Friday, February 7, 2014

Review of the Debate, Part 2

← See part 1 for the introductions and main presentations by Ken Ham and Bill Nye


Ken Ham's rebuttal


As Ken Ham mentioned, there was not enough time for him to address all of Bill Nye's points, given only five minutes to rebut a thirty minute presentation, so he focused on the major claims made by Nye in the introduction and main presentation.

Ham reasserted his view that the age of the earth cannot be directly observed and falls under historical science, which requires interpretation.  He then confirmed that his own view of the age of the earth is based on the Bible, not on science.  In my opinion, creationists should therefore refrain from calling creationism "scientific," as it was not developed by the scientific method (nor do I think the old-earth model was, either).  However, that does not make it contrary to science, as Ken Ham demonstrated.

Speaking on the topic of radioactive decay, Ham agreed that the decay itself is observed, but he added that the assumptions necessary for radiometric dating can lead to faulty results.  He gave an example of a layer of basalt, dated at 45 million years old by potassium-argon (K-Ar) dating, containing wood fragments dated to 45,000 years ago using radiocarbon dating.  The full report of these findings was published in the Creation ex nihilo Technical Journal (now called the Journal of Creation), volume 14, issue 2.  I can't find any direct evolutionist rebuttals of the study, but I would guess that it would be explained away by contamination, as such cases so frequently are.  Ham also mentioned the newly-formed Mount Saint Helens lava dome rock being dated at 350,000 years old using K-Ar dating.  According to TalkOrigins, anomalous dates from K-Ar dating are not uncommon and are caused by "excess argon."  Because of this problem, TalkOrigins says, K-Ar dating is no longer used by geologists and has been replaced by argon-argon (Ar-Ar) dating.  I am not sure I believe this last claim, as I have seen recent geological studies citing K-Ar dates, and I doubt that previous K-Ar dates were all checked and revised by Ar-Ar dating.  The Wikipedia article on the method claims that it is still used in clay mineral studies, as well as in archaeology.  Ham also mentioned the three major assumptions used in radiometric dating, which were covered in my previous series on radiometric dating.

Responding to Nye's claim that billions of religious people, including Christians, accept the old-earth model, Ken Ham made his position clear that he does not think such people are necessarily not Christian.  Unfortunately there is a popular mischaracterization of creationists that we think that a person must believe in a young earth to be saved, pushing us toward cult status.  However, as Ham noted, this is not what creationists believe.  Rather, he continued, old-earth beliefs are inconsistent with the Bible, which teaches that there was no death before the Fall of man, that all (land) animals were created vegetarian, and that there were no thorns, tumors or diseases before the Fall; yet the old-earth interpretation of the fossil record conflicts with all of these.  Theistic evolutionists counter these apparent contradictions by claiming that the Fall only affected humans, and that death and disease were already present in nature beforehand.

Concluding his rebuttal, Ham made the bold claim that 90% of the hundreds of dating methods contradict billions of years of history.  This may be a bit of an exaggeration, as many of the dating methods he listed on his slide don't give a maximum age; rather, they are simply more suggestive of a young age because different results would be expected from a much older universe.  It might be more accurate to say that all of the dating methods give different results, so they can't reliably be used as evidence of age.  Ham contrasted this with the Bible, which he called the "one infallible dating method."


Bill Nye's rebuttal


Bill Nye's rebuttal time actually began with a counterrebuttal, suggesting that the basalt layer mentioned by Ham had merely slid on top of the buried trees, and that this was more reasonable than throwing out radiometric dating.  He also noted that asteroids all seem to come out to the same date with radiometric techniques, implying that this consistency demonstrates the precision of such methods.  Of course, anyone who has studied statistics may recall that there is a significant difference between precision and accuracy.  It is also likely that these asteroids (or more accurately, meteorites, as to my knowledge asteroids in space cannot be radiometrically dated) were dating using the same technique, rather than with a variety of methods.  I could be wrong about this, however.

Nye criticized Ham's reliance on the Bible, claiming that it has been translated numerous times.  This is a strange claim that I hear quite frequently.  While it is indeed true that the Bible has been translated into many languages, nearly all of these translations were done directly from the original language.  It is not like the telephone game to which Nye likens it.  He also said it was "unsettling" that Ham would view the Bible as more authoritative than observation, yet Ham spent nearly the entire debate clarifying that he does not have an issue with the observations but with the interpretations of the observations.

Getting somewhat theological, Nye asked why animals were affected by the Fall, jokingly wondering if fish were sinners because they get diseases.  Though the concept does seem odd to many people, creationists do believe that the whole of creation was affected/punished/cursed because of the actions of Adam and Eve.  This makes more sense in light of the creationist view that humans are not just advanced animals, but are on a wholly different level as stewards of creation; therefore any decision they make affects everything under them.

Addressing Ham's claim that we can't observe the past, Nye countered that technically, that is done all the time, especially in astronomy, because light takes time to reach our eyes.  While that is true, it misses the point that we are still limited to observing a single slice of time, which for practical purposes is called the "present."  Ham's objection was that extrapolating beyond that slice of time relies on interpretation based on assumption, and therefore it shouldn't be equated with direct observation.

According to Nye, the debate hinges on whether natural laws change.  He said that changing natural laws is "magical" and has no place in science.  To be fair, Ham was not claiming that natural laws changed, but that the laws are occasionally misunderstood by scientists due to faulty assumptions.  I would agree that violations of natural law, which I call "miraculous" or "supernatural" rather than "magical," have no place in science, but I think that says more about the limitations of science than about the legitimacy of the supernatural.

Nye scoffed at the idea that all animals were vegetarian at creation, pointing out that lion teeth are unsuited for eating vegetables and that there is no evidence for Ham's position.  While Ham addressed this in his counterrebuttal, I want to note that Ham's mention of vegetarian animals was in the context of addressing other Christians who accept the Bible already; it was not meant as support for creationism in the face of Nye's naturalism.  Therefore, the charge for more evidence was irrelevant to the point.

Bill Nye criticized the Bible as being unreliable and inconsistent with "reasonable" expectations.  He further accused Ham and Answers in Genesis as expecting the audience to have more respect for Ham's interpretation of the Bible than for the audience's own observations of nature.  This again misses Ham's point that it is the interpretation of the observations, not the observations themselves, that are being questioned.

The conclusion of Nye's rebuttal dealt briefly with the claim that evolution predicted multiple races of man.  He said that the "five races" model originated with Europeans who wanted to proclaim themselves superior.  He did not elaborate much beyond that, probably unintentionally still leaving the possibility that such views were at least partially rooted in evolutionary belief.


Ken Ham's counterrebuttal


Responding to Bill Nye's speculation about the basalt layer sliding on top of the trees, Ken Ham first clarified that the anachronous wood was found within the basalt, not under it, nullifying Nye's hypothesis.

As I mentioned previously, Ham noted that he does not believe natural law changed.  He further claimed that such a stance only makes sense in a biblical worldview with an unchanging God, as a purely naturalistic view cannot expect the universe to be consistent.

By this point in the debate, Nye had used the term "Ken Ham's creationism" many times, probably to distinguish it from old-earth creationism.  Ham responded by noting that many PhD scientists share his view, so it is not just "Ken Ham's creationism."  Admittedly, I occasionally wish there was a shorter unique term for young-earth creationism so that I would not have to frequently distinguish it from old-earth creationism.

Ham then accused Nye of confusing "species" and "kinds," adding that there were likely less than 1000 kinds on the Ark.  I was rather surprised at this accusation, as I don't think Nye confused them at all.  In my opinion, Nye quite accurately represented the creationist position when calculating the rate of speciation from the inhabitants of the Ark to the modern fauna, though I'm not sure exactly which animals he included as Ark residents.

Given the short amount of time given for counterrebuttal, Ham summarily responded to the tree ring, ice core, and land bridge arguments by noting that nobody was present to see them forming, so the arguments rely strongly on interpretations and assumptions.  This answer, of course, was highly unsatisfactory to Nye's fans in the audience, who used it to summarize Ham's arguments the next day.  However, Ham then briefly mentioned a case in which downed planes were found in Greenland buried in 250 feet of ice.  The planes to which he refers, sometimes called the Lost Squadron, made an emergency landing in southern Greenland during World War II.  They were recovered in the late 1980s, buried under about 250-260 feet of snow and ice.  Some accounts claim that the ice over the planes contained hundreds of visible layers, implying that the layers are formed more than once per year.  Old-earth scientists respond with the claim that the layers seen above the planes were melt layers, which are distinguishable from the annual hoarfrost and dust layers used in ice core dating.

To counter Nye's example of lion teeth, Nye brought up the teeth of bears and fruit bats, which are sharp yet primarily used for a vegetarian diet.  I might also add that animal teeth may have had a slightly different form at Creation and were subsequently reshaped either supernaturally by the Curse or naturally by evolution.  This is completely unscientific speculation on my part, however.

As previously mentioned, Ham then clarified that creationists do not dispute the popular interpretation of the large boulders in Washington being deposited by a breaking natural dam, noting that there likely were smaller yet still catastrophic events after the worldwide Flood.

Ham questioned Nye's assertion that Noah's family consisted of unskilled shipbuilders.  He attributed this idea to the evolutionary notion that humans are improving and becoming more intelligent, so therefore ancient people were less developed.  He also mentioned ancient shipbuilding techniques that would have prevented twisting of the Ark as it floated, noting that the scale model in the Creation Museum reflected that.

Responding to the problem of starlight, Ken Ham brought up the "horizon problem," an equivalent problem in the Big Bang theory in which heat and light would not have had enough time to make the universe as uniform as it is in 13 billion years.  Scientists are well aware of this theory but do not consider it to be significant enough to throw out the Big Bang.  The horizon problem was partially the impetus for the formation of inflation theory, which proposes that the universe is expanding exponentially faster rather than slowing down.


Bill Nye's counterrebuttal


Nye opened his final rebuttal by stating that he was "completely unsatisfied," saying that Ham did not address any of the problems he put forth, particularly with the ice cores, and claiming that placing fewer kinds on the Ark further complicates the problem of getting so many of today's species in such a short time.

Nye claimed that the thought of Noah as a capable ship builder was unreasonable, explaining that his own shipbuilding ancestors spent their entire lives learning to build ships.  Again, it is not necessary to believe that Noah and his family were the only ones building the Ark.  Furthermore, the longer lifespan recorded for Noah and his contemporaries would still allow for mastering multiple skills without spending their entire lives doing so.  Even the time between God's command to build the Ark and the Flood was 120 years, depending on how the text is read, equivalent to a modern lifetime to figure out how to build such a craft.

The fundamental question, Nye said, is what can be proved.  He claimed that assumptions of constant rates are based on previous experience, implying that there is no reason to question them.  He asked Ham to explain why the audience should take Ham's word that natural law changed with no record of it doing so.  I would disagree with Nye's first statement, as the actual fundamental question is what happened, not necessarily what can be proved, though the two might be the same in the minds of many.

Pyramids and cultures older than 4000 years disprove a global Flood, Nye said.  To be more accurate, they would have to be older than at least 4400 years old.  Regardless, creationists have addressed this problem, though I am not well-versed in it.  The book Centuries of Darkness by Peter James demonstrates how the dating of ancient cultures heavily relies on Egyptian chronology, leaving strange gaps in history.  Furthermore, Unwrapping the Pharaohs by John Ashton and David Down explains how the timeline of Egyptian Pharaohs has been misconstructed by traditional archeology, and how Egyptian history actually fits perfectly well in the biblical timeline.

Again referencing the reasonable man, Nye charges that it is not reasonable to believe that everything changed in a 4000 year period.  I think it is more accurate to say that creationists believe that everything changed in a year or two.  Nevertheless, it is only "unreasonable" from a naturalistic, uniformitarian standpoint.

Nye asked what becomes of people who are religious yet don't accept creationism.  As Ken Ham had previously said, though, creationists do not believe that Christians must accept creationism to be saved.  We just find it illogical not to accept it.

Continuing his theological streak, Nye asked how bringing the New Testament into the discussion is valid, when creationism is based on the Old Testament.  In my opinion, this exposes Nye's lack of knowledge about the Bible, as the two are quite interdependent.  However, there does seem to be a misconception outside of the Christian church that one must choose whether to believe and follow one of the two testaments, so that may have influenced Bill's question here.

Concluding the debate, Nye emphasized that the scientific community expects evidence for creation and welcomed any evidence contrary to the established model.  He said that if science finds an idea untenable, then it is thrown away.  He again pleaded for scientific education of children, saying that they are needed as scientists and engineers for the future.


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