NCSE weighs in on Nye-Ham debate

| 33 Comments

A follow-up on the Nye-Ham debate in the Reports of the National Center for Science Education: Andrew J. Petto said it wasn’t a real debate, which is sort of true, but the most interesting observations, to me, were those made by John W. Patterson. Prof. Patterson, an engineering professor, correctly gives Ken Ham credit for not obfuscating, for not pretending that creationism is based on anything but his interpretation of the Bible. He thinks that other creationists may fault Mr. Ham for his candor, but he argues that

there will be far less public confusion about the distinctions between legitimate evidence-based science and the faith-based biblical varieties so successfully propounded by creationist debaters. In contrast, Ham’s approach lays bare what’s really behind all creationism, from the young-Earth biblical literalism to the more inchoate ‘intelligent design’ models.

Prof. Patterson’s only objection to Mr. Nye’s strategy is that he did not discuss “why modern science so completely ignores God [in particular] and supernaturalism in general when striving to explain natural phenomena.” Science, Prof. Patterson notes, uses its explanatory power to reduce mystery, whereas, by invoking supernaturalism, creationism inevitably increases mystery. A good point, but perhaps a bit too subtle to bring into that kind of debate when so much other ground needs to be covered.

Prof. Petto, a science educator, argues that the encounter only mimicked a debate because the participants did not really respond to each other. Thus, you might say that it was a joint press conference full of “carefully drafted soundbites and ‘gotcha’ moments.” Yes, there was certainly some of that, but I thought that both debaters responded pretty well to each other, until Mr. Ham melted down and started babbling about the word of God.

In a third article, Steve Watkins, who is writing a PhD thesis on the Creation “Museum,” agreed that the debaters did not really discuss their opponent’s positions. At one point, Mr. Ham said that the ultimate authority was the Bible, and Mr. Nye said “that he based his beliefs on the process of science.” Thus, Mr. Ham made it clear that the debate was between competing epistemologies, a claim that could be seen to strengthen the case for creationism. Further, says Mr. Watkins, because they are competing epistemologies, a debate will change no one’s mind, so why bother?

Me? I think to some extent it was a debate, at least until about the second half when, as I said, Mr. Ham seemed to me to suffer a meltdown. It may have been salutary that Mr. Ham admitted his presupposition, but I frankly doubt that his admission will greatly affect public perception, and the Creation “Museum” may have gained a lot of credibility in the eyes of the general public.

33 Comments

The good thing about the “debate” was that Ham did go the presuppositional route, essentially admitting that he doesn’t care about the evidence. I doubt that Ham will gain many fence-sitter’s with that nonsense.

The bad thing about the “debate” is that it treated a slogan-slinging bumpkin as if his junk was worth a discussion, when clearly it’s little more than Bible-thumping. It may well be that the ark park got funding via the debate, although it’ll never be much more than a means of getting money from the rubes who already believe.

Glen Davidson

This comment has been moved to The Bathroom Wall.

I have no idea how to handle this, but when Ham started asserting that the Bible had the answer, what I thought was that it is Ham’s opinion, and many Bible believers disagree.

What Ken Ham actually said:

Q: “What if anything would ever change your mind?”

A: “The bible is the word of God. I admit that that’s where I start from.…..And so as far as the word of God is concerned, no, no one’s ever gonna convince me that the word of God is not true”

What Robert Beyers - somehow - heard:

“its not accurate to say YEC says THE BIBLE SAYS SO and thats it.”

So let me ask Matt Young a direct question.

It **sounds like** you are suggesting the following:

(1) Ultimately, Ken Ham & the Creation Museum (and by extension, the overall YEC movement), gained far more than they lost, via Ken Ham’s debate with Bill Nye.

(2) Ultimately, those evolutionists who kept telling Bill Nye “Don’t do it! Don’t accept Ham’s debate invitation!” were actually correct after all.

Is that a fair/accurate assessment?

FL

I didn’t think it was really a debate. If it were, BIll would have responded to all of the lies and misrepresentations that Kenny boy was spouting. Instead, he just let him get away with it time after time. Whether he was trying to be polite, or whether he just didn’t know any better, I have no idea. But in a real debate you don’t let your opponent get away with crap like that. Still, Kenny did eventually hang himself anyway.

So let me ask Floyd a direct question. DId you watch Cosmos yet? DId you learn anything?

I am not sure why not-responding to an opponent’s specific points makes it ‘not a debate.’ Sure, the structure of the event is set up so that each speaker has time to rebut points made by the other, but AFAIK there is no official rules of Hoyle on how the speakers must use that time. If they use it to expand on their opening statements rather than rebut points made by the other speaker, it’s still a debate. Two boxers enter the ring. If one never throws a left to the face, the absence might be noted but he’s still boxing and a winner is still declared, right?

But definitions or categorizing aside, it’s worth considering whether the event helped creationists or mainstreamers more. Personally I think fence-sitters who made it through to the Q&A would have come away favoring Nye (due to Ham’s, as Matt puts it, meltdown). But I also recognize that it’s a hard-to-measure result and that reasonable people can disagree on the answer.

I don’t think FL ever will watch anything like Cosmos, or other scienecy documentaries.

My guess is that he’s adopted the method recommended in one of the Watchtower publications many years ago: Clear Thinking! The method of “Clear Thinking”, maybe not presented in the words that I use, but the message was very clear: Close your ears and eyes to things we don’t recommend you hear or see: Public media,newspapers and other sources of information not approved by the sect. I presume that without distractions from the real world, it might be possible to keep the thought “YEC is true” as a mantra in your head.

As I’ve said before, I thought the outcome of the debate was good overall. Ken Ham is one of the only prominent creationists who would be that blatant and unapologetic about the role played by the YEC interpretation of the Bible.

I’m not thrilled that AiG got a lot of money and publicity out of the deal, but it’s not like they’re getting it from anybody they wouldn’t have already had on the hook. I’m guessing that the spike in donations will balance out in time as the debate fades.

I don’t think Nye was as well-prepared as he could have been. Then again, he wasn’t going up against sound reasoning; he was going up against a well-oiled rhetorical machine. Effective rhetoric works differently than effective reasoning: the latter requires that goals and metrics and evidential basis be clearly defined, whereas the former depends on flooding the debate with as many talking points as possible. It’s hard to combat.

I’m glad Nye stuck to the reasoning aspect; I think it would have been a train wreck if he’d tried to address everything Ham had to say. Unless you know every creationist claim inside and out, the Gish Gallop will run right over you. There are only a handful of people who know the innards of YEC well enough to beat the Gallop at every stride.

Unrelated: Does anyone know how to change the Movable Type display name?

Looking back on the debate I think Nye pulled out a win for science. Nye came across as a genial, rational scientist explaining the universe and feeling awe and wonder. Hambo came across as a Bible preacher, which is what he is. Debate or not, both Nye and Hambo were their natural selves and I think that was good.

Hambo has never deviated from his script: view the world through your Bible glasses. He never skirts that point nor tries to couch it in “intelligent design” mumbo jumbo. He’s totally straight up about his beliefs.

What I’d really like to see (fat chance!) is for Hambo to debate a real Biblical scholar, an archaeologist, somebody who knows the origin, pedigree and history of the Bible. It will never happen because that confrontation would reduce Hambo’s arguments to ashes and reveal him to be the disingenuous con man he really is.

There were a few whimpers of sadness from my 11-year-old son when we watched the final episode of Cosmos 2 last night. He really liked the whole series! I told him that Carl Sagan was from his grandfather’s generation, Neil deGrasse Tyson is from my generation, so he has to create Cosmos 3 when he grows up. Cosmos 3 is assigned to the next generation - the Ship of the Imagination will travel again.

eric said:

I am not sure why not-responding to an opponent’s specific points makes it ‘not a debate.’ Sure, the structure of the event is set up so that each speaker has time to rebut points made by the other, but AFAIK there is no official rules of Hoyle on how the speakers must use that time. If they use it to expand on their opening statements rather than rebut points made by the other speaker, it’s still a debate. Two boxers enter the ring. If one never throws a left to the face, the absence might be noted but he’s still boxing and a winner is still declared, right?

But definitions or categorizing aside, it’s worth considering whether the event helped creationists or mainstreamers more. Personally I think fence-sitters who made it through to the Q&A would have come away favoring Nye (due to Ham’s, as Matt puts it, meltdown). But I also recognize that it’s a hard-to-measure result and that reasonable people can disagree on the answer.

Well I don’t want to argue semantics, but where I come from, pontification is called a speech. A debate involves actually responding to points made by the opponent. For example, Bill did very poorly when it came to questions about the age of the earth. Kenny asked him what evidence he had if he couldn’t use radio isotopes. Bill hemmed and hawed and didn’t point out any of the multiple lines of independent evidence. He also let Kenny get away with a slide claiming that twenty different dating methods didn’t confirm billions of years. Technically true, for good reasons, but the main point should have been driven home that ALL of them flatly falsify thousands of years. This is the kind of give and take that helps people figure out who is lying and who is telling the truth. I would have preferred that Kenny be humiliated and exposed for the lying hypocrite that he really is. You can’t do that by having a “debate” and still letting him get away with egregious errors and misrepresentations.

Carl Drews said:

There were a few whimpers of sadness from my 11-year-old son when we watched the final episode of Cosmos 2 last night. He really liked the whole series! I told him that Carl Sagan was from his grandfather’s generation, Neil deGrasse Tyson is from my generation, so he has to create Cosmos 3 when he grows up. Cosmos 3 is assigned to the next generation - the Ship of the Imagination will travel again.

Long live the five rules of science! Floyd will never be able to argue against them if he doesn’t watch the program.

Doc Bill said:

Hambo has never deviated from his script: view the world through your Bible glasses. He never skirts that point nor tries to couch it in “intelligent design” mumbo jumbo. He’s totally straight up about his beliefs.

Rather: he views the Bible through YEC glasses. And he does not make that clear.

FL said:

So let me ask Matt Young a direct question.

Matt,

Please don’t respond.

I think our resident creationist troll doesn’t understand that the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham is the only way that ID/creationists “gain” anything; and that gain is only in the eyes of the already committed followers of ID/creationism.

Ken Ham contributed absolutely nothing to science or to increasing our knowledge base in general. Ham has been using the debate to leverage his own status with his base and to make more money by selling more of his products to churches and families who don’t want their children exposed to science.

Ken Ham gained for himself. His followers lost, but they don’t know it.

Meanwhile, science continues to advance as though the debate never happened.

Which, I think is fine by Mr. Potassium Fluoride. He’s not interested in “increasing our knowledge base”. Quite the reverse. He’s interested in making more godbots.

Matt,

Please don’t respond.

I thought they were fair questions. My answers would probably be, “Probably; probably.”

Matt Young said:

Matt,

Please don’t respond.

I thought they were fair questions. My answers would probably be, “Probably; probably.”

May I infer from this that if we think FL’s drivel is composed of “fair questions,” we may respond to him in your threads?

May I infer from this that if we think FL’s drivel is composed of “fair questions,” we may respond to him in your threads?

I have, somewhat against my better judgement, been allowing his comments, so obviously responses are fair game, but I request that you give direct, relevant answers and avoid excessive invective. Or maybe invective of any kind.

I think the debate was great for science, without question.

Yes, Bill Nye could have been more effective at answering some questions (had he a better biology background, say). Yes, it lent creationism more credibility than it deserves. And yes, it almost certainly provided financial benefits for Ken Ham’s creationist pseudo-museums – in the short term, anyway.

But Nye also handled himself extremely well. He was polite and non-aggressive, always enthusiastic and sometimes even charming (albeit awkwardly nerd charming – but as a nerd myself, I like that). And most importantly, he was focussed on evidence, and on not pretending that science has all the answers to all the questions (of detail in most cases, but even big picture questions in a few), and on treating mysteries as problems to be solved so that “I don’t know” is a spur to further inquiry rather than an excuse for ending inquiry altogether.

Contrast that with Ham:

– Less than ten minutes in, Ham has gone straight from creation/evolution to sin and Jesus. John 3:16 as science, anyone?

– Hey, let’s talk the “Seven C’s”: Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, Consummation. Eschatology as science, anyone?

– Where did matter come from? “There’s a book.”

– Where does consciousness come from? “There’s a book.” Another book?!? Oh, no, the same book.

– What could make you change your mind? “No one is going to convince me that the Word of God is not true.”

– What is the fundamental basis for your beliefs? “To summarize what I’ve been saying, there’s a book.”

And that’s really it: Bible Bible Bible, thump thump thump. Throughout the debate, Ham says again and again phrases like “based on the Bible” and “the Bible tells us.” Which is why, as I watched the debate, I found myself not much irritated by the sorts of creationist content and tactics that usually drive me nuts. In a nutshell:

Ken Ham made it all but impossible for anyone who wasn’t already a creationist to conclude anything except that his creationism is an essentially religious position.

Whatever short-term gains creationism made from that debate, they pale in comparison to the long-term damage that Ken Ham did to it.

Mike Elzinga said:

Meanwhile, science continues to advance as though the debate never happened.

As it has for the last 154 years of creationist nonsense.

FL said:

So let me ask Matt Young a direct question.

It **sounds like** you are suggesting the following:

(1) Ultimately, Ken Ham & the Creation Museum (and by extension, the overall YEC movement), gained far more than they lost, via Ken Ham’s debate with Bill Nye.

(2) Ultimately, those evolutionists who kept telling Bill Nye “Don’t do it! Don’t accept Ham’s debate invitation!” were actually correct after all.

Is that a fair/accurate assessment?

FL

My answers -

1) Yes, for Ham’s organization; they got a transient spike in donations, although they probably lost a few members. No for YEC overall.

2) No, I think society benefited from the event, overall. Ham was fairly honest in portraying creationism as dogmatic rejection of evidence. Nye did a very decent job of representing science.

Private donations to Ham aren’t my problem; that’s the price of a free society. I don’t want Ham receiving or spending tax dollars. Other than the tax exempt status of religion in general, which I strongly oppose, this event was privately funded.

Matt Young said:

Matt,

Please don’t respond.

I thought they were fair questions. My answers would probably be, “Probably; probably.”

I disagree with Matt on the answers (mine would be ‘no, no’), but I agree FL’s questions were fair. Matt wrote a post about other people’s analysis of the debate, ending with a paragraph on his own analysis, and FL asked him clarification questions on his opinion. That wasn’t trollish at all.

As for Ham using the debate to raise donations, for me that’s not the primary outcome. For me, the “value” of such debates is in what fence-sitters think after watching it. Are they more or less likely to support an LSEA bill? Are they more or less likely to vote for a McLeroy? If a mainstream scientist now gets up and defends a state standard, are they more or less likely (after watching the debate) to support that standard?

I care very little whether someone like Robert Byers or FL sends in an extra $20 after watching it. Ken Ham could probably tap dance the 10 commandments and Byers would think it was an astounding defense of young earth creationism and send in that same $20, so I’m not going to tear my hair out or feel angsty over his donation. We should recognize that for folks like FL and Byers, the content of an AiG PR document is almost irrelevant, so AiG using debate content vs. some other content in a press item is really little or no opportunity cost to us. Put simply, if Nye hadn’t done it, AiG would have sent out some other call for donations, with a different misrepresntation of public policy, evolution, or mainstream science, and that other call probably would have been equally as effective.

I didn’t see the debate, but there’s no reason to see it as a zero-sum game. Nye and Ham both wanted something out of it. It sounds like they got it. Hooray for America–pursuit of happiness and all that.

I think the impact on public understanding of evolution is hard to determine one way or the other, but is insignificant compared to the positive effect Nye has had through his kids’ show. Ham got some extra publicity, but it seems unlikely to sway anyone who isn’t already a creationist.

Needless to say, the outcome of a debate has no bearing on fact, and evolutionary science remains a very healthy field of research.

eric said:

Put simply, if Nye hadn’t done it, AiG would have sent out some other calls for donations, with a different misrepresntations of public policy, evolution, or and mainstream science, and that those other calls probably would have been equally as effective.

Editing required.

DS said:

So let me ask Floyd a direct question. DId you watch Cosmos yet? DId you learn anything?

So was that “DId” intelligently designed or did it evolve that way, twice? :p

Some lying YECs such as ‘Cowboy’ Bob Sorensen aka ‘The Question Evolution Project’ are still writing utter tripe (I am banned from this facebook page after exposing previous untruths that were about me there though I was called’haywire’): https://www.facebook.com/Piltdown.Superman “Yes, we’ve posted several things about Nye’s exaggerations, bad logic, stinking attitude, lousy science and even blatant untruths. But atheopaths cheered for him because he was “brilliant”. Lack of evolution belief is not the problem with science in America. Rather, it is the lack of thinking skills, and people who “think” with their emotions. Nye fanbois were happy about his boilerplate responses, and he didn’t even need to show up, they’d still say he won.” (See under the discussion linking to this page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Athe[…]801873982784) Note that even liar Sorensen has never claimed that Ham won on the night as far as I know.

ashleyhr said:

Some lying YECs such as ‘Cowboy’ Bob Sorensen aka ‘The Question Evolution Project’ are still writing utter tripe (I am banned from this facebook page after exposing previous untruths that were about me there though I was called’haywire’): https://www.facebook.com/Piltdown.Superman “Yes, we’ve posted several things about Nye’s exaggerations, bad logic, stinking attitude, lousy science and even blatant untruths. But atheopaths cheered for him because he was “brilliant”. Lack of evolution belief is not the problem with science in America. Rather, it is the lack of thinking skills, and people who “think” with their emotions. Nye fanbois were happy about his boilerplate responses, and he didn’t even need to show up, they’d still say he won.” (See under the discussion linking to this page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Athe[…]801873982784) Note that even liar Sorensen has never claimed that Ham won on the night as far as I know.

That type of hateful rant has clear functions.

It is obviously not designed to persuade. No-one will convert to this individual’s religion because of this negativity. It turns off neutral people.

The goals are to relieve the author’s own unconcious conflict by making doubt emotionally unacceptable, and to intimidate other creationists with threats of harsh social rejection if they “compromise”. It comes close to advocacy of violence. The actual Biblical character Jesus, whether historical or not, repeatedly argues against treating others this way.

Other than monitoring for overt threats to be reported to law enforcement if necessary, or using this as an example to show neutral people the dangerous side of post-modern Christian (so-called) extremism, I would personally recommend ignoring this, or at least not engaging. You won’t convince this person, and he won’t convince anyone else.

I give Bill Nye’s effort a C at best. The question to be debated was: “Is Creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?”. The only reason I do not grade him worse is because it was impossible for Ken Ham to do even reasonably well with such a topic.

Nye spent his time talking about how great and inspirational science can be. While Ham spent his time rehashing his version of the Gish Gallop (which he is not very good at). Of course, that is not unusual in this kind of debate. Ham gave Nye huge softballs to hit out of the park, but never once followed up on any of them. Ham mentioned a person key to the development of MRI techniques is a YEC. Did Nye ask him how his YEC worldview was integral to his efforts? Nope. YEC’s are geologist. Did Nye ask him how much of their work is based on the YEC worldview. Nope. Can we find oil based on YEC “science”? Nope. Did he challenge Ham to give an example of ANY serious contemporary scientific efforts or historical discoveries based on YEC “science”? Nope. And when Ham blundered by saying no evidence could ever be acceptable or true if it contradicted his interpretation of the Bible, did Nye throw up his hands in victory and thank Ham for conceding the debate? Nope. Nye should have spent the rest of the debate asking Ham how science can be conducted with such a position (the topic of the debate) but instead he didn’t even mention it in passing how science can never be conducted with such a world view.

In the end, YEC’s are still YEC’s and non-YEC’s are still non-YEC’s (the most probable outcome regardless). Ham made a boatload of money and Nye didn’t even walk away with a good sound bite. The only possible good outcome is Ham may think he is so good that he will have another debate. I just hope his next opponent is not so nice.

…so why bother?

Because…

alicejohn Wrote:

In the end, YEC’s are still YEC’s and non-YEC’s are still non-YEC’s

…but the great majority is neither, not in the sense where “YEC” means a “committed anti-evolution activist who happens to promote a young-earth version of the mutually-contradictory creationist accounts,” and where “non-YEC” means “a critic of YEC, OEC, ID, etc., who accepts mainstream science.” Those 2 groups combined make up less than 1% of adult Americans.

Add the rank-and-file committed evolution-deniers who insist on a young-earth interpretation and you still get at most 20%. But “non-YEC” also includes committed evolution-deniers who favor an old-earth or “age doesn’t matter” interpretation. Add them plus those who reject any form of evolution-denial and you still get barely half of adult Americans. The rest may lean one way or the other but even if they favor evolution tend to react to YEC and other forms of creationism with “what’s the harm, let them believe.” So yes, framing YEC, or any other form of creationism, as a belief is a waste of time at best. Creationism, or more correctly anti-evolution activism, is a strategy, which comes in several different versions - Ham’s and the OEC equivalent of Hugh Ross et al, are the more open and honest ones, but they still want it both ways (claiming evidence, then retreating to the Bible when evidence is inconvenient).

But people most need to see the games played by IDers - not just the playing dumb about the designer’s identity, but more importantly their approach to “what happened when.” While YECs and OECs make testable, easily falsifiable statements, IDers are almost always evasive. But just because they criticize only “Darwinism” and merely “distance themselves” from Biblical YECs and OECs, does not mean that any of them privately believe that those Biblical YECs or OECs are right. Some may, of courset, but we just don’t know. For what it’s worth, some IDers have conceded virtually all the “what happened when” (if not the “how”) to mainstream evolution, but the ones who haven’t rarely if ever have publicly challenged them. Add that all up and it sure sounds like IDers are saying “Yeah, we know you ‘Darwinists’ are right and YECs are wrong, but we can fool more people than you can educate.”

ashleyhr said:

Some lying YECs such as ‘Cowboy’ Bob Sorensen aka ‘The Question Evolution Project’ are still writing utter tripe (I am banned from this facebook page after exposing previous untruths that were about me there though I was called’haywire’): https://www.facebook.com/Piltdown.Superman “Yes, we’ve posted several things about Nye’s exaggerations, bad logic, stinking attitude, lousy science and even blatant untruths. But atheopaths cheered for him because he was “brilliant”. Lack of evolution belief is not the problem with science in America. Rather, it is the lack of thinking skills, and people who “think” with their emotions. Nye fanbois were happy about his boilerplate responses, and he didn’t even need to show up, they’d still say he won.” (See under the discussion linking to this page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Athe[…]801873982784) Note that even liar Sorensen has never claimed that Ham won on the night as far as I know.

Ashley Haworth-Roberts calls anyone who disagrees with him a liar. He also calls anyone who disagrees with evolution a liar. Whoever tells the truth about his poor thinking is called a libeler. None of these are useful for fruitful discussion. Those emotional reactions do not help science survive.

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