Monday, February 10, 2014

Review of the Debate, Part 3

← See part 1 for the introductions and main presentations by Ken Ham and Bill Nye
← See part 2 for their rebuttals

Questions and Answers

In the last section of the debate, the moderator read select questions from the audience.  Most questions were directed at one of the two debaters, but both had a chance to respond.

Question #1, to Ken Ham: How does creationism account for the celestial bodies (planets, stars, moons) moving further and further [sic] apart, and what function does that serve in the grand design?

Ken Ham responded that creationists recognize the expansion of the universe, and he noted that several Bible passages refer to God "stretching out the heavens."  He elaborated that the expansion of the universe can be observed, but that neither science nor the Bible explains why it occurs.  Ham used his remaining time to explain that the size of the universe reflects God's nature, as the Creator is larger and more powerful than creation.

Rather than directly answering the question, Bill Nye gave a summary statement of his points.  He said that science was invented to answer the hard questions, such as where we came from.  He recognized that the Bible might give satisfactory answers to some people, but not to others.  He then again challenged Ham to show whether creationism can predict.

Ham generally did well in summarizing the creationist view on this topic.  If I may speculate further, the expansion of the universe may be an artifact or continuation of the model proposed by Dr. Vardiman and Dr. Humphreys to explain how we can see distant stars, but I am not familiar enough with the science to be at all confident in my hypothesis.

Question #2, to Bill Nye: How did the atoms that created the Big Bang get there?

Nye quickly admitted that the origin of matter is a mystery, explaining that such mysteries are what drive scientific inquiry and investigation.  Referencing the previous question, he described how the Big Bang theory originally predicted that the spreading of space would slow down, yet recent observations suggest that it is accelerating.  The cause of this acceleration is unknown, Nye continued, but dark energy and dark matter have been proposed to explain it.  He again emphasized that the search for answers is what drives science and scientists.

Ham responded by pointing out that the Bible says where matter came from, and that it is the only explanation that makes sense.  Taking it a step further, he noted that some matter is organized into information, specifically in DNA, and claimed that such information cannot spontaneously arise from matter but must come from an intelligent source.  Creation by an intelligent being, he concluded, is therefore the only logical explanation.

Classically, the mere existence of the universe was enough proof of a supernatural being.  The rise of naturalism, however, attempted to give an alternative explanation.  Naturalism necessarily presupposes a natural ultimate origin for life and matter.  Yet, as Nye readily admitted, it does not satisfactorily explain these things.  This would be expected if life and matter had a supernatural origin.  While science cannot investigate or conclude anything supernatural, it need not reject the supernatural as a possibility.  I have no problem with searching for natural explanations to phenomena, but there is no basis for assuming that everything must have a natural cause.

Question #3, to Ken Ham: The overwhelming majority of people in the scientific community have presented valid, physical evidence, such as carbon dating and fossils, to support evolutionary theory.  What evidence besides the literal word of the Bible supports creationism?

Ham began by dispelling the notion that the "majority" is the authority of truth, giving multiple examples where the majority of scientists were wrong in the past.  He then referred to his earlier presentation in which he described predictions made by creationism, such as the single human race and the distinct kinds of animals.  He reiterated that there are aspects of the past that cannot be proven by science, but that does not affect scientific investigation of the present.

Nye first clarified that if a person shows evidence contradicting established thought, that person is embraced, not rejected, by the scientific community.  Therefore, he continued, "the idea that the majority has sway in science is true only up to a point."  He also briefly explained that energy from the sun allowed life to become more complex.  This was apparently a counter to Ham's argument that information cannot arise from matter, but he seemed to misunderstand Ham's argument.  The problem Ham was presenting was not the increase in complexity but the origin of information.

In response to the question, I will echo Ken Ham's assertion that neither the evolutionary nor creationist models of origins can be proven by science.  However, the question asked merely for support, not necessarily proof.  As mentioned in my response to the last question, the existence of matter, life, and natural information strongly suggest creation by an intelligent, supernatural being, as these have never been shown to arise from natural means.  The worldwide presence of fossil-bearing rock layers that were nearly all formed by the action of water attest to the biblical Flood.  Of course, these and other evidences can be interpreted by naturalists as not contradicting, or even supporting, the evolutionary model, and that is the point that creationists frequently make.  The evidence itself can only testify of its own existence; it does not inherently support any proposed model of its history.

Question #4, to Bill Nye: How did consciousness come from matter?

Again, Nye began by admitting he doesn't know and emphasized that the search for such answers is what drives science.  He mentioned dogs several times, suggesting that they may have emotion and joy of discovery, possibly implying that consciousness is not unique to humans and that it can evolve.  He then repeated his warning that rejection of science will cause the nation to fall behind economically.

Once more Ham cited the Bible to address the question of consciousness, attributing consciousness to God's image, in which mankind was created.  He also questioned the purpose of discovery and its associated joy if the discoverer does not believe in an afterlife.

I can't do much to elaborate on Ham's response, but I should note that "consciousness" is not well-defined, so I can't blame Nye (or the general scientific community) for being unsure of its origins.  Some scientists even claim that consciousness does not actually exist, and that it is just an illusion (don't ask me how that is supposed to work).  Personally, I still wonder about the connection between consciousness, the physical brain, and the spirit.  Historically, consciousness and the mind have been attributed to the immaterial spirit, but many studies (in observational science!) have shown that many aspects of the mind, including emotion, decision-making, and memory, are directly attributable to the physical brain.  So some aspects of consciousness, such as sensing the world around us, are material in nature, but it may be that the most fundamental level of subjective experience is rooted in the spirit, which cannot be demonstrated by scientific means.

Question #5, to Ken Ham: What, if anything, would ever change your mind?

Essentially, Ken Ham responded that he cannot be convinced that the Bible is untrue.  He leaves room for change in creation models, but not in the Bible.  He claimed that the Bible can be tested based on its prophecies and encouraged the audience to do so.  Unfortunately, this response was misconstrued by some viewers as meaning that nothing would change Ham's mind on creationism.  On the contrary, he was rooting his beliefs in the Bible rather than in science, so that nothing in science could change his mind.  Though he did not articulate this, I believe that if someone were to change his mind, they must do it with the Bible, not with science.

Nye, on the other hand, rather daringly declared that one piece of evidence would change his mind.  He suggested several examples, including anachronous fossils, no expansion of the universe, nearness of stars, rapid rock formation, and reset atomic clocks.  Once again, he asked what creationism can prove or predict.

I was rather amused by Nye's response, as several of his suggestions have been proven.  Numerous fossils have been found in layers where they should not have been, but they are usually explained away either by postmortem transport or by extending the "expected" fossil range of the creature.  Rock layers most certainly can form in less than 4000 years, a fact which most geologists acknowledge.   Laboratory tests have also shown that radioactive rates can be influenced by external factors, and it is generally known that the "atomic clocks" can be reset within rocks through geothermal heating.  It appears that Nye has not changed his mind, however, despite his claim.

To speak for myself, the most convincing evidence to change my mind would be biblical evidence that the Genesis account was allegorical rather than historical.  While I have seen many arguments that it was allegorical, they all seem to be based on the belief that science has proven the evolutionary model, so therefore an allegorical interpretation must be taken.  It is difficult for me to imagine any scientific evidence that would change my view, as I routinely state that the evidence is not the question, but rather the interpretation of the evidence.  Therefore, in order to change my mind about how the evidence should be interpreted, a person must break down my Christian worldview and essentially convert me to naturalism.

Question #6, to Bill Nye: Outside of radiometric methods, what scientific evidence supports your view of the age of the earth?

Nye first cited the age of the stars and sedimentary deposition rates before ultimately going back to radioactivity, which apparently is the convincing factor for him.  He additionally claimed that the evidence rules out a global Flood and that hominid skulls imply evolution of humans from apes.

In response, Ham pointed out that the age of the earth as accepted by a majority of scientists was actually derived from dating meteorites, not from earth rocks.  He then claimed that every dating method relies on assumptions of rate, and he brought up his earlier claim that 90% of those methods still contradict an age of 4.6 billion years.  Ultimately, he said, the age of the earth cannot be proven.

In my opinion, Nye's response shows how heavily the evolutionary model of earth history relies on radiometric dating methods.  Numerous measurements and calculations throughout history gave various ages of the earth before radiometric dating supposedly settled the issue.  Unfortunately, the critical importance of radiometric dating to the secular model of origins means that it is viciously defended by scientists and proponents of science, such that it appears to be unquestioned and untested except by creationists.

Question #7, to Ken Ham: Can you reconcile the change in the rate continents are now drifting versus how quickly they must have traveled at Creation, 6000 years ago?

Ham took this opportunity to again illustrate the difference between observational and historical science.  Current tectonic movement, he said, can be measured and agreed upon, but past rates cannot be directly measured.  Instead, geologists assume that the rate has been more or less constant throughout history.  To answer the question, he then clarified that the current creationist model suggests that the plates moved at catastrophic rates during the Flood, and that current movement is simply a remnant of that activity.

Possibly countering Ham's response to the previous question, Nye pointed out that if all the clocks in a clock store don't read exactly the same time, that doesn't make them all wrong.  Addressing continental drift, Nye related the technique of using seafloor magnetic reversals to measure the rate at which continents spread in the past.

I was somewhat surprised by Nye's use of seafloor magnetic reversals to justify a constant past rate of tectonic movement.  For those who may be unfamiliar with this phenomenon, there are bands of rocks that parallel the central ocean ridges which have differing magnetic signatures.  Classically, these are interpreted to have formed as the continents spread apart and the magnetic poles reversed over very long ages.  I have heard claims that the magnetic differences are not actually reversals but variations in strength, but I have never confirmed such claims.  Regardless, the problem with Nye's explanation is that it assumes that the timing of the pole reversals is known.  On the contrary, the timeline of pole reversals constructed by scientists partially relied on the seafloor reversals and the assumption of constant continental drift to begin with, along with radiometric dating of various volcanic rocks on land.  Therefore, seafloor reversals cannot justifiably be used as evidence for constant tectonic rates.

Question #8, to both: Favorite color?

The moderator requested one-word answers to this question, but after choosing green as his favorite color, Nye attempted to segue into a discussion about plants reflecting green light until the moderator cut him off.

Ham asked for a three word answer and said "observational science, blue," while showing his tie to the audience.

I'm partial to blue as well, though green comes in second.

Continue to part 3 for the last eight questions →

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