Skip to comments.The Ham-Nye Creation Debate: A Huge Missed Opportunity
Posted on 02/05/2014 6:59:02 AM PST by Heartlander
After watching Tuesday night's Ken Ham-Bill Nye debate, I was reminded of what attracted me in the first place to the approach to investigating origins represented by the theory of intelligent design.
Sure, Ham talked about some science here and there, but almost all of what he said focused on trying to support a young earth viewpoint. Since he's not a scientist, the great majority of his arguments amounted -- over and over again -- to "Because the Bible says so." Nye's main argument was, "Because the evidence says so," and he cited a lot of reasonable evidence for an old earth. The compelling scientific evidence for design in nature got skipped over.
Because the focus was so overwhelmingly on the age of the earth, the point was never made that a mainstream scientific view about the age of the earth is totally compatible with an intelligent design view that totally refutes Nye's materialist beliefs about the history of life. For goodness sake, Bill Nye was the one defending Big Bang cosmology. Viewers would never know that the Big Bang is one of the best arguments for the design of the universe ever offered by science.
People will walk away from this debate thinking, "Ken Ham has the Bible, Bill Nye has scientific evidence." Some Christians will be satisfied by that. Other Christians (like me) who don't feel that accepting the Bible requires you to believe in a young earth will feel that their views weren't represented. And because Ham failed (whether due to time constraints, or a fundamentally weak position) to offer evidence rebutting many of Nye's arguments for an old earth, young earth creationist Christians with doubts will probably feel even more doubtful. Most notably, however, skeptics won't budge an inch. Why? Because Ham's main argument was "Because the Bible says so," and skeptics don't take the Bible as an authority. They want to see evidence.
That's why I strongly prefer evidence-based approaches to origins like ID. Skeptics who say "Show me the evidence" are challenged with evidence, because that's what ID argues from -- the evidence for design in nature, not in the Bible. In a debate where people want to know what the evidence says, that moves everyone in the right direction.
This is really unfortunate. I know that Ken Ham means well, but it's extremely regrettable that the powerful evidence for design in nature was hardly discussed in the Ham-Nye debate. A huge opportunity was lost.
What Could Have Been
Bill Nye is a great science communicator, but I can just about guarantee that his knowledge about evolution goes no deeper than popular arguments you find in books by Dawkins and Coyne. He knows next to nothing about the many emerging scientific challenges to the neo-Darwinian paradigm. A debater who was familiar with these issues could have shown the audience that an ID-based view of life is far superior to a Darwinian one.
For example, Nye gave the bland argument that "Evolution is a process that adds complexity through natural selection," but he probably has no idea about the growing body of evidence that is leading scientists to reject natural selection as an explanation for much of biological complexity.
Nye also said nature is "inconsistent with a top-down view" of intelligent design. I suppose Nye is unaware that scientists increasingly say that understanding biology requires a top-down approach:
- "The unique informational narrative of living systems suggests that life may be characterized by context-dependent causal influences, and in particular, that top-down (or downward) causation -- where higher-levels influence and constrain the dynamics of lower-levels in organizational hierarchies -- may be a major contributor to the hierarchal structure of living systems." (Sara Imari Walker and Paul C. W. Davies, "The algorithmic origins of life," Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 10: 20120869 (2012).)
The growing field of "systems biology" takes this "top-down" approach:
- "The record of the first appearance of living phyla, classes, and orders can best be described in Wright's (1) term as 'from the top down'." (James W. Valentine, "Late Precambrian bilaterians: Grades and clades," Proc. Natd. Acad. Sci. USA, 91: 6751-6757 (July 1994)
System-level understanding, the approach advocated in systems biology, requires a shift in our notion of "what to look for" in biology. While an understanding of genes and proteins continues to be important, the focus is on understanding a system's structure and dynamics. Because a system is not just an assembly of genes and proteins, its properties cannot be fully understood merely by drawing diagrams of their interconnections. Although such a diagram represents an important first step, it is analogous to a static roadmap, whereas what we really seek to know are the traffic patterns, why such traffic patterns emerge, and how we can control them.
Identifying all the genes and proteins in an organism is like listing all the parts of an airplane. While such a list provides a catalog of the individual components, by itself it is not sufficient to understand the complexity underlying the engineered object. We need to know how these parts are assembled to form the structure of the airplane. This is analogous to drawing an exhaustive diagram of gene-regulatory networks and their biochemical interactions. Such diagrams provide limited knowledge of how changes to one part of a system may affect other parts, but to understand how a particular system functions, we must first examine how the individual components dynamically interact during operation. We must seek answers to questions such as: What is the voltage on each signal line? How are the signals encoded? How can we stabilize the voltage against noise and external fluctuations? And how do the circuits react when a malfunction occurs in the system? What are the design principles and possible circuit patterns, and how can we modify them to improve system performance?
(Hiroaki Kitano, "Systems Biology: A Brief Overview," Science, 295 (5560): 1662-1664 (March 1, 2002).)And this holistic, top-down approach can be applied to help us understand the "irreducible organisational complexity" of the cell:
Self-referential organisation, as we put it here, implies inter-conversion of information between logically distinct coding systems specifying each other reciprocally. Thus, the holistic approach assumes self-referentiality (completeness of the contained information and full consistency of the different codes) as an irreducible organisational complexity of the genetic regulation system of any cell. Put another way, this implies that the structural dynamics of the chromosome must be fully convertible into its genetic expression and vice versa. Since the DNA is an essential carrier of genetic information, the fundamental question is how this self-referential organisation is encoded in the sequence of the DNA polymer.
(Georgi Muskhelishvili and Andrew Travers, "Integration of syntactic and semantic properties of the DNA code reveals chromosomes as thermodynamic machines converting energy into information," Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 70 (23): 4555-4567 (December, 2013).)ID principles are bearing real fruit in science. What we find in life is fundamentally incompatible with the "bottom-up" approach of neo-Darwinian theory. Biology in the 21st century requires a goal-directed cause that can explain the "top-down," "holistic," and "irreducible organisational complexity" of the cell. That cause is intelligent design, but the audience watching the Nye-Ham debate, live or online, learned hardly anything about this viewpoint.
The Ham-on-Nye puns got to be unbearable yesterday.
Yep - with a little cheese...
The constructive part of the debate was fine, but the rebuttals were ineffective for both parties as Bill Nye never addressed Ham’s central point that observed science and historical science (better termed as theoretical science) are two different things. Nye explicitly stated that “if anyone can show deviations in the fossil record, you’d be a hero,” to which Ham could have won by proving these deviations (which do exist). Instead, he talked about a less convincing incident of 45K year old wood found in 45M year old deep strata. Even a quote about the Cambrian explosion would have put deep holes in Nye’s argument.
It was something that Ham, ironically, addressed in a metaphysical light, and should have focused on evidence disproving evolution. There is SO MUCH evidence, I am surprised Ham didn’t slam Nye with it, and this allowed Nye to look much stronger.
Maybe this writer should debate Nye instead.
I know it used to really bug me, before I became a Christian, when Christians would preach at me and say, “because the Bible says so.” That means nothing to someone who doesn’t believe in the Bible in the first place! A Mormon could say, “because the Book of Mormon says so” or a Muslim could say, “because the Koran says so.”
I missed those. Looks like I'll have to catch up.
Just as I feared, they were talking across each other rather than to each other.
I don’t think any minds were changed.
Bill Nye was was not pinned down on his own reliance on faith regarding things that are observable.
I think Ham could have better made the point that this isn’t about whether you believe in old earth, new earth, this is about a concerted effort of atheists pushing their religion on children.
Why can’t there be a compromise: God created the Earth and evolution is part of His Grand Design?
I dont believe methodological naturalism allows for that
The time has come to take seriously the fact that we humans are modified monkeys, not the favored Creation of a Benevolent God on the Sixth Day. In particular, we must recognize our biological past in trying to understand our interactions with others. We must think again especially about our so-called ethical principles. The question is not whether biologyspecifically, our evolutionis connected with ethics, but how. As evolutionists, we see that no [ethical] justification of the traditional kind is possible.
Morality, or more strictly our belief in morality, is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends. Hence the basis of ethics does not lie in Gods will…. In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate. It is without external grounding. Like Macbeths dagger, it serves a powerful purpose without existing in substance.
Ethics is illusory inasmuch as it persuades us that it has an objective reference. This is the crux of the biological position. Once it is grasped, everything falls into place.
- Michael Ruse and E. O. Wilson, The Evolution of Ethics
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you wont find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.
- Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life
Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly.
1) No gods worth having exist.
2) No life after death exists.
3) No ultimate foundation for ethics exists.
4) No ultimate meaning in life exists.
5) Human free will is nonexistent.
- William Provine (from Darwin Day speech)
Darwin showed that material causes are a sufficient explanation not only for physical phenomena, as Descartes and Newton had shown, but also for biological phenomena with all their seeming evidence of design and purpose. By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous. Together with Marx's materialistic theory of history and society and Freud's attribution of human behavior to influences over which we have little control, Darwin's theory of evolution was a crucial plank in the platform of mechanism and materialism
-Douglas Futuyma's Evolutionary Biology (1998, 3rd Ed., Sinauer Associates), p. 5
Let us not go down that road again.
Thanks for those quotes.
Keep in mind that these statements actually go beyond anything in the science. They are extra-scientific and reflect their own interpretations explicated in the socio-political realm.
I think they are such true believers that they don’t know they’ve broken their own covenant with science as practitioners.
At the same time, they are great quotes to throw back in the faces of liberal atheists who don’t understand the cognitive dissonance of their own views.
Yeah, yeah, but you gotta admit, the person that came up with that was clever.
There are some very good apologetic works on the divine nature of the Bible as the Word of God, with logical and prophetic arguments that are rather air tight.
Vodie Bachum has some good stuff if you look for it.
I “talked” with at least 3 other engineers on this forum throughout this debate and we all had the approximate same story - I was a marginal Christian BECAUSE OF the “discrepancies between science and the bible”.
Then, Mr Ham and Mr Bachum and my own research convinced me that there was no “discrepancies” except in the worldview assumptions and the interpretation of physical evidence.
When you see people talking past each other,
it’s usually a failure to address the basic assumptions that each is basing his argument on.
They did this at one point, however. Neither was willing to budge on those assumptions.
Ha! The cognitive dissonance of the liberal atheist that would be an easy book to write. Neo-darwinism (random mutations, natural selection and survival of the fittest) makes man just another animal and no more exceptional than plants or other animals - then it follows that man has no exceptional moral responsibilities either-- including to safeguard the planet or care about other living beings, whether animal or human. Darwin knew this:
If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.In the Darwin view of humans as animals, what would cause us to stop practicing animal husbandry within our own species? Reduce the meaning of "human" to "just another animal", and eugenics is fair game. Scientific data is well supported in animal husbandry. Eugenics is only abhorrent to those who recognize that there is something transcendently special about humans.
To natural selection killing your siblings and offspring is all the same as loving them. Selection only favors what works to enhance survival and reproduction, and it does not matter if it is nice and moral, or harsh and brutal.
- Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, and Selection in Regard to Sex
Eugenic racism in 1925 was consensus science in the field of human evolution. By 1928 there were 376 university-level courses on eugenics, and there was widespread support from scientists and other academics at leading universities -- Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins, to name a few -- as well as enthusiastic support from media and government. Eugenic science was funded lavishly by the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Harriman Railroad foundation, and the wealthy businessman J.H. Kellogg. Many national and international conferences on eugenics and human evolution were hosted at leading research institutions, including the American Museum of Natural History, and eugenic science gained the imprimatur of leading scientific organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, and the National Research Council. Wealthy donors created the Eugenic Records Office on Long Island, later to become the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. By the 1930s, thirty-one states in the U.S. would pass compulsory sterilization laws based on mainstream eugenic science and human evolution, and eugenics would receive the explicit endorsement of the Supreme Court in 1926. By the end of the first half of the 20th century, sixty thousand Americans had been sterilized involuntarily on the basis of consensus eugenic science.Eugenics is an ugly part of our history and even taught to our children (See: Hunters Civic Biology ).
Racism and eugenics were the hallmarks of the theory of human evolution in the early 20th century, representing a clear consensus of evolutionary biologists as well as other scientists and leaders in higher education and government. There were a few dissenters, but such skeptics were disdained in mainstream scientific circles.
- Michael Egnor
Improvement of Man. - If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor of future generations of men and women on the earth might not be improved by applying to them the laws of selection.Why would unguided evolution even select human consciousness? It has no evolutionary benefit it actually stifles evolution - it causes us to help the weak and let them reproduce. We try to stop dogs with genetic defects from reproducing why not humans? What would be the liberal atheists counter argument? Yep, cognitive dissonance even Darwin experienced it with his own theory:
Eugenics. - When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, that dread white plague which is still responsible for almost one seventh of all deaths, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science is of being well born is called eugenics.
Parasitism and its Cost to Society. - Hundreds of families such as those described above exist to-day, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.
The Remedy. - If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.
- Hunters Civic Biology (the textbook at the centre of the Scopes Trial)
Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?