I watched the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye (the “Ham on Nye” debate) live in 2014. The question was, “Is Creation a viable model of origins?”
Ken Ham is a young-earth creationist, meaning that he thinks the earth is 6000 years old and that evolution is nonsense. He’s the founder of the Creation Museum in Kentucky.
How poorly did Ham do? Let me count the ways.
1. Ham wants to make a distinction between experimental or observational science (reliable) vs. historical science (not). His point: you weren’t there, so how would you know?
Bill Nye pointed out that this is a make-believe distinction not made within science. For example, astronomy inherently looks back in time, since the light from distant objects might have taken millions or billions of years to reach us.
Ham repeated, “You weren’t there” several times, though this applies to him as well. Ken, were you there to see God make everything? Did you see the Genesis story accurately transcribed and copied? And I wonder how Ham would accept a lawyer defending a man accused of murder whose case was, “Yes, I’ll admit that you’ve got damning evidence, but so what? Were you there?”
Ham gave the example of our spherical earth, which we can observe, vs. millions of years, which you can’t. But of course you can. Science has long since left personal observation behind and uses instruments and clues to piece together the reality of nature. The clues pointing to an old earth and universe are not hard to put together—red shift from moving galaxies, radioisotope dating, plate tectonics, and so on.
2. Non-Christian scientists borrow from the Christian view for logic and an understandable universe. That sounds like the Transcendental Argument (responded to here) or the Argument from Mathematics (here).
3. Though the topic was the scientific evaluation of the Christian origin claims, Ham gave a surprisingly long Christian pitch. I naively thought that he would start with the evidence and then have God as the conclusion. Nope. Ham’s organization has a faith statement that begins, “Answers in Genesis seeks to give glory and honor to God as Creator, and to affirm the truth of the biblical record of the real origin and history of the world and mankind.” He obviously puts his presuppositions first and selects the facts to support that.
Ham’s response: I have faith, but so do you.
No, science doesn’t use faith. Science follows the evidence where it leads, while Ham wants to select and reinterpret the evidence to support the conclusion he started with.
During the question phase, Ham was asked, “What would change your mind?” After a long pause and much rambling, he admitted that no one could show him that there was no god. He did say that he would be happy to change his models if need be. That is, he’ll change his models as necessary to keep his God hypothesis alive in spite of new scientific discoveries.
4. Ham discussed Darwin’s errors. Only Creationists imagine that what Darwin thought constrains evolution today. More here.
Can you believe that we’re actually wasting time talking about a 3000-year-old mythology as if it’s actually true? It’s like we’re in kindergarten or Klown Kollege, debating the flat earth or geocentrism. Don’t we have bigger issues that this ridiculous debate is keeping us from?
Should we have a national debate over Scientology’s Xenu? Or the Haida myth that the Raven brought the sun to humanity? Or the Babylonian creation story where Marduk slays Tiamat and forms the universe from the corpse?
We live in interesting times. Let’s get back to what passes for science at the Creation Museum.
5. Dogs will always be dogs. Ham rejects speciation (despite Creationist darling Michael Behe accepting speciation and common descent). Whatever you show him—Lenski’s experiment with E. coli or a bacterium’s sudden new ability to metabolize nylon—he’s determined to reject it, though he never makes clear what confines the change within a species to keep it from becoming another species.
To squeeze all those animals onto Noah’s Ark, he imagines that there were less than 1000 “kinds,” but that, in the 4000 years since Noah landed, they were so profligate that they gave us the 16 million (or more) land animal species we have today. That’s some serious speciation.
Ham never defined “kinds,” but it sounds like it would map roughly to the biological concept of order (two steps down from phylum, and two steps up from genus). Let’s see where this takes us.
There would be just one pair for the primate order—that’s baboons, gorillas, chimpanzees, all the monkeys, and many more. Rodents are another order—that’s mice, rats, voles, beavers, squirrels, and lots more. Carnivores are another—the cat family (tigers, panthers, etc.), the dog family (wolves, foxes, etc.), bears, raccoons, mongooses, hyenas, and lots more. Ungulates are another—giraffes, deer, cattle, pigs, hippos, camels, and lots more.
But mammals are just one category. There are also insects, arachnids, birds, amphibians, reptiles, centipedes, roundworms, tapeworms, flatworms, and dozens more that most of us have never heard of, each with many orders. And don’t forget orders that are now extinct, since Ham imagines all animals that existed were thundering around during Noah’s time.So the Ark lands, and the pairs go off together to repopulate the sterile earth. Can diverse members of an order mate today—say a rat and a beaver? A bear and a lynx? A giraffe and a hippo? If not, then why imagine that they could 4000 years ago? Perhaps this genetic diversity was available but unexpressed so that each pair was close enough genetically to create viable offspring but that the original rat-like pair would give us squirrels today or the original tiger-like pair would give us raccoons?
But where’s the evidence? We don’t see the record of this remarkable change in diversity in the DNA of modern animals.
I have no idea what the Hamster’s fantasy means, and we’ve wasted far too much time speculating.
6. There are hundreds of dating methods (natural clocks). They’re all fallible, and most give dates of the earth much younger than 4.6B years. Ham’s conclusion is to use the perfect source, the one who was there—God.
Oh, so then I guess Ken “Were you there?” Ham wasn’t there either. So much for his epistemology.
Ham showed a slide listing these natural clocks for just a few seconds and didn’t go into any of them. I assume he was referring to arguments like, “If you look at the rate at which minerals rinse off the land to add salt to the ocean, the oceans should be much saltier if they are billions of years old.” This was a world-class Gish gallop, since to explore and dismiss each of them would take far longer than the three seconds they deserved. (In the case of the salty ocean, there are ways that salt is removed from oceans—seen in salt domes, saline lakes like the Dead Sea, or the million cubic kilometers of salt deposited at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.)
Bill Nye pointed to direct evidence for the age of the earth by citing trees dated at 6800 years in America and 9550 in Sweden and the 680,000 annual layers found in ice cores. He brought it home by noting that there were ancient coral fossils under the Creation Museum.
During Q&A, Ham was asked: if evidence showed the earth to be much older than 10,000 years, would you change? Ham said that it’s not possible for observational science to contradict the claim of a young earth.
But then how can Ham’s science confirm a young earth without being falsifiable?
7. The Noah story. Ham didn’t spend much time on Noah, though his Creation Museum is responsible for the Ark Encounter replica of the Ark.
But Bill Nye spent much time lampooning the Flood. (My summary of the Bible’s Noah nonsense is here.) Some of Nye’s points:
- The Grand Canyon shows clearly distinct layers of fossils, not an enormous mix of every living thing, sorted by size, that you’d expect if they were deposited there in just days. Further, you never see modern animals mixed with dinosaurs that lived in the same habitat—modern hippos with sauropod dinosaurs, for example, since they both favor(ed) shallow fresh water.
- Plants die after being under salt water. Where did our plants come from?
- Why is there just one Grand Canyon? If the Flood caused it, there should be many around the world. And how does the Flood both lay down the layers and cut out a canyon?
- How did the animals get home after the Flood?
- The Ark would’ve been the biggest wooden ship ever. Compare that to the Wyoming, the world’s largest wooden schooner. It was built in 1909 as the culmination of centuries of shipbuilding expertise, but its size made it twist too much, and it leaked. Noah was an amateur, and his project was larger. He’s going to succeed where seasoned shipwrights couldn’t?
And why do Bible coloring books show just a little round Ark with happy animals on top? Why not show the corpses of millions of people and perhaps billions of other animals floating on the surface of the water? Wasn’t a corpse-covered ocean part of God’s perfect plan as well?
8. Ham thinks that the Bible stories are accurate statements of what actually happened. My favorite: the Bible points to one race. How he can say that given the racism in the Bible? The Bible forbids intermarriage with other tribes (Deuteronomy 7:3) and makes clear that impure ancestry forbade one from becoming an Israelite (Deut. 23:3). God demands the genocide of many tribes. Even Jesus was careful to focus the evangelism of his disciples: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:5–6).
Ham made clear that his view should be taught in public, taxpayer-supported schools, though I couldn’t make sense of his logic. He didn’t say why astrology wasn’t a valid alternative to astronomy or why other origin myths shouldn’t also be taught. And somehow he slipped in the claim that God intends marriage to be between one man and one woman (I’ve slapped down that ridiculous argument here and here).
Nye made clear that “I don’t know” isn’t embarrassing and says nothing about the validity of science. Referring to various aspects of science, he said, “that’s how we do it on the outside.”
Nye’s main point was that the citizens of America deserve better. Teaching accurate science, not make-believe, is essential for America’s competitiveness. It’s simply unpatriotic to settle for less.
Let’s be real, let’s not make a joke of ourselves.
— Pat Robertson responding to Ken Ham
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 2/7/14.)
Photo credit: Doug Geisler