Our first creationism/intelligent design question https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/649/is-cell-division-irreducibly-complex#question has received a lot of downvotes, some close votes and a moderator flag.

What should we do with this kind of question? Should we categorically disallow questions about pseudoscience here or should we try to answer them?

  • $\begingroup$ What about questions prased so as not to be culture wars that will still pre-emptively strike down many of the "creationist Canards" as my friend Larian calls them? meta.biology.stackexchange.com/questions/84/… $\endgroup$ – JasonR Jan 17 '12 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ I'd like to offer a bounty on this because I think we should revisit in light of the amount of such questions we are getting but I don't see the link. Is it not possible on beta metas? $\endgroup$ – terdon Mar 27 '14 at 14:56

Categorically disallow; "debates" about creationism-versus-reality do not belong anywhere, even here.

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    $\begingroup$ Especially here. One of the aims of SE is surely to get things done. Debating creationists is the antithesis of that. $\endgroup$ – walkytalky Jan 15 '12 at 11:43
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    $\begingroup$ The word debate alone is enough to justify a community-led not-constructive close: "We expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion" $\endgroup$ – Rory M Jan 15 '12 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ this site is so boring! $\endgroup$ – shigeta Nov 7 '12 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ @RoryM this is not about debate, if a question is attempting to start a discussion, it should be closed irrespective of it's content. However, if a question is raising a specific objection to or question about evolution that can be answered, it should be allowed. $\endgroup$ – terdon Mar 28 '14 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ @terdon - seems reasonable, I upvoted your answer $\endgroup$ – Rory M Mar 28 '14 at 23:26

I would propose a slight variation on Konrad's answer.

Allow any question that:

  • Otherwise is a good fit for SE Q&A format

  • Can be asked legitimately by anyone who is reading about/studying evolution but never heard of creationism/ID. This criterion is slightly subjective, but can be distilled down to "can the essense of the question be preserved without any mention of ID/creationism".

As examples:

  • What is a specific evolutionary explanation of XYZ? (good)

  • Why is ID not considered a science? (Bad, duh)

Basically, if a question needs an (in Konrad's words) "'intelligent design' framing", it's fair game to be considered off topic.

If it is a question that can (and has) be asked by a typical creationist, BUT can just as legitimately be asked by someone just starting to study evolution who never heard of creationism, then it's on-topic as long as it is otherwise good for an SE site.

  • $\begingroup$ As a side comment - I personally can serve as litmus test, since I haven't even heard of Creationism/ID until much later in my life, and thus know very well which questions about evolution are plausible even without creationism mindset. $\endgroup$ – DVK Jan 12 '15 at 2:29

They are clearly not on topic, since they are not fundamentally about biology. That is simply a smokescreen. No good can come of answering these questions, and people promulgating them (although not necessarily those posting them) aren't interested in answers anyway.

If such questions are present they will serve as a magnet for fractious "culture wars" argument and anti-science blather. They should be closed without hesitation, and preferably deleted.


I agree with KAM but I think we should make an exception for a particular type of questions: Namely, all questions which ask for a relevant, on-topic, biological, technical explanation and merely use the “intelligent design” framing as a starting point.

Of course these questions should not elicit discussions and any answers to that effect are completely inacceptable (simply because they are wrong). Furthermore, most of the relevant questions have probably already been answered on Talk Origins Archive but this isn’t necessarily a reason to reject them here.


I'd like to revisit this subject since it's been a while since this discussion was posted and we have both grown and received quite a few questions on this topic. I feel very strongly that creationism and ID questions should be allowed, as DVK says, as long as they are good questions in the SE sense.

We need to remember that there are still parts of the world where intelligent design is taught as though it were a true alternative to evolution. This means that a lot of people actually take it seriously and believe the arguments against evolutionary theory. Every such argument I have ever come across is laughingly easy to shoot down, so let's!

In other words if a question is:

  1. A good fit for the SE model: answerable.

  2. An honest query. Someone who is confused by the misinformation they were taught in school or church or wherever and is posting here to get the view of the scientific community.

  3. Not using god(s) as an argument, if it is attempting to attack evolution through the scientific method and not arguments of the type "But it says so in Holy Book X!".

Then the question should be not only allowed but welcomed. We should try our utmost to explain why the OP is wrong and why their misunderstandings are just that, misunderstandings. For example, consider these questions:

  • Refutation of Darwin's Random Evolution Theory. This one is essentially "I read X, it seems reasonable to me, please explain why it's not." This is a good question and has received good answers and the OP has accepted one. That's good for everyone involved.

  • How does the modern theory of evolution solve these apparent problems? This one has problems because the OP has combined many questions in one and that is a good reason to close it. However, each of those questions alone should be perfectly welcome. The OP is clearly confused and is trying hard to understand. We should help.

  • A question regarding evolution This is one of many questions whose OP is confused by the idea that evolution is "random". Again, something we can answer and explain very easily.

There are many more. My point is that most of us have spent many years studying biology and have a very deep understanding of what exactly the theory of evolution actually is. We forget that despite the simplicity of the basic premise (natural selection) the theory itself is not that simple and many otherwise perfectly intelligent people have a very flawed understanding of what the theory actually postulates. It is also very much not the same as it was when Darwin first published his book. Finally, it is a theory that has very real philosophical implications and I feel that as the experts we have an obligation to explain what it is that it actually says to those laymen who wish to understand.

For example, this is part of comment I received on one of my answers:

I think you need to adjust for the fact that you were considering sexually reproductive organisms and you assumed random mutations to get genomes. What you actually need to assume is random mutations that produce two viable partners (unique species) of both male and female within the same generation. Unfortunately, that might add orders of magnitude to the statistical unlikeliness of getting a proper match. Maybe I missed something in your example?

This led to a perfectly civil interaction with the poster of that comment who very simply believed (despite being in a scientific field) that Lamarck's theories were what evolution is all about (let's ignore epigenetics for the moment :) ). This is the kind of thing we can easily address.

We might also want to consider creating a set of canonical Q&As which address some of the classic creationist/ID "arguments" (canards, or even better conards) and simply close those that come in as dupes of the appropriate one.

So, in short, bring it on! Let's try and give good, clear answers and increase the understanding of our fellow apes.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't agree that any of the three questions you highlighted are valuable or useful to the site. In all but one case there is no single question but rather a bunch of unrelated and equally clueless points. In the final one, there's such a lack of basic understanding that fails under the general guideline that questions should indicate some level of prior study. $\endgroup$ – Jack Aidley Mar 28 '14 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ @JackAidley yes, the examples are not particularly good, agreed. It is the principle of the thing I am aiming at. Debunking ID idiocy is so easy I see no reason not to answer, as long as they're attempting to play in our home court (the scientific method). $\endgroup$ – terdon Mar 29 '14 at 17:33

I agree with KAM and J. Aidley for a particular reason. If someone is coming to the site for the first time, especially someone with something to contribute, the perception that this is yet another forum for a meaningless debate might discourage participation.

Tolerance for people who appear with 1 point to their name and post ID rhetoric disguised as naive questions is way too high. These posts should be deleted. It should be policy and not a matter of discretion. On the Mathematics site, if someone shows up with a proof of RH the question will be closed within a minute or two. One reason that site has attracted a lot of credentialed talent is that people aren't worried about being associated with crackpots. This in turn encourages students who get a sense that the standards of the site are high.

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    $\begingroup$ I haven't unilaterally closed this kind of question in the past as the community didn't really vote to close for them. This seems to be changing, and in light of the support in this meta question and the reception the last ID questions got I'm inclined to simply close those questions now. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist May 8 '14 at 18:22

I think KAM has the right of it. We should close questions that are creationist in nature or merely recite creationist talking points - a good example of such a question is this: How does the creative process of Biological Evolution work? The poster has simply recited a bunch of points from some creationist drivel video on YouTube whilst omitting to mention that the points don't come from a creationist source.

Biology SE should be about answering biology questions; Creationism is neither about biology nor a critique of biology. Entertaining Creationist questions, at all, distracts and detracts from that since such falsely controversial questions readily attract multiple, highly-voted answers from various answerers.

Leave the 'debate' about Creationism to other sites and keep this one focused on Biology.

  • $\begingroup$ Not debate, debates are off topic on SE by definition. But, if a user raises a specific argument that happens to be one often made by creationists, we should simply answer. It is very easy to do and I feel it is a useful function of this site given the metric tons of BS that float around about what evolution is and isn't. $\endgroup$ – terdon Mar 29 '14 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ I don't believe it is a useful function, I believe engaging with it at all detracts from the usefulness of the site as a place to discuss actual biology. Once engaged the pointless 'debate' will drive a large number of very low quality questions. The answers may be high quality but this merely drives the concentration of the site to wasting time debunking Creationism rather than discussing Biology. $\endgroup$ – Jack Aidley Mar 30 '14 at 14:13

Stack Exchange sites are question and answer sites, not discussion sites. This is fundamental to the model. Therefore the test of whether the poster is using or abusing the site is whether in principle he is willing to accept an answer to his question. I suggest this be asked as a comment, perhaps appealing to the poster’s ethical honesty. If the poster admits that in no circumstances would he mark an answer accepted, then the question should be deemed off-topic. Likewise if he ignores the request.

It would be interesting to know if any of the answers to creationist questions has ever been accepted, or what the ratio is compared to questions in biochemistry or whatever.


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