Liveblogging the #HamOnNye Debate

Liveblogging the #HamOnNye Debate February 4, 2014

FINAL UPDATE 9:31: The live feed ended abruptly with an announcement about the weather. I think the debate went better than I feared it might. While some things that Nye said will have rubbed Ken Ham’s kind of Christians the wrong way, the clear and unambiguous presentation of the fact that Ham is not open to the evidence, while Nye is eager for people to offer evidence that he is wrong, says enough to have made the entire discussion worthwhile.

What did you think of it?

UPDATE 9:26: The last question is for both speakers, asking about the one thing that their beliefs are founded upon above all else. Ham says once again “there is a book” and shows his ignorance of other religious literature. Ham actually lists evidence that undermines his views as though it supported them – the sheer audacity and dishonesty is overwhelming!

Nye says that the process of science is the most compelling thing to him. He reminds the audience what is at stake – if we let go of everything we have learned and the continuous search for answers, other nations will surpass us.

Nye keeps mentioning the taxpayers and policymakers who are watching – he is doing this debate not for the Creation Museum folks as much as for others.

UPDATE 9:24: Nye clarifies that evolution is not about becoming smarter. It is about fitting in better in your environment.

UPDATE 9:21: Ham is asked what is being done, other than by his museum or amusement parks, that is based on his view of creation. Ham does a bait and switch, saying that all science is based on creation and the fact that the natural world is reasonable. But that view is not one distinctive to his specific view of creation. More despicable deceit from Ham. 🙁

But at least he admitted that what young-earth creationists publish in secular journals is not about their actual young-earth creationist beliefs.

UPDATE 9:19: Ham asks Nye for evidence of new information in the genome – but what is the point of Ham asking for evidence, when he has already said that no evidence would change his mind.

UPDATE 9:15: Ham is asked whether he takes the whole Bible literally. He says he takes it all naturally – taking history (which for him includes Genesis!) as history, poetry as poetry, etc.

Notice Ham’s claim that the Bible says Scripture was “inspired by God” and thus its authors were moved by God to write what they did. But that is not what that verse actually says.

Ham says that those who married multiple women were “wrong”!

Nye spots that Ham in fact picks and chooses what to treat as poetic or as description rather than as something presented positively.

UPDATE 9:12: Nye is asked if there is room for God in science. He responds by emphasizing that science is both the body of knowledge and the process by which we investigate. If you can reconcile the two, as the head of the NIH does, that is fine. They must be compatible. For Nye, the question of the spiritual is separate from the data and process. There is no incompatibility.

Ham responds by saying that God is necessary for science. Inventing things is different from making assertions about origins.

UPDATE 9:09: Ham says explicitly that he denies that you can observe what happens in the present and extrapolate from that to conclusions about the past.

Note Ham’s claim about a single continent having existed in the past is because of the Bible saying that “the waters were all gathered together in one place.” But that is land all in one place, not water all in one place. What the Bible describes is the view of a people living along the Mediterranean, who know of land stretching in all directions and waters, seas, in the midst.

Nye is asked about the second law of thermodynamics. He points out that the Earth is not a closed system, and so energy is pouring into the system from the sun, allowing evolution and much else.

Ham says that energy and matter will never produce life.

Ham just contradicted the Bible. Hebrews 1:3 says that God’s Son upholds all things with his powerful word – not that he once did so and then stopped!

Ham says there is no way one could prove that the Earth is old. No evidence would change his mind! Let no one ever believe him when he says people need to have an open mind!

Nye asks Ham whether he is sure enough that life cannot come about that we should abandon investigating whether life arose on Mars.

UPDATE 8:58: Nye is asked what other than radiometric dating supports his view of the age of the Earth. He mentions starlight and deposition rates. Nye also points out that Ham never addressed the evidence of skulls of species of pre-modern humans. Ham is trying to cast doubts on the methods of dating, and that it is all dependent on arbitrary assumptions. I hope some people actually look into things, since his claims are false.

UPDATE 8:55: Ham is asked what could change his mind. He says that no one can persuade him that the Word of God is not true! The flood must have happened – all we can change are models of how it happened, and he has the audacity to call changing those models “scientific discovery”!

Nye says we would just need one piece of evidence to change his mind – the fossil of an organism that swam, evidence of rock forming as fast as Ham says, resetting of atomic clocks, etc. Just present him with that evidence and he will change his mind.

Nye asks Ham what he can prove, what he can predict and subject to testing.

UPDATE 8:48: Nye is asked how consciousness came from matter. He says that he doesn’t know, it is still a mystery. He also emphasizes that there are scientists are looking at the possibility that living things could have been created a second way. Nye invites people to investigate these things.

Ham says that there is a Book out there that does tell where consciousness came from.

UPDATE 8:47: Ham is claiming that he makes predictions, but also saying that you cannot prove what happened in the past.

UPDATE 8:46: Ham is asked what evidence besides the Bible supports his view. Ham emphasizes that the majority can be wrong – sure, but that doesn’t mean that if you come up with something that is completely contradicted, you might still be right!

UPDATE 8:45: We have moved to questions from those in attendance submitted in advance on cards. Also, here are some other blog posts that touch on this debate or its subject matter.

Fred Clark says that teaching young-earth creationism is a sin. Hemant Mehta is also liveblogging the debate. See too Eric Reitan on whether Francis Collins believes in Intelligent Design.

Ham says the universe is “so large” – how can he know that while disputing the data about the speed of light and distances?!?!

Nye emphasizes the difference between being satisfied with “he made the stars also” versus looking to understand them.

Nye is asked about what is before the Big Bang. I hope that those who hear him don’t think that our not knowing somehow means that the evidence for evolution is not compelling. But Nye emphasizes how wonderful it would be if someone from Kentucky answered the question by engaging in scientific research.

UPDATE 8:38: Nye says he is completely unsatisfied. Ham did not address the winter/summer cycles in the ice layers. He did not address the speed at which new species would appear based on Ham’s claims about post-flood evolution. And he emphasizes that the “assumptions” of scientists are not simply making things up, but are based on what we can observe. And Ham’s view that things were radically different in the past does not explain how no one saw these things.

Nye emphasizes that there are Christians who accept the evidence from the natural world – but then gets into an Old Testament and New Testament tangle. But it is a good question, what is to become of those who disagree with Ham. Scientists are delighted to discard a view that the evidence contradicts. Why not actually provide the evidence if it exists? Ham is asking us to take his word, or even the Bible’s, rather than what we can see with our own eyes.

We need innovation, and that needs science education. Appeals to patriotism.

UPDATE 8:32: Ken Ham says that natural laws have not changed. Ham emphasizes that what he represents is not just “Ken Ham’s model” – there are people with PhDs on his staff.

Ham is emphasizing that we did not see tree layers forming in the past. He suggests that ice can form more quickly. Some vegetarians have sharp teeth. He is trying to make it out that it is all a matter of interpretation. Ham asks how Nye knows that Noah was not a skilled boatmaker. Ancient Chinese boats had some features that the one from Nye’s example lacked.

Ham mentions the “horizon problem” and tries to claim that everyone has difficulties with the speed of light.

NOTE: PZ Myers is also liveblogging the debate.

UPDATE 8:25: Nye does not have a powerpoint and is speaking off the cuff. How did Ham have a response prepared in the way he did? Did he have people working on it while Nye was talking? Something is not kosher about this.

Nye emphasizes that astronomy is in fact looking at the past. The claim that natural laws have changed is “magical” – that isn’t what we want in conventional mainstream science.

Nye is making a good point, but not as clearly as he could have. It is more likely that the information about the ark was not transmitted accurately than that our observation is wrong.

Nye emphasizes that young-earth creationists are exalting Ken Ham’s interpretation of the Bible above their own powers of observation.

UPDATE 8:21: Ham’s 5-minute rebuttal: He says that adding the genealogies in the Bible is the basis for his dating the Earth as 6,000 years old. Ham accepts that we see radioactive decay, but looking at the past there is a problem. He claims that they got such divergent dates for wood and rock from the same layer that the dating method is untrustworthy.

Ham has a powerpoint to respond to Nye’s points, so I wonder whether they had the entire presentations in advance to be able to prepare rebuttals in this way.

Ham says that he won’t say that people who believe in millions of years are not Christians, but he views them as compromising.

Ham says that you see death and animals eating one another in the fossil record, and thorns, and everything else. And so that and the “Biblical” account that death and thorns came later are incompatible.

Appeals to God as eyewitness of these past events.

UPDATE 8:17: Nye focuses on rubidium and strontium as evidence. When lava solidifies, it locks the rubidium and strontium in place. It provides a basis for dating. We can look at fossils buried in Nebraska by an eruption.

Now we use a drug based on rubidium to look at your heart using nuclear medicine. You cannot study that in Kentucky – and that should trouble you.

We measure the distance to a star using the same methods carpenters used building the Creation Museum. How can there be billions of stars more than 6,000 light years away if Ham’s claims are true.

Is Ken Ham’s creation model viable? “Absolutely not.” Nye then appeals to voters in language from the founding fathers about the importance of science education as Americans.

He got resounding applause this time!

UPDATE 8:09: Nye mentions a sign that I shared on a post earlier today, with God saying “you gotta be kidding me” about the Big Bang. And so Nye explains the reasoning behind that too.

UPDATE 8:07: They found that sexually vs. asexually reproducing versions of the same organism were more resistant to parasites and viruses. Again, science makes predictions and young-earth creation science does not.

UPDATE 8:06: Bill Nye is talking about sex to an audience predominantly of conservative Christians. That must be uncomfortably awkward.

UPDATE 8:05: Nye compares Noah’s ark to an attempt by professional builders in a later time to construct a wooden boat of comparable size. I expect that Ham and his supporters would say “God could give them wisdom and also keep them safe” but that isn’t science.

Nye points out that the fossil record has gaps, as you would expect of any old records. Scientists wondered whether there could be organisms in between two that had been found. And so they calculated where it would be reasonable to look for the intermediate species, and they found it – Tiktaalik. They made a prediction, and it was found.

So far, Ken Ham’s creation model cannot make predictions and show results. EXCELLENT POINT!

UPDATE 7:57: 15 million of today’s species evolving from 7,000 kinds 4,000 years ago, we would expect eleven new species to be appearing every day. We ought to have seen these things – “today’s new species.” And so the claims Ham makes are once again falsified by observation.

This is typical of young-earth creationists. They make ad hoc claims to try to bolster their views, without ever doing the actual calculations and figuring out the implications.

UPDATE 7:55: Nye points out the extraordinary claim that Australia’s animals came from Noah’s Ark in the Middle East, and that there was a land bridge that allowed them to pass. Why are there no fossils of kangaroos that died en route, and no evidence of the land bridge? Again, Ham’s claims are falsified by observation.

UPDATE 7:53: Bill Nye’s turn. He brilliantly focuses on the rock beneath the museum. There are millions of layers of limestone, with sea organisms that lived their entire lives. Then on to the long snow ice that is brought out through coring. No one is running around with a hypodermic needle injecting ancient atmosphere into these cores. Suggesting that this happened 4,000 years ago is ludicrous – you would need 170 winter/summer cycles each year. Nye asks wouldn’t someone have noticed that in the past 4,000 years? Great question!

The ancient tree in Sweden is 9,000 years old. Try putting a tree underwater for a year – it will not survive.

Nye emphasizes that we can observe sediment at deltas. In the Grand Canyon, we see intrusions of one type of rock into another. And why is there not a Grand Canyon on every continent, where the flood supposedly drained away? And you never find a mammal in the lower levels. The claims of Ken Ham are against observation, to say nothing of observational science! And Nye emphasizes again that the scientists of the world would regard you as a hero if you could find a single example of fossils in layers where evolution says they cannot be.

UPDATE 7:45: Ham concludes posing a false dichotomy, as though we have to chose between a God who created and natural processes. But why doesn’t that apply to the present day’s “observational science”?

COMMENT from Benjamin Thomas at 7:42: “Ken Ham is obviously very clever. His lies are so subtle that you almost miss them if you don’t pay very close attention. He’s clearly had a lot of practice being dishonest.”

UPDATE 7:43: Ham claims that he is teaching people to think critically and “the right way to think.” He says he is willing to admit his historical science based on the Bible, and challenges scientists to admit the “belief” element of their historical science.

Ham is trying to connect his young-earth creationists to all elements of his worldview, so that if you reject his views, then you lose heterosexual marriage and everything else conservative Christians emphasize. He is not entirely wrong, but it is a dubious argument – accept my bogus ideas about science, because it justifies your avoiding having to wrestle with difficult issues, and use your own judgment.

Ham is now opposing the dichotomy between creationists and academics, and yet he is the one who is driving that dichotomy, and other false dichotomies such as that one has to accept his bogus claims about science in order to be a “Biblical Christian.”

UPDATE 7:33: Andrew Fabich, a microbiologist, claims that e coli evolving the capacity to feed on citrate is just the turning on of a switch, information that is already there.

Ham is now trying to connect Darwin with racism. He quotes a public school textbook that says there were five races, the highest Caucasians. This is despicable! I suspect that that public school textbook was embraced by conservative Christians in that time. Those who approached the Bible as Ham does a century or more ago did not think the Bible taught what he claims.

UPDATE 7:31: I love when young-earth creationists say that the “kind” is at the level of family, and so you only needed two dogs on the ark, and then they vary. That involves evolution working faster than mainstream science posits! It is ironic that he accuses others of doing a “bait and switch.” He does just that with his reference to a paper which suggests that all modern dogs descend from a common ancestor, rather than having emerged from distinct ancestors. That doesn’t contradict the evidence for their being descended from earlier species!

UPDATE 7:26: My colleague Terri Carney made this comment on Facebook: “Well, so far, it seems like Ken Ham only knows white, male scientists. Not really that shocking.”

UPDATE 7:25: Ham says that everyone has the same evidence. He challenges Nye to provide an example of technology that could only be produced with his worldview.

He claims that it is a matter of either accepting God as the ultimate authority or God as the ultimate authority. While there is a distinction between observation and historical reconstruction, what Ham does with it is bogus. Why does he not accept that you should believe God rather than your senses?!

UPDATE 7:20: Ham is doing his longer presentation. Damanian, a young-earth creationist who invented the MRI machine, speaks on a video. Danny Faulkner, an emeritus professor of astronomy, has joined the staff at Answers in Genesis. He is trying to show that “real scientists” can be on his side. But Faulkner’s claim that nothing in observational science contradicts young-earth creationism is obviously false – even more so in astronomy than biology.

Ham’s terminology of “Biblical creationist” is an attempt to make himself look like a defender of the Bible. But his “Biblical creationism” is a hodge-podge that only takes some things literally, and adds things that are not in the Bible.

Ham asks Nye how one accounts for the laws of logic without God. But that is a charlatan trick too. Plenty of people accept that God is the source of the logical characteristics of the cosmos but do not accept young-earth creationism.

UPDATE 7:11: The bow tie story is cute, and memorable – Nye is aiming to sear key points into the minds and memories of hearers. He is tackling the false distinction Ham makes by bringing in CSI. The same rules worked in the past as now, and that is why we can draw conclusions about the past.

He is emphasizing that every land plant in the world was underwater for a year.

He is emphasizing that there is no evidence of the animals that are fossilized in layers in the Grand Canyon swam up to the top, as one would expect. Nye emphasizes that you could change the world if you actually found such evidence.

In fact, Nye says, if we do not accept the natural laws that we understand, we cannot innovate.

Sad tepid applause in response to Nye’s opening remarks. 🙁

UPDATE 7:10: I can’t believe that Bill Nye is using his time to talk about bow ties!

UPDATE 7:09: Ken Ham is trying to claim that creationists can be scientists, and he brings in an engineer. He is now going for the old “observational or experimental science” vs. “origins or historical science.”

Ham says “Molecules to man evolution” isn’t the kind of science that produces technology – he is trying to embrace technology while rejecting things that he finds uncomfortable. But it won’t work, since observational science contradicts Ham’s claims.

Ham brought in a clip of Nye saying that it is hard for people to accept that when you die it is over – trying to drive a wedge between Christians and him.

UPDATE 7:03: They are introducing the speakers, and thus far have not slandered Bill Nye! But they have depicted Ken Ham as a “defender of Scripture” which he is not. And they are spinning the whole thing as one would expect – both speakers are presented as comparable, best selling authors with degrees, etc. And now for Ken Ham…

UPDATE 6:58pm: Geek Goes Rogue is there and liveblogging the debate and thus worth following too. See also the NCSE preliminaries gearing up for the debate, Tyler Francke’s comments on the Sojourners website.


I will be trying to liveblog the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham this evening, assuming that everything goes smoothly. I can well imagine that, if the government underestimated the ability of the healthcare website to keep up with the demand from high volumes of users, the Creation Museum might well have done the same. But if all goes well, I will blog about the debate here. I will post new updates at the top of the post, so that it is easier for you to refresh the page and see if there is anything new.

While you wait, there are new posts about the upcoming debate from Red Letter Christians, John Shore, Pharyngula, and Why Evolution is True. See in particular Nick Matze’s ten commandments for debating creationists. For a sense of what’s at stake, see this map of public schools teaching creationism. And see too the latest Carnival of Evolution.

Finally, here’s where the video will stream, if you just want to stay on this page and watch:

Finally, here’s a cool t-shirt that Benjamin Corey drew to my attention:

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