On Tuesday night, popular TV show host Bill Nye the Science Guy and biblical creationist Ken Ham (President of the creationist organization Answers in Genesis) squared off in a public debate on the topic of creationism vs. evolution. (As of today, you can watch a full video of the debate here.) I say “squared off,” but in reality, the debaters were actually very cordial, and to their credit, focused on attacking the arguments of the other person rather than resorting to personal insults. The debate took place in the Creation Museum in Kentucky. I was thrilled to watch the host of one of my favorite TV shows as a child participate in such an event. As always, Bill Nye’s enthusiasm for explaining concepts in science stood out, and Ken Ham’s usual friendly, easy-to-follow presentation style also contributed to make the debate an overall enjoyable experience.
The debate topic was: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?”
Although I am a creationist (as you can no doubt tell from my blog), I find there to be weaknesses in the positions of both men, and I will address them later. I also think that good points were brought up by both. First, however, I want to talk about the presentations of each debater.
In his 30-minute opening presentation, Ken Ham focused on the difference between experimental and historical science, the fact that many young-earth creationists are real scientists, the agreement between creationists and evolutions on observational science, and successful observational predictions of the creation model. He argued that because origins concerns historical science rather than experimental science, the origins debate is not over science but over philosophical foundations. He pointed out that creationists use the Bible as their starting point, and evolutionists use “man-made ideas” (i.e., Darwin’s theory). Ham provided examples of creationists who practice science, such as MRI inventor Raymond Damadian, astronomer Danny Faulkner, and engineer and inventor Stuart Burgess, pointing out that all of them are able to carry out scientific projects without relying on biological evolution.
Ham also discussed how predictions of the Biblical creation model are confirmed by observations, such as the creationist “orchard” view of life, the fact that there is only one race of humans, and the failure of mutations to generate new genetic information. He mentioned a typical evolutionary argument for new genetic information based on the discovery of a new function in bacteria that allowed citrate to grow. However, Ham then played a video by microbiologist Dr. Andrew Fabich, who explained that this function was merely “switched on” and that no new information was generated.
After Ken Ham finished his presentation, Bill Nye stepped up to the microphone. His presentation focused on several specific examples of scientific evidence that he claimed do not fit into the creation model. His objections to the young-earth/Flood model included ice-core dating, the formation of thick rock layers, tree-ring dating (dendrochronology), hominid skull fossils, order in the fossil record, the lack of kangaroo fossils between the Ark landing site in the Middle East and Australia, the need to generate numerous species after the Flood in a very short time period, the alleged implausibility of the Ark story, the discovery of an alleged “missing link” Tiktaalik, evidence for the Big Bang, and light from stars further than 6,000 light-years from Earth. He also rejected Ken Ham’s distinction between experimental and historical science, and asserted that he is simply doing “science,” which uses predictions and observations to draw conclusions about the world.
In my opinion, Bill Nye used the correct approach for arguing against a particular view. He discussed specific lines of evidence that he believed contradict that view. Also, for someone who is not very familiar with what creation scientists have learned over the years, Nye had some good points. However, nearly every one of his objections have already been addressed by creationists, indicating that he did not come to the debate very well-informed on the creationist position. Thus, although Bill Nye’s approach was correct and scientific, most of the actual details of the arguments he used do not hold water.
During the Question & Answer session, one questioner submitted the following question to Ken Ham: “What, if anything, would ever change your mind?” The answers given by Ham as well as Bill Nye sum up some important aspects of their positions. Ken Ham said:
I’m a Christian, and as a Christian, I can’t prove it to you, but God has definitely shown me very clearly though his Word, and shown Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, the Bible is the Word of God…I can challenge people that you can go and test that, you can make predictions based on that…and I did a little bit of that tonight.
This is an excellent summary of Ken Ham’s position. He admits that he is starting from the Bible when answering questions about origins, and that he would not change his mind on the truth of the Bible. However, he also notes that the Biblical model makes accurate scientific predictions, which confirms its claims. I agree with his approach…partially. It is true that if the Bible is the Word of God, then it is much more reliable than changing hypotheses developed by human scientists. However, I also think that the premise that the Bible is the Word of God needs to be subject to the evidence as well. In other words, if the evidence did not support the idea that the Bible is the Word of God, then it would not be rational to accept that premise. However, Ken Ham notes that the scientific evidence does support statements made in the Bible, so ultimately he is using evidence to support creationism.
Bill Nye also had a chance to answer this same question, and he said:
We would just need one piece of evidence [e.g., a misplaced fossil, evidence that rock layers can form quickly, etc.]…Bring on any of those things, and you would change me immediately.
I also agree with this approach…partially. It is true that one should be willing to change his/her position if evidence is discovered that contradicts it. However, every position will have some evidence that challenges it. Evidence that does not fit into a given view is called an “anomaly.” The rational approach (in my opinion) is to choose the position that has the least amount of problems or questions.
Interestingly, Bill Nye stated that he would give up his position if he saw evidence that rock layers can form quickly. However, this evidence has been presented by creationists, and even Ken Ham discussed some of it in his presentation. Thus, I think that if Bill Nye decided to take an honest look at the evidence, he would have to admit that the evidence does not completely support his view, and that some of it supports creation.
Overall, the debate was fascinating, the debaters were reasonable, and a lot of interesting points were raised. Ken Ham relied a lot on the Bible to form his position and did not address all of Bill Nye’s scientific arguments, but he did present some specific scientific evidence that supports creation. Bill Nye focused entirely on scientific evidence that he believes does not support creation, but he did not acknowledge some of Ken Ham’s rebuttals or the answers creationists have given over the years. Overall, it was definitely a worthwhile debate to watch (or attend, if you were lucky), and it encourages you to think about some very important and interesting issues!
As mentioned previously, both of the debaters brought up a lot of detailed arguments to support their individual positions. In another post on my blog, I give a more in-depth analysis of some of their specific arguments.
Dan O'Hare is an aspiring science and math professor. He enjoys writing, teaching and playing the guitar and piano. He has bachelor’s degree in math and geology and currently pursuing a master's in geology. This article has been republished from his blog Science and Evidence with permission.