Ham on Nye

Yesterday, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” debated Ken Ham of the Creation Museum. Their thesis: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?”

The debate was streamed live via YouTube and will be available to stream free for a period of time before being released as a DVD or digital download. If you haven’t seen it yet (or if you’d like to order a copy) you can find it here.

Both Ham and Nye are popularists. They take complicated, technical science and explain it in layman’s terms. This is a good thing for the average listener, but it also means there’s a limit to how technical the debate can get. I think many listeners were left wishing Ham and Nye could have engaged more in-depth, especially on the science of dating.

Ham gave a modified version of the usual Answers in Genesis presentation. He brought forward testimonies of successful scientists who were also creationists, to show that creationism doesn’t undercut scientific progress. He also drew distinctions between observational science and historical science and between molecules-to-man evolution and natural selection. These lines, he argued, had been intentionally blurred by evolutionists to promote their own position.

After working to clear away some of the cultural conceptions of creationism, Ham framed the debate in terms of worldviews – the evolutionist model of origins and its consequences versus the creationist model of origins and its consequences. He challenged the foundations of Nye’s worldview, asking him to account for logic or the laws of science from a naturalistic perspective, and then with some of his remaining time presented a few examples of how the evidence supported the creation model.

Nye’s main arguments seemed to be that creationism is both unscientific and anti-scientific. He posed several points to support the former; he challenged the worldwide flood with the fossil record, for example, and cited a couple dating methods that seem to predict an old earth. He had one point (that I caught) to support the latter – he argued that the Big Bang Theory successfully predicted the universe’s background radiation, while creationism couldn’t have.

Ham took a bit of time to rebut Nye’s arguments about dating, citing a few examples where the established dating methods were notably wrong. He explained that the inaccuracy of most dating methods resulted from some key assumptions that couldn’t be guaranteed. Given the time constraints and the audience he was presenting to, I think he defended his position well.

My impression of Ham’s arguments overall were that they were cogent and well-formulated, albeit necessarily surface-level. He did an excellent job of not just presenting creationism, but Christianity and the Gospel as a whole package.

My impression of Nye’s arguments overall was mixed. His most cogent arguments were the usual ones that have been responded to thoroughly by Answers in Genesis already (especially with regards to dating and the fossil record). Some of his arguments seemed speculative, if not sketchy; he suggested that gender and sexuality developed because sharing genetic material increased resistance to disease. It’s not at all clear why sharing genetic material results in the development of two distinct genders, rather than one gender which can exchange genetic material with any other member of its species, or even three or four genders for that matter.

It was notable, however, that many of his objections to creationism assumed his own worldview. For example, he argued that it was unlikely that eight amateurs would be able to build a large wooden ark, when 16 expert shipwrights couldn’t do it in recent times. He automatically discounts the possibility that an all-knowing and all-wise God could have given them the knowledge and skills they needed to be able to build it.

Overall, I don’t know that the debate was conclusive one way or the other. The subject was too broad for the time allotted, and neither had time to adequately respond to the other’s position. But the victory for creationism wasn’t just in winning the debate. It was a victory for creationism that the debate took place at all.

Evolutionists protested the debate, because the fact that there is debate means that the question is open. They’d much rather win by shutting down the discussion. But thanks in large part to Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, that’s becoming harder and harder to do.

7 thoughts on “Ham on Nye

  1. “Overall, I don’t know that the debate was conclusive one way or the other. ”

    Debates never are, which is why the debate format is generally a bad one, and not used to determine the truth of anything. Debates are about entertainment, more than anything else.

    ” They’d much rather win by shutting down the discussion.”

    No. We’ve already won. Having a debate implies different.

  2. “Debates never are, which is why the debate format is generally a bad one, and not used to determine the truth of anything. Debates are about entertainment, more than anything else.”

    It’s true that debates don’t serve much value to determine truth. Generally the purpose of a debate is to raise public awareness and understanding of the two sides. I don’t know that I’d relegate them to the level of “entertainment” though.

    “No. We’ve already won. Having a debate implies different.”

    Your opposition doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo. =)

    1. “Your opposition doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo. =)”

      No, they haven’t.

      Or I suspect some might have gotten the memo, which is why a great many of them are trying to go around the science and legislate their religion instead.

  3. Thanks, I appreciate this post.

    A couple thoughts:

    “For example, he argued that it was unlikely that eight amateurs would be able to build a large wooden ark, when 16 expert shipwrights couldn’t do it in recent times. He automatically discounts the possibility that an all-knowing and all-wise God could have given them the knowledge and skills they needed to be able to build it.”

    Bill Nye did not say that only 16 shipwrights built the ship, he said that it was sailed by 14 hands, all of which perished when the ship floundered. Nye said that it was made by the best shipwrights of New England, I’m sure many people worked on building it.

    Nye did say that “8 unskilled workers couldn’t have built the ark”.. Jon, I agree with what you wrote, but Nye was assuming that only those that were saved by it built it. We don’t know how many people built it, Noah could have hired a lot of people to help with it’s construction over the course of a hundred years.

    Nye kept pushing Ham to answer some of his questions, yet there were statements from Ham, that Nye never rebutted.

    anyway, thanks Jon.

    I missed the Moderators ending comments, so how did it end? what was the conclusion?

  4. My quotes were top-of-the-head recollections of what both men said. I haven’t gone back through the debate yet. So, thank you for your correction there.

    “…but Nye was assuming that only those that were saved by [the ark] built it.”

    That’s true, but that assumption doesn’t really affect his argument. Nye’s objection to the Ark wasn’t the amount of labor that went into it, but the amount of skill. It’s reasonable to assume that no one else in that time period had experience building giant wooden ships. If that’s the case, then adding more people to the project wouldn’t necessarily guarantee its success.

    From a secular standpoint, excluding the possibility of divine intervention, it’s naturally ridiculous that Noah would have successfully built such a massive ship on his first try. But as Christians, we admit the possibility that God gave Noah special instructions and wisdom that weren’t otherwise available to him.

    Does that make sense?

  5. Good review!! We loved the way he kept humor in the air and was obviously not flustered at all by the questions (couldn’t say the same about Bill Nye :-)). And his presentation of the gospel.

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