I had highly anticipated the great debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, which happened 2/4/2014. Most of us may know Bill Nye as “The Science Guy” who was on Dancing With the Stars not long ago. Ken Ham is likely less well-known. He is the co-founder of The Creation Museum in northern Kentucky, just over the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Nye is a deep time guy, believing in evolution and a universe that is billions of years old. Ken Ham is a Christian who believes in the Genesis account as a literal account of creation. A day means 24 hours, and the six days were just that. Six days, Sunday through Friday – given that Saturday is the Sabbath.
I was unable to see the original debate, and simply didn’t make the time to find a way to view it online. Last weekend I noticed Ken Ham has a Facebook page. There was a link to the debate, in full, uncut.
I admit I’m a fan of Ken Ham. I’ve read some of his books and seen a number of his videos. I’ve found him to be well-reasoned, basing his findings both in science and the Bible. He uses anything from chemical science, to engineering, to language translations and word etymology. He’s thorough.
Before I start my comments in the debate, I want you to know a few things about me. I studied geology in college, where I aced historical geology. I also studied anthropology, so I’m fairly familiar with the fossil record, the scientific process, and the theory of evolution. Yes, I’m a Christian, and no, I do not buy into evolution.
I was on my high school’s speech team. I recall the debate people carrying stacks of notecards, because competitive debate is all about facts and citing sources. They would get dinged in competition if they didn’t strictly follow rules on information versus fallacy. I also studied logic and debate in college.
As a corporate trainer, I spent years conducting the Kepner-Tregoe Problem Solving/Decision Making course modules as an Education Manager at Dana University, the education arm of Dana Corporation. These are “paint-by-number” logic systems to organize and synthesize information to logical conclusions.
This is what I bring to a review and evaluation of the Bill Nye / Ken Ham debate.
High level view: I can see where many people not familiar with critical thought believe Nye ate Ham’s lunch. Ham stuck to facts, cited his sources, and even had video clips of Christian scientists to demonstrate that Christians can practice perfectly valid and productive science. While Nye, on the other hand, did have fact-based arguments, he resorted a great deal to emotional pleas and personal attacks. His fallacious arguments were skillfully done and difficult to recognize at first blush, but he used them none-the-less.
Ham’s opening statement included his assertion that secularists such as Nye have hi-jacked the word “science” and created an environment where Christians cannot be considered real scientists. He produced video clips of prominent scientists, stating their accomplishments and their Christian beliefs, including literal creation. They included the man who invented MRI. I won’t go into each one’s background, but I encourage you to Google them all for your own satisfaction.
1. Stuart Burgess’ field is biometrics and engineering design, Bristol University, UK. He has done design work for NASA.
2. Dr. Raymond Damadian, inventor of the 1st MRI machine.
3. Danny Faulkner, Distinguished Professor of Astronomy, Univ. of S. Carolina, Lancaster. He has published many articles in professional journals. He finds nothing in observational astronomy to disprove creationism.
4. Andrew Fabich – prominent microbiologist, not only published and but cited in others’ works. He does his research through a creation perspective.
Nye’s response was two-fold. First he asserted that Kentucky, which we know is the home state of Ken Ham’s Christian-based Creation Museum, is a state without an education program for Nuclear Medical Technology Technologists. The unsaid inferences were that, of course, one would expect a Christian state to be scientifically backwards. It also left the impression that most, if not all, other states have such programs.
My first question was whether it was the only state in the union or there are other states without such a program. It turns out that there are nine states without such a program. That’s 18% of all 50 states! They are Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and North Dakota. You’ll notice that these states are among the least populated states. They don’t have the population to support, I’m sure, many different educational programs. Did you also notice that Kentucky is not on that list?
Mr. Nye was at least mistaken. It took me just a few minutes to discover this. Follow this link to the web site of the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board: http://www.nmtcb.org/exam/schools.php
Just over halfway down you’ll see a link; “JRCNMT accredited programs.” That takes you to a map of the 50 states, color-coded as to which ones do and don’t have an accredited program. You’ll see that Kentucky is one of the lighter shaded states. According to the NMTCB, they must have at least one program. Making it easy, here’s the link to the map: http://jrcnmt.org/find-a-program/
Nye then made an appeal to the “tax-payers and voters of Kentucky” to promote science in their state so America would not lose its technological edge to the world. He made this exact same appeal several times during the debate.
He offered no facts, only inferences and fear. He didn’t so much as acknowledge Ham’s Christian colleagues who have made significant scientific advances. He didn’t even discount them. He simply ignored them as if they weren’t mentioned. In my mind, he proved Ham’s point in his pleas to voters to not let America’s technology advantage slip.
He also used the “everyone’s doing it” argument, stating that billions of Christians the world over buy into evolution and deep time. Well, the first doctor to figure out there might be germs was ridiculed by everyone else who knew better. “But Mom! Everyone’s jumping off the cliff!”
Nye’s opening statement included an assertion that no fossil from a lower geologic level ever “swam up to” a younger level. He said that if you could produce just one fossil that jumped strata, you would change the world. I know off-hand there is at least one; the almost omnipresent trilobite. Don’t believe me?
“The first appearance of trilobites in the fossil record defines the base of the Atdabanian stage of the Early Cambrian period (521 million years ago), and they flourished throughout the lower Paleozoic era before beginning a drawn-out decline to extinction when, during the Devonian, all trilobite orders except Proetida died out. Trilobites finally disappeared in the mass extinction at the end of the Permian about 250 million years ago. The trilobites were among the most successful of all early animals, roaming the oceans for over 270 million years.” Source:
Nye was spectacularly uninformed on this most well-known fossil that even I can recall after more than thirty years since school.
Ham used some humor when Nye wrapped himself in the mantle of a curious, ever-seeking scientist, who, after learning about atoms, wants to know where they came from. Ham dead-panned that there is a book out there with the answer to that. That got a laugh from the audience, who knew what punchline was imminent; the Bible. Nye had once again tried to assume science and curiosity as the sole domain on non-Christian scientists, completely ignoring the Christian scientists Ham produced at the start.
Nye also engaged in ridiculing the bible. He compared translations of the bible over the eons to the childhood “telephone” game. One child whispers something into her neighbor’s ear. He in turn tries to faithfully repeat that to the next child and so on. We all know that by the end of the line, the message is completely distorted.
This unsupported assertion was at best ignorant of how the bible has been translated over time. At worst, it was completely dishonest. Without going into the specific methods of biblical copying and translation, I can tell you that the current translations are in remarkable sync with original texts that continue to be discovered earlier and earlier in time. Differences tend to be limited to differences in spelling or minor phrasing, which have no bearing on meaning. The methods of translating the Bible obviously work very well!
To put this in context, the oldest surviving copies of Plato and Aristotle are farther in time from them than are the books of the bible from their original composition. The earliest known copies of the biblical books are farther apart in time from their modern translations than are the Greek current translations from their earliest extant copies.
Succinctly, despite greater gaps in time, the bible’s accuracy through the years shows better than the Greek philosophers’ writings, which Nye and his fellows accept much more readily.
When studying history, one common error is to be ego-/ethnocentric. In other words, evaluating a history and judging it by modern customs, mores, etc. One cannot really understand history if it isn’t viewed in its own context. One can certainly disagree with customs of a previous time, but ignoring them clouds understanding of the history in question.
One fallacy or mistake that often occurs is supposing that present-day people are necessarily smarter than people in much older times. If this is so, explain to me Galileo, Aristotle, Euclid, and other ancient inventors and scientists. I submit to you that the only difference between so-called modern man and the ancients is the availability and knowledge of more exotic materials to execute ideas.
Bill Nye discredited Noah and his family from being able to build the ark of the size described in the bible, because “skilled New England shipwrights” couldn’t build a large, 6-masted schooner that could stay together. He was referring to The Wyoming, launched 12/14/1909, broken apart as it moored to ride out a blizzard March 1924. I find that completely fallacious reasoning.
Here’s the basic argument. See if you find it plausible: If modern man can’t do something, it necessarily follows that ancient man had no chance.
In answer to that, I refer you to the Antikythera Mechanism. This “is an ancient analog computer designed to predict astronomical positions and eclipses. It was recovered in 1900–01 from the Antikythera wreck, a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera. The instrument was designed and constructed by Greek scientists and has been dated between 150 to 100 BC. After the knowledge of this technology was lost at some point in antiquity, technological artifacts approaching its complexity and workmanship did not appear again until the 14th century, when mechanical astronomical clocks began to be built in Western Europe.” Source: Wikipedia.
So some guy about 2100 years ago figured out how to use gears to build a rudimentary astronomical computer. The human race collectively lost that knowledge, and no one else could figure out how to use gears to compute something much simpler – the time of day – until 1500 years later.
So much for ancient people not being too bright. Still think “Noah and 7 or 8 other people, half of whom were the wives” couldn’t build a big wooden ship over several years? And, by the way, I thought it was snarky for him to mention the wives, as if that was a certain handicap.
Nye also referred numerous time to Ken Ham’s beliefs and “his followers.” Nye kept using this phrasing, even after Ham pointed out these are not beliefs originated by him. Nye kept saying this, giving Ham the aura of being the head of a cult. It was somewhat subtle, but still constitutes argumentum ad hominem – argument against the man. If you can’t successfully attack someone’s argument, you attack them personally. Nye did it indirectly but he still did it.
Finally, he frequently dismissed Ham’s arguments, saying that they simply weren’t sufficient for him to believe or take seriously.
He apparently forgot what his role was as a debater. His job was to argue facts as best he could, not tell the audience what they should think like some ancient Greek chorus. He self-righteously wrapped himself in the mantle of final arbiter of all that is or is not reasonable in debate. That’s the job of the audience. And who says he’s so much smarter than anyone else watching? Is he the smartest man in the world who can imply that his dissatisfaction with an argument should settle the issue? He did this in several occasions, without refuting Ham’s argument with facts and logic of his own. He just baldly pronounced the arguments insufficient and moved on. That is not debate.
Overall, Nye used personal attack, however indirect. He used fear tactics by asserting that non-mainstream scientists, as he calls Ham and those like him, will cause America to lose its technological edge. His ethnocentric view of history – Noah and the ark – would be rejected by history scholars. He completely failed to rebut Ham’s introduction of significant Christian scientists. He also maligned the veracity of biblical translations by comparing them to a child’s game without offering anything like documentation to support that contention.
While Nye had his moments in introducing facts and evidence, he engaged frequently in dishonest tactics. Unfortunately, such a performance is often more entertaining and dramatic than informative, gaining audience points for its appeals to fear and emotion.
As always, I invite you to look at the original materials and see what you think. You can access the full debate at:
Nye’s debate flaws:
1. Veiled but recognizable personal attacks on Ham. Argumentum ad hominem
a. Kept referring to “Ken Ham and his followers” as if they were a cult.
2. Ethnocentric argument against Noah’s ability to build a large, wooden ship just because experienced New England shipwrights couldn’t do it.
3. Did not refute Ham’s proof by way of personal statements from creationist scientists and inventors that science is also the domain of Christians. Kept appealing to the taxpayers & voters of Kentucky to make sure mainstream science is taught in their school so America doesn’t lose its competitive edge.
a. Also a fear tactic
4. Egocentric tactics. Dismissed many of Ham’s arguments by merely saying “That answer doesn’t satisfy me.” He thereby forsook his role as debater and became either moderator, audience member, or Greek Chorus by telling everyone what they should think with no further evidence than that he didn’t like them.
5. Compared biblical translations to the childhood “phone game”. He was either completely ignorant of how the bible is translated and how well it holds up against original texts or lied. Again, an emotional appeal, not based on evidence.