My Thoughts on the Ken Ham vs Bill Nye Debate
Part 1: Ken Ham's distinction between "experimental science" and "historical science"Ken says there is a distinction between science that involves things we can see and touch, and science that involves things that happened in the past, which we can't see or touch. He seems to want us to believe that the latter involves nothing but arbitrary assumptions and therefore nothing in "observational science" can provide information which might, for example, help us figure out which of two contradictory statements about the past might be true.
Moreover, Ken asserts that only "observational science" uses the "scientific method".
Frankly, this distinction does not exist. Moreover, all science is founded upon the scientific method. Let me give an illustration (which does not originate with me, but I forget where I heard it):
Let's say you're exploring a house, and in one room you discover a long spring hanging from a rod extending from the wall near the ceiling. At the lower end of the spring is a weight. The spring is gently rising and falling in a regular motion.
After watching the spring expand and contract, with the weight moving up and down, several times, your think to yourself, "I wonder how long ago this was set in motion?" Of course, it immediately occurs to you that if you measure the period of the spring and how it is changing over time, you can calculate an upper-bound on the amount of time that has elapsed since the spring was set in motion. Let's say you do this, and determine that the spring cannot have been set in motion more than 5 hours ago. In other words, if the spring was set in motion more than 5 hours ago, it would have had to pass through the floor below it, or past the rod at it's top, before slowing down to it's current motion.
So I will point out right away that the "science" you are doing is "observational", and yet it gives you a bit of information about the past. Not a lot of information (yet), but it's something.
Now, let's say a guy named Alex walks into the room and says "Oh yeah, I hung that there 15 minutes ago." Having said this, he leaves the room.
Now you have an individual's eyewitness report that the spring-and-weight system has only been there for 15 minutes, and you have a choice to make: should you accept Alex's word for it, or keep investigating? If you accept Alex's word, your question is answered and there's nothing more for you to do with regard to your original question (and you are not doing science any more). If you choose to withhold acceptance of Alex's report, you can keep investigating (and doing science). Since you enjoy investigating, and nothing else in the house has been this interesting, you decide to keep investigating.
Let's be perfectly honest though, and admit that Alex is a person that you have learned to mistrust. Last week he told you that your shoes were untied, and when you looked down to see, he flicked your nose and laughed.
In any case, you now examine the spring-and-weight assembly more closely. You examine the means by which the spring is connected to the rod, and find that a metal band was wrapped around spring and rod, and fastened with a screw. Using a powerful magnifying glass, you discover that each time the spring moves up and down, the slight movement of the spring is engraving tiny scratches on the metal band in a distinct pattern. Moreover, this action is causing the spring to move ever-so-slowly along the band, so that new scratches are always being made on different parts of the band. Also, the movement of the band against the rod is making marks on the rod. On top of that, the scratches are continually exposing fresh metal to the outer environment, resulting in corrosion, and you can plainly see that the newer scratches show less corrosion than the older ones.
After a lot of careful analysis, using a powerful microscope to photograph the band in great detail, and many experiments involving making scratches on other metal bands and measuring the results over time (all of which is clearly "observational"), you trace back through each scratch and measure the corrosion on each one, and are able to count exactly how many times the spring has scratched the metal band. The levels of corrosion on each scratch, along with your count of the scratches, give two independent means by which you can measure the amount of time since the spring was set in motion, and it comes to 3 hours, 10 minutes. In other words, the corrosion measurements indicate that the oldest scratch is 3 hours, 10 minutes old, and the count of the scratches (along with known facts about the period of the spring, etc.) gives an initial start at 3 hours, 10 minutes ago. That's a significant agreement between two independent sources of information!
Now, have you proven that Alex lied to you? No, you haven't. There could be several explanations for your observations. Alex might have placed scratches on the bands in just the right pattern to make it look like the spring had been there for longer than it actually was. Or he might have used a spring, band and rod that he found somewhere, which had already been hanging somewhere else for a while.
Also, I concede that you are making assumptions. Perhaps in the past the gravity of earth within this room was different than it is today, causing the spring to behave differently. Or perhaps the atmosphere in the room was different in the past, causing the metal to corrode differently. But are these assumptions unwarranted? Are they more unwarranted than the assumption "Alex is telling the truth"? Also, there might be many more experiments you could perform to test whether or not the atmosphere in the room or the force of gravity within the room, has been changing. These changes will have had effects on other parts of the room, such as the walls, or furniture, or the paintings on the wall.
The point I'm trying to make is that there is no difference between "observational" and so-called "historical" science. It's all observational, and all science makes use of the "scientific method", which involves making a hypothesis ("perhaps X is true"), designing experiments to test implications of the hypothesis ("if X is true, Y should happen when you do Z. Let's do Z and see if Y happens!"), which then either disproves the hypothesis ("Y didn't happen, so X can't be true."), or gives further strength to (without ever proving absolutely) the hypothesis ("Y happened just as I predicted, so I can be more confident that X is true!"). That's the "scientific method" as I understand it.
Therefore, the following is not science at all:
1. The Bible says X is true.
2. If X is true, Y should happen if you do Z.
3. Y didn't happen, but X is true anyway, because the Bible says so. God is mysterious.
Or, what more frequently happens (and what Ken Ham seems content with):
1. The Bible says X is true.
2. There's no more to say. X is true. Let's sing a closing hymn.