Scientists Bill Nye (at left) and Ken Ham debated the validity of creationism from on Tuesday Feb. 4, from the Creation Museum in Petersburg Kentucky.
By Benjamin J. Gohs
If an argument is truly intended for the audience’s benefit, then last night’s debate on the validity of creationism—between two scientists—was a model for future discussions regarding science, religion, secularism and the origins of life on Earth if only for its level of civility and succinct arguments.
Arguing their positions on Tuesday Feb. 4, from the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., author, writer and television personality Bill Nye—prominent for his children’s science program “Bill Nye The Science Guy”—met scientist, engineer and author Ken Ham, co-founder and president of Answers in Genesis and head of the Creation Museum, to debate the topic: Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?
CNN’s Tom Foreman moderated the event which lasted just over two-and-a-half hours.
During his five-minute opening statement, Ham presented statements from Richard Dawkins and others claiming that scientists should not debate creationists. Ham went on to say that the term “science” has been hijacked by secularists.
A number of scientists claiming to be Young Earth Creationists—those who believe the book of Genesis in the Christian Bible to be the ultimate scientific authority—touted their credentials and made claims that, not only does creationism best explain the mysteries of the universe, but that nothing in the natural world is contradicted or unexplained in the bible.
Ham said there are actually two different types of science: the first being experimental or observational science; the other being historical science—or science you cannot observe because you did not exist at the time the event occurred.
Ham said Public school textbooks use the term “science” for both observational and historical science and arbitrarily refer to science as knowledge of the natural rather than the supernatural.
Nye accused Ham of claiming modern natural laws were somehow different in the past—allowing for anomalies like Ham’s claim that there was no death on Earth prior to the Christian Biblical story concerning man’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden.
Ham contended that disease did not exist on Earth until the Christian God introduced it as punishment to mankind. Nye retorted by asking Ham if fish developed disease because they had sinned against God.
At numerous times during the debate, Nye challenged Ham to offer a prediction about something in the natural world that creation science could lead to a finding.
Ham responded by pointing to statements from the Christian Bible which he then extrapolated to scientific findings. For example, Ham said the story of Adam and Eve is proof the bible authors knew mankind originated in the same place.
Nye asked Ham to account for the dozens of humanoid skulls which are neither from modern-day human nor ape. Ham did not respond to this question.
Several times during the debate, Ham questioned radiometric dating and claimed that no Earth rock was used to determine the age of the Earth. He said the figure of how old the Earth is—according to scientists—was based on the age of a meteorite. Nye never responded to that statement.
Nye did address Ham’s contention that science is divided into the observational and the historical.
“There is no difference,” Nye said. “Nobody besides Ham makes the distinction.”
Ham made it clear during the debate that the Christian Bible is his source of historical scientific knowledge.
Nye challenged Ham on the story of the worldwide flood in which a man named Noah built a giant boat and filled it with at least 7,000 kinds of animals.
Ham said the term kinds was not intended to mean “species” and that the 7,000 kinds gave birth to the many millions of species of life currently on the planet following the flood.
Nye said, if that were true, there would be dozens of species of animals discovered daily over the past few thousand years in order to account for such an explosion in lifeforms.
In a twist on the popular notion that religion and magical god characters must be true due to the popularity of such beliefs, Ham admitted that mere majority belief does not equate truth; while Nye argued that most people on the planet are religious but do not necessarily subscribe to the creation science set of beliefs.
Ham was asked if there was anything that would ever change his mind about creation science and his belief the Christian Bible is infallible and does not contradict itself in any way. Ham said he is a Christian and there is nothing that would change his mind.
Nye responded to the same question and said all it would take is a scientific finding that shows a previous scientific finding to be false. Nye added that he is concerned people who believe a magical creature is responsible for all life may not feel the need to work for disease cures, space travel, engineering innovation.
“If we eschew the process we will not move forward,” Nye said. “We will not make discoveries.”
The two each then offered a 30-minute presentation to back their case.
Creationism, Ham said, is the only viable model of origins confirmed by science today.
Ham then showed a brief video of biblical creationist Raymond Damadian MD who invented the MRI. Ham said good scientists could be either atheists or creationists, but later said creationists should be the ones teaching school children because creationists teach them to think in the correct way.
Creationist and astronomer Danny Faulkner PhD, who now works for Answers in Genesis, said there is nothing in observational astronomy that contradicts the young earth theory.
Nye argued that the provable age of stars shows the universe is much older than creationists claim. However, Ham repeated his argument that the actual age of anything predating historical records is unexplainable outside of the Christian Bible.
“We observe things in the present and we assume that’s how they happened in the past,” ham said.
Ham said whether you are a creationist or evolutionist you must use the same historical and observational science.
“It’s a battle over the same evidence in how we interpret the past,” Ham said.
Ham asked where the laws of logic came from if not from God, and said public school science books are pushing a religion of “anti-god science” on students.
One of Ham’s arguments against what he called “secular science” was a schoolbook from the 1800s which stated there were five races of humans, with the white European Caucasians being the highest among them. He said that was taught based on Darwin’s wrong findings. He said beginning with a bad foundation leads to a bad or incorrect worldview.
Nye admitted scientists make mistakes, but that they are willing to correct their mistakes when they get better information.
Ham said such a mistake would never happen in the Christian Bible because there are only moral absolutes if a god character exists. He said that the “religion of naturalism” is causing societal decay, that there is no reason not to kill old people or abort babies or marry anything or anyone you like if you are secular.
Nye’s presentation included photographs of tree rings showing trees that are thousands of years older than the Christian Bible claims the Earth to be. Nye pointed to a tree in Sweden which is more than 9,500 years old.
Ham responded that, since Nye was not around to see the rings formed, he cannot prove each ring stands for a year of growth.
Nye also pointed to ice drilling, which shows evidence of many layers of atmosphere having been trapped in bubbles in the ice, and that those alone prove the Earth to be 680,000 years old at least—far older than the 6,000-year figure believed by Young Earth Creationists.
“We are standing on millions of layers of ancient life,” Nye said, adding that millions of years worth of animals and plants and rock could not have formed in just 4,000 years.
Nye challenged Ham’s assertion the Grand Canyon was formed by waters of the biblical great flood receding.
“If this great flood drained through the Grand Canyon, wouldn’t there be a Grand Canyon on every continent?” Nye said.
Nye also said there is never a higher animal mixed in with a lower animal in the fossil record.
Focusing on one of Ham’s major claims—the great flood of the bible—Nye asked why, if all the animals that survived the flood were on one boat which made landfall on a mountain in the Middle East, were there not kangaroos found anywhere else but Australia.
There should have been kangaroo skeletons found between the Middle East and Australia, he added. Neither is there evidence for a land bridge between the Middle East and Australia, which would account for such phenomena.
Ham also claimed all animals and man were vegetarian until after the great flood story. Nye countered, saying lions have teeth designed for meat. Ham rebutted by saying panda bears have sharp teeth like a lion’s but that they only eat bamboo.
Discussion on the origin of life eventually led to talk of the Big Bang Theory.
Nye explained the origin of the Big Bang Theory, stating that a scientist remarked that the moving apart of objects in space was almost like there was an explosion and things were moving outward from some kind of a big bang. Nye explained that scientists predicted that there should be some kind of leftover echo from such an explosion and that scientists later discovered waves that prove a catastrophic event occurred.
Ham said the Christian Bible claims that God said it is stretching out the heavens, and that is proof of why space is expanding.
Nye said he did not know what was causing the acceleration of the universe. Ham added that the running down of the universe was caused by man’s fall from grace in the Christian Bible’s Garden of Eden.
Ham also said the stars and other planets were created by the Christian God to prove to humans how powerful and creative it is.
Nye said if a magical character created everything, it has a fundamental misunderstanding of how the laws of nature work due to the numerous inefficiencies of life.
The men were asked how consciousness came from matter.
Ham said the Christian Bible tells where matter came from when, in Genesis, it states, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth.”
“We don’t know where consciousness comes from,” said Nye…. “The nature of consciousness is a mystery.”
Ham said energy and matter cannot produce life, no matter how much energy you have. He said a god is the only thing that could create life.
Ham was asked if the entire bible is to be taken literally. He said some of the book is historical record, some is scientific, some is poetry and some of it was intended as laws for the Jews, and does not apply to contemporary Christians.
Nye then accused Ham of arbitrarily deciding which parts of the Christian Bible are intended to be taken literally and which were intended as poetry.
Ham reiterated that there are no contradictions in the bible.
Ultimately, Ham believes a magical creature created everything out of nothing; and Nye believes life formed in a manner humans do not yet understand, from the bottom up, with more capable life forms surviving and less capable life forms becoming extinct.
In the end, Nye cautioned that, if America does not embrace the process of science, the nation will fall behind economically and technologically.
Ham cautioned that creationists must have the freedom to have their views included in the scientific community and in public schools.