Inside the Nye/Ham Debate (Part 2): The Smoke and Mirrors of YEC Debate Tactics

If you have ever spent any time in one of the many “creation/evolution” debate forums on Facebook, you can attest to the fact that many of the debates get pretty toxic pretty quickly. Indeed, it is easy to get frustrated and to allow yourself to get sucked into the pettiness. It is hard to stick to making your case and not allowing the toxicity get to you, and it is hard not to get frustrated at the lack of coherence in many of the young earth creationist claims. And it certainly is hard not to get offended when, after you make a basic logical point, not only does the response you get not address your point at all, but you find in the response, some rather nasty and condescending innuendos about your character and rejection of God’s word, and thinly veiled boasts about their own unshakeable faith.

Such responses do not come from a well thought out worldview, though. They come from rather blind imitation of those who are advocating YEC. They are predictable knee-jerk responses that have essentially been programmed into YECist adherents by organizations like ICR and AiG. The trick is to clearly identify all the triggers and stock answers that are in the tool box of YEC organizations. Once you do that, you can see them coming a mile away, and it becomes something akin to pointing out the tricks of a rather bad magician. The fact is, men like Ken Ham never really discuss actual science or biblical interpretation. Oh, he may use scientific terms and biblical passages, but the context in which he uses them is not science or biblical studies. It is a complex and often confusing web of half-truths, distortions, and innuendo. It is smoke and mirrors—but once you see where the mirrors really are, it becomes easier to see through the smoke.

It’s on full display on the AiG website, Ken Ham’s blog, the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, as well as Ken Ham and Bodie Hodge’s book, Inside the Nye/Ham Debate, the book I am currently analyzing this month as a way of commemorating the debate of three years ago. These posts are not analyzing the scientific arguments of Ken Ham in the book, for like I said, there really are none. Instead, these posts will attempt to point out where the mirrors are so you can see through the smoke. So let’s get to Ham and Hodge’s (HH) analysis of the 5-minute opening statements of both Bill Nye and Ken Ham from the debate.

As a reminder, the agreed upon topic for the debate was this: “Is creation a viable scientific model for origins?” Or in other words, “Is young earth creationism a viable scientific method for understanding origins?” For that matter, if we to be blatantly honest about what the debate was about, we’d just state it this way: “Is Genesis 1-11 providing accurate scientific and historical information?” Let’s see how Ken Ham addresses this question.

Ken Ham’s Irrelevant Opening Statement
Part One of Inside the Nye/Ham Debate is devoted to HH’s analysis of the 5-minute opening statements by both Ken Ham and Bill Nye. The chapter covers 18 pages, five of which are devoted to Ken Ham, thirteen of which are devoted to Bill Nye. The reason for that discrepancy will soon become apparent: the aim of the chapter, and indeed the entire book, is not so much to analyze the arguments put forth by both men, as it is to convince the reader that Bill Nye is a bad, mean-spirited man, and that Ken Ham is a champion of God’s word.

In any case, HH points out that the very first thing Ken Ham said in his opening is that there are “biblical creationists” who are able to do “observational science” and build technology, without having to have an evolutionary worldview. That is absolutely true, but given the topic of the debate, that is also absolutely irrelevant. The topic wasn’t “Do you need to have an evolutionary worldview to build technology?” but rather, “Is young earth creationism a viable scientific model for origins?”

So why did Ken Ham open with this completely irrelevant fact? Simple: to mislead and to get people to not focus on what the topic of the debate actually was. To be clear, not only was the point he made irrelevant, what Ham was implying was also illogical. He was implying that (A) since there are scientists who are “biblical creationists” who build technology, that (B) somehow that proves evolutionary theory isn’t true. But that proves no such thing. The two points have nothing to do with each other. It’s like saying, “There are ‘biblical creationists’ who build technology who don’t believe Harvey Oswald acted alone…therefore Harvey Oswald must have had an accomplice.”

And while we’re at it, let’s just point out the misleading name Ken Ham gives for his position: biblical creationism. It is slipped under the radar, and no one even considers how misleading that label is. Even Ham’s opponents often use that label, and when they do, he’s already won the debate he is really focused on: getting people to believe that to question his claims about Genesis 1-11 is to question the Bible itself. Let’s be clear, his position is that of young earth creationism, and not biblical creationism. The Nye/Ham debate was tackling the question, “Is young earth creationism actually scientific?” Another debate could easily tackle the question, “Is young earth creation actually biblical?” But to allow the claim that the YEC view is the view of the Bible to stand is a huge mistake, for it allows Ham to put forth as his premise that the Bible is on his side. It isn’t.

Let’s Define “Science”
In any case, HH then pointed out that Ken Ham rightly took the time to define the terms in the debate, namely, what the definition of “science” was. (By contrast, HH pointed out that Bill Nye didn’t do this. Why not? The answer will soon become obvious).

So how did Ken Ham define “science”? He looked it up on the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and came up with this: “the state of knowing; knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.” He ignored the specific definition in regards to the scientific method, and instead decided to use the most general one. The reason was obvious: by completely ignoring the actual definition in regards to the study of the natural world, Ham was able to then put forth his own definitions of his own fictitious categories of observational science (science that is “based on the scientific method” and builds technology) and historical science (“non-repeatable, non-observable science [knowledge] dealing with the past, which then enters the real of beliefs [really, religion]).

Only then, did Ham then define the scientific method. Notice what he did. Without batting an eye, Ham:

  • Defined “science” in the most general way possible (i.e. knowledge)
  • Presented fictitious categories of science (i.e. observational and historical)
  • Defined “observational science” as the kind that uses the scientific method
  • Defined “historical science” as essentially “knowledge based on religious belief”

And voila! Ham deftly ruled out the use of the scientific method in any discussion about origins, and instead put in its place “religious belief.” That statement alone is proof that Ken Ham lost the debate: he essentially admitted that young earth creationism could not be supported by the scientific method. But because of the “smoke” of over-generalized definitions and the “mirrors” of fictitious categories of science, Ham can continue to state that YEC is “science”…historical science, the kind that is outside the realm of the scientific method, the kind that is a matter of religious belief…and religious belief needs to be based on…authority. And whose authority is it going to be? God’s infallible Word or man’s fallible word?

The Book’s “Analysis” of Ham’s Opening Statement
“This was a good opening, considering that the speaker was on the defensive. Mr. Ham started by destroying the idea that creationists cannot be ‘real’ scientists…” (32).

Thus begins HH’s “analysis” of Ken Ham’s comments. Ironically, given the obvious tactic Ken Ham used to mislead people in regards to proper definitions, HH actually states, “Evolution and science are both terms with multiple definitions that can muddy the waters if not clarified up front. …At least when Mr. Ham gave his presentation, people knew what he meant by words like evolution, science, and creation” (32).

But Ken Ham didn’t define “evolution” or “creation.” He defined “science” as “knowledge,” said that the scientific method is only applicable to technology, and claimed that “science/knowledge” of the past has to be based on religious belief. And yet, HH wants their readers (who are probably already fans of Ken Ham) to know, that this was a “good opening.”

“Ken Ham destroyed the idea that creationists can’t be real scientists!” (But no one said they couldn’t be good at technology)

“Ken Ham is the one who took time to define the terms!” (But he didn’t…at all)

And, if I may draw an analogy to a famous children’s story, “Just look at the beautiful clothing the emperor is wearing!” And the people applauded…until… (But he’s not wearing any clothes!)

“There’s a Difference Between Observational and Historical Science!” (“Four legs good, two legs bad!”)
The rest of the book’s “analysis” of Ken Ham’s opening statement really is an example of the pigs in Animal Farm teaching the other animals the farm’s motto: “Four legs good, two legs bad!” For it hammers home this supposed difference between “observational science” and “historical science,” and accuses Bill Nye of being dishonest and refusing to admit there is a difference. To paraphrase a number of paragraphs: “Mr. Nye refuses to admit this, because if he did, he’d have to admit his view on origins is a religious belief, and he’d lose the debate! Mr. Ham is honest enough to admit his beliefs…and his beliefs are based on God’s Word!”

Objective analysis, this is not.

But it’s not just Bill Nye who is the enemy—the modern education system is the enemy as well.  And at this point, HH simply slips in the accusation that evolution is the foundation of secular humanism, and that schools are brainwashing students, and are “arbitrarily defining science as naturalism and outlawing the supernatural” (33). And with their fictitious distinction between “observational” and “historical” science, HH then states, “Sadly…so many people are being duped into believing that evolution…is also science in the same way [as observational science]” (33).

Amazingly, HH then claims that evolutionary theory is the religion of naturalism or atheism, and that “secularists” have used “the bait and switch” to “rename the religious aspect of evolution” as “science” in order to teach “that autonomous man is the one who determines truth” (34). Never mind the fact that we are now light years away from the actual debate topic, let’s point out one of the more maddening tactics AiG loves to use: accusing opponents of doing the very things they do. Let’s be clear, the only one redefining terms and pulling the bait and switch is Ken Ham. In a debate that was to focus on whether or not YEC is scientifically viable, within the first five minutes, he redefined what science is, introduced fictitious categories of science, accused evolution of being the same as religion, launched into an attack on naturalism, materialism, atheism, and accused anyone who is convinced of evolution of trying to set up autonomous man as the determiner of truth.

Did I mention none of that had to do with the topic of the debate?

But this is what YECists like Ken Ham routinely do. This is their playbook: not just smoke and mirrors, but the mirrors they use are those crazy, distorting mirrors that one finds in fun house attractions.

Wrapping Up the Book’s “Analysis” of Ham’s Opening Statement
At the end of their analysis on Ken Ham’s opening comments, HH throw out a number of statements that could warrant their own blog posts on their own:

“Mr. Ham’s opening was perfectly consistent since observable science comes out of a Christian worldview that is built on a literal creation” (35).

What does that mean? We can observe and measure the distant of light from stars, and they are billions of light years away—this contradicts Ham’s claims that the universe is only 6,000 years old. And what is “a literal creation?” Creation is the natural world, how can it not be literal? Does he really believe the Christian worldview is dependent on whether or not the universe is only 6,000 years old?

“We can trust that those same [natural] laws won’t change and thus can be relied on since the Bible alludes to this in several places” (35).

But Ken Ham rejects natural laws in order to argue for a young earth. The speed of light in a vacuum is constant, therefore we can be confident, based on the unchanging natural laws that make it possible to do science in the first place, that there are stars that are billions of light years away from the earth. YEC rejects that and claims that light can speed up or slow down in a vacuum. And where does the Bible speak of the laws of science?

And finally, “All the historical sciences (or historical knowledge) are wrong, save one. They are all fictional stories but one…. All other forms of historical science are based on man’s fallible, imperfect guesses about the past by people who were not there. Therefore, they are arbitrary, next to God’s absolute standard” (35).

That’s right, without saying anything related to the actual debate topic, HH has deftly discarded the basic definition of science, substituted two fictitious categories of “science,” redefined one of those categories as nothing more than “knowledge based on religious belief,” and thus concludes that any “historical science” that isn’t based on the authority of God’s Word (i.e. the assumption that Genesis 1-11 is scientific) is a fiction.

The debate topic was, “Is young earth creationism a valid scientific model for studying origins?” and the answer that Ken Ham gave (which is re-affirmed in the book) is, “Evolution is a fiction; Bill Nye is dishonest; our education system promotes atheism.”

Smoke and funny mirrors….it can get comical and frightening at the same time.

1 Comment

  1. “So why did Ken Ham open with this completely irrelevant fact?”. Probably in part because of Nye comments a year or two earlier which led to Ham asking for a public debate: (2.5 minute video; note the closing remarks)

    As you imply, Nye asked during his counter rebuttal: “I encourage you to explain to us why we should accept your word for it. That natural law changed 4000 years ago. Completely, and there is no record of it.”

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