Friday, February 07, 2014

My take on the Creationism/Evolution debate

If you haven't watched the debate, I know that it will be on YouTube for at least a little longer.  It's 2.5 hours but definitely worth the watch. Click here to watch.

So, for those of you who live under a rock and had no idea, Ken Ham (founder of that famous Creationism museum in Kentucky) and Bill Nye ("the science guy") took the opportunity to entertain the world by holding a debate in Kentucky regarding whether Creationism can be considered a viable, modern model for the origin of the species.  Since then, I've seen all kinds of rhetoric from both sides.  The bible nerds out there giggle at Nye's liberal use of phrases such as "I don't know" and "That's the great mystery" while evolution pundits criticize Ham's use of scripture as his biggest tool for rebuttal.

Disclaimer:  FYI...I'm an Evolutionist.  My reason is simply that, by its nature, Evolution inherits the same extreme degree of scrutiny required from any scientific process.  It doesn't claim to have all the answers right now but tirelessly performs the due diligence required to eventually converge on an unimpeachable understanding of a natural phenomenon.  This process has always created a greater resonance within me than the more ethereally ideological approaches.

I'll skip the small talk and move straight on to the point.  I really didn't care much for this debate.  In fact, I don't really consider it to be much of a debate at all.  If I could go back in time, I would probably go back to a week prior and tell Mr Nye that...

I got the distinct impression that Mr Nye wasn't exactly among friends let alone peers.  He was understandably opposed to Mr. Ham but I perceived that he was also somewhat opposed to the audience as well.  I'm the kind of guy who pays attention to strange things like that.  As you watch it, you'll notice things about the crowd's reactions...the way that Mr Ham's snippy little "But Bill...there's a BOOK that tells us exactly where that came from" comments were always met with agreeable, supportive giggles from the crowd whereas the only way Mr Nye could ever solicit such a reaction was when he would briefly assume the caricature of the nerdy, eccentric, guy with the bow tie whom everyone recognized from TV.  In short, I don't think that Mr. Nye was among friends.

Some points that stood out for me:

  1. It was clear to me that Mr Ham and his army of sympathetic PhD'd scientists spend a lot of their time finding holes in theories and citing them as weakness.  I mean, these guys spend a LOT of time doing this and then memorizing each and every single one of them as a bullet point for later conversation with no regard for the notion that scientific theories aren't just spontaneously generated wholly and completely.  Gaps will often exist and for indeterminate periods of time.  Science fully embraces the idea of "to be continued", "this spot reserved for future study", and "we don't quite understand this right now".  So, how is someone like Mr Nye, an advocate for general science, supposed to prepare himself for such pre-planned assaults on such very specific "chinks" in the armor of some of these scientific theories?  I haven't a clue.  He's a braver man than I am. 
  2. Mr Ham assumed the enviable position of being able to create the rule stick by which the rest of his arguments would be assessed and by which Mr Nye's would be judged.  I can't really fault him because Mr Nye let him do it.  In the beginning, Mr Ham describes the two different  kinds of science: historical science and observational science.  (Taken directly from the gospel according to Ham).  Long story short, the premise of historical science was that we can't observe what happened in the past and thus science has no dominion over whether we can judge it to be true or false.  This being the case, he asserts that scripture is a recording of observed events and thus has merit that is missing in the scientific process.  Mr Ham beat Mr Nye with that stick repeatedly throughout the debate.  Were it I who was up there, I'd have knee-capped Mr Ham in the beginning but I get the impression that Mr Nye, although being blunt, is also a really nice guy.  So, not only is this Ham's turf and (I believe) Ham's audience, but it's also Ham's rule book. 
  3.  Mr Ham knew exactly what he was going to throw at Mr Nye and, what's more, he wanted the world to see it happen.  Hence, the invitation to Kentucky.  Again, I posit that had Mr Nye known what kind of scientific chinks were going to be thrown at him that he might have had a different strategy.   So...Ham's turf, (I think) Ham's audience, Ham's rule book, Ham's game plan.  This is a bit overwhelming when going up against Mr Nye's messages that often come across more as public service announcements than actual arguments.  
  4. I will say, though, that Mr Ham was a brave man for trying to stand up to science on science's terms.  The idea that some of these scientific theories were questionable using the tenets of the scientific process itself was probably the best move he could have made.  It's long been my opinion that when science and religion verbally go head-to-head that nothing will ever be accomplished.  How can either side hope to gain sympathy from the other when they both value different things and have completely different rule books determining validity and cogency?  Mr Ham at least did this part well by not only being willing to meet halfway but by spanning the entire bridge to meet Mr Nye on the other side.  
  5. And, alas, I was not a fan of Mr Nye using the pulpit to twice take a political posture.  As just about everyone knows, he continually purports that to believe in Creationism isn't itself a bad thing but to please teach Evolution to children with the premise being that scientifically literate people will be needed in the generations to come to maintain America's scientific and industrial posture.  It's a great message and I completely agree.  I just think that it was the wrong place and the wrong time. 

So, again, I really don't think that it was much of a debate.  I'm glad that Bill Nye is around and is willing to zealously run with the torch of scientific advocacy the way that he does.  I'd be lying, however, if I said that I think that anything was accomplished or that either party came out on top.