Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Nye-Ham Debate

Alright. Whatever. I'll do it.

I became aware of this debate a couple of weeks ago when some friends who know my interest in creation/evolution debate suggested I watch this. I immediately responded negatively. I have seen Ken Ham speak in person and he is normally very good and presents a lot of good information in a short amount of time, but he is a terrible representative of creationism to people who don't already believe it, like I do, so when I heard he was actually going to debate Bill Nye, an obviously hostile opponent, I facepalmed immediately. I grew up with Answers In Genesis, and the problem with Ham's approach is he always uses the Bible exactly the way atheists always accuse theists of using God: a crutch. I cannot personally fault the guy, but he just sucks at talking to people who don't necessarily believe the Bible or even those who have more sophisticated reasons for not accepting his interpretation of it. He has very little to say to these people. Why does he expect to gain any traction with them at all if he keeps throwing the Bible at them when they've already said they don't believe it? Still, when he is speaking by himself he presents a lot of information fairly well. He utterly failed to do that in the debate, but I expected that. It's what you have to expect from something that is advertised as a debate but in reality is little more than two people trying to take turns making prepared speeches and being rudely interrupted by such things as "questions from the audience" and "the other person's argument".

Scientific debates require people who are incredibly well versed in the details of the science, otherwise there will be no debate because each person will be presenting the evidence he studied in a jam session the day before and won't be able to respond to the other person's jam session. All of this applies to Nye as well, of course, but as a creationist Ham's presentation was more disappointing to me because of the lost opportunity. I had no idea the amount of publicity this debate had received. Apparently it was viewed live by over half a million. That's a ridiculous number for a science program. That represents a major lost opportunity to hit a large audience with a massive amount of information that they otherwise would never have heard. Ken Ham is capable of delivering that, at least, but he didn't. For instance, he put up a long list of dating methods that give a young age for the earth, but he didn't explain a single one of them! If he had explained just one he could have never even showed the list and done a better job. He said nothing about the study of the rate of helium leakage from zircon crystals done by ICR, probably the best study on radiometric dating that creationists have ever done. He seemed more concerned with dropping Snelling's name than his scientific results. This is something I would expect from your average "argument from authority" evolutionist. He mentioned Baumgardner's catastrophic plate tectonics, but he didn't explain or even attempt to present it at all! I have personally presented this theory to a church group. I know it can be done, and people love it. Why! Why, when so many are watching do you not come out throwing your best stuff? I don't understand.

Ham was also served up a perfect softball by a question from the audience: Are there any creationist cosmologies that explain the distant starlight problem? Instead of explaining Russell Humphrey's "white-hole" theory, or John Hartnett's excellent work on creationist cosmology, he repeated himself over and over again about assumptions as if he was still discussing radiometric dating. At various points in the debate, Ham appeared to do exactly what Nye accused him of doing: give up and cite God as the answer without any further comment. Perhaps he doesn't know about Hartnett, since Hartnett doesn't exactly advertise himself as well as Ham does, but Russell Humphreys he certainly knows about. I did not realize this event was such a big deal, but Ham certainly did. If I were him I'd be kicking myself at a major lost opportunity. Or perhaps I'd be completely oblivious to how the way I present myself appears to people who do not automatically accept everything I say like the compliant pew-sitters I normally speak to. Seriously. The guy acted like he was speaking from a pulpit, not to a hostile Internet audience of half a million people tuning in expecting to see him humiliated. What did I think of the debate? Exhibit A for old creationists, and conservatives as well, failing to understand and communicate within the new media, which has provided them with amazing opportunities that they never could have had otherwise. Nor deserve, apparently.

Now that's whack.