Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Nye/Ham Evolution/Creation Debate

Recently, Bill Nye ("the science guy") and Ken Ham debated evolution and creationism at Ham's "Creation Museum" in Kentucky.  The question for the debate was "Is Creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?"  Nye answered no.  Ham answered yes.

This debate was streamed live on February 4th, and it's available for viewing online, although I'm not sure how long it will be online.

This debate is 2 hours and 45 minutes long.  It's well worth the time to watch it.  It's one of the best debates on creationism versus evolution that I have ever observed.  I will offer some comments here on what was said.

But first I must point to two important questions that were not discussed in the debate.  If I had been a questioner at the debate, I would have directed two questions to Ham.  First, where exactly does the Bible say that the universe is only 6,000 years old?  Second, why do you reject intelligent design theory as contrary to Biblical Christianity?

Although Nye often questioned whether we should accept Ham's interpretation of the Bible, Nye never challenged Ham's assumption that the Bible clearly teaches that the universe was created by God in 4004 BC.  In fact, the Bible never gives any date for God's original creation of the universe.  The dating of Creation as 6,000 years ago comes not from the Bible but from Archbishop James Ussher's book Annals of the World, which was published early in the seventeenth century.  Ham's organization ("Answers in Genesis") sells copies of this book.  Ussher claimed that if we count up the lifetimes of the people in the Bible and follow the genealogies, we can date the day of Creation. 

At one point in the debate, but without identifying Ussher, Ham said that "when we add up those dates in the Bible, we get 6,000 years."  But what Ham did not say is that Ussher found it impossible to "add up the dates" without going to historical evidence of chronology outside the Bible, because the Bible never lays out the whole chronology.  If you look at Ussher's book, you will see over 12,000 footnotes citing secular sources (like Xenophon and Herodotus).  The fact that the Bible never clearly lays out a chronology and never clearly teaches that the universe was created exactly 6,000 years ago indicates that this is not important for the purposes of the Bible.  The Bible is a book of salvational history not a book of natural history.  And thus, contrary to what Ham and the creationists assert, the Bible was never intended to be a science textbook.  This is important because it suggests that the Bible need not come into conflict with Darwinian evolutionary science.  It's surprising that Nye did not make this point.  I have written previous posts on this here and here.

My second question would be about Ham's opposition to intelligent design theory.  At one point, Nye criticized intelligent design theory, as if Ham's creationism was a form of intelligent design theory.  In fact, Ham has scornfully rejected intelligent design as contrary to the Bible.  And the proponents of intelligent design (like the folks at the Discovery Institute) have stressed that intelligent design theory is not based on the Bible, because they do not rely on the Bible as a science textbook.  But people seem to have a hard time recognizing this, because they don't see that for creationists like Ham, intelligent design theory is an attack on the literal meaning of Genesis.

So now let me turn to some of the points that were discussed in the debate.

Ham stressed the contrast between observational science (based on what we can all see in the present) and historical science (based on what we can only speculate happened in the past).  His claim is that absolute proof is possible in observational science, but not in historical science, because in historical science, our conclusions depend on the fundamental assumptions of our "worldview."  This allows Ham to contrast the Biblical worldview and the naturalist worldview, and to argue that both are faith commitments that cannot be absolutely proven, because the deep historical past cannot be directly observed.

Nye's response to this was to play down the historical/observational distinction and to insist that natural laws apply across the present and the history.  To suggest, as Ham does, that the laws of nature were different in the past from what they are today suggests a "magical" change in natural laws that is unscientific.

I agree with Ham that a historical science is not as absolutely demonstrative as a non-historical science.  Indeed, Darwinian scientists like Ernst Mayr have made this point.  But still the Darwinian scientist will assume a uniformity in natural laws across time as the ground for inferring the past from the present.

If we push back in the past to the very beginning, we might reach the Big Bang.  Nye summarized the evidence for the Big Bang.  But he was asked, What was there before the Big Bang?  His answered: It's a big mystery!  Ham answered: God!

Why is there something rather than nothing?  Ham would say that God created everything out of nothing.  But the Bible doesn't say this, and it implies that God worked upon some preexisting formless matter.  In any case, the whole question of why nothing rather than something seems to me to be nonsensical.  First, it's an absurd question because since we have never experienced absolute nothingness, we can't know what we're talking about when we talk about the possibility of absolute nothingness.  Second, the principle of sufficient reason--that there must be a cause for everything--applies properly to everything within the universe but not to the universe as a whole.  We face the problem of ultimate explanation.  Ultimately, all explanation must be based on some unexplained first cause--we must start with either God or nature as the uncaused cause of everything.  I have written about this in another post here.

If you start with God as the uncaused cause of everything, then the question is how exactly does God exercise his causality?  Does God have to create everything at every moment of its existence, so that there is no enduring natural order independent of God's will?  Or does he create some general natural order at the beginning that can then unfold without His having to intervene miraculously throughout time?

Ham seemed to say that God has allowed a natural history of evolution of species to occur, but within the limits of the original "kinds" that He created at the beginning.  Ham's example was the finches in the Galapagos--"Darwin's finches."  Ham conceded that the various species that have evolved in the Galapagos do show the evolution of new species, which is what Peter and Rosemary Grant have argued.  But for Ham, this is consistent with the idea that God created finches as a "kind," while allowing diverse species of finches to evolve naturally.  So if one considers the hierarchy of taxonomical levels--species-genus-family-order-class-phylum-kingdom--"kinds" correspond to the level of "family."  God created the "family" of finches, while allowing the various "species" of finches to diverge by natural evolution.  What Ham denies is that new families can emerge by natural evolution without God's creative activity.  And, of course, he denies that there is any evolution "from molecules to man."  I have written about this previously here.

Human beings as a "kind" had to be specially created by God in his image, Ham insisted, so that they would have the mind or soul that is uniquely human and that cannot evolve naturally from matter.  Nye was asked, How did consciousness arise from matter?  He answered, Don't know!  It's another big mystery that needs to be investigated.  I agree that this is a big mystery, but I would say that the general answer is that the soul emerges from the evolution of the primate brain so that distinctive human consciousness arises after passing over a critical threshold in the size and complexity of the primate brain (particularly in the prefrontal cortex).  We can infer this--as a historical science of the brain--by looking at fossil skulls and comparing primate brains today.  There might always be some mystery about this insofar as we have direct access to consciousness only in our introspective experience.  In any case, why couldn't we say that God chose to use the natural evolution of the primate brain to create human consciousness?  Could God as primary cause have used the secondary causality of natural evolution?  That was Darwin's suggestion.  I have written about this here, which includes links to other posts.  I have written about dual causality here.

If Ham is right about "kinds" corresponding to "families" in modern taxonomical classification, then God created the family of Hominidae, which includes chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and humans.  The human species could have evolved naturally from some common ancestor shared with chimpanzees.  Intelligent design proponents like Michael Behe accept the evidence for this.  But it's not clear that Ham would accept this.

For me, the most interesting moment in the debate came when Ham was asked, What if anything would ever change your mind?  He showed confusion and uncertainty as to how to answer this question.  But he finally answered that it would be impossible for anything to change his mind, because no one was ever going to convince him that the Bible was not the true science textbook.  Actually, one of Ham's persistent claims was that both scientific naturalism and Biblical religion are ultimately worldviews based on faith--faith in secular naturalism or faith in Biblical supernaturalism.

This points to the difficulty of resolving the reason-revelation debate.  To refute revelation, the proponents of natural reason would have to have such absolute and complete knowledge as to show the impossibility of miracles.  To refute reason, the proponents of supernatural religion would have to prove the reality of miracles even to the skeptics (perhaps by answering the one million dollar challenge of the late James Randi to prove something to be really a miracle rather than a magic trick or a delusion).

Finally, one should notice how Ham in the debate warns about the morally corrupting effects of Darwinian science.  This shows the true motivation for Ham and other creation scientists.  Their primary concern is not the truth or falsity of the science but its moral consequences.  One can see that in an essay that Ham wrote a few years ago for  I also wrote an essay for arguing that Darwinian science actually supports morality.

Some of my other posts on the creation/evolution debate and the evidence for evolution can be found here and here.

1 comment:

Herman Cummings said...

Why is it that all evolutionists run from the Genesis Expert, and spend their time debating those that don't understand the Genesis text? The correct opposing view to evolution, is the "Observations of Moses". Avoiding a true confrontation with the Bible proves humanists have an evil agenda, and want to mislead the public into their false belief system.

Herman Cummings