Columns / Discourse / March 5, 2014

Nye v. Ham creationism debate a disaster for science

Last week, I took the time to watch the debate that took place in February between Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Ken Ham, a young-Earth creationist based in Kentucky.

I’m going to agree with much of the media that the debate was a disaster for science and a triumph for Ken Ham. The slick podiums with the signatures of the participants superimposed over their beaming faces; the impeccably dressed moderator brimming with even-handed smugness, delivering the Creation Museum’s telling underhanded strike at the end when he told the audience to review the entire debate at, a webpage prominently titled: “Debunking Bill Nye’s Arguments.” Nye took the whole affair lying down, rather like Gulliver, the Lilliputians tying strings across his chest.

The whole event lent to creationism a completely undeserved space for credibility. Ken Ham and his colleagues had jumped at the chance for that space, and spent the night revelling in its glory. In many ways debate itself was their victory.

With that context acknowledged, however, he debate mattered too. And my opinion here is that Nye’s strategy was a complete failure. Why? Because he talked facts and science. Ham, on the other hand, talked worldview.

In his own words, Ham said that “the creation/evolution debate is really a conflict between two philosophical worldviews.”

He’s right: the evolution/creation debate is not about facts. If it were, we would all acknowledge evolution. As it is, the reason almost half of us are literal Bible believers is that we’ve been brought up to see belief in creationism as inseparable from our deepest values of life, truth, family, and God. With that fundamental assumption unchallenged, we will hold on to our values and dismiss any kind of facts that come our way. And Bill Nye forgot that if you’re going to go to Rome, you should debate as the Romans do.

Ken Ham carried the day by creating an image of himself as a scientist. He took the time to put his foot on Nye’s ground and pretend it belonged there. Nye barely took any time to debate about evolution and religion, probably because he’s not religious himself. But imagine if he were, and had said: “Do you really believe it’s possible that God, who is infinite, would ever confine himself to the single pages of one book? That he would offer only one, and not many, ways of salvation to his people? Shouldn’t his truth be like a deep well that springs up in many different places?”

Many creationists will go on reading the Bible literally for the rest of their lives, but perhaps some are on the fence. And if we’re going to ask those people to consider tearing their philosophical house down, we should be able to offer another with as much, if not more, meaning than the first.

I doubt that this is impossible. I’m thinking now of another one of Ham’s statements, when speaking about the Christian conception of the universe: “a perfect creation, it will be perfect again in the end.”

One doesn’t need literal belief in the Bible to find this theme in spiritual tradition all across the world. It was described to me once by a rabbi who quoted Kabbalah’s saying: “In the beginning God was one, but it was lonely. He wanted a friend; so he split himself.”

In those three final words one can picture the immeasurable burst of form and light from the Big Bang: God-essence divided, spewing itself through the darkness to form galaxies and nebulae, giving rise to life and conscious forms. Beings arose who could rediscover their essence as God, the Universe, Himself, embodied in each other and their capacity for self-less love. The story of the return to the divine is told in the Kabbalah of Judaism, the poetry of Rumi, even in Jesus’s fable of the lost son returning to his father, who now loves him more than before.

Interestingly enough, Nye touched upon this worldview when he said, “It is a wonderful and astonishing thing to me that we are … one of the ways that the Universe knows itself.” I wonder if he knows how close he came to really winning the debate.

Tags:  bible bill nye creationism creationism museum jesus kabbalah ken ham rumi the science guy

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  • Herbivore Tarleck

    Nye could have likewise taken the time to put this foot on Ham’s ground and pretend he belonged there with a simple question like “Do you really believe it’s possible that God, who is omnipotent and can do anything he wishes, could not possibly have chosen to create mankind by inventing evolution as the mechanism of bringing forth ever-increasingly complex forms of life?”

  • Elmo Tickled

    Some people lack the gene for hand eye coordination and make poor athletes. Some people lack the ability for spacial reasoning and some lack the gene for normal height. Religious people lack the gene for logical reasoning and instead lean towards using magic to explain things. Just as it would make no sense to let someone lacking eye hand coordination pitch for a professional baseball team, it makes no sense for society to let religious people run as politicians.

    • Dr. GS Hurd

      ET, you have made a common, but gross error.

      There are very few single gene mutations that “cause” things like adult size, hand/eye coordination, or any feature of thinking ability. Nor is there a genetically dominated predisposition toward super-naturalism which is merely another form of thinking.

      A greater error is that there ought to be a religious test, or criteria for American public office. This is worse than your biological errors- it is anti-American.

      The United States Constitution, Article VI, paragraph 3, and states,

      “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

      It is the Constitution, and only the Constitution that prevents the United States from becoming a theocratic state.

      • Elmo Tickled

        I’m wrong? Please put your bible down for a year or so and take an undergraduate degree in a life science. Your comments regarding genetics and traits are ridiculous but completely in line with someone who dedicates himself to the subject of magic.

        • Dr. GS Hurd

          Heheh, I am a retired professor. I taught human evolution, and was a Director of a natural history museum. I am not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim. In fact, I am a militant agnostic: I do not know, and neither do you.

          I suspect you are unfamiliar with the US Constitution. Are you Canadian, perhaps?

          • Elmo Tickled

            Yes, I’m Canadian. By the way, what don’t you and I know? I know that whatever religion mankind has devised is false. I think Mencken put it very succinctly.

            “We must respect the other fellow’s
            religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his
            theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

            — H. L. Mencken

    • Amanda

      It is one thing to have an opposing view to someone, but it is quite another to attack that person’s character and abilities. It’s discrimination. No one minds if you have an opinion, just don’t consider those people to be incapable of logical reasoning. That is complete ignorance.

      • Elmo Tickled

        We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe.

        –Oliver Wendell Holmes

  • James Weller

    Evolution has no scientific evidence. Evolution has nothing to do with science.

    • idespair

      I’m glad you cleared that up.

      • CR

        “Evolution has no scientific evidence”
        HAHAHAHAHA! You’re so ignorant I’m suprised you’re able to breath let alone turn on a computer…

    • Christopher R Weiss

      Nothing other than your DNA, your biochemistry, and your morphology. Other than that, I guess you’re right.

    • Dr. GS Hurd

      Well, that assertion is foolish, and foolishness is frowned on by the Christian Church. Fools do like to cite 2 Corinthians 12:11, or

      1 Corinthians 1:
      19. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
      20. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
      1 Corinthians 3:
      18. Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
      19. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
      20. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

      But really, stupidity is not a good argument for being a Christian.

      • Herbivore Tarleck

        Incidentally, most Christians also believe in evolution.

        • Dr. GS Hurd

          A bare plurality of US Christians
          agree that “God created man in his present form.” Globally this is a tiny fraction of all Christians.

      • koconor100

        I’ve read that post three times. And all it seems to say is “This book is right, anyone who disagree’s is wrong. ”
        Trouble is , they’re only refering to the book of Corinthians. They’re not aware of the other books existance at the time of writing.


        • Dr. GS Hurd

          I was making a particular point to the anti-science comment by Mr. Weller.

          Anti-science Christians are fond of quoting the Apostle Paul. Since the Corinthians were Greek, the “wise” were the Greek philosophers of antiquity, and the Gnostics in 1st and 2nd C.E. Creationists (generally knowing as little about the Bible as they do science) mistake these verses as being anti-science.

    • Elmo Tickled

      I hope potential employers are following these posts. This place isn’t exactly a brain trust. hahaha

  • sillythisis

    Prove to me there is a God. Any proof please.

    • Herbivore Tarleck

      Prove to me there isn’t. Any proof please. 😉

      • Christopher R Weiss

        When asserting existence, the burden of proof belongs on the the person making the claim.

        • Kevin A

          exactly. You can’t prove something non-existent. AND: WHEN YOU CAN NOT PROVE EXISTENCE OF A THING, TECHNICALLY IS DOES NOT EXIST.

          • koconor100

            Certain things can be proven as non-existant.
            Things larger than the universe when the universe is agreed to include everything.
            Things that contain innate contradictions when you agree to the rules of logic.
            Unique objects being in two places at the same time is another example of something that can be proven as non-existant.

          • Kevin A

            If you are versed in quantum theory, which I will assume you are not, you would now know there is actually supporting evidence regarding multiple universes in existence. Everything, I suspect is not included in only this universe. There is also evidence to support things exist in multiple planes simultaneously, as time constraints only exist when measuring distances in space. Take away the constraints, and everything exists simultaneously everywhere. As I said before, you need to be versed in quantum theory to understand where I am coming from.

          • koconor100

            The universe is “everything”
            There are no multiple universes because there are no “multiple everythings” , that is a contradiction.
            Quantum “Theory” may propose the universe is more complex , contains far more , than we expect, acts in a different fashion than we expect , But it’s not going to state that that extra piece exists some other place outside of “everything” . Someplace outside of everything , would be part of everything , by definition.

            Someone spiked your koolaid with a micky.


          • Kevin A

            “Everything”, as you stated does not exist finitely, as you so eloquently presume. I suggest that everything is infinite, which means there is no set amount of “everything”, just as there is no set amount of space, or numbers, matter, energy, vibration, etc.

          • koconor100

            Now you’re modifying the definition of the word “everything” to exclude things you find inconvenient. This is now a word game , not a logical discussion.

          • Kevin A

            Don’t be silly. Without the correct words, there can be no correct truth. Think about it this. It is but words that describe the reality of our existence. It is illogical to assume the entirety if existence is finite, and therefore packaged into a singularity. The big bang is only one of an phenomenon within a continuim that is infinite in nature. It is logical to assume this in my opinion, rather than everything spawning from nothingness, which only exists via human non perception. It is possible that reality is of an infinite nature as Einstein first believed, before his paradigm shift for popular political/scientific reasoning.

          • koconor100

            “correct words” meaning your version of the words, not someone elses.

            And we’re back to word games , not logical debate.

            Stating that “everything” includes only finite objects and then pointing to the big bang as an infinite object , and therefore not part of everything … is a word game.

            Not interested in word games.

            You would do better with defining infinite objects and finite objects. But then again , I would probably respond with “everything includes both”

          • Kevin A

            Quantum theory shows us evidence of that, which I highly suggest you become educated thereof, just as the entire world should.

            Time to strip away old misconceptions that do not jive with modern insights into reality.

          • Kevin A

            Furthermore, the mathematical existence of infinity does indeed exist, which lends credence to the idea that only one universe is an impossibility.

          • koconor100

            Mathmatical “proofs” just show the math is right. Math doesn’t prove anything. That is reserved for experiments in the laboratory.

            Still , two everything’s is a logical contradiction since it violates the definition of “everything”

          • Kevin A

            I did not say it proved anything. I just said it can be cited as evidence that our classical theory of what “everything” consists of can be disputed.

          • Kevin A

            I don’t even call it a universe anymore, as I believe this is an incorrect definition, kind of like calling a mentally challenged kid a retard. I call it existence.

          • Kevin A

            Spoken like a truly uneducated boob. Mathematics is one of the only mechanisms available that CAN tangibly prove anything.

          • koconor100

            PLease prove that I like chocolate ice cream better than I like strawberry.


          • Kevin A

            You just said you like chocolate ice cream better than strawberry. Only you would know that for fact, however; depending, if you never tried strawberry your taste might be programmed to chocolate, and as a result bias in preference. This especially true with acquired tastes.

          • koconor100

            “depending, if you never tried strawberry”
            This is a reference to imperial evidence , ie: heading to a laboratory and trying it out. It is not part of mathmatics.

            word games again.

            Mathmatics takes suppositions and mashes them together. Sometimes those suppositions (like imperial evidence) are good ,and you get good results. Sometimes those suppositions are garbage , and , well , garbage in , garbage out.

            How do you find out if you’re right ? You don’t double check the math , you try it out in the real world.

            ergo : Math doesn’t prove anything. That is the domain of imperial evidence.

      • koconor100

        Logical proof that your definition of god is a contradiction usually suffices for any but the religious.

        The religious of course, do not follow the rules of logic, there for you cannot “prove” anything to them. If you could , pointing out a terrible tragedy is in conflict with an all knowing , all powerful, all kind (omni-benificiant) deity.

        Which they reject (they reject all of logic , not just the example)

      • Skeptic NY

        Yes – please prove that Zeus doesn’t exist. After that prove that Thor doesn’t exist after that prove that Pele the Fire Goddess doesn’t exist after that… … …

    • Dr. GS Hurd

      Thomas Huxley (1825 – 1895) coined the term “agnostic” to summarize the only proper scientific attitude toward the “supernatural gods, ghosts, and ghoulies.”

      It does not mean “unsure,” “confused,” or “cowardly.” It means “unknown.” Literally, science cannot assert that there is no supernatural, as there is no possible scientific test for the supernatural. It is unknown, and unknowable by science if there are gods, ghosts, or ghouleis. We can test specific claims about religions, only when they can make a claim that is subject to rational, material test.

      So far they have not passed any such a test. But they might. Never say never.

      • koconor100

        there is no super natural.

        1… “nature” is everything. Life , death , the moon and stars , galaxies and the universe , anything contained within the universe , is all part of nature.

        2…There isn’t any “outside” of the universe. Everything is inside it.

        3… There fore , there is nothing “unnatural” , “Supernatural” , etc etc.

        Of course , this just means ghosts are “natural” instead of “super natural” , but then again … you still have to show me one before you can properly assert it exists.

        Otherwise , the defnition of “super natural” and the definition of “fiction” become identical.


    • koconor100

      “A god” …someone who can raise the dead will do I think.

      Please check your local hospital.

      Oh , you mean the christian god ? Hmmm…. that’s a little tougher …

  • koconor100

    God is Evil.

    Every time a preacher tells me he’s all knowing , all powerful , and I see a wreck on the high way with lots of people horribly maimed and killed, I have proof of this.

    Debate that.

    • Herbivore Tarleck

      Why blame God? Was He driving?

      • Christopher R Weiss

        This is philosophy 101. If god is all knowing, then he knows in advance who will commit evil acts, who will be good, who will suffer, and who will prosper. Why not create a world with less evil and less suffering? This only covers humans. Life is terrible if you are a prey animal or when a wild animal gets old or sick. The amount suffering in the world is enormous if you include animals.

        • Herbivore Tarleck

          The world with less evil and suffering? I tend to think that perhaps this is it, and an incalculable number of all other possible universes permitting free will would only have been worse.

      • koconor100

        Since he knew this would happen before he created the universe, and decided it was OK , then yes.

        Yes, He was driving.

        • Herbivore Tarleck

          Personally, I would prefer a universe where we have the freedom to screw up (horrific consequences notwithstanding) over one where we are all programmed automatons. A god that desires such a civilization of enslaved mindless puppets would indeed be seriously psychotic.

    • G Z

      1) What if God did not allow any sickness or death or calamity to occur on the earth and yet still gave us free will? I asked this to my sixth grade Sunday school students and they were quick to point out that if this was the case, people would soon take advantage of the situation and become increasingly wicked. This is why Adam and Eve were not permitted to eat from the Tree of Life after eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. So God allows humans of every age and nationality to die that we might learn to fear him for “…by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.”

      2) You are claiming that God is unjust yet if He was to give us justice, we all would cease to exist for we all have sinned and mocked His holiness and resisted His lordship. The fact that He has restrained so much evil and has spared humanity this long is because of His longsuffering nature. The twentieth century was to usher in world peace and prosperity with the improvements in technology, yet we saw two world wars. We have an enemy (the devil) that seeks to steal, kill and destroy.

      3) We cannot see the big picture as God does and must believe that God is good. We know this because when He saw the pain and the devastating consequences of sin, He did not stand aloof but in love He gave His Son to die on a cruel cross to bear the suffering our sins deserved that we might receive His forgiveness and enjoy sweet fellowship with Him once again. Here is a link for a home school family near me who lost three teenage boys to a drunk driver. Check it out. In the midst of their pain they still believe that God is good and that He has a purpose for everything that happens.

      • koconor100

        Free will , and an all knowing all powerful god who created us and knew everything we were going to do before we did it , are opposites.

        You cannot have “Free Will” *and* “An all knowing, all powerful Creator” , one contradicts the other.

        To state otherwise , is to change the definition of “all knowing” in the middle of the argument , giving it one meaning at the beginning , and another at the end.

  • solarisgeothermal

    Evolution is like a religion, it is a world-view. Leland Wright is mistaken to think that the convenient alliance of Evolution to quasi-Science is at all fitting, there is nothing to support Evolution but putting spin on facts. He is also wrong to think his foolish reasoning is smarter than God. Nye should retire as an actor and stop representing himself as anything scientific now that his TV scripts have stopped.

    • koconor100

      Evolution is to Science what dog breeding is to religion.

      Wait … that’s not right … dog breeding actually works and religion doesn’t …

      Evolution … gets results. Look at dog breeding. Lots of dog breeds exist today that didn’t exist a thousand years ago.

  • Brian T

    Ham continually said that you don’t know the past because “you weren’t there.”

    He then takes something from the past and cites it as something that is irrefutable truth. How does this make sense?

    By his argument, anything that took place before the time of my birth can hold no more validity than the Bible.

    When I was a child, I had this theory that all of history, the universe, and humanity was created moments before I was born. This is basically the argument Ham uses when defending his views. He says we can’t tell what happened 4,000 years ago, because we weren’t there. Then how can we trust what happened 100 years ago? We weren’t there either. We do know people that were there, and have primary sources of documentation, but how can we truly trust that? His argument falls apart when he infers that we can’t trust anything past primary sources, yet he bases his entire argument on a single source that is anything but a primary source.

    • Herbivore Tarleck

      If Ham was consistent, he wouldn’t believe anything written in the bible either, because he “wasn’t there” personally witnessing Moses, the prophets, the apostles et al write it down.

  • G Z

    I just got back from spending two days at the Creation Museum. It was great and eye opening. When Mr. Ham says that you can’t know the past for certain because “you weren’t there” he was referring to history that is beyond historical accounts and what is recorded in the creation account contained in the book of Genesis in the Bible. I wasn’t born during the time of Adolf Hitler but I can see evidence of his existence through the historical records, pictures and evidence. Similarly, the Bible records ancient events and genealogies that give us a good idea how old the earth is. That is, if you believe in a supernatural God who authored the Bible and preserved it throughout the ages. That is why Mr. Ham argues for a young earth about 6,000 years old.

    But evolutionists who believe in billions of years take an incredible leap of faith and make conjectures about events that are not 10,000 years ago but over a million times further to billions of years ago. They then try to persuade the naive that what they are conjecturing is the truth by calling it a “fact” and not simply a theory. This is because they know that science teaches otherwise and they have no rational explanation so they invent billions of years as a smokescreen.

    Our founding fathers wrote, “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created…” It is “self evident” because we can see from creation that things just don’t evolve out of random events anymore than a microprocessor evolves out of silicon. For example, when we look at our eye, we see marvelous evidence for design: we have a lens that focuses an image on the retina through the use of tiny muscles, a cornea that helps shape the image, an iris that regulates that amount of light and the rods and cones on the retina that transform the image into electrical signals that are transported via the optic nerve to the brain.

    Charles Darwin wrote, “To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.”

    What is even more absurd is to think that random chance is the explanation behind all of the complex instructions contained in the human cell that can allow a single cell to grow into a human being with some cells forming a heart, others a lung, pancreas, liver, kidney, muscle, tendon, bone or tooth.

    Now just suppose that I went to my local vitamin store and I purchased some DNA, RNA, Calcium, and assorted other building blocks for the human body and I mixed them all into a container and I even added water. (I am giving evolution a head start by providing the DNA) Am I supposed to believe that somehow these chemicals will rearrange themselves into a functioning living primitive cell if given billions of years? The 2nd law of thermodynamics states that something cannot go from a less ordered state to a more ordered state without energy. (A child who creates a building out of wood blocks supplies the energy that causes the building to take shape)

    So let us supply our primordial soup with energy in the form of a lightning bolt or the rays of the sun. The problem we have here is that the randomness of the energy supplied will only produce randomness. Some have likened this to a bomb going off in a type factory and having a dictionary come about as a result. Randomness creates randomness.Intelligent life creates life. This is why Richard Dawkins entertains the idea that life may have come to earth through an alien life source. Evolution does not provide a valid reason for the beginning of life and can only account for changes among ‘kinds’ or what is known as micro-evolution.

    • Dr. GS Hurd

      There are several falsehoods in “G Z” ‘s comment that are easy to expose. Since I am short of time, I’ll skim off a easy ones.

      The idea of a “historical account” is that there is a preserved physical document from the time in question. There is no such account from actual witnesses for any of the biblical texts related to Yeshua ben Yoseph, his execution, or followers. So, according to Ken Ham, and “GZ” Jesus never existed.

      There is not a single extant document for any original copy of Genesis. However, there are many physical copies of older cuneiform tablets with more ancient creation myths than found in the Bible. By GZ’s criteria, there are better documented “proofs” of Mesopotamian pantheons from antiquity than for the biblical myths.

      We can state with a reasonable certainty that the universe is thousands of times older than biblical chronologies can tolerate. That certaintiy is based on exact physical measurements and observation. I briefly review these in Stones and Bones: “Are Constants Constant.” ( I don’t want to waste time checking if this website allowed URLs or not, Use the Google).

      I am out of time (I am going deep sea fishing and need to leave). I have not gone far into the lies and frauds posted by GZ, but it is a start. I’ll be back in two days time.

      • G Z

        Regarding the authenticity of the Lord Jesus:

        The great historian Flavius Josephus wrote (c.94): “He
        was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men
        amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first
        did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the
        divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things
        concerning him;”

        In addition there are over 24,000 New Testament manuscripts that date back as close to 29 years from when the eye witness accounts were first penned. This is virtually unheard of for ancient documents. These documents agree nearly perfectly as well attesting to their importance and divine protection.

  • wfraser11

    This why scientists don”t “debate” creationists. Creationsits are there to sell their religious views, not discuss science. Creationists have no science. Hopefully Nye made some money out of this .

    • G Z

      Dr. Werner von Braun (a great rocket scientist) wrote: “My experiences with science led me to God. They challenge science to prove the existence of God. But must we really light a candle to see the sun?”

      Sir Isaac Newton wrote: “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”

      These are just a couple of examples of creationists who were great scientists.

  • max

    I have a problem with the title. The (farce of a) debate was a PR blow for Nye, and possibly for some scientists. But Science was unaffected. Science doesn’t care whether it’s popular, or whether scientistist are popular. Science is pure, and it is above the squabbles of the scientific and non-scientific community alike.

    • lelandbug

      TKS retitled this piece – the title I submitted was “Debating creationism: it’s not about the facts.”

      • max

        I forgot they do that. I’m with you.

  • Smiling Jack

    Any debate is appreciated.

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