so past the point of going "Look: more evidence for evolution" that we just don't say it any more. But maybe we should. And actually, I think talking about more controversies within evolutionary biology would be a good idea, as Enrico Uva has suggested in a comment on the mummy article to this one. We need to somehow ram home the point that has been missed here, and that is there certainly are controversies within evolution. But creationism is not one of them.
This option seems a bit more palatable to me. It would be a bit more of a quiet, sneaky way of addressing creationism. It's mostly preferable because I wouldn't have to spend weekends deleting comment after comment on articles that go head first at the problem.
*But why, oh why, are they always friggin' men? Is it that men are more likely to be bold and outspoken?
This time I really, really don't want comments from creationists. Call it censorship, whatever, but there are plenty of other places where you can tell me I'm wrong.
I think I've got it.