Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Review of the Debate, Part 4

← See part 1 for the introductions and main presentations by Ken Ham and Bill Nye
← See part 2 for their rebuttals
← See part 3 for the first eight questions from the audience


Question #9, to Bill Nye: How do you balance the theory of evolution with the second law of thermodynamics?


Nye began with a brief explanation of the second law of thermodynamics, describing it as the loss of energy to heat.  He then pointed out that the earth is not a closed system, so more energy can come in from the sun to allow life to proceed.  He also mentioned that the second law of thermodynamics is critical in calculations for artifical power generation.

Ham countered that the presence of matter and energy are not sufficient to form life.  Information, on which life as we know it relies in the form of DNA, cannot spontaneously arise from matter and energy and must have been produced by God.  He additionally postulated that because God doesn't hold all things together since the Fall, the second law of thermodynamics has taken effect.

The argument from the second law is very frequently misused by creationists, unfortunately, due to the inaccurate notion that the second law does not allow things to become more complex.  Rather, the second law states that the amount of usable energy in a system will decrease over time.  If this did not allow life to become more complex, then a baby human could not develop into an adult without breaking the second law.  Obviously, we see people growing up all the time, and this is because it takes enormous amounts of energy from food to develop that human being.  The amount of energy and order gained in growing a human being is significantly less than what is lost when that person eats food.  Carrying this to a much more grand scale, then, the second law of thermodynamics does not prevent creatures from evolving more complexity, because so much energy was taken from the sun.  However, as Ham noted, this does not solve the problem of information, which has never been observed to form naturally.

I also can't agree with Ham's proposal that the second law took affect at the Fall.  As other creationist scientists have noted, the second law is necessary for basic functions like digestion.  There is nothing inherently wrong or bad about the second law, so it seems unnecessary to claim that it did not exist at Creation.


Question #10, to Ken Ham: Hypothetically, if evidence existed that caused you to have to admit that the earth was older than 10,000 years and Creation did not occur over six days, would you still believe in God and the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and that Jesus was the Son of God?


In response to this question, Ham repeated his earlier assertion that the age of the earth cannot be proven, then claimed, "There is no hypothetical."  He admitted that certain methods can contradict or support one age or another, claiming that plenty of methods contradict an old age and support a young age.  He reasserted his position that the age of the earth can only be known by the Bible, and an old age for the universe contradicts the Bible.

Nye directly opposed Ham's claim that the age of the earth cannot be proven, saying that it can be proven with great robustness.  He again accused Ham of expecting the audience to simply take his word over the scientific evidence.  Referencing Ham's answer to the previous question, Nye asked if he was sure that life couldn't come from non-life and whether we should bother searching for life on Mars.  He then again offered up his challenge for predictions made by creationism.

Ham's response to this question frustrated numerous people, including me.  The point of a hypothetical question is that the impossibility of a scenario is irrelevant, yet Ham still refused to answer it due to the claimed impossibility.  In Ham's defense, "hypothetical" technically refers to an untested hypothesis, not to an impossible scenario as it is commonly used, so he may have seen it as an instantly disproven hypothesis rather than a "what-if" question.  Alternatively, he may have wished to avoid any conflict among Christians, wishing to focus on refuting naturalistic and atheistic worldviews.  This is unlikely, however, as he stated several times that an old earth was inconsistent with the Bible.

In regards to Nye's response, Ham isn't expecting the audience to take his word over the evidence, but to take God's Word over man's word.  Nye's question about life arising from non-life is interesting to me, as there used to be a "Law of Biogenesis" in biology which stated that life can only arise from life, not from non-life.  This term seems to have fallen out of popular use due to its conflict with a naturalistic origin of life.  It appears that Nye may therefore have been a bit hypocritical in criticizing Ham for suggesting that the laws of nature were not constant throughout time.

As for the question itself, that is something that I have pondered numerous times.  My beliefs, and indeed my whole worldview, would be shaken if such a thing was proven.  While I wouldn't necessarily stop believing in God, or even in Jesus, I would have to tear down and rebuild my whole personal theology and philosophy.  I am surprised that some people have accused such a reaction as evidence of a weak faith.  On the contrary, a faith that can bend around reality as needed is useless and insubstantial, in my opinion.


Question #11, to Bill Nye: Is there room for God in science?


In essence, Nye claimed that religion and science are completely separate entities.  He again mentioned the billions of religious people who accept evolution and added that everyone in the room at the time likely used technology.  He concluded that science and religion are separate but compatible, but he described Ham as the exception who chooses to take his own interpretation of the Bible over the scientific evidence.

Repeating his earlier claim, Ham said that God is fundamentally necessary for science and the assumption of a consistent universe, therefore the Bible and science go hand-in-hand.  He also reemphasized that technological invention is irrelevant to the origins issue.

I generally agree with Ham's response, but care must be taken on this issue.  As it is currently organized, science is only set up to search for natural explanations to observed phenomena.  Therefore, a truly scientific theory can neither appeal to the supernatural as an explanation nor assume that the explanation must be natural.  I have no problem with using science to investigate mysteries, but we must recognize its limits.


Question #12, to Ken Ham: Do you believe the entire Bible is to be taken literally?  For example, should people who touch pig skin be stoned?  Can men marry multiple women?


As Ham likes to do, he responded that it should not be taken literally or figuratively, but naturally.  That is, historical writing should be taken historically, and poetry should be taken as poetic.  He noted that the laws of the Old Testament were clearly intended for a particular culture at a particular time, and it would be fallacious to take them out of their context and apply them directly to modern society.  Responding to the marriage question, Ham pointed out that the Bible clearly promotes one man and one woman for marriage and never condones polygamy.  He added that the instances of polygamy in the Bible usually encountered problems.

Nye found it strange that Ham accepted some parts as literal and others as poetic, accusing him of only taking as literal the parts he "likes."  He also found unsettling the idea that the rest of the Bible should be taken literally when science has contradicted the first few chapters.

I fully support Ham's answer to this question.  The book of Genesis is treated as actual history throughout the Bible, and it has very little, if anything, to associate it with poetry, such as the Psalms.  The less literal parts of the Bible are clearly indicated as quotes, songs, visions, prophecies, and parables.  Genesis is presented as none of these things, but as a straightforward history.  When people ask me whether the commands of Leviticus should be taken literally, I point out that the command was indeed literally given to the Israelites, but the context limits it to only that.  Every set of commands was preceded by some form of "The LORD said to Moses, 'Tell the Israelites...,'" so it does not apply to modern society as literally taken.

In a different sense, I can even say that I support Nye's response as well.  I find it strange that some Christians only pick out the parts of the Bible they like, leaving the rest in the foggy realm of allegory.  Creationists such as Ken Ham and myself do not accept Genesis as literal because they "like" it, but because it was intended to be literal.  Trust me, my life would be easier if I didn't believe in a literal Genesis, but I believe it is true whether I like it or not.  Yet many Christians accept the stories of the virgin birth and Jesus' resurrection as literal truth, despite being against the laws of nature, while rejecting a literal interpretation of Genesis because it is "unscientific."  I've heard people justify this by claiming that the virgin birth and resurrection are central doctrinal issues, while creationism is not.  But that really shouldn't matter.  The truth does not depend on the importance of an event.


Question #13, to Bill Nye: Have you ever believed that evolution was accomplished by a higher power?  Why or why not?

(This is how the moderator interpreted the question, as the actual question appeared to be miswritten.)

Nye opened with the admission that divine influence cannot be proven nor disproven by science.  Addressing the intelligent design argument, he continued with the explanation that evolution gradually adds complexity through natural selection, such that an intelligent designer is not necessary to explain the intricacies of life seen today.  He then expressed his opinion that the naturalistic explanation is more compelling and is capable of making predictions.

Ham's response consisted of a challenge for Nye to give an example of a new function that an organism developed and that was not possible from the previously available genetic information.

It appears that neither of them directly answered the question, but I think they both made valid points.  I've never been a huge fan of the irreducible complexity argument, which states that any complex system could not have evolved if it cannot function without any one of its parts.  Modern airplanes are incredibly complex and would not function if one of many parts were missing, yet they still went through an "evolution" of a sort from simpler designs.  The problem with the evolutionary explanation, as Ham pointed out, is that the information for any such new designs cannot arise from unintelligent matter.

To answer the question proper, I think that evolution from a single common ancestor conflicts with the nature of God, as it advances life through the death of the weak.  Most importantly, however, it's just not what God said He did.


Question #14, to Ken Ham: Name one institution, business, or organization (other than a church, amusement park, or the Creation Museum) that is using any aspect of creationism to produce its product.


Going back to his previous assertion, Ham said that any scientist or engineer is using creation because the laws of logic and nature originate from a Christian worldview.  He warned that children who are not taught this will not be innovative.  He also reminded the audience of the numerous creationist scientists working in secular forums.

Nye again attacked creationism by mentioning its lack of predictive quality.  He also asked what "became" of people who never heard of Ham's worldview, wondering if Ham believed they were condemned.  It is difficult to tell whether he was referring to creationism or to "through Christ alone" Christianity.  He then noted that there are countless examples of science making predictions, apparently misunderstanding Ham's challenge in the last question.

I'm guessing that the questioner had in mind the idea that medical technologies like antibiotics and vaccines were based on evolutionary theory.  However, these technologies are only based on observable evolution, not on the theory of universal common ancestry or on an old age of the earth.  As Ham mentioned numerous times, scientific and technological developments are unrelated to views on origins.


Question #15, to Bill Nye: Since evolution teaches that man is evolving and growing smarter over time, how can you explain the numerous evidences of man's high intelligence in the past?


Nye actually refuted the premise of the question, saying that there is no evidence that man is getting smarter ("especially if you met my old boss, heh heh heh heh").  He explained that evolution does not push qualities to the extreme, but only promotes survival of the "fittest."  Intelligence, he said, got humans to where we are, but it is not an inherent advantage.

Ham cited a study in which a type of cavefish lost its eyes in order to survive in dark caves (incidentally, I covered these fish back in December).  He noted that the change was indeed advantageous, but it consisted of a loss of information.  He said that natural selection is not "survival of the fittest," but "survival of those that survive" and emphasized that there is no evidence of new information arising in DNA.

I believe Nye did a much better job in his response to this question.  Indeed, evolution does not teach that anything is getting "better," just that they are changing in order to survive the circumstances of the time.  The "bigger and better" model of evolution is a misconception by the public of the nature of the theory, and unfortunately it is used as a straw man by some creationists.  Therefore, Ham's claim that natural selection is "survival of those that survive" is accurate but meaningless.  As Nye mentioned, "fittest" describes a creature that is most able to survive its circumstances.  This may sound circular, but it is more self-evident than illogical.  Whichever creatures survive to reproduce will pass on its genetic information, and creationists do not deny this.


Question #16, to both: What is the one thing, more than anything else, upon which you base your belief?


Ham answered this question numerous times, so it was no surprise when he declared that his belief is based on the Bible.  He described how no other religion has a book that describes the origin of so many things, and he claimed that the predictions made in the Bible have been proven.  In his closing thoughts, he presented an abbreviated Gospel message and proclaimed to the audience that if they seek God, He will reveal Himself to them.

Nye's answer was also expected, pointing towards science as his base.  He emphasized that scientific discovery brings joy, and he described the process of science as the universe knowing itself.  He concluded with another warning that if we abandon the scientific knowledge attained over the centuries, then the United States will be outpaced by other countries around the world.

Of course, this reflects the worldviews of both men through which they interpret their observations.  In a Christian worldview, the Bible must be the ultimate authority on truth, whereas in a naturalistic worldview, man's own thought is held highest.  In our culture specifically, it is the thoughts of scientists that are held in highest regard.


Conclusion


All in all, I think Ken Ham and Bill Nye each did a decent job at presenting his own side, but each had his strengths and weaknesses.  From a scientic standpoint, Bill Nye had the advantage, presenting numerous evidences to support his stance.  However, Ham had the high ground from a philosophical standpoint, rendering the evidences irrelevant in a discussion of interpretation and worldviews.  Obviously, there was much miscommunication and many unanswered questions, but I hope it spurred the audience to ponder the issue deeper.


Have a question that wasn't answered in the debate?  Send it to admin@honestcreationist.com!  It may be answered in a future article!

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