By Michael Wren
If you did not watch the debate, which took place at the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky, you can find the entire event on YouTube for a short time. Like most debates, last night’s event featuring Bill Nye and Ken Ham is unlikely to change very many minds. Debates generally don’t change very many minds. However, if they are good debates, they bring the core issues to the fore for consideration and reflection. This debate was no exception. Neither Nye nor Ham had much chance of making an impression on the opposing constituency, but their debate was revealing. Here are a few reflections.
1) The question posed for debate favored Bill Nye from the start. The question was “Is creation a viable model of human origins in today’s modern world?” In a debate, the affirmative is always more difficult to defend than the negative. It is much easier to shoot holes in something than it is to demonstrate that a position is without flaws. Ham had a considerable challenge in front of him.
2) Both debaters focused upon their strengths during their 30 minute presentations. Ham pressed home the point that observations must be interpreted, and when you’re talking about interpreting the past, presuppositions play a major role in interpretation. He also put more of a focus on biology, where Answers in Genesis has done considerable research developing a different model of the development of life than the evolutionary model. Nye, on the other hand, stressed the point that evidence from geology and astronomy render to possibility of a young Earth untenable. Since the question involved whether Young Earth Creationism was viable, he clearly felt this was all he needed to win the debate.
3) Neither debater did well in countering the other’s main arguments. Nye failed to adequately answer Ham’s criticism that presuppositions influence the interpretation of data. He ridiculed the distinction Ham made between observational science and historical science (which was Ham’s way of pointing out this problem), but he did not answer the criticism. Ham, on the other hand, did not answer in detail the evidence Nye brought forward arguing for an old universe and an old earth. Ham pointed out the unreliability of various dating methods, but did not counter the critical point that the layering of rock layers and ice layers seems to indicate on old earth. I know Answers in Genesis has theories on these points, but he did not offer them in detail. This left his defense unsatisfying.
4) Toward the end of the rebuttal period, one of the core issues finally came out. Nye professed to be completely unsatisfied with Ham’s arguments because he has not explained how “natural laws have changed.” He then claimed Ham was arguing for “magic.” In other words, any force operating in the universe apart from the laws of nature can only be described as “magic.” But this is the core issue, isn’t it? And this was one of Ham’s main points, though he could have made it better. If you believe in the existence of God, you believe in a power that can and does operate outside of the laws of nature. So any involvement that God had in creating the universe will be basically unobservable. You will not be able to account for it through scientific analysis. Nye does not believe in God, and for this reason, he cannot accept that scientific observation will only be able to tell us so much about the origin of the universe. Based on the speed of light, the universe does appear to be 13.7 billion years old. But what if God created the universe out of nothing? It would still appear to be 13.7 billion years old based on its size. The existence of God is one of the core issues in the debate.
5) Nye shared that one of his greatest concerns was that creation science would blunt the minds of America’s next generation and impede the development of technology and medicine. However, he failed to answer Ham’s challenge to provide one example of a modern technological development that a creationist could not have developed. Here, Nye failed to make his point.
6) Nye clearly shares the opinion of many in the scientific community that creation science is nothing more than ignorant, backwoods fundamentalism. This is nothing new. In the famous Scopes trial of 1925, defense attorney Clarence Darrow ridiculed creationists as “bigots and ignoramuses” who are retarding the progress of American culture. Nye followed this same tactic. He repeatedly referred to Kentucky, where the Creation Museum is located, and ridiculed the state for having no programs in nuclear medicine. He was clearly implying that Kentucky is backward, partly because of the influence of the creation museum, and that if it wanted to make an impact in the modern world, it would have to grow out of this fundamentalist conviction about creation. First of all, I think Nye overestimates the museum’s influence in the state, particularly in its major universities. I doubt very many at UK and U of L are sympathetic to Ham’s views. Secondly, Ham offered substantive arguments. Ridiculing him just makes Nye look arrogant. For the record, I love the state of Kentucky. My family and I spent eight of the best years of our lives there. We still love you, even if Bill Nye doesn’t.
7) This point just irked me. Nye repeatedly maintained that Ham was arguing that only the Bible in its English translation was authoritative to solve the problem of origins. In other words, he views Answers in Genesis as nothing but KJV only fundamentalism. For the record, the Creation Museum repeatedly refers to the original Hebrew and demonstrates no preoccupation with the KJV. Then again, Nye admitted he was no theologian. That was obvious to anyone who watched the debate.
As I reflect on the debate, I wish Ham had presented a thorough argument about a creationists’ perspective on astronomy and geology, because this was Nye’s focus, and this is the area that most Christians who have any knowledge of science have questions about. Perhaps this debate will provide enough of a platform for Answers in Genesis, and others, to pursue those questions more thoroughly. Nye, on the other hand, came off as arrogant and unwilling to consider the substantive argument offered by his interlocutor. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised.