Inside the Nye/Ham Debate (2014, Masters Books) is a companion piece to the 2014 televised “origins” debate between celebrity science guy Bill Nye and creationist museum operator and would-be religious theme park mogul Ken Ham. Co-authored by Ken Ham and his son-in-law, Bodie Hodge, the book presents all of the familiar creationist themes, which range from attempting to debunk the science of ice core samples to rationalizing away earth’s fossil record. There is no ground breaking material here, but the book does place the most often repeated creationist arguments in one small book. A very small book, in fact, since half the pages are filled with a transcript of the original debate.
When it was announced that Bill Nye (the Science Guy) was going up against Ken Ham in a public forum, I put it on my calendar, set reminders on my phone and told people at work, most of whom had never heard of Ken Ham. But after the initial excitement wore off, I became apprehensive: after all, Bill Nye is neither an authority on evolution nor a professional debater. I knew he’d participated in some panels on climate change, but those were nothing like what I expected he’d face in Kentucky. Still, by the end of the debate, I was more than pleasantly surprised by how well Nye had managed.
I was excited to read Ham’s follow up to the debate. And I had honestly intended to approach his arguments with an open mind. But I am not sure that I can.
Inside the Nye/Ham Debate begins with a preemptive gloss of pseudo-scientific credibility. There are endorsements from creationist author Ray Comfort, best known for his presentation of the banana as evidence for the existence of God, and from Dr. Raymond V. Damadian, an engineer famed for discovering the principal that underlies the MRI machine. These are followed by a foreword written by Stuart Burgess, an engineering professor who serves as a biology expert for Creation Ministries International. In it, Professor Burgess claims that he has been doing experiments on “biological systems” and has found them to “contain solid evidence of purposeful design.” However, he fails to mention the names of the journals where his research was made available for peer review.
Chapter one finds Bodie Hodge complaining about the topic of the debate: Is creation a viable model of origins, in today’s modern scientific era? That wording was approved in advance by the Answers in Genesis team, but in hindsight, Hodge wishes the topic had been, “Creation or Evolution: Which is viable in today’s scientific era?” Apparently, the original phrase gave Bill Nye an unfair advantage, perhaps by implying that creationism was something that should be examined.
As in the original debate, the remainder of Ham’s book revisits familiar creationist territory, with one fresh idea wound like a shining thread through the rest. That recurring refrain is that science must be split into two categories: “experimental science”, which leads to technology, and “historical science”, which is non-observable and non-testable.
Historical sciences do exist – archaeology, astronomy, cosmology, geology, and paleontology for example – but they don’t operate the way Ham suggests. It’s true that historical scientists can’t study the past through systematic experimentation, but they are able to collect and compare a variety of evidentiary traces. This makes it possible for them to cross-check their theories and to discriminate between mutually exclusive hypotheses. For instance, scientists can compare human DNA to that of other living organisms to learn about how we’re connected; and they can test the resulting hypotheses by comparing their predictions to the actual fossil record.
Ultimately, Ham’s invented distinction between “experimental” and “historical” science feels like just another deliberate thought-stopping strategy, akin to his “were you there?” shtick, which instructs schoolchildren to ask that intentionally malformed question of any teacher who offers evidence, like fossils or DNA, that conflicts with the myth of young earth creationism.
As many predicted, Ken Ham turned the lost debate into a fundraising event for his fledgling Ark Encounter project, which promises to demonstrate the feasibility of stuffing one pair of each of the Earth’s animal species into a roughly 100,000 square foot boat. And Inside the Nye/Ham Debate feels like another attempt by Ken Ham to wring money out of his supporters. The book adds nothing to the existing literature about young earth creationism, and while the cover gives an author credit to Ken Ham, the brunt of the work seems to have been done by his son-in-law, Bodie Hodge. The best that I can say is that the book does gather the most often repeated creationist arguments in one convenient place. But for those interested in credible information on human evolution and in understanding how historical scientists arrive at their conclusions I’d suggest that you skip Inside the Nye/Ham Debate and read Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters by Donald Prothero instead.