My Thoughts on the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye Debate
Part 4: What Bill Nye Did Wrong.In parts 1 through 3 I focused primarily on problems I have with Mr. Ham's young-earth creationism. I was pretty hard on Mr. Ham, but I feel he deserved it.
In this last part, I want to talk about something that really bothered me about Bill Nye's presentation, and in fact it's something I've seen many other writers do, including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others.
It's a real problem because, well, I really think it detracts from what Bill Nye was trying to say. It is a real stumbling block for a listener or reader like me -- a reasonably intelligent, educated person with a religious background.
Repeatedly, over and over throughout the debate, Bill Nye keeps referring to the Biblical accounts Ken Ham is defending as "Ken Ham's". As if Ken Ham were defending a silly view he had come up with on his own, and which was new and unique to Ken Ham. In addition to this, he keeps referring to Ken's views as being based on "an American English translation of the Bible". This latter is really taking away seriously from the power of his argument, because any hearer with a grain of sense is going to realize that what Ken Ham is defending does not originate merely with a 20th-century "American English" translation of the Bible. The worldwide flood, the seven days of creation, Adam and Eve, etc., etc. are all present in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and have been believed, argued, and written extensively about for many centuries and in many languages.
Bill Nye is not alone is this. Many great scientific writers do this, and I honestly can't understand it. It does not add a smidgen of power or authority to their argument to speak this way about the ideas they are trying to argue against. In fact, it reduces their power.
If I could rewind time and advise Bill Nye about his presentation, here's what I would say to him:
Never refer to the ideas Ken Ham is defending as if they originate with, or are unique to, Ken Ham. The worldwide flood is "Noah's flood". The seven days of creation are the "Genesis account of creation", etc. Realize that even though Ken Ham is the man you happen to be debating now, you are not taking issue with anything Ken Ham invented or originated. When you trivialize Ken Ham's case that way, you trivialize your own case as well.
Don't speak as if what Ken Ham is defending is founded upon anything recent. Understand that the Biblical account Ken Ham is defending has been around for millennia. By saying that Ken Ham's ideas are dependent only on an "American English" translation of the Bible, you not only reveal your own ignorance of his case, but suggest that you believe the texts in their original languages to be a better foundation for belief, and that's not what you want to say.
In short, you don't have to treat Ken Ham with any particular respect, in order to treat the very old, widely revered ideas he's defending with the respect they deserve. By treating your opponents views with respect, you earn respect for the ideas you're presenting (which also don't originate with you).
Richard Dawkins at least tries to do something like this toward the end of "The God Delusion", even though he repeated Bill Nye's error many, many times throughout the rest of the book. He at least tries to give credit to the Bible as a beautiful and hugely influential work of literature, largely the foundation of civilization throughout the world, required reading for any educated person, full of beautiful ideas, etc. Unfortunately, that chapter seems a bit out of place in Dawkins' book (I felt), given all that had come before.
It would have been nice to see Bill Nye take at least a few moments to say a few words like that, if only to show his listeners that he knew what he was dealing with.
Imagine how much more ignorant and ridiculous Ken Ham would have looked if he'd continually referred to "Bill Nye's big bang", and "Bill Nye's evolution theory". Ken Ham, to his credit, knew better than to do that. In my opinion, this is the main reason why anyone thinks Ken Ham won the debate. If Bill Nye had changed nothing in his presentation except to refer to "Noah's flood" and "the Genesis account", and removed "American translation", he would have had a knock-out victory across the board.