Tomorrow, the creationism/evolution debate will be settled, once and for all

Finally, somebody's going to be doing some science around here.

If you live in the Seattle area — and are therefore feeling a little groggy this morning and in need of helpful reminders — then consider yourself remember-fied: The BIG DEBATE is tomorrow.

That’s right: It’s Bill Nye the Science Guy vs. Ken Ham the Anti-Science Man (just had to get that in one last time), as you’ve never seen them before, facing off in the debate to end all debates that will decide — once and for all — whether the ultimate truth of the universe is found in young-earth creationism or evolution.

Psych. Just kidding.

In all honesty, I think this debate will be as effective as my attempts to convince my dog, Sarah, to stop digging in the rose garden. The fact is, no matter what I say, Sarah is going to do what she’s gonna do.

In the same way, Bill Nye and Ken Ham do not speak the same language. Nye represents a perspective where the evidence is king and facts don’t lie; Ham represents a perspective where the evidence can go suck an egg (that was the polite alternative to what I wanted to say) if it contradicts his literal interpretation of scripture in any way. The Nye fans will come out thinking they “won” because Ham’s scientific arguments will be preposterous and he’ll have no evidence to back them up, while the Hamites will come out thinking they “won” because Nye is an agnostic who doesn’t believe the Bible is the word of God. And the earth will keep right on spinning.

I’ve been against this debate from the start, and not just because it’s going to be an exercise in futility and face-palming. It’s also because a debate like this — by its very existence — implies that the given topic is worthy of debate, and young-earth creationism just isn’t. The ancient age of the earth and the common ancestry of life has been settled science for decades, and what Hammy represents is a group of people who have simply refused to accept defeat for reasons that have nothing to with the evidence. In terms of what we know, unequivocally, about our planet, publicly taking up the topic of young-earthism makes precisely as much sense debating whether the earth is flat or whether thunder means the sky is angry with us.

This kind of thing also gives people the entirely wrong idea about how science is done. You can host debates on philosophy and public policy — things that are speculative to a certain degree and over which reasonable folks can be expected to disagree. But science is not conducted on the basis of opinion, conscience or personal preference. What counts in the answering of a scientific question is the evidence and the most straightforward interpretation of that evidence. This debate sends the opposite message: that a question as complex as the evolution of life really can be fully addressed in a 30-minute dialogue followed by a Q and A session.

And finally, as a Bible-believing Christian who accepts evolution, I dislike these spectacles because they inherently pit faith against science — a point that has been made far more eloquently by BioLogos and others.

But I digress. Like my dog’s excavational pursuits, this thing is going to happen, and it makes no difference that I — and apparently, most of humanity — think it’s a horrendous idea.

So, in lieu of more whining and moaning, I bring you a few housekeeping items. In preparation for this debate, Answers in Genesis has evidently conquered large new swaths of Internet domain. They now have an entire website dedicated to the debate, where you can find answers to frequently asked questions (though “Why the heck are you doing this?” is conspicuously absent) and even a background narrative, which consists mostly of YouTube videos, but also includes a couple of new details, like that AiG agreed to cover Bill Nye’s expenses in exchange for his participation. Personally, I hope he flies first class and rents a limo.

The debate starts at 7 p.m. EST Tuesday and will be live-streamed for free here. It’s also supposed to be hosted by Google+ Hangouts, presumably, here. AiG says the (hopefully, unedited) live stream will be available on YouTube “for a period of time after the debate,” though it doesn’t say exactly when it will be uploaded.

The group has even set up a separate live stream with sign-language interpreters, so those hard of hearing will still be able to receive K-Ham’s glorious misrepresentation of the gospel message.

On our end, yes, I plan to watch the thing — if I can stomach it. Along with many others, I’ll be tweeting our thoughts using the hashtag #HamonNye. Be sure to follow us @godofevolution if you’re a Tweeter.

I’ll post a brief reaction to the debate that evening or the morning after, where I hope and expect you will all chime in with your own thoughts and perspectives in the comments section. You may also post them on this article, below, if my reaction seems to be lagging.

Thanks for reading!

Tyler Francke

  • Hopefully, AiG will hire the same sign language interpreter the Government of the Republic of South Africa hired to sign for President Mandela’s memorial service.

    • Besides, there’s that adage: “Garbage in, garbage out.” It’d be a fitting hire.

      • Agreed. Ken Ham’s arguments will make no sense, regardless of whether a competent sign-language interpreter translates for him or not.

  • Dan Carroll

    God is Facts.

    I apologize in advance for the rant.

    I must say that I am shocked about how this “debate” has evolved into a dichotomous choice between faith and science. Maybe it was always that way, but it was not presented that way to me when I was in college at the University of Florida. There was certainly debate among Christian students, including “conservative” and “evangelical” students, but students from among many different backgrounds came to believe that the Bible was never intended to be a science textbook. Irreparable damage would have been done to the body of
    Christ if we were told that we had to tow the party line on interpreting Genesis 1. Was I living in a bubble or has the climate changed since 1988?

    I will pause to recognize that for the vast majority of Christians, this debate has no practical significance – their lives would not change appreciably regardless where they fall on the evolution versus young-earth creation spectrum – and they are only marginally interested in the outcome of the debate. Therefore, they will take the “easy” position and defer to their trusted leadership. Therefore, I do not direct my ire at those who for practical reasons choose to remain passive.

    Where this has practical significance is where it is presented to young people as a false “choice” between faith and scientific facts/evidence. This is a big problem. The God we worship is Truth. Which is another way of saying He is Facts. If we refuse to believe the facts, then we are refusing to believe God and are calling Him a liar. Do rocks lie? Do electrons lie? Does the DNA deceive us? It is as if the Word of God cannot speak through evolution, despite the overwhelming evidence that that is exactly what He did.

    In the great traditions of the faith, God reveals Himself in a multitude of ways. He reveals Himself through the testimony of scripture, an ancient document of exceedingly humble and sometimes mysterious origins. He reveals Himself through the testimony of nature – nature itself speak boldly of the Almighty, and should be more than enough to know Him. He reveals Himself through the testimony of the saints – we stand on the shoulders of giants (and not just Darby, Scofield and Ryrie). Yet, without the testimony of His Spirit, we
    are lost in the darkness and misinterpret and misrepresent all of His revelation.

    We do not believe in a God that is reduced only to doctrines that make us comfortable and are easy for us mere mortals to understand. We certainly do not worship a God who does not know the meaning of allegory and does not understand how to make use of symbolism to convey eternal truths. Literal descriptive words fall woefully short in communicating the divine. Language is a human invention, by definition symbolic, and therefore the use of symbolism and allegory are often the only means by which He reveals Himself to us.

    We must be lovers of Truth, not fearful and hiding from Him lest our apple cart be overturned. Only when we embrace the Facts will we allow He who is Facts to shine through us.

    We cannot cede this territory to the atheists. Only a fool can believe that the omnipotent and omniscient God is incompatible with evolution. We should not give them the ammunition to make God out to be a liar.

    Of course, people like Ken Ham are not presenting the facts because the facts don’t conform to his narrative, and are therefore he is deceiving many. But Ham is just a reflection of ourselves. God is not the liar. We are.

    • Hey Dan, no need to apologize for the “rant.” We’re quite permissive of such outbursts around here, especially since we so keenly feel the same frustration and harbor the same concerns. Thanks for your thoughts and your willingness to share them.

    • Atheists don’t need ammunition from creationists to make god out to be a liar. The Bible does that. I believe the Skeptics Annotated Bible has a section on contradictions – it’s extensive.

      By the way, capitalising the T of Truth doesn’t make it true. It is true that humans have a need for narrative as a means of giving the illusion of control. This is why man created god.

    • Dan Carroll
      I’m sure Skeptics Annotated Bible continues certain atheists’ long running tradition of accounting for the variety and nuance of interpretation, factoring in cultural and historical context when reading the Bible, and generally avoiding painting a billion plus people with a single brush stroke. They always understand that the literal interpretation of the Bible is a modern American dispensationalist invention, and that most Christian traditions have a much richer and deeper approach, and they have taken the time to actually understand us in our diversity. Atheists, of course, are never the mirror image of their fundamentalist counterparts, especially when it comes to their understanding of religion.
      For that matter, a public atheist or agnostic would never choose a cultural caricature for his opponent in a faux debate.

      • Dan Carroll

        I’ll confess, I’m in an ornery mood these days in these issues. Maybe my Juniper allergies have something to do with it. Many atheists and agnostics are good and reasonable people. However, I’m not sure what the Skeptics Annotated Bible can teach me about contradictions (alleged or otherwise) that I don’t already know, nor do I believe that such contradictions are relevant to the debate of the existence of God or the truthfulness of Christianity. My understanding of Biblical inspiration (which is consistent with most Christian traditions, except dispensationalism and other literal approaches) predicts such contradictions, as the Bible emerges from multiple historical and cultural contexts. The Bible is a story of the infinite touching the finite, and thus contradictions are inevitable.

        • So if the Bible is contradictory, that’s inevitable, and if it isn’t, that’s OK too?

          Exactly by what criteria can it, and Christianity, be judged by then? Couldn’t it just be an interesting, rare collection of myths and stories from which we learn from our primitive ancestors?

          I confess I find your last sentence beyond me. Contradictions arise in many scenarios not involving the infinite, whatever that may be, so is it not more plausible these common sources of errancy are at fault?

        • Dan Carroll

          In reading this and other posts, you appear to suffer from two kinds of fallacies: oversimplified and naïve beliefs about the positive claims made by religion, and your own positive and normative claims about the nature of reality (and science) that are not justified by the evidence and are themselves naïve, in my opinion.
          For instance, in this specific discussion, the idea that contradictions (most likely using literalist approaches to text) within a collection of writing spanning centuries somehow “disproves” that text fits the first fallacy. Your uses of the term “errancy” and “myths and stories”, likely defined simplistically and therefore incorrectly, betrays your prejudice. The second fallacy is an epistemological question that is beyond the scope of the comments section of a blog devoted to evolution. But, the presumption of disbelief that you refer to is epistemologically flawed, to put it mildly.

        • Dan Carroll

          Given that I have a day job and that I doubt that there are more than 3 people reading the comments to this post (and one who is reading it only because he has to), I’ll refrain from getting into a debate over the existence of God. Generally, I think debates are unproductive because our competitive nature takes over and positions get solidified rather than evaluated. I rarely encounter an atheist, Christian, or otherwise who is willing to acknowledge much less question their own a priori assumptions. Further, “winning” a debate is irrelevant to the truth of the positions taken. But I recognize that some of my statements may be confusing to some without context, so I’ll try to be clarify and be concise.
          Generally, I reject the literal hermeneutic of dispensationalism and of some non-dispensationalists. I think it is largely irrational and unorthodox, but also inconsistent with biblical teaching. However, it is highly consistent with American cultural perspectives. On the doctrine of inerrancy, while it may be useful in an institutional sense (it is concise and easy to communicate), it is also deeply flawed for many of the same reasons. Both, IMHO, do not represent high views of God, His revelation, nor of scripture itself. Instead, I take a Chalcedonian, or incarnational, view. Btw, a proper understanding of the incarnation (a doctrine largely overlooked by believers and misunderstood by non-believers) will get one a long way towards an understanding of the concept of revelation and the essence of Christian thinking.
          On the issue of contradictions, what I was trying to get at, probably unsuccessfully, was that one’s definition of what constitutes a “contradiction” is heavily dependent on one’s interpretive method. The literal hermeneutic produces many contradictions, most irreconcilable, in my opinion. An incarnational view suggests that the Bible represents many different perspectives, cultural paradigms, and contexts, where reconciliation of the literal meaning is not relevant because the underlying lessons are what is essential, when understood from the perspective of both the writers as well as the readers. So, Genesis 1-3 does not need to be literal in order to be true; in fact it is much more “true” and meaningful when read allegorically. Therefore, the alleged contradictions between Gen 1 and Gen 2 (and within those chapters) go away, because they represent different allegories. In other cases, when attempting to describe the nature of God and His interaction with humanity, it is not possible convey that with the limited capacities of human language and experience, even symbolically. So the result is what is usually referred to as “paradox”, though the difference between paradox and contradiction is certainly a matter of perspective.
          My statements are not likely to convince an atheist audience, because the differences of opinion between atheists and Christians are far more basic and epistemological. However, pointing out “contradictions” is equally as irrelevant to me.

  • Jason

    When schools are teaching this stuff in science classes, isn’t that a good reason to have the debate? I think Nye is not doing to convince Ham of anything, but he’s doing it for the sake of science education.

    • I don’t think so. A debate like this isn’t the proper forum for determining school curricula any more than it is the proper way to test scientific truth. That’s what we have courts for, and our highest courts have repeatedly ruled that the teaching of “this stuff” in science classes is unconstitutional.

      The question, Jason, is not, “Is it a problem that 40 percent of Americans reject well-evidenced science in favor of an unevidenced creation myth?” That is most definitely a problem. But the real question here is, “Will this debate do any good in solving that problem?” And I just don’t think it will.

  • Nice to see you agree with Richard Dawkins on something, Tyler! 😉

    “I dislike these spectacles because they inherently pit faith against science”

    Unfortunately, until you take up deism, your faith will be pitted against science. It makes claims which science says are impossible. I met Sanal Edamaruku just over a year ago – he is in exile from India because he embarrassed the Roman Catholic Church by debunking one such miracle. Not only does religion cause belief in the unbelievable, it punishes those with the gall to question it.

    BioLogos is hardly credible, peddling teleology like this in the guise of being somehow compatible with science and thus the scientific method:

    Creationism is a sliding scale – at one end, you have Ken Ham, making laughable claims in the face of evidence. As you move along the scale, you get Old Earth creationists, Biologos, and the main churches, and yes, you Tyler. All of them do the same thing – insert god at a certain point. They differ over what point that is. As an atheist , I sit back and watch the arguments over exactly how to employ the God of the gaps fallacy. To me it’s like watching Trekkers arguing over the finer points of Klingon culture.

    Then we have the vast majority of empiricists, most of the scientists and nearly all the elite scientists, who as Laplace put it, have found no need of that hypothesis. If you can’t show it, you don’t know it.

    • I believe the existence of God is a spiritual question, not a scientific one, so I don’t think my views would inhibit the pursuit of empirical science in the slightest. I have no fear of science ever “disproving” a matter to which it cannot speak.

      • That’s a perfect argument…for deism.

        But monotheism isn’t deism. It requires belief in many events which we know can’t happen without violations of physical laws which have never been found to be inviolable in such circumstances.

        Just as science cannot speak of spirituality, religion cannot speak of physical events which are, in practice, not possible, and for which there is no evidence.

        • It’s true that theism requires the belief in a God who might interact with us and our world, who might even perform miraculous acts. However, I don’t think my belief that miracles are possible invalidates all of science.

          Both deism and theism would propose a God who created the universe and, thus, in some way authored the natural laws that govern it. I would simply submit that God, existing outside the material world and being the author of it, need not be bound by the laws of this universe any more than we would be bound by the rules that we might make and impose upon our children.

          The laws of nature govern all that exists in nature. If God does not, then he would not necessarily be governed by them.

          • Science is more than a body of evidence – it is a method. This method can be used to examine these theistic interferences – I recall Aron Ra describing how if the hand of god dipped into the real world, it would come back up dripping in physics. Of course, god could then fiddle with the results to hide the fact, much as the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s noodly appendages tamper with carbon dating equipment, but why bother when the same deity seems keen to be known, and worshipped?

            So we come to the null hypothesis, a central plank of the scientific method – I.e. miracles, the reason for belief in monotheistic gods, are made up. This hypothesis perfectly explains every miracle claimed by every religion ever. It is the most parsimonious reason, and the evidence fits. It is incumbent on the claimant, in this case monotheism, to disprove this.