I originally wrote this for a friend, but decided that other people might be interested, too. Anyway, this is not a blow-by-blow, and I’m sure I’m missing some important points, but here is my commentary on the debate. If parts of it read like an email to a friend, well, that’s because that’s where it originated 🙂
Overall impression – Ken Ham made an excellent (and better) initial presentation, but he faltered quite a bit at answering questions from both Bill Nye and the audience, in which part Bill Nye was the clear winner.
Where I Thought Ken Ham Succeeded, and Nye Failed
One thing I was surprised at was that Bill Nye completely discounted the distinction between operational science and origins science, even though that distinction is very well documented in the philosophy of science. Actually, it was the evolutionists themselves who recognized the need for a distinction, and a difference to the types of evidences and procedures needed for historical vs. operational science!
Here, for instance, is famous evolutionist Ernst Mayr:
Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science—the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.
I thought Ham had a better grasp on the philosophy and limitations of science. Nye failed to grasp that science has methodologies, and each methodology has its own limitations. Instead, science functioned as a religion to Nye, answering all of his questions in the way he wants it to, without regard to its limitations.
Ham also emphasized the origin of logic and reason. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has done a good job showing that science is consistent with theism but inconsistent with naturalism, since naturalism doesn’t provide adequate warrant for believing one’s own theories about nature, but theism does. A lot of Ham’s specific arguments come from a talk by Jason Lisle on this subject, which I think is well done.
Nye, quite predictably, hammered on about the need for science and engineering education and how creationism somehow prevents this. The funny thing is that the place where Nye thought was currently on top of science (i.e. the current US) is also the place where it is on top in creationism. Likewise, the subject he thought most important (engineering) is likewise the subject that produces the most creationists. I thought that Ham’s showing of many important Creation scientists and engineers was quite a good answer to the question of whether or not creation hinders the progress of engineering and science – it certainly has not been shown to do this.
Nye, for his part, seemed to be altogether ignorant of Christian theology. He tried several comments on it which were never responded to, primarily because the amount of education needed here would be so remedial.
Also, Nye harped quite a bit on the number of species, but he seemed to misunderstand his own calculation. His number (16 million I think) of species are based off of the total number of species anywhere – including bacteria, fungus, molds, plants, single-celled organisms, fish, etc (it is also an *estimate*, not an actual count). The number of species on the ark is based on the total number of land-based animals and birds. I don’t remember exactly what the present number of species is for land-based animals, but it is a much more reasonable number (I think there is an average that each ark-kind has only diversified into 8-10 species in total).
Finally, Ham did a decent job of explaining why current education in origins is already religious – by allowing only naturalistic causes, it is merely the religion of naturalism in disguise.
Where I Thought Nye Succeeded, and Ham Failed
Ham, however, failed to show, except in the narrowest cases, how the Creation model can be predictive. He did a good job showing Creationists who were scientists and engineers, but did not do a good job connecting their science and engineering to their creationism. He made a passing remark at one point that having a correct view of origins will lead a scientist in the right direction, but failed to show a specific instance of this actually happening.
Ham also left the audience without a sense of what a Creation scientist would actually *do*. Bill Nye pointed out the things that scientists investigate to discover, and how science generates a passion for knowing. Ham merely pointed to the Bible, as if the Bible answered every scientific question. Ham failed to give a positive account of what science looks like under the Bible except to assert that “the Bible is true”. If that was all Creation scientists did, it would be extremely boring.
Nye did a decent job of coming up with a short but powerful list of evidences to show that the world is old, and Ham did very little to counter any of that evidence. Nye also used Tiktaalik and humanoid skeleton’s to show the evolutionary tree, and that was also not countered by Ham.
Nye did a pretty good job of painting Ham into a hard-headed provincialist, unable to see past his own beliefs, and unwilling to dialogue with the rest of the world. On the flip side, however, Nye seemed altogether ignorant of the fact that he, too, was bringing in prior beliefs. I admire Ham for boldly proclaiming his beliefs, and he did a decent job of showing why his beliefs were not unreasonable; unfortunately, he gave very few reasons why other people should change their beliefs to his. Nye picked up on this instinctively, and hammered him nearly the whole night for it.
Overall, I appreciate Bill Nye’s willingness to engage in a respectful public dialogue with people he disagrees with. The world would be better off if that happened more often. I also appreciate the moderator, whom I thought did an excellent job. He did such a great job, I almost forgot to mention him!
Please post below if I left anything out important.
For those who missed the debate, it is available for viewing online for the next few days at this link.
UPDATE – Casey Luskin provides excellent commentary from an Intelligent Design perspective (my commentary had the aim of being more focused on what was said than what I wished was said).