Who won the big evolution/creation debate?

Let me start out with a tw**t contributed (but not written) by reader Barry:

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 8.20.14 AM

Well, I watched most of the Ham/Nye debate last night on “Is creation a viable model of origins?”  I stopped watching after both rebuttals, though, as I had work to do, so I have no idea how the audience Q&A session went. I expect reader who watched the whole thing will weigh in below.

How did the principals do? Well, Nye did surprisingly well, though he made a few glitches and missed some good opportunities. But those glitches and missed opportunities were probably visible only to scientists. But Ham’s performance was execrable. That’s not just the opinion of a biased scientist, but also of religionists. Here are the results of a poll at Christian Today asking readers “Who won?”

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92% for Nye!

Now perhaps this poll was invaded by evolution-lovers, but I doubt it. The most likely explanation is that these are liberal Christians who were turned off by Ham’s reliance on the Bible as an inerrant guide to  science., and by his incessant preaching. NBC News science editor Alan Boyle also has a piece, “Who won Bill Nye’s big evolution faceoff?“, but he doesn’t answer the question (he can’t, as he’s a news person).

At any rate, there’s a lot to say, and, as I’m pressed for time this morning, I’ll just emit a stream-of-conscousness flow of thoughts:

  • Ham made a serious mistake, I think, in concentrating on affirming Biblical literality, and also preaching about the need to accept Jesus as Saviour.  That clearly showed that he was committed to accepting creationism from the outset, and made him look close-minded. It also didn’t help that he didn’t stick to the topic, but chose to talk about Jesus, including the implication that children who accepted evolution were less likely to accept Jesus. Those are all nonscientific considerations that, given this debate topic, were irrelevant. And I think Ham’s evangelicalism helped Nye win.
  • Ham’s reliance on Biblical literalism was also a bad scientific move, and he should have been less explicit about it. To a rational person, the Ark story really is dumb, for Noah and his sons simply could not have built a seaworthy vessel and peopled (animaled?) it with two of each “kind.” Nye pointed out the flaws in this, including that such a boat could not float (true), and that we don’t know what “kinds” are anyway.  Ham’s response was to admit, as those of his ilk often do, that “kinds” diversified into many different sub-kinds—through evolution. That’s a serious problem for Ham, for it is an explicit admission that evolution occurs.  He responded, as he had to, that evolution occurs only within “kinds” (creationists never define what “kinds” are). But the fossil record belies this, for we have many examples of transitional fossils between what anyone would consider different kinds: fish and amphibians (like Tiktaalik, which Nye mentioned), between amphibians and reptiles, between reptiles and mammals, between reptiles and birds, between land animals and whales, and of course, between early and modern humans, with early fossils showing intermediacy between the features of apelike ancestors and modern humans. Had I been Nye, I would have concentrated much more on the fossil record than on problematic issues like the origin of sex (we still don’t understand why sexual reproduction evolved).
  • Ham should not have mentioned that all animals were herbivores (and that roses were thornless) before the Fall. For one thing, there’s nothing in the Bible that says such a thing, and, of course, Noah’s flood, in which lions were sequestered with antelopes, occurred after the supposed Fall of Man, so there would have been carnage on the Ark. Nye pointed out—and to me this was the high point of the debate—that a lion’s teeth were not there to help it eat broccoli.  In response, Ham said that bears have teeth like lions, and most are herbivores. In truth, the teeth of omnivorous bears are not at all like those of lions.  Again, any rational person, even a Bible-believer, would have trouble believing that the Fall instantly turned grass-munching cats into carnivores.
  • Ham’s concentration of “observational” versus “experimental” science is clearly a new tactic of young-earth creationists, one that’s the theme of creationist Ray Comfort’s execrable film, “Evolution versus God.” And it’s bogus. Science based on historical reconstruction, when done properly, is just as valid as science based on direct, real-time observation.  As Nye pointed out, much of cosmology, including our knowledge of the Big Bang, is based on historical reconstruction. But such reconstruction is not just limited to cosmology, or even science: everyone firmly believes many things that happened in the past that they didn’t have a chance to observe. Had I been Nye, I would have said, “How do you know that Abraham Lincoln was President? After all, you never met him!”  How do we know anything about Greek civilization, or that there were Ice Ages? It’s time for someone to write a popular article debunking the phony distinction between “observational science” and what Ham calls “historical science based on belief.” Historical science is no more based on “belief” than is experimental science. And neither is based on belief, but on methods that have been proven to give us truth about the cosmos—as opposed to using the Bible as a research manual.
  • Nye did a pretty good job defending evolution, and calling out Ham for crazy stuff like the Ark story and the supposed inconstancy of natural laws. But he could have done better. In response to Ham’s claim that there’s no way to test whether radiometric dating is accurate, or that different minerals in the same rock give different dates, Nye could have mentioned that we do indeed have ways to judge whether radiometric dating is reliable, in particular the isochron method. Nye used the term “higher” and “lower” animals, which even Darwin realized is not valid terminology under the theory of evolution (every species is equally “evolved” in terms of how long its ancestors have been around: we’re all about 3.5 billion years old. I realize that this is the quibbling of an evolutionary biologist, but stuff like the accuracy of fossil dating represented a missed opportunity for Nye.
  • In sum, the debate was Ham’s to lose, and he lost, largely because he exposed his “science” as an a priori commitment to the literal truth of an ancient man-made text, something that even evangelical Christians have largely rejected. He lost the chance to debate the facts by repeatedly bringing in God and Jesus. The debate was Nye’s to win, and he did win, because he prepared properly and, though he could have done better, did well enough. He was cool, amiable, and funny.

Two final remarks. After the debate I was fulminating about Ham’s performance to a friend, grumbling about his being a “liar for Jesus.” My friend said that no, Ham wasn’t lying—he truly believed the palaver he was spewing. And I realized that she was right. Ham’s brain has been so deeply marinated in his faith that that organ has simply become impermeable to facts. He really does believe in Noah’s Ark, the Fall, and talking snakes, and must reject or rationalize facts that don’t comport with his Sacred Book.

That is a mindset that I don’t understand, and, being a scientist, perhaps can never understand. But it shows how religion can poison one’s mind so deeply that it becomes immunized to the real truth about the cosmos. Ham was not lying, but simply suffering from a severe delusion—one that should cause him cognitive dissonance but doesn’t.

So much the worse for him, but his delusions also cause him to poison the minds of children, and that is not o.k. with either me or Nye. It’s simply wrong to teach creationism to children, for that is teaching them lies, and I fault Nye a bit for helping the Creation Museum raise funds by participating in this debate. By so doing, Nye was subsidizing the brainwashing of the children he so wants to reach.  But I forgive him, for he did a creditable job.

I hope that, in the future, Nye is not so emboldened by his success in this debate that he starts constantly debating creationists.  Eventually he will run into one that is not as Ham-handed as Ham, and he’ll lose badly. Moreover, as I’ve said repeatedly, debates are not the place to resolve scientific issues, and only give credibility to creationists. Would it be useful for a famous geologist to debate a flat-earther on the topic “Is the earth round?”

My advice to Nye is this: keep talking and writing about evolution, but not in a debate format.  You’re charismatic, funny, and, most important, have the truth on your side. Learn a little bit more about radiometric dating, and about the crazy arguments that Biblical literalists are wedded to—like the bizarre and unscientific concept of animal “kinds”.  Tell people that there’s no real difference between the accuracy and value of “observational science” and “historical science.”

It is the combination of eloquence and truth, not his skill in a rhetorical contest, that will bring Nye his victories.

314 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    That poll has been pharyngulated.

    • Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      Shame. It’d have been valuable to have seen an honest perspective.

      Also from Pharyngula: *faceplam*.

      /@

      • Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        PZ showed that the poll was already heavily skewed (90s%) toward Nye before his Pharyngula post went live.

        • moarscienceplz
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

          Also, when I went to it, it had over 32000 votes, with 92% for Nye. PZ can muster up a couple of thousands, but no way does he have 32k Pharyngulytes.

      • Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        Oh – now I’ve actually got to PZ’s post about the poll – it was already 9% v. 91% before pharyngulation.

        /@

      • gbjames
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        An honest perspective in the form of an Internet poll?

        Some of those words don’t go with the others!

        • Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

          :-)

          If not wholly honest, at least unpharyngulated. Which, apparently, we did.

          /@

    • barael
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Erm, “pharyngulated” hasn’t been a thing for some time now…

      • gbjames
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        Huh? Today is that far in the past?

  2. Matt G
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    I love the kid’s quote. It reminds me of the Car Talk guys’ “unencumbered by the thought process”. I’m glad Nye did well, but what if he’d had an off night? I hate to think that one position or the other might be considered correct by people simply because one guy or the other “won” a debate.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      Fear of having an “off night” can lead to paralysis. We need to confront the idiocy at all opportunities. It is like politics… if you don’t enter a candidate in the race, you lose by default.

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        I couldn’t agree more with Gbjames.

        All the fears about Nye making a fool of himself have not been confirmed.
        On the contrary, it is Ken Ham who made a fool of himself.

        “Can you give me one prediction you can make with your 6,000-year old creationism?”
        “There’s a book….”

        You have to laugh at the lack of any thinking in Ken Ham’s replies.

        Teaching ideas to children who are encountering new ideas, new concepts, may have been an excellent training for Nye’s skills in dealing with the likes of Ken Ham. No higher level of sophistication was needed. “There’s a book…”

        Yea, how can American maintain its leadership in science and technological innovation with teachers of this caliber spewing out this kind of instruction?
        That Ken Ham and his followers do exist in the 21st c. is a historical witness to the power of superstition in the human mind that can survive in spite of all progress in knowledge.

        Nye was dominating Ham from all viewpoints.
        And he makes such a striking TV appearance, skillfully mixing the serious with the comical.
        Didn’t you like the views of Ham speaking in profile with the full frontal eagle-faced Nye peering at Ham in a state of utter disbelief. That picture alone was worth viewing the debate.

        And if Nye does get a fat fee of many tens of thousands, it is not guaranteed that the Museum can sell enough DVDs to make a profit (especially now that the full debate is on YouTube). So there’s no evidence that Nye’s appearance is going to contribute to the financial health of the museum.

        And his magnificent performance cannot be easily forgotten, especially by all those young people who really don’t know what they should think, who may have doubts, and remain hesitant about the voices of both sides. Perhaps not one single debate will make any pivotal difference to their convictions, but it is the cumulation of similar performances and impressions that will eventually have an impact and score.

        So, no doubt that Gbjames is justified in his encouragement. I couldn’t agree more.

        The evolution/science camp is just plain lucky to have had such telegenic and convincing champions as Sagan, Hitchens or Nye, all making striking public appearances, in a medium where images supporting statements count for a lot, especially among young students. Who could forget Sagan? Who could forget Hitchens? And now who will forget Bill Nye?

        • ROO BOOKAROO
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

          I especially loved the way Nye demonstrated that the Ark of Noah couldn’t stay afloat.
          Nye, a former engineer, showed with his long arms how the Ark would bend upwards along its length, from bow to stern, then he squeezed it laterally from port to starboard, and he ended up with twisting the boat with his wrists like a wet rag.

  3. gbjames
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    As I mentioned in another thread, I’ve somewhat changed my mind on the “debating yo-yos” question. I think it comes down to recognizing that it isn’t a scientific debate but a kind of performance art that is biased in favor of “the good guys” because they’ve got facts and common sense on their side. Nye succeeded to a large extent because he’s skilled at explaining science at the level children can understand and he’s used to “performing” to get his point across.

    I wouldn’t suggest that Jerry waste time on these idiots. He’s better targeted at the John Haughts of this world. But I don’t think evolutionists should be generically fearful of debates. They just need to be well prepared and engage in them if their personalities are inclined toward theatrical explanation.

    • Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      I don’t think I’m with you on this one. There’re other ways to engage Creationists than with the debate format.

      That writ, this certainly is a data point in favor of debates. Thing is, it’s one such data point, and I’d need more than just one to significantly move those error bars….

      b&

      • gbjames
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

        It is all a question of who engages on the debates (and other details). Simply avoiding debates on principle isn’t a winning strategy. It just looks cowardly. But debate is an art form and we need to encourage those who are skilled at performance to engage in that way. IMO.

        • Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          Nye is like a vampire, being invited across the creationists’ threshold…

          /@

          • Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

            Vampires versus zombies? I’m gonna need more popcorn!

            b&

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

          Simply avoiding debates on principle isn’t a winning strategy.

          At the very least, people who are good at one thing, like doing or teaching science, should not assume that they are good at a completely different thing, like public debating, without a lot of preparation.

          • gbjames
            Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

            That’s fine, but true always and everywhere. We should all know what we are good at and not assume we are good at everything.

            And the flip is also not true. One should not assume that because scientist X fails in debate with creationist Y then scientists shouldn’t debate creationists.

            The “don’t debate pigs” analogy only goes so far. It doesn’t recognize that pigs can be embarrassed in the eyes of others even when they don’t feel embarrassed themselves.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

          Simply avoiding debates on principle isn’t a winning strategy. It just looks cowardly.

          What is your evidence for that?

          My smell test is to compare with astrology and homeopathy (all the while remembering that creationism is even _more insane_ by the numbers). Not debating these is generic, and no one thinks it cowardly.

          But say such claims were made – “you are not debating us because you don’t dare” – wouldn’t the sane response be “there is nothing to debate [and here is why: ref1, ref2, ....]“? “Debating” stuff like it was a two-sided, arguable question just gives validity to the erroneous claims.

          • gbjames
            Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

            The difference, Torbjörn, is that 40+ percent of Americans aren’t astrologers. Astrologers and homeopaths aren’t forcing their inanities into our schools and government offices. Creationists are. They infest our boards of education, to say nothing of the entire Republican Party.

            Offering your “sane response” to people who (wrongly) think god-did-it allows them to say scientists are afraid of them. I don’t see how that is a controversial assertion.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted February 5, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

              No, looking at Sweden it is more like 100 % accept astrological “signs” and “readings” et cetera.

              It’s small potatoes, but it is also problematic for skepticism and science.

              “They infest our boards of education, to say nothing of the entire Republican Party.”

              I don’t see how that makes a difference to the smell test. Why would the current situation imply that avoiding debate isn’t winning? The situation was worse during the Dark Ages, or just 10 years ago (as there is now more US skeptics, atheism is more accepted et cetera). I don’t know how to correlate that with debate or its lack, but I suspect neither do you.

          • gbjames
            Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

            As further evidence, let me offer this.

            In the first minutes of last night’s debate, Ken Ham produced a quote from Richard Dawkins’ site (not by Dawkins himself) saying “Scientists should not debate creationists. Period.” It became ammunition for Ken Ham, used precisely because it gives the appearance of fear and weakness.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted February 5, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

              “it gives the appearance of fear and weakness”.

              Why? I’m sorry to hammer on this, but it isn’t obvious. As Jerry says, who debated flat earthers?

              • gbjames
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

                How is Ken Ham using this exact argument not evidence of how refusing to debate appears to people?

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

                You’re quoting Ken Ham as an exemplar now?

                Oh, the irony…

              • gbjames
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

                Where is there irony in using Ham’s argument as an example of arguments made by creationists?

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

                But Ken Ham lost… it would appear that ‘people’, by and large, rejected his arguments.

                So, not really a good example to quote in support of your point, I think. There could potentially be better ones.

                And gbjames quoting Ken Ham? – my irony meter (to plagiarise J&M) just hit the stop.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

                I could see the irony if I was quoting him as an authority to be respected in some way. I’m not. He’s used a bogus argument but it is a real argument used by real people. Pretending that it doesn’t exist is just wishful thinking.

          • darrelle
            Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

            I am not sure your smell test works very well here. I am sure that plenty of people who believe in astrology and homeopathy think it cowardly of scientists to refuse to engage with them.

            The position you describe also seems to require the concession that either you don’t want (it not a goal) to change any of your opponents minds, or that debates have no ability to change minds. Telling people that there is nothing to debate, while technically accurate in the context in which you mean it, seems highly unlikely to influence people already committed to opposing beliefs to move towards yours.

            And who’s erroneous claims are validated by debating? It makes just as much sense to me to consider that the typical target of these kinds of debates has already validated their beliefs. Whether to debate or not to debate, that doesn’t seem like a valid consideration to me. I don’t see accepting debate challenges as giving validity to the opponents claims, just the opposite in fact. Perhaps it concedes some measure of respect to the opponent, though it could have the opposite effect as well I think, but that is not the same as validity.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted February 5, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

              “I am sure that plenty of people who believe in astrology and homeopathy think it cowardly of scientists to refuse to engage with them.”

              The rationale of the smell test is to compare. And I think we all accept the difference. The question is then what it implies on the strategy to debate some groups, but not others.

              The idea of social debate to “change” minds, as opposed to education, social work (science being vital for society), et cetera can be criticized. What is the evidence for efficacy?

              • gbjames
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

                I’m starting to think I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole.

                In what world is arguing with people over ideas in “debate” contexts not a form of educating people?

              • darrelle
                Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

                For one example that supports efficacy consider this very debate. Some people that watched it have self reported doubts and criticisms of what they have been taught by their religious authorities. There is a good deal of negative public exposure of Ham and creationism. There is no rational reason to suppose that this debate was unique in this respect.

                What is the evidence for the claim that debate is detrimental?

                The strategy to debate some groups but not others? Is it taken as settled that not debating other groups has been effective? Belief in woo of all sorts, to one degree or another, is rampant and does cause harm to people and society. I’d suggest that if woomeisters issued debate challenges they should be accepted as well. And crushed, in the metaphorical sense.

                At least some of the reasons that religion is debated and other woo is not are, a difference in magnitude, and the behavior of religious believers compared to other groups of woosters.

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

        Agreed. (With Ben, way back at the top of this subthread.)

    • John H. McDonald
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      This comment from a former fundamentalist sums up why I think this kind of debate can be a good thing: http://www.ginandtacos.com/2014/02/05/screaming-at-a-wall-2/#comment-235355 . Basically, there are going to be some people in the audience, especially kids, who will hear actual evidence for evolution for the first time. Some of them will start to question their blind creationism.

      • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        Exactly!

        /@

      • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        Exactly! The Bouchard piece was right on. Put scientific values forward at every chance and don’t assume they are all dumb people who would refuse to listen.

      • gbjames
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        Right. It’s the kids!

        I saw a comment somewhere and don’t know how to see if it is true or not, but it was from someone who was following tweets from kids who were in the “creationist camp”. Many of them were of the “I’ve been lied to!” sort, according to the comment.

        Maybe someone who understands Twitter can figure out a way to see if that is true or not.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

          Ordinarily I would say that the kids are reached in school, but US has no civilized school system. :-/

          Maybe there should be a “don’t debate creationists (and astrologists and homeopaths), except in US” principle.

          • Filippo
            Posted February 5, 2014 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

            “Ordinarily I would say that the kids are reached in school, but US has no civilized school system. :-/”

            Just congenially curious, what is your experience and evidence in support of that statement?

            By “no civilized school system,” do you mean everyone and everything associated with the system EXCEPT the students themselves?

            The significant “coarsening” and increased incivility of U.S. culture in the last 20-30 years has been the topic of not a few U.S. media opinion pieces. This coarsening is reflected in the uncivilized behavior of not a few students. To the extent that teachers are uncivil and coarse, sooner or later they are found out and fired. A “troubled” student cannot be “fired” for vile profanity directed at a teacher, and student physical assault of teachers is not rare.

            My own experience is nine years as a full-time substitute teacher in several grades and subjects. I take particular personal pride and joy in bringing clarity to science and math fundamentals. (If the “apprentice” system were still honored as it was in the day and estimable case of Abraham Lincoln, I would be considered a “highly-qualified” teacher.)

            I’ve had enough run-ins with uncivil, “troubled” students that I seriously doubt I’ll every accomplish every jot and tittle of teacher certification. I can endure most any situation for a day, and then walk away from it at the end of the day.

            Perhaps I’ll do some combination of tutoring and – if I teach full-time – teaching in a private school where they don’t have to put up with bloody misbehavior.

            Let’s grant your claim that “the US has no civilized school system.” In your informed judgment, pray tell – what are the top five “civilized” school systems – and by extension national cultures/countries – in the world?

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

          On second thought, I realized “the kids” is about tactics vs strategy.

          Meaning, what use is it to win a battle (the group of kids listening to the debate, which may start questioning) if you loose the war (the education of all kids, which takes a hit by making creationism seem ‘debatable’)?

          • gbjames
            Posted February 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

            I think you pose a false choice.

            Remember, the topic of this debate was “Is Creationism a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?”

            One needs to be able to walk into churches and similar venues and take the opportunity to explain why the answer is “No”. There were 700,000+ people watching that event, and countless more will see it on YouTube for years to come.

            Creationism was not helped in the least and non-creationist Xtians are wringing their hands because they are identified with the profound stupidity of Ham & Co.

            How you can read that as “losing the war” is a mystery to me.

      • kennyrb
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        As a former Evangelical and one who grew up in that system it is important to help kids pick up some skeptical hooks. One of the reasons I was able to get out was that I never ossified into a hard core creationist. I could always see problems with it. Nye is just about the perfect guy for this project. I am not big on debates but after watching his work here I am supportive. If he also develops links to other kid friendly sources it could be a major improvement.

        • Larry Gay
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

          Nye has a huge asset in being such a likable guy. It’s hard not to like him as a person.

      • Trophy
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        I completely agree. I’ve been saying that for a long time. Debates like this are probably the only chance to talk about real science to some people.

        • Kevin
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

          Agreed. I would never watch such debates, as I did not watch this one. But these debates are good for the people who live their lives under the tragedy of ignorance that religion condemns them. They are also good for the publicity: just showing people that atheism is on the reason, creationism is on the side of stubborn ignorance.

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        Exactly!

        Plus the confused, uncertain, doubtful, hesitant, unconcerned, uninvolved — a huge fringe that is not anchored on either side.

        Very important among the young, whose stated convictions are not too firmly rooted and whose intense passions can fluctuate very rapidly without advance notice or even justification. This potential of impact on emotions cannot be overlooked.
        It’s a bit like opera, the song can be very beautiful, but you fall for the seduction of the voice.

        The young with their unstable opinions are the real target audience of such debates, which are more opportunities to advocate and advertise one’s worldview than to engage in any scholarly and precise in-depth examination of a controversy:
        “Here are my arguments, show me yours. Yours are worthless.”

    • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      I agree a heavyweight like Jerry or Dawkins is a waste for a Ham debate. They and a Harris or Hitch would come across too academic, too elitist to a W Ky crowd of good Baptist and Church of Christ Evangelical Creationists before they even spoke. Bill Nye is calm and matter of fact and a regular guy, the perfect match for Ham. Engaging these guys may not be such a bad idea as there is just so much data to deny now, I dont believe anyone brought up genetics or comparative genomics where old earth and evolutionary data are piling up exponentially, daily, all over the world. Bill Nye did as good if not better than one could expect. This is not the 60’s and Duane Gish, even the folks in the audience have a scientific exposure, if not literacy because of the internet and their smartphones way beyond 30-50 years ago. Science is all around them. We can bury Creationism with evidence which is what Nye did. Its all we can do. Plenty of hardcore Evangelicals change their mind in light of a preponderance of facts, it may take years but Nye planted a lot of seeds, in that audience and nationwide. Bravo.

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

        Yes, well said.
        Bravo, and double bravo.

  4. Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Agree completely.

    This is a debate that would be all but impossible in Europe, for the right reasons: no reasonable scientist or science-lover would admit to debate with such a literal-minded creationist.

    • colnago80
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      I disagree. The late John Maynard Smith had no compunction against debating against Duane Gish, who he pummeled.

  5. Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Your analysis is spot-on, Jerry. The Q&A was more of the same; you didn’t miss anything vital.

    b&

    • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      I think Jerry missed the high point of the debate, which came out of a question from the audience and left Ham momentarily speechless:
      “What possible evidence would cause you to change your mind?”

      When he finally answered, he admitted that no possible evidence would make him change his mind. He might as well have left the stage right then and there; this was an admission that his position was not really based on evidence, no matter how much he had earlier claimed that it was.

      • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        That was an important point, yes, but one that Ham had repeatedly made clear many times earlier. He was constantly referring to God’s history versus Man’s, harping on “Were you there?” as opposed to the Word of God who was there and who told us in the form of the Bible, and so on.

        The question condensed it, maybe, and likely makes for a good sound bite, but it wasn’t at all a surprising answer to anybody paying attention up to that point.

        b&

        • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

          But its always nice to get unequivocal confirmation!

          /@

        • darrelle
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          Sure but, it was a focal moment in the context of “debaters trying to influence an audience, composed largely of people already strongly biased towards one position, to move towards their position.”

          People like you saw that Ham had repeatedly made that point clear earlier, but many people likely did not, or had just not even thought of it being an issue at all. Some were likely vaguely aware of the point and had already devised some moebius like rationalizations / excuses as to why it wasn’t important, or that it just wasn’t so.

          When Nye posed the simple direct question, and Ham made the tactical error of answering it simply and directly, it made the point clearly for everyone. And made it harder for those inclined to, to rationalize it away.

          Personally I don’t think this debate could have gone better if we had clandestinely hired an opponent to make the creationist position look as ludicrous as possible.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        Quite right! He showed himself to be truly closed minded & Nye appeared as the opposite, emphasizing that science would embrace these ideas if they came with evidence.

      • AR.
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        “What possible evidence would cause you to change your mind?”
        Perhaps a little counter intuitively, being able to answer that question is, in my opinion, the most important quality of a skeptic.

        • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          Yes, it is always a great question.

        • colnago80
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

          The biologist J. B. S. Haldane answered the question when it was posed to him by an overeager Popperian. When asked what might falsify evolution, he responded a fossil rabbit in the Pre-Cambrian strata.

          • Filippo
            Posted February 5, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

            The version I read stated that Haldane growled, “Fossil rabbits in the Pre-Cambrian!”

        • John Harshman
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          Mind you, I think Nye’s answer was wrong. One Cambrian bunny doesn’t overturn all the mountains of fossil evidence for evolution, not to mention all the molecular, anatomical, biogeographical, etc. evidence. At this late date, after some two hundred years or so of scientific data all pointing toward one view, it would take a lot more than that to convince me I was wrong. I’d need, say, evidence of a worldwide and powerful conspiracy to fake everything, involving almost all scientists except me. I suppose they could have given me a fake DNA sequencer just programmed to output evidence for bird evolution no matter what the input was; that probably would have been simplest. Though in fact I don’t see how they could have faked my field observations of, e.g., the Grand Canyon.

          In other words, at this stage of the investigation it’s a bit too late to ask about what would convince me Ken Ham was right. What evidence would convince you that the moon was made of chocolate pudding?

          • gluonspring
            Posted February 5, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

            Mmmmm… pudding.

            You are entirely right that, given the accumulated evidence, a single bunny in the Cambrian would only be convincing evidence of fraud not evidence against evolution.

          • Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

            Yes, I agree, but the question to Ham was not limiting Ham to a single bit of evidence (if I recall correctly). He could have described a suite of independent observations that corroborated each other (which we really do have regarding the age of the earth, evolution, etc).

      • Steve
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

        Good comment – I concur. I thought the Q&A sealed-the-deal in Nye’s favor.

  6. John Crisp
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    No way of telling, of course (there’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face), but I wouldn’t be so sure that Ham is sincere. It looks like his scam has made him pretty rich and famous. Was not the Mormon sect founded on such a basis?

  7. Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    But creationism already is respectable in some communities. I’m tending towards John Loftus’s position that taking the opportunity to go into those communities and expose the audience to the evidence for evolution – perhaps for the first time properly, rather than half-hearted, garbled explanations in high school or creationists’ straw-men – and against creationism will do more good than harm. (Especially if you can be cool, amiable and funny.) It could be our Wedge.

    /@

    • gbjames
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Exactly. I’ve changed my mind on this subject. We’re past the point where the stupidity can be “starved of the oxygen of respectability”. We need to unleash modern day Clarence Darrow types in the form of Bill Nye, Aron Ra, and others who aren’t intimidated by the format. I think that last night was a gigantic fail for Ken Ham and his ilk.

    • Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Engagement does not require the debate format.

      We should engage, yes. But not debate.

      b&

      • gbjames
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        See, that’s a statement that just makes no sense. Why not?

        Sure, some of us shouldn’t debate. I’d suck at it, for instance. But what do you object to about Jerry’s debate with John Haught? Should debates only be had when the opponent is Sophisticated™?

        Making simple rules like “Though shalt not debate” gets us nowhere while making us look fearful and cowardly.

      • Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        No, but we should accept the invitations nonetheless.

        Even if the “evolutionist” loses, the evidence will have been heard by those who would otherwise have remained in blissful* ignorance.

        /@

        * Pun intended!

        • Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

          The problem is that debates are rarely won based on the evidence presented; rather, they’re generally “won” based on the personalities of the presenters and their confidence in and comfort with what’s being presented as facts.

          If, for example, Ham didn’t try to dismiss radiometric dating with “But here’re a couple random places where it failed,” and instead made up some positive reason explaining the failure, even if that reason was completely incoherent, Ham could well have “won” that point. Same thing if he had addressed Nye’s poorly-presented chart of human skulls with something such as, “Clearly, you’ve gathered together many of the wicked perversions of sinners that sent the Flood to cleanse the Earth of,” he’d again have scored something of a point.

          What I’d much rather see would be not for Nye to debate other Creationists, but to put together some sort of an engaging presentation that he’ll pitch to Creationists and fence-sitters. “You got a glimpse of what the science is about, but the debate format didn’t give me a chance to expound upon it in a meaningful way. Let me give you a crash course on the subject, without distractions. I’m sure you’ll follow up with your congregations afterwards to discuss what I have to say, but let me speak to them without having everything filtered through the mouth of that crazy Aussie.”

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

            Yeah, but without the invitation to a debate, would he have the opportunity of presenting such an engaging presentation to the right audience?

            /@

            • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

              Honestly?

              I don’t know.

              I’d like to think that, whatever the process that got him into the Creation Museum in the first place would have had enough flexibility to turn it into a “Teach the controversy!” event or the like. “Come hear the best the scientists can muster, and judge for yourself if they know more than God.”

              But I don’t know.

              b&

          • gbjames
            Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

            Look, Ben, not everybody should get involved with debates. They should be done by people whose “personalities … and their confidence in and comfort with what’s being presented as facts” are appropriate.

            What’s problematic is the assertion that a blanket blackout on debating is appropriate. It isn’t. It is self-defeating.

            • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

              I think this is getting to the same class of problem I have with NCSE-style accommodationism.

              I don’t see the goal as winning people to the cause, but of education and critical thinking.

              If you’ve got the best debater who rallies everybody ’round his flag, you haven’t solved the fundamental problem. Sure, people are cheering for your side, but not because they understand any of it, but because your side beat up the other side.

              And if your team doesn’t win, it’s because you’re a bunch of wimps who clearly don’t know what they’re talking about and shouldn’t be trusted.

              It’s an hollow victory at best, and a setback at worst.

              But that’s not the case with something like, say, Sagan’s Cosmos or Attenborough’s Life on Earth. Or with smaller-scale, live interactive lectures / presentations / whatever.

              Debates can only pit the debaters against each other. Other formats let the proponents get out of the way so the facts can speak for themselves.

              But, of course, there’s always the possibility that this will start a trend, whether I think it wise or not, and that the results of said trend will empirically demonstrate that I’m worng.

              I just don’t think that it’s a very wise way to place the bets.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • gbjames
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

                I think you’ve misdiagnosed the problem. The problem is political.

                For some reason you’ve decided that this particular form of interaction is too dangerous to be touched. Something might go wrong! (oh horrors!)

                Well the same can be said of letters to the editor. Or comments on a website.

                If you don’t like debates, then you shouldn’t engage in them. (I wouldn’t, myself.) But that’s different from telling others not to engage in them.

                And I’ll re-ask a question that hasn’t been answered yet (to my knowledge… haven’t read all comments yet…) Do you object to Jerry’s having debated John Haught? If not, why not? Is debating OK if it is against Sophisticated Theologians™ but not against the Unsophistiated™ ones?

              • Posted February 5, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

                Especially after what Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss and that crowd have been doing lately, of having (often unmoderated) discussions rather than engaging in anything like the debate format…well, I won’t object to what Jerry did in the past, but I’d encourage him, if he’s ever inclined to do such a thing again, to adopt Richard’s favorite format.

                And, especially with his looming retirement, I’d encourage Jerry to seek out opportunities to engage in those types of discussions…but not with Young Earth Creationists or Flat Earthers or Astrologers or Bigfoot / Nessie proponents or the like.

                Hope that’s enough of an answer for you, even if it’s not a direct answer.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • eric
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

                “I don’t see the goal as winning people to the cause, but of education and critical thinking.”

                I think you’re trying to defend yourself by splitting hairs here. If Nye won anyone to the cause, it’s because he got them to consider and assess data they hadn’t seen or considered before. Which is education and critical thinking.

                Have to agree with gbjames on this one. You are correct that it’s a rhetorical contest and requires those skills. Not every scientist can or should do it. But given the results, I see more promise now in letting scientists with those skills appear in venues that creationists are likely to pay attention to – such as debates promoted by them.

                Now, I do agree that one data point doesn’t make an ironclad prediction of future success. But one promising data point is supportive of collecting another data point. I.e., having another debate. So, maybe at this point it’s not a good idea to open the floodgates. But I cannot see it as a bad thing to repeat the experiment at least once or twice again.

              • Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

                Well, I dont think any of us are advocating that debates are the only medium.

                But I wonder how many kids in creationist families would ever get to watch those tv programs in their own households.

                I suppose they might find _Cosmos_ on YouTube, but I also suspect that those same families monitor quite closely what their kids do on the internet.

                (Anyone from creationist families here who is young enough to have had access to the internet as kids? Was your access censored?)

                Until you have that empirical demonstration, your betting strategy is just a matter of faith! ;-)

                /@

              • Posted February 5, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

                I’m thinking of personal appearances / lectures / discussions / whatever, in the churches.

                My objection, again, is primarily to the debate format, and secondarily with engaging crackpots as people with ideas deserving of serious consideration. The debate format automatically gives undue deference to lunacy.

                If you were to address a meeting of the Flat Earth Society (assuming the chapter wasn’t an humorous variation on the Society for Creative Anachronisms), you’d want to explain how they can confirm, for themselves, the shape of the Earth. You’d address any misconceptions they might have in questions they ask. But you wouldn’t want to present a “fair and balanced” “comparison” of the “debate.” There is no “debate,” and it’s counterproductive to engage in one.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

                @ gbjames, you are having trouble with italics today! ;-)

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

                To my great shame, apparently, yes.

              • darrelle
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

                I understand your concerns and share them to a certain point, but I submit that it is very likely that the pros out weight the cons on this.

                If people are won over to “our” side by debates like this they are much more likely to go on to actually properly learn science and critical thinking than if they remained committed to their creationist idols.

                If a person can’t be convinced to look favorably, or even neutrally, towards science and rationality in the first place they are not likely to get themselves educated about them. And if they did it likely wouldn’t matter anyway. How many examples have we seen of people that have degrees in scientific fields, and have careers in those fields, and nevertheless still choose Ham’s side?

                I don’t think it is practical to limit ourselves to your preferred methods. That seems to deny human nature. We may wish it to be otherwise, and we may strive to make it so for ourselves, but what people believe has at least as much to do with “politics” than with evidence, education or critical thinking skills.

              • colnago80
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

                Re darrell

                How many examples have we seen of people that have degrees in scientific fields, and have careers in those fields, and nevertheless still choose Ham’s side?

                Kurt Wise anyone.

              • Kevin
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

                The debates are useful, particularly for uneducated people who are unlikely to be exposed to differing opinions. People think about what they see, even if they do not want change their beliefs. It is good for them. And the more debates the better. The more dialogue, the better. Reason will be like a disease among the fundamentalists, and these debates will be part of what makes reason contagious.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

                WordPress is messing with the sequence of comments here, so who knows where this will land. It is intended as response to Ben…

                I agree that the unmoderated discussion format is much superior to formal debates. But it all comes down to operating in ways that you are comfortable in and well suited for. Simply ruling debates out because “creationists win just because you show up” works just as well for unmoderated discussion. Or writing web pages or columns in HuffPo. Or anything. We, the good guys, don’t win by failing to engage. And if someone wants to engage via debates we shouldn’t be trash-talking them ahead of time.

                I didn’t see things exactly this way a few days ago. I changed my mind. I’ve enjoyed the drum ind strange coming from the religious folk too much following this debate.

              • Diane G.
                Posted February 5, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

                Too many debates here recently are becoming last-word-wins affairs, IMO. We’re a pretty cohesive group but as freethinkers we’re not all going to agree on everything. Once each side’s been stated more than a few times, I wish there wouldn’t seem to be such a need to “win”–in some cases, disagreement’s OK.

                I’m also wondering how this discussion would be going if Nye had lived down to the pre-debate predictions expressed here and at other sites…

              • darrelle
                Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

                I’m not gonna let you get the last word Diane!

              • Diane G.
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:11 am | Permalink

                “I’m not gonna let you get the last word Diane!”

                ;)

      • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        I disagree Ben. Any kind of engagement, including a “debate” format, is good. There are many people who have never heard a serious debunking of much of the religious nonsense. Many may have lurking doubts but everyone around them parrots the line. If they want to debate, debate!

        • Larry Gay
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

          I haven’t looked carefully, but news of this debate seems to be spreading far and wide. NBC news covered it, the Seattle Intelligencer. . . I wonder how much coverage it got in Kentucky and Ohio.

          • js
            Posted February 5, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

            It was big news here in Oz, perhaps because Ham is from here (oh, the shame).

      • Scott_In_OH
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        I would agree that caution is still required in entering the debate format, but I wouldn’t rule it out entirely.

        I think Nye’s performance shows us some important things:

        1. Calm adherence to facts can be effective in some fora.

        2. Much more important, the target audience–those who are ready to be challenged and convinced–is much larger than we might have thought.

        This doesn’t mean that debate is the only way to reach this group, but for someone who is of the right temperament and experience it can be effective.

    • Kevin
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      It is unfortunate there are not more of these debates. No one has to watch them, but they can have some popularity. And if only ten fundamentalist families out there saw this debate and made them think twice about their religious beliefs then these types of debates are huge successes.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      And perhaps our figurative, metaphorical “Wedgie”? ;)

  8. Sean
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Jerry,
    You’re not allowed to judge yesterday’s debate! It’s in the past! That “Historal”, and we cant tell what happened in the past!

    Even if a record of it is captured on youtube, god may have placed that video on youtube to test our faith(s)!

    And uncle Ham asks you to please not murder your cats or old people. (Gosh that part was insulting!)

    • Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      I apparently missed Ham’s statement on cats. What did he say?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        Oh dear! I thought of you when he said it. He said that if we accepted evolution we were all just animals and we wouldn’t care about each other so we could just kill cats (it was odd). I decided I learned 3 things from Ham: 1) he doesn’t like cats 2) Aussies say “blokes” & 3) Fish are evil.

      • Sean
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        I apologize for my typos (Using mobile phone!)

        Same old nonsense about morals coming from the bible, and we would have no problem murdering cats, old people and fetuses if we accept evolution because we are all just animals.(The list of potential victims may have been a bit longer than that)

        I thought it was pretty insulting. Nye didn’t respond at all, but it’s a point he deserved to be skewered on.

        If I get some time, I ill find the spot, but I dont feel like watching this again, hurts my head when Ham spews his nonsense.

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        If you’re not religious, you can euthanize the elderly like we do to cats!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      Yeah but he “he was there”. :D

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    There were some highlights in the Q&A. Despite Nye making the cringe worthy mistake of naming animals as “lesser” and “higher”, someone started off a question with “if science has shown humans are getting smarter” & Nye took a step back to explain survival of the fittest & that this means most suited to the environment (though he said “fit in best” which I suppose makes sense but he could have connected the dots a bit).

    He also got the opportunity to say several times that science would welcome evidence for anything Ham claims and if you found such evidence, it would change everything & you’d be lauded as a hero. I think this was a good point to get across as well since Ham’s intro alluded to the false “silencing” of scientists with controversial (i.e.: Jesus infested) ideas.

  10. Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on CancerEvo and commented:
    The simple truth

  11. Stephen Ryan
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I thought Nye was appalling. Yes he won the debate, but it reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer celebrated his dominance of a karate class, but we later learned that his opponents were just kids.

    Any secondary educated science student should have taken Ham apart. Yet Nye offered examples that seemed irrelevant, didn’t speak in a flowing style and didn’t close out doubts that his examples might have raised. For example, he showed a chart of about 20 skulls. I have no idea what he was trying to convey with that. Other examples were above the audience understanding level and had no impact IMO.

    Nye didn’t win the debate. He stumbled through without even one worth cheering response (though cheering wasn’t allowed in any case). Ham lost the debate because he was supporting a proposition that was ludicrous to begin with.

    • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      Yes, and I am sure Nye’s confused stories will be dissected on the internet by creationists. It would have been nice to see a more informed scientist up there. But Americans are influenced by celebrity, and maybe this was a good match in spite of the gaffes.

    • darrelle
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Your last sentence kind of ruins your comment for me. Perhaps you are not familiar with debating, are not realistic about human behavior, or are actually making a statement of opinion about what you think human behavior should be like?

      Sure, Nye could have done better.

    • Scientifik
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      Haters gonna hate. He wasn’t quite clear on one of his points that’s why his entire presentation was appalling.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      “Other examples were above the audience understanding level . . . .”

      Would it be too uncharitably skeptical, impolitic, and Dawkinsian of me to ask how you know that?

  12. eric
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    First, spectacular tweet.

    Ham should not have mentioned that all animals were herbivores (and that roses were thornless) before the Fall. For one thing, there’s nothing in the Bible that says such a thing,

    Having talked to a YEC on line about this, I feel comfortable in explaining their logic (it comes with a bonus idiocy):
    1. Genesis says there was no death before the fall.
    2. Predation requires death.
    3. Therefore there was no predation before the fall.

    Now I know what you’re thinking. “Aha! What about the dead plants!” Which brings us to the bonus idiocy. YECs who believe that lions etc. were herbivores also believe that plants aren’t alive. At least not for some biblical definition of alive.

    Mind-boggling, ain’t it?

    Ham’s concentration of “observational” versus “experimental” science is clearly a new tactic of young-earth creationists

    I believe it’s actually quite old; a decade or two at least.

    You probably haven’t heard about it because only YECers use it, not OECers or IDers.

    • colnago80
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Actually, when on raises the point that the dentition of lions and Tyrannosaurs is totally unsuited for a vegetarian diet, the YECs will claim that they ate coconuts.

      • eric
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        And coconuts aren’t plants? They’re seeds, yes, but they’re still in the plant kingdom…and still alive (at least for a while).

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. – Genesis 1:29-30

      It’s not a big stretch to interpret this passage as herbivores all around. It’s insane given any observation of the natural world and the characteristics of animals, but I think one could argue that it’s in the book.

  13. Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Below please find a re-post that attempts to answer your comment>
    “After the debate I was fulminating about Ham’s performance, grumbling about his being a “liar for Jesus.”

    the following comment was written by Nath one of our forum members at our Street Epistemology Facebook group:
    >>>
    Why do people preach in public and why some religious leaders insist they go out and preach?

    Because public conformity can be turned into genuine belief, especially when the belief is embarrassingly weak or unjustifiable.

    For example, if someone realizes they have wasted a large portion of their life on religious rituals that have no “payoff”, like praying, there are two ways to resolve the mental discomfort (dissonance) that results. They can either (1) Give up the behavior and admit that they have been wasting their time and energy on something with no valid justification, or (2) They can alter their perceptions and convince themselves that they actually BELIEVE the things they have been professing. Both options remove the cognitive dissonance, but the second method does so without the emotional trauma of being forced to admit a mistake.

    Rather than admit to themselves that they agreed to lie without a sufficient justification (which reflects poorly on their character), they ended up convincing themselves they weren’t really lying after all. They start to believe they don’t actually “pretend to know what they don’t know”, instead they “have faith”.

    This shows that humans are capable of dramatic self-deception to ease cognitive discomfort. It also may explain why personal “testimony” is so important to religion. Given that most believers have little to no rational justification for their beliefs, the act of telling stories to try and persuade others is very likely to increase the confidence that the storytellers themselves have in those beliefs, even to the point where memories are altered (or even created) to support them.

    (adapted from http://youtu.be/1207CtOW6F0 )
    >>>

    • Greg Esres
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      “the act of telling stories to try and persuade others is very likely to increase the confidence that the storytellers themselves have in those beliefs”

      Sure, as theorized in the classic social psychology book “When Prophecy Fail”.

  14. pktom64
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I don’t know for how long will the debate be available on youtube so I have it in HD on my computer if anyone wants it… (does that become illegal when the DVDs are out? Is it illegal already?)

    • Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      I made 2 dvd’s. The ‘debate, & q&a. And have mp4s two files. Minus the preaching first 13 minutes.

  15. Mark
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    “…but his delusions also cause him to poison the minds of children, and that is not all right with either me or Nye. It’s simply wrong to teach creationism to children, for that is teaching them lies, and I fault Nye a bit for helping the Creation Museum raise funds by participating in this debate.”

    An interesting story out of Canada is occurring right now where the courts are attempting to ensure the protection of children from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect. http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/02/03/children-of-ultra-orthodox-jewish-sect-lev-tahor-must-return-to-quebec-to-face-child-welfare-probe-ontario-judge-rules/

  16. Somite
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Jerry. Did you catch that you were mentioned by name?

  17. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Ham’s concentration of “observational” versus “experimental” science is clearly a new tactic of young-earth creationists, one that’s the theme of creationist Ray Comfort’s execrable film, “Evolution versus God.”

    I consider it progress.

    Instead of disputing the results of the scientific method which clearly doesn’t agree with them, they are now resorting to vague criticisms and silly school-yard “logic”.

    Ham’s major argument boiled down to: “None of us were there, so we can’t really know what happened” and that fundamental principle simply doesn’t fly with curious minds.

    It sucks that this debate is generating publicity and funds to Ham’s shindig, but I doubt this will save the sinking ship and I hope, maybe naively, that a few creationist minds were rattled by Nye’s presentation of facts.

    I’m still convinced that debating creationists/ID’ers is a necessary evil that will have to be carried out in order to prevent the virus from spreading, and I’m glad the Nye’s of the world are willing to give it a go.

    You win some, you lose some, but at least he took the fight to them. One thing I learned from last night is that it doesn’t take a ph.d in geology, biology or cosmology to tear down the creationist claims and the more to join the fight, the merrier.

    That said, I’m not sure how much more gish-gallop my bullshit o’meter can handle for now…

    • sponge bob
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      I think you’re being too pessimistic.

      After this debate, some kid out there started thinking, and he’s going to start looking up Bill Nye on YouTube. Then he’s going to find links to other’s such as Dawkins, and then he’s going to come across talkorigins.org, and then he’s going to send stuff to his friends on Snapchat, and then…

      So look on the bright side :-)

      • sponge bob
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        Sorry. I was referring about it giving Ham publicity, just to clarify. (Was not referring to your whole comment).

        It could have backfired on Ham too…

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

          No worries.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        Hehe, my bad.

        I was trying to be optimistic albeit cautiously. :-)

    • colnago80
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      Nobody observed O. J. Simpson killing Ron Goldman or Nicol Brown or even observed him away from his property between 9:35PM and 11:00PM, the time frame of the killings, so therefore, his acquittal was AOK and Ham would have voted for such if he had been on the jury.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

        I thought about evidence in court as well. It would make a good rebuttal to the “you weren’t there” argument.

  18. Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I’ve noted a few liberal Christian blogs which insist that it is only Ham’s “type of Christian” that is at fault. Alas, all Christians believe in silly magic, and just because they claim that their magic decoder ring works better than Ham’s doesn’t make them less ridiculous.

    • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      But silliness comes in degrees (or at least amounts), and an incremental approach does sort of matter. This is not to say I won’t keep arguing that science and religion are incompatible. I also say that one has to let people come to that realization themselves.

      • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        I can understand your position but I find that saying that you’ll still keep arguing is diametrically opposed to allowing people to come to the realization “by themselves”. Would it not mean that you would remain quiet and allow them to find everything out on their own with no showing?

        • Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

          Not at all; that’s why I said I wouldn’t stop explaining incompatibility. But the arguments (unless one plows through a giant paper I am not prepared to write) are enthymematic and such, and such might not persuade immediately.

          But primarily was the importance of self-discovery. If we just “force it”, it will not work and be counterproductive. (Cf. the former Soviet Union, where people have counterreacted and so on.)

          • Posted February 7, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

            to satisfy my curiosity, please tell me how they arguments are “enthymematic”: relating to an enthymeme, a syllogism in which one of the premises is implicit.”

            and so what if the results aren’t immediate? You seem to be damning the good in favor of some perfect ideal.

  19. francis
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    //

    • francis
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      //

  20. Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    You wrote: ”Again, any rational person, even a Bible-believer, would have trouble believing that the Fall instantly turned grass-munching cats into carnivores.”
    In my garden here in Ireland I see often c*ts eating grass. Maybe Irish ‘C*t’holic c*ts still have something in their genes?
    Even my dog tried to eat grass, but afterwards he became sick. I became sick when I saw that face of Ham.

    • Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      There’s a species of plant (whose name escapes me) that two cats I’ve known absolutely adore to eat, but puke up after eating. And then there’s catnip. (Which is a drug, of course.)

    • eric
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Cats occasionally munch on plants, but it makes them throw up. I believe the working theory is that they do it because it makes them throw up – i.e., to help them get rid of a tummy ache or something they can’t digest.
      But given human, dog, etc. behavior towards stuff that tastes good but is bad for us, the cats could also just be “taking the hit.” I.e., doing it because they like to do it, even though it makes them throw up.

      • Posted February 5, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        Sorry guys, I was joking. Of course I know all of this. Thank you.

  21. Greg Peterson
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I appreciated getting that information on the difference between historical and observational science, because I had previously said things like, “The sun sure is bright today!” And of course that information is about 8 minutes old and therefor unreliable. I mean–the sun could be gone for all I know, right? Sunshine. Nice try, materialistst!

  22. sponge bob
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I think any type of nonsense is a candidate for public debate.

    It’s an easy way for people (most of who are not scientists) to see things from a different perspective.

    Many people go to church 2-3 times a week and family lives revolve around church… and the kids go to church schools.

    So, the virus is very strong and needs to be attacked with whatever medicine is available. Debates are an entertaining way to start the medication.

    • Kevin
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Well said. These debates are not the best medication, but they are a medication that helps and with time, hopefully, there will be no need for them some day.

  23. Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    It was such a silly “debate”. Having seen (a little bit of) it I have to say that the analogy to debating a flat-earther about the shape of the earth is right on. To single out a YEC creationist like Ham and debate him on a national stage is implying that he has something worth debating. I hope Nye quits this kind of gig.

    • sponge bob
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      But the kids of YECrs don’t know there is no debate. That’s who Nye was really targeting I imagine, and he did a good enough job.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      If the flat earthers creationists weren’t so politically influential and weren’t invading our public school systems every day I might agree with you. But we ignore them at our peril and at the peril of kids everywhere.

    • eric
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      To single out a YEC creationist like Ham and debate him on a national stage…

      That somewhat reverses the situation. Ham invited Nye to a debate – Nye did not single out Ham.

  24. Michael Smith
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    “Nye used the term “higher” and “lower” animals, which even Darwin realized is not valid terminology under the theory of evolution (every species is equally “evolved” in terms of how long its ancestors have been around: we’re all about 2.5 billion years old.”

    Nye’s comment made me initially pause too. But I think Nye was referring to the absence of mixing of fossils in higher and lower strata, not to mixing of “higher” and “lower” animals. At least that is how I interpreted it.

    • Scientifik
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      Same here.

  25. peltonrandy
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Haven’t read all the comments yet so perhaps someone has already inquired about the following, but here goes anyway:

    “…Ham’s concentration of “observational” versus “experimental”

    Unless I misunderstand what was said during the debate, I thought Ham drew an irrelevant distinction between observational and historical science,not observational and experimental.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      I don’t remember the exact terms Ham used, but his distinction was between processes that can be performed in a lab and those that can’t. So, a scientist could theoretically manipulate a fish egg to hatch into an amphibian, but that would not prove that that was the way it originally occurred hundreds of millions of years ago.
      Of course, Ham is rejecting the perfectly reasonable process of studying pieces of a theoretical process to determine how statistically likely it is that the original process occurred in the way hypothesized.

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

        It isn’t that simple: we can observe (in the usual misleading sense) what would happen if the decay rates of Rb (say) were to change, and hence conclude that they didn’t appreciably. So that’s lab science. Ham’s made up “historical science”, however, is supposed to apply to such a process, because the Rb in the crust decayed “back then” or whatever the claim is. This is why the dicotomy is ridiculous and “made up” to frame the debate for the creationist.

  26. Federico
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Nye should have called Ham on the “god of the gaps” argument. He used it so bluntly so many times. Every time Nye admitted science does not yet understand something (consciousness, for example), Ham mockingly replied “there’s a book…”, referring of course to the bible and how it “explains” that god did it.
    He also cherry picked scientists who are crationists to make his point that science and creationism are compatible. Does anyone have real numbers on that. I mean, how many scientists actually are creationists? Ham claimed it is a large group, though he admitted it is not the majority. Hard to believe…

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      “Does anyone have real numbers on that. I mean, how many scientists actually are creationists?”

      You can’t really nail this down, because Ham would lump in engineers and MDs as “scientists”. I would not consider any engineer a scientist, and a medical doctor could only be considered having a valid POV if she is actually researching evolutionary biology.

      • Federico
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

        True… anyway, it would be interesting to know, at least among physicists and biologists.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure you can find numbers on the internet, but I don’t recommend going down that path. First, whether few people or many accept evolution is irrelevant to it’s truth. Reality isn’t parsed by taking a vote of experts. Part of the thrill of doing science is the possibility of overturning received wisdom, of being the first guy with new data or a better analysis that changes minds and overturns the status quo. Often this takes a long time, so it is easy to find examples of things we hold as obvious now that were minority opinions at one time. I think even creationists realize this and would not be much impressed to learn that theirs is a minority view. It just feeds their persecution complex in any case.

      Second it buys into the authoritarian narrative that religion is based on, that we know what is true by appealing to the biggest or best or most numerous authority figure(s). But that’s not the approach of science. I know what is right in science by understanding the evidence and arguments and drawing my own conclusions. There is wide agreement about evolution among biologists not because they took a vote and now must swear an oath to the biology catechism but because they independently evaluated the evidence. Ordinary people can evaluate the evidence too. So I’d just stay focused on the evidence and leave the expert counts to authoritarians of various stripes.

      • Federico
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        I was just curious ;) But I know what you mean, and you are right.

        • gluonspring
          Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_support_for_evolution

          A number given there is 2% creationism, 8% some kind of theistic evolution, and 87% materialistic evolution. So, small percentage but you can find a lot of individuals that way. I am sure the numbers will vary a bit depending on field and academic reputation. Creationism will be higher for physical scientists, physicists, chemists, and applied scientists (including engineers) than for biologists or geologists. This has nothing to do with their intelligence but to their indoctrination/delusion level and how easy it is to work in a particular field without being confronted with the errors of creationism. You can go a whole career as a physicist and not have to face, in a professional context, the damning evidence against creationism. You can’t make through your freshman year as a biologist without being exposed to this information. People are very good at avoiding what they do not want to hear, and so if your field doesn’t force you to hear it, you can skip along easily thinking what you wish.

          This is one reason that I think we should focus as much attention on the quality of evolution teaching in schools as we do on opposing the spurious introduction of ID or creationism, because often what we face is just a failure to hook people up with the facts and arguments that support evolution. It is really a tragedy for anyone, more so a scientist in any field, to graduate from college and not know the basic information included in the WEIT book, for example. That’s not for specialists, that’s what everyone should know who claims to be college educated now (along with basic principles across science, like the conservation of energy, etc.). But right now I think only biologists are guaranteed to make it out of college with this information and that’s a shame.

  27. DrBrydon
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I don’t think the stress on observational science is a new tactic. I read George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture last year, and one of the things that stood out was that opponents of Modernism (soon to be Fundamentalists) championed Baconian science, and shunned the more modern science. I don’t recall that Marsden explained why, specifically, they felt that post-Baconian science was objectionable, but clearly the fewer facts based on anything but observation the better, if one is a Biblical literalist. I recommned Marsden’s book.

    • John Crisp
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Sorry, I don’t want thousands of emails, but don’t know how to stop the “notify” process.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        It’s too late…the matrix has you.

        • Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          Try the Unsubscribe link at the bottom of any email!

          /@

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

            Well, spank my fanny, I’ll have to remember that.

            Thanks!

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted February 5, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

              Careful – there are two meanings to “fanny” – one for North America and one for the rest of the English speaking world. :) Guess what one Ant is from? :D

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:29 am | Permalink

                LOL. Whoops. :-)

    • Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Which is ridiculous, because the philosophy of science espoused by Bacon *cannot* work, and we know that now. No scientific discovery has ever been made by “induction” as meant there. The Royal Society was right to be formed as a social organization for scientists, which is one thing Bacon did right (though vaguely).

  28. Robert Seidel
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    > we’re all about 2.5 billion years old

    Don’t you mean 3.5 billion?

  29. Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I know a lot of people disagreed going in, but I think this debate was a very good thing. The comparison to debating a flat-earther, while valid on the basis of scientific evidence, is a flawed one in that we don’t have 44% of Americans who believe the Earth is flat.

    To paraphrase Dawkins, a lot of people simply don’t know that they can believe something else. The fact that Nye didn’t bring up topics like the isochron method is fine; presumably his goal is to get people who have never heard the evidence at all to at least get a spark of curiosity and open their way to enlightenment. (Jerry also pointed this out in that there were many things Nye could’ve said that probably are obvious only to scientists.)

    Personally, I grew up in a place where my High School teacher refused to even bring up the topic of evolution, yet I still did well enough in the AP class to test my way out of biology in college. It was only with the growth of the internet and debates like these over the last decade that I finally had ready access to information. When I started seeing what the actual cosmological and biological evidence was against Creationism and that everything I’d been told about it were strawmen, things began to click. I highly doubt anyone who isn’t already a Creationist was swayed in the least by Ham and it is quite likely that people who didn’t know there is a choice may now be on the wonderful road to scientific discovery and the the truly awe-inspiring Universe we find ourselves in.

    • Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      It’s so inspiring that it’s worthy of using “the” twice.

      • moarscienceplz
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        Heh!

  30. µ
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Re: “we’re all about 2.5 billion years old.”

    We are? As primordial eukaryotes perhaps?

    I date my own ancestry way older, to about 3.8 billion years old. I wasn’t there to observe this directly, of course, but I can show you the records in fossil depositions, in phylogenetic reconstructions of genes/genomes, and in universal homologies (universal genetic code; use of L-amino-acids and D-sugars, etc).

    I mean, “we” should include the bacteria and the archaea, unless we want to be accused of eukaryote bigotry.

    • Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Who cares about the prokaryote scum!

      /@

      • µ
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        Point well taken. But the real conundrum is why god has such inordinate fondness for microbial diversity; and why hominoid primates are such a miserable clade of less than 10 species.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          Quality>Quantity/trial and error.

          God is a closet scientist.

        • eric
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

          Microbes reproduce sexually and asexually. Some have more than two sexes. Some species can switch between asexual reproduction and sexual reproduction dependin on the circumstances. They’re nature’s hippies…who wouldn’t want to hang out with them? ;)

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 5, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

          Probably punishment for masturbation.

  31. Scientifik
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    “Ham’s reliance on Biblical literalism was also a bad scientific move, and he should have been less explicit about it. To a rational person, the Ark story really is dumb, for Noah and his sons simply could not have built a seaworthy vessel and peopled (animaled?) it with two of each ‘kind.'”

    The problem is that millions of people are not rational, and they do believe in this stupid Jewish myths as if they were facts.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      I’ve always been a little puzzled why a Biblical literalist would care about the mechanical engineering of the boat. The god character is involved, after all. All bets are off because… magic. Maybe god shrank the animals down, or magically reinforced the boat, etc. It’s a bit like trying to argue that Harry Potter couldn’t have survived his fall off the broom using using physics and human anatomy. Duh! He survives because… magic. The book (both of them) are full of magic and magic can paper over anything.

      Still, I’ve known many fundamentalists who are a bit bothered to learn that the boat is crazy in real life, sans magic, so I suppose that for some people learning this ups the dissonance a little and is worth pointing out.

      • Posted February 5, 2014 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

        See, once you allow for even a little bit of magic, all of science comes crashing to an halt.

        Why did the apple fall from the tree? Was it gravity this time, or did Jesus decide that now was an especially magical time for the apple to drop? Every inquiry you might make into the natural world is utterly devoid of meaning, because you have no way of knowing if what you’re seeing is real or if it’s just Jesus shittin’ you.

        Why did the Sun stop in the sky in that one Bible faery tale? Magic. Why did it start up again? Magic. Why is it behaving as expected today? Is it just on autopilot while Jesus recharges his Sun-stopping magic batteries? What’s the orbital equation for magical Sun-stoppage, and how the fuck are you supposed to integrate that into the rest of your celestial mechanics?

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

          And this is the metaphysical reason why science and religion are incompatible. Miracles are antiscientific. Science requires lawfulness (objective regularities). Ironically, Ham said so.

          • Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

            No, this is not true. Sufficiently well-evidenced miracles, with some pattern or meaning, could be evidence of a god (as the best explanation).

            • Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

              Sorry, I’m just not seeing that.

              If the events in question are well-evidenced, then we can get to work understanding them and their mechanism and maybe somebody learn how to replicate them. The events might be impressive…but so are airliners and microwave ovens.

              It’s actually the exact opposite. Miracles and gods are plot devices in a certain class of fiction. They can only ever exist in those fictional universes, and the authors who employ the devices generally go to great pains to ensure that the miracles their gods perform never could ever actually happen in the real world.

              You’ll notice that Jesus didn’t go out on the lake and come back with several thousand fish in his nets, and then buy bushels of wheat and bake several thousand loaves in order to feed the masses. No; he made the food appear out of thin air.

              If somebody today magicked that much food out of thin air, your first thought would be that this is part of some sort of Las Vegas magic trick. If demonstrated real, you’d next think it’s a variation on the Star Trek transporter. Even if it could be demonstrated that it unquestionably violated fundamental physics, your next conclusion would likely be that you were trapped in some sort of Matrix-style computer simulation. At no point is “this particular character from an ancient faery tale” going to be the most reasonable (or least unreasonable) answer — any more than the appearance of dragons flying overhead would make you think that Harry Potter was a real boy.

              Cheers,

              b&

            • Posted February 6, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

              Ben, suppose prayers to some particular being, asking for very improbable interventions, was regularly answered, but not prayer to other beings when done the same way. Suppose prophecies (that could not be self-fulfilling) were regularly made by people who claimed to receive communications from this same being. Suppose this being gave us a printed book, and the printed book automatically updated itself every night while we slept. Suppose the binary expansion of fractional part of the fine structure constant spelled out the long, complicated name of this being in all known living and dead languages, with no intervening wrong bits. Suppose large sections of our junk DNA spelled out exactly the same message that was encoded in the fine-structure constant. Suppose that on special occasions, predicted by and echoed by encoded messages in our junk DNA, the stars spelled out the being’s name and some relevant message. Suppose priests of this being could make miracles of many different kinds occur on demand.

              If all of this were true, then the best explanation would be that the universe really is responsive to meaning and mind, and that the inanimate laws of nature that we discover are, at least in part, the product of this mind. I don’t want to argue whether or not this would count as a god, or whether we should call it supernatural, but it would show the essential features of the sorts of things people have called ‘gods’ through the ages.

              My point of course is not that such a thing exists, but that with sufficient evidence, it would be rational to believe in its existence as the best explanation for our observations. In other words, science does not rule out this stuff by definition, but rather discards such hypotheses for lack of evidence.

              I think this is also Jerry’s position, if I recall correctly.To say otherwise is to echo Ham’s closed-mindedness. He claimed that no evidence could convince him that the bible is false, and we rightly laughed. We should not make the same mistake. If no possible evidence could convince us that mind controlled the universe and made its laws, we are no better than him.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

                Lou, that might have been a reasonable conclusion had we had millennia of evidence to support such a notion…but that’s not the real world.

                If something like that started happening, the far more reasonable conclusion, especially in light of all the past history of evidence which any new theory must continue to explain, would be that we’re trapped in the Matrix, or that some sort of space alien is working a conspiracy to win humans to its cause, or some other variation on that theme.

                And, even if that sort of thing had been the case since time immemorial…well, all it means is that now we know that the universe is bigger than we thought it was, and that the real science was to be performed in the realm of the “gods.” Sure, we might be unable to escape our prisons in order to learn anything meaningful, but that wouldn’t relieve us of the obligation to try.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

                “the real science was to be performed in the realm of the “gods.” ”
                Exactly. I never said this would stop science. I was only trying to show you (and I think now you see it) that it can be rational, given strong enough evidence, to conclude that there are “gods”. Science does NOT rule it out by definition.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

                Sorry; those were “scare quotes” I was using around, “gods.” Were these “gods” real, they’d be no different than James “the Amazing” Randi setting himself up as a god to some back-bush tribe, except with an even bigger gap between the technological sophistication of the entities in question.

                If the “gods” we’ve been discussing are to be understood as somehow truly divine, then one can only conclude that you with your smartphone are equally divine.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

                There is no difference between a real god and a being which has all the powers people attribute to gods.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

                But that’s just it. The powers that people attribute to gods are either trivial (even if impressive) or nonexistent. The entities with the former powers are idols, not gods; the entities with the latter powers are gods, yes, but they’re imaginary.

                Jesus turned water into wine in an instant because it’s impossible to do so. If anybody could do it, then that’s not what Jesus would have done. And if somebody demonstrated to you the ability to turn water into wine, you might be impressed, but you’d know it’s not a miracle — you’ve got the evidence right in front of you that it’s possible.

                So you might say that anybody who could turn water into wine is a god. And, so long as doing so is impossible, you’d be right. But the instant that somebody figures out how to turn water into wine, even if that somebody is an hyperintelligent shade of the color blue from another galaxy, it’s a matter of technology, not magic, and whoever’s doing the trick is a false god.

                The very notion of a “real” god is a contraction, because gods, fundamentally, are fictional plot devices and their whole reason for existence is their ability to do the impossible. But actually doing the impossible demonstrates that the impossible is possible, after all, and thus neither miraculous nor evidence of divinity.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

                Ben, you are slipping into automated mode. You’re not addressing what I wrote. I presented a hypothetical universe to show that it could sometimes be rational to infer a “god” as the best explanation. You come back with “The powers that people attribute to gods are either trivial (even if impressive) or nonexistent.” Please understand that I am talking about a hypothetical (ie nonexistent) universe, to make a logical point?.
                The powers I gave my hypothetical being included being able to change the fundamental laws of nature, and having control over the initial conditions of the universe. Such a being would be called a “god” in any culture. As I said above, I don’t care if we actually use the g-word for such a being. The point is that with strong enough evidence, it could be reasonable to infer the existence of a being with those powers. Science does not exclude it by definition.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

                Lou, I haven’t seen anyone here claim that God is excluded by definition via science. In fact, Jerry and many others have always indicated that one would expect to find evidence of such a being, and if found, it would be reasonable to believe. Of course it is reasonable to believe in such a being in a hypothetical, non – existent Universe, but this is nothing to do with the reality of the Universe we find ourselves in.

                You may have well have said that in a hypothetical Universe where the fundamental laws of logic change, it would make sense to believe that A != A at certain times. Therefore, you’re just not yourself in a literal sense today.

                None of this even begins to address the question that if such a being exists in our world, why won’t it just settle the question in an indisputable way? It would be quite reasonable to expect Yahweh as depicted in the Bible to want to make his presence known clearly. As for other hypothetical beings that don’t take an interest in our day to day lives, well then, who really cares?

              • Posted February 8, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

                But, again, even such an entity would, logically, be the equivalent of a child playing Sim City.

                And that’s my point. Even the most powerful god you can imagine has no way of knowing that it’s not itself the plaything of some even more powerful god — and the same with that even more powerful god, and its gods, and those gods, and so on.

                Clearly, not only can a god not be somebody’s bitch, it especially can’t unknowingly be somebody’s bitch. But if it can’t even rule out that possibility, how’re we supposed to call it a god and keep a straight face?

                So, go ahead. Give your hypothetical god all the powers you want. They’re still not enough to really make it divine.

                Unless, of course, you add the all-important one: make it a fictional character in a religious story, and get people to worship it. Then you’ve got yourself a real god.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

                ChrisBuckley80, you didn’t bother to read my comments above, or Ben’s, before responding. Ben did claim that it would never be rational to choose “god” as the best explanation for a set of evidence. I gave a hypothetical set of evidence to show that could be rational, and so science doesn’t rule it out by definition.

                In fact there are quite a few scientists who think that science should rule it out by definition, but they are wrong. Jerry does not rule it out by definition, and I was agreeing with him, as I made clear when I wrote “I think this is also Jerry’s position, if I recall correctly. To say otherwise is to echo Ham’s closed-mindedness.”

              • Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                Lou, is it close-minded to “rule out by definition” the existence of married bachelors living death in Spartan luxury north of the North pole?

                To be sure, theists did not set out to define their gods in such blatantly contradictory terms; rather, their gods took a much more evolutionary organic route. But the end result is the same, and we are left with gods whose very definitions are self-contained contradictions.

                And it’s not me who defined the gods thus; it’s the believers themselves. They’re just so superbly practiced at the arts of doublethink and newspeak that they’re able to dance around the problems with ease. “Of course God can do anything he wants to, including make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it — and, just to show how powerful he is, he’ll go ahead and lift the rock anyway.” I’ve heard exactly that from the lips of a theist, without even an hint of a trace of irony.

                Again, when you understand that the real purpose of divinity is as a plot device in a certain class of fiction, it all makes perfect sense. It’s only when you trap yourself in the mindset of the theist and / or assume honesty and / or trust their reasoning skills that you wind up in trouble — trouble invariably accompanied by granting the possibility that they might somehow be telling the truth about their married bachelor frenemies.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 8, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

                The being I described in my hypothetical world is logically consistent. It includes none of the self-contradictory elements you describe in your comment. And to repeat (now for the last time), I’m not advocating the existence of such a being, I’m arguing that science can’t rule out such a being by definition; science rules it out for evidential reasons. End of my story. Bye.

              • Posted February 8, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

                Yes, your being is logically consistent.

                But it lacks significant properties of godhood. I simply can’t imagine anybody who would agree that a god could be incapable of knowing whether or not it is itself merely a computer simulation.

                Add to your hypothetical entity the magical ability to make such a determination — obviously a subset of the “all powers” ability — and, hey-presto, you’ve got yourself something that’s no longer logically consistent.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 9, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

                @Lou,

                Sorry if this response goes in the wrong place, the reply links disappeared after a few levels down. But, I did read what you said. That’s precisely why I replied the way I did addressing hypotheticals.

                I agree with you that science doesn’t rule gods or anything else out by definition (except for logical contradictions) but it does in practice, and by that I mean every god that has been proposed with clearly defined attributes. I just don’t buy that the hypothetical evidence for your hypothetical being as really being evidence for a god. I think the bar is too low. God, by most definitions created everything and transcends time in and space. This hypothetical being would need to show us how it can step outside of known time and space and show that it controls everything. If this being is just another level up in a regress of unknown length, it wouldn’t be worthy of worship, since there’d always be something higher that could then encompass the lower realms and be more of a factor.

                A key aspect to God, as traditionally understood, is that he’s a first cause and has infinite power over everything. None of the stuff you put forth would prove any of that. Now if you want to define the thing you originally proposed as a god, well then fine, but now we’re getting dangerously close to “sophisticated theology” and the claims they always throw around, “that’s not the God I believe in either.” I’m not trying to put words in Ben’s mouth, but it seems he was also asserting that the evidence you put out there wouldn’t live up to the standards traditionally attributed to a god.

  32. Scientifik
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    “Ham made a serious mistake, I think, in concentrating on affirming Biblical literality”

    Well, that’s the essence of his position, and millions of other YECs.

  33. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    So to sum up, this was a discussion in theology and the creationists ran away with the dosh.

    Typo & nit:

    we’re all about 2.5 billion years old.

    I think you meant to type 3.5 billion, and that is the lower limit as of now. We have two creditable albeit arguable independent trace fossils from the 3.8 Ga bp Isua formation (microanalysis of BIFs and microanalysis of carbon residues) from 2013, indicating life > 3.8 Ga bp. We’ll see how the consensus turn out.

    Nit:

    He responded, as he had to, that evolution occurs only within “kinds” (creationists never define what “kinds” are). But the fossil record belies this, for we have many examples of transitional fossils

    The molecular biology result of Theobald 2010 observably subsumes all species under an UCA, the obvious but both self and independently constraint being that evolution process in the form of darwinian small survivable steps operates.

    So the fossil record is nice, but we can do better. And at a likelihood > 10^2000 against multiple “kind” UCAs of creationists like Ham, it is good indeed!

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Typo: “both self and independently constraint” – both self and independently tested constraint.

  34. Posted February 5, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Actually I thought the choice of venue was a good idea.

    By not having it at a university, Ham isn’t given that credibility, and Bill is given the opportunity to present real evidence to Ham’s normally sequestered flock.

    If I had the opportunity to debate with a creationist, I would want to do it at a church, not a school.

  35. Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    “Ham’s concentration of “observational” versus “experimental” science is clearly a new tactic of young-earth creationists” I thought that one had been around for years. Sometimes dressed up with language like “Origins studies are different”.

    • Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      I think a great response (though partially tongue-in-cheek) to this absurd assertion is to then assert that any elderly person (or adult whose parents are deceased for that matter) was never a human baby. After all, this is a question of “historical science.” Just because we have babies now doesn’t mean we had babies 80 years ago! Clearly, there isn’t a shred of evidence anyone’s sweet grandma was once a baby herself. Her parents are gone. I wasn’t there to see it, you weren’t there. Hell, grandma has no recollection at all of being a baby and the pictures she has of her supposed infancy don’t look anything like her!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      I’ve heard it said before. I remember that test that circulated on the interwebs last year from a kid’s class where they were teaching creationism. One of the answers was to respond with “were you there?”. IIRC, the child’s father found out that she was being taught this stuff when there was an advertisement on the radio for an exhibit at a museum or something & she gave this response.

  36. Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    As a non-american, I didn’t grow up with Nye as apparently everybody else and I was very skeptical about the debate, for the reasons written about in great length elsewhere.

    However, I felt his performance was very good. He did a lot of small, yet important things extremely well.

    His mission was to appear merely decent for people who already are with science, but pull those over those who are on the fence or haven’t really thought about it, and perhaps make a few creationists consider and curious, allowing them to come over in due time.

    Nye’s introduction was very good with his trademark bow tie, as he broke some ice. He then went with CSI, which I found a clever move, too. People get the basic idea. From the ice cores and the seasons they tell and the tree rings, he always made sure he used examples that are relatable to most people. He also showed the map with the different beliefs, yet used that to illustrate that believers of all kinds still accept evolution. This was a very clever combination of arguments for atheism, assurance that you can accept evolution while believing, and gave the impression there’s a pro-evolution majority out there and it’s the creationists who isolate themselves. Even though some examples could have been better, he did very well overall.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      A problem then becomes that you can can accept evolution while believing, in say geocentrism,

      But you can’t accept evolution while believing in creationism such as abrahamic beliefs. (What most abrahamists magicking then does is to sheath its creationism in evolutionary clothes, aka evolutionary creationism.)

      It’s a problem for science and society to exchange one lie (creationism) with another (you can accept evolution while believing in creationism magic). For one, people will feel as cheated when they find out the new problems that runs up against what we know. But now they will, and should, blame _scientists_.

    • Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      The CSI thingg was brilliant, as it undercut Ham’s fake historical/observational distinction. At that moment, I though Nye was going to be an exceptionally good debater. His subsequent presentation never measured up to that first flash of genius, but Ham was so bad that it turned out alright anyway.

  37. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    “observational” versus “experimental” science … historical reconstruction

    Any which way, the difference is between “repeatable”. We can do repeatable cosmological, astronomical, geological, biological and climatological observations in the past.

    And most “history” is process, say the historical observations of universe expansion which is tested to apply today, not by extrapolation but by theory. But if Ham admits to the latter, “kinds” are gone since there are no theoretical, moreover tested by observation, barriers there either.

    That is by teh way a problem with “kinds” that happenstance debaters should raise: since creationists “weren’t there” and have no observations, how do they know there are barriers that sets up “kinds”?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      An example of a non-repeated but exciting “historical” observation is that of ball lightning that some chinese researchers caught on camera and 2 spectrometers [!] for the first time.

      Cheer luck, and confirming the 2000-ish theory of silicon minerals burning at ~ 30 kK for a few seconds after lightning has pushed up and ignited air-borne soil fragments.

      But as of yet, no repetition. So who knows?

  38. Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    “Ken Ham:

    Here at the Creation Museum, we make no apology about the fact that our origins or historical science actually is based on the Biblical account of origins.””

    But, Ken… how do you know that the Biblical account is true, and not just a packet of self-serving fiction from people who believed in unicorns, dragons, and talking asses? I mean, after all, you weren’t THERE when they wrote it down, were you?

    Don’t you know that everything you read in a book is not true?

    As Cormac McCarthy wrote:

    ““Books lie, he said.
    God dont lie.
    No, said the judge. He does not. And these are his words.
    He held up a chunk of rock.
    He speaks in stones and trees, the bones of things.”

    But, Ken… how do you know that the Biblical account is true, and not just a packet of self-serving fiction from people who believed in unicorns, dragons, and talking asses? I mean, after all, you weren’t THERE when they wrote it down, were you?

    Don’t you know that everything you read in a book is not true?

    As Cormac McCarthy wrote:

    ““Books lie, he said.
    God dont lie.
    No, said the judge. He does not. And these are his words.
    He held up a chunk of rock.
    He speaks in stones and trees, the bones of things.”

  39. Scientifik
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    “I hope that, in the future, Nye is not so emboldened by his success in this debate that he starts debating creationists. Eventually he will run into one that is not as Ham-handed as Ham, and he’ll lose badly. Moreover, as I’ve said repeatedly, debates are not the place to resolve scientific issues, and only give credibility to creationists.”

    I don’t think that Bill Nye gave creationists any credibility there. On the contrary, I would say that their credibility actually dropped to zero after this debate, with their leader Ken Ham leaving the stage in shame. He exposed the complete ridiculousness of Ken Ham’s position for the whole world to see.

  40. Vaal
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Nye did better than I figured as well. He was a bit smoother and more sure sounding than I’d expected. Though, a bit too often I found he didn’t quite articulate his arguments well. He waved around the right conclusions, but didn’t always show clear steps for getting there. Ham dropped the ball so horribly that it didn’t matter in the end; Nye did well enough.

    The Creationist insistence on contriving a difference between “historical” and “operational/observable” science goes way back. When I started debating Christians 20 years ago it was the most mind-numbingly common assertion among creationists, and it was in their literature for many years.
    Nye could have done a much better job making the liabilities and special pleading of this creationist move clear – how the essential method of scientific/logical inference is the same whether applied to the past the present or the future, and Ham’s “you weren’t there” move would mean scientific chaos. It would mean there is no more basis for the predictions of Ham’s “observational science” than there is for his “historical science,” since one can say of both the past and the future “you weren’t there, so you can’t assign any confidence.” No scientist could say the theory or hypothesis that seems to be supported today – e.g. a vaccine – will work tomorrow because, hey “I wasn’t there” in “tomorrow” to observe the results.
    Taking Ham’s division seriously makes all science unworkable.

    I think Nye could have slammed the whole “all animals were herbivores” thing harder.
    As soon as he brought up the mere fact that Lions have sharp teeth and claws, I knew Ham would be coming back with the standard creationist examples of other animals with sharp teeth and claws who eat fruit. But of course the teeth of a Lion are only one of many signs that it’s body is suited to being a meat eating predator.

    I’d love it if Nye had mentioned the Cheetah instead, whose entire physiology – bones, muscles, lungs, metabolism, etc – is predicated upon it’s need to reach astonishing speeds quickly to catch and kill prey.

    If the Cheetah were designed as a herbivore before The Fall, I’d want to ask Ham, just how fast he thought vegetables and fruits were moving in the garden of Eden, to necessitate the fast-running-optimized design of the cheetah. Did bananas loose their speedy legs after The Fall, or did Potatoes lost their little jet-packs and became easier to catch?

    Vaal.

    • Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      “The Creationist insistence on contriving a difference between “historical” and “operational/observable” science goes way back.”

      Yet when they are giving so-called scientific evidence for the Great Flood, aren’t they using “historical” science as well. I mean, there are no global floods to observe right now; at best they could only extrapolate from modern local floods. They also claim that the pattern of rock formation and the fossil record support the Flood Model – isn’t THAT an assertion based on “historical” science?

      Not only is the distinction a false one, it’s one that they don’t even adhere to themselves. And I find it hard to believe that they aren’t aware of their hypocrisy and inconsistency.

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        To be fair, I think the idea is that “you weren’t there, so you can’t know, but we can know because we also have this extra source.” Silly, painfully silly, but there you go.

        • Posted February 10, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

          But that’s not what they are saying with regard to the Flood – they claim at least not to rely solely on their special book of magic facts. They are claiming that evidence we can observe now, such as the arrangement of fossils and the composition of sedimentary layers, not to mention use of the hydrodynamics of modern floods, can be used to infer that the Great Flood occurred- i.e. no Bible or first-hand accounts needed.

          With respect to those claims, it is no different to a real scientist using fossil evidence, geological evidence, and extrapolation of modern processes and laws to infer past events or processes, i.e. “historical” science.

          They lie, knowing that their followers will never think it through. And somehow they justify this lying as consistent with their superior Christian morals.

  41. Kevin
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    “brain has been so deeply marinated in faith”

    Jerry, or your friend, that is a brilliant quote.

    Absolute Certainty = brain deeply marinated in faith

    This can mean many things, one poignant lesson is shown here on You Tube, type:

    Dr Bronowski defends science

    • Vaal
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I loved that description as well!

  42. Scientifik
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    “As Nye pointed out, much of cosmology, including our knowledge of the Big Bang, is based on historical reconstruction. But such reconstruction is not just limited to cosmology, or even science: everyone firmly believes many things that happened in the past that they didn’t have a chance to observe.”

    I think that one of Bill’s best points in the debate (IIRC he made it during the Q&A session) was when he pointed out that we actually can observe the past. We do it all the time when we are looking at the stars and galaxies billions of light years away, because their light had to travel for billions of years to reach our eyes. In effect, we are observing them as they were in the past.

    His example with the audience members in the back of the room looking a tad younger to him (than they really are) than those in the front rows was intended to make us laugh, but he got his physics right.

  43. Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Excellent comments, I have nothing to add other than this:

    The next time someone debates a YE creationist, could they ask him/her what aquatic predators such as Great White sharks ate? Was it seaweed?

    I am asking this because I had a post debate Facebook exchange with a creationist friend of a friend, I asked this very question, and that was the answer I got. “Seaweed, or something.”

    THAT is what we are up against.

    • eric
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      If you think your friend is accepting his theology uncritically (rather than someone who has fully ‘drunk the koolaid’) you might ask them this:

      Is seaweed alive?

      If so, then there was death before the fall.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      I wish GWS ate seaweed. I’d feel better about swimming or even kayaking here in the Red Triangle.

      Of course you got the ridiculous seaweed answer. No one ever has a discussion with someone about their religious beliefs and at the end of the discussion says, “Oh, yeah, I guess you’re right, evolution is true and what I believed for the last 20 years is bullshit.” Even without the delusion of religion that’s just human nature. No, they’ll even say ridiculous things to avoid admitting that their beliefs are bogus. But that doesn’t mean that you haven’t put a splinter in their mind that will bug them and take them further.

  44. nick Spencer
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Great article.
    Just the last paragraph worries me. Let’s not get bogged down in a “truth” contest. “Truth” is a word that belongs to religion. It describes an absolute.
    Robin Ince describes it best when he says that science is the tool that lets us be the least wrong at this moment in time.

  45. beyondbelief007
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I skimmed all comments, so forgive me if this one has already been mentioned. But I imagined Jerry being sent into an apoplectic foaming rage when Nye said that “Absolutely, religion and science are compatible.”

    It was in the Q&A section, and I see JAC was signed off by then. But THAT was the weakest, worst part of Nye’s presentation. It played into Ham’s “Quotes from Scientists” slides.

    Jerry, publish that book!! :-)

  46. David Johnson
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    I expect that Nye will be challenged to a new debate the way Bobby Riggs was challenged by Billie Jean King after beating Margaret Court Smith. This time it will be old earth creationists so they can avoid the laughability of the Earth being just 6,000 (or 10,000) years old.

    • Scientifik
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      The question of the intelligent designer magically guiding the process of evolution was one of the last he had a chance to tackle during the debate, and he dealt with it very well by pointing out that we already understand how the process of evolution works, the current theory makes testable predictions which are in line with observation, so there simply is no need for the god hypothesis.

      On a side note, it remains a mystery to me, why people who say in the opinion polls they “accept evolution as being guided by God” are considered to accept the theory of evolution by natural selection.

      It’s like saying that you accept the science behind storm formation and earthquakes, but you believe these phenomena are really guided by Poseidon. You either accept the natural explanation or not. You can’t have it both ways!

      • gluonspring
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

        Theistic meteorology. I’ll have to remember that.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:24 am | Permalink

        I think it’s a hopeful sign. It means they are predisposed to accept evolution. “Guided by God” doesn’t necessarily mean he has to influence every step of the process, just that he may occasionally put his finger on the scales. The rest of the time he leaves it up to nature to sort itself out.

        More significantly, it means they are not going to be opposed to teaching evolution in schools. Everything in evolution is compatible with their belief. It suggests that they are open to the scientific method and hopefully less likely to be fundamentalists and quote biblically-derived rules to inflict on their fellow humans.

        (Guided evolution is also virtually impossible to disprove, of course).

        • Scientifik
          Posted February 6, 2014 at 4:22 am | Permalink

          Hopeful sign yes, acceptance of evolution by natural selection it is not.

          The fact that they put god in there really means they don’t understand the theory of evolution at all.

        • Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

          What it usually seems to mean is either (1) that god arranges the “initial conditions” (of what varies) and such so that good stuff comes out (i.e., humans) or (2) interferes with random processes [particularly quantum level] so that they “roll out right”.

          Both are scientifically and ethically dubious, to understate the case.

  47. Steve
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Finally getting around to reading JAC’s damn fine review of last night’s debate – quite an impressive stream-of-consciousness. After the debate and a few brewskis, I jotted this ‘third person’ stream-of-consciousness:

    Upon first encountering the human species inside the creation museum auditorium, an ancient extraterrestrial being (that evolved by natural selection) deduced the following hypotheses:

    -The commonwealth of Kentucky has few juveniles of the human species.
    -The commonwealth has not yet evolved a sense of humor.
    -Religious fundamentalism correlates with cultural isolation and/or a high frequency of deleterious homozygous-recessive genes.
    -The nascent human species is incapable of shipbuilding on a scale necessary to conserve all earthly lifeforms.
    -All science is observational.
    -The University of Chicago is influential in science and religion, with extraordinary creatures such as Coyne and Shubin (Tiktaalik).
    -Science is based on sensing the real world – Religion is not.
    -The human species has not detected the hand of god in its science.
    -God created a corrupt world – God is corrupt. [à la Ham’s goofy 7 Cs of bible history]
    -The Nye-human senses and engages a wider audience outside the auditorium – Ham does not.

  48. johndhynes
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    “I hope that, in the future, Nye is not so emboldened by his success in this debate that he starts constantly debating creationists.”

    After this, I doubt that any will want to.

    I saw Henry Morris debate a scientist over 30 years ago. The scientist won on substance, but Morris swept the floor with his form, which was all that the audience noticed. They were there to root for their side. The facts were irrelevant.

  49. Benjamin
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    What happens when the truth is proven? What does it mean to be right? Will it somehow benefit us as a species? If so how? Please all of you of exceptional insight and intelligence put your heads and hearts together for a common good. Give us all something to believe in…us.

  50. Posted February 5, 2014 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    The debate results is not as expected. Nye is not exceptionally good, and Ham is much worse than previously assumed.

    A lot of things can be learned.

    Ham is not a Sophisticated Theologian (TM) but Nye is also not a deep evolutionist, nor professorial academic.

    Another battle between another pairs (i.e. Harris/Coyne/Dawkins vs. Craig/Haught) of rivals with different characteristics will be very different.

    Fact is, this debate changes the playing field, and I believe to the better, since a lot of viewers (maybe for the first time!) see clearer of what each positions were.

    A clearer picture is always better for Science. On the other hand, this rough rumble will definitely make a lot of smooth-players (like those in DI) rethink their future approaches. Ham-handed it isn’t.

    Just lets not be too smug.

  51. Caleb Jablonicky
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Ken Ham completely gave up the boldly proclaimed “uncensored science” gig when he answered an audience-submitted question asking what, if anything, could change his mind. He candidly emphasized that he’s “Christian,” and essentially, that nothing – including contrary evidence – will change that (not that this is news for any of us). If a debater admits that his views are fixed, then there’s clearly no real debate to be had.

    It doesn’t help that Ham contradicted himself at other points, either; for instance, he maintained that an “upper limit” for the age of the Earth could be set even while asserting that such dating is inherently impossible, relying as it does upon “historical” science.

  52. cremnomaniac
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m weighing in on this a bit late, but I was at work when the debate took place, and have yet to see the whole thing.

    However, I have watched enough of it to have one reaction, I feel a bit sorry for Ken Ham. Maybe it’s my psychology training or empathic nature, but watching Ham present his nonsense made me really sad for that human being. I likened it to a schizophrenic who’s illness corrupts their understanding of reality.

    Ham’s thinking is simply corrupted by who knows what, and I feel sorry for him. It’s so obvious (to some anyway).

    I agreed completely with this quote, “Ham wasn’t lying—he truly believed the palaver he was spewing. … Ham’s brain has been so deeply marinated in his faith that that organ has simply become impermeable to facts. He really does believe in Noah’s Ark, the Fall, and talking snakes…”

    Unfortunately, Ham carries an illness that can be spread. Very much like a virus that alters it’s host’s behavior to promote transmission.
    Vaccine anyone?

    • Scientifik
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:14 am | Permalink

      “However, I have watched enough of it to have one reaction, I feel a bit sorry for Ken Ham. Maybe it’s my psychology training or empathic nature, but watching Ham present his nonsense made me really sad for that human being. I likened it to a schizophrenic who’s illness corrupts their understanding of reality.”

      I agree with you. Deluded as it is, Ken Ham didn’t strike me, at least in this video, as an aggressive and offensive religionist, who is eager to curse (not metaphorically) his non-believing opponent. What surprised me positively was that he wasn’t teaming with hate like Ted Haggard, William Lane Craig, or Rupert Sheldrake.

      He brainwashes the children with his delusions which hinder their critical thinking faculties, and that’s why someone had to give him (and his followers) a reality check. That being said, IMO he didn’t deserve the treatment the other guys I mentioned do.

      • Scientifik
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink

        edit: “Deluded as he is”

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:22 am | Permalink

      Cremnomaniac:

      The image of a strong religious belief (or any other strong conviction) as a disease, is an easy image, that shortcuts any effective understanding of an opponent’s position. It can be amusing, but it is essentially misleading. As a diagnostic, it is spurious. As rhetoric, it is only glib.

      It is so prevalent among young students (go to Amazon and read some of the virulent, even vicious, comments to book reviews), ending with a sweeping dismissal “You need a therapist”, reminding us of Hamlet’s injunction to Ophelia “Get thee to a nunnery”.

      Having strong convictions of any kind, is certainly not the mark of a mental disease.
      It is mostly accounted for by childhood background, education, and adult experience and environment.
      The group that has nurtured us, raised us, educated us, and accepted us as a member, influences the opinions they’ve allowed us to acquire.

      There’s no disorder factor in this equation. Dawkins repeats that if you’re born in Saudi Arabia, you’re bound to become a Moslem. No illness involved, even if Islam contains fantastic presuppositions and objectionable ethical precepts. If you’re born in India, same thing with you’re becoming a Hindu or a Buddhist. If you’re born in Australia, well, you can become… a Ken Ham.
      Imagination allows us to absorb any belief, irrational or fantastic, as long as it is not counteracted by other ideas. The same early plasticity is involved in acquiring languages, or skills.

      Using the disease image is a copout, an abdication of finding a more real explanation for beliefs we find obnoxious and dangerous.
      Young people, whose opinions are more emotional and community-induced than rational are too happy to resort to this parting shot “Go and get some therapy”.

      Speaking of psychology, it is worth noting that neuroscientists explain that the cerebral cortex of the growing “man” (here in a neutral group sense, including women) keeps developing until age 25.
      Adolescents are in the midst of a rapidly changing neuronal environment, and their thinking capability and power keep growing and improving until the grey matter substratum is fully formed in their 20s.
      Simultaneously their social environment also changes, even abruptly, so that beliefs can be strengthened, or weakened, and even radically transformed.
      No trace of mental disease either in this process.

      • Scientifik
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:50 am | Permalink

        So if someone for instance hears voices and believes in being abducted by aliens, that person suffers from delusions and/or schizophrenia. Yet if he or she happens to believe in angels and demons, and rejects reality, they are ok?

        • Posted February 6, 2014 at 8:09 am | Permalink

          I guess that yes, the latter are okay if such beliefs totally permeate the culture, customs and religion in which they were born and grew up.

  53. Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    With regard to Ham, it is a known fact that pathological liars believe their lies.

  54. Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    Noah’s Ark wasn’t just two of each kind. There Seven of each kind too!

    • Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Depends on which version of the story: there are two, one chapter apart, IIRC.

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        And is it seven or seven /pairs/?

        /@

        • Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

          Doesn’t really matter. At most the question is of a single order of magnitude, when there’s a deficiency of several orders of magnitude to remedy.

          Plus, all this super-evolution from some thousands of “kinds” into what we observe today, with Ham’s chronology, would have to have taken place over a span of a thousand years or so. Remember, his timeline is Creation 6,000 years ago; the Flood 4,000 years ago, and Christ 2,000 years ago. By the start of the common era, we know that there not only wasn’t any remarkable explosion of species, but by the time of Plato (~400 BCE), species were so static that not only was there no notion of such speciation but its opposite, of Platonic ideals, was the “obvious” way of things. I’m not sure that a mere 600 years is enough to cement such an idea in the popular mind, but we’ll run with it, and suggest that the hyper-evolution took place between the end of the Flood c. 3000 BCE and roughly 2000 BCE.

          Slight problem. That kind of phenomenon would have been most remarkable, and unavoidable. And yet, not even in the Bible, is there any mention of it. Not even in the context of God replenishing biodiversity in the wake of his ultimate crime against the world.

          But wait! There’s more!

          There’re extinct animals, such as smilodons and mammoths and various crocodilian forms and primates and all the rest, and their extinction would have to have been current with or prior to the Flood. And yet they’re the same “kinds” as those that mega-evolved after the Flood.

          The Flood makes for a good campfire horror story. Take it out of that, its proper context, and you’re clearly having carnal relations with Mickey’s dog. That is, you’re fuckin’ goofy.

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Matt D
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      Never made sense anyway.

      You don’t poof the entire animal and plant kingdom into existence, yet ask someone to make a boat to hold them all to be saved later.

  55. Gerald Reiter
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    The Question was posed about asking Ham that if past events are not as valid as real time events than does Ham believe that their was such a person as Abe Lincoln, since he never meet him. Coyne answers his own Question by stating that we have documents to prove A. Lincoln’s existence. My problem with that reasoning is that Coyne is using an “outside” intelligence to get his point across on the past. That is what Ken Ham is doing with the past. In Coyne’s case as well as the rest of evolutionary theories, they are using information that happened within themselves (things by its own power developed with no outside influence). Watches are not made by an explosion in the factory. There has to be an outside power, energy, force. Thank you!

    • Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Watches are not made by an explosion in the factory. There has to be an outside power, energy, force.

      You so need to read Jerry’s book, the one that lent its title to this Web site. Check it out of a library if you don’t want a small fraction your money going indirectly into Jerry’s pockets.

      In particular, no biologist has ever described any evolutionary process as anything that can remotely be equated with watches self-assembling in a factory explosion, and there is an outside source of energy: the Sun.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        @Gerald, there are many examples that can easily demonstrate that historical versus observational evidence a false dichotomy invented to deny conclusions that can be made about the past. A simple example is you are walking through the woods and encounter a tree lying on its side. You can examine the evidence and determine that it was in all likelihood growing nearby and fell over as opposed to the likelihood, of little green men bringing it from an alternate Universe, clearing the forest, replanting all the trees and then laying that one down to make it look like it fell. Nobody has to be there to witness it to figure out the cause based on evidence. The point here is, you can assert anything you want, but the little green men and the infinite other possibilities are not worth considering if you can’t present any evidence for them.

        At an abstract level, to claim that we can not use observed laws and “present” evidence to extrapolate both forwards an backwards requires some more precise definition of terms.

        Bill Nye jokingly said that the audience further from him looks “that much younger” than the audience in the front, but he had a real point-we’re always observing the past. Back to my point, where is the dividing line between present and past in Ham’s model? As soon as you observe anything at all, it is already in the past, and thus, this entire framework falsifies itself before it even gets going. How far into the past are you willing to go and still call it the present? I can guarantee any point you pick is completely arbitrary, subjective and not backed by any evidence. As if this isn’t enough of a problem, how can we reliably do anything in science if we can’t rely on what holds today to hold tomorrow? Those engineers Ham trotted out there designed their products in the past and they still work now. It would be contradictory to then say the same design implemented today wouldn’t have worked if they’d done it yesterday.

      • Gerald Reiter
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:45 am | Permalink

        SomeBODY had to create the sun. A source of energy has to have an outside force in order for it to be so.

        • Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

          A common assumption amongst those unfamiliar with developments in astrophysics and cosmology over the past few hundred years, but sadly not true. See Krauss, Hawking, &c.

          /@

          • Gerald Reiter
            Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

            I don’t know if winning the debate was the primary objective for Ken Ham. There are other more important issues going on here

            • Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

              You mean, he felt it more important to expose himself as a narrow-minded buffoon?

              /@

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

                Yeah…even if Ham wasn’t looking to win, being humiliated as he was certainly wasn’t on his agenda and it isn’t in his best interests. You could tell by his reaction after the debate that it didn’t go down how he wanted it to, and the overwhelming reaction from stout religious believers demonstrates that as well. All of them are now trying to distance themselves from Ham, with the closest he’s getting to support coming from people who say they agree with some of what he said but really wish he didn’t set their cause back so much.

                I’m still not convinced that debating charlatans is a good way to roll the dice, but there’s no possible way to spin this as anything other than an humiliating defeat for the Hamster.

                Cheers,

                b&

  56. Gerald Reiter
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    also, as one can tell I am a follower of Christ. And though i disagree with evolution i do enjoy the readings and the debates. I just wish some wouldn’t state some mean spirited comments. We can all work together. All scientist have to use the same laws to do what they do, whether making something or figuring the best way to accomplish a task. Thank again.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Where do you see the comments as mean spirited? There is truth based on facts and there are conclusions based revelation. One of these methods is successful of discerning how the natural world works and one isn’t. Guess which one isn’t successful?

      You mention that scientists have to “use the same laws to do what they do” – if they are not accepting scientific facts, they can’t do their work. Ones that claim to be creationist scientists, typically don’t bring that “into the lab” as someone stated above – one creationist scientist speaks in millions and billions for his papers but to young earth creationists says “thousands”.

      Stating these things may be forthright and even blunt but it isn’t mean spirited.

      • Gerald Reiter
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

        these comments are in no way mean in its comments. It is the things put out there by athiests, etc. trying to portray Christians as nuts, etc. even one of your own (Dawkins) has said things which points to the baser sort of the human nature. Man is cableof saying evil things. IT doesn’t suprise me. Just wish we could all just be civil. ON another note. Bill Nye should debate Ravi Zacharias.

        Thanks and have a great day. We are expecting 10 inches of snow here inNC!

        • Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

          “(Dawkins) has said things which points to the baser sort of the human nature”

          Citation please.

          “Just wish we could all just be civil.”

          Guess what? So do we. But ridiculous beliefs deserve ridicule.

          /@

          • Filippo
            Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

            ” . . . ridiculous beliefs deserve ridicule.”

            Just congenially (as opposed to “ridicule-lously”) curious, is that one of this site’s “roolz”?

          • Filippo
            Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

            As regards a citation, I can’t give you chapter and verse off the top of my head, but listening to and reading Dawkins on the Internet, he has in fact used terms like “nutbag” and “nutter” with reference to religion.

            Who am I to presume to pronounce on whether these are terms of ridicule?

            • Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

              Are you doing Gerald’s work for him? ;-)

              Well, there are some religious nutters out there — but that’s fairly mild in British English: “a crazy or eccentric person.”

              But I would not generally advocating personal insults: It is the ideas that should be ridiculed, not the person holding them.

              I can’t remember when Dawkins has been rude to a person directly. “Well, Im afraid you are deluded…” is a memorable response to a very devout Scot, for instance.

              OTOH, it is fair to criticise someone who should know better who holds ridiculous views. But that can be done civilly.

              /@

              • Filippo
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

                “Are you doing Gerald’s work for him? ;-)”

                It’s sweet of you to ask. ;) Is it only someone with Gerald’s worldview and perspective who could possibly concern himself with the theoretical idea of occasionally forbearing from (gratuitously, egregiously?) ridiculing another? And, if one must needs ridicule, should it be with a patina of regret, as opposed to one of gleeful pleasure?

                ” . . . religious nutters out there — but that’s fairly mild in British . . . .”

                Yes, so it seems and so I have gathered from my not exhaustive exposure to British culture and locution.

                ” . . . not generally advocating personal insults . . . ideas . . . should be ridiculed, not the person holding them . . . OTOH, it is fair to criticise someone who should know better who holds ridiculous views. But that can be done civilly.”

                One (I) should not reasonably expect more. “Civilly,” aye!

              • Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

                There is a subtle distinction to be made between terms like “nutter” and making an ad hominem attack. When Dawkins says things like this, he is attacking the ideas that an individual holds. If the person reformed these views, I doubt Dawkins would still define the person as nuts.

                Regardless of that distinction, an ad hominem attack is dismissing an idea based on who said it, not on the merits of the idea. I have never seen Dawkins do this. A polemic based on reason is different than dismissal based on name calling.

          • ROO BOOKAROO
            Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

            Ant:

            Excellent.

            BUT RIDICULOUS BELIEFS DESERVE RIDICULE

            This is the teaching of Dawkins and the practice of Bill Maher (see RELIGULOUS as the modern version of Candide).

            This should become another new motto of WEIT, perhaps the main one, far ahead of the annoying nightjar.

            Voltaire and Mark Twain would have grabbed it on the spot. Perhaps they’ve written something similar.

          • Gerald Reiter
            Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

            since there is no debate here but simply say that my beliefs deserve ridicule, i leave it here and say good bye

    • Sastra
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad you enjoy the readings and debates.

      What would be an example of the sort of thing which would convince you that evolution happened?

      Thank you.

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        As interested as I’d also be, Gerald, in your response to Sastra’s question, I’d appreciate it if you could preface it with, in your own words, what you understand evolution to be.

        Thanks!

        b&

        • Gerald Reiter
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

          My understanding of evolution is all things started with a big bang – 14 bill. yrs ago- then there was life which came from a watery mix producing DNA . We then eventually have this “tree” looking of all life and where it came from- or what came from what. These ideas primarily starteed with C. Darwin found in his book ORigin of Species and The probagation of the Superior races. There was a fames Scopes trial in 1927, which apparently all the evidence used for the evolution side has since been proven wrong?. I think it could be out in one sentence for the evolution side- Nothing produced everything. Anyway, thanks for the Q.!

          • Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

            That’s not exactly entirely worng, but it is quite muddled and disjointed and missing some key elements.

            I’d again recommend to you Jerry’s book.

            I’ll also make one more recommendation.

            Your description, going all the way back to the Big Bang, encompasses a lot more than is properly classified as evolutionary biology. That’s not to disavow cosmology (which does encompass the Big Bang), but an attempt to help define some very helpful boundaries. If I asked the programmer of a modern smartphone app to explain his code to me and he started talking about abacuses in ancient China, even though there’s a valid relationship there, I’d be more than a bit confused since the two topics in practice have so little to do with each other.

            Evolutionary biology, as defined by evolutionary biologists, only concerns itself with life that’s already there. Other people are interested in how life began, and how the stage was set for life to begin, and where the Universe came from so that there could be a stage to be set for life to begin, and so on. But biologists just care about life once it’s there, and how it develops over time. And that’s the focus of Jerry’s book.

            All the rest of those questions are equally fascinating and valid, but you’ll have to look to specialists in the relative fields.

            Fortunately, one very eloquent astronomer did exactly that a few decades ago. Carl Sagan consulted with scientists and historians from many different fields, and distilled the whole history and explanation for Life, the Universe, and Everything down into the greatest epic poem perhaps in the entire history of epic poetry. I refer, of course to Cosmos, a thirteen-hour television production that I have just learned is available for free viewing on YouTube:

            http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBA8DC67D52968201

            Watch the entire magnum opus, and you’ll learn and (hopefully) actually understand all the basics of science that should be expected of any responsible citizen of modern society. If somebody asked me if they should watch Cosmos or take an introductory generic science class at a community college, I’d unhesitatingly recommend Cosmos — and then suggest they follow up with classes that are heavy on the hands-on lab stuff and light on the lectures.

            The world, believe it or not, is actually far more amazing, far more wonderful, far more fascinating, far more complex, and far bigger than any religious fantasy. You owe it to yourself to discover reality, I assure you. Your life will be forever enriched and expanded.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Diane G.
              Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

              Wonderfully said, Ben. And as easy as snark is in these situations (something I’ve already committed), my sense is that this poster deserves the generous and gentle approach. He’s obviously been exposed to only one side of the debate, but he’s here, now, and may actually be inspired to look into Cosmos. Gerald, I heartily second Ben’s recommendation!

            • Rem
              Posted February 13, 2014 at 8:12 am | Permalink

              Ben,
              You are amazing. Carl would have loved your comments — and not just for the complements to him, but for your elegant and sensitive response. Humanism and science in general desperately needs this sort of thing, as opposed to the hard science, these-are-the-facts, we-know-the-truth attitude that is prevalent. Inspiring. Nice.

      • Gerald Reiter
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

        I just saw this Q. But it seeems you may be setting me up to say that i’am “brainwashed” by my Christian faith by your Q. But let me say that to me, to me now- that there is overwhelming evidence in this world that shows a Creator. From the largest to the smallest living thing there is design. And when one sees how they work in there perspective environments, it like big time amazing. Then when I see how HE made them to do what they do, to me, to me now- it demonstrates a loving God who will someday make it all new again with no flaws. I could say so much more…

        • Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

          That is not evidence at all.

          • Gerald Reiter
            Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

            The only evidence i cannot produce is the relationship I have with the Lord- I can only show you that by my actions. But you would certainly agree that there is design from the cell to the Universe.
            Thanks!

            • Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

              That kind of relationship is a relationship with your beliefs. It comes from inside you and not from or with any outside entity.

            • Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

              And no, I would certainly not agree that there is design from the cell to the Universe.

            • Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

              I think you would agree with me that, were somebody to describe the exact same relationship you have with Jesus in the exact same terms, but instead attribute the relationship to Krishna or to Osiris or to Mithras or to Dionysus or to any of the other gods who offer salvation through their death and resurrection, you would be as certain as I that they are somehow deluded.

              As such, you owe it to yourself an explanation of how you can be so superbly confident, as sincerely and absolutely confident as any other believer in any other gods, that you’ve got the right answers but they don’t.

              There are two very common religious responses to a challenge such as this.

              The Christian fundamentalists will typically attribute the other religions to Satan. But how do you know that Satan isn’t deceiving you? How do you know that the “still small voice” in your ear is Jesus’s and not Satan’s? Indeed, how do you know that Satan hasn’t perverted huge tracts of the very Bible itself?

              The ecumenical response, in contrast, will be that all religions are a reflection of the one true religion and thus are all somehow equally valid for their practitioners. But, at the same time, the religions make violently opposed claims about the most fundamental things, including even whether or not there’s an afterlife or how many gods there are or what must absolutely without question be done to secure their favor. Again, how can you be so sure that, out of all these incompatible perceptions of divinity, you’ve actually got the right one?

              In contrast, there’s only one science, and it has only one commandment: “Show me the data!” Even better, offer up some data that’s inconsistent with a scientific explanation, and an honest scientist will happily abandon the old explanation and revert to, “Gee, I guess I don’t know after all.” And if you can then offer up an even better explanation that is consistent with all the data, the scientist will happily embrace the new explanation, because that’s what the data shows. That’s how we got from geocentricism to heliocentricism to epicycles to Newtonian Mechanics to Relativity; at each stage, the new theories did a better job at explaining the observations than the old one. What’s more, we know that there’s still at least one more theory yet to be discovered, because, as fantastic a job as Relativity does at explaining the data, there’re a few niggling little details that it can’t explain, such as quantum gravity…so, as they say, stay tuned!

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Rem
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

                Excellent rebuttal. Thanks for posting it.

          • Posted February 13, 2014 at 1:29 am | Permalink

            Pot, kettle?

            /@

        • Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

          For the sake of argument, let’s say that things that look designed (and we’ll set aside how that is determined for a moment too) actually are designed. What evidence is there for determining the characteristics of this designer; for example, that it is a male who became human, resides outside of space and time, is omnipotent, omniscient, who himself has no designer, and that he is more likely than say Lord Brahma to have created everything?

        • Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

          Evolved animals display the appearance of design, because, in a certain sense, they have been designed — by their environments. There’s a famous passage in Doug Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in which a character, a puddle, remarks at how well the hole it finds itself in fits itself that it can only conclude that the hole was designed just for it. Such is the same with life.

          We know that this design is the result of incremental minor adaptations from one generation to the next over the course of thousands of millennia in various ways. For one, we see the evidence in the fossil record: in a layer of sediment independently dated by multiple means to a certain age, we see an organism with a certain body plan; in a layer again independently dated to a certain slightly younger age, we see a very similar organism with a slightly different body plan; and in a still younger layer, another slightly different organism. In sites at various locations across the globe, all consistently dated by multiple independent means, we see the same patterns of the same organisms, and without the younger organisms showing up in older strata or vice-versa.

          We can also compare morphologies across living species and discover, for example, that the recurrent pharyngeal nerve in a fish makes a straight line from the base of the brain to the gills, across the aorta which is high in the chest. But in giraffes, the same nerve still crosses the same side of the aorta…but the aorta is in the chest, several feet down the neck away from the brain. It makes that huge loop because the giraffe is a fish — or, at least, the descendant of one, and no intelligent designer ever had the opportunity to re-wire the central nervous system. Instead the gradual changes over generations had to “make do,” and the advantages to the giraffe of having a long neck outweigh the non-trivial disadvantages of having such an incredibly long nerve to connect two endpoints only a few inches from each other.

          Those same morphological similarities are reflected in the DNA. If you’d accept DNA evidence to convict a suspect of a crime, if you’d accept a DNA-based paternity test, if you’d trust a DNA test to tell you wether or not you really are cousins with that strange branch of your family…well, the exact same DNA tests done across species show that they’re your cousins, too — and the family trees the DNA analyses build of species very closely (but not perfectly) match the trees that biologists had long previously laboriously built based on taxonomy and the fossil record.

          For more…I cannot recommend highly enough Jerry’s book — the one which lent its name to this Web site. Check it out of a library if you’re opposed to directing money into Jerry’s pocket. There are also other excellent resources, but Jerry’s book is short, accessible, compelling, and damned good.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • Sastra
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for the reply. I don’t think it answered my question, though. I asked “What would be an example of the sort of thing which would convince you that evolution happened?”

          I know you don’t think it did — and why. But that’s not my question. I’m asking you if you can think of something which COULD change your mind, IF you were wrong. It’s a hypothetical.

          I’m also curious about something else. If it turned out that evolution DID happen, would you be more likely to believe that God must have used evolution to create (and become a theistic evolutionist?)

          Or do you think that that sort of discovery would mean that now you’re an atheist?

          Again, thanks. I’m asking 2 questions.

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

          And when one sees how they work in there perspective environments, it like big time amazing. Then when I see how HE made them to do what they do, to me, to me now- it demonstrates a loving God…

          How smallpox works in its environment, how Ebola works in its environment, how anthrax works in its environment, how cholera works in its environment…

          Gee, how loving can you get?

        • Posted February 13, 2014 at 1:21 am | Permalink

          If there is design, much of it is !*appallingly*! bad.

          /@

        • Filippo
          Posted February 13, 2014 at 5:41 am | Permalink

          “I just saw this Q. But it seeems you may be setting me up to say that i’am “brainwashed” by my Christian faith by your Q.”

          What with what I perceive to be a bit of a thread misalignment, I assume that the Q is Sastra’s “What would be an example of the sort of thing which would convince you that evolution happened?”

          Perhaps any question about anything can be theoretically construed as a potential “brainwash set up.” But, Sastra’s question is at the very least not unreasonable, and is quite temperately stated, and is devoid of ridicule, though it apparently causes you discomfort.

          I don’t see how it could be any more reasonably and temperately stated, short of not being stated at all so as to avoid discomfort.

          (Hmm, my computer tells me that “uncomfortable” is a legitimate word, and “uncomfort” is not; that “discomfortable” is not a legitimate word, but “discomfort” is.)

          • Gerald Reiter
            Posted February 13, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

            what if i have no faith inevolution to be true. I really can’tsee how it is true in areas such how life began, no God, the mathimatical impossiblility of even the simpliest forms to transition from one form to the next, the guessing of how things came to be (there is no fossils to prove such- you know this), The massiveness of the universe with all its complexities came about by some explosion on its own, and the like. Take the Bomerdier Beetle which uses two chemicals to shoot out at the right time together- if not it couldn’t exist. It had to work right the first time. So I would say it is safer to have faith in a Creator whose name is Jesus that gave all things to work the way they do.
            Thank you!

            • gbjames
              Posted February 13, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

              I would respectfully suggest that you take the time to educate yourself about how evolution works. Because that sort of question is addressed in many places. You might try the book written by our host, for example. There are others, too, but the first step is to decide that you are interested in the subject enough to learn the basics.

              Your particular question was addressed just the other day in the podcast here.

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted February 13, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

              From wiki:

              The unique combination of features of the bombardier beetle’s defense mechanism—strongly exothermic reactions, boiling-hot fluids, and explosive release—have been used by creationists and proponents of intelligent design as examples of irreducible complexity that could not have been produced by evolution.[4] However, while the true evolutionary path is still unknown, biologists have shown that the system could in fact have evolved from defenses found in other beetles in incremental steps by natural selection.

              Complexity doesn’t imply design. Understand that concept and things might start to make sense evolutionary* speaking….

              *Hail-Mary*

            • Posted February 13, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

              The great thing about science is that not only is faith not required, faith is the one unforgivable sin. Rather, independent verification is the name of the game.

              Jerry’s book is all about the evidence. And, while it’s obviously not possible for a book to contain the actual, physical pieces of evidence, the evidence that Jerry describes is mostly readily accessible and replicable or otherwise subject to confirmation by amateurs. It’s easy to confirm for yourself that trees build annual growth rings. You can find schematics for building your own Geiger Counter in the library or online, and your local scientific supply store should be able to get you small radioisotope sample with safe handling instructions; put that together, and you can confirm radiometric dating methods. Any natural history museum will be positively delighted to show off their fossil collection. Mendelian inheritance was originally demonstrated with garden vegetables.

              Not everything is easy for amateurs to re-create, of course; however, the authors have all published thorough audits of their own work, enough for others skilled in the field to check the results. Generally, that includes ways to cross-check and independently confirm the findings without having to replicate the entire work, and that type of cross-checking might be amenable to amateur verification.

              As to your specific examples…again, you’re attacking a strawman misrepresentation of actual biology. One of your biggest misunderstandings is the misconception that the modern form of an organism was a design goal from the beginning; that’s the claim of Intelligent Design, not of biological evolution. A common form of this complaint is that half an eye is useless; however, anybody with less-than-perfect vision will tell you that they very much prefer what poor eyesight they have to blindness. And, indeed, the hard evidence biologists have gathered with respect to the evolution of eyes shows that the earliest eyes could barely even see at all, but that just the most inconsequential of minor accidental modifications improved vision in significant ways. And organisms exist today with eyes that match every stage of ocular evolution documented in the historical record.

              A much younger Richard Dawkins gave a superlative Christmas Lecture on that exact subject. Here, in fifteen short minutes, you can see for yourself how vision actually evolved:

              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nwew5gHoh3E

              …or, if you prefer, you can close your own eyes, ignore reality, and retreat into childish fantasy worlds with no bearing on the real world whatsoever.

              Your choice.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Gerald Reiter
                Posted February 13, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

                iwatched the video on dawkins on the eye. This is what i saw. A man who was guessing. He mentioned “probably” o r the like about 7 times- For example “I suspect Natalus doesn’t have a lense… I suspect it got stuck…. Lets imagine” Then he povides evidence from a NIelson gentlemen who uses a computer to tell the length of time needed for the the eye to evolve. Then Dawkins says “Nielson made many assumptions” . The best part actually was the end when Dawkins was viewing the modern time data of differennt creatures that are alive today. Funny thing, he gave Bible evidence when he said that today you see different eyes, independent of each other (“And God created them after there kind {including the eye}). The real shocker was his closing comments about – that each step for the eye was RANDOM LUCK! And not particularly impressive, in fact it better not be because it would be a miracle and we’d no longer have a true explannation. So all the guess work of how the eye developed and that by chance yet not one shred of evidence. This is simple speculation. If Dawkins and the rest would just stick with what they know as truth and not a “Random luck” science….
                Thank you!

              • Posted February 13, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

                Jerry is, of course, correct that you’re grossly mischaracterizing the points Richard was attempting to make.

                For example, if you randomly throw balls at a wall randomly covered with sticky tape, the wall will soon be non-randomly covered with balls in just the areas also covered with tape, even though no intelligence was necessary to carefully aim the balls just at the tape-covered spots. And if you don’t randomly throw the balls but instead throw them in any carefully-considered order you might wish to propose, unless your carefully-considered order explicitly avoids the tape-covered spots, the end result is going to be the same as if you just threw them randomly: all the tape-covered spots will have balls, and none of the non-tape-covered spots will have balls. The random nature of the mechanism is irrelevant.

                But that glosses over a far more insidious form of dishonesty on your part: specifically, that you prefer one specific assertion of absolute certainty over an honest assessment of the boundaries of ignorance.

                In what other parts of your life will you trust somebody who displays no doubt over one who does? Would you buy an used car from a salesman who assured you that there was no need to have the car checked over by your own mechanic? Would you buy a weight loss pill from somebody who pinky-swore it would work but wouldn’t show you the results of clinical trials that establish the distribution of effectiveness over different populations? Would you have your child’s cancer treated by your next-door neighbor who is absolutely certain that deep-fried tiger testicles cure cancer because the pediatric oncologist told you there’s only a 70% chance of success with chemotherapy?

                I would suggest that it’s most likely that you’re quite the skeptic in most other areas of your life…but that, with respect to religion, you’ve taken upon yourself the conman’s hat. For whatever reason, you expect us to take you at your word because you’re expressing absolute confidence that you’re properly interpreting the words of the ultimate power in the universe. And who are we, poor schmucks, to question the gods?

                It’s a nice Jedi mind trick…but that sort of thing generally doesn’t work on the educated.

                Sorry.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 13, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

                Mr. Rieter, your comment is way off the mark and uninformed. All that is needed to refute the idea that the eye could not have evolved in an adaptive, stepwise fashion, is to see those steps arrayed across existing species. And I highly doubt that Dawkins used only “random luck” as the explanation (Neilsson and Prager’s paper certainly didn’t; it used natural selection. I suggest you learn a little bit about this issue before you start spouting off about it here.

                And before I even consider letting you post again, please give us the evidence that’s convinced you that God exists. That is customary when a presumed theist posts here.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 13, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

                Wow, I missed all this fun today because of stupid work and stupid data gathering at stupid work.

                Gerald, Ben makes good points and his last is in my opinion the most important. Scientists, like many people who use reason in making decisions do not speak in absolutes (I almost said never speak in absolutes :D) Why is this? Because doing so would be dishonest; it is rare that something can be known with 100% certainty, but we can express how confident we are that things are true. If someone says that they are 90% confident that a fact is true – that’s so confident that you’d be foolish to think that fact false. This is the case with a lot of things: evolution, the expanding universe, that the earth orbits the sun.

                This honest way of expressing certainly translates into language – Dawkins says things like “I suspect” because the evidence may show that something like this happened but there is always the chance (even slight) that it was something else. Dawkins is being an honest scientist when he speaks this way. He isn’t guessing.

                Ben says something very important – you should really be suspicious of those who speak in absolutes and claim 100% confidence in their “truths”. Those people are dishonest or ignorant. You won’t find this in science or any other rational discipline.

            • Sastra
              Posted February 13, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

              I’m not sure if you’re going to answer my 2 questions up above (“What would be an example of the sort of thing which would convince you that evolution happened?” and the one where I ask whether you’d accept theistic evolution before atheism) — but I’m afraid I just thought of a third one.

              what if i have no faith inevolution to be true. I really can’tsee how it is true ..

              Ok, I accept this: you don’t believe evolution is true and can’t understand how it could be true. Got it.

              But can you conceive of the possibility that the theory of evolution MIGHT be true anyway? Even though you don’t understand it and it doesn’t seem plausible to you, you could still be wrong?

              You’d not be conceding anything here about what you believe. After all, there are a lot of things I don’t understand, don’t believe, and/or don’t think makes a lot of sense. Time travel, space aliens making crop circles, perpetual motion machines, ghosts, psychic powers, God, Christianity, etc. I don’t buy any of that.

              But I can at least imagine that I might be wrong and in some way I simply don’t understand, can’t understand, or maybe never will understand, any of those things could in theory be true.

              Can you do that with evolution?

            • Posted February 13, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

              I’ll ask again how you would be able to determine the attributes of this designer and how do you determine whether something “looks designed?”

              How complex is this creator? Is he more complex than the beetle you cite? If so, where did he come from and why push the question one level back? Why not two levels or N levels? The evidence indicates N should equal zero.

              Regarding the design question I posed in my last post, the main way that design is typically inferred is that what we see is known to have a designer. E.g., we are walking through the woods and come upon a house. We can safely assume it didn’t form naturally because we know houses and buildings to be designed. We have seen people design and build them.

              The second attribute I would expect to see in design is efficiency. I used to write embedded software for avionics systems. One requirement among many was that the code was tested and obtained 100% coverage; i.e. there could be no “dead code.” Code that either can’t or hasn’t been run could potentially be catastrophic in a safety critical system, thus a key attribute of a good design is that waste is minimized or eliminated. Wouldn’t an omnipotent and omniscient creator who is, by definition, more talented than humans, design things at least this well?

              Evolution and cosmology shows a hostile Universe, much of which is utterly incompatible with life. What kind of design uses only some infinitesimal fraction of the available matter while leaving the rest to waste (with respect to the purpose of creating life) and then further wastes it even where life does exist? This doesn’t meet any criteria that I know of to indicate design. If you disagree, I welcome you to critique anything I’ve said here and put forth your criteria of what design should look like and why. So far you haven’t offered any meaningful statements for your subjective assertions.

        • gbjames
          Posted February 13, 2014 at 6:48 am | Permalink

          “I could say so much more…”

          You could say most anything at all and be more convincing.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      This is to congenially inquire on what basis you disagree with evolution/natural selection.

      Is it because you find it personally disagreeable?

      How old do you say the Earth is?

    • Matt D
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      If your going to disagree with people over something this important, I recommend you put more effort into it then fleeing the conversation after you post it.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        I know, I hate it when that happens.

  57. ploubere
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think Nye won, and he didn’t do science any favors. Ham had nothing to lose, and gained a lot just by showing up. Nye had everything to lose unless he made a cogent deconstruction of Ham’s contentions, one that would make any reasonable person see the absurdity of Ham’s position. Nye was only partly successful, which means he was unsuccessful. He needed to completely destroy Ham, but failed. Again, this is why Nye should have never agreed to the debate.

    Fortunately, most reasonable people, and even some unreasonable ones, have already dismissed Ham and are not about to start giving him respect. Lions were vegetarians? Noah walked with dinosaurs? What a crackpot. But Nye hasn’t swayed anybody either. So in the end, some valuable PR for Ham, but it won’t change much.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      It seems you watched a very different debate from many of the rest of us.

  58. Smith Powell
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    The distinction that Ham draws between observational science and historical science is not new to the argument. I heard him make that argument in 1995. I also recall that Steven Jay Gould wrote an essay on that false dichotomy.

  59. Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I don’t ‘forgive’ Hams at all. To script children’s brains with historical untruths is dangerous to the human condition. It’s obvious we have far too many Hams running around this country as is.
    Truthful science-backed education is mandatory to evoke necessary change.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Joan:

      This is of course the key problem.
      Religious education in schools is the most harmful consequence of Christian evangelism. Its negative aspect is exacerbated by the reliance on old, antiquated and obsolete superstitions from Antiquity that are inculcated as unassailable truths.

      The fact that there are Ken Hams in the midst of the most technologically advanced country in the world, is mind-boggling.
      And evidence of the curious ways the human brain can fall victim to ready-made myths.

      Already Thomas Edison had complained bitterly about it::
      “The great trouble is that the preachers get the children from six to seven years of age and then it is almost impossible to do anything with them. [quoted by Joseph Lewis from a personal conversation.]

      Thomas Edison was adamant on the importance of critical, questioning, comparing, evaluating thinking:
      “The most necessary task of civilization is to teach people how to think. It should be the primary purpose of our public schools. The mind of a child is naturally active, it develops through exercise. Give a child plenty of exercise, for body and brain.
      The trouble with our way of educating is that it does not give elasticity to the mind. It casts the brain into a mold. It insists that the child must accept. It does not encourage original thought or reasoning, and it lays more stress on memory than observation.”
      [Attributed, A History of US: Reconstructing America: 1865-1890, by Joy Hakim.]

      At the same time, John Mackinnon Robertson, seen by many as the greatest rationalist mind of the 20th c., lamented that Christian education condemns many bright minds to years of mental torture when they are mature enough to realize the vacuity and deception of Christian teaching, and then have to go through years of agony to pull out of the dogmas still cherished by their family, friends, and community.
      Christian-educated children are “subjected to the probable future pain of having to reject beliefs forced upon [them]in childhood”. Robertson adds:
      “To say nothing of the moral and intellectual darkening of the growing intelligence by the daily inculcation of doctrines false in fact, wrong in ethics, absurd in the light of reason.” (Robertson, “Essays in Ethics” (1903, p.78-9)

      Religious schooling leads to the stunting of growing intelligence at a time when young brains have to plasticity to learn whatever they find interesting in their immediate environment.

      Christian schooling is so larded with antiquated and obsolete notions, and medieval biases that it is not offering “instruction”, but misleading mythology.
      Its most deleterious influence is that, instead or promoting the development of critical thinking, the urge to ask questions, and encouraging curiosity in all directions, Christian teaching chokes the exercise of critical thinking at an early age, with threats of painful punishments.

      Edison saw some of this too in public schools:
      “Our schools are not teaching students to think. It is astonishing how many young people have difficulty in putting their brains definitely and systematically to work.”

      Teaching how to think rationally, and to think critically is not easy. It is not a natural propensity of the mind. It has to be nurtured, trained, and fortified.
      But in religious schools, with plastering dogmas on young brains, it is thinking itself that is killed in the bud.

  60. wade
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    You said “The fact is that there are documents, which tell us that he (Lincoln) did exist. Similarly, there are clues within the universe that point to its origins.” Documents are one thing Clues are another. They are not very similar.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      No. Documents form a subset of clues. Documents are clues.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      Both are evidence. Documents are “clues” as well. Primary documents with content that collaborates with the content of other documents and those that collaborate with other evidence (physical artifacts for example) is very powerful evidence. Evidence of this kind can be further strengthened with dates that collaborate not just through documentation but through scientific analysis (say with dating an Ancient Roman event because it is mentioned by Egyptians who kept nice solar calendars (vs. the awful Lunar calendars early Romans used).

  61. Rem
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Carl Sagan would have demolished Ham in the first 15 minutes of the debate. And he would have done it with grace, charm and a withering encyclopedic knowledge of the topic. Nye is a treasure trove of scientific knowledge and academic teaching skills, but he is not a dramatic nor a compelling public speaker, and was weak as a debater. He lost the debate when he agreed to appear opposite Ham and his museum of hokum — all Ham had to do was to show up and dance as fast as he could while spouting biblical babel-on factoids, which no one could follow, but which sounded perfectly fine to believers who have no concept of hard science. Nye couldn’t possibly react and correct all the run-on allegations and falsifications that Ham peppered the discussions with, and so there were always missed opportunities for scoring on the science side. The argument should have been substantially about the validity of Christian origins, beliefs and the Bible, but instead it turned into bickering about what verbiage the other person had just used. Nye allowed Ham to repeatedly redefine both science and history in creationist terms, which is a proven diversion tactic used by Intelligent Design advocates to restate an issue on their own turf. Nye never challenged the validity of Ham’s background, his museum, nor his beliefs, and should never have waded into this media trap, because he couldn’t hope to win it clearly. Nye, and his advisors, should have seen this one coming – it was a setup that could not be won. Nye perhaps won the battle technically, but science lost the war. For Ham, even a mild defeat is a definite victory within the simplistic creationism movement in the U.S. since they desperately need to be validated as a viable opposing force to science. Mission Accomplished.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      I beg to disagree with your stark assessment of Bill Nye’s performance.

      To me, this does not look like a realistic review of the debate.
      To say that Nye lost the debate by simply appearing makes no mention of his holding his own point by point against Ken Ham.
      I didn’t see any “victory” (even small) on Ham’s side. On the contrary, watching the full show, I couldn’t help thinking that Ham not only was a lamentable loser, but he was not even equipped for this kind of confrontation. He never gave an answer to the pointed questions of Nye (Can you show me any prediction you can make with your Bible knowledge?), and on the whole Ham’s performance was dispiritingly toothless.

      You suggest, Nye should have acted like Carl Sagan. But he is no Sagan, nobody else is. So, he went into the debate with his own persona, his own knowledge.

      The debate, so you complain, should have been about “the validity of Christian origins, beliefs and the Bible,” that is, it should have turned into another in-depth scholastic examination and criticism of all the key topics of NT studies. But any effort in that direction would have rendered this debate sterile and boring to everybody in the audience. People came for a boxing match, and it is punches and ripostes that had to be delivered.

      Bill Maher smartly avoided this trap when he interviewed for his “Religulous” movie.

      Focusing on the opponent, his statements, his assumptions or inherent absurdities. was the way to go to keep the interest alive in an audience of ignorant, unlearned young people, who had at best a mere tincture of undergraduate knowledge.
      This was never meant to be a Ph.D.-level discussion, and should never be.

      Of course, we can all judge Nye according to our personal expectations and biases, but it is honest to give the man some credit that he is not a simpleton.
      He felt he was equipped to handle his opponent, and the results amply justified his self-confidence.

      Not only does he have the advantage of enormous telegenic appeal, which counts a lot in a visual medium, capable of mixing the comic with the emphatic and sarcastic, but he also has experience of dealing with young people’s simplistic ideas, which in fact was about the degree of sophistication of this debate (whatever the superficial quibbles about a few abstract words.)

      Nye didn’t have to satisfy YOUR expectations, nor MINE, nor those of all those scholars who know the topics and the conundrums of NT studies one hundred times better than Nye. Ideal scholarly perfection or academic thoroughness was NOT needed, nor required.
      Nye was the man on the front line, the one sustaining the fire, and he had to tackle his opponent his own way, with his own brain and his own arsenal.

      Ken Nye didn’t simply “win” this debate, he obliterated Ken Ham and exposed him for the great fool he is.
      So, no, I cannot agree with your review, the grandiose conclusion that “science lost the war”! “Science” (whatever she is or wherever she resides) was not a protagonist.
      Your review does no justice to the quality and solid impact of Bill Nye’s performance.

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        “Ken Nye”! Speak of a mind’s alertness after a whole day reading about the issues of Jesus’s historicity in Early Christianity.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted February 9, 2014 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      WATCH THE PRESENTATION OF THE DEBATE ON NPR

      The widespread reverberation of the Nye-Ham debate through all the national media attest to the invaluable publicity value of Nye daring to plunge into this confrontation of science/evolution against literal Biblical creationism.

      All the major media (press, TV, online sites, tweets) have reported and commented on the debate.
      NPR, in its “most emailed stories” placed in first position this article:

      http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/02/04/271648691/watch-the-creationism-vs-evolution-debate-bill-nye-and-ken-ham?utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=20140209&utm_source=mostemailed

      The article contains a review, a link to the video, an analysis of the highlights of the exchange, and more than 2,350 comments. Plus two separate videos where each debater presents his beliefs uninterrupted.
      Better coverage is hard to imagine.

      This again validates Bill Nye’s decision to go ahead with the debate, in spite of the dark premonitions of experts.
      His drawing power on television and experience of dealing with simplistic scientific questions gave him the confidence that he had better skills than Ham for this kind of confrontation. Again, Bill Nye was justified in his self-confidence over the naysayers.

      Of course, it gave Ken Ham some national publicity for his silly Creation Museum, with the saddled dinosaurs ready for a ride, but, in my opinion, it is mostly negative, exposing him for the fool he basically is, and as another shameful exploiter of Christian gullibility.

      When it comes to dinosaurs, Hollywood does a far more credible job than his pathetic “Museum”, which is nothing more than a low-grade amusement park for the kids of naive parents.

  62. The_Physeter
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Now perhaps this poll was invaded by evolution-lovers, but I doubt it. The most likely explanation is that these are liberal Christians who were turned off by Ham’s reliance on the Bible as an inerrant guide to science.

    Actually PZ Meyers linked to that poll from his Pharyngula blog, so it’s very possible that thousands of evolution-lovers flocked there to vote. Also note that this website is called Christian Today, not the more popular Christianity Today. I have no idea whether Christian Today is friendly to liberal Christians, or appeals more to the knuckle-draggers…but I do know its website design, ads, and polls are very very similar to the Christian Post, a right-wing Christian website.

    • The_Physeter
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

      Made a spelling error in my link to christianpost.com up there. :(

    • Posted February 13, 2014 at 3:40 am | Permalink

      There was actually little difference in the poll results before and after it was pharyngulated, iirc.

      /@


6 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] If you missed the Nye vs. Ham debate and want to see it, you can view it here. If you’d like an analysis of the debate, Jerry Coyne has a nice write up on Why Evolution is True (WEIT) called Who won the big evolution/creation debate? […]

  2. […] people have taken sides on who won the debate. Science won. Even if Bill Nye isn’t the best debater, science […]

  3. […] And then there is Jerry Coyne: […]

  4. […] quote about the evening belongs to Dr. Jerry Coyne, on his blog, which includes an awesome takedown from a far more scientific perspective than I present here, he words it […]

  5. […] whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com: Jerry A. Coyne (a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of […]

  6. […] I could refer you to any dozens or hundreds of articles, but perhaps I’ll just take three: Who Won the Big Evolution/Creation Debate via “Why Evolution Is True,” The Nye/Ham Debate Was a New Win for Science via […]

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