Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye Debate

Part I

Assessment of the Debate

Okay, I’m going to join half the blogging world and comment on the Ham-Nye debate. I think I’ll keep my review of the debate short, but boy, do I have some follow-up!

I took notes, but the tenor of the debate was pretty simple.

  1. Ken Ham produced a few scientists who on video professed to be young earth creationists. Very impressive beginning.
  2. Ken Ham distinguished between observational science and historical science. anything in the present can be observed, so that’s okay, but since we can’t observe the past, all historical science is invalid, purely based on faith.
  3. Bill Nye presented abundant evidence from tree rings, ice cores, radioactive dating, fossil-filled layering in the Grand Canyon, the massive amount of near human skulls, the lack of a fossil trail from Mt. Ararat to Australia and the lack of evidence for a land bridge, the amazing prediction and finding of Tiktaalik, and the prediction and finding of background radiation from the Big Bang.

Bill Nye pointed out that only Ken Ham distinguishes between “observational” and “historic” science. I don’t really have any problem with that. I have a huge problem with his dismissing “historic” science in fell swoop.

Doing so eliminates the entire science of forensics, as Nye pointed out. Clearly, then, we are finding suspects and convicting people on faith in the “historical” science of forensics, which is invalid because we were not there and we are trying to reconstruct the past. Finding gunpowder traces on a person’s hand is completely irrelevant to whether they ever shot a gun. We weren’t there; we didn’t see it. Finding fingerprints in a victim’s house does not indicate that a suspect was there. We didn’t see it, so we have no way of knowing except by faith.

Not only is that, um–thinking of a nice word for really stupid … uh, unreasonable(!), but Ken Ham took it so far to say that counting tree rings is invalid because we weren’t there to see the tree rings form.

How do you respond to such a  statement except with laughter or stunned disbelief?

If in any instance mirth be excited, this will be quite as much as the subject deserves. There are many things which deserve refutation in such a way as to have no gravity expended on them. Vain and silly topics are met with especially appropriately with laughter. Even the truth may indulge in ridicule because it is jubilant; it may play with its enemies because it is fearless. Only we must take care that its laughter is not unseemly and so itself be laughed at; but wherever its mirth is decent, there it is a duty. (Tertullian, Against the Valentinians 6, c AD 210)

I do want to say it was a great debate. Both guys were respectful and interesting. Ken Ham avoided slandering people and just stuck to “the Bible says so, and it’s impossible to know anything about the past.”

He did appeal to his “the flood predicts billions of dead things buried in the earth and that’s what we find argument.” Once again, I have to answer that with, “Does it predict that billions of dead things should be found buried in the earth in a progression from simpler (and extinct) life to more complex life progressively becoming similar to modern life?”

Part II

Published Scientists Who Are Young Earth Creationists

I have to start with the last creationist scientist. Dr. Andrew Snelling of Australia. What a story!!!

Apparently there are two Dr. Snellings. Both have the same name, the same impressive credentials, both us the same address, and that address is shared with Australia’s Creation Science Foundation.

The first Dr. Snelling publishes in CREATION ex nihilo. He never cites Dr. Snelling 2.

The second Dr. Snelling publishes in peer-reviewed journals, but he is pro-evolution! Or, at least he is old earth. The first Dr. Snelling is clearly young earth, attributing all the deposits of the earth to the “creation week,” the flood, and the modern era. The second Dr. Snelling, publishing in refereed journals, talks about billions of years of earth history.

What??? Again, see the article containing the quotes and citations from the two (one?) Dr. Snellings.

Note that Dr. Snelling wrote promoting a young earth and flood geology in ex nihilo in 1983, then wrote against a young earth in 1990 in a scientific journal, and now works for Answers in Genesis? He can be listed as a young earth creationist who has been published and cited in scientific journals, but all his journal articleas oppose a young earth and flood geology.

Dr. Danny Faulkner

The person I really wanted to read about was Dr. Danny Faulkner, an astronomer and a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the Univeristy of South Carolina, Lancaster. A young earth astronomer with leading credentials at a state university? How could that be?

He really is a young earther. He primarily studies orbiting dual stars, and this really doesn’t require him to put his young universe theory to the test in scientific journals. In fact, I read one entire paper, and it never even mentioned the distance in light years to the binary system he was studying.

So I read a couple of his creationist articles (not in scientific journals, of course), and I think the most telling quote was this one:

Very Brief discussions of stellar structure and evolution have been presented. Though it would seem that creationists would not have much with which to quarrel in the former, most would largely dismiss the latter. However, the two are intimately related, and one cannot be rejected without seriously calling into question the other. We are appealing to readers to give much attention to the study of stellar evolution, and we hope that much lively discussion follows. (ref)

In case you don’t understand what this says, here’s my rewording: “We creationists are okay with the structure of stars as described by science. Most of us have to dismiss the evolution of stars because the time it takes for them to burn out is way too long for our system. The trouble is, we can’t dismiss the evolution of stars because it’s so related to the structure of stars, and I agree science is correct on the structure of stars. So I’m asking readers to help discuss this topic so we can find some way to prove the universe is young.”

In other words, he said, “I got nothing, and we need something. Can you help out?”

Not, in my opinion, a big feather in the cap of the creationist movement.

Dr. Stuart Burgess

This is another real creationist with real science degrees. None of his journal articles touch on topics related to evolution, so that doesn’t do much for the creationist argument except that there are scientists like Dr. Faulkner and Dr. Burgess who want a young earth to be true, so they are hunting around for evidence … not very successfully.

A creationist article he wrote argues for the “irreducible complexity” of the human knee joint. He says:

The irreducibility of the knee joint is most clearly demonstrated by identifying the critical geometrical characteristics that must be defined in the genetic code. The knee has many critical geometrical characteristics because the two cruciate ligaments and the two leg bones form a very sophisticated and precise mechanism, called a four-bar hinge.

It is always smart to look these things up. I read one irritated answer to this claim by Dr. Burgess, but it was unsatisfactory to me. I also found a refereed journal abstract that says:

The complex asymmetrical design of the human knee is ancient in origin. The distinctive characteristics of this design were well established more than 300 million years ago.

So far, so good for Dr. Burgess on the irreducible complexity of the knee. The basic components of the human knee joint have been around for 300 million years. We don’t have all the intermediate steps leading to the human knee.

That’s really not very promising for the young earth movement, though. It is no evidence at all against a young earth, only a hope that there is a big, inexplicable leap in the design of the knee that happened more than 300 million years ago and required God to step in to make it happen.

What is a lot more likely is that within the next ten years we will have found enough fossils to give the full evolutionary history of the human knee. That’s what has happened to pretty much all of the “God of the gaps” arguments that have come in the past. The gap has filled in, and the argument has had to disappear.

That said, Stuart Burgess is a scientist with real credentials who is a young earth creationist.

Dr. Raymond Damadion

This is another guy with real credentials, although he is the designer of an incredible machine, the MRI scanner, not a student of life sciences. He is a young earth creationist. Not much to report here. We do know there are other famous young earthers, such as Dr. Benjamin Carson and John Baumgardner.

Okay, that’s my report. Thanks for reading!


About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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4 Responses to Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye Debate

  1. Troy Britain says:

    So far, so good for Dr. Burgess on the irreducible complexity of the knee. The basic components of the human knee joint have been around for 300 million years.

    You do realize that the 300 million year old knee joint that Dye is referring to in the article you linked to, belongs to a lobe-finned fish? Mammals didn’t even exist 300 m.y.a. let alone any member of the Hominidae.

    • paulfpavao says:

      Lol. Yes, I do. The issue to me was whether we have a good lineage yet. The eye, for example, has an excellent lineage to pull from to explain its evolution, from nature, in small increments. With only a few minutes, it looked to me that we cannot yet say, “Here’s how the knee developed. Here are the small steps.” At least, we can’t do that the way we can for the eye.

      The point is that this is no argument against evolution. To be upheld, the theory of evolution does not need to have to explain every small step that has produced every body part of every species on earth. That would be a ridiculous requirement.

      Look at how little we know about gravity, and wildly varying theories about it. We don’t reject gravity because there’s no proof the majority of its force is leaking into other dimensions.

      Thank you, however, for pointing that out.

  2. Michael Snow says:

    Neither guy is well qualified to debate the science. It was a PR event for both. And Ham adds to what the Bible says.

    Here was a recent debate by real scientists.

    • paulfpavao says:

      I understand your point about not being well qualified, but I don’t really agree. The audience is the public. It is entirely possible for a person without a doctorate, or even a degree, in an applicable science to learn enough about evolutionary theory to accurately present it and even defend it to the public. I don’t really believe that people more qualified as scientists would necessarily present a better debate, except to scientists. In fact, as far as the average, untrained person, it would be hard–in my opinion–to have produced a more easily understandable debate.

      Yes, yes. The huge majority of people do not want to understand. I estimate 95% of listeners and debaters on and hotly contested subject are so biased that it is literally impossible to persuade them from their position, no matter what evidence one presents. Some of those 95% are fortunate enough to be on the accurate side, but they are every bit as hard-headed, close-minded, and have as much disregard for truth as the members of the 95% who are on the inaccurate side.

      But there are 5%, most of them educated but some uneducated, for whom a debate by knowledgeable people (or in this case, one knowledgeable person on science and one skilled misinterpreter of the Christian religion) who are able to communicate well to the less educated is helpful. For them, a Nye-Ham debate is more helpful than a debate by “real” scientists, unless those scientists are skilled at speaking to those who do not hold degrees in pertinent scientific fields.

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