Last night, the infamous Bill Nye the Science Guy bumped heads with the President of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham. The debate centered around creation versus evolution, sold 800 tickets in minutes and was live streamed by millions of people. Many people have denounced Bill Nye’s participation in the debate on the grounds that sharing a platform with a creationist gives the false impression that doubt regarding the fact of evolution exists within the scientific community. In short, debating a creationist is equivalent to tasting a forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden by scientists. Yet there are a variety of reasons why Bill Nye’s participation in the debate wasn’t completely fruitless.
Bill Nye found himself in the belly of the beast at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. This being the case, Nye was preaching to everyone but the choir. Nye agreed to participate in the debate on the grounds that it would draw attention to the importance of science education in the United States. Be that as it may, Nye’s presence at the creation museum had another useful function—namely, serving as a representative for legitimate science to an audience whose understanding of science, let a lone evolution, is skewed by the creation museum.
The Creation Museum skewed perception of science began to be peddled at the very beginning of the debate. In particular, Mr. Ham noted that there is a distinction between observational science versus historical science. Observational science consists in observing a phenomena and proposing a testable hypothesis that explains the observed phenomena. Historical science consist in observing a phenomena and proposing a testable hypothesis that best explains how the phenomena came to be.
The problem is that, as Bill Nye correctly noted, observational science and historical science are one in the same thing. In particular, everything in the observable universe is historical science. Light travels at a finite speed. Therefore everything that is observed, whether it be a distant galaxy or the words on this page, is a reflection of the past rather than the present. In addition, just because something is not directly observable does not mean it is not scientific. For example, scientists know it takes Pluto roughly 248 years to orbit the sun. Yet scientists have never actually observed Pluto orbit the sun. Rather, this is an extrapolation of Newtonian physics, which is just as widely accepted by scientists as evolution.
In addition, Ham unabashedly claimed that his scientific worldview starts from the Bible. In other words, rather than reaching the conclusion that the world is only six-thousand years old through scientific evidence, Ham starts with the assumption that the world is six-thousand years old and seeks evidence which agrees with his assumption. This is in complete contrast to how the nature of science actually operates. Rather than starting with absolutes, scientists begin with ignorance and slowly chisel towards truth by weeding out false hypotheses. As Mr. Nye noted, “ It means that Mr. Ham’s word is to be more respected than what you can observe in nature, what you can find in your backyard in Kentucky.”
Mr. Nye set out to illustrate that Hams’ creation model is not viable. However, this was made most apparent not by Nye, but by Ham himself during the Q and A session. For any scientific theory to be viable, it must meet the criteria of being easily falsifiable. Yet when asked what would change his mind about creationism, Ham’s response was that nothing could change his mind because God has made his existence known to him. In other words, no amount of scientific evidence, in Mr. Ham’s eyes, could falsify creationism, thus making creationism unscientific.
Many skeptics and religious folks have criticized Nye for participating in the creation debate, since it stirs a controversy where none need be. Whether or not the controversy is necessary, it certainly exists within the minds of Ham and his flock, regardless of Nye’s participation in the debate. At least with Nye’s participation, creationists are exposed to the light of a foreign worldview and allows the seeds of doubt to be planted.
Editorial By Nathan Cranford