Tuesday night’s debate between Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Ken Ham, attracted a huge audience and a plethora of controversy. The fact that this debate even took place is nothing short of miraculous since evolutionists will rarely even entertain the possibility of debating creationists, as evidenced by evolutionary scientists like Richard Dawkins and numerous others warning Nye against squaring off with Ham in this debate. Not not only did the debate take place, it was a wildly successful event, with an estimated audience of over 3 million live viewers on Tuesday night and another 2 million viewers watching it on Wednesday. The promotion and production of the debate were 2nd to none. Kudos to Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum for a job very well done!
And Bill Nye Said Let There Be Evolutionists…
The genesis (pun intended) of this debate was a viral video in which Bill Nye told creation-believing parents:
If you want to deny evolution and live in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can — we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.
A week later, Ken Ham responded with a video of his own and thus began the evolution of the Creation Debate. All that was needed was just the right mixture of time and chance, and this randomly occurring event took place. Something like that.
In The Beginning…
In the days leading up to the debate, I had tried to find exactly what the debate topic was. Mostly because I was a high school debate nerd and I wanted to analyze the topic and break it down with definitions and build a mental case for both sides. Unfortunately for me and my inner nerd the topic was not publicized, at least not that I could find. All that was known was that it was a debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham and it was assumed that it would be something about creation vs evolution.
Fortunately, Tom Foreman, the debate’s moderator, announced the topic during his introduction:
Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?
Ken Ham won the coin toss (literally) and chose to go first. As I was watching the debate live, his introductory comments seemed hurried and were difficult to follow. My initial thought was that he was trying to fit way too much into his first five minutes.
Part of the foundational information he laid down was his definitions of his terms. Ham emphasized a difference between observational science and historical science. He claimed the the term science had become hijacked by secularists. When speaking of observational science Ham referred to the Scientific Method, “consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment”. Ham claimed that matters of origin have nothing to do with observational science regardless of which side of the debate one falls.Ham contrasted that argument by claiming that matters of origin draw from historical science and that both Creationism and Evolutionism are beliefs based upon historical science.
Nye’s intro was personable and passionate. He seemed very prepared. He immediately rejected Ham’s distinction between observational and historical science and stuck to that gun for the entire debate.
One thing that surprised and disappointed me about Nye is not only that he never stated the debate topic, he actually completely changed it to, “Does Ken Ham’s creation model hold up? Is it ‘viable’?” From a rhetorical standpoint, Nye is committing a huge logical fallacy by calling it “Ken Ham’s creation model” (which he did through the duration of the debate) and thus creating a strawman, not just out of Ham’s arguments, but out of the official debate topic itself! You just can’t do that! And because he did that, he never ever really addressed the actual topic at hand.
Aside from that, Nye had some good moments in his opening, namely some of the questions he raised to Mr. Ham. Nye’s argument went like this:
- Premise 1: Noah’s Flood supposedly happened 4000 years ago.
- Premise 2: Trees exist that are older than 4000 years.
- Premise 3: Rock layers exist that are older than 4000 years.
- Conclusion 1: The physical evidence and the Biblical claim are contradictory.
- Conclusion 2: “Ken Ham’s creation model is not viable.”
In his main presentation, Ham expounded upon his initial point that there is a difference between observation and historical science. He also argued that the crux of the debate is the battle of worldviews. The evidence is the same for both evolutionists and creationists, the difference is how the evidence is interpreted.
Ham’s next argument was an anticipation of something Nye would bring up later in the debate. Ham posited that if our origins are based on the Bible then there should be predictions that we can test, of which Ham included, intelligent design, the law of “kinds”, Noah’s Flood, and a singular human race. Later in the debate, Nye claimed that using “Ken Ham’s creation model” made it impossible to make scientific predictions. Unfortunately for Nye, Ham had already listed some predictions.
Ham also showed videos of some current scientists that have done and are doing some pretty incredible things in their respective fields. More on this later.
In Nye’s main presentation he focused primarily on Noah’s Flood and the impossibilities that exist regarding the time elapsed since the Flood and the events that supposedly happened in that period of time. Nye’s presentation was a blatant rejection of the Bible, specifically Genesis, and even more specifically, the Noah’s Flood. At one point, I began to wonder if Nye even had a chance to read the debate topic because he was not addressing it whatsoever. This was not a debate about Noah’s flood, but that is exactly how Nye was treating it.
Like Two Arks Passing in the Night
Overall, each debater presented the popular understanding of their respective positions on the Creation vs Evolution debate. I highly doubt that any viewers were at all swayed in one direction or the other.
Ham was exactly right when he stated that this was a battle of worldviews. The evidence didn’t really matter, especially since much of the evidence used by the debaters was the same evidence. Both Ham and Nye used radiometric dating, tree rings, ice layers, kangaroos and other evidences to support their claims. The difference was the filter through which those evidences were viewed. Nye is an agnostic committed to a naturalistic worldview. Ham is a Christian committed to a Biblical worldview.
Ken Ham’s Missing Links
The biggest problem I had with Ham’s position was his starting point. Ham employs a presuppositional approach to apologetics. All throughout the debate, Ham readily admitted that he began with the belief that the Bible is true and based all of his conclusions on that. In rhetoric we call that petitio principii, or “begging the question”. Also called “assuming the consequent”. This fallacy is committed when an argument that requires proof is assumed to be true without providing proof. Essentially Ken Ham is saying, “The creation account in the Bible is true because the Bible is true.”
In the audience Q&A portion of the debate Ham made his circular reasoning very clear. The question was asked of Ham, “What, if anything would ever changed your mind?” To which Ham responded with no hesitation:
I am a Christian. And as a Christian, I can’t prove it to you, but God has definitely shown me very clearly through his word and shown Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. The Bible is the Word of God. I admit that’s where I start from. . . . I can’t ultimately prove that to you. All I can say to you is to say to someone, ‘If the Bible really is what it claims to be, if it really is the Word of God — and that is what it claims to be — then check it out.’ The Bible says that if you come to God believe that He is, He’ll reveal Himself to you, and you will know.
Now, if Ham was debating creation vs theistic evolution with a fellow Christian, that would be a great starting point. But the problem here is that this debate was against an agnostic who does not believe that the Bible is true nor does he believe in the God that supposedly authored that book. If an atheist wants evidence as to why the Bible is true and why God exists, we should be able to provide evidence.
The question of the age of the earth is a 2nd tier question. Ham completely skipped the foundational questions in regards to the existence of God and the legitimacy of the Bible. Ham’s primary premise in this debate ought to have been something along the lines of “A Creator-God exists.” Then he should have followed it up with an argument in support of his premise like the cosmological argument. Premise 2 ought to have been something like “The God of the Bible is that Creator.” And then, in Premise 3 Ham could have moved on to, “Creation is the best model of origins.” By arguing the way he did — starting at the Bible — Ham got the cart of Creation before the horse of God’s existence.
By the way, the apostle Paul began Romans in this way:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because god has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20, NET).
In Psalm 19, David offered a similar argument in support of God’s existence:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
The sky displays His handiwork.
Day after day it speaks out;
Night after night it reveals his greatness.
There is no actual speech or word,
Nor is its voice literally heard.
Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth;
Its words carry to the distant horizon (Psalm 19:1-4, NET).
So we can see that even the writers of the Bible and thus the Bible itself does not presuppose the authority of God’s Word without first establishing the existence of God based upon what Ham would call observational science within creation itself. I think linking those things would have made Ham’s argument much stronger.
Bill Nye’s Missing Links
Ham was not the only presuppositionalist on the stage. Nye repeatedly referred to himself as a “reasonable man”, borrowing from Adolphe Quetelet’s l’homme moyen as the standard for his intellectual authority and thus superiority. Nye assumes that human reason is autonomous and independent of any kind of foundation. During the audience Q&A time completely undermined his entire case by admitting that he does not know where human consciousness and intelligence originates. If Nye doesn’t know from whence comes his own consciousness, how in the randomly-evolved world does he expect anyone to believe him when he says that his position is the best one for today’s modern society, as he repeated claimed.
The audience question about the origins consciousness followed another question directed towards Nye regarding the origins of matter, to which Nye responded, “That’s the great mystery.” What?! Seriously?! So, let me get this straight, Nye bases his entire ideology on a “great mystery”? Okay, so how is that any different than Ken Ham basing his ideology on his faith in God and the Bible (Spoiler Alert: It’s not different). I wonder how Nye is able to conclude that his ideology is better when it is just as faith-based as Ham’s.
Again Nye undermined some of his counter-arguments in his rebuttal by admitting that he is not a theologian. He then went on to critique the Bible and the conclusions Ham made from his study of the Bible. At one point in the Q&A the question was asked of Ham if he “believe[s] the entire Bible is to be taken literally”. Ham responded by rhetorically asking what was meant by “literally” and then correctly explained that the Bible is made up of a variety of literary styles (history, poetry, prophecy, etc…) and that we should interpret those styles accordingly and not take things like the Mosaic Law — which was given to a specific people — out of context. Nye responded by saying:
There’s certain parts that you embrace literally and other parts that are poetry. . . . Scientifically, as a reasonable man, it doesn’t seem possible that all these things that contradict your literal interpretation of those first few passages. I find it unsettling when you want me to embrace the rest of it as literal.
The problem is that’s not what Ham said at all. Ham attempted to give Nye a basic lesson in Biblical interpretation to help his self-admitted theological ignorance, and Nye either did not understand it, or simply did not listen.
Nye twice posed the argument that there are billions of religious people in the world that do not accept “Ken Ham’s model” and accept modern science. It was unclear if Nye was suggesting that they accept evolution, if so that is completely ridiculous. Later, he adjusted his argument to mean that the billions of people use modern technology. The problem there is that Ham never once claimed that one had to be a creationist to use modern technology. In fact, as was apparent in the production of this very debate, Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum are quite fond of modern technology.
In complete self-contradictory fashion, Nye responded to a question about the possibility of theistic evolution by saying that nature is a closed system and that natural selection can allow for absolutely no supernatural interference or influence. But in his response to a question regarding the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, Nye stated that “the earth is not a closed system”, arguing that the sun pours energy into the earth that that it is what drives the evolution of living thing. Ham responded by asserting that energy — or matter — will never produce life. So again, Nye begins with a presupposition that life existed and that the sun’s energy fueled the evolution of that life. It seems Nye is quick to put his faith in the evolutionary power of the sun, while simultaneously rejecting the creative power of the Son (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16).
The Survival of The Fittest Argument
From a purely rhetorical standpoint (and I’m trying to be as unbiased as possible), I would have to say that Ham did a better job than Nye of answering the arguments of his opponent as well as addressing the actual topic of the debate, whereas Nye completely changed the topic of the debate and focused more on the Flood than creation.
One of Ham’s strongest tactics regarding proving the debate topic was when he had video testimonies from PhD scientists that are also creationists showing how they use creationism as their foundation to advance scientific inquiry. Ham took it further and accused Nye and evolutionary scientists of borrowing from a creationist worldview to support their evolutionary worldview. Nye’s ignoring of that argument may have been his mortal wound.
Interestingly, Nye mentioned some scientists as well. Except his mentioning of them actually hurt his case. He specifically referenced Isaac Newton and Louis Pasteur and quoted Arthur Eddington, all three were theists. Pasteur actually set out to disprove Darwin and spontaneous generation. Eddington wrote a book entitled “Why I Believe In God: Science and Religion, as a Scientist Sees It” These men were driven by their belief in God and as a result made incredible discoveries. But Nye would consider that unreasonable. Ham was correct to accuse Nye and evolutionists of borrowing from a creationist worldview.
From a popular opinion standpoint, as I mentioned, I don’t think either side made any converts to their side of this issue. They may have rallied the troupes within their respective camps and introduces some fodder for smaller scale debates, but for all intents and purposes it was a stalemate from the very beginning.
In my opinion, the biggest winner in the debate was the Almighty Creator-God. I felt that He was glorified throughout this entire event and His creative power was the focus of over 5 million people for over 2.5 hours. And for Christians, regardless of where you personally stand on this debate, whether you are a young-earther or old, a literal six-day creationist or a theistic evolutionist, you have to admit that Ken Ham did a phenomenal job of presenting the Gospel. I counted at least 5 separate occasions that Ham talked about the sin problem and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In two moments of absolute brilliance, Ham responded to both of Nye’s “I don’t know” moments by saying, “Bill, there’s a book out there…” Ham exalted God and His Word and informed millions of people that “In the beginning God…” and that God created man in His own image and God came to earth as the Savior and Redeemer of the world.
Well played, God. Well played indeed.