Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Value of Debate: Deconstructing Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham

Did you see the debate last week between Bill Nye "The Science Guy" vs. Ken Ham ("The Creationist Man")? 

The Official Topic: Is Creationism a viable model of origins in today's modern, scientific era?  

The Unofficial Topic: Creationism vs. Evolution (via Natural Selection)

First, let me say that I think Bill Nye did well! If I were being critical, I'd say the following:

  • His jokes weren't GREAT. I'm pretty sure at least half of them fell completely flat. Not sure if that was the audience or the jokes. lol. I think he got better as time went on. 
  • I'd also say he did well using stories to connect, but could have been a better story-teller. ie. I liked that he used narrative, but think he could have done better and been more purposeful about it. It seemed like he was coming up with stuff on-the-spot, but I think it would be good to have a few reliable stories for the points you know are likely to come up.  
  • I think he took it pretty easy on Ham. This was probably good strategy (see below), but frustrating to watch.. 

That said, Ken Ham was insufferable. That's not to say he is a bad debater. He's just an awful, disingenuous idiot. And it's hard to watch that for +2 hours... 

  • He quoted the Bible and proselytized like he was in Sunday School. 
  • I will give him the credit to say he was probably the better "debater." After all, he does it for a living. 
  • The arguments were rife with fallacy and bad science-- BUT if you wanted to believe them or had never been taught otherwise, I can see how you might find him compelling. 
  • Of note, as well, were the videos. Apparently, he found all of people with degrees who believed in Creationism - and filmed them (I'm exaggerating, but just barely!). This is obviously an argument from authority. This would be a fallacy in this case because authority (a degree) doesn't make Creationism true. However, I can definitely see how, after the 5th or 6th of these videos, someone might say "Wow! Smart people think this, too? I must be right!" 
  • There was LOTS and LOTS of circular logic & tautology around the Bible. e.g. "Creationism is true because the Bible says X. The Bible says Y, therefore Creationism is true." 
  • The most frustrating claim was when he claimed (repeatedly) that we can't be sure of Evolution because "we weren't there." The reason this is so frustrating is because he does it while touting the absolute truth of the Bible. I should add that, other than some of the books of the New Testament, we don't even know who wrote the Bible. So, not only were we NOT THERE, but we don't even know who claimed to be. If we accept that God's hand did not literally write the Bible, don't you think it would be nice for the verification process to know who did?  
  • He also said the Bible never contradicts itself. By this point, my head was ready to explode... (List of Bible Contradictions - List of Bible Contradictions - List of Bible Contradictions - List of New Testament Contradictions ONLY) Suffice to say, there are contradictions... 
A Visual Representation of Contradictions in the Bible (Click here for bigger picture)

My initial reaction... 

I thought the debate was a bad idea. I felt like there was no "winning," especially for Bill Nye. I commented on my Twitter that he was in the unenviable position of being correct, but likely criticized by both sides. A lot of people, understandably, believe that this kind of debate gives a platform to an unworthy idea. They say that debating Creationists makes it seem like Evolution and Creationism are comparable theories. I understand this position, and to a large degree, I agree with it. 

On the other hand...

There are some significant "up-sides"... 

I highly doubt that anyone who DOES understand evolution was swayed by the arguments of Ken Ham. Even though he does a good job of appealing to authority and evoking a bandwagon effect (e.g. "Look! We're all doing the 'Believing-in-Creationism-in-the-21st-century' THING! Join us!").

Likewise, I doubt that firm supporters of Creationism even heard most of what Bill Nye said, let alone want to change their minds. So, neither of these groups is the concern. There are going to be people who dig in their heels on either side.

However, they streamed this thing in churches and youth groups where there are children that will be intrigued and influenced by the knowledge that there is even another side of the debate. They've likely only been exposed to Creationism and/or an inaccurate version of what Evolution is. At least watching Bill Nye, they got an actual lesson about what the theory really means and the claims it really makes. 

This is important, and quite possibly worth whatever damage was done by giving Creationism an equal platform. The benefit of Evolution is that it makes sense. It is beautifully simple and a veritable "no-brainer" once you understand it. Creationism isn't like that. What it means to "get" Creationism is to simply defer to "God did it!" for every answer. As we saw watching the debate, this is woefully unsatisfying. 

Not only do atheists feel that saying "God did it!" (Full Stop) is unsatisfying, but so do a lot of believers! It was amazing to see how many religious people were upset at Ken Ham for making them look dumb. It should go without saying, but MANY religious people also understand Evolution and embrace or integrate it with Creationism. Ken Ham's brand, "Old Earth Creationism," is thankfully dying out.

Combining the exposure of real Science to staunch Creationists and their children AND the righteous indignation of progressive and scientifically-literate theists, the debate was a win for the pro-Science community. Although, I found it odd that it didn't seem to involve a voting process of any kind? (I could be wrong, but did not see one.) I think it was also a win for atheists, specifically. Bill Nye (an atheist) held his own while defended Evolution, and did so without bashing religion. 

While many of us (including myself) would have GONE OFF on Ken Ham, that's exactly what the Creationist side would have wanted. Then, Ham and others would have just used the snide comment(s) against Bill Nye. They would have focused on that instead of actually debating the substance of the arguments. So, I also give Bill Nye a lot of respect for keeping it together there. He seems like quite an affable guy, though. (I had a chance to meet him at TAM once). Honestly, I think he represented us well. 

In closing, I'll share my votes for the Best/Funniest Debate Hashtags: 

Feedback Requested: 

  • Who do you think won the debate? 
  • Do you think it's a good idea for supporters of Evolution to debate Creationists? 

1 comment:

Data Jack said...

Bill Nye did much better than I expected. Also, better than any other debater from the science side that I've seen.