In Part 1, I gave some preliminary thoughts about the Nye/Ham debate and evaluated Ken Ham’s opening statement. Moving on…
Comments on Bill Nye’s Opening Statement
After a seemingly irrelevant story about bowties (I guess to establish rapport with the audience), Nye asked the question, “Does Ken Ham’s Creation Model hold up? Is it viable?” His answer, obviously, was: No.
Using forensic science (think CSI) as an example, Nye claimed that there is no distinction between observational science and historical science. Now, it is true that there’s a lot of overlap in how scientists approach past events and how they approach repeatable experiments. Inferences are made about past and present phenomena, and the laws and regularities of nature are key when attempting to determine the truth about either one. However, I think Nye mischaracterized the situation, ignoring the fact that philosophical starting assumptions do impact the formation of theories about the past. For example, say an anti-theist has already ruled out the intelligent design of life in his mind BEFORE looking at any origin-of-life data. No matter how much the data favors the theory of intelligent design, this explanation will never even be considered as an option. The anti-theist is not free to follow the biological evidence where it leads; he is boxed in by naturalism, and only naturalistic options are available to him. By the same token, someone already convinced that Ham’s model is the only possibly “biblical” one will interpret the evidence accordingly, no matter the cost. The scientist not wearing either type of blinders, however, can let the evidence speak for itself. God has blessed us with the tools of logic, deduction, and sensory observation; he has created us in his image, with rational minds. I believe this means that we can learn many of his truths from the “book of nature” he has written through his creation of all things.
Nye went on to address the idea that a global flood, 4,000 years ago, was responsible for the vast majority of animal fossils, including dinosaurs. He rightly pointed out that there is a distinct pattern in the layers of the fossil record. We never find human fossils in the same layer as dinosaurs, or bunny rabbits in the same layer as trilobites, for example. Never, he claimed, do you find a fossil “out of place.” Now, it is my understanding that this is generally the rule, but “never” is a strong word that I’m not prepared to endorse here, mainly because of the phenomenon known as “living fossils.” I’m no expert in paleontology, but I’ve done quite a bit of reading about the worldwide sequence of fossils we see in the earth’s rock layers. The evidence for the sequential sudden appearance, stasis, and extinction of most of the animal species that have ever existed is truly compelling evidence of a progressive creation over vast ages of time. Why don’t we see a great big jumble of all animal kinds? This, I believe, is a strong point Nye makes against Ham’s model.
I was very pleasantly surprised by what Nye said next: That there are billions of people in the world who are deeply religious, many of them Christians, who do not accept Ham’s model. Thank you, Mr. Nye, for making that important and gracious clarification. I am appreciative that Nye was careful not to paint Christendom with a broad brush. He easily could have done otherwise. I’d like to add that many Christians who do not endorse Ham’s model have arrived at their views very prayerfully, with humility, and treat Scripture and doctrine with the utmost respect when attempting to correctly integrate Christian faith and scientific thought.
Nye concluded with remarks about how the United States is a world leader in technology, medicine, and other innovations because of a high view of science, and that if we “eschew the process,” we won’t be able to move forward, make new discoveries, or embrace natural law. In short, the embracing of creationism, especially in education, will prevent the US from staying ahead of the curve in these areas.
This assertion is a bit absurd. Some of the greatest scientific thinkers and innovators of all time were devout Christians who believed in a creator, in the inherent rationality of the cosmos, which they were convinced could only be a product of mind. Some of the prominent scientists of our day are committed Christians as well, including Dr. Francis Collins, project manager for the Human Genome Project and current Director for the National Institute of Health. Some important scientists and engineers also embrace Ham’s creation model, as Ham demonstrated with his video clips profiling various modern-day scientists. Sure, a scientist’s view about the past uniformity of nature may influence his practice of operational science in some small, insignificant way, but I think the real-life effects would be virtually negligible as far as scientific progress is concerned. Nye dramatically overstated his case on this point.
In Part 3, I will evaluate Ken Ham’s main presentation. Stay tuned.