Bill Nye / Ken Ham debate of February 4, 2014

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This is a summary of the much-publicized debate between Bill Nye (a mainstream scientist) and Ken Ham (a creationist). The topic of the debate was

Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?

It was held at the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky on February 4, 2014. It was moderated by Tom Foreman of CNN.

A YouTube video of the debate may be found here, and a transcript, courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Creation Fellowship, may be found here.

Compared with the kinds of "debates" and discussions that have taken place in 2016 and beyond, this debate was noteworthy for its politeness. Both participants exercised good decorum, and neither one interrupted or spoke over the other at any time.

The debaters were first each given 5 minutes for a prepared introduction, and then they were given 30 minutes for their full presentation. In each case Mr. Ham went first as the result of a coin toss. After that, the moderator asked the questions of the debaters, for their spontaneous responses.

Both debaters used projected visual aids (slides, video clips) for both their introductions and their main presentations.

Mr. Ham's introduction

Mr. Ham used his introduction to draw the distinction between "observational science" (for example, doing experiments to find out how the universe works) and "historical science" (for example, making deductions about the past from observations made in the present.) He claims that "the word 'science' has been hijacked by secularists in teaching evolution". He says that "they [secularists] arbitrarily define science as naturalism, and outlaw the supernatural". He then makes some scriptural references in support of his claim that "The creation/evolution debate is really a conflict between two philosophical worldviews based on two different accounts of origins or historical science beliefs".

Mr. Ham made the point that one's views on evolution or creation have nothing to do with making scientific or technological achievements. He presented clips of Stuart Burgess, a biblical creationist and professor of engineering design, Craig Ventner, an atheist who sequenced the human genome, and Raymond Damadian, a biblical creationist who invented the MRI scanner.

But I want you to also understand: molecules-to-man evolution belief has nothing to do with developing technology.

—Ken Ham, 20:02 in the debate

Mr. Nye's introduction

Mr. Nye disputed the notion that there is a distinction between historical science and observational science. He pointed out that people draw on both, using their intelligence and ingenuity, when solving problems. He brought up the example of a television "crime drama", CSI. The detectives get evidence from the crime scene, and analyze it with both observation about the clues and deduction about what must have happened in the past in order to solve the crime.

He expressed skepticism about the plausibility of the literal story of the Noachic flood, with 8 zookeepers for 14,000 animals, and all plants being underwater for a year. He claimed that, during the flood, drowning animals would swim to higher levels, and get fossilized at levels higher than their natural level in the Grand Canyon, and yet not a single one did so.

He pointed out that billions of deeply religious people "worship together, they eat together, they live in their communities and enjoy each other's company", and yet they do not embrace the view that the earth is only 6000 years old.

He expressed concern that the United States will lose its leadership in science and technology if we "eschew science" and "try to divide our science into observational science and historical science".

Mr. Ham's main talk

Under construction!

27:55 - 57:55

Mr. Ham's main thesis is that Creation, which is a historical science, is the only viable model compatible with modern observational science.

He went back over Ventner, and showed a video clip of Raymond Damadian, saying that he fully accepts young-earth (6,000 years) creation, in 6 24-hour days, as per the account in Genesis.

By God's grace and the devoted prayers of my godly mother-in-law, I invented the MRI scanner in 1969. The idea that scientists who believe the earth is 6000 years old cannot do real science is simply wrong.

—Raymond Damadian, 29:03 in the debate

He also showed video clips of Danny Faulkner, a published stellar astronomer and former Professor at the University of South Carolina, and of Stuart Burgess, professor of engineering design at Bristol University, who invented a critical component of a complex Earth satellite. Both are creationists.

There is nothing in observational astronomy that contradicts a recent creation.

—Danny Faulkner, 30:11 in the debate

Mr. Burgess complains about the way Creationists are treated by mainstream scientists and the mainstream media:

I find that many of my colleagues in academia are sympathetic to the creationist viewpoint, including biologists. However, they are often afraid to speak out, because of the criticisms they would get in the media and atheist colleagues.

—Stuart Burgess, 30:55 in the debate

Mr. Ham said that non-Christian scientists are in any case borrowing from the Christian worldview to carry out their observational science. They must use the laws of logic. Where do the laws of logic, the laws of nature, and the uniformity of nature come from? He said they must come from a worldview based on the existence of God.

I have a question for Bill Nye: How do you account for the laws of logic and the laws of nature from a naturalistic worldview that excludes the existence of God?

—Ken Ham, 31:49 in the debate

He went back to his definition of terms:

  • Origins, or historical science
  • Observational, or experimental science

We observe things in the present, and need to figure out, from that, how the things we observe came to be. He said he agrees with Bill Nye on how radioactivity works, for example, the decay of Americium in a smoke detector, but disputed that one can use that knowledge in an origins debate.

But if you're then going to use radioactive elements and talk about the age of the Earth, you've got a problem, because you weren't there. You've got to understand parent elements, daughter elements, and so on.

—Ken Ham, 34:35 in the debate

He made the further point that some people believe that there may have been liquid water on Mars at some point, but that we don't know.

He said that all scientists (creationist or evolutionist) have the same experimental or observational science, and all have the same evidence, about things like fossils, DNA, the universe, and the rock strata in the Grand Canyon.

Mr. Ham issued this challenge to Mr. Nye:

So I have a question for Bill Nye. Can you name one piece of technology that could only have been developed starting with the belief in molecules-to-man evolution?

—Ken Ham, 35:23 in the debate

(Since both participants were giving prepared talks at that point, Mr. Nye did not respond in his presentation. But the question was touched on, albeit in a somewhat different form, during the later question-and-answer portion of the debate.)

So the difference is not in the evidence itself.

Actually, we all have the same evidences. It's not the evidences that are different. It's a battle over the same evidence in regard to how we interpret the past. And you know why that is? Because it is really about worldviews and starting points. It is a battle over philosophical worldviews and starting points with the same evidence.

—Ken Ham, 35:56 in the debate

to 36:22

could change mind? Cf. 2:04

invention? Cf. 2:33

2:33 - Ham admits secularists come up with great inventions. Creationists too.