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Add your own caption, kidsSo we went ahead and watched that Bill Nye and Ken Ham joint appearance — really, “debate” is the entirely wrong word — hosted by the Creation Museum in Kentucky yesterday. If you want to see it, it is on the YouTubes. Half of it was fairly entertaining, and the other half can be effectively simulated by teaching a small feathery dinosaur descendant to repeat “Bible,” “Were you there?” and “secularist” at you for roughly an hour.

As we noted yesterday, there are plenty of good reasons why scientists shouldn’t debate creationists, and those reasons were on display in last night’s spectacle. Ken Ham, the founder of the Creation Museum and perpetrator of the “Were you there?” strategy of teaching small Christian children to become insufferable, was about as coherent as you’d expect, attempting to redefine science into “observational science” — stuff you can measure through direct observation — and “historical science,” a completely made-up creationist term that means “No one saw dinosaurs evolve into birds so it’s just a story.”

Ham also had videos of several creationists who are Real Scientists, like a biology teacher at Liberty University and an astronomer who works for Ham’s own Answers In Genesis group. Ham claimed that the term “science” has been “hijacked by secularists” so they can “impose an anti-God religion on generations of unsuspecting students.” He does not like that scientists “arbitrarily define science as naturalism and outlaw the supernatural.” Also, a biology textbook published in the 1920s said there were five different races of Man, so that’s what you get with evolution — racism. And then there was a whole lot of Jesus and salvation stuff, just as you would expect in any discussion of science. Here is a pair of slides which prove that evolutionary theory is just bad news all around, because it will leak all over the pillars of morality or something:

Any questions?

Bill Nye, for his part, took the alleged topic of the debate at face value and drilled straight into the question: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” We’re going to simplify: Nope.

Nye subjected a number of creationist claims to some basic facts that Ham never quite addressed: If the Earth is 6000 years old, how do you explain 680,000 layers of annual freeze/melt cycles in Antarctic ice cores? (Minus 2013, sadly, when the government shutdown sent all the scientists home.) if there was a worldwide Flood 4,000 years ago that lasted a year, how is it that there are trees whose rings show they’re 9,000 year old? And let’s not even get started on the engineering challenge of Noah’s Ark, or the sheer number of species that would have to pop up every day from two of each “kind” in the 4,000 years since the Flood.

Nye, obviously, wasn’t playing to the mostly creationist crowd at the venue; he had explained in advance that his goal was simply to bring some actual science education to the discussion, in the hope that he might make some young people question the line of utter nonsense that a literal reading of Genesis demands. He takes science education seriously, and damned if he didn’t communicate that passion — even if the man could not land a joke to save his life.

And eventually we got to the short-answer Q&A portion of the program, which surprisingly gave some of the sharpest contrasts of the night. Where did the atoms of the Big Bang come from? Nye gave a very scientific answer: That’s a great question! We don’t know, let’s keep trying to find out, because that’s science, and it’s exciting. Ham had a very definite answer: We don’t need to ask, because it’s in the Bible. Needless to say, the more scientific answer did not impress certain idiots:


fischer bigbang
Only someone with a really poor understanding of science would say that “we don’t know (yet)” is an answer that somehow invalidates science.

And then our favorite Q&A of the evening, for both: “What would change your mind about your position?” Ham, of course, knows what he knows with an unshakeable faith, and so nothing would change his mind. Nye, on the other hand, had the best possible answer from a scientist: Evidence. And then he had a whole list of things that could potentially change his mind, if there were evidence for them. For us, the entire “debate” can be summed up in those two answers: What would change your mind? Ham: Nothing. Nye: Evidence.

We’re fairly sure we know who we’d prefer to have setting educational policy. And while we’ll be the first to say that internet polls are completely unreliable, and that questions of science are not decided by a popular vote, we’ll nonetheless point out that an online poll at Christianity Today had Nye “winning” at 92% of responses — for the little that’s worth.

All in all, it was a lot less depressing than we’d expected. While we were obviously rooting for reality-based science, it also seemed to us that Ham had a pretty poor outing, falling back again and again on “we weren’t there, but God was, and he wrote a book for us,” and getting far away from the topic. Did anyone learn anything from it? We’ll cautiously predict that, if nothing else, the answers to “What would change your mind?” may be popping up in some science classes this week.

[Christianity Today / Pharyngula /]

Follow Doktor Zoom on Twitter. And thanks for so much fun live-tweeting this mess last night!

  • Steven Dutch

    Actually, “historical science” is a perfectly respectable term in science. Geology and archaeology are historical sciences. Ham’s bogus reasoning is that you can’t know anything for certain if there were no direct witnesses. I bet he’d be a little upset if his house was burgled and the cops said, well, we can’t prove anything because there were no witnesses. Incidentally, there are no eyewitness accounts of someone watching the Bible being written.

    The question “What would change your mind?” is a great cut-through-the-crap question to see if someone is really interested in the truth. Mostly I get deer-in-the-headlights looks because people have never even thought about it. I meet some people who think the mere fact they believe something is proof. And some people get angry at the mere suggestion that their ideas can be proven wrong.

  • Steven Dutch

    Congratulations on illustrating one of the worst problems when skeptics take on creationism – complete lack of understanding. If you’re going to debate these people you need to make it a major research project, which means reading at least a few dozen of their books. If you do, you’ll find that they readily admit there’s “microevolution,” that is, selection of traits can create significantly different descendants. They have no problem with wolves giving rise to St. Bernards and Chihuahuas. What they deny is “macroevolution.” They admit breeding can create different breeds of dogs and cats. What they deny is that any amount of selection can create dogs and cats from some common ancestor.

  • Steven Dutch

    Sigh… Go do some research, willya? Philip Gosse wrote a book in 1857 called Omphalos (belly button to you non-Greek readers) in which he argued that Adam might have had a navel even if he was created – evidence of a birth that never happened. Gosse argued that God could have created the world in seven days but with the appearance of age, maybe even with fossils in the rocks. By the same logic, the earth could have been created an hour ago with us having memories of a past that never existed. Despite being utterly unfalsifiable, the theory gained little acceptance. Scientists rejected it because it’s not testable, theologians because it smacks of deception.

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