NCSE weighs in on Nye-Ham debate

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.