Why Bill Nye Won the Debate Against Ken Ham, and Why that Didn’t Need to Be the Case

 

“Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” This

was the question in the debate between Bill Nye and creationist Ken Ham last week.

I’ll admit, while I tried to go at this with a neutral view, I had a pretty clear idea of who

I expected would come out ahead; that being said, I learned a lot.

Ken Ham opened the debate — a decision made by a backstage coin toss

won by Ham before the debate (something to be said for divine intervention?) — by

listing off reputable scientists who were also creationists. His purpose was clearly

to demonstrate that, “secularists [are] hijacking the word ‘science’,” and that the

majority of people tend to draw a line in their minds between religion and science.

Ham went on to argue that public schools are teaching evolution in a way that

cannot be fully verified, yet simultaneously treating it as fact. He offered up a model

that he claimed was far more readily agreeable in the scientific community: that the

millions of different animals known to exist today all developed from a few thousand

“kinds” that were all on Noah’s Ark during the great flood, which would take the

number of animals on the Ark down to a somewhat reasonable level. This argument,

of course, is greatly weakened by his insistence on a 6,000-year-old Earth — a time

period during which no significant diversification of species could occur.

Still, Ham introduces some compelling points for his belief system, as well as

bringing up the perhaps unequal treatment received by the naturalistic origin model.

In my opinion, this portion of his argument should have lasted far longer than it did,

as it made even non-religious scientific viewers perk up, even if only for a moment.

Instead, however, he went on to bring up several moral issues (such as proper

marriage, the origin of sin, and the degradation of our moral foundations) in what

was intended to have been a scientific debate. For awhile, he seemed to lose sight

of the debate topic, spending a lot of time focusing on the foundation of Christianity,

as laid down in the book of Genesis, and the testaments of those who share his

beliefs.

When Bill Nye took the stage, it became an entirely different sight. He began

by showing a fossil in limestone that he had picked up on the side of the road while

heading into Kentucky. He used the fossil to lead into the statement that, “We are

all standing on millions of layers of ancient life.” This begged the question, “How

could those animals have lived their entire lives, and formed these layers in just

6,000 years?” He went on to point out that some of his colleagues work in labs

that drill deep into the ice in places like Greenland and Antarctica where they have

found 680,000 layers of snow-ice (snow that has been compacted until it forms ice),

indicating 680,000 winter-summer cycles in those areas.

This is indicative of how the rest of Bill Nye’s presentation went. He didn’t

make excuses or apologies; he utilized his vast knowledge of the scientific process

to assert that Ken Ham’s creation model flat-out doesn’t work, and that failure is

mainly due to one reason: his insistence on a young Earth.

As many reading this will already know, the scientific process consists of: 1.

Making an observation; 2. Asking a question; 3. Suggesting a hypothesis; 4. Making

a prediction; and 5. Performing a test. If your test does not support your hypothesis

then you make a new hypothesis. If it does, then you make more predictions and

do more tests. Ken Ham frequently claimed throughout the debate that despite

scientists predictions about the past, one cannot know what went on because, “You

weren’t there” — In which case I suppose you would simply stop at stage 3 of the

scientific process?

It’s not so much a matter of proving, here and now, that Ken Ham and his

model are wrong (although some would certainly argue that we can); rather, it is a

matter of his model not being a viable scientific origin model because it ignores the

scientific process. XKCD, a favorite webcomic of mine, once said something that has

really stuck with me, and I doubt I could say it more eloquently: “The wonderful thing

about science is that it doesn’t ask for your faith, it just asks for your eyes.” There is

absolutely no necessity for a separation between religion and science, as long as

science doesn’t become a belief system.

One question really sums this debate up well in my mind, and that was,

“What, if anything, would change your mind?”

Ken Ham responded, “Well, the answer to that question is, I’m a Christian.

And, as a Christian, I can’t prove it to you that God has definitely shown me very

clearly through his word and shown himself in the person of Jesus Christ that the

Bible is the word of God. I admit that that’s where I start from… So, as far as the

Word of God is concerned, no. No one’s ever going to convince me that the Word of

God is not true.”

Bill Nye, however, answered, “We would just need one piece of evidence. We

would need the fossil that swam from one layer to another. We would need evidence

that the universe is not expanding… that the stars appear to be far away but are

not… that somehow you can reset atomic clocks and keep neutrons from becoming

protons. Bring on any of those things and you would change me immediately.”

A scientist should keep an open mind, and I think these responses say a lot about the

mindsets of the two men who gave them.