Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I'll have a Ham on Nye, hold the bible

I sat through the entire Bill Nye-vs.-Ken Ham debate, and my thoughts afterward were pretty much the same as they were before the debate. I wasn't sure if this debate would be a good thing because the moment you put someone of respectability on stage with someone who is less than credible, you instantly lend credence to this individual.

Why? Debates are meant to pit two ideas with legitimate equal ideas and  viewpoints, and Ham's worldview is anything but legit. There was a part of me that felt if Nye could reach some people who might have been on the fence that it would be worth it. Once the debate ended, my feelings remained the same, that Nye may have reached some people, but Ham got the exposure he craved with a respected member of science, plus he raised money for his horrendous museum.

So, what did I think of their performances? I think Nye was in a precarious position because this was his first debate and it came against a polished debater, and he couldn't be combative. If this were Christopher Hitchens, he would've used his rapier wit, instantaneous recall and unrivaled vocabulary to destroy Ham, but he wouldn't have used any restraint and likely would have lost the mostly pro-Ham audience, who would chalk Hitchens up to being a strident, militant, arrogant atheist.

To Nye's credit, he remained calm and used the platform the educate. I truly believe he agreed to this debate so he could have unedited uncensored access to Ham's followers, and by remaining calm and mostly respectful, people listened to him rather than dismissed him. He tried to make a lot of jokes (his M.O.), but I felt this was a mistake. It's OK, and actually encouraged, to tell jokes when you are on your home turf or at the very least in a neutral location, but when you are on someone else's turf, your jokes are mostly going to draw crickets and give the illusion that you are losing. He only had a finite amount of time with these people and should've used every minute conveying his arguments.

I do wish Nye would have held Ham accountable for some of his fallacies and used better points to refute the Ark and bible accounts. When Ham continually used the bible as his "proof" and pandered to his home crowd with sly condescending jokes, Nye should have made it clear that the bible is ONLY a claim, just like every other religious text, and is not proof of anything. He could have brought up the Flood of Gilgamesh, the single window out of which all of the tons of waste from the animals would have to be discarded or the fact that the mix of freshwater and saltwater would have combined to kill all of the water animals.

As for the fallacies, here is where I think Nye needed the most help because an experienced debater would have jumped on Ham's mistakes. Ham opened the debate by changing the debate topic and then proceeded to use this angle to support his point. This is known as a strawman argument.

Instead of addressing the issue, which was creationism as a viable option to origins, he announced that Nye and the outside community say creationists can't be scientists. This has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. He then ran video clips of a handful of scientists who rattled off their resumes to show how legitimate they are in the scientific community. They then stated they were creationists, etc.

This is an appeal to authority. Ham introduces these official looking and sounding scientists to an impressionable audience to influence them into thinking, "Hey, these guys are scientists, so if they say creationism is correct then it must be." But, none of these scientists have ever had one paper published regarding creationism. They may be experts in astronomy or MRI invention, but that doesn't make them an authority on Genesis or creationism. But it didn't stop Ham from carting out their names later in the debate to "shore up" and "legitimize" his defense.

Ham's other strawman came when he spun the word "science" to mean what he wanted it to mean rather than what it is. He said the science we witness today is observational science, whereas things we weren't around for would have to be explained through historical science, and that is not reliable because we weren't there. This was Ham's gin card, because whatever Nye would use as scientific evidence to determine such things as the age of the earth or lack of proof for a global flood, Ham would roll out his boilerplate excuse that we weren't there so your method isn't accurate.

There are numerous scientific ways to combat this way of thinking, but in this case I would have made it simple for the audience and said, "Were you there when the bible was written? Were you there when god created the heavens and the earth and Adam and Eve?" So why do you get to use events you weren't present for as your proof, but science doesn't get to use its proven radiometric dating methods for events we weren't present for?

I then would have said if you don't trust radiometric or carbon dating, then what about China, which has a continuous history that dates more than 5,000 years with actual historical records? Your 4,000-year-old flood story completely disregards an entire country, race, culture and heritage. Where were these Chinese people when this flood came? It's a much easier tangible example to keep the simple audience thinking rationally.

Ham was very good at dodging questions, such as, "Do you believe everything in the bible as literal truth?" He spent the first minute of his allotted two-minute response on defining "literal," then spouted off the standard, "Some parts are meant to be poetry and some are history," etc. While Nye admittedly was a little harsher with his one-minute rebuttal here, he could have really gone in for the kill, but he didn't. His inexperience as a debater showed in this segment, and Ham used it to his advantage, knowing they never really had to engage each other.

This was the major problem with the format. It was almost as if these guys didn't need to be in the same room. A good debate has give and take, it allows debaters to hold each other accountable and lends itself to actual discussion and the fleshing out of points. This format started with five-minute opening statements, followed by 30-minute speeches, then a pair of five-minute rebuttals and counters, and wrapped up with a Q&A from the audience. Here is where I felt the format hurt Nye, because the questions were posed, they got two minutes to answer and the opponent got one minute to answer the same question. Had the format allowed for the opponent to rebut rather than answer, we might have seen some fireworks.

Overall, I was glad I watched it. Nye did a good job and Ham proved he was a nutjob.

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