Tag Archives: Intelligent Design

Who won the Bill Nye – Ken Ham Debate? Bill Nye!

In the Spring of 2010, evangelical Bible scholar Bruce Waltke, in speaking about the overwhelming evidence for evolution, said “To deny that reality will make us a cult, some odd group that is not really interacting with the real world.”

In response to this, Ken Ham, president of Kentucky’s Creation Museum, commented, “What he is saying ultimately undermines the authority of God’s word.”

Both statements seem to be true. (I don’t think you necessarily need to have faith in a god to accept the basic logic of Ham’s statement.) Also, that’s really all you need to know about young earth creationism. It is God’s word, and the FAQ on the matter is the Bible.

Last night, science communicator Bill Nye debated Ken Ham at Ham’s Creation Museum in Kentucky. This debate came about because of a statement Bill Nye made not long ago suggesting that creationism, and in particular efforts to force creationism into textbooks and, via other means, into classrooms, does harm to children and ultimately to society. Ham took that statement as a cue to challenge Nye to a debate, and Nye accepted.

Many people, myself included, objected to Bill Nye’s acceptance of this challenge. The reasons for that objection are outlined here, and here. I need not repeat them.

The debate happened last night. When it comes to creationism, I admit that I am not an objective observer, but I can try. I think Ken Ham did fine in that debate. He spoke before his own audience. A remarkably white but gender and age diverse gathering of followers of the Bible and believers in creationism seem to have responded well to Ham. His rhetoric was consistent. We know everything, we understand the most important issues of origins, creation, and evolution, and all of this information comes mainly from the Bible. There are a few other details.

At the same time, however, Bill Nye also did well in this debate, objectively speaking. He presented science, science, science and more science. He presented the science clearly, convincingly, chose his examples well, personalized the discussion wherever possible even to the point of doing a Lewis Black moment (pulling out a fossil he had picked up earlier in the week!). During the few moments when we were allowed to see the evangelical audience during Bill Nye’s presentation they looked, frankly, charmed. And how could they not be, Bill Nye is a charming guy!

In my view, again biased in favor of science because, well, because it’s the correct view, Bill Nye won the debate by a large margin. Friends on Twitter and Facebook equated the debate to the Superbowl, with Bill Nye being the Seahawks and Ken Ham being Denver. Apt. Perhaps even an understatement. Even a poll on a Christian web site gave a strong win to Nye

One could say that it was easy. Bill Nye made it look easy. He focused on the science, as I mentioned, but he also frequently applied that science to Ken Ham’s young earth creationism. One might wonder if Noah’s Ark could have stayed afloat during the great flood, with all those animals on it, for as long as the Bible says it did. But during this debate, Bill Nye sunk that Ark again and again. In addition to an excellent and convincing high altitude view of evolutionary science, and effective deconstruction of young earth creationism, Nye also made frequent and engaging references to the amazing outcome of unfettered scientific study and technology, which I think helps people appreciate and personalized science. He even made an argument from patriotism (not a scientific argument for evolution, but an argument for honest pursuit of knowledge).

Ken Ham’s argument for the young age of the Earth was unassailable. The Bible tells us the age of the Earth, period. Ham claims all of the dating methods are fallible, none are as good as eye witness evidence. (That would be God.) This is unassailable because it is untestable, but based on good science, we can say it is wrong. But you can’t really do much about a religious belief. Ham presented counter evidence contrary to the generally accepted science, but it was the usual bogus, incorrect, easily dismissed set of arguments. For example, some really old stuff was dated to really old (as it is) with the potassium argon method but to only 40-something thousand years using radiocarbon dating. The reason for that, of course, is that radiocarbon dating generally does not function beyond 40-something thousand years old, so all older material produces a young date with that particular method. If you measure the height of a great mountain with a ruler, the mountain will come out to be one foot tall, unless you get a bigger ruler. Also, somewhere in there I think Ken Ham made the argument that we should not wear clothes. Yet he was wearing clothes. Please explain.

An edited version of this debate, with just the Bill Nye parts, will make an excellent overview of why evolutionary biology is the way to go and young earth creationism is not.

There were definitely several moment where I wish I could have jumped on the stage and given Bill’s answer for him. For example, Ham scored a point by deconstructing functional interpretations of mammalian dental anatomy, in relation to the question of whether all the animals were vegetarians during Ark-times. I could have crushed that response in a way that would introduce even more evidence for evolution. But Bill Nye is an expert in other areas. Moreover, Bill Nye did the right thing by not responding to most of Ham’s specific points, but rather, continuing to return to his own main points. Nye, in a sense, provided a slower and more ponderous, and well done, science version of the Gish Gallop. He had a number of powerful points and stuck to them, and mostly avoided going off track.

The fact that Bill Nye did very well in this debate does not mean that we should all start debating creationists, especially at events with a door charge that goes to support an entity like the Creation Museum. Put a different way: Bill Nye is a professional. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. But the widespread concern, including that expressed by yours truly, for this particular debate was wrong. I will be happily be dining on crow today at lunch.


Debating Evolution vs. Creationism: Bullet Points

As you know, Bill Nye has agreed to engage in a debate about evolution with Ken Ham at the Kentucky Creation Museum. You may also know that I suggested that this debate was a bad idea, not so much because it is Bill Nye doing it (he’s a great spokesperson for science and science education) but because the whole idea of a debate is questionable for a number of reasons (discussed here).

Bill recently made a few comments on the debate on CNN.

Here, I’d like to list a handful of the points I’d make if I was doing this debate.

  • It is not necessary or even possible to argue against “creationism” because creationism is a belief system based on faith. Science, on the other hand, is all about arguing about interpretation of observations and developing the best descriptions and explanations we can of the natural world.

  • In the 18th century, western thinking, “Natural philosophy,” described and explained the world in a way that incorporated religious thinking and referred to scripture. That view is almost identical to the 21st century creationist view. “Intelligent design” is indistinguishable from Paley’s view of the natural world, which he wrote about in his book “Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity” in 1809, which is a kind of capstone for the previous century’s thinking.

  • The 19th century, with Darwin and Wallace and a host of others advanced modern scientific thinking and challenged the previous century’s way of thinking. There was indeed a debate at that time, and evolutionary biology won that debate.

  • During the early 20th century, Darwinian thinking was advanced and revised to include a huge amount of ongoing observations about nature, including the discovery of genetics. By some time early in the 20th century, what might have been a valid debate about the nature of nature itself faded away and became a political debate instead.

  • That political debate, not a scientific debate, between a religious belief system (creationism) and science (evolutionary biology), persisted through the 20th century and into the 21st century and has been used by a minority of religious institutions and individuals as a tool. There is no longer a scientific debate about the validity of evolution, and there has not been one for a very long time.

  • Many of the criticisms of evolution maintained by creationists are about the age of the earth and the way that fossils are ordered in time. That ordering in time is central to evolution because it demonstrates dramatic changes in life forms. But those criticisms are not so much about the biology, but rather, about the physics and geology.

  • The physics that help us understand evolutionary change over time is the same science that the United States military uses to develop and maintain our all-important Nuclear Navy. It is the same physics that underlies the development of an important part of our power grid, the nuclear power plants. It is the same physics that underlies the development of the not-so-pleasant nuclear arsenal. Before creationists complain to biologists that the science of nuclear physics is wrong, they should take their case to the Military and the nuclear power industry, because if nuclear physics is wrong, we are all in a great deal of trouble.

  • The geology that helps us understand the record of evolutionary change in the past is the same geology that gives us the ability to engineer safer structures, build seemingly impossible bridges, locate and exploit important resources such as minerals and, of course, petroleum. Before creationists complain about evolutionary biology’s use of this geology they should talk to civil engineers and petroleum and mining geologists about how they must have all of that wrong as well.

  • Evolutionary biology also underlies our medical practices. Comparative anatomy is part of the proof of evolution, and it is also the source of much of our understanding of human physiology. The study and treatment of infectious disease and epidemiology is based on evolutionary thinking. Before creationists complain about evolution they should talk to our medical professionals and inform them that the basis of their efforts to treat and prevent disease and medical disorders is all wrong.

Check out the Planetary Society, where Bill Nye is Executive Director.

More on science education HERE.

Also, check out my novella, Sungudogo, HERE. It is an adventure story set in Central Africa which ultimately turns out to be a parody of the skeptics movement.

Bill Nye talks about the upcoming debate

Bill Nye on CNN:

I think Bill is going to make excellent points in this debate. I don’t think changing creationists minds is the point, as Bill Nye says. I also like Nye asking about the sincerity of the creationist point of view. I wish him the best of luck.

And not just luck, but Science-Power. Because we’re right and they’re wrong.

A rollicking adventure through the rift valley and rain forests of Central Africa in search of the elusive diminutive ape known locally as Sungudogo.
A rollicking adventure through the rift valley and rain forests of Central Africa in search of the elusive diminutive ape known locally as Sungudogo.
More on science education HERE.

Also, check out my novella, Sungudogo, HERE. It is an adventure story set in Central Africa which ultimately turns out to be a parody of the skeptics movement. It seems to have struck a nerve with a few of the skeptics, while others seem to have enjoyed it. Who knew?

I think Bill Nye is great, but I think he's making a mistake.

Word on the street is that Bill Nye is going to debate Ken Hamm at the Creationism “Museum” on February 4th. This is a bad idea for several reasons.

First, Bill Nye is not really an expert on evolution and is actually not that experienced in debates. Being really really pro science and science education isn’t enough. When they went in after Osama Bin Laden (my errand distant cousin) they did not send people who are really really against terrorism. They sent in Seal Team Six with a huge amount of support such as Army Rangers and such and even that was risky.

Second, there isn’t a debate so why debate?

Third, creationists can pretty much win any debate because they are not talking about science. See this post for a more detailed explanation for how any anti-science spokesperson can win a debate against any pro-science person.

I once debated a creationist and it went OK. But when I was first invited to the debate I contacted my friend Genie Scott who had this organization called the National Center for Science Education for advice and the first thing she said to me is that I was an idiot for agreeing to the debate (or words to that effect). Why? See this post if you haven’t already. In that case the good christians setting up the debate lied to me about the format and carried out other forms of trickery. They can’t be trusted.

Fourth, if I understand the situation correctly this will be a fundraiser for the Creation “Musuem.” Bad idea.

Very bad idea.

UPDATED: Bill Nye talks about the upcoming debate.

A rollicking adventure through the rift valley and rain forests of Central Africa in search of the elusive diminutive ape known locally as Sungudogo.
A rollicking adventure through the rift valley and rain forests of Central Africa in search of the elusive diminutive ape known locally as Sungudogo.
More on science education HERE.

Also, check out my novella, Sungudogo, HERE. It is an adventure story set in Central Africa which ultimately turns out to be a parody of the skeptics movement. It seems to have struck a nerve with a few of the skeptics, while others seem to have enjoyed it. Who knew?

Reflections on Darwin’s Origin of Species

The The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin was published over 150 years go. At the time, several different alternative theories of the origin and history of life were being discussed in the West. Some of these theories were theological. Theological ideas included a literal translation of the bible, with the flora, the fauna, and humans created in three separate but related creation events on a freshly made earth just a few thousand years ago. Another theological idea had an Abrahamic God’s hand involved in the history of life but in ways we were not likely to understand until after death. Still another idea, championed by the influential Louis Agassiz, had several God-made origins each representing a different combination of habitat, ecology, climate, and human race. Ice ages would periodically wipe everything out and then God would replace the bits, much like how a gamer re-creates a simulated landscape after system crashes or save failures in SimCity (See Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral for an excellent overview of this and related issues). Maybe the gamer does it a little differently each time, and maybe god did that too. Non theological ideas were emerging at the time as well including some like Darwin’s, but Darwin refocused and created de novo several of the key models that are part of Evolutionary Theory today, and it was Darwin and Wallace who advanced the specific theory of Natural Selection. These evolutionary ideas rested within a broader panoply of evolutionary ideas, some of which have faded away, others incorporated, others waiting to be reconsidered.
Continue reading Reflections on Darwin’s Origin of Species

Interesting Intelligent Design and Evolution Spat Going On

Mike Haubrich, of Tangled Up in Blue Guy blog, has documented a discussion between a biologist, a commenter, and the Discovery Institute (a creationist “think” tank). No apes were harmed during this incident, but one of them may be rather embarrassed. It’s quite intresting, have a look: Cornelius Godsplains Science to a Scientist

Evolution Surrounded By Creationism? Arm Yourself with Books!

Suppose you are an intelligent, thoughtful person with a thirst for information, a desire to be challenged, and a tendency to not accept received knowledge at face value. You are embedded in a traditional Christian culture where most of your family, your child’s teachers and friends and those friends’ families, the people where you and your spouse work and most people in your social circles assume that Evolution is “only a theory” and should be taught, if at all, along side alternative theories such as that the earth is 6,000 years old and was created in seven days. But you don’t want that. You want your children to be educated using modern ideas, or at least, ideas that date to the mid to late nineteenth century and later, about how life works, where it comes from, and how it has changed over time both in terms of details (what was when and where) and process (how). But despite the fact that you are well educated and well read, you’ve not been exposed to that body of knowledge.

This will be a struggle, a fight even, against academic indolence, against strongly held opinions; An invasion across a sea separating two worlds … two world views. You might have to land on a beach somewhere. You hope, however, that this can be a surgical strike. You need to educate yourself on the basics of evolution. You need to find a way to talk your way out of confrontation should that happen. You need resources for your children. You may not realize it now, but you may also need training in Defense Against the Snark Arts, should you encounter paraprofessional creationists.

You need to arm yourself. With books.
Continue reading Evolution Surrounded By Creationism? Arm Yourself with Books!

Attenborough Speaks Out Against Creationism

Sir David Attenborough:

“Evolution is an extremely powerful idea that lies at the heart of biology. At the same time, it’s a sufficiently simple concept that there’s no good reason why it should be left out of the primary curriculum. If creationism is discussed, it should be made clear to pupils that it is not accepted by the scientific community.”

Details here.

Don’t forget about Sir David’s new project.