As I watched the debate between the Bill Nye, The Science Guy, and the Ken Ham, The Creation Museum Guy, I found that I really wasn't very surprised by the outcome.
I couldn't help but reflect on how similar Ken Ham's responses were to a quotation I found the other day from Martin Luther:
“This fool [Copernicus] wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy [by claiming that the Earth spins on its axis and that the Earth revolves around the Sun]; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth. [Note: sun & moon both stopped!] Here the Moderator of Scripture, the Holy Ghost Himself, endorses the daily movement of the sun and the moon. After all, God could just as well have written: ‘And the earth stopped turning, so that the sun appeared to stand still, and the moon seemed to stay …’ ” Martin Luther (My comments in [square brackets])
How is that mistaken interpretation of scripture any different from that of Young Earth Creationists (YEC), like Ken Ham, who stated in this debate that no evidence would change his mind because he starts with [his interpretation of] the Bible? Both are clearly wrong and our study of the world around us makes it evident to a reasonable person. Several times Ken Ham said that nothing can ever "prove" the age of the earth/universe because "We weren't there!" As Bill Nye repeatedly responded, so we just have to "take Ken Ham's word for it?" Nye claimed that "Mr. Ham's" interpretation of the Bible trumps the world we see around us, according to his view. Nye said that he would need evidence that what we observe is false before he would believe in Creationism. Ham repeatedly dismissed all or most dating methods as based on "assumptions", as if he has none. The real question should be, "Are the assumptions reasonable and accurate?"
Bill Nye disappointed me in his failure to respond to challenges about the origin of the laws of logic, nature, life, consciousness, or the information content that is necessary for life. His repeated comments about an "ancient text" being re-translated many times over "thousands of years" into "American English" showed that he hasn't taken the time to even understand the Christian arguments for the origin of the Bible. Nor did Bill Nye acknowledge that taking the Bible seriously didn't equate to taking it "literally". At least Ken Ham was able to clarify that even he doesn't take all of scripture literally, but rather, as he called it, "naturally".
Miscellaneous observations from my notes of the 2/4/2014 debate:
- I actually liked the format of the debate. It gave sufficient time for both to present a case and then to follow up and interact with each other. The debate was mostly civil, with little or no personal attacks or open hostility. The audience was well prepared and was polite, considerate, and did not distract from the debate.
- Ham several times made a distinction between historical science and empirical/experimental/observational science. As far as that goes, I think that is not necessarily unfair and is a useful distinction at times. However, he then proceeded to use it to dismiss all conclusions drawn from observation as being applicable to the issue of what happened in the past. Nye, on the other hand, did not acknowledge that there is any difference at all. Ham claimed that God is necessary for Science to even work, since He is the basis of the laws of logic and nature.
- Ham repeatedly used something like the "We weren't there" phrase to dismiss arguments/conclusions he disagreed with. [e.g. No one saw the geology deposits formed. We weren't there when the tree rings formed. We can't observe the age of the earth.] Nye pointed out, correctly, that since Astronomy can only measure the past, then "Yes" we can observe it!
- Ham used the names of many scientists that he claimed supported his views. However, it didn't seem to me that all of them were in his YEC camp, though. For instance, I believe he mentioned Craig Ventner (of synthetic biology fame) and alluded to Francis Collins, former Head of the Human Genome project. [I may have to go back and listen more carefully here to be sure.] Anyway, what I didn't hear from any of these scientists was that they came to believe in a young creation on the basis of the evidence, independent of their theological views.
- Nye repeatedly refer to Ham's views vs. the "outside world" [e.g. "That's how we do it on the outside."]. He also repeatedly appealed to the fact billions of people don't agree with Ham's interpretation or views. He also gave a nod to the common atheist charge of "What about those who have never heard?" [I think Bill Nye should stick to the science.]
- Nye mocked the idea of a global flood as unreasonable, saying that there is no evidence for it and much evidence against it. Nye made the point that in all of the layers in the Grand Canyon, we don't find a mixing or crossover of fossils of different types as would be expected if they all came from the Flood.
- Ham said that we need to carefully define terms like: evolution, creation, ... I agree that doing so helps the conversation. Ham claimed that evolutionists do a bait and switch with the term evolution, using observable changes to argue for unobservable changes in the past.
- Ham claimed that the present is very different from the past, but then later said that he believes in the uniformity of nature. Nye picked up on this and stated that he doesn't believe that the natural laws magically changed at some point (either at the Fall or Flood).
- Ham claimed that while we have the same evidence, we come to different conclusions (e.g. data from the Hubble telescope) because of our starting points/worldviews. [That can true, but when you use that to summarily dismiss valid arguments and conclusions that you disagree with, then that shuts down any possibility of dialog and correction. Isn't it better to reason to the best explanation?]
- Ham said he believed in great variability of kinds after the Flood. Nye pressed that point and calculated that we would have to be seeing more than 11 new species/day for the last 4000 years if the YEC Flood model was correct. Ham claimed that animals with teeth that appear to be designed for eating meat can just as well eat plants and gave a few examples. Nye seemed incredulous when Ham said this about the lions and other "vegetarian animals" on the ark.
- Ham claimed that his view of Creation was the same as Jesus'.
- Ham claimed that by forbidding the teaching of creationism in schools, we are imposing philosophical naturalism (the religion of naturalism) on our children. He made the point that this is a battle about authority and has implications for morality, marriage, sanctity of life issues, etc. Nye claimed that we need to educate our children so that they can do real science and engineering without being taught scientific non-sense in the classroom.
- Ham made the point several times that Christians, who are scientists, can do valid research, investigation, and invention within a Christian (Creationist) worldview.
- Ham conflated millions of years as supportive of evolution. He stated that any who believed in "millions of years" had to believe in the death of animals, diseases, and thorns prior to the Fall and that that was "inconsistent" with belief in the Bible as God's Word. Ham stated that all death, even animals, came only after the Fall. Nye picked up on this and asked a good question, "Were fish sinners?"
- Ham claimed that the initial creation was "Perfect", not just very good. [But perfect for what purpose?]
- Nye asked "Is it viable?" and "Is it reasonable?" Ham typically responded that all of Nye's evidences had assumptions.
- Nye presented several lines of evidence for an old earth:
- Millions of layers of limestone deposits with fossils in KY area and pointed out the amount of time required to lay them down,
- Coral growth and quantity,
- Ice cores w/ 680,000 annual winter/summer layers of with trapped air bubbles (would need, 170 winter/summer cycles per year to accomplish that in 4000 years -- wouldn't someone have noticed?)
- Tree Rings - 6800 to 9000 rings in single living trees, more when compare to nearby dead ones.
- Grand Canyon layering - hard to account for enough time to settle out of flood waters and yet have complex intrusions, river erosions, complex layering, etc.
- Fossils of different types/ages are never mixed
- Many "human" fossil skulls - unfortunately here he used the term human in the place of hominid because of his evolutionary assumptions
- Pointed out that we don't find kangaroo fossils outside of Australia, as would be expected if they had to migrate there after the Flood
- Big Boulders from ice dam floods or glaciation found on top of the ground instead of settled deep in sediment as would be expected in a flood
- Big Bang - expansion of stars [I think he should have said galaxies] gives evidence of origin at the Big Bang around 13.7 billion years ago. This left evidence via the 2.7K cosmic microwave background radiation.
- Radioactive elements created in stars allow us to measure elapsed time
- Distances to stars and speed of light directly implies great times - measured in various ways
- We have pyramids and evidence of human civilizations that are older than 6000 years.
- All asteroids give roughly the same age as the earth is believed to be, 4.5 billion years old.
- Plate tectonics and spreading - the rates and changes in frozen magnetic fields indicate an old earth. Ham quickly responded that those are just assumptions. [But are they reasonable?]
- Nye touted the discovery of the tiktaalik lobe-finned fish fossils as evidence of predictions made by evolution. He made repeated claims that Creationism cannot make any testable scientific predictions.
- Nye claimed that evolution selected sexual reproduction over asexual because it better mixed the genetic materials and provided an advantage. [I think it begs the question about how it actually arose, though.]
- Ham claimed that all radioactive decay measurements are based on faulty assumptions. In support, he claimed that a piece of wood carbon-dated at 45,000 years was found embedded in 45 million year old basalt. [For a Christian scientist's take on radiometric dating, you can find a link to Roger Wein's article here]
- Ham claimed that he knows that the creation is roughly 6000 years old based on adding up the genealogies in the Bible
- Nye claimed that the ark couldn't have been real or sea-worthy if it was that big and that Noah didn't have the skills to pull it off anyway. There was not enough room, resources, or man power to do it. Ham claimed that it was possible and that there was enough room to hold the few thousand pairs of "kinds".
- Nye claimed that failed ideas should be rejected! [Here -- Here!!!]
- Ham actually stated that he believes that the Bible is correct in its description of the universe as "expanding". [This is something that Reasons to Believe (RTB) has long touted as evidence that the Bible is in harmony with science.]
- Nye said that he doesn't know where consciousness comes from in a naturalistic perspective. He stated that agnosticism means that we can't know some things. [That sound more like postmodern skepticism to me.] He also said that he believes that dogs have "the joy of discovery". [Not sure what the point there was other than that maybe humans aren't so special?!]
- They briefly touched on the topic of entropy and evolution at the end. Nye called it a "beautiful thing" and pointed out that the earth is not a closed system. Ham pointed out that simply Matter+Energy doesn't not magically imply the evolution of life, since life requires complex information too. Nye made the counter-claim that the processes of evolution are all that is required to add complexity to life. Ham said that he would need to see evidence of new functionality that arose from natural process alone that didn't previously exist. Ham made a small concession that the 2nd Law had to be in effect before the Fall so that things like digestion worked, but then claimed "It's now out of control!" after the Fall.
My fear from this encounter (see my earlier post) is that it has deepen the apparent divide between Faith and Reason. Of course, by now you probably realize that I think that this is a false divide and that Christians should once again take up the traditional mantle of intellectualism that has been often abandoned in the modern church.
I'll end with one of my favorite quotes, a warning from the 5th century church father, St. Augustine:
"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men...." The Literal Meaning of Genesis