My thoughts on the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Origins Debate

By way of introduction: I am a Roman Catholic, and as such I see no potential conflict between Divine Revelation and Science. I am fairly neutral on the matter at hand (young earth vs. old earth), so I very much enjoyed this debate. To quote Bill Nye: “Thank you very much [..] I learnt something!”

I would also like to mention that this debate wasn’t, as I think many will mistake it as, an either/or. I think a lot could also be said to Behe’s view regarding Irreducible Complexity, and “old earth” Intelligent design. Nevertheless, Despite the debate not being an axiom, I thought it held together quite well.

Before addressing the content of the debate, I would like to say something for the form of it.

The debate was of a very high quality. The video, cameras and lighting were obviously very well thought out., as were the individual (ppt) presentations… I especially enjoyed the little cartoon/caricature of the issue presented by Ken Ham:


I must say, although at first I felt the structure might be a bit too choppy, I think the speakers really took to it, resulting in a very lively debate. And although there was some repetition, it certainly didn’t let the debate get boring! I was fascinated to the last word…

Now, to the heart of it all. I would like to make some comments on a few running threads of the debate. I obviously can’t address all of them, so I picked out my favorites, in no particular order:

Bill Nye started of his introduction with a tactful mention of the fact that many religious see no conflict between an old earth and their religious beliefs. And although I can’t speak for the rest of them, I am certainly thankful for this mention. It hopefully destroyed any idea that this debate is somehow equatable to some silly religion vs. science debate.

I had previously stumbled upon a blog of a 6 day creationist, and was very much surprised by the quality of the solutions they had apparently found to address core issues with their ideas. I was reminded of that fact by this debate. Ken Ham’s model was surprisingly clean, elegant and well thought out, in addition to the high quality presentation.

Ken Ham’s major point was making a distinction between observational science and historical science. He later discreetly backed up this point by saying that whilst scientific models of the past change, our observations of the present do not. I thought this was a very good point.

There is an argument floating around that if you do not believe in all of mainstream science, you therefore don’t have the right to use day to day technology, since it relies on various scientific discoveries. This silly idea is ripped apart from the distinction Ken makes.

But surprisingly, Nye opposed this distinction, despite it actually having little effect on his arguments, and tried to counter it with examples like CSI, where both divisions are treated with the same “brush”. I thought that was a little humorous, to say the least. Either way, it didn’t really address the changing models of “historical science”.

Much later on, Nye made a similar distinction in science between scientific data or observations and scientific theories. Of course, this is different from Ham’s model, but I also found this distinction somewhat enlightening.

Another thread that ran through the debate was an emphasis on education. Once I think I heard the word indoctrination used. Now when people use the word indoctrination, I’m not always quite sure what they are referring to. It implies that there is some kind of obviously immoral series of actions that the parent is doing that is affecting the mind of the child. But I think what they are really saying is “the parent is teaching the child something which I think is wrong, and the parent believes it to be right”. Now of course, when taken like that, the statement is simply one person’s word against another! Of course, in some cases, the assertion valid, but only as valid as the truth it’s based on, and not an argument in itself!

There were some quite entertaining points throughout the debate. For example, Ham started off by mentioning his accent (which I thought was actually not a very strong Australian accent), and I’d like to follow that up by mentioning that I thought Bill Nye sounded very much like a much older version of Nicholas Cage!

To Contrast the two sides of the debate, Bill Nye’s argument was like 100 pterodactyls raging against Ham’s T-Rex. That’s not to say that Ham’s argument was better (wouldn’t we all prefer to be a T-Rex? ;) but that it was much bigger, and fleshed out, so to speak. Bill Nye’s 30 minute talk consisted mainly of sticking little pins all over Bill Nye’s idea. Of course this kind of argument was appropriate, but nevertheless worth mentioning.

A lot of the debate consisted of bringing up scientific examples that supported either side, as it should be. And because of the sheer amount Nye brought up, Ham didn’t really have time to answer all of them. Consequently, if you are going to examine the scientific assertions of the debate, I would urge that you pay attention to the ones Ham actually did answer, before you pick them apart!

Lastly, there was a Q’n’A section, in which the side to which the question was asked got 2 minutes, before the other would make a 1 minute comment.

Bill Nye was asked the inevitable philosophical questions to which he basically answered “Nobody knows. That’s what keeps us interested in the wonder of science.”

Ham got to play the “not necessarily majority” card, to which Nye said that’s what science is all about (except the second law of thermodynamics, apparently).

Nye liked to emphasize the fact that the bible was a very old book, that had been translated a lot. At the same time, he frequently mentioned how a lot of religious agreed with him on scientific matters.

When each were asked the typical Devil’s Advocate questions (What would convince you?), Nye replied tactfully (if I had evidence, then I would believe you) and Ham was surprisingly staunch, admitting to refusing to answer the question, simply because he was so sure that he was right. Obviously, this sounds a bit unreasonable, but at the same time, I found it somewhat admirable. As admirable as the 400… who rode into the valley of death.

To conclude: I loved this debate. I liked it like one might like a a football game, rather than the way I like the summa, or the elegance of an idea. Don’t get me wrong: There were a few useful ideas that I took away from this debate, but above all I took away a fascination in how well the debate played out, and how each side put up a good fight!


2 thoughts on “My thoughts on the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Origins Debate

    1. Joe Grimer Post author

      “The majority can only take you so far…” Bill Nye
      To be honest. I’m a Thomist, so I don’t really mind one way or the other. After all, it was Fr. Lemaitre who theorized the Big Bang in the first place!
      Thanks for the link. My first assumption is that it’s closer to the lines of a Behe vs. Neo-Darwin debate. Needless to say that sounds intriguing!


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