Ken Ham and Bill Nye Creation Debate
Ken Ham addresses audience while Bill Nye looks on.

By now you have all read about the debate.  If you want to view it so that this perspective and other review make more sense it is available here.  It was an interesting event to say the least.  But at the same time it raised some important questions – difficult ones for both sides of the issue.  I am not going to cover the whole of their discussion but instead highlight some important concerns.

Before getting into the technical issues it must be stated that both behaved themselves quite well.  There was no shouting or blatantly abusive speech.  They were gentlemen.

Both made some strong points.  Nye asked for evidence.  What he wants to see is something specific that would demonstrate that the earth could only be 6,000 years old.  What he got for a response was an appeal to the models being used.  On several occasions Ham attempted to clarify that there was no disagreement on the existence of the raw data.  Their difference boiled down to the model used to interpret the data.  For Ham to make this appeal was to reach into an area where Nye was apparently unfamiliar.

This appeal to models is as true in evolutionary circles as it is in the creation-evolution debate.  There are currently four (as best I can count) major evolutionary theories floating around – (1) classic Darwinism, (2) neo-Darwinism per Gould  & Mayr, (3) neo-Darwinism per Shapiro, Wolfram, and Behe, and (4) non-Darwinian evolution per Fodor & Nagel.  These theories raise questions about the relationship between adaptation and genetics, between being a random or a driven system, and whether or not materialism accounts for human capacity for mental abstraction.

As an engineer Nye wants things he can hold onto.  He wants experimental evidence.  A theory without evidence (“fruit” as they say) is a meaningless theory.  To that question Ham appealed to the work done by many but did not have any specific answer.   That was to his detriment.

Ham understands that worldviews shape thought.  So he appealed to the “religion of naturalism” that drives evolutionary thought.  Nye apparently could not grasp that.  He had no substantive response.

Both presented some weak points as well.  Ham never began with data or information.  Were he to bring some of that to the table then the discussion might well have been over before it began.    To his credit he came half-way and presented some of the flaws of dating methods.  Though the discussion was not complete it was a half-point in his favor.  It was not enough to lead listeners to a final conclusion on the matter and to me that makes it a weak point.

Nye showed himself a subscriber to scientism with an autocratic flare.  He suggested that those who do not accept naturalistic evolution should not be working in the sciences.  He also considers them unpatriotic.  These suggestions ought be offensive to anyone hearing them.

His engineering perspective also came out in the phrase “eschew the process” as a description of doing science.  I may be wrong here, but this sounds like an appeal to the empirical scientific method.  In the scientific method the scientist has control of the process.  But evolution is first about history and second about predictions and testing.  These occur within the historical model and are part of its support mechanism.  But all evolutionary theory is an attempt to answer the historical question of how we got to where we are.  Like so many others with a positivist and empiricist flare Nye missed the core character of the theory he is supporting.

There is much more that could be said.  Both made strong point and weak points.  The discussion will not end with this debate.  The end of a debate, after all, is never the end of anything but itself.

Cross-posted from CollinBrendemuehl.com

8 comments
  1. I wouldn’t use Pat Robertson to make my case. Bill Nye did a good job representing his position. Ken Ham did fine. He had some missed opportunities though.

    Ham’s strongest point, IMO, was making the distinction between historical science and observational science.

    As far as the Christianity Today poll, I haven’t seen it, but online polls are hardly scientific.

    1. Distinguishing historical with observational only makes sense if you are willing to believe that what we know about the laws and theories of science today did not apply 6000 years ago. You would have to believe in some form of magic.

    1. Many, perhaps most, believe the stories in Genesis are stories that teach us morals, not to be taken literally. People don’t survive in a fish. If you forget the animal part, no one has ever succeeded in recreating the ark as laid out in Genesis. We have been to the moon, much farther in the universe than anyone has gotten with a tower, although the new world trade center in quite high.

  2. Like it o not, the contention “the Bible is the received word of God” is not a scientific hypothesis. That is the fundamental, irreducible error of young-Earth creationists: they misrepresent as “science” an ideology which is religious. And, I think it’s hysterical that the “ark” the Creation Museum is building will need metal bracing: no wooden vessel of that size has ever been successfully built. Hmmm…

    1. I agree. I’d much rather seen a debate pitting evolution vs. intelligent design, Creationism is the religious expression of ID, just like Darwinism is the “religious” expression of evolution.

      Re. the ark – the only thing that proves is that those constructing it lack the know how.

      1. Shane, study the history of the British Royal Navy. Trust me, the proposed ark, without reinforcement, will hog at both ends. Nineteenth-century naval architecture conclusively proved, by building the warships, that the recipe given to Moses cannot work when built in wood. As for ID, the “intelligent designer” is either outside of the physical laws which govern the universe, making the ideology religious, or the “intelligent designer” is itself subject to physical laws, i.e. is not supernatural, i.e. is not “God.” Or, as my doctor said, in describing how the urethra passes through the prostate, and how the prostate, when it expands, puts pressure on the urethra, causing urinary symptoms: “It’s an incredibly stupid design!” Now, on to your token right Hegelian…

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