Bill Nye debates Ken Ham
|The divine comedy|
On February 4, 2014, famous science popularizer Bill Nye debated Young Earth creationist Ken Ham. The debate received a large amount of media hype (probably due to Nye's popularity) and took place at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, which Ham founded. The audience was limited to 900 seats, and tickets sold out two minutes after going online. Reportedly, over 3 million people watched the online live streaming event.
A rivalry is born
“”I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, that’s completely inconsistent with the world we observe, that’s fine. But don’t make your kids do it. Because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need engineers that can build stuff and solve problems.
|—Bill Nye's Big Think video|
On August 23, 2014, Nye uploaded a Big Think video where he was unabashedly critical of creationism and evolution denial and posted it to CNN's website, where it received a lot of buzz and subsequently reached over one million views on YouTube. Ham reacted vehemently and released his own video in response, where he states that while Nye has produced a lot of what Ham calls "observational science", he also has a hidden agenda to teach children to not believe in God. Ham also states that believing in evolution is in direct opposition with a belief in God and that Nye doesn't understand science. He also attempts to separate science into "historical" and "observational" divisions. Sometime after these two opposing videos were made, the challenge for a formal debate was issued.
Opposition to the debate
After the debate was announced, opposition to the wisdom of debating a creationist began to appear in the online secular community. Richard Dawkins has a policy of not debating creationists, stating: "When the debate is with someone like a Young Earth creationist, as the late Stephen Gould pointed out – they've won the moment you agree to have a debate at all. Because what they want is the oxygen of respectability."
The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe member Rebecca Watson released a YouTube video titled "5 Tips for Debating a Creationist like Ken Ham", where she essentially just repeats five times that you shouldn't debate creationists. Slate posted a rather harsh critique of the debate, lambasting Nye for having participated and further stating: "Rather than keeping creationism tucked away on the fringes of intelligent discourse where it belongs, Nye inadvertently lent his esteemed brand to one of the most despicable pseudoscientific cults in the United States."
Throughout the debate and particularly during the introductory arguments, Ham shows video testimony from various scientists who believe in Young Earth creationism. He does this to lend legitimacy to the notion that creationists can be scientists and, as further argued by Ham later in the debate, that creation science is actual science when, in mainstream science, it has been thoroughly discredited as pseudoscientific. It's important to note that the scientists and engineers Ham presented weren't actually "creation scientists" but instead worked in standard fields who happened to share a Young Earth creationist belief.
"Observational" versus "historical" science
Throughout the debate, Ham repeatedly attempts to redefine what exactly science is. In his opening statement, he declares that the word "science" has been hijacked by secularists and expressly declares his belief in "other ways of knowing". He continues on, dividing science into so-called "experimental or observational science", which is using the scientific method, observation, measurement, and experimentation. "Origins or historical science", on the other hand, focuses on the past, where direct observations cannot be made; therefore, any scientist that makes a claim about past events is practicing this "sub domain" of science. Ham states that "historical" science is invalid because "we weren't there" (ironically, we can make the same statements about the Bible itself and biblical studies... after all, how do we know these things really did happen and the writers were telling the truth? We weren't there to see them happen).
Unfortunately for Ham, the dichotomy he attempts to invent does not exist in real life. Scientists base hypotheses about past events on evidential inference. Without past events and the subsequent data to draw from, actually doing any form of science would be impossible. A large convergence of separate lines of evidence is required before a hypothesis can be taken seriously. A scientist cannot simply just assert Goddidit as Ham does about the origins of life on Earth. Instead, they draw evidence from the pool of collected data and attempt to form a model which best explains the evidence in question, while attempting to minimize presumptions and personal bias. In other words, what Ham calls "historical science" is just observational science being used to make inferences about the past. There is no difference.
Ironically, nowhere in Ham's creationism does he attempt to provide any evidence beyond "the Bible says so". His misguided bid at redefining science is essentially a veiled shifting of the burden of proof to make science—as a whole endeavor—look unreliable by fabricating a new definition of science that can provide us with technological wonders but is impotent at evaluating historical events of any kind.
Ham's use of informal logical fallacies
A logical fallacy that Ham repeatedly falls into is the false dilemma. He states that there are only two ways to view the origin of life: the naturalistic Darwinian way or the Young Earth creationist way. Theistic evolution is not even under consideration, which is not terribly surprising since AiG's website attacks the concept at great length, believing that accepting any shred of evidence against literalism destroys Christianity altogether. It's also important to note that the actual origin of life is not explained by evolution, although it certainly bolsters the idea that the origin of life is naturalistic and not supernatural through its explanation of the natural processes of a gradual ramping up of complexity in organisms. Early in the debate, Ham states, "Now I admit that my starting point is that God is the ultimate authority. But if someone doesn't accept that then man has to be the ultimate authority," again illustrating that, in Ham's mind, there are only two options and that any sort of middle ground or third option does not exist.
Another fallacy Ham falls into is the argument from adverse consequences. He argues that this is a "battle of philosophical worldviews" and presents the slippery slope argument that believing in naturalistic evolution leads to moral relativism, then to same-sex marriage and the decline of the sanctity of marriage, then to euthanasia and "getting rid of old people", then finally to abortion.
Creationists love their argumentum ad populums, and in this debate, Ham employs it when he provides video testimony of "creation scientists" in an attempt to legitimize creation science while later in the debate accusing evolutionists of using the same fallacious argument. The display of various credentialed scientists who share a Young Earth creationist belief is also an appeal to authority (especially because most were not experts in a relevant field, and none of the few who were have ever even attempted to publish a paper defending YEC).
Ham uses the equivocation fallacy when he declares evolution or naturalism to be a religion and when he attempts to correlate racism to Darwinism. Changing the words around (so that it's not a direct shifting of meanings) doesn't hide the underlying fallacy.
Ken Ham's predictions based on the Bible
One challenge often leveled at creationists is that their beliefs do not make predictions as scientific theories do. Ham saw to it that he countered this assumption by making a set of anecdotal predictions based on a literal interpretation of the Bible. Even after a small level of scrutiny, all of the predictions are either scientifically incorrect or are too loose of a definition to accurately define and falsify (as in the case of evidence confirming one race).
Evidence confirming an intelligence produced life
Evidence confirming after their kind
Here, Ham elaborates that, as a creationist, he agrees that different species can evolve and change within their own species' "kind". But there is an imaginary line where evolution stops and "kinds" do not change into other "kinds". He goes on to define the word "kind" as synonymous with the family level of classification in taxonomy. However, in real-world biology, there exists no imaginary line where evolution becomes no longer able to cross. If you go back far enough on the Tree of Life, you will eventually find a connection between all species. Ham asserts that there is a limit to evolutionary change a priori because the Bible only mentions "kinds".
An important side note here is that defining "kinds" at the family level leaves human beings in the same "kind" as chimpanzees and other apes thereby, following Ham's own reasoning, allowing us to have descended from a common ancestor with chimps and so on.
Ham also explains here as a side note that Noah's Ark wouldn't need every species of animal but merely every "kind", therefore reducing its implied load in the Great Flood. Nye capitalizes on this statement at the Q&A stage of the debate by pointing out that Ham's attempts to decrease the number of animal species on the Ark only exacerbates the problem of how many new species would have to suddenly appear on the planet in the absurdly short length of time that young-Earth creationists believe has occurred since the total extinction caused by the flood in order to match the actual number of species that are estimated to exist today.
Evidence confirming a global flood
The theme of the global Biblical flood is brought up by Nye in the debate, as proof of the implausibility of a historically-literal reading of the Bible. He provides some of the geology of the Grand Canyon and also asks, "If this great flood drained through the Grand Canyon wouldn't there have been a Grand Canyon on every continent? How could we not have Grand Canyons everywhere if this water drained away in this extraordinary amount of time?" Continuing, Nye elaborates on fossil layers. Ham never challenges these points, only attempting to defend the plausibility of Noah's Ark, ignoring that it presents two closely-related problems whose solutions are mutually antagonistic: the more plausible the number of animals on the ark, the more implausible the diversification of species since the end of the Flood.
Later on, Nye continues to question a literal interpretation of the Noah's Ark story. He provides a chart of relative boat sizes, where the theoretical size of the Ark dwarfs that of the largest wooden boat ever constructed. "People in the 1900s built an extraordinarily large wooden ship, the Wyoming.", Nye elaborates. "It was a six masted schooner, the largest one ever built. It had a motor on it for winching cables but this boat had great difficulty. It was not as big as the Titanic but it was a very long ship. It would twist in the sea and in all that twisting, it leaked. It would leak like crazy. The crew could not keep the ship dry and indeed, it did eventually foundered and sank, a loss of all 14 hands. So there were 14 crewman aboard a ship built by very skilled shipwrights in New England. These guys were the best in the world at wooden ship building and they couldn't build a boat that was as big as the Ark was claimed to have been. Is that reasonable? The best shipwrights in the world couldn't do what eight unskilled people, men and their wives, were able to do."
Evidence confirming one race
Ham attempts to correlate evolution to Social Darwinism and racism. Charles Darwin lived at a time when the idea of the superiority of Europeans and the inferiority of non-whites - moral, intellectual, and otherwise - was largely unquestioned. Even so, Darwin himself was an abolitionist and wrote in The Descent of Man:
Although the existing races of man differ in many respects, as in colour, hair, shape of skull, proportions of the body, &c., yet if their whole organisation be taken into consideration they are found to resemble each other closely in a multitude of points. Many of these points are of so unimportant or of so singular a nature, that it is extremely improbable that they should have been independently acquired by aboriginally distinct species or races. The same remark holds good with equal or greater force with respect to the numerous points of mental similarity between the most distinct races of man. The American aborigines, Negroes and Europeans differ as much from each other in mind as any three races that can be named; yet I was incessantly struck, whilst living with the Fuegians on board the Beagle, with the many little traits of character, shewing how similar their minds were to ours; and so it was with a full-blooded negro with whom I happened once to be intimate.
Ham's assertion that evolution or Darwinism promotes the idea of racism is a palpable falsehood, Social Darwinism being almost entirely unrelated to Darwin's biological theories of natural selection and not something Darwin himself supported or approved of. Furthermore, Ham doesn't quote Darwin himself but rather George William Hunter's A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems in his assertion. His argument that these ideas are based on Darwin's ideas follows the same logic one could use to say that the teachings of the Bible (specifically the parts that condone slavery) justified the European enslavement of Africans for labour in the Americas.
Evidence confirming the Tower of Babel
During Ham's elaboration of his seven "C's" of history (the diagram of which implies that nothing meaningful whatsoever happened between the Tower of Babel and the birth of Jesus), he states that God giving us the Tower of Babel is where all language comes from. The Tower of Babel as an explanation for the origins of languages is considered absurd by everyone except biblical literalists and too easily discounts the well-established fields of etymology and linguistics. It also speaks negatively of YHVH's intelligence: how could having multiple independent ways of describing reality possibly be considered a bad thing?
Evidence confirming a young universe
The most telling moment
Near the end of the debate, at the end of the Q&A session, the question "What would change your mind" was asked of both by a The Thinking Atheist community member. Ken Ham stated outright that he would never change his mind while Bill Nye said all it would take to change his mind was one piece of evidence. This should really tell you everything you need to know about Young-Earth Creationism and singlehandedly gave Bill the win.
- Answers in Genesis
- Biblical literalism
- Branches of science you have to ignore to believe in young Earth creationism
- List of scientists who support creationism
- RationalWiki's debate commentary
- What You Missed While Not Watching the Bill Nye and Ken Ham Creation Debate Time.com
- Over 3 Million Tuned In Live for Historic Bill Nye and Ken Ham Evolution/Creation Debate Answers In Genesis
- Why the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Debate Makes Me Sad
- "Don't teach your kids creationism", says Bill Nye
- Apparently, "humanist" is an ad hominem now
- Why Bill Nye shouldn't debate Ken Ham Richard Dawkins Foundation
- Bill Nye talks about his upcoming debate with Ken Ham Why Evolution is True
- Richard Dawkins Explains Why He Doesn't Debate Young Earth Creationists The Christian Post
- 5 Tips for Debating a Creationist like Ken Ham
- Science vs. Fiction Slate.com
- 10 Dangers of Theistic Evolution, by Werner Gitt, 
- Why I Rejected Theistic Evolution, by Dr. David DeWitt, 
- The Basic Assumptions of Theistic Evolution, by Werner Gitt : "There is an unbridgeable chasm between theistic evolution and the biblical doctrine of creation."
- Theistic Evolution: An Incoherent and Inconsistent Worldview?, by Callie Joubert, Answers Research Journal 5, 99-114. 
- Theistic Evolution: What Difference does it Make?, by Dean Davis 
- Feedback: Theistic Evolution, by Tim Chaffey 
- Jesus, Scripture and Error: An Implication of Theistic Evolution, by Simon Turpin, Answers Research Journal 6, 387-399. 
- Why Creationism Isn't Science Patheos.com
- Darwin, Charles, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (ISBN 9781615340408)