By now, critics and supporters of evolution and creationism have all but certainly watched the proceedings or read the commentary of the recent Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” and Ken Ham debate that was streamed for free from Ham’s creation museum in Kentucky. This debate was entirely necessary, despite what its various detractors have to say, and it clearly represents why dialogue is so crucial to developing a scientifically literate society.
It should be noted that what is important has very little to do with the perception of who won. That is entirely at the reader’s or viewer’s discretion. What is important is understanding why this dialogue is necessary, regardless of which side is right.
However, it is important to acknowledge that this conversation should not be framed as two interpretations of science. Let it be made perfectly clear that creationism is not a scientific theory. Creationism instead is a philosophic, metaphysical, and religious outlook that searches for scientific verification. It can be argued scientifically, but as Ham rightly acknowledged, his basis is not peer reviewed journals, but rather a religious text.
It may be understood in another way. Evolution works from the bottom up; it assumes what is true today must have been, by and large, true in the past. It extrapolates that adaptation as seen on the micro may be interpreted as logical on the macro, and it works in tandem with what is already understood to be valid scientifically speaking. It starts with answering the question of human development before considering the development of matter and energy. Nye did make this distinction in the debate by acknowledging that before the Big Bang, scientists have no necessarily agreed upon explanation for how everything came to be.
In contrast, creationism works from the top down. It tackles the question of what brought energy, matter, and life into existence before looking at what evidence is present to us. Creationists ration that the best answers for life and the universe are fundamentally philosophic in nature, so they determine that there is intelligent design, and that the Bible outlines the best or most complete explanation of the designer. From there, creationists look for scientific justification to validate their theories. So creationism can be scientifically justified, but it is not a scientific theory. It can challenge contemporary science on a theoretical basis, but it is not science on its own, it is instead philosophy.
By Bill Nye agreeing to debate Ken Ham, it was demonstrated that further discourse is necessary for the scientific community to convince a wider audience that their theories are in fact valid. After all, if there was no debate, it would have continued to play into the notion that proponents of evolution are just afraid of valid criticisms.
In defense of mainstream science and evolution, Nye made an important case for the traditionally held wisdom that life on earth developed in an entirely natural and explainable way. His arguments were clear and concise, focusing not only on why this version of events is more logical, but also on why Ham’s theories are flawed. Nye did not shy away from the idea that there is a lot in his own theories that require further explanation and evidence, and he often used comparison and wit to deliver a refreshing defense of his ideas.
Many in the scientific community have critiqued the idea that this debate was at all necessary. Suggesting that debating with creationism only gives it credence was their usual line of reasoning. However, what is important to understand is that in America, the most recent polls suggest that a higher portion of the population agrees with creationism over evolution. Ignoring that fact will in no way convince others that evolution is a viable theory that is rooted in research and analysis.
On the flip side, Ham’s arguments were entirely necessary for creationists. By showing himself to be an intellectual man who is a part of a larger community of creationists and proponents of intelligent design, Ham demonstrated that his world view is not inherently invalid.
Essentially, what Ham attempted to articulate was that creationism is metaphysical in nature; that support of a creator as the Bible argues necessitates a world view that accepts God’s existence as a theory, and then looks for support of that theory.
Ham did indeed show support for his theories while pointing to some flaws in contemporary evolution. It is important to note that if there were no flaws in the evolutionary theory, it would no longer be presented as a theory and instead would be considered a fact. Ham argued that Nye’s version of events requires a similar element of belief that creationism requires; both are not infallibly true, though both are valid.
What served to benefit Ham was that his theories were put in front of the world to see. Of course they are not perfect and they are not without legitimate criticisms, but they do indeed represent a system of belief and logic that does require consideration. Whereas the scientific community often works from the starting point that evolution is true and any sort of creation-based or intelligent design model is wrong from its inception, Ham argued that such contemporary reasoning deserves legitimate scrutiny.
Whether or not Bill Nye or Ken Ham were right in their arguments is to a large degree subjective, which is why this debate was so necessary. There are plenty of reasons to critique both schools of thought, and there is ample scientific and logical support for both. In understanding that, one might be hopeful that through continued intelligent discussion, a more clear picture of what we are and where we came from might be deduced.
Editorial by Brett Byers-Lane