“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.