The science guy may have won, but the debate itself turned out to be surprisingly bland.
On February 4th, science rock star Bill Nye ventured into the lion’s den to debate creation museum founder, Ken Ham on his own turf. Both came prepared to this highly-publicized debate, although the outcome was not at all unpredictable.
If Ken Ham thought he could win this debate by using the old “pics or it didn’t happen!” routine, he was sorely mistaken. More than a few times, Mr. Ham responded to a point by literally saying, “You didn’t see it with your own two eyes, therefore it isn’t true.” I’m no expert, but it doesn’t take a logician to identify the fallacies in that banal, juvenile contention. Yet that is Mr. Ham’s entire argument in its most basic form.
The question of the debate was as follows, “Is creationism a viable model of origin in today’s modern, scientific era?” Obviously Ken Ham thinks it is and Bill Nye thinks it isn’t. Unfortunately for a topic that brings forth so many profound ideas, the debate was not as engaging as I had hoped it to be. It was very much by the book, rigidly set on the rails. The facts were most assuredly on Mr. Nye’s side, but nonetheless Mr. Ham would appear to the layman perfectly credible. It confused me as to how he managed to do this, but I realized it was the continuous restating and reiterating of the same points over and over again as if he didn’t even hear Mr. Nye’s responses. The most prominent example of this I can think of was Mr. Ham’s ridiculous “Observational science/Historical science” dichotomy. Mr. Nye refuted that notion a number of times, yet Mr. Ham continued to bring it up.
His basic, “You didn’t see it therefore it isn’t true” argument rests on the idea of dividing science into two parts: things that happen now, and things that happened in the ancient past (observational science and historical science). There would be no way for Mr. Ham to deny the importance of modern science without being a hypocrite and a lunatic; its successes are apparent all around us. But the process by which humans have achieved this modern success is the same process that exposed the fictitious nature of so many bible stories. It’s impossible for Mr. Ham to reconcile these implications with his deeply held belief system, and it would be folly to try and discredit them, so instead he must reframe scientific discovery in a way that can only ever support his model. He does this by attributing the success of the modern age to “observational science” and asserting that our past is “unobservable” because “we weren’t there,” therefore calls it “historical science.” The distinction Mr. Ham is trying to make is of course completely illusory and ultimately makes his creation model an unfalsifiable hypothesis.
Mr. Nye could have pointed this out; he could have scrutinized Mr. Ham’s arguments; put pressure on them, pointing out the fallacies and inconsistencies, and made him sweat. But he didn’t. He did pressure Mr. Ham for a direct answer to his question, “What can creationism predict?” To which he was not given a satisfactory answer. Throughout the debate Mr. Ham was playing a game that Mr. Nye was not addressing—one of argumentative dancing. Interestingly, someone asked the question, “Mr. Ham, what, if anything, would change your mind?” To which he basically responded “nothing.” This is the trademark characteristic of a person who has embraced an unfalsifiable hypothesis as ultimate truth. Nothing, no evidence whatsoever will ever change their mind. Bill Nye was never going to make an argument using only facts and evidence that would expose Ken Ham’s creation model as the fairytale that it really is. To really demonstrate that Ken Ham doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about, to really trip him up, you need to take off the gloves. This debate was far too measured and civil to really flush out all the BS.
Ultimately the losers of this debate were the people who tuned in. It wasn’t bad, but both sides just stated what their supporters already knew and reiterated their arguments without actually engaging each other or scrutinizing what they said. Nonetheless, Bill Nye came out on top like most expected.
video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mAyBwhiAJ8