Is it even possible to debate a young-earth creationist?

Bill Nye is set to debate a young-earth creationist Feb. 4. You know, presuming such a thing is even possible.

One of our commenters thinks not.

In response to my thoughts yesterday on Bill Nye the Science Guy’s probably misguided debate with young-earth creationist Ken Ham, an anonymous reader said the following (emphasis mine):

I am not “too afraid” to play a tree, to sing the color blue, or to write a stone. I am not “making an excuse” when I explain my reasons for doing so. A tree is not a collection of rules for entertaining gaming. The color blue is not a selections of lyrics put to melody. A stone is not a sequence of letters and symbols.

Similarly, a creationist is not a critical thinker seeking to evaluate the merit and accuracy of his own position, and this means you cannot debate one. Fear has nothing to do with it. Not all verbs can be performed on all subjects.

And Bill Nye isn’t going to “debate” Ken Ham, either. He’s going to explain how Ken Ham is wrong at (not to) Ken Ham, while Ken Ham repeats the same script of logical fallacies and lies that have already been exposed, verbatim, that he always does.

I think it’s a fair point, and one that very much needs to be made, as the great K-Ham begins to crow about how terrified those of us who accept evolution are of him. A debate implies an open exchange of ideas on a given topic on the basis of the evidence available and the arguments presented.

Defending one’s position is one thing, but if a party is completely shut off to any and all evidence that may be offered, well, then I daresay this commenter is right: You can no more “debate” that person than you could fricassee a cemetery.

What do you think?

One quick note: I don’t at all think it’s pointless to discuss matters of evolution, the age of the earth and the proper interpretation of Genesis with all creationists. If I did, I doubt I’d be running a website like this one.

I think there are plenty of creationists — young-earthers, even — in the general public who have been given from trusted sources (like a pastor, or a “respected ministry” like K-Ham’s Answers in Genesis) a severely skewed and incomplete picture of the scientific evidence. Sharing the truth with such individuals in a gracious way can indeed be effective and valuable, as I myself have found.

It is only with those who are quite familiar with the evidence but utterly refuse to accept it that I feel one is flirting with futility.

Tyler Francke

  • Dan

    Debates generally aren’t for the benefit of the interlocutors, they are for the people in the audience. In a good debate, both sides of the argument will be presented intelligently and articulately. Both sides will be given equal time with the opportunity to rebut the other person’s arguments. When both debators are knowledgeable and articulate, a debate can be an excellent exchange of ideas.

    My fear, however, is that this will not be a good debate. Creationists notoriously pick and choose examples out of context to support their arguments and appeal to skepticism (when it suits) to undermine mainstram scientific ideas. The added problem here is that Ham will no doubtedly appeal to scripture to support his view. Nye had better be able to thoughtfully respond to this without alienating his majority fundamentalist audience. Nye would also do well to thoroughly research Ham before this debate. Ham is no fool, despite the portrait some might paint. The point is that Ham is simply wrong, the evidence is not on his side, his interpretation of Genesis is simplistic and fails to take account of biblical data. Nye needs to show this in a respectful manner or there really is no point to this debate at all, I will be holding him to a higher level of accountability than I will Ham.

    • Good points on all counts. Thanks, Dan. I agree that K-Ham is no fool. I think he’s incredibly misguided, and deceptive, but in his writings he plays his fundamentalist audiences like a virtuoso musician. The man definitely knows what he’s doing. And, seeing that this debate will take place on his “home court,” I absolutely agree with you: The Science Guy better do his research and come prepared.

    • ashleyhr

      If the evidence was on the creationists’ side they probably would not be so deceitful.

      • No doubt, but as a Christian, it pains me to see “lying for Jesus” elevated to such an art form.

    • AugustineThomas

      “Creationists notoriously pick and choose examples out of context to support their arguments and appeal to skepticism..”

      Just like secularist fundamentalists pick and choose examples in order to pretend that pseudo-science is real science.

  • A public debate is not an inquiry into truth. Rather, it is a dramatic performance.

    I guess I’ll wait and see how this one turns out.

    • No doubt this event is all about the spectacle, not about truth.

  • PurpleAardvaark

    Worse is that Ham charges admission so it ends up as a fundraiser.

    • I think “fundraiser” is a bit of a misnomer. I know Answers in Genesis is technically a non-profit, but then again, all of their millions of dollars in donations and revenue go toward covering their operations and their 300-plus employees, just like any ordinary for-profit entity.

      • PurpleAardvaark

        Don’t pick nits. You sound like Ham. If it raises funds, it’s a fundraiser.

        • OK, OK, fine, I concede 😛

          • AugustineThomas

            This is a great example of how you fundamentalists bully each other into the same beliefs. This is why none of you will truly be skeptical of any belief you’ve excepted as true.
            You’re constantly admitting that your own claims of the age of the earth are hundreds of millions or even billions of years off, but it’s not possible the earth could be billions of years younger. Your guys’ beliefs are the definition of irrationality.

  • Yousuckass

    You’re pathetic.

  • Adão Lincon

    I am brazilian, and here we have the same problems with young-earth creationists. In the last year, we had a great pseudoscientific debate between a famous brazilian pastor and a geneticist about the possibility of a genetic contribution for homosexuality behavior. The lies and fallacies from pastor were the same for young-earth creationism – there are not irrefutable prove, it is only a theory, and so on…plus many screams and disrespect of that pastor with the geneticist! But I recommend to all readers of this website the book “The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument (1831)” written by German philosopher Artur Schopenhauer. After the reading, you will realize that who wants to win a debate (at any cost) does not care with reason or respect: the sucess is the goal. Unfortunately, some christian believes that ‘the end justifies the means’. Unfortunately…

    • Hi, Adão! Thanks for reading! As you say, unfortunately, the behavior you describe is not at all uncommon in these types of forums. You see, the creationists simply play by a different set of rules. They come with all of these incredibly specific “pieces of evidence” that they bring before the audience. Most of them turn out to be misrepresented, exaggerrated or even completely made up, but there are simply too many for the opponent to know the research behind all of them or respond to all of them. All the audience sees is that the scientific representative “wasn’t able to answer” the creationist, and they think the creationist “won.”

      Here’s how it works.

      • AugustineThomas

        You’re a hypocrite and a fool:

        Dr. Stephen Moorbath, an
        evolutionist associated with the University of Oxford, wrote:

        No terrestrial rocks closely
        approaching an age of 4.6 billion years have yet been discovered. The evidence
        for the age of the earth is circumstantial, being based upon . . . indirect
        reasoning (1977, 92).

        Dr. John Eddy, an
        evolutionary astronomer, stated: “There is no evidence based solely on solar
        observations that the Sun is 4.5 to 5 billion years old.” He continued:

        I suspect that the Sun is 4.5
        billion years old. However, given some new and unexpected results to the
        contrary, and some time for frantic recalculation and theoretical readjustment,
        I suspect that we could live with Bishop Ussher’s value for the age of the
        Earth and Sun [4004 B.C.]. I don’t think we have much in the way of
        observational evidence in astronomy to conflict with that (1978, 18).

        Evolutionist Frederic B.
        Jueneman declares:

        The age of our globe is presently
        thought to be some 4.5 billion years, based on radiodecay rates of uranium and
        thorium. Such “confirmation” may be short-lived, as nature is not to be
        discovered quite so easily. There has been in recent years the horrible realization
        that radiodecay rates are not as constant as previously thought, nor are they
        immune to environmental influences.

        And this could mean that the
        atomic clocks are reset during some global disaster, and events which brought
        the Mesozoic [age] to a close may not be 65 million years ago, but rather,
        within the age and memory of man (1982, 21).

        he say: “Global disaster”? What about the Genesis Flood?

        Evolutionary Dating Methods Are Unreliable

        Numerous evidences
        reveal that evolutionary dating methods are not reliable. The following
        examples demonstrate the folly of giving unqualified endorsement to the various
        “clocks” that are reputed to require an ancient earth.

        · Studies on submarine basaltic rocks from Hawaii,
        known to have formed less than two hundred years ago, when dated by the
        potassium-argon method, yielded ages from 160 million to almost three billion
        years (Funkhouser and Naughton 1968, 4601).

        · The shells of living mollusks have been dated at
        up to 2,300 years old (Keith and Anderson 1963, 634).

        · Freshly-killed seals have been dated at up to
        1,300 years, and mummified seals, dead only about thirty years, have yielded
        dates as high as 4,600 years (Dort 1971, 210). In our book, Creation,
        Evolution and the Age of the Earth, we documented one case where muscle
        tissue from a mummified musk ox was dated at 24,000 years, while hair from the
        same carcass dated only 7,200 years! (Jackson, 1989a, 13).

        Dr. Thomas Barnes, professor emeritus of physics at the
        University of Texas, has done extensive research in the decay of the earth’s
        magnetic field. His findings indicate that the magnetic field was created only
        a few thousand years ago, and is decaying toward extinction (1981, 1-4).

        • Hey, thanks for illustrating exactly what I’m talking about. Fortunately, the above argument was leveled, not at a debate, but on the Internet, where — through some quick Googling — I can see the entirety of it (with the exception of the “You’re a hypocrite and a fool” part) was plagiarized from this creationist website. “AugustineThomas” didn’t even bother to take out the part where the original author plugged his 25-year-old “science” book.

  • AugustineThomas

    “.. creationist is not a critical thinker seeking to evaluate the merit and accuracy of his own position, and this means you cannot debate one.”

    Sounds exactly like an atheist or agnostic who believes every theory a scientist who shares the same bias comes up with!

  • AugustineThomas

    How Can All Those Scientists Be Wrong?
    The idea that evolution may be false is a difficult idea for many people to accept, particularly when a lot of well-educated, smart people, and well-respected organizations say it is true. How can it be that so many people are so wrong?
    Most people are taught in school, and from television shows and museums, that evolution explains our universe and all living things, and that evolution is a proven fact. They have not been told about the problems with the theory of evolution, nor have they been given the opportunity to study the concept of “special creation” as a legitimate alternative.
    Much of the confusion around the concept of “evolution” is that this word is commonly used to describe two very different things:
    Micro-evolution refers to the fact that living things have a built-in variability which allows them to adapt to small changes in the environment. When scientists say that evolution is a proven fact, they mean that micro-evolution is a proven fact. No creation scientist disputes this. Indeed, this ability to adapt would be expected as a part of “good design”. Textbook examples of “evolution in action” almost always describe this type of small change, such as the “peppered moth” story, or the development of resistance to pesticides. What is happening in these cases is not the creation of something new, but merely the emphasis of an already existing trait.
    Macro-evolution refers to the type of change which has created people from hydrogen gas. Evolutionists say that large scale change is possible because we have seen small scale change in action. However, the flaw in this reasoning is that living systems have limits beyond which no further change can take place.
    Some other considerations include:
    Much of day to day scientific activity (“practical science”) does not directly depend upon evolutionary assumptions, and so progress is made.
    Scientific fields of study have become very narrow. A scientist can believe that the evidence for evolution is found in “some other field”, even if it is not obviously seen in his own.
    Since scientists know that other scientists believe in evolution, they believe it also, even though they may not know much about the details themselves.
    Scientists want to have an answer for everything, and so the “best” theory is the accepted theory, regardless of its absolute merits.
    Non-naturalistic ideas (like special creation) are regarded as outside the scope of scientific study. Can we equate “what is true” only with “what can be seen and measured”? Is the physical dimension “all there is”? Many scientists have been taught to believe that religious and scientific beliefs are separate things which should be kept separate. However, many of the well-known scientists of the past (such as [Galileo, Mendel, Lemaitre, Kepler, Copernicus, Descartes], Louis Pasteur, Issac Newton, and Michael Faraday, among many others) operated with their religious and scientific ideas working together.

    • “AugustineThomas” has been blocked for general trollishness. According to his comment history, it appears he travels the Internet looking for any article critical of young-earth creationism or supportive of a Christian view of evolution, and copies and pastes the same babbling responses, most of them plagiarized entirely from creationist website, like this one. That’s not the kind of behavior I’m interested in hosting here at God of Evolution, so he’s gone, but I’ll leave up a couple of his posts because they’re illustrative of the kind of mindless trollishness that has made Christianity look like such an intellectual non-starter in our day and age.

  • I would be interested to see if someone took this debate out of the scientific realm to the theological realm. The idea being that say Mr. Theistic Evolutionist and Mr. Creationist got together to hash out the concept of evolution from a theological and biblical perspective. Because that’s the ultimate important thing here.

    Unfortunately, that will never happen, because the debate is couched as “Did Evolution happen”. It’s easier simply to deny evidence that appears to contradict your beliefs, because you don’t have to examine your beliefs and be faced with the possibility that they aren’t true.

    • I believe Karl Giberson, a theistic evolutionist, has debated some young-earthers, and I know Ken Miller has. I know Giberson has debated ID folks like Stephen Meyer, but I’m not sure about young-earthers. However, the debates I’ve seen in any of these cases all focused on — as you mention — “did evolution happen?” rather than “is evolution compatible with the Bible/Christianity?”

      I’m actually currently working on a novel that would contain a debate like this as one of its main plot points.

      • Nice. I still need to read your other novel, but I look forward to seeing this one.