The great duel: Ken ham versus Bill Nye
I think that few debates have been awaited with more passion and indignation than the duel between the pope of Creationism (and some would say of irrationality too) and the “humanist guy”.
Since the event is widely known and has been reviewed by an almost infinite number of bloggers, I will just offer my own thoughts on points I found interesting in a chronological fashion.
Ken Ham began by pointing out there are great scientists who believe that creationism is the best explanation of nature, and complained about science being “highjacked by secularists”.
The united states, creationism and economical collapse
Later on Bill Nye warned that the spreading of creationist ideas would lead to a considerable deterioration of the scientific performances of America with stark repercussions on the economy.
I respectfully think he is wrong here.
People typically develop incredible abilities to compartmentalize their intellectual life, as the examples of brilliant creationists Ham mentioned clearly show. These folks have managed to be extremely rigorous in their professional works while being incredibly sloppy while trying to fit reality to their fundamentalist convictions.
As a side note, I don’t believe that wild capitalism is such a great promoter of science as Nye seems to believe.
It goes hand in hand with a huge decrease of the number of researcher positions (such as in Germany where lecturer positions Mittelbau have been completely suppressed).
As a consequence, there is a very strong competition between young scientists which often leads to dishonesty and sloppiness for maximizing one’s number of publications, which is nowadays almost the only criterion for getting hired in the Academia.
Experimental and historical science, evidence and probabilities
Ken Ham said that there is a strong difference between experimental and historical science, the latter one failing to generate knowledge. Bill Nye responded by stating that such a distinction is utterly nonsensical.
I think that reality might be more complex than those two binaries opinion.
Henri Gee, chief editor of nature, wrote a book entitled “In search of deep time” where he argued that knowledge about the far past is extremely hard to generate.
I take the view that while historical science use the same methodology as experimental science for assessing evidence, the number of data is much more limited as you go back through the mist of history.
I also believe that, unlike most scientific theories or propositions, historical events (including those about the evolution of the universe, earth and life) have an objective physical probability which could (in principle) be computed (WARNING: the two linked posts are quite geeky )
Statistics and the unlikelihood of events
Creationists are well known to use (misguided) statistical arguments against Darwinism, stating that many evolutionary events are too unlikely to have occurred.
Bill Nye turned that upside down and conclusively argued that a worldwide flood six thousands years ago has an astronomically low probability to have produced numerous well ordered geological features of the world.
– the huge number of fossils and limestone
– the bio-geography of current wildlife (for instance, the absence of Kangaroos or remains thereof outside of Australia)
– the great number of living species: 16 000 000
– independent dating methods converging to the same values
Such ordered features could not have been brought about by a chaotic global flood.
The worldwide flood and the oldest tree of the planet
Nye also mentioned evidence directly contradicting Young Earth Creationism, such as the oldest tree of the world in Sweden being 9,550 years old.
Darwinism, Jesus, abortion and the afterlife
The most egregious crime of Ken Ham was his insistence that consistent Christians have to believe in a young earth, and that accepting evolution goes hand in hand with losing any hope of an afterlife and supporting abortion.
While one can find the same kind of assertions in the writings of militant atheists (Dawkins, Coyne et al.) this is completely rubbish.
I find abortion bad (expect for protecting the physical or mental health of the mother) and I passionately hope in the resurrection of all dead persons, following that of Christ. Many Roman Catholics accepting and celebrating evolution have pretty much the same convictions.
I find it wonderful that (as a humanist) Bill Nye pointed out that many Christians all over the world have no problem whatsoever to reconcile their faith with mainstream scientific views of our origins.
I also think Bill truly ought to be applauded for his kind, joyful and respectful tone during the entire debate.
Culture war and debating irrationality
I am really not sure I would have been capable of as much civility if I had been the one debating Ham.
To conclude, I believe that Bill undoubtedly won the debate at an intellectual level, and that all honest knowledgeable people cannot fail to realize this was a disastrous debacle for Ham.
I fear, however, that Ham’s rhetorical skills were enough for keeping non-scientific minds in his camp.
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