On Tuesday the 4th of February a debate occurred on the other side of the Atlantic. Ken Ham, a devote Christian and one of the leading advocates of the creationist theory, faced off against Bill Nye, well known for his popular television series; Bill Nye the science guy. The debate was based around this simple question: is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era? So, the question that this article will attempt to answer is simple: who won?
Considering that you’re reading the science section of Nouse you may feel that you can already guess this article’s conclusion, however, do not be mislead. There are many creationist scientists who have done extraordinary work, of which Ken Ham did a great job of calling upon. One example being Raymond Damadian, who invented the MRI machine which lead to a huge leap forward in modern medicine. Many other examples show that there is no doubt that creationists can be exceptional scientists, however, this is not the point of the debate. The debate boiled down to what all science must boil down to; for a theory to be proven then it must hold up to rigorous scientific procedure. This means that there must be predictions that can be made based on the theory, and these predictions need to be proven in a way which is repeatable and can be confirmed through observation and experimentation.
The creationist viewpoint on origin as a theory, as Ken Ham stated multiple times, does not try and hide the fact that it is based on the bible. It uses Genesis as the model for how the universe came into existence, stating that the universe was created in 6 normal (24 hour) days. This theory also goes onto explain using the Great Flood as a reference that the Earth (and indeed the entire universe) is only 6000 years old.
Now, this is vastly different from the ‘outside’ view point (as Bill Nye puts it), the outside being the general scientific community. The scientific community estimates the age of the Earth to be approximately 4.5 billion years old and the age of the universe to be 13.7 billion years old. Obviously there are errors to take into account with these ages, however, the ages are many orders of magnitude higher than that stated by the creationist theory of origin. Both of these viewpoints are theories and scientific procedure can be applied to both.
As you can imagine, there is a whole host of evidence for the universe being billions of years old as opposed to thousands. This ranges from carbon dating to the distance of celestial bodies. In the debate these questions were addressed and Bill Nye gave a summarised form of the science behind these methods and explained why they can be used for dating. Ken Ham, on the other hand, reduced the argument to definitions, these being the separation of what he calls ‘historical science’ and ‘observational science’. ‘Observational science’, or what most would call ‘science’, follows the scientific procedure mentioned earlier. What amazes me, Bill Nye and probably many others, is how Ken Ham believes these two things to be separate. The beauty of science is that it is consistent; this is that the laws of Physics are invariant under a change of reference frame. Simply put, this means that the laws of nature -which we know are true today because of scientific theory- are true regardless of where they are tested. This may be ‘where’ as in space or, indeed ‘when’ as in time. In fact, the laws of nature are consistent so the ‘historical science’ and ‘observational science’ standpoint that Ken Ham argued from is inherently wrong.
The rest of the debate followed with presentations from each of the two debaters and rebuttals from either party. These rebuttals were infuriating as the main points which Bill Nye asked were dodged and Ken Ham for the most part refused to give clear, concise answers, deciding to answer the questions with, ‘there’s actually is a book out there..’. This was dealt with in a subtle way by Bill Nye; he slipped in the fact that the Bible has been translated many many times, possibly leading to a mistranslation of certain passages. This was responded to eventually by Ken Ham who took on a very classical approach to religious scripture. He decided to pick and choose certain parts as literal (or natural as he calls it) and others as poetic. As you may be able to imagine, his argument was quickly becoming unraveled, for scientific theory cannot be based on reports from a book of which some is deemed factual and some not.
All of this being said it seems clear that this author’s opinion is that Nye is the victor. This is certainly reflected in the results of many online polls, including one by Britain’s Christian Today website, which gives the victory to Nye with an overwhelming 92% (based on 45,882 votes cast). Mr Nye was, however, not the only winner of this debate, for the state of Kentucky and indeed a lot of America as a whole gained an insight into what science really is. Although the whole debate was incredibly infuriating at times it does show an open and honest contribution from both parties, with Mr Nye openly admitting that science does not hold all the answers. While equally Mr Ham did not hide his beliefs and had clearly done his homework, as shown by his wide range of knowledge on many areas of science.
As a final note, its worth taking a moment to appreciate that an almost 3 hour long YouTube video, debating origins and scientific theory has almost 1 million views. Regardless of your beliefs, open and honest debates such as this, which reach as many people as this debate did, can only be a good thing.