Luke's Thoughts on the Nye-Ham Debate

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Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern, scientific era? Based on what Bill Nye and Ken Ham both offered, the answer is a resounding YES! Why? Read on to find out.

Luke's Overview of the Debate
The event went much better than I feared it would. Both sides had excellent presentations for their opening 30 minute segments.

Ham gave many examples of Young Earth Creationists (YECs) who are contributing scientists and inventors. He stressed that secularists have hijacked the word "science" to mean naturalism and use language that dismisses the true science done by YECs. Ham made a clear distinction between "historical science" and "observational/experimental science." The first is how we interpret the data we have, the second is the process by which we make new discoveries. This debate is one over interpretation; whom should we accept as our authority to sort it out: man or God? If we remove the Bible from our studies, we see many bad ideas crop up and the foundation for what we do crumbles.

Nye contested that scientists on "the outside" do not make this historical/observational distinction. Evidence provides clues to the past. So do the clues we have make a young earth reasonable? We have ice, trees, rocks, starlight, and civilizations all older than 6,000 years. To get the ice cores we see, we'd need to have 170 winter-summer cycles every year. Assuming microevolution (or speciation within kinds), we would need to have 11 new species arise every single day! The Flood poses huge problems in sedimentation layers which have no mixing between them, the construction improbabilities, and size issues for housing that many animals. Science provides predictability. If we do not raise a generation of scientifically literate students, we will no longer lead innovation in the world.

Ham's rebuttal pointed out that you can't observe the age of the earth. We infer it from what we see. Scientists have found wood dated at 4,500 years old inside rock dated 45 million years old! Dating methods are imprecise, and 90% of methods available to us do not allow for billions of years. Nothing we observe in astronomy or geology refutes young earth creationism.

Nye reminded us that dating methods are quite precise and based on previous experience. Asteroids, for example, are all about the same age. And, to refute Ham's point, we do observe the past. Light takes time to get to us, so astronomy -- in particular -- is the study of time past. So, should we really accept Ham's interpretation of Scripture translated into English as a better scientific text than what we can observe around us? That is not consistent with what "a reasonable man" could accept.

Luke's Observations about the Debate
Like other debates I've watched, it was hard to stay on topic. I'm going to try to tease out the most important idea from both debaters related to the overarching question.

Ham, is creationism viable?
Absolutely. Name one piece of technology that requires a belief in macroevolution to have been built. There are many creationists who are scientists. The way we see the data, young earth creationism makes the most sense.

Nye, is young earth creationism viable as a scientific model?
Absolutely not! The overwhelming evidence we have demands an earth older than 6,000 years. We could not get to where we are today in such a brief period of time, even assuming every one of Ham's points.

Looking over my 3,000 words of hurried notes, I see Ham defending creationism, not a young earth. Indeed, the debate topic itself was not related to a young earth. Ham's arguments, then, were toward the "viability" of creationism in today's world. People who accept creation are clearly functioning in and contributing to today's culture and science. Win. The fact that we have little more than the genealogies of Scripture to set an age of the earth matters little in this discussion.

Nye, on the other hand, was justifiably trying to debunk both a young earth and creationism as a "viable" scientific theory. He did a great job providing an overview of known problems with the young earth model (e.g. trees older than the earth itself and distinct stratification of fossils). He also hinted -- though failed to explain -- the problems with creationism as a scientific model. I wish he had specifically mentioned that science is limited to the naturalistic world and so must not include the supernatural ... making creationism, technically, not a science.

Ham could have responded that such a claim merely illustrates his first point: Secularists have hijacked science. We all interpret data through our worldview -- what he dubs "historical science" -- and allowing for God makes these interpretations easier and more accurate.

Nye's point, however, is not that philosophical assumptions paint our interpretation. Rather, the process of scientific exploration by which we increase our scientific knowledge base is grounded in the natural world. We must never simply say "God did it." That would be giving up on the pursuit of how. And that would be anti-scientific. This is why, I believe, he kept pressing for Ham to provide predictions and admit that he felt not further need to explore the topic of origins. Given that, creationism is not a viable scientific approach.

So Ham "won" the topic at hand; not surprising given the vague and imprecise language. But Nye's position is a solid one that young earthers would be wise to heed. Had the question been "Is creation a viable scientific model of origins?" Nye's position would be correct: the supernatural is beyond the scope of science and so is non-scientific or, if you prefer, "super-scientific."

What Luke Found Interesting
One of Ham's strongest questions is one I've asked as well: What is it about the belief in a purely naturalistic origin of life and an old earth that we need for scientific advancement today? Ham, like everyone else, agrees with decent with modification through DNA changes via sexual reproduction. People promoting "evolution" often fail to define which aspect of the theory they are discussing. Nye slipped into this as well and so his mantra that voters and taxpayers need to reject creationism in the classroom for progress was hollow.

While Ham consistently urged Nye to admit that he was interpreting data through his worldview, Nye was doing the same. Nye continually asked why "Ham's interpretation" should be accepted over the evidence we see all around us pointing to an old earth. His reminder about the discovery of the expanding universe as the origin of the "Big Bang" idea was excellent. Indeed, Ham's insistence that the YEC model is the "Christian" way to interpret things was well challenged by Nye. Ham allows for Old Earther Christians, but undermines this position by what he says. This is, in my view, dangerous and unhelpful to brilliant young followers of Christ who -- with Nye -- find that the YEC position does not hold water given the evidence.

Luke's Conclusion
Ham should have stuck to his point that his interpretation of the available data best fits a creationist model and that belief in God is the foundation of the scientific method. It would have been even better had he shown that the data also promote a young earth, especially in light of the numbers Nye offered for speciation and ice weather cycles.

I found Ham's Bible jabs to be off-putting and unhelpful.

Nye should have stuck to his points about scientific evidence and the process thereof. His several forays into textual criticism of the Bible (translations and "the telephone game"), questions of theology ("Why are fish cursed? Did they sin?"), and even critiques of Noah's abilities of ship building were horribly off base, easily countered, and made him look foolish to anyone who has spent even a brief time studying these topics.

I found Nye's use of "those outside" and "a reasonable man" to be off-putting and unhelpful.

Is creationism viable today? You bet. And if you ask Ken Ham and his friends, it's the best interpretation of the data. Nye is right to remind us that creationism is not, technically, scientific, and we should continue to seek to learn more about the natural world. Ham would agree with that last part.

Given the nature of the question, it's not surprising they didn't talk more about evolution. But I think it is important to note a point Ham made well: decent with modification requires DNA which already appears to have all these variations built in. This is, to my understanding, "information theory," and is a huge part of the Intelligent Design and Theistic Evolution movements. Still, I'm thrilled that Nye held his ground on this saying that just because we don't yet know does not mean we should stop looking. Suggesting we stop because "God did it" is anti-scientific.

I agree.

Science defines what happened and provides models for how. "Why" it happened could easily have been God and is, therefore, beyond the scope of science. And so any explanation with God is not a viable scientific explanation because it has extended beyond the properly defined bounds of naturalistic exploration.

That's my take. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

The obvious disclaimer: I'm not a scientist. I'm no theologian either. My degree is in film with a minor in Bible. While I love science and theology and learning and debate, I'm not an expert. Your comments, corrections, and contributions are most welcome!

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  1. Katie

    I think this is a really great summary and you make some amazing points!

    Science defines what happened and provides models for how. "Why" it happened could easily have been God

    I think that here, Ken Ham would probably argue that evolution is necessarily "anti-God", that is, seeking to 100% prove that life/mankind arose purely from natural causes without a God at all. I don't disagree that observable science should not include the supernatural (though that does not necessarily prove, in any given case, that the supernatural was not a cause or factor), but if one is assuming that macroevolution with the beginning in the "primordial soup" is completely true and explains everything, I think that Ken Ham makes good points about what that means about the truth of the rest of the Bible - including sin, death, Jesus, and Christianity. Right now, science is pretty set on a model of origins which not only does not "need" a God, but actually means that the Bible's account on origins is untrue and brings into question the legitimacy and necessity of the rest of the book.

    I agree that science can provide models for the "how" but in this particular case, the two are pretty impossible to fit together. If one is an atheist scientist, this is really not a problem, and I can see how much of academia is unconcerned by what evolution means about the Bible, God, and the purpose of life in general.

  2. You've clarified quite a number of things for me. Here I thought when he was talking of just Ham's interpretation, that he was implying that it's a cult thing. You know. Believe because the leader does.

  3. Katie, thank you for your input. You state things well. The only additional comment I have at the moment is to note that it is the YEC position that undermines Scripture *if* "millions of years evolution" is true. It is Ham, and other like him, who make this interpretation of Scripture the watershed if/then split. But, as Ham admits, there are Christians who believe in an old earth. There are also Theistic Evolutionists and others who have no problem loving Scripture and still allowing for a naturalistic mechanism by which man arose. I have not read the books that provide the support for such positions, but I've heard a bit about it. If you're interested in taking a look, I think this post may whet your appetite.

    Put another way, I think other bloggers have put it well: A more productive debate would have been between the YEC position and an Old Earth one.

    I'm glad I could clarify a few things, Mrs. C. I think much of the YEC position comes across as cult-ish to the "scientific community." What they simply can't wrap their heads around is that YEC scientists see the Young Earth position as the best interpretation of the data. Ham said as much. I don't think Nye could imagine that being true. "Real" scientists couldn't possibly believe this stuff... could they? That's one reason I believe Nye made so many statements from from incredulity. It's ironic to me that it was the person on the "side of science" who made such statements, as these arguments are typically credited to creationists.


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