I'll have to say that I found the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye tonight somewhat depressing. It made me sad on both sides. Nye made me sad because at a certain point I thought he became somewhat demeaning. I know that made his side happy, but it didn't help convince anyone who was unconvinced. Ham made me sad both because he makes non-Christians think he represents what Christians believe and because he potentially polarizes the Christian community itself.
1. I thought one of the questions asked was very revealing on both sides. "What would make you change your mind?" Ham's answer was basically that his understanding of the Bible is a presupposition. Even when asked whether he could believe in God if the earth was older than 10,000 years old, his answer was, "No one could ever prove that."
But Nye's answer was not credible either, IMO. He said he would change his view on evolution with certain kinds of evidence, but I don't believe him. He really is a naturalist. His answer to questions of "What was before the Big Bang?" amounted to "It's a mystery--keep looking and you will find a natural explanation." In short, no amount of evidence would lead him to change his mind in terms of his naturalistic assumptions. For him, naturalism really is an assumption.
There are other positions on both sides of these debates. There are agnostics who are open to God as the answer to the question of ultimate existence. They're just not convinced. And there are Christians who are open to the possibility that God used evolution to create life. In short, there are many individuals on both sides that would change their minds under certain circumstances. Neither of these two are examples of them.
2. I felt sorry for the rabid fans on both sides. Some of the tweets on both sides (#hamonnye, #nyehamdebate, #creationdebate, #answersingenesis) were so wanting their hero to slam the other side. That sort of anger always points to something psychological going on below the surface. It can be insecurity in your own position. It can of course be pain from the past.
Here's the funny thing. People who are that hyped on either side of a debate often end up converting to the other side. There are atheists who will end up believers because they are fighting a deep down insecurity. And of course there are fundamentalists who will lose their faith for the same reason.
3. There is a fundamental (no pun intended) circularity to Ham's position that I find problematic. On the one hand, his position is clearly presuppositional, based on a particular interpretation of the Bible. Yet he seems to want to argue that his argument is also the clear conclusion based on the evidence.
In other words, Ham really seems to be playing a game. Why worry about the evidence of science if it is really a matter of presupposition? Why fall back on presuppositions if it is the clear conclusion of science? It seems like he is trying to play two different epistemological games at the same time in an incoherent way. (I play both games too, but I think in a more coherent way.)
4. Ham made a big deal out of the difference between historical and observational science. I believe this is a distinction without a difference. Let me use an extreme example to clarify what I think is Ham's perspective. Even if the stars are billions of light years away, no one on earth observed the light starting from those stars billions of years ago and making its way to us over billions of years. Perhaps God created the stars with the light from them in mid-photon stream.
Now Nye would find this argument ridiculous but, philosophically, it cannot be disproved. Here is one of the big differences between the two. Ham is, ultimately, a philosopher and theologian, not a scientist really. Nye is no philosopher but a scientist. He ultimately has no time for questions like, "Could the universe have been created five seconds ago with our memories intact?"
But I agree with Nye that our default assumption should be "what you see is what you get" in science. If the Grand Canyon looks like it took millions of years to become what it is, then that is the conclusion geologists should reach until the evidence seems to say something different. Ham would have us filter our scientific thinking through a set of presuppositions based on interpretations of the Bible that most biblical scholars themselves, I believe, find deeply problematic. Although I think it was unhelpful to put down Kentucky, Texas, and Oklahoma, I think Nye is right that we need to train our children to be evidentiary thinkers if we expect to compete with the rest of the world scientifically.
5. It will be interesting to see what comes from the debate, if anything. I will be interested to know if young earth creationists felt like Ham won the debate. I thought Nye won the debate but came across as mean at a few points. I actually felt sorry for Ham at one point. Then again, there were a few places where I felt like Nye hadn't really understood some of the theological coaching someone had tried to give him...
What did you think, if you saw the debate?