Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bill Nye vs Ken Ham Debate Retrospective

I did not go into the debate last night with high hopes. In fact I said publicly that Ken Ham had a very good chance of winning the debate. Ever since the debate has been announced I was one of those naysayers who argued scientists shouldn't debate creationists because it gives them a platform they don't deserve.

Bill Nye may have just changed my mind last night.

I had never seen Nye participate in a formal debate before, but he surprised me with how well he managed it. Perhaps my favorite moment of the night was the start of Bill Nye's 30 minute presentation, where he said
"Thank you very much, and Mr. Ham, I learned something. Thank you. But lets take it back around to the question at hand. Does Ken Ham's creation model hold up? Is it viable?"

 This was the perfect response to Ken Ham's presentation, which can be summed up as:

  • There is a difference between historical science and observational science
  • Here are a few scientists and engineers who are young earth creationists that do good science
  • Secularism/atheism are "hijacking" the words science and evolution in order to indoctrinate children with their naturalistic atheistic evolutionist religion.
  • This chart showing Ham's version of evolution (the "orchard" of life):
Note that dinosaurs apparently survived the flood event (presumably on Noah's ark)
Of Ham's 30 minutes, perhaps 5 of them were dedicated to showing what the creationist view was. The rest was devoted to saying creationists can still do science and be a creationist.

Bill then went on to provide a Gish Gallop of evidence, including some simple math demonstrating the absurdity of the flood account. For example, if there were only 7,000 or so "kinds" on the ark and they branched out into all the 16,000,000 or more extant species today (not to mention all the extinct species) in 4000 years, we would be expecting around 11 new species per day on average. 

Ham later suggested Nye was wrong and there were only about 1,000-2,000 kinds on the ark, which Bill pointed out only makes the problem worse. This sort of belief in hyper-evolution is rather remarkable.

Now let me give a few points of critique on Bill Nye's performance.

First, Nye made the mistake of letting Ham have all of the film rights to the event. Nye was paid expenses plus a speaking fee (which was undisclosed, but his usual fee is $50,000-$75,000). That's a decent sum if that's what he got, but Ken Ham is going to be selling DVDs of the debate, reusing clips out of context, and making money off of Nye's celebrity for as long as his creation museum stays afloat, perhaps longer. Fortunately, the live stream was available on youtube unedited so a full unedited version of the event does exist on the internet for comparison and analysis.

Second, and more importantly Bill Nye showed his inexperience with debating creationists when couldn't efficiently rebut a few very common creationist claims. If Nye only had the Index of Creationist Claims open during the debate he could have found the claim's details in seconds.

Ham made several claims straight out of the index:

Claim CD011.5A piece of wood was fossilized in the Hawkesbury Sandstone, Australia, which most geologists date to the middle Triassic, about 225 to 230 million years ago. The wood was dated by Geochron (a commercial dating laboratory) using the carbon-14 method. Geochron determined its age to be only 33,720 +/- 430 years before present. Contamination by recent microbes or fungi cannot explain the discrepant age.

The general rebutal to this claim is that Carbon-14 dating isn't effective past 50,000 years so it makes no sense to try and date a sample in that layer and expect accurate results. Talkorigins goes into more detail about potential sources of contamination, the question of whether or not the sample was actually wood, and the fact that the creationists told Geochron nothing about the sample that would have led them to test the sample appropriately.

Unfortunately, Nye spit-balled that the layer moved over the trees, which is not true. Ham will capitalize on debunking that hypothesis, I guarantee it.

Claim CD013.1The conventional K-Ar dating method was applied to the 1986 dacite flow from the new lava dome at Mount St. Helens, Washington. The whole-rock age was 0.35 +/- 0.05 million years (Mya). Ages for component minerals varied from 0.34 +/- 0.06 Mya to 2.8 +/- 0.6 Mya. These ages show that the K-Ar method is invalid.

Once again, we have a sample that is being tested outside the accuracy range of the method. Creationists routinely use dating methods incorrectly to show they are inaccurate. All they have shown is that dating methods don't work when they aren't supposed to.

Claim CD410Ice cores are claimed to have as many as 135,000 annual layers. Yet airplanes of the Lost Squadron were buried under 263 feet of ice in forty-eight years, or about 5.5 feet per year. This contradicts the presumption that the wafer-thin layers in the ice cores could be annual layers.

Greenland has a snowfall rate of about 2m per year. More than enough to account for the rate of cover. Also it's warmer than the arctic so it can have multiple thaw/freeze cycles a year.

He made a lot more claims on the index, but these were three that Nye specifically addressed and clearly wasn't familiar with.

Overall, I think Nye took a good strategy: don't try to go into Ham's version of "science" and debunk his claims there, marginalize his "science" as unique and always speak of science "on the outside." It feeds right into Ham's paradigm of secular censorship and his followers will see that, but I think it will have a strong impact on the middle of the road creationists out there. Nye did a good job of demonstrating how outside the mainstream of both science and religion Ken Ham really is, and that alone may make the debate worth it.

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