Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bow Tie vs. Necktie, pt. 1: How the Debate Exploded out of Nothing

"My kids won't read the bible, they'll watch Bill Nye / When they start questioning God...I'll make 'em cry"

That was me in 2005.

For a couple days before the highly publicized live-streamed debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on February 4th, this old line of mine was playing in my mind. I suppose you could say I idolized Bill Nye in the sense that he represented science to me. So naturally, once I read the news of this event, I became excited. On the other hand, this announcement made many atheists react negatively. In short, they don't believe creationists deserve to be taken seriously and given a platform to be heard anywhere, anytime, in any way. Thankfully, Bill Nye - who really just wants to reach out to adults of the future as Ken Ham does - did not pull a Richard Dawkins. Several years ago, I would've sided with Nye's reasoning and I am so thankful to God for the position he's given me to see it from both perspectives now.

The topic of the debate (which was also attacked) was: "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern, scientific era?" This debate was born out of Bill Nye's unilateral attack on creationism in a YouTube video posted in late August of 2012, which Ken Ham replied to several days later. When an Associated Press reporter interviewed both about their respective videos, a member of Ken Ham's staff asked him if he would see if Bill Nye would be open to having a debate. Nye agreed, so long as Answers in Genesis covered his expenses.

In his popular video, Bill Nye pairs believing in the theory of evolution with ability to "evolve" technologically and intellectually. His analogy of denying evolution in science as being like "trying to do geology without believing in tectonic plates" is faulty and only shows he takes evolution as a perceivable fact. Evolution to science is not the fact tectonic plates are present in geology (no one denies that), but the inference how those tectonic plates came to be in their present state. Ironically, that's part of what makes the "whole world" of scientists like Bill mysterious that they find "exciting" to study. Bill finds creationism "fantastically complicated" because he understands ancient dinosaur bones, fossils, radioactivity, and distant stars through the presupposition of "the idea of deep time, of this billions of years". Believing otherwise makes your world view crazy, untenable, and "completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe." Grownups denying evolution is fine as long as they don't "make [their] kids do it because we need them." For Nye, evolution and science is one and the same, so voters and taxpayers are bad and wrong (in voting and paying taxes?) unless they are "scientifically literate". Engineers cannot build and solve problems otherwise.

In his response, Ken Ham makes the distinction between science and humanism (pairing evolutionary thinking with godless humanism, instead of science) and between historical science and observational science (the latter of which Nye taught on his PBS program, albeit with historical assumptions). Ken said observational science is "the science that builds our technology" and asked, "What has evolution got to do with engineering?" He went on to say that he hopes Bill Nye "did not apply his evolutionary principles to any of Boeing's airplanes" because he wouldn't "want to fly in something that was built by chance [and] random processes." In reply to Nye's claim that creationism is not appropriate for children (and implication that it's a form of abuse), Ham said real abuse is teaching kids they're just animals and results of millions of years of evolutionary processes. If we "just came from some slime", we determine right and wrong, good and bad, and what marriage is. He said it's not damaging kids by teaching them that they're special and have a basis they can trust (in the laws of logic, laws of nature, and uniformity of nature) for developing technology. Ken contrasts those things we can observe and experiment with, such as ancient bones and radioactivity, with applying ages and dates to them. Ham's claim is that Nye doesn't teach kids how to think critically about science, but wants to teach them what to think; confusing historical science and observational science by putting them together and not distinguishing between the two. He said evolution would be so obvious to the kids if it were true, but it's not, and that "the way to convince kids about evolution is you have to do what Bill Nye the Humanist Guy wants: you protect them from hearing anything about creation...you just wanna make sure they only hear about evolution and that's it." He continued that creationists "are very happy to teach their children about evolution and teach the problems with it...Christians are not frightened to teach their children about evolution." Perhaps these last statements helped work in Bill Nye's heart to accept the debate. Many atheists viciously attacked his response, which compelled Ken Ham to follow-up with this video.

Really, the debate was sort of like a longer version of these two videos in one. CNN Belief Blog published opinion pieces from both Ham and Nye just before the debate. In Ken Ham's, he wrote he was looking forward to the debate because public debates on evolution and creation have dried up since the '70s and '80s. He wanted "the opportunity to help counter the general censorship against creationists' view of origins", not mandating that it be taught in public school science classes, but that instructors should "at the very least...have the academic freedom to bring up the problems with evolution." As in his video, he stated that he appreciated the operational science Bill Nye practiced on his TV program, which brings us "wonderful benefits...from cell phones to space shuttles", but added that that "is not the same as presenting beliefs about the past, which cannot be tested in the laboratory." Science is arbitrarily taught as the explanation of the world by natural processes alone and the real nature of science with its limitations is ignored. There are "thousands of scientists and engineers worldwide who have earned doctorates and are creationists." The staff at Answers in Genesis are certified "in astronomy, geology, biology, molecular genetics, the history of science, and medicine...and have made valuable contributions in science and engineering." He shared an account of several scientists and engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington who said a belief in evolution had nothing to do with their work on the Hubble Space Telescope.

In Bill Nye's, he wrote he "accepted Ken Ham's invitation to debate the origins of life...because [he] felt it would draw attention to the importance of science education here in the United States." As in his video, he stated that the ability to innovate helps the economy: "New ideas lead to new technologies, which drive new businesses and new opportunities." Without the means by which we know nature (evolution), we cannot create technological innovations. Not only would this "rob our students of their future", but "other economies in other countries will out-compete the United States and leave our citizens behind." He also wrote that "Ham's creation model" cannot be used "to predict the outcome of any experiment, design a tool, cure a disease or describe natural phenomena with mathematics." He implied that children who deny evolution don't have common sense, aren't able to reason clearly and aren't able to succeed in the world. He ended the piece by calling Ham a fundamentalist and said billions of people around the world "embrace the facts and process of modern science" (again, equating science with evolution) and enjoy their life-enriching faith. He then called Ham unique for having a conflict with his faith and science (which he doesn't have and is a popular misconception of faith and science being mutually exclusive since by "science" it is meant "evolution"). The second last sentence is very telling: "We'll see if his model stands up to traditional scientific inquiry: If a certain claim is true, then we would expect a certain outcome." This is scientism, a fallacious premise that we can only know things are true by scientific inquiry (as opposed to science just being one way of knowing things).

I would say both are fundamentalists as both have fundamental ideas they base their lives on.

1 comment:

  1. For the benefit of the public:

    Me: This entire debate was silly, to be frank. It was chock full of caricatures and fallacious reasoning from both sides.

    Bill Nye was, without a doubt, REALLY bad. I lament that this fine man has sold his soul to the idiots from the Dawkins Foundation. Anyway, you have pointed out his flaws quite well so no need for me to elaborate that.

    Ken Ham was overall MUCH better than Nye, but I absolutely dislike how him and his fellow Young-Earth friends label evolution as an opponent of creationism. If you're a Christian, you are BY DEFINITION a creationist - whether you accept the theory of evolution or not.

    AiG/CMI are contradicting themselves: they claim that they still consider those who profess Jesus Christ as their master and accept evolution as Christians, yet the very phrase "evolution vs creation" implies otherwise (or at least it CAN imply otherwise, and I haven't seen them clarify that much).

    Didactic: Unfortunately, I still haven't found the time to complete the greater portion of the original post yet, which is to be the second part. A lot of misunderstanding, differently defined terms, and other things played into this debate being quite poor, but it gave a good picture of what both perspectives have at the top of their disposal. Most important of all, the gospel was presented to many people. I don't believe there is a contradiction there, XYZ (me). ABC, thank you for sharing this "prelude" of sorts and I apologize the essay's still incomplete. I've been planning some other things.