Thoughts on the Ham/Nye Debate

Yesterday, creationist Ken Ham and evolutionist Bill Nye met in northern Kentucky at Ham’s Creation Museum to debate this question: Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins? The debate can be watched here. I want to offer some brief comments on Ham and Nye’s content and performance.

First, I will start with Ham, seeing that he went first in the debate.

Pros: Ham was very professional and respectful towards Nye. He stayed on topic (“is creation a viable model of origins”). His PowerPoint slides contained good information and he used videos to his advantage. These videos mostly contained scientists who were both creationists and well-known in their respective fields. Ham also used videos of Nye making statements to his advantage (I didn’t feel that this was in any way a cheap tactic for it eliminated accusation of possibly misquoting Nye; not saying Nye would have accused Ham of doing so if Ham had simply quoted him, but it was safe for Ham to play video of Nye making statements in order to eliminate doubt/concern of the use of his quotes). Now, on to the content. Ham started the debate strong, very strong I felt. His uninterrupted 30 minutes were full of slides, video, and gospel. He spoke much on the distinction between historical science and observational science, which I thought was helpful. On this distinction of types of science, Ham pressed that we cannot begin to do science without making certain assumptions about the past, which cannot be observed. Note, Ham made sure to say that observational science generally does not require any specific commitment to a model of historical science. Ham went on to present a well-developed case for creationism and eliminated any confusion on the use of “species” and “kinds” (use of Darwin’s finches, evolutionary tree, creation orchard). Something that was noticeable throughout the whole debate was the disagreement on terms and definitions, which sort of hindered the debate from advancing. Ham also argued that creationism doesn’t hinder the fostering of scientists and engineers, which is when he played some videos of scientists who have made important contributions to modern medicine and medical science; ex. Raymond Damadian, a creationist, invented the MRI scanner. Ham continually pressed that scientists who are creationists do “real science.” Ham also pointed out, rightly, that creationists and evolutionists have the same evidence, but that the two camps interpret that evidence differently. In Ham’s rebuttals to Nye, he stressed issues, to which Nye didn’t have an explanation, of the origin of logic, natural law, and consciousness. Ham said things like dead material does not produce life (which Nye scoffed at). In the time allotted, Ham tried to be precise in his arguments and stayed the course. Also, Ham presented the gospel of Christ; at least 4 full presentations of the gospel, as well as numerous mentions of sin, Christ, faith, and Christ’s resurrection. Ham’s unwavering commitment to the Bible and to Christ was courageous and inspiring.

Cons: Ham didn’t fair as well in the Q&A as one would have liked to have seen. He stumbled a little but wasn’t a disaster. He didn’t respond to a few criticisms of Nye’s, which Nye would not let go (age of trees, ice rods). He ended a bit rough.

Next, Bill Nye:

Pros: Nye was looked professional and for the most part acted as such; the bow-tie was a nice touch. Nye’s presentation style was engaging. He was a better speaker than Ham. Not sure whether or not this a pro or con, depends on one’s learning style, Nye didn’t use as many PowerPoint slides and videos as Ham did, but he did look at the audience more (perhaps eye contact is preferable over visual aid for some). Nye’s whole point was about teaching students “real mainstream science.” So, perhaps needlessly to say, Nye rejected Ham’s distinction of historical science and observational science saying science is unitary in method. Nye clearly rejected biblical Christianity (I put that under the pros section because, though I disagree with him, he was honest and clear about his position). Nye was well-prepared, more so than I, as well as many others (including many evolutionists) were ready to give him credit for. Nye brought up some interesting scientific predictions, the expanding of stars, the unlikelihood of a global flood, the fossil record, radiometric dating, etc. Nye started out the debate, in my opinion, a bit slow, particularly compared to Ham. However, I thought Nye had concluded well, though it seemed like he was giving us a sales pitch about supporting scientific efforts, especially mentioning The Planetary Society, of which he is CEO. He asked Ham some tough questions and conceded his ignorance of an answer when tough ones were asked of him (ex. Ham asked Nye to justify the existence of logic or consciousness in a materialistic/naturalistic worldview: where does something so abstract as logic or consciousness come from. To which, Nye simply said, “I don’t know”). Nye answered the Q&A’s well.

Cons: Nye’s facial expressions and tone came across condescending towards Ham whenever Ham answered a few questions (one instance in particular was when Ham said dead things/matter cannot produce life). Nye focused much on Noah and the ark, perhaps too much, which was irritating because it was as if Nye was deflecting the topic at hand. He wouldn’t let go of a couple of questions, which one can only assume think that Nye believed them to be debilitating for Ham. Nye also displayed an ignorance of the Bible, and debating a creationist without a knowledge of the Bible doesn’t make much sense seeing a creationist is going to use the Bible at some point in his line of argumentation. Nye repeated the phrase, “a book that is over 3,000 years old translated into American English” too much. It was a tasteless tactic, and showed his ignorance of general Bible translation methods. Also, Nye grossly misrepresented Ham’s position on Biblical interpretation. [Ham was asked if he interprets everything in the Bible literally i.e. stoning of people, eating pork. Ham wanted to clarify “literal” and says that he interprets the Bible naturally. For example, Ham said Genesis is a historical narrative, which because of its genre can be read as historical fact; whereas the Psalms are poetry and you would interpret them more allegorically. Ham’s answer was the proper one (speaking as a person who has studied, and is studying in seminary, theology). You don’t read a historical journal the same way you read a science fiction novel or Edgar Allan Poe’s work]. Nye said Ham interprets the Bible literally when he chooses to and not so literal when he chooses; which shows his lack of understanding of biblical hermeneutics. Note, Nye did say that he is “not a theologian.” Nye seemed unauthentic when he said that someone can believe in God and evolutionary science, though he did say religion fostered some positive things like community.

Conclusion: At the end both men were asked what, if anything, would change their minds in regards to their position on origins. Ham pointed to biblical authority and said, no. Nye said evidence would change his mind, though he is unconditionally committed to a naturalistic worldview, which would make finding and accepting such evidence impossible. I felt that Ham got his point across: creation is a viable option and creationists can do real science; creationists aren’t in some isolated area in the scientific community, but that they are working alongside evolutionists attempting to find answers to the same questions. Neither side “won” the debate; nor did they convincingly persuade people of one camp to leave for the other. It is difficult to debate such a subject as origins in 2 1/2 hours. But the most important thing is twofold: the debate opened some lines of communication for the general public to discuss the issue;  secondly (because I am a Christian), in this debate the gospel was proclaimed verbally (and explicitly) to hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions.

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