“Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?”
Point-by-point Analysis and Commentary:
KEN HAM | 5 min. Opening Statement:
Ham opens up with this quote from the Richard Dawkins Foundation [RDF]: “Scientists should not debate creationists. Period.” Ham states in response,
Right here I believe there is a gross misrepresentation in our culture. We’re seeing people being indoctrinated to believe creationists can’t be scientists. I believe it’s all a part of secularists hijacking the word “science.”
Ham is simply wrong and misguided. This opening line illuminates the fundamental issue with Ham and others who hold to similar thinking. To “creationists,” this is not science, but rather a cultural and rhetorical war of which “creationism” needs to be defended a priori. Thus, rather than engaging in the fundamental essence of the scientific method and inquiry, Ham begins with a disputatious attack/defense. It is this posturing that causes sincere scientists to avoid intellectual engagement with people like Ham (and Hovind, and Comfort, etc.) as it may communicate legitimacy to their views, when fundamentally they are not working on the same philosophical and epistemological frameworks. It leads, therefore, RDF and others to make statements like, “scientists should not debate creationists.” The problem is that this self-perpetuating warring frenzy feeds itself. Listen carefully to how Ham spins the quote: “People are being indoctrinated to believe creationists can’t be scientists.” (italics mine for emphasis) This is an exercise in missing the point and Ham betrays the reality — barely 60 seconds in to the debate — that he is incapable of engaging fully with what people mean by what people say. To then suggest that “secularists” are “hijacking” the word “science” is not only to misrepresent the issue, but is worse, to perpetuate the chasm of misunderstanding, and to aggravate the fears of the religious.
The video clip of Stuart Burgess that Ham shows is simply mere fodder for his argument. Burgess’s statement is substantively irrelevant to the point of the science in this debate. While he rattles off an impressive resume, this is, in philosophy, a fallacy known as an “appeal to authority.”
Ham then suggests we need to define terms correctly, that there is “experimental/observational science” which uses the scientific method which produces medicine, technology, etc.
…all scientists, whether creationists or evolutionists actually have the same observational or experimental science. It doesn’t matter if you are a creationist or evolutionist, you can be a great scientist.
While there is hope for a concordant view of the term “science” in this argument, the problem is the bifurcation and faulty definition of “historical” science that is coming.
It begins with,
Molecules-to-man evolution belief has nothing to do with developing technology.
Wrong again, on two points. First, the phrase “molecules-to-man,” is misleading, and a bit of a straw man argument (used later in the debate) which suggests that since we don’t know how, “chemistry becomes biology,” we must therefore conclude that everything about biological evolution is also as unknown. Evolutionary theory does not posit an explanation of the emergence of life, but rather the transformation of life over time. Second, as others have suggested (e.g. Kevin Kelly) our biological evolution is deeply tied to our developing technology, and in many ways, physically and philosophically, they are both co-dependent upon each other.
Ham’s long-standing argument then comes into play,
…when we’re talking about origins, we’re talking about the past. We weren’t there. You can’t observe that whether it’s “molecules-to-man” evolution or whether it’s a creation account. You’re talking about the past. We like to call that “origins” or “historical science,” knowledge concerning the past.
This statement is highly problematic.
- Every argument, scientific or otherwise, is a “historical” argument. It is this false premise that cuts off the very branch that Ham is standing upon.
- Every consecutive statement from Ham is thus a “historical” argument.
- To state that “we can’t know” because “we weren’t there” is a fringe epistemological statement and leaves Ham standing on thin air, epistemically.
- Who else holds to this view? It is not “secularists” who are hijacking the word “science,” it is Ham who is redefining and equivocating on the word “science.”
Here at the Creation Museum we make no apology about the fact that our origins or historical science actually is based upon the Biblical account of origins.
Now, when you research science textbooks being used in public schools, what we found is this. By and large the origins or historical science is based on man’s idea about the past, for instance, the ideas of Darwin.
To state that your “science” is based upon “the Biblical account” is, A) a discipline breach, and B) a redefinition of “science.” To posit that the Bible is science is contrary to all credible Schools of Theology or Biblical Studies. In addition, you cannot simply state that “origins or historical science” cannot be known, and then state that you know something about origins, even if it comes from, “ahem,” a “historical” book.
Must we continue?
And our research has found that public school textbooks are using the same word science for observational and historical science. They arbitrarily define science as naturalism and outlaw the supernatural. They present molecules-to-man evolution as fact. They are imposing [I believe] the religion of naturalism/atheism on generations of students.
I assert that the word science has been hijacked by secularists in teaching evolution to force the religion of naturalism on generations of kids.
Setting aside the accusatory tone, here is an example of how Ham himself is redefining “science,” not the other way around. Science by definition is about the natural world and therefore must function and operate with that framework in order to do its work appropriately. It does not follow, that it is a therefore a “religion,“ as Ham so confidently asserts. It is true, that many scientists are naturalists, however, responding to the natural foundations of science as if they were an attack on supernaturalism is like responding to the milk in ice cream as an attack on your lactose intolerance (does that analogy work?)
Secularists evolutionists teach that all life developed by natural processes from some primordial form, that man is just an evolved animal which has great bearing on how we view life and death.
Here is where we get a glimpse at Ham’s real agenda: religion and ethics. This, for Ham, is a debate about dogma, masquerading as religious philosophy, all under the guise of valid science. One can understand why some call Ham a fraud and charlatan.
As Ham goes on to quote Romans 5:21 and John 3:16, his argument turns towards rallying the already convinced. Poor form.
Ham then revisits the original question, “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” and states,
I say the creation/evolution debate is really a conflict between two philosophical worldviews based on two different accounts of origins or historical science beliefs. And, Creation is the only viable model of historical science confirmed by observational science in today’s modern scientific era.
Wrong again. Evolution is a confirmed biological theory not based on origins or historical science beliefs, it concludes in the models based upon scientific calculations. And how can “Creation” be a viable model of historical science, when historical science cannot be known in Ham’s view? These propositions are contradictory and Ham simply cannot have it both ways, no matter how hard he tries.
BILL NYE | 5 min. Opening Statement:
Nye’s first mistake is to rephrase the debate question, making it personal:
Does Ken Ham’s Creation Model hold up? Is it “viable?”
This will appear to some as a misleading and false attribution and it may have weakened his argument in the debate, even if it is a minor point.
Continuing on with the TV program CSI, Nye posits the first argument,
On CSI, there is no distinction made between historical science and observational science. These are constructs unique to Mr. Ham. We don’t normally have these anywhere in the world except here. Natural laws that applied in the past, apply now. That’s why they’re natural laws. That’s why we embrace them. That’s how we made all these discoveries that enabled all this remarkable technology.
This is a main contention point, and I wish Nye had gone further into the reasons why. Unfortunately, he takes an unfortunate turn.
Mr. Ham and his followers have this remarkable view of a world-wide flood that somehow influenced everything we observe in nature.
I call this unfortunate because this may have had the potential effect of alienating some of the audience. The religious beliefs of many are quite entrenched, and to persuade, you first must honor. Instead, Nye embarks on deconstructing the Flood Narrative with these points:
- 500 ft. wooden boat?
- 8 zookeepers?
- 14,000 individuals?
- Every plant under water?
- …for a full year?
I ask us all, is that really reasonable?
Nye’s appeal to a common kind of reason within the audience is futile. It must be presumed that there are different kinds of reasoning going on (the issue of epistemology) which is why he is at the Creation Museum in the first place. He continues with evidence from the Grand Canyon, stating that,
…you’d expect drowning animals to swim up to a higher level. Not any one of them did. Not a single one. If you could find evidence of that, my friends, you could change the world.
It must be pointed out that there are such things as polystrate fossils. This does not prove Young Earth Creationism [YEC], but it does open up criticism for the strength of Nye’s argument.
Next, Nye takes a bit of a socio-religious turn,
Now, I just want to remind us all, there are billions of people in this world who are deeply religious who get enriched by the wonderful sense of community from their religion. … Billions of people. But these same people do not embrace the extraordinary view that the earth is somehow only 6,000 years old. That is unique.
The problem with this statement, is that Ham is well armed with additional videos of Ph.D.’s from respected institutions, who do hold to this view, and according to polls, there’s a very large population of the United States that also hold to these views. This may not be a good strategy for Nye as this is, again, a bit more alienating of the audience he is trying to persuade.
Then, he turns to the political agenda. While quite patriotic and commendable, it feels misplaced in accordance with the premise of this debate.
Nye concludes that it is simply not viable.
KEN HAM | 30 min. Presentation:
Raymond Damadian quote, “The idea that scientists, who believe the earth is 6,000 years old cannot do real science is simply wrong.” Correct. The problem — which is now two-fold — is that this is not what is being argued according to the debate’s premise, though it is being argued by Nye.
Danny Faulkner’s video was more resume than substance, though his final quote, “There is nothing in observational astronomy that contradicts a recent creation” is simply wrong.
Stuart Burgess, via video, stated that he has many colleagues who are sympathetic to the creationist viewpoint, including biologists, but are afraid to speak out because of the criticism they would get. But why? Again, a nice rhetorical clip, but what substance is there really in this? Especially since we have not seen any positive scientific evidence.
Ham then makes this argument,
Non-Christian scientists are really borrowing from the Christian worldview, anyway, to carry out their experimental observational science. Think about it. When they’re doing observational science using the scientific method, they have to assume…
THE LAWS OF LOGIC. Correct way of thinking: e.g., Law of non-contradiction: can’t have A and not-A at the same time
THE LAWS OF NATURE. e.g., Law of Life; Laws of Chemistry; Laws of Planetary Motion; Laws of Mathematics, etc.
UNIFORMITY OF NATURE. The laws of nature do not change arbitrarily — without this, science would be impossible.
ALERT! Here is one of the main contradictions in Ham’s presentation. He states above the “uniformity of nature,” and even claims this as a “Christian worldview,” yet he stated earlier that we “can’t know” about the past, and then throughout the rest of his presentation, he will dismiss these points when they contradict his presupposed conclusion of a young earth.
He then goes on to ask the question of “Where did these laws of nature come from?” which is a logical-regress argument, a failed discrediting tactic.
Ham’s question for Nye:
How do you account for the laws of logic and laws of nature from a naturalistic worldview that excludes the existence of God?
Irrelevant. It’s the very nature of the laws that leads to the scientific conclusion of evolution, not the explanation of how those laws came into being.
As Ham goes on to expound further on his observational/historical science dichotomy, he readily admit his “beliefs” about the past. It is at this point that the debate is over. This is now the realm of epistemology, and I posit that “beliefs” are a different epistemic category than “science.”
Throughout the next segment, Ham offers no evidence, no data, no study, no measurement for the age of the earth. He simply posits that there are disagreements, and that all we can know is what is in the “present.”
Ham’s next inquiry for Nye:
Can you name one piece of technology that could only have been developed starting with a belief in molecules-to-man evolution?
This nonsense question barely makes sense only if you accept Ham’s false dichotomy of science.
Ham seems to make some sense with this next segment, and yet loses it once again,
Creation scientists and Evolution scientists all have the same evidence. Same Grand Canyon. Same fish fossils. Same dinosaur skeletons. Same animals. Same humans. Same DNA. Same radioactive decay, elements. Same universe. We all have the same evidences. It’s a battle over the same evidences in how we interpret the past.
It’s a battle over worldviews and starting points. It’s a battle over philosophical worldviews. Now, I admit that my starting point is that God is the ultimate authority. But if someone doesn’t accept that, then man has to be the ultimate authority.
And here is the second place where the debate should have ended. Ham is right, that this is a battle over worldviews. Ham is wrong, that this then concludes that evolution is wrong and “creationism” is right. Ham is also wrong in positing “the same evidences” as Ham dismisses many of them a priori as “historical.”
There is also the second false dichotomy presented, “God’s authority vs. man’s authority.” There are tremendous theological intricacies with this concept, but the main problem for this context is that this is a theological point, not a scientific one. The category errors from Ham are exhausting.
I liken Ham’s perspective to discrediting a combustion engine’s function because it uses exploding fuel when in reality it is God who causes all things to live and move and have their being. The fuel is what makes a combustion engine a combustion engine. Naturalism, in scientific terms, is not a philosophy, but a premise. It is what makes science work. It’s the very definition of the scientific endeavor. Naturalism need not be as nefarious as Ham and others make it out to be. A swing set operates on gravity. Does that mean a swing set is an affront to God “holding all things together?”
Perhaps the main problem with Ham is this. Experimental and observational science are also naturalistic in their function. Why does he not also dismiss the conclusions of technology. This is quite double-minded of him, and philosophically inconsistent.
Ham goes on to posit a scientific test of the Biblical account.
There should be predictions that we can test.
…evidence confirming an intelligence produced life
…evidence confirming after their kind
…evidence confirming a global flood
…evidence confirming one race
…evidence confirming the tower of babel
…evidence confirming a young universe
Setting aside the problem that Ham has posed for himself (that the past can’t be known because we weren’t there, and we couldn’t observe it, which undermines Ham’s entire program), this is actually a decent direction, that we are now getting to evidence, predictions, and data.
However, “the creation orchard,” is merely a broken up “evolutionary tree,” of which Ham simply posits that the changes over time “stop” at some point in the past that because, “you don’t observe that. That’s belief.” First, for Ham to use the word “belief” here, again, cuts off the branch he stands upon (as he uses it earlier as his premise). And second, we do observe speciation today. Ham is simply wrong.
And therefore, wrong again:
Actually we’re told that if you teach creation in the public schools, that’s teaching religion. If you teach evolution, that’s science. And I’m going to say, “Wait a minute. Actually the Creation model here, based upon the Bible, observational science confirms this. This is what you observe. Actually it’s the public school text books that are teaching a belief, imposing it on students, and they need to be teaching them observational science to understand the reality of what is happening.
Public school textbooks present the evolutionary “tree” as “science,” but reject the creation “orchard” as religion. But observational science confirms the creation orchard — so public textbooks are rejecting observational science and imposing a naturalistic religion on students.
This is a great way to garner support for your side, and raise money for your campaign. This is a bad way to make a credible argument, for all of the above stated critique.
To Ham’s credit, he does provide more data/evidence through Andrew Fabich, however, Fabich does not deny the results of the long-term E.Coli experiment. Fabich simply states that there is “nothing new.”
Ham then quotes from A Civic Biology by George Hunter, which you can get for free on your Kindle. The quote is disturbing, stating that Caucasians are the highest “type” of the races. And the book has a somewhat torrid and infamous history. However, the problem with Ham’s argument here is that the social implications of the theory’s history does not discredit the biological evidence. (Many scientists and evolutionists would be vehemently against what is known as “social Darwinism”). Problem two, is that not one minute later, ham quotes Venter in a NYTimes.com article by Natalie Angier, “Do Races Differ? Not Really, DNA Shows.” Ham states that this “confirms the creation account, and not at all Darwin’s ideas.” This is a problem because the scientists were not using a creation model to do their work. They were fundamentally using natural science, the very thing Ham is harping against. Correlation does not equal validation. The third major problem is what Ham doesn’t tell you that is also stated in the article:
Although research into the structure and sequence of the human genome is in its infancy, geneticists have pieced together a rough outline of human genomic history, variously called the ”Out of Africa” or ”Evolutionary Eve” hypothesis.
By this theory, modern Homo sapiens originated in Africa 200,000 to 100,000 years ago, at which point a relatively small number of them, maybe 10,000 or so, began migrating into the Middle East, Europe, Asia and across the Bering land mass into the Americas. As they traveled, they seem to have completely or largely displaced archaic humans already living in the various continents, either through calculated acts of genocide, or simply outreproducing them into extinction.
Since the African emigrations began, a mere 7,000 generations have passed. And because the founding population of emigres was small, it could only take so much genetic variation with it. As a result of that combination — a limited founder population and a short time since dispersal — humans are strikingly homogeneous, differing from one another only once in a thousand subunits of the genome.
It is dubious that Ham would accept the rest of the report. Ham is simply selecting that which confirms his thesis, but rejects what does not. This is an example of Ham’s disingenuousness.
Ham then returns to the debate topic, and a rehash of his opening lines of argumentation,
We need to define the terms. … I believe we need to understand how they [the terms “science” and “evolution”] are being used to impose an anti-God religion on generations of unsuspecting students.
Ham continues to emphasize his point, but it is still an equivocation, a red-herring, a religious dogma, a false-dichotomy, and ultimately a rallying defensive posture, with little affirmative evidence for his “creation” theory.
Ham now gives us a definition of “Creation,” which involves an intricate alliterative list:
Corruption (from the Fall)
Catastrophe (of Noah’s flood)
Confusion (tower of Babel)
In this explanation there is a footnote that ought to be paid attention to:
I had to say that because a lot of our supporters would want me to.
This hints at the political agenda by which Ham is also influenced.
What comes next is not argumentation, but sermonizing on the “7 C’s of Creation.”
We make no apology that what we are about, is this! That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9
Again, not science. This is the third moment where the debate should have ended.
Ham mentions a newspaper report that says this:
Textbook and classroom curriculum battles have long raged in Texas pitting creationists — those who see God’s hand in the creation of the universe — against academics who worry about religious and political ideology trumping scientific fact.
Ham’s commentary is that there is an indoctrination. Ham is defensive, and is postured for conflict rather than simply diffusing the statement by showing that religious and political ideology will not, by his standards, trump scientific fact. Of course, he can’t do that.
Ham continues the tirade, quoting from the Texas Freedom Network’s mission statement,
The Texas Freedom Network advances a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the religious right.
Then Ham quotes Kathy Miller in an online article,
“Science education should be based on main stream science education, not on the personal ideological beliefs of unqualified reviewers,” said Kathy Miller, member of the Texas Freedom Network.
And posits his own alternative,
Public school textbooks are using the same word science for observational and historical science. They arbitrarily define science as naturalism and outlaw the supernatural. They present molecules-to-man evolution as fact. They are imposing the religion of naturalism/atheism on generations of students.
Here is where Ham lays all his cards on the table, that this debate for him, is not about science, but rather about morals, ethics, and societal ills as is illustrated in this graphic:
Ham then restates his argument:
Creation is the only viable model of historical science confirmed by observational science in today’s modern scientific era.
The term that seems to be the one that needs clarifying at this stage, is the word “viable.” It appears that to Ham, “viable” does not mean “scientifically valid,” but rather, “that which will keep kids Christian,”
I want children to be taught the right foundation, that there’s a God who created them, who loves them, who died on the cross for them, and that they’re special, that they’re made in the image of God.
BILL NYE | 30 min. Presentation:
Nye begins with layers of limestone, and the fossils found in them, there in Kentucky.
We are standing on millions of layers of ancient life. How could those animals have lived their entire life, and formed these layers, in just 4,000 years? There isn’t enough time, since Mr. Ham’s flood.
Good data point. Bad labeling of “Mr. Ham’s flood.” As Nye continues, he gives more data, which will be contended later in the debate.
Nye continues with data: National ICE CORE Laboratory data, 680,000 snow-ice layers = 680,000 years. Mathematically, according to the 4,000 years since the flood, we would need 170 winter-summer cycles/year. Wouldn’t someone have noticed? Old Tjikko is 9,550 years old. There are other Bristlecone Pines that are 6,800 years old. How could these trees be there if there is an enormous flood just 4,000 years ago?
He spends some time on the Grand Canyon.
If there was this enormous flood, wouldn’t there have been churning and bubbling and roiling. How would these things have settled out? The claim that they would have settled out in an extraordinarily short amount of time is, for me, not satisfactory. Geologists study this, and we can see that it takes a long, long time for sediments to turn to stone. You can also see how one type of sediment has intruded on another type. If that was uniform, wouldn’t we expect it to be even, without intrusion? You can also see ancient riverbeds on one side going to the other side, and the Colorado River has cut through it. If this great flood drained through the Grand Canyon, wouldn’t there have been a Grand Canyon on every continent? How could we not have had Grand Canyon’s everywhere?
When you look at layers, you find fossils.
You never, ever find a higher animal mixed in with a lower one. You never find a lower one trying to swim its way to the higher one. If it all happened in such an extraordinary short amount of time, if this water drained away, just like [snap] that, wouldn’t we expect to see some turbulence. And, by the way, if you can find one example of that, anywhere in the world, you would be a hero. People have looked. We have not found a single one.
Fossil skulls; not any of them is a gorilla. If, according to Mr. Ham there was only man and all other species, where would you put modern humans among these skulls? How did all these skulls get all over the earth, in this extraordinary fashion? Where would you put us? I encourage you to look it up.
It’s a bit confusing what Nye is asking. But according to the Smithsonian Institute, Homo Sapiens are from Africa, and began around 200,000 years ago. A recent article details further back in our speciation 1.8-1.9 million years ago.
Nye then tackles the Australian land bridge.
We would expect somewhere between the Middle East and Australia, evidence of kangaroos.
No one has ever detected any evidence of [the land bridge]. … So, your expectation is not met.
Next, the “kinds” mathematics:
If these 16,000,000 species came from 7,000 kinds, we would expect to find 11 new species every day!?! … We see no evidence of that. There just simply isn’t enough time.
The problem with Nye’s data here is not the math, but the terms. Ham has previously equivocated, and Nye, if he wants to educate his audience, will need to clearly define what scientists mean by the word, “species.” In addition, there are complications from comparing a modern word “species” with an ancient Semitic term, “מין,” the Hebrew word for “kind” (which Answers in Genesis does provide explanation.) The technicalities of taxonomy get even more complicated with the recent introduction of “Barminology,” — which has both a Wikipedia and RationalWiki page — which has further complicated the terms, as per the Creation Biology Society, and the Creation Research Society.
Nye then discusses Lake Missoula and the floods, and the boulders that are on the surface, inquiring how they could be there if there was a massive flood which would cause them to be, a) hydro-dynamically shaped (which they are not), and b) on the bottom of the sentiment (which they are not).
Another remarkable thing I would like everyone to consider. Inherent in this worldview is that somehow Noah and his family were able to build a wooden ship that would house 14,000 individuals, 7,000 kinds, a boy and girl for each one of those — so about 14,008 people [perhaps Nye meant to say “passengers?”] and these people were unskilled. As far as anyone knows, they had never built a wooden ship before. Furthermore, they had to get all these animals on there, and they had to feed them — and I understand that Mr. Ham has explanations for that, which I frankly, find extraordinary — but this is the premise. We can then run a scientific test.
People in the early 1900’s built the Wyoming. This boat had great difficulty. It would twist in the sea, and it leaked. It eventually sank. So, there 14 crewman on a ship built by very skilled shipwrights in New England, and they couldn’t build a boat as big as the ark is claimed to have been. Is that reasonable? Is that possible?
If you visit the National Zoo in Washington D.C., it is 163 acres (66 hectacres), and they have 400 species. … Is it reasonable that Noah and his colleagues were able to maintain 14,000 animals and themselves, and feed them, aboard a ship that was bigger than anyone has been able to build?
Nye’s data points are well thought out and perhaps should be contended with. They will not be revisited by Ham for the rest of the evening, perhaps for good reason. The problem — or, nuanced challenge? — with Nye’s approach here is that he is fundamentally sticking with science to “test” the claims of the story. This approach, from either side, re-establishes in many people’s minds a “conflict” between the “science” (i.e., “data”), and the “Bible” (i.e., “God’s truth”). As others have commented, it may have been more efficacious to have a Biblical scholar debate Ham as the approach would not be on the platform of this consistently touted dichotomy of science and the Bible, but rather on the genre of the Biblical text and why reading it scientifically or “historically” may not be the best way to read it.
Nye shifts to the predictive quality of science.
What we want in science, as practiced on the outside, is an ability to predict. We want to have a natural law that is so obvious and clear, so well understood, that we can make predictions about what will happen.
Nye then discusses Tiktaalik as an explanatory transitional form.
Nye then states,
So far, Mr Ham, and his creation model, does not have this capability. It cannot make predictions and show results.
As we will see later, while this may be technically true, it is rhetorically weak, as Ham will point out later in the debate.
Nye then expounds upon sexual selection and reproduction in the Topminnows as another illustration of prediction.
In this, Nye slips in a critically important statement that could be easily missed:
And your assertion that there is some difference between the natural laws that I use to observe the world today and the natural laws that existed 4,000 years ago is extraordinary and unsettling.
Why Nye doesn’t expound upon this further is perplexing as this is a main issue not well explained thus far, and one that has already been contradicted by Ham himself in his earlier presentation.
Nye then shifts gears, and cites a church sign that reads, “BIG BANG THEORY YOU GOT TO BE KIDDING ME GOD.” Nye asks, “Why would anyone put that up unless they believed in the Big Bang?” Not a great argument, but let’s continue with why we accept the Big Bang.
Nye cites the work of Edwin Hubble, and the discovery of the stars moving farther and farther apart. Fred Hoyle then coins the phrase, “Big Bang.” The theory continued to be questioned for decades. Then Nye cites the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation by Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson.
Nye then discusses two elements of the Periodic Table:
When lava comes out of the ground and crystallizes, it locks the Rb and Sr in place. By being diligent in measurement, you can tell how old they are, and you can get an age of the earth. When it falls on fossils, you can get a good idea how old those fossils are.
This element, Rb is used in heart medicine. Nye then cites an overview for nuclear medical technology education in Kentucky, and states that no undergraduate programs can be found in Kentucky, saying,
I hope you find that troubling. I hope you are concerned about that. You want scientifically literate students in your commonwealth for a better tomorrow for everybody.
Next, distance to stars.
We look at a star, we measure the angle. We look at it again six months later, we measure again, and we measure the angle. By measuring a distance to a star, you can figure out how far away it is.
There are billions of stars more than 6,000 light-years away from here. Mr. Ham, how could there be billions of stars, more than 6,000 light-years away, if the world is only 6,000 years old? It is an extraordinary claim.
Adolf Quételet. Is it reasonable…?
If you’re asking me, Is Ken Ham’s creation model viable? Absolutely no.
Nye ends on a political plea.
KEN HAM | 5 min. Rebuttal:
Back to the Bible. When you add up the genealogies, you get 6,000 years:
Ham then claims there are problems with radioactive decay, and gives an example:
The point is, there’s a problem.
Ham then gives an example of the New Lava Dome at St. Helens, Washington, that when dated, gave a variety of dates, e.g., 0.35 million years for the whole rock, 0.9 million years for Amphibole, 2.8 million years for Pyroxene Concentrate. His point? The dating methods give different dates, and different dating for the same rock. Ham then goes on to discuss the assumptions.
Assumption 1: The amounts of parent and daughter isotopes at the beginning, when the rock formed, must be known (the initial conditions)
Assumption 2: All daughter atoms measured today must only have been derived by in situ radioactive decay of parent atoms (a closed system)
Assumption 3: The radioactive decay rate must have been constant at today’s measured rate (a constant decay rate).
The point? There’s lots of assumptions. There’s all sorts of differences out there.
Ham gives no positive evidence for the age of the earth (other than Biblical), but simply casts doubt by leveraging scientific variances to discredit the entire enterprise. The main problem with this line of argumentation is that Ham must accept some degree of accuracy to even make the claims he is asserting. In the example of the rock and tree above, he presumes the dates are accurate of both the wood and the tree to point out the discrepancy. If those dates were not reflective of some truth, then there is nothing to argue. The other problem is his attack on the assumptions. Because there are assumptions, the dating is invalid? By this logic, all of Ham’s conclusions are invalid as well. Of course, there are assumptions. The question is whether or not those assumptions are consistent with reality through the scientific method.
Regarding other believers who accept millions of years, Ham states, they have a problem:
We’re now in the realm of exegetical hermeneutics, and there’s a machine gun flurry of statements.
There is an inconsistency with what the Bible teaches. … The Bible makes it clear that death is the result of man’s sin.
First, all death? Plants die. Your skin and hair are dead cells. Second, what is meant by “death” in the Bible is nuanced, as the consequence is, “on the day you eat of it, you will surely die.” (כי ביום אכלך ממנו מות תמות) Ham’s mechanical reading of the text will yield problems. Third, the genre, again, is not historical science.
In fact the first death was in the garden when God killed an animal, clothed Adam and Eve, our first blood sacrifice pointing towards what would happen with Jesus Christ.
A Christocentric reading becomes problematic when you do not read a text on its own terms. While Christian theology may make this connection, it is not appropriate to impose it upon the text as an originally intended meaning.
…the Bible says that all of the original animals, and man, were vegetarians. We weren’t told we could eat meat until after the flood. (Genesis 9:3)
There’s diseases in the fossil record, but the Bible says that He made everything very good, (Genesis 1:31)
Ham’s is now picking and choosing what to affirm and what to deny in the fossil record.
There’s hundreds of dating methods out there, hundreds of them. Actually 90 percent of them contradict billions of years and the point is all such dating methods are fallible and I claim there’s only one infallible dating method. It’s a witness who was there and knows everything who told us. And that’s from the word of God.
Okay. Let’s look closer at the dating methods listed. I’ll address a few, just to make a different point.
1. Helium in atmosphere. Wrong. In addition to missing data, the calculations yield 200,000 years old.
2. Helium in ground. Wrong. This is dating the age of water, which originates from the atmosphere.
3. Meteor dust. Wrong. Outdated imprecise measurements.
4. Buildup of carbon 14. Wrong. Miscalculation.
6. Natural plutonium. Wrong. Even by YEC standards, it yields 80 million years, which is still an inaccurate number.
Point(s)? First, all of these are “historical science,” according to Ham, and thus ought not even discussed according to his terms. Second, the calculations are manipulated, incorrect, or assumptive, and in many cases yield results that are far older than 6 or 10,000 years, which is and of itself problematic. Third, the whole point that Ham and YEC’s are trying to make is simply to cast doubt on the entire enterprise, which is again, not an exercise in education or science, but in rhetoric, and bad rhetoric at that. Finally, Ham ends on a judicial point, with his “one infallible dating method,” which again highlights that this is not science for Ham. We’re back to epistemology, exegetical hermeneutics, Biblical criticism, and theology, and Ham’s narrow, mechanical view of the book of Genesis.
BILL NYE | 5 min. Rebuttal:
If you find 45 million year old rock on top of 45,000 year old trees, maybe the rock slid on top. Maybe that’s it. That seems to be a much more reasonable explanation, than “it’s impossible.”
Nye makes a textual criticism blunder, which hurts a bit of his cause. He mentions that the Bible has been translated “many, many times over three millennia,” which is not an accurate depiction of the Bible’s story. Old Testament Biblical criticism yields a much more nuanced transmission than is mentioned here, even if in passing.
This does seem to be a common phenomenon, that YEC misrepresent the science, and non-believers (and believers, too, for that matter) misrepresent the history of the Bible.
About disease? Are the fish sinners? Have they done something wrong to get these diseases.
While perhaps a thoughtful quip, this does miss what Ham was asserting.
As far as, “you can’t observe the past,” I have to stop you right there. That’s what we do in astronomy. All we can do is look at the past. By the way, you’re looking at the past right now. Because the speed of light bounces off me and gets to your eyes. And I’m delighted to see that the people at the back of the room appear just that much younger than the people at the front.
So, this idea that you can separate the natural laws of the past from the natural laws that we have now, I think, is at the heart of our disagreement. I don’t think I can see how we’re ever going to agree with that if you insist that natural laws have changed. For lack of a better word, it’s magical. … It’s not really what we want in conventional mainstream science.
YES. Excellent. This is the main contention point. Ham never addresses this.
Regarding animal vegetarianism, Nye points out that lions do not have teeth that are “set up for broccoli.” Nye pleads for more proof,
I give you lion’s teeth. You give me verses translated over 30 centuries. That is not enough evidence for me.
And here is where Nye completely misses it and discredits his understanding of the Bible. He likens Biblical transmission to the child’s game of “telephone,” where things often do go wrong in the telling to the next person.
He also misrepresents Ham’s statement about lions being vegetarians until the ark. That is not the view. It is until “man sinned.” Nye’s would have been better off asking how meat-eaters (post-“fall”) would have sustained themselves on an ark with other animals for a year.
Then Nye makes a great point, which perhaps should have had greater prominence in the debate:
I want everybody to consider the implications of this. If we accept Mr. Ham’s point of view, that the Bible as translated into American English, serves as a science text, and that he and his followers will interpret that for you, I want you to consider what that means. It means that Mr. Ham’s word, or his interpretation of these other words is somehow to be more respected than what you can observe in nature, what you can find, literally in your backyard in Kentucky. It’s a troubling and unsettling point of view.
This is exactly correct. Consider the implications. The next step in this argument, from a religious perspective, is that Mr. Ham’s point of view is not at all the most credible point of view, or interpretation of those texts. In other words, you don’t have to ignore what you can observe “literally in your backyard,” and you don’t have to ignore the Biblical text either. That is the strength of this last statement from Nye, and allows an intelligent person to engage with both on their own terms.
KEN HAM | 5 min. Counter-Rebuttal:
The 45,000 year old wood was inside the Basalt, encased. That’s why I was making that point.
Ham still has the same problems listed above with this data point.
I would say, natural law hasn’t changed. As I talk about, we have the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, and that only makes sense in a Biblical worldview anyway of a Creator God who set up those laws, and that’s why we can do good experimental science, because we assume those laws are true, and they’ll be true tomorrow.
This is now hypocritical double-speak. First on “historical science” platform, second on the “assumption” platform, third on the “religious” platform. This is intellectually dishonest.
Ham then addresses “Ken Ham’s view/model,” and mentions other “creation scientists.” Here, I agree. Nye’s labeling was unfortunate, and as I mentioned earlier, he personalized the debate topic, which set him up for being discredited.
Ham then suggests that Nye is confusing the terms, “species” and “kinds.”
[Our researchers] have predicted less than actually 1,000 kinds were on Noah’s ark, which means just over 2,000 animals, and the average size of land animal is not that big. So, there’s plenty of room on the ark.
Fancy and selective arithmetic, and one that equivocates on the words, again.
Ham then mentions that ice can build up catastrophically, and says that Nye is simply assuming things “in regard to the past. In regards to teeth, Ham mentions bears, pandas, and the fruit bat all with sharp teeth, stating, “just because an animal has sharp teeth doesn’t mean it’s a meat eater, it means that it has sharp teeth.” Ham summarizes,
Again, it really comes down to our interpretation.
Note, however, that in this segment, Ham not only misinterprets the observations, he offers no positive evidence, (most of these examples are merely anecdotal). He methodology is to simply cast doubt.
Regarding Lake Missoula, Ham concedes there has been post-flood catastrophism. How he knows this, since this is also “historical science,” is perplexing.
Ham asks, “Why would you say Noah was unskilled? I didn’t meet Noah, and neither did you.” Ham points out that this is an evolutionary view of origins. Ham continues with establishing his claims on assumptive historical science, while discounting that anything can be claimed historically or assumptively:
There are civilizations that existed in the past and we look at their technology and we can’t even understand today how they did some of the things they did. …By the way, the Chinese and the Egyptians built boats. In fact, some of our research has indicated that some of the wooden boats that were built had three layers interlocking so they wouldn’t twist like that.
One of the most famous of these boats is the Khufu ship. This adds nothing to the argument. Additionally, how Ham can date these according to his own presumptions is hypocritical.
Concerning the speed of light, Ham mentions the “horizon problem,” (which gives rise to Inflationary Theory, and Weyl Curvature Hypothesis). The point, again, to simply show there are problems. There are two main “problems” in Ham’s approach. The first, is that “problem” does not equal “disproved.” There are many things that are yet to be explained, and a “problem,” is simply a way of stating that there are some calculations or theories yet to be understood to help resolve the uncertainties of any theory. And in science, there is a distinct difference between “doubt” and “uncertainty.” Second, Ham offers, again, no evidence, no calculation, no hypothesis that helps explain the overwhelming other data sets that exist.
BILL NYE | 5 min. Counter-Rebuttal:
I’m completely unsatisfied. You did not address the ice core problem. If you have only 2,000 animals on the ark, that makes the problem even more extraordinary. As far as Noah being a shipwright, I’m very skeptical. It’s very reasonable, perhaps, to you, that Noah had superpowers…but to me, that’s just not reasonable.
The fundamental thing we disagree on is the nature of what you can prove to yourself. When people make assumptions based on radiometric data, when they make assumptions about the expanding universe, when they make assumptions about the rate at which genes change in populations of bacteria in laboratory growth media, they’re making assumptions based on previous experience. They’re not coming out of whole cloth.
Explain to us, why we should accept your word for it, that natural law changed, just 4,000 years ago, completely, and there’s no record of it. You know, there are pyramids that are older than that, there are human populations that are far older than that, with traditions that go back father than that. And it’s just not reasonable to me, that everything changed 4,000 years ago. And by everything, I mean, species, the surface of the earth, the stars in the sky, and the relationship of all the other living things to humans. That everything changed like [snap] “that.”
There are billions of people who are deeply religious, and I respect that. …And yet, they don’t accept your point of view…because of the evidence. And so, what is to become of them, in your view.
As I understand it, this is based on the Old Testament. When you bring in the New Testament, isn’t that out of the box?
I’m looking for explanations of the creation of the world as we know it, based on, what I’m going to call, “science.” Things that each of us can do, akin to murder mystery shows, crime scene investigation.
When we find an idea that is untenable, that doesn’t fly, that doesn’t hold water, we throw it away.
Your view, that we’re suppose to take your word for this book written centuries ago, translated into American English, is somehow more important than what I can see with my own eyes is an extraordinary claim.
Nye’s plea gets rhetorical, which perhaps is warranted at this time as it is a counter-rebuttal to Ham’s rhetoric. However, unlike Ham whose platform is fear, doubt, and really, false information, Nye’s plea is to reason and logic, good data, science.
How does creationism account for the celestial bodies, planets, stars, moons moving further and further apart, and what function does that serve in the grand design?
Ham says the Bible even talks about the expansion of the universe. Why God did it that way, he can’t answer. God made the heavens for his glory. The largeness of the universe shows how great God is, to show us his power.
Ham mentions that the Bible says, “And he made the stars, also,” as in “oh, by the way.” Here, Ham is basing his sentiment on one Hebrew letter, “ו,” which is used frequently throughout the narrative. I’m curious how Ham sees this “incidental” interpretation different from the others.
Nye responds with the “question that troubles us all.” “Where did we come from.” To Ham, his answer ends the discussion. To Nye, he wants more discovery. Nye then posits the prediction question again, “Can you come up with something you can predict?”
How did the atoms that created the Big Bang get there?
Nye: “This is a great mystery. You’ve hit the nail on the head. … Let’s keep searching, let’s keep looking.” Nye then illustrates our ignorance as to why the universe is accelerating in expansion, and commissions the audience to find out. This is what is compelling.
Ham: “There actually is a book out there that tells us where matter came from.” Then Ham makes several assumptions, that matter can never produce information, can never produce a language system, that language can only come from intelligence. This is an appeal to the fallacious “god of the gaps” explanation. Ham then continues to sermonize.
The overwhelming majority in the scientific community have presented valid physical evidence such as carbon dating and fossils to support evolutionary theory. What evidence, beside the literal word of the Bible supports creationism?
Ham agrees on the majority of the community, but posits that there is a large group out there that don’t. “It’s not the majority that is the judge of truth.”
Then Ham says he was making predictions, such as one race, kinds, etc. He brings up again past and present, historical and observation. Note, Ham does not actually provide any evidence in this answer. He has not provided any evidence throughout this presentation.
Nye then wants to disabuse him of a false idea. If anyone makes a discovery that changes the way people view natural law, scientists embrace him/her. We look forward to that change. Nye points out that evolution is the mechanism by which we add complexity, through energy from the sun, and that energy is used to make life more complex.
How did consciousness come from matter?
Nye: “Don’t know. This is a great mystery. The joy of discovery is what drives us.” And, Nye claims to have spent time with dogs who have the joy of discovery. And, there are researchers that are searching for that answer right now. This would be a fantastic discovery. The nature of consciousness is a mystery, and I challenge the young people to investigate this question.
Ham: “Bill, there is a book out there, that does document where consciousness came from.” Ham’s appeal to the Bible is getting tiresome.
Ham then attacks Nye’s “joy of discovery” if we just die and that’s it?
What, if anything, would ever change your mind?
Ham: “I’m a Christian. As a Christian, I can’t prove it to you, but God has definitely shown me clearly, through his word… As Christians, we can say, ‘we know.’ So, as far as the word of God is concerned, no. No one will ever convince me that the word of God is not true.” In other words, nothing will ever change Ham’s mind. What’s disappointing is that changing your understanding of the Bible doesn’t mean that the Bible isn’t true. In short, this is an idolatrous marriage, where Ham has married his understanding of the Bible with the Bible itself, and that, is an extremely dangerous and deleterious endeavor.
Ham continues to suggest that they do build models and make predictions.
Nye: “We would just need one piece of evidence.” Then Nye digs in, “Mr. Ham, what can you prove? You’ve spent all the time coming up with explanations about the past. What can you really predict, really prove, in a conventional scientific [manner]?”
Unfortunately, due to format, this never really gets addressed.
Outside of radiometric methods, what scientific evidence supports your view of the age of the earth?
Nye: “Radiometric dating is pretty compelling.” Nye then quotes Lyell in coining the phrase, “Deep Time.” Radioactivity was discovered and why the earth is able to maintain its temperature. Nye then assists the questioner, “This question, to me, is akin to the expression, ‘if things were any other way, things would be different.’ … Neutrons do become protons. … The universe is accelerating. These are all provable facts. That there was a flood 4,000 years ago is not provable. In fact, the evidence for me, at least, as a reasonable man, is overwhelming that it couldn’t possibly have happened. There’s no evidence for it.”
Nye points out that Ham never addressed the skulls.
Ham posits that no earth rock was ever dated to yield 4.5 billion years. Rather, the dating was meteorites. Ham states, “People think they dated rocks on the earth to get 4.5 billion years. That’s just not true.” Ham is misleading, again (also USGS).
Ham revisits the “hundreds of dating methods,” making the point that “every dating method involves a change with time. And, there are hundreds of them. If you assume what was there to start with, and you assume something about the rate (you make lots of those assumptions), every dating method has those assumptions, most of those dating methods contradict the billions of years. There’s no absolute age dating scientific method, because you can’t prove, scientifically, young or old.”
Ham’s radical skepticism, and radical dismissal of any knowledge, or any assumption leaves Ham with nothing of substance.
Can you reconcile the change in the rate continents are now drifting versus how quickly they must have traveled at creation 6,000 years ago?
Ham: “This illustrates the difference between historical and observational science. … We would believe in catastrophic plate tectonics as a result of the flood. What we’re seeing now is a remnant of that movement.”
Nye: “The reason we acknowledge the rate at which continents are drifting — one of the reasons — is we see what is called sea floor spreading in the mid-Atlantic. The earth’s magnetic field has reversed over the millennia, and as it does, it leaves a signature in the rocks, as the continental plates drift apart. So, you can measure how fast the continents were spreading.
How do you balance the theory of evolution with the second law of thermodynamics?
Nye expounds upon the misunderstanding of “closed systems” in relation to the law.
Ham makes the point that “you can have all the energy you want, but energy and matter will never produce life.” Ham is wrong again. Ham then sermonizes.
Hypothetically, if evidence existed that caused you to have to admit that the earth was older than 10,000 years and creation did not occur over six days, would you still believe in God and the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and that Jesus was the Son of God?
Ham states again that you can never prove this. So, there is no hypothetical.
Nye states that this is where we disagree, that you can prove the age of the earth with great robustness. “I get the feeling, Mr. Ham, that you want us to take your word for it.” Then Nye restates his previous critique of the interpretation of an ancient book. Regarding life coming from non-life, Nye simply asks, “Are you sure? Are you sure enough to say that we should not continue to look for water and life on Mars?” Nye asks again about predictability.
Is there room for God in science?
Nye restates that there are billions of people in the world who are religious and accept science. “Science is the knowledge, and the process, the means by which we make these discoveries.” The evidence for spirituality or a higher power is for Nye a separate issue.
Ham states that “God is necessary for science. … You have to assume the laws of logic, and the laws of nature. Where does that come from, if the universe is here by natural processes? Christians and science go together. But inventing things and talking about origins are two very different things.” This is the same inconsistency as before.
Do you believe the entire Bible is to be taken literally? For example, should people who touch pig’s skin be stoned? Can men marry multiple women?
Ham says he would want to know what the person means by “literally,” but then posits a term, “naturally,” and affirms that he takes the Bible “naturally.” What does he mean by that? If it’s history, as Genesis is, take it as history. If it’s poetry, then take it as poetry. While the hermeneutic might be familiar in some form, the term “natural” is a bit odd.
Ham continues in stating, “there is a lot of misunderstanding in regard to scripture, in regard to the Israelites. We have laws in regard to our civil government here in America that the government sets. Well, there were certain laws for Israel, and you know, some people take that all out of context, and then they try and impose all that on us today as Christians and say, ‘You should be obeying those laws.’ It’s a misunderstanding of the Old Testament. It’s a misunderstanding of the New Testament. And it’s important to take the Bible as a whole, interpreting scripture with scripture. If it really is the word of God, then there’s not going to be any contradiction, which there is not. By the way, when men were married to multiple women, there were lots of problems, and the Bible condemns that for what it is, and the Bible is very clear. You know, the Bible is a real book. There were people who did things that were not in accord with scripture, and it records it for us. But marriage was for one man and one woman. Jesus reiterated that in Matthew 19.”
1) Ham seems to miss the underlying implication of the question. 2) Ham’s statement that some people take Biblical passages out of context is uber ironic. 3) The critique of outsiders saying “you should obey those laws” is not necessarily a misunderstanding of the Bible, but rather a plea to Christian fundamentalists to be honest and consistent with their ideologies and propositions. 4) Interpreting scripture with scripture is only one of many tools necessary for a proper understanding of ancient texts. 5) The Bible does not condemn polygamy, and the Bible is not very clear. 6) Yes, the Bible is a real book, with real people doing real things against what the Bible itself even states. Agreed on this.
Nye says, “It sounds to me that there are certain parts of this document, of the Bible, that you embrace literally, and other parts you consider poetry. So it sounds to me like you’re going to take what you like and interpret literally, and other passages you’re going to interpret as poetic or descriptions of human events. All that aside, scientifically, or as a reasonable man, it doesn’t seem possible that all these things that contradict your literal interpretation of those first few passages, I find unsettling when you want me to embrace the rest of it as literal.”
Here is where Nye states well one of the main problems with Ham and “creationism.” As Christians continue to represent the science incorrectly, as Ham does, more and more will consistently reject the rest of the faith/spiritual/religious package. What Ham does not realize is that he is not simply responding to the decline in faith, he is a major contributor to it.
Have you ever believed that evolution was accomplished through way of a higher power? (The intelligent design question)
Nye: “The idea that there is a higher power that has driven the course of the events of the universe is one that you cannot prove or disprove. This gets into the word ‘agnostic,’ you can’t know.” Nye then states that intelligent design (ID) fundamentally misunderstands the nature of nature. “Evolution is a process that adds complexity through natural selection. This is to say that nature has its mediocre designs eaten by its good designs. The perception that there is a designer that created all of this is not necessarily true, because we have an explanation that is far more compelling.”
Ham: “What Bill Nye needs to do for me is show me some new function that arose that was not previously possible from the genetic information that was there. I would claim and challenge you that there is no such example that you can give.”
Name one institution — business or organization — other than a church, amusement park, or the creation museum that is using any aspect of creationism to produce its product.
Ham dismisses the question: “Any scientist, Christian or non-Christian, is using creation.” His philosophical and anecdotal banter misses the point.
Nye: “There’s a reason that I don’t accept your (the Ken Ham) model of creation, is that it has no predictive quality, as you touched on. … It sounds as though, you believe your worldview, which sounds to me a literal interpretation of most parts of the Bible, is correct. What became of all those people who never heard of it, or you? Were they condemned or doomed? … And there are countless examples of how the process of science makes predictions.”
Since evolution teaches that man is evolving and growing smarter over time, how can you explain the numerous evidences of man’s high intelligence in the past?
Nye: “There is no evidence that humans are getting smarter. What happens in evolution, is survival of the fittest, which doesn’t mean pushups, or highest scores on standardized tests. It means those that fit in the best. Our intellect has enabled us to dominate the world. The evidence of humans is everywhere. … It is our capacity to reason that has taken us to where we are now. If a germ shows up, as it did in WWI, where more people were killed by the flu than the combatants in WWI — a troubling and remarkable fact — if the right germ shows up, we’ll be taken out, eliminated. Being smarter is not necessarily a natural consequence of evolution.”
Ham discusses the fish that have evolved to not see, stating, “it’s not survival of the fittest, it’s survival of those who survive. … But it’s not new information. It’s not a new function. There’s no example of that at all.” Ham may not realize that he is close to conceding in this answer. If he accepts that these fish have “evolved,” then he is conceding the environmental changes that cause organisms to adapt and change. He is also wrong, again, in that there are no examples of new information or new function.
What is the one thing more than anything else upon which you base your belief?
Ham’s answer should be obvious by this point. “There is a book…” Then, more sermonizing.
Nye quotes Carl Sagan, “When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.” “I base my beliefs on the information and process that we call science.” Nye then emotes a bit.
— Reflections and Commentary —
I hope my notes, links, and critical analysis above are accurate and respect the content. Any additional links or education would be helpful to receive.
DISTURBED AT THE “WHO WON?” QUESTION | This is part of why a debate format is a terrible area in which to adjudicate the validity of any claim. This question also illuminates the entrenchment that can happen in the already convinced.
NYE DID WELL | Nye, at times, fell into combatant rhetoric, flubbed a few Biblical points, and missed a few opportunities to ground his arguments against Ham’s presuppositionalism. However, overall, Nye stuck to the topic, gave accurate data points, did his best to honor the religious, and respected his opponent.
HAM DID HIS THING AND HIS THING IS NOT GOOD | Nothing in Ham’s presentation is a surprise. Ham has been promulgating this content — virtually the same arguments — for decades (I heard Ham live over 20 years ago with many of the same arguments he used tonight). Ham stuck to his dogmatic assertions, and did not provide any confirming evidence for YEC. Ham merely platformed his presuppositions, grounded his science in a Biblical interpretation, and fared very poorly as a result. Ham got many data points wrong, offered few compelling explanatory arguments, and ultimately exemplified a logical hypocrisy that illuminated his dogma more than his scientific acumen.
THIS IS A DEBATE ABOUT EPISTEMOLOGY | What really needs to be discussed is “presuppositional” vs. “evidentiary” epistemology, the nature and validity of “assumptions,” and the philosophies that accompany. Ham’s fundamental platform was to attack any epistemic framework outside of his interpretation of the Bible. Nye’s platform, as with the scientific community, appears to allow one’s epistemic understanding be shaped and molded.
HAM IS PERPETUATING THE PROBLEM | Perhaps the most poetically tragic issue in this entire debate is the plea that Ham has made elsewhere, that the reason why he is so vigilant in his “science evangelism,” is that kids are leaving the church. I argue that what is painfully ironic about this is that Ham is not correcting this phenomenon, he is causing it. In accordance with a sentiment mentioned by Nye, as Ham consistently misrepresents the scientific data, as he continues to dismisses evidence, as he persists in equivocating on the terms, as he continues to selectively accept and dismiss evidence depending upon how it helps or hurts his a priori cause, and as he persists in misrepresenting the Bible, people like Nye, and people in the church will begin to disbelieve anything else from faith or religion, and will disavow themselves of any respect towards anything that resembles faith. In this regard, this debate, and others like it, are fundamentally, “lose, lose.”
What the 150 minute event lacked was any requirement that the debaters answer each other’s questions. That would have changed the way the debate concluded.
…the argument was never really about ice rods and sediment layers. It was about the most basic of all intellectual presuppositions: How do we know anything at all? On what basis do we grant intellectual authority? Is the universe self-contained and self-explanatory? Is there a Creator, and can we know him?
The central issue last night was really not the age of the earth or the claims of modern science. The question was not really about the ark or sediment layers or fossils. It was about the central worldview clash of our times, and of any time: the clash between the worldview of the self-declared “reasonable man” and the worldview of the sinner saved by grace.
Advocates of various positions have often perpetuated the idea of a battle precisely because drawing clear lines is an effective way to mobilize one view against the other. Perhaps it is time to recognize the complexity of beliefs and worship together despite our differences.
In sum, the debate was Ham’s to lose, and he lost, largely because he exposed his “science” as an a priori commitment to the literal truth of an ancient man-made text, something that even evangelical Christians have largely rejected. He lost the chance to debate the facts by repeatedly bringing in God and Jesus. The debate was Nye’s to win, and he did win, because he prepared properly and, though he could have done better, did well enough. He was cool, amiable, and funny.
Peter Enns, pre-debate:
Ham is an immovable force. He will not in any conceivable universe “lose” the debate, and simply being debated by Nye will give Ham credibility in the eyes of those who might otherwise have successfully navigated past Ham’s treacherous port and found a true and living faith elsewhere.
The ideal opponent, if a debate were unavoidable, would be (1) a theistic evolutionist, who (2) doesn’t lose his/her cool, but (3) isn’t above giving hard punches to the gut, and who (4) knows his/her way around theology, hermeneutics, and the history of Christian thought to expose to a larger crowd was is self-evident to most everyone else:
Ham is not capable of true debate, and his views are not worth debating to begin with.
Peter Enns, post-debate:
The bottom line is that I find it unfortunate that we were exposed to a false dichotomy: either creationism or naturalism.
Overall, I did not find the debate to be at all helpful. I did think that Nye’s scientific arguments were stronger than Ham’s (as YEC is rather indefensible scientifically), but they could have been stronger, and Nye demonstrated deep misunderstandings of Christianity that are, unfortunately, much too common among skeptics. Young-Earth creationists who watched the debate probably thought that Ham crushed Nye. Atheists who watched it probably thought that Nye demolished the silly arguments of the young-Earthers. For the rest of us, the debate was a lose-lose affair. There was little in Ham’s presentation that would cause a non-believer (especially a non-believing scientist) to consider Christianity, and Nye’s weakness on geological issues hampered his effectiveness.
Anyone who watched to “see their guy win” will likely be satisfied and not give the other view (or any portion of it) a second thought. However, because of the many statements of truth and falsehood on both sides, those who were looking for some kind of resolution or those who were on one side but doubting it, will be quite confused and dissatisfied. Each respective candidate won with their supporters, but both lost with their skeptics. This exchange was certainly not “the debate of the decade.”
The desire of a vocal minority (yes, that’s what I said, and I meant it) of Christians to cling to a notion that the entire universe is a few thousand years old, despite the clear physical evidence to the contrary, points less to a reasonable alternate view of the observable world. Rather, it points to a desperate attempt to maintain a dying voice in the cultural conversation.
And I believe that church leaders who teach that Christians have to choose between the Bible and science, faith and reason, are doing a huge disservice to the Church, essentially setting believers up for failure.
…America’s long tradition of anti-intellectualism helped him become a star religious entrepreneur.
While admirable in intent, America’s celebration of ordinary common sense has nurtured a profound anti-intellectualism that often translates into a cavalier dismissal of expertise.
Convincing people to reject evolution—and the Big Bang, the age of the earth, and many other mainstream scientific ideas—was accomplished in part by portraying the scientific community as a cabal of elitist, politically motivated secularists conspiring with the assistance of Satan to undermine the traditional values of American Christians. This view of the scientific community resonated with conservative Protestants, bewildered by a world that they once controlled but that now seemed to be leaving them and their values behind. Such a view provides a reason to reject so-called “expertise” in favor of homey assurances that everything they needed to know about origins is in the Bible.
Just as it has always been.
It would be easy enough here to call Ham’s intelligence into question and berate him for so thoroughly and publicly missing the point of a hypothetical. But this evasion was only one of many refusals of engagement, which calls into question why, if Ham is convinced of the shoddiness of evolutionary science, he would avoid delving into the particulars of its problems. Indeed, the two men talked past each other for the entire evening: if Ham were really crusading to reveal the utter bankruptcy of evolutionary science, why would he let that happen?
The answer has to do with the category of project Ham’s activism falls under. It is not a scientific project, nor even one much related to knowledge of the natural world, scientific or not. Ham’s project is rather best understood as an ethical one.
At an axiomatic level, Ken Ham reveals Creationism for what is really is: a political/religious recruitment tool that warps the words of the Bible for their own purposes. It is a power play devoid of spirituality.
The Joy of Discovery:
The maddening aspect of his creationism is not just that it’s ridiculous, but that he insists it’s a perfectly logical, empirically verifiable scientific explanation of the universe. It doesn’t matter how meticulously or forcefully Nye rebuffs the illogic of Ham’s views; Ham is always ready with a red herring rejoinder, a straw man riposte, an indignant counter-argument based on nothing but his own opportunistic exegesis. Nye has the burden of being tethered to facts; Ham has the luxury to create his own fiction.