Nye vs. Ham: A Stalemate

“Science Guy” Bill Nye stirred up a hornet’s nest when he told a group of Creationists, “[I]f you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.”

The resultant backlash led to last week’s debate between Nye and Creation Museum director Ken Ham over the issue of origins. Nye, a scientific materialist, was representing the hardcore evolution side, with Ham–a Young Earth Creationist (YEC)–representing the Christian side. Al Mohler provides his take on it. Moderator Tom Foreman provides his assessment. I will provide mine.

First, some opening stipulations.

(1) Having mulled over Genesis 1-2 no small number of times over the course of almost 40 years, I do not believe that the Creation account requires a YEC model. One can take a high view of Biblical authority (i.e. inerrancy) and still accept the premise of an old earth and universe. The transition from verse 1 to verse 2 leaves sufficient latitude that a reasonable reading can allow that the earth was not created on the first day.

(2) I do not accept macro-evolution across the board: from what I have seen, it appears valid in plant life, but the “evidence” for it in animal life is more sizzle than steak. Evolutionary models developed to date are very inconsistent, and–for all the hype–have failed to produce a testable basis that can be evaluated via the scientific method.

Ergo, to date, macro-evolution has remained outside the scope of the scientific method.

(3) While YECs have made some valid inroads challenging the “science” behind evolution, it is also true that Creation is outside the scope of the scientific method.

This is not a swipe against Creationism; after all, if you could design an experiment that produces God every time, then God would be subject to Man, and therefore would not be God…

(4) I believe Ham was not the best person to debate Nye. This is because Ham is hostile to the Intelligent Design crowd, which has actually made the best advances in the Creation v. Evolution debate. Michael Behe, a biochemistry professor from Lehigh University, has provided a testable scientific criteria for Irreducible Complexity (IC). Behe and Bill Dembski would have eaten Nye’s lunch, and it would not have been a fair fight.

At the same time, irrespective of what I think of YEC or Ham or the Creation Museum, the bottom line is this: Ham was representing Christians in that debate. I wanted him to acquit himself well–and not screw up–because, depending on his performance, Christians would come out looking like educated people who believe God with a rational, reasonable faith, or like ignorant Neanderthals. The last thing I wanted to see was an Inherit The Wind moment.

Overall, the debate was a stalemate. It appears that Nye–an otherwise intelligent man–is clearly not up to snuff on the latest issues in the Creation v. evolution debate. His “reasonable man” argument was the perfect opportunity for Ham to overrun him by using Nye’s own undergraduate education–engineering–against him to make the case for both a Designer and the reasonable case that Man is made in the image of that Designer.

(After all, the mathematical signature of a homeostatic control system is identical to those of mechanical control systems that engineers design every day. And that design signature is specific to human-like intelligence, as no other life form has designed such systems whereas humans have designed no small amount of them.)

When Nye raised the “reasonable man” defense against Noah’s ark, Ham whiffed on a golden opportunity to reinforce the premise that it is indeed reasonable, as every culture in the world has a flood narrative. From an eyewitness standpoint, a reasonable case exists that there was indeed a great flood. And if the flood was so massive that every world culture has written about it, then a reasonable person can accept the premise that something extraordinary allowed for the survival of human and land-dwelling animal life.

Ultimately, Ham and Nye proceeded to argue past each other.

The problem that Creationists have in this debate is that they must confront science by separating wheat from chaff, as when Nye refers to science, he is conflating three things:

(1) Science as a methodology for understanding the natural world. This involves using the scientific method–observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and evaluation–to develop our body of knowledge.

(2) Science as an institution (which I shall refer to as institutional science). This is an academic system that places great weight on first earning a credential (usually a PhD) that provides the gateway toward the authority to perform research and write papers for publications. The problem with this system is that (a) the peer review process is rife with fraud and back-scratching such that the “science” behind many papers has no experimental basis, and (b) it fosters a logical appeal to consensus or appeal to authority when an outsider questions the veracity of the “science”. Given that this institution receives no small amount of public money, it is within everyone’s interest to confront institutional science about these abuses, as they undermine the integrity of science.

(3) Science as a religion. Our understanding of law and justice is rooted in common law, which has its roots in the Old and New Testaments. At the same time, institutional science has sought to undermine these roots and use the nebulous appeal to their institution as a pretext to supersede law with their own peer-reviewed “science”. Ergo, while clamoring about “separation of Church and State”, they not only want no such “separation”, they just want to supplant the Church with themselves. That is the height of arrogance, and it undermines the integrity of science.

While scientists bristle at these confrontations, it is also fair to point out that very few Christians complain about secular outsiders who confront sexual abuses–and their coverups–within the Catholic Church. Whether it is the Church or the Academy, the veracity of either depends on fostering institutional integrity.

In this debate about origins, we must not hesitate to point out what has been established as science, and what has proven to be elusive, while using what we do know of science to make the case for the faith.

Ham is no dummy, but he should invite Nye for a second round. I suggest inviting Nye, and two other evolution supporters of his choice, to a low-key panel discussion with Ham and two Darwin-skeptics of his choice. If I’m Ham, I pull all the stops to get Behe and Dembski at the table.

Then watch the walls come down.

Scientist Predicts Evolution Debate Will Soon Be History

Richard Leakey, who is clearly oblivious to the fact that macro-evolution is no closer to being open and shut than it was in Darwin’s time, boldly predicts a great acceleration in discoveries that have proven elusive to date.

So let’s see…the High Church Atheists–Dawkins, Dennett, the late Hitchens, Harris, PZ Myers–have whined and wailed about the greatness of evolution, insisting that there is plenty of proof, without offering any.

Now Leakey has entered the fray, insisting that discoveries will accelerate to the point that the evolution debate will be open and shut, in favor–of course–of the evolutionists.

This in spite of the fact that these “discoveries” have been quite scarce for 150+ years post Darwin.

I’ll grant Leakey this much: while I have my doubts here, it is quite possible that the debate may go away in a few decades, although the nature of that outcome may very well be at variance with what he hopes.

It is Science!!!

Well, not really. Vox, however, illustrates a point that I spent no small amount of time making during my tour of duty at Southern Baptist Theological Cemetary::

Clearly, a bright line needs to be delineated between scientific evidence that has been independently replicated by experiment, scientific evidence that could be independently replicated but has not been, and scientific evidence that cannot be independently replicated by experiment. And furthermore, it is necessary to stop giving the latter two types of scientific evidence, or more properly, potential scientific evidence, the same level of credence that is given to actual scientific evidence that has been reliably and independently replicated.

I recall a spat I had with one of the leftists who clamored that anyone contesting the anthropogenic global warming dogma was either ignorant or stupid. I pointed out to him that, when you cut through the B.S., there are basically three types of scientific “information”:

(1) Scientific fact: that which has been demonstrated and replicated experimentally;

(2) Scientific opinion: hypotheses which have not, but potentially (key word there) could be–experimentally verified;

(3) Scientific opinion that gets reported as fact: hypotheses that have not been proven through experimentation, but nonetheless get reported as Holy Writ.

Examples of (1): Newtons Laws of Motion; the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics.

Examples of (2): various theories regarding the behavior of subatomic particles. On one hand, there are observational bases for the hypotheses; OTOH some of those hypotheses are yet to be conclusively verified through experimentation.

Examples of (3): anthropogenic global warming; various theories of evolution; premises that embryonic stem cells hold the promise for the cure for everything from jock itch to the deadliest cancers.

When arguing on such matters on this space, I have a simple warning: don’t bother coming over here spewing opinion and then telling me “it is science” if you have no experimental basis to show.

I will call BS every time.

Whether you are arguing for macro-evolution, global warming, or even young earth creationism, we require honesty here:

(1) There is a huge difference between that which has been demonstrated by experimentation versus mere opinions about observations. We will never begrudge you for your opinion, but don’t come over here telling us how “scientific” it is if it is not.

(2) We must be honest about the limits of science. Science is great for understanding natural phenomena that can be duplicated via experimentation. That understanding has driven the development of no small number of technologies. If you can read this, you are enjoying the fruits of science.

OTOH, there are things that science CANNOT do for you.

Science cannot prove there is a God, let alone which model of God–Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, etc., or even no God–is valid. I can point to science to make a rational case for faith in a higher authority, but it would be less than intellectually honest to give you an article of faith and then tell you it is scientific.

Science cannot establish the veracity of miracle accounts, be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc. Again, those are articles of faith.

At best, archaeology can help establish facts, but even that has limits: you are limited to what has been discovered to date. 150 years ago, Biblical skeptics touted the lack of archaeological evidence for Biblical accounts. Since then, archaeology has been quite favorable–rather than destructive–to Biblical accounts. In the world of Biblical scholarship, conservatives have made advances that liberals never thought possible 50 years ago.

Even then, archaeology is not science. What you are dealing with is observable data of varying quality, not experimental data that is reproducible.

Is Science “Self-Correcting”?

On Vox Day’s blog space, he is engaged in a trialogue with two scientists–one a physicist and the other a biochemist–over the validity of the premise that science is self-correcting. I’ve been following from a distance. It is a very good discussion.

The physicist recently had this to say:

However, the the character of the corrections in accounting and science are somewhat different. The rules of accounting are set by accountants, lawyers, and legislators. Errors and corrections happen within that known framework, which can itself be adjusted. In science the framework is the laws of nature, which are not known a priori and can’t be adjusted. (Citigroup can rewrite accounting law, Virgin Galactic can’t rewrite gravity.) So sure, you could say accounting is self-correcting. That description might not be as useful as it is for the scientific study of natural laws, but it wouldn’t be wrong.

While the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) can (and does) indeed revise Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), there are some differences in the comparison that the physicist provides:

(1) If a non-accountant questions the integrity of the changes, he or she is not dismissed for not being a CPA. This is because accounting, among other things, involves assessing the integrity of the operations of an economic entity. And almost anyone–due to disclosure laws–can do this.

If you can read a 10-K, which includes a balance sheet, income statement, cash flow statement, and retained earnings statement (in addition to material disclosures in footnotes), you can make an educated assessment for the condition of a business, irrespective of (a) the marketing efforts and (b) the GAAP rules.

(2) For that reason, if FASB redefines or reclassifies certain items–or, as they have recently done, change rules to allow banks to improperly value their assets–it does not change the nature of what is being done. People who denounce that tactic–such as Denninger–are not likely to be dismissed for not being CPAs.

Instead, their ideas are allowed to be tested in the free market. Denninger has made truth claims, as has Vox Day. (For the record, I agree with them most of the time.)

If their truth claims don’t come to pass, then they have to answer for this in the free market of ideas.

For scientists, the rules are somewhat different. They have made truth claims which include bald assertions, misrepresentation of data (sometimes intentional), doomsday predictions for the world and for civilization, and proclamations of fact that were based on known fraudulent “research”.

And yet (a) the very system that ought to be holding them accountable does not do this–largely because they are comprised of fellow scientists who are dependent on government largesse for their career paths, and (b) they attack critics–who point out obvious errors that call their very hypotheses into question–for “not being scientists”.

This is not to say that all scientists are so intellectually dishonest; the problem, however, is that the system itself is one that economically encourages–and in some fields requires–such.

The larger question is how to reform the scientific community to ensure that they are more vigilant about the integrity of the scientific method.

I would submit that breaking the government-academic complex will go a long way toward that end.

This is because without the gravy train–which foments the existing paradigm of obfuscation and demonization of critics who recognize the naked emperor–there will be no economic incentive for the naked to go unclothed.