So the much hyped Creation Debate took place last night. In the time since, I’ve read a comment or two, but no one that I’ve encountered is really looking at this from quite the angle I am, so I’ll go ahead and speak up.
Real quick, let’s have a round of applause for Ken Ham and Bill Nye for making it through what could have easily been a rancorous debate with minimal barbs and jabs, and absolutely no outbursts or loss of cool.
Great, okay, so to begin then.
- The debate question itself (“Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?”), while reasonable and even appropriate for this debate, put the creation side at a disadvantage from the start. The phrasing of the question necessarily put Ham on the defensive, as he had to take the affirmative and thus defend it from Nye.
- Nye, on the other hand, as the one taking a negative stance on the question, was left free to throw objection after objection Ham’s way without necessarily having to defend his own view from criticism. (Continue reading to find out why I say necessarily.)
- Ham was also obligated to use up valuable time defining terms and distinguishing between historical and physical science, since Nye certainly wasn’t going to do it. Indeed, Nye came in and immediately set about attempting to erase Ham’s carefully drawn lines, obfuscating what should have been an obvious and agreed upon distinction (and I don’t think Ham ever recovered from this).
- Nye for his part did not even stick strictly to the debate question. His Noah’s ark presentation was extensive, but it was simply not germane to the question of origins, strictly speaking. What it did was undermine the Genesis narrative – which of course is the primary reference point for origins from a Christian perspective – and introduce what would have amounted to a rabbit trail for Ham to have to chase after to reassert Genesis’ accuracy in a strong way. It was a masterfully executed debating tactic that succeeded in throwing dust in the air.
- Nye continued to be all over the board, taking advantage of the common debate tactic known sometimes as “scattergun” or “shotgun”, where many objections are thrown out in rapid succession. It’s difficult to counter simply because for any objection or error that takes one minute to state, five to ten minutes will be required to answer it well. As Ham pointed out tongue-in-cheek, answering all of Nye’s assertions would have taken “millions of years”.
- To his credit, Ham stuck to the debate topic well. Unfortunately, this is lost on a lot of folks who blame Ham for not dealing with Nye’s points more directly. What they miss is that Ham was the one sticking to the agreed-upon debating question and did not let himself get distracted by Nye’s ADD approach. Nye’s points deserve rebuttal, and Ham did well by pointing the interested to the AiG website where those can be found in an unabridged form.
- I do have criticisms for Ham though, such as that he wasted too much time with videos from Christian, young-earth creationist scientists. I can abide one or two as Ham’s goal was clearly to answer Nye’s claim that us folks who hold to YEC can’t be real or serious scientists (as presented in several of Nye’s internet videos), and that needed to be done. However, to continue to belabor the point once established was redundant.
- It was also clear that Ham – usually a very skilled presenter – was uncharacteristically nervous during his times to speak (stumbling over his words more than a few times), and much less at ease than the fluid Nye. It’s my theory that Ham was feeling the weight of the need to perform for his Christian base, and also for all the unbelievers who might be swayed by the debate. Nye’s strength was his confidence (some might say overconfidence), and he was able to push on easily even in the midst of a predominantly harsh studio audience, as well as when his jokes bombed. This shows what a double-edged sword aggressive promotion of such an event can be when all the attention makes you choke, and less attention might have made a better performance.
- On the other hand, this difference in performance also shows something deeper about the two men I think. For Nye, this debate was inconsequential in an ultimate sense. He claims to be patriotic, and thus wants his country to be competitive scientifically, which he believes can only happen if people abandon a creation model of origins in favor of an evolutionary one; but even that goal is somewhat of an abstraction, so there’s no real pressure on him. Ham, quite conversely, wants to see people saved unto eternity, and the creation issue is the hill he has encamped upon to fight towards that end. In sum, the stakes were much higher for Ham than for Nye in an ultimate sense, and for anyone who was paying attention: it showed.
- The bottom line issue with the debate is that it needs to be had at a more presuppositional level. The answer to the question “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?” is wholly presupposition dependent (that is, how and by what standard do we evaluate the evidence?). We can go back and forth on the evidence issue ’til the cows come home, or evolve into something else, but that again comes back to presuppositions. Ham did touch on this, but oh how I wish he’d worked in his “glasses” slides I’ve seen in so many of his presentations.
- It’s easy for me to armchair quarterback from here, but if I were to give just one thing I wish Ham had done differently, it would be this. I wish he would have spent at least half of his time belaboring the fact that we and Nye differ on how to answer the debate question, and in what ways (an inherently presuppositional topic). The remainder of the time should have been spent 1. showing that ours is the more consistent approach (consistent both within itself and with the observable world), and 2. showing where Nye’s worldview falls apart and fails to account for the evidence in specific ways (hence why I said “necessarily” above).
I could go on, there’s much more to say (including how bad the actual debate format was), but I promised my fiance a date night tonight, and I need to go make good on that.