Thursday, February 6, 2014

My Thoughts About the Nye/Ham Debate

I watched the two hour and forty-five minutes debate between TV “science guy” Bill Nye and young-earth creationist Ken Ham.  See here for NPR’s summary of the key points of the debate, and also to watch the debate itself.  Here are some of my thoughts.  Please keep in mind that I am far from being a science person, so please be gentle in your criticisms.

1.  The debate would have been much better had each side presented its arguments from science, and then the other side would have been given an opportunity to respond or to rebut.  Instead, what happened was what followed: Nye Gish-galloped by presenting a whole bunch of arguments in his first presentation, whereas Ham did not have the time to respond to all of them; Nye was cheerleading about how the U.S.A. should not fall behind in science and thus should rigorously acknowledge evolution and the old age of the universe; Ham appealed to the Bible as an authority, as if that would convince someone who did not hold his religious presuppositions; and Ham name-dropped published, educated scientists who are young-earth creationists.

There were times when both were presenting significant arguments pertaining to science that should have at least been addressed by the other side, but they were not:

—-Nye asked how trees that are older than the alleged date of the biblical flood survived the flood, since trees normally don’t survive floods.  Ham did not respond.

—-Nye argued that it would have taken a lot of time for the millions of species there are today to have developed from the thousands of species/kinds that were allegedly on the ark, and that the span between the time of the Ark and today is not sufficient for that.  Ham did not respond.

—-Nye disputed Ham’s claim that animals before the Fall were vegetarians by noting that lions have teeth, which indicates they were always meat-eaters and never vegetarians, and Ham responded that there are vegetarian animals that have sharp teeth.  Nye did not respond to that.

—-In arguing that dating methods are unreliable, Ham pointed to a scenario in which a tree was encased in basalt, and the basalt was dated millions of years older than the tree encased within it, which is puzzling.  Nye did not understand that Ham was arguing that the tree was encased in basalt, and thus Nye’s argument against Ham on this point appeared rather ineffectual.

—-In response to Nye’s question of how Ham could reconcile the travel of starlight over a long distance with a young universe, Ham appealed to “the horizon problem.”  Nye did not respond.

—-Nye mentioned 680,000 layers of ice, arguing that this indicated 680,000 years (since a layer of ice is presumably laid each year), and he asked how Ham would reconcile that with a young earth.  Ham appealed to catastrophism as an explanation for how the layers could have developed within a short time-span.  Nye did not respond to that argument.

I’m not saying that Ham’s arguments were goodThis post explains why Ham was off-base in his basalt-and-tree argument, for example.  Still, it would have been nice had they responded in more detail to each other’s arguments, or had the format been more conducive to that sort of interaction over scientific substance.

2.  One of Nye’s prominent arguments was that evolution and the old age of the universe need to be acknowledged for the U.S. to do well in scientific advancement.  Ham, however, was distinguishing between a historical science that purports to describe the past, and the kind of science that looks at present realities.  Ham’s implication seemed to be that the U.S. did not need to accept evolution or the old age of the universe to make scientific observations and to invent things; after all, Ham was showcasing a young-earth creationist who contributed to the development of MRI technology!

Nye, in my opinion, did not sufficiently detail how evolution or acknowledgment of the old age of the universe could contribute to technological development.  Don’t get me wrong: he’s probably right about the earth’s natural past.  Nye, after all, presented more and better scientific arguments than Ham did, overall.  But Nye should have detailed the practical ramifications to evolution and the old age of the universe.

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