On Feb. 4, Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Ken Ham (founder and president of the Answers in Genesis Museum) debated at Ham’s museum over one of the most controversial topics in human discourse: creationism vs. evolution. The debate drew hundreds of thousands of online viewers.
As a secularist with deep southern Christian roots, I had a vested interested in both sides of the debate. On one hand, I expected Bill Nye to champion the logical reasons that led to my personal transformation to secularism. On the other, I predicted that Ken Ham would echo the arguments I have heard from Christian pastors my entire life. One side would appeal to my mind, and the other would appeal to my heart.
My predictions, however, were inaccurate. Surprisingly, Ken Ham managed to stand his not-always-so-logical ground. Bill Nye did not answer the questions posed to him as deftly as I expected from the renowned “Science Guy.” Regardless, I still believe Bill Nye to be the winner of the debate.
It’s necessary to know Ken Ham’s definition of science to understand the course of the debate. He claimed science should be broken up into two distinctive categories: observational and historical science. He contended that he and Nye would agree on all aspects of observational science (which is ironic because he basically denies the observable evidence that the universe is billions of years old), but would disagree about historical science. He also claimed that since we couldn’t observe the events studied in historical science, evolutionary theories cannot be conclusive. According to Ham, the disagreement between evolutionists and creationists is simply different interpretations of historical science.
Bill Nye fulfilled his burden of proof by offering distinctly stronger arguments about the age of the Earth. By outlining evidence regarding ice rods, radioactive dating, and fossil placement, Nye provided concrete support of his stance that the Earth is billions of years old. He also discounted any possibility of the Great Flood. Ham weakly critiqued these arguments by saying that Nye was only misinterpreting “historical science.” He claimed that since scientists didn’t see these things happen, their conclusions could not be completely justified.
At one point in particular, Ham seemed to be on the verge of introducing a new and original argument regarding Darwin’s finches, but it simply turned into another misinterpretation argument.
He claimed that the evidence of Darwin’s finches developing new and different characteristics supported creationism. He supported this by saying that speciation is simply the development (he couldn’t bring himself to use the word “evolution”) of the 14,000 kinds of animal that God supposedly created. According to Ham, since this occurrence is the outcome of natural selection of existing genetic information, not the introduction of new material, then this observance supports creationism instead of evolution. So, since the different finches evolved from only one ancestor finch, creationism is supported. Honestly, it isn’t a bad point. Evolutionists, though, can make just as strong a case by saying that the evolution didn’t begin with a finch, but a macromolecule that existed billions of years ago.
Bill Nye, despite having stronger arguments, was not on top of his game either. A few instances occurred with him either dodging a question or admitting that he didn’t know. The glaring example: he was asked about the origins of consciousness and the atoms involved in the Big Bang. He said he didn’t know to both, and instead of elaborating, chose to rant about how the beauty of science is discovering these seemingly impossible answers. He could have bettered the outcome if he had offered up some standing theories regarding these questions (for example, atoms weren’t formed until minutes after the Big Bang and so weren’t necessary for its initiation).
The debate did not mention any possible reconciliation between the two sides. Many progressive theists responded to the debate by addressing a possible compromise between evolution and creationism. The idea is that God created the universe 13.7 billion years ago through the Big Bang, and that the seven days of Genesis refer to a divine perception of time. While divine intervention may or may not have existed, this strikes me as a more logical possibility than Ken Ham’s overly stringent and dogmatic beliefs.
As expected, the debate didn’t really change any minds. But I don’t think that was the point. The point was to open the minds of obstinate people. Complete ignorance of differing views inhibits the progression of the human race, and public debates like this break down those barriers, whether they change popular opinion or not.
Ely is a member of
the class of 2017