Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ken Ham was there, but Bill Nye brought home the bacon

The "debate" last night between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis ended with a sigh of relief from many of us who worried that Ham's skill at lying about the nature of science and tossing out incoherent and unanswerable bits of nonsense like broken bottles onto a road would trip up Nye.

No such thing happened. Nye was relatively cool and collected, and in command of a nice array of facts, while Ham spent most of his time asserting that creationism is true because The Bible. Whenever Nye asked him to provide some evidence for the assertion that the Earth is only about 6,000 years old, Ham simply repeated: The Bible. Evidence for just one all-encompassing catastrophic flood: The Bible. And so on. He was unable to respond at all to Nye pointing out several times that "The Bible" which Ham depends on is a translation into "American English" of a very old book that was originally written in several different languages.

 One of Ham's themes, from the beginning, was to draw a bizarre distinction between what he called "observational" science, the kind he trusts, and "historical" or "origins" science, which he does not. Observational science is OK because it deals with the here and now, and we are witnesses; historical science is invalid, because we cannot witness the things we are talking about. And, The Bible. This strange paradigm was overthrown in the 19th century by Charles Lyell, a contemporary of Darwin, who showed that the understanding of current processes can be used to reconstruct the past history of the earth, based on the not unreasonable hypothesis that the same gradual processes of erosion and uplift that change the earth’s surface today had also been at work in the past. How could Ham miss this? And again, what evidence does he hand over that this is not the case? None. So when Ham asserts that "we cannot observe the age of the Earth," he is wrong. We can bring material into lab, date it in a variety of ways. We can observe the age of the earth in the observations we make during the dating process. Ham is just plain wrong, but, you know, the Bible.

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