February 6, 2014 § 14 Comments
On February 4, Bill Nye “the Science Guy” debated Answers In Genesis president Ken Ham on this question: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” Before the debate, a friend said he hoped that there wouldn’t be a lot of bias and asked me who I thought would win. I explained that I don’t know how I would assess a win or loss apart from my own bias. My friend was talking about the bias of the moderator—CNN’s Tom Foreman, who was as neutral as a moderator could be. But I think it’s true that deciding who “wins” the debate very much depends on who’s side you are on before the debate even begins. That’s because whether we are debating or watching, we take our presuppositions–basics we assume to be true without evidence–into it with us, and we are incredibly stubborn about giving them up. Only one of the debaters understood this.
The beginning remarks and individual presentations were well-prepared and complete, and the highlight in my opinion. Ken’s arguments for a young earth creation were strong and clear, firmly rooted in the Bible as man’s ultimate authority. Bill’s were also well-formed as he posed some really tough challenges to creationism, although he seemed to stray from the topic to a focus on the age of the earth and Noah’s flood, which don’t pose a direct challenge to creationism with respect to the the question being debated.
Their differing presuppositions come to light in each point of their presentations. For instance, Ken’s creationism is firmly rooted in the book of Genesis. He presupposes the truth and authority of the Bible as God’s word, and in God as the infinite Creator. Bill’s materialism is firmly rooted in man’s ideas, that life and the universe evolved, somehow, from an unknown but presumably mindless beginning. Both positions are held a priori on faith, because neither presupposition can be proven with any kind of scientific process.
Ken was appropriately adamant about defining terms, specifically “science” and “evolution”, noting that secularists have hijacked them for their exclusive use. Bill affirms this by consciously classifying his own position as science, and Ken’s position as something else. Science, as Bill says, was practiced by mainstream scientists, outside the walls of “this facility” (Bill never did correctly name the hosting venue as the Creation Museum, stammeringly calling it “this facility” no less than three times). Ken is thorough in providing numerous testimonies from creationists who have made significant contributions to various scientific fields (for example, Raymond Damadian, pioneer of the MRI machine). This exposes Bill Nye’s non-sequiter—it simply doesn’t follow that creationists cannot be scientists, which was made obvious to everyone who doesn’t simply assume this to be true. This was a presupposition Bill carried into the debate and it stuck to him like a soup stain throughout as he continually maintained that children taught creation will not have the innovation to keep America in the global game.
Ken makes a clear distinction between historical science (data derived from the past without direct observation) and observational science (study of what we can observe but not recreate through controlled experiments, i.e. the cosmos, fossils). This distinction is invisible to Bill and many naturalists since it presents a real problem for molecules-to-man evolution. The way we interpret data from the past is colored by our presuppositions, what we already believe (We were created vs. We evolved) about the past. Not wanting to be caught assuming the fundamentals of his belief, Bill doesn’t recognize the difference. Naturalists generally do not acknowledge that their most deeply held convictions are not determined by evidence, but by faith, which is also true for creationists. Ken is right in his assertion that creation is the only historical science model that confirms what we find in observational science. Unfortunately, he didn’t say enough in support of this.
Bill’s repeated diatribe about the Bible highlighted his ignorance of the Bible and the evidences supporting it, citing creationism as an “interpretation of a 3,000 year old book translated into American English” and using the classic “game of telephone” critique to assert how it has probably changed over the centuries. It would have been a fairly easy apologetic move for Ken to summarize textual criticism and the fact that early extant manuscripts agree with current Bible text. But he didn’t, and really didn’t have time to. By Bill’s own admission, he is not a theologian, but he clearly didn’t do his homework here.
In addition to the faulty arguments for creationism’s incompatibility with science, Bill repeatedly relied on an illusory attempt to reduce the size of his opponent while inflating his own position. He continually referred to creationism as “Ken Ham’s view” and “Mr. Ham’s flood”, as if these views were exclusively held by Ken and his followers at AIG. The earth’s age aside, Christians, Catholics, Jews and Muslims all believe in divine creation (46% of Americans). Knowing this, Bill made reference to “billions of people in the world who are deeply religious” who do not accept Ken’s model, meaning old earth creationists. Ken is a young earth creationist. But, while Ken maintains old earth creationists have problems reconciling an old earth with certain language and theology presented in Genesis, he certainly identifies with them in the common faith that God created. The question being debated is not about whether creation is billions of years old or thousands. Bill expressly denies theistic evolution or creationism in any form, young or old. Aside from being an appeal to authority (Ken correctly points out elsewhere in the debate that the majority is not always right), this seems like an attempt by Bill to bring the world’s old earth creationists on his side. But Bill is a naturalist, so this won’t do.
The points most devastating to naturalism were ones largely unanswered by Bill, and those are the preconditions of intelligibility that Ken laid out: We accept by faith certain natural laws, such as the laws of logic, morality, uniformity, that allow us to do things like scientific experiments and reasoned debate. The naturalist assumes these to be true but can’t account for them on his own worldview. These natural laws make sense if they come from a logical, moral, uniform God who made us in His image. They shouldn’t exist if naturalism is true. Bill’s best answer on this is “I don’t know.” Ken also pointed out that knowledge and complexity don’t come from a universe originally devoid of these things, and Bill answers were missing here too.
I didn’t think Ken fared as well in the rebuttal stage or in the Q and A session that followed. He didn’t seem as well prepared, and his introductions to the Gospel seemed forced and a little out of place, especially since Bill provided no inroad to the gospel in his script. I want to be careful with that though, because I believe that presenting the Gospel should be the ultimate goal in apologetic endeavor, and a discussion about creation is really only a step or two way from the opportunity (Creation was originally good, man fell into sin, sinful man needed a Savior). But it seemed, at the end of the debate with time dwindling, this opportunity would have been better spent addressing some of the questions Ken didn’t have time to answer earlier. The gospel was a star in Ken’s initial presentation.
In my opinion Ken also spent too much time on arguing for a young earth, even though I share this view. Attention brought to the ecclesiastical divide between old and young earth creationists wasn’t helpful in this debate. Since the question debated was whether or not creation in any form fits with today’s world, it seemed pretty irrelevant. Although Ken did do a good job of exposing the unreliability of dating methods, Ken’s focus on a young earth also brought attention to the fact that he didn’t get around to addressing many of Bill’s challenges that seem to support long ages, i.e. the number of snow ice layers, very old trees, and the settling of rock layers.
The last question asked of both men was, “What is the one thing, more than anything else, upon which you base your belief?” Ken’s basis was God and His word. Bill’s reply began with a quote from his previous mentor Carl Sagan: “When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.” Bill’s love, he goes on to explain, is “information and the process we call science”. Now what if, instead of summing up his love for science, Bill had tried to explain love itself? And would he admit that he probably would put love higher than science? This, like much of what he and every naturalist base their most important beliefs upon, would have to be presupposed, as they make no sense on a completely materialistic universe.
Earlier in the final round of Q and A one question put to both debaters asked if they could imagine any evidence that would cause them to give up their worldview convictions. Ken Ham was doubtful that anything could change his mind about a creator God. Bill thought that a significant piece of evidence would change his mind about evolution, and he gave as one example a polystrate fossil. Well, I’d have to say Bill wasn’t sincere, since he has available to him evidence of numerous polystrate fossils. I’m guessing his presuppositions move him to apply some naturalistic phenomena or creationist misinterpretation to tree trunks or trilobite tracks that have been discovered to span multiple geographic layers.
We generally stick to what we already believe in any debate, and that’s why determining “winner” or “loser” is so subjective. It depends on who you ask. Unless winning and losing is based on something other than what most debates are about, like who gave the most eloquent speech (perhaps also very subjective) and who avoided more logical fallacies (a little less subjective). Otherwise, we are likely to call the winner the one who shares the same worldview we do, because there is no such thing as neutral belief. My hope is that the Lord will use this debate to persuade some for the truth of the Christianity, because the Gospel was preached, and Naturalism’s main problem was exposed. But they are generally very few who are converted as the result of one debate. That’s the job of God’s Holy Spirit. Like the guys at the podium, we hold fast to what we presuppose, ultimate commitments we already believe on faith. There’s plenty of debate after the debate about who won it. The lasting verdict? The truth will win in the end, when “every knee will bow… every tongue will acknowledge God.” (Rom. 14:11). But those are my presuppositions talking.