The Nye-Ham Debate On Evolution: A Roundup

Posted: Feb 5 2014, 10:20am CST | by , Updated: Feb 5 2014, 10:26am CST, in Technology News


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The Nye-Ham Debate On Evolution: A Roundup

Some noteworthy takes in the wake of last night’s almost three-hour debate between Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and Ken Ham, Founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis.

Many science bloggers were opposed to the debate in principle, especially given it was on Ham’s home turf. But in the event, Nye did a good job.

Jason Rosenhouse, no stranger to debating young-earth creationists, writes, “Nye was good, and I would not be surprised if even some in the creationist audience found some food for thought. Ham spoke ably to the people who already support him, forthrightly expressed his views, and did not make a fool of himself, so I’d say he also had a good night.”

Was there a clear loser?

But I do think there was a clear loser in the debate: the intelligent design crowd. This was the biggest event in the evolution vs. creationism battle in quite some time, and it was good ol’ young-Earth creationism that was on display. Once you factor in the extensive online audience and the other media coverage, the message everyone will have received is that anti-evolutionism is just equivalent to Bible-thumping obscurantism. This was precisely the notion ID was invented to dispel. Seeing Ham drone on and on about the Bible, to the point of defending the plausibility of Noah’s ark for heaven’s sake, must have had the ID folks seething. It’s one of the endearing features of YEC’s that they make no attempt to hide their religious motivations. This is why they drive the ID folks crazy.

Here’s Christianity Today’s blow-by-blow account:

At the centre of Ken Ham’s argument was that there is a big difference between observational and experimental sciences compared to what Mr Ham called “historical science”.

Historical science, Mr Ham argues, is where you interpret data about an event that you did not directly observe.

The comparison would be between seeing a crime happen, compared to piecing together what happened by examining the evidence afterwards.

If you see something happen, you know exactly what you saw. But looking at evidence afterwards means there are multiple possible versions of events. With more evidence, the number of possible versions decreases, but Mr Ham insists that the version of events he supports is still possible with current scientific data.

Over at SkepticInc., one scientist responded to this tactic:

Think about that a second. I’m willing to bet Ken Ham has never built a car, yet he drives one every day. I bet Ken has never seen an electron, yet he uses electricity every day. I bet Ken has never been to the surface of the moon, yet he knows what it is like. Ken has never been to the center of Earth, yet he knows what that is like too.

All of that is Ken Ham (and other creationists) ignoring their own rule. They believe that if you didn’t do it or see it happen, then you can’t prove that it did. And they are right. Of course, they will still use their computers and cars and earthquake forecasts. Hypocritically that is.

At National Center for Science Education, whose team helped prep Nye for the debate, the feeling was that Ham was not at his best:

Of course, [Nye] also had the science on his side, which doesn’t hurt. But it isn’t a guarantee of anything in a stage debate: competitive debaters are judged by their ability to argue either side of a question. Debate is a tool for showing who’s a better orator, not necessarily who’s right.

And Ken Ham is no mean orator, usually. Yet, although he’s spent a lifetime attacking evolution on stage, it seemed like he forgot to eat his Wheaties (or Weetabix) that morning. His presentation was largely drawn from his stock presentations, sometimes rambled far afield, and often raced by so quickly that it was hard even to know what he was saying. He also relied a lot on video clips of fellow young-earth creationists, as if he weren’t confident in his ability to sell his own message.

For myself, I was inclined to agree with the scientists skeptical of engaging at all in this particular forum. But in the long run, I think scientists need to constantly engage doubters–and indeed to be willing to come to their turf. And Nye did himself a lot of credit with his performance.

I’ll close on a lighter note with my favorite tweet during the debate:

#creationism debate in a nutshell… Ham: “Disease is a result of man’s Fall from God’s grace.” #Nye: “Fish get diseases. Did they sin too?”

— Jason Kapalka (@jasonkapalka) February 5, 2014

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to my Vimeo Channel.

Source: Forbes

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