Sunday, February 09, 2014

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.


At 2:44 PM, Blogger Carole Brenton said...

I think here you touch on a very important, and much overlooked, piece of the creation-evolution debate. I’ve seen, read and watched numerous debates and inevitably the creation espouser is the target of ridicule by the evolution espouser. It seems to me, overall, that creationists are willing to have a conversation, but evolutionists seem to feel demeaned by even having the conversation.

It makes me wonder why.

Here’s what I think:

I think that evolutionist have to be right. They cannot be wrong. Because if they are wrong, and there really is a God out there to whom they will answer, that’s a problem.

That’s what I think.

At 7:26 PM, Blogger Reese Burnett said...

Well! That was quite a debate. I wish it were more on topic, however. Nye seemed too much on the defensive and spent too much time on trying to disprove creation and prove evolution. This placed Nash on the defensive.

I think you missed Nye’s point about the layers of shale and creatures who lived out there lives in them. Nye’s point was not to say that this showed evolution, but that it showed an old earth.

Likewise, your illustration about the layers and layers of ocean sediment containing foraminifera and diatoms is not evidence of evolution. The reason for this is that very few of these creatures (no matter how old the fossils are) have become extinct. The vast majority of them still exist today. This makes me wonder at your observation: “They evolve both inside and out, and in many ways. If one looks at two specimens from, say, 100 meters apart in the core (which might equate to a few million years), they look as different as a polar bear and a pumpkin. The only way we know they are related by descent is that a complete record of their gradual evolution is available to us.” How can you have observed this if these creatures, for the most part have not yet come to extinction. It is more likely that you observed different sizes and shapes of the same species throughout the cores. These creatures are known to change drastically in appearance. - basically, the size and the shape of their shells.

I think that Nash did an excellent job of defending creationism, but, still, that was not what this debate was supposed to be about. I hope that many people get to see this debate. Science should not be an obstacle to believing God’s word.

I am saddened by how most scientists and the media have taught our children that evolution is the only explanation of the evidence that we see and that the big bang theory and an old earth and universe are proven fact. This just isn’t true.

At 8:54 PM, Blogger Timothy Blaisdell said...

There are quite a few debates where the evolutionist is respectful and a good time appears to be had by all.

There's a fantastic debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig. In fact, of the so-called "four horsemen", Sam Harris is the one that, more than any other, most consistently takes the "high road" as you might say.

I realize you're probably not interested in reading something by Sam Harris, but I would recommend all Christians read his "Letter to a Christian Nation", if only to understand the mind of the enemy, as you might say ;-)

There's also a very good debate between Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath in which Dawkins seems at times to be bending over backward to be a perfect gentleman, and if you can catch the "outtakes" reel of that debate, it's pretty cool to see how they acted toward each other when they may not have known the camera was running.

Basically, if you watch any debate between anyone and Christopher Hitchens, you're going to witness the kind of treatment we're talking about in spades. Dawkins can also be a little grating -- with him it seems to depend on his mood at the moment.

As for that last comment about "they cannot be wrong, or they'll have to answer to God, etc., etc.", I'm sorry, but that holds no water. You realize that according to the deeply held beliefs of millions of Muslims throughout the world, you're going to Hell, right? Are you worried about that? Maybe they're right and you'll have to answer for your life of rebellion against Allah and Mohammed. Are you shaking in your shoes yet?

At 9:07 PM, Blogger Timothy Blaisdell said...

I don't consider myself an atheist. I really like something Thomas Paine said: "I believe in one God, and no more. And I hope for happiness beyond this life." That's pretty much where I'm at now.

However, I feel that I really can identify with some atheist writers, like Dawkins and especially Michael Shermer, who were raised in a Christian environment, and had a protracted and painful journey to where they eventually came.

I'm not sure this is true, but I've heard that ancient Romans used to call Christians atheists, because they had rejected the pantheon of Roman gods. In any case, there are thousands of gods people have believed in, both historically and today. You are already an "atheist" with regard to almost all of those gods. All but one, actually. I bet it doesn't cause you to lose a wink of sleep, or endure a moment of anxiety, that all those thousands of gods you don't believe in might call you to account.

The atheist also rejects all those gods you also reject. The only difference between you and an atheist, is that the atheist has also rejected one more god -- the one you believe in.

At 9:33 PM, Blogger Timothy Blaisdell said...


Who's this "Nash" you keep talking about?

I don't know where you're getting your information. I've seen these fossils with my own eyes. I've talked at some length with scientists who study them. They do change drastically in size and appearance, as you say, over a long period of time. Their size and shape change so drastically that if you saw two of them from 100 meters apart, one might look like a drinking straw, and one like a snowflake. And the snowflake one might be 10 times more massive than the other.

The scientists who study these things call it "evolution".

I admit it's not the sort of evolution that seems to be making a great deal of progress. You don't find cave-forams in the depths, and civilized forams up top building cars and planes.

For me, Francis Collins' book "The Language of God" is really what finally tipped the scale for me regarding, if not evolution, at least shared ancestry for living things on earth.

At 6:57 PM, Blogger Reese Burnett said...

Sorry. Ham - not Nash!


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