February 4th saw the ongoing ‘war’ between religion and science mark its first significant battle of 2014.
by Michael Roach
At the Creation Museum, located in Petersburg, Kentucky, Mr. Ken Ham, the CEO and Founder of Answers in Genesis – the company which operates the Creation Museum – as well as leading Christian apologist – meaning he tries to defend Christianity using modern scientific methods – faced off against children’s T.V. super-star and Executive Director of the Planetary Society, Bill Nye ‘The Science Guy’.
The debate was essentially a conflict between Ham representing Young Earth Creationism, a Christian explanation of the ‘Origin of Species’ that states that the world is only 6,000 years old, and Nye representing Darwin’s Evolution theory.
In the controversy leading up to this debate, members from both side of the argument made positive and negative statements on the decision for the debate to happen. For example, the Richard Dawkins Foundation stated before the debate, “Scientists should not debate creationists. Period.”
However, despite the hesitancy of many other scientists to engage in debate with creationists, Bill Nye, being the superb and dedicated educator that he is, decided to take on the source of anti-evolutionary ideas head on.
Bill Nye’s performance has already been commended by many in the scientific community and the media, and has even garnered respect from creationists. This was largely due to Nye’s conduct during the debate.
There were many moments where many secular people, including myself, had to slap our faces every time Ken Ham responded to something by saying, “Well Mr. Nye, there’s a book out there that tells us everything!” Yet, Bill Nye kept a calm composure, despite ludicrous claims, and went the ‘extra mile’ to explain evolutionary theory in the simplest scientific terms.
Moving into the content of the debate, Nye consistently blew holes into both the Biblical stories for their scientific improbability as well as Ham’s own scientifically inconsistent assertions. For example, when Ham claims that there were around 7,000 species of animals on ‘Noah’s Ark’, Nye sweeps in with elementary math showing calculations that show that if 7,000 species of animals were on this ‘ark’ approximately 4,000 years ago, then in order to see the amount of species variation we have today, we would have had to discover 11 new species every day for the last 4,000 years!
But ultimately, Nye had a sense of giddy enthusiasm to share the knowledge that science has revealed as well as convey the sense of wonder that lies in the unknown aspects of our universe. This can be summed up in his response to the question, “What, if anything, would ever change your mind?” where he responded, “We would need just one piece of evidence…” Keep this response in mind as I will contrast it to Ham’s reply later on.
Moving to Ham’s argument, things start to get not only inaccurate but simply desperate, as Ham uses every argument known to man except ad hominem attacks – although it’s implied through his attempts to spin the world ‘secular’ with a negative connotation.
Ham uses a ‘tiered’ argument in which he tries to first make an imaginary contrast between ‘historical science’ and ‘observation science’, then create equal footing between creationism and evolution, and finally deliver his Christian message toward promotion of creationism in schools and society.
To start, we observe what Ham means by ‘observational’ science and ‘historical’ science. Ham asserts that historical science differs from observational science because you cannot observe events in the past directly. Thus, he claims that both evolution and creationism are equivalent. Still, he bases this assumption on another assumption that we cannot use observational science to make positive inferences on what occurred in the past – which we can.
His next move is to equate evolution with creationism in regards to validity. He attempts to do this by trying to make an ‘argument from authority’; unleashing a long montage of video of ‘creation scientists’, or scientists who are subscribed to the notion of Young Earth Creationism, expressing their opinions in favor of compatibility of science and Y.E.C.
However, upon further investigation, it’s revealed that some of these scientists are on the payrolls of known pro-creationist organizations including Dr. Stuart Burgess who is on the ‘Council of Reference’ for the U.K. Creationist group, Truth in Science, and Dr. Danny Faulkner who is actually working for Answers in Genesis – on Ham’s payroll; he states that, “There is nothing in observational astronomy that contradicts a recent creation”, even though he no doubt has observed throughout his career, numerous stars which are perceived as they were millions of years ago rather than currently as light takes millions of years to travel from one end of the galaxy to another.
Obviously, an astronomer with a belief in a 6,000 year old universe is a paradox equal in absurdity to a Jewish Nazi or an Irish temperance advocate.
Finally, Ken Ham looks to deliver the final part of his argument by equating creationism and evolution, stressing that they are ‘both’ theories that need to be taught in classrooms and elsewhere. This is his final and greatest fallacy. Creationism is not a theory because in order for something to be a theory, it must be able to make valid predictions which can be tested for its falsifiability or its validity.
Ham’s creation model uses no data, no empirical evidence, and cannot make successful and reliable predictions. When Ham was asked the question, “What, if anything, would ever change your mind?” he in a nutshell stated, “Nothing”. It’s the arrogance of certainty which nailed Ham’s theoretical coffin in this debate.
So what is the point of this debate? Depends who you ask. For Nye, this was a time to expose a large audience to why evolution needs to be taught and why creationism is a false and detrimental model to follow. However, a more poignant question is what implications does this debate have? People who are likely to believe in Ken Ham’s creation model are also more likely to dismiss global warming as a hoax.
In fact, after the debate, Ken Ham and Bill Nye delved once more into debate over Global Warming during a segment from Piers Morgan Tonight on CNN, with Ham taking the ‘Global Warming is a hoax’ stance, as predicted. In addition, teaching Creationism in schools not only violates the first amendment of the Constitution, but also slows scientific learning and stifles creative and inquisitive thinking.
Moreover, the fact that the Creation Museum has not only collected $73 million of funding from the publicity generated after the debate, but also that this money isn’t going to a charity or a medical endowment, but rather towards the construction of a life-size model of ‘Noah’s Ark’.
Just when you thought only people in Washington D.C. could waste money on that massive a scale.
In Bill Maher’s movie, Religulous, Maher visits the Creation Museum back in 2007 when it was still under construction. Maher interviews Ken Ham and asks him, in short, why is it necessary to state that dinosaurs coexisted with early men? His reply pretty much sums up his entire argument in the debate. Ham said, “If you’re saying, ‘this part over here says God made land animals and man on the same day’ is not true, then ultimately, why should I believe this bit over here?”
This is the crux of the argument, the central lynchpin, and consequently, the reason why Ham must fanatically defend the absurd in his model, as the rest of his ‘house of cards’ would subsequently fall.