Bill Nye vs Ken Ham: A Break Down of the Debate – Part 1

Lately the interweb has been abuzz with anticipation and now reflection upon the debate between Bill Nye and creationist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. As expected, the debate was more polarizing than productive. As far as the actual debate, however, Nye won by a landslide. But that’s easy to say (or type), so let me tell you why Nye was the clear winner.

I’ll analyze each interlocutor in turn.

Ken Ham: Opening Statement

Despite my distaste for Ham, I’ll admit that he started out in a promising way.  He clearly laid out the debate topic, which was

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

From here one would hope, if not expect, that one arguing in the affirmative would proceed to marshal evidence and justification for creation being a viable model of origins. Unfortunately, as soon as Ham sets up an appropriate trajectory, he deviates from it to address a completely different matter, namely, whether creationists can be scientists. He laments that secularists have hijacked the term “science” and then proceeds to introduce us to several scientists who happen to be Biblical creationists. While I can understand that Ham is trying to dispel a misconception, it seems that he is bordering on an argument from authority. The salient issue, however, is not whether creationists can be scientists, but whether the idea of creation itself is (a) scientific in any relevant sense and (b) whether it holds up under scrutiny (of any kind).

Ham seems to get back on track (briefly) by rightly pointing out the need to define terms correctly. This is always important for fruitful communication. Beginning with “science”, Ham distinguishes between observational science and what he calls historical science. Observational science is what produces technology, whereas historical science obviously deals with past events that cannot be directly observed.  Under such a distinction, origins would clearly belong to the latter category. But is there really such a fine distinction? It is true that we cannot directly observe past events, but that does not mean that observational science is not involved in studying the past. What we observe are the clues of the present. Past events get encoded (more or less) into the future. We observe this and then attempt to work the “encoding path” backwards to the event in question.  This is how crime scene investigation works. Experts in arson can tell a lot about how a fire started, how fast it burned, where it started, and many other things by examining the remains of burnt houses and buildings. The event is in the past, but many important bits of information are encoded that can be deciphered.  Yes, Ham is right, no one was there to witness our origins, which is why we are trying to determine the best explanation and model.

Ham seems to think that this gives him an out. No one was there to witness these things, therefore it is legitimate and viable to simply base one’s views on (a very particular interpretation of) the Bible. While I will agree to the importance of world views and starting assumptions, Ham has not demonstrated the legitimacy of using an ancient religious text as a foundational starting point.

After rambling on about there being a difference in philosophical world views, Ham ends with a doozy.  He literally concludes that

Creation is the only viable model of historical science confirmed by observational science in today’s modern scientific era (emphasis mine).

Ummmm…. what?  At no point in his presentation did he present anything remotely close to evidence for this audacious conclusion.  He spent the entire time complaining about secularist hijackers and concluded that creation is the only viable model of origins.

So, Ham had a promising start, but went down in a ball of flames. In the next post, I’ll critique Nye’s opening presentation.