Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Nye for a Nye, a Ham for a Ham

On Tuesday night, Bill Nye "The Science Guy" debated Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. The topic was Creation: Is it a viable scientific explanation of the universe's origins? You can watch the full debate here, or if you don't have the time (it's a whopping 2.5 hours long) you can watch several highlights here.

Overall, I felt the debate was quite civil. Neither side resorted to direct attacks on the other person, nor did they interrupt while the other person was presenting. Plus, the audience was very respectable--no booing or hissing either of the debaters at any time and holding their applause until it was appropriate (though Bill Nye would have done better to gauge how well they handle a joke). I wish our presidential debates were as tame.

But let's cut to the chase. Rather than give you a play-by-play of the debate, I want to analyze what I feel was the most telling point of the debate last night. At two hours and four minutes into the debate, moderator Tom Foreman took an audience question for Ken Ham: "What, if anything, would ever change your mind?"

Ken Ham, for the first time throughout the whole debate, was stumped. He didn't have any slides, any friends to call on, no research prepared for this question. He paused for nearly five seconds before gathering his wits and saying nothing would shake his faith. When the question was posed to Bill Nye, he responded immediately: "Evidence."

This underscores why the scientific community doesn't take young-earth creationism seriously. Ken Ham isn't searching for the answers; he assumes he already knows them. He's only searching for evidence he can use to support his doctrines. This is the opposite of the scientific method, wherein you begin with a question, make a prediction, and hope you find an answer. If what you find doesn't match your prediction, you change the previous assumptions (after verifying the result, of course).

This also highlights the fundamental difference between these two worldviews. Bill Nye--along with every other scientist--is willing to throw out all his preconceptions of the origins of the universe if verifiable evidence can be shown that they are flawed. Ken Ham will continue to assert that Earth is 6,000 years old despite any evidence to the contrary.

That's why that question stumped him. In the five seconds it took him to reach for an answer, he looked like he had never even considered the possibility of changing his mind. The question was a simple matter to Bill Nye, but it was much more to Ken Ham. It was a moral quandary. Essentially the question was  What if I'm wrong?

And to a young-earth creationist like Ham, that's a frightening thought. The whole of his morality is built on the premise that he is right about his literal interpretation of the Bible. He stacks moral absolutes about good, evil, sexuality, race, etc., on top of that one premise. Ironically, this moral structure has all the stability of a Jenga tower. But rather than construct a different worldview, he prefers to stack his tower higher and higher, and you know what eventually happens in a game of Jenga.

Bill Nye, on the other hand, knows better. He embraces the possibility that on any given day someone could discover something that forces him to change his understanding of the world. He says it himself, that the thrill of discovery for discovery's sake is what drives him. He's not looking to validate his beliefs, he's searching for the answers, whatever they may be. No, he doesn't know what the universe was like before the Big Bang. No, he doesn't know where consciousness comes from. But so what? That's all the more reason to wake up in the morning and work towards an answer.

This debate will have people talking for days. The most frequent question you'll hear is, "Who won?" The answer will vary from person to person and if you ask me, I think that's a flawed way to analyze the debate. Instead, I believe we should ask ourselves, "What did this teach me about the issue? Did I challenge my own beliefs or sink deeper into them?" If you gained no new insights, then I'm sorry you wasted your time.

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