Photo: Anant Nas Sharma, Flickr Creative Commons
As for today, I've watched/listened to about half of the debate last night between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. I may listen to more of it after work if I'm out of podcasts. Listening to it, I was reminded of something I'd read an hour earlier while teaching Thomas Paine to my 11th graders. "Yet it is folly to argue against determined hardness; eloquence may strike the ear, and the language of sorrow draw forth the tear of compassion, but nothing can reach the heart that is steeled with prejudice."
That basically sums up the debate and that basically explains my title for today's post. Ham has decided that a very literal interpretation of Genesis is the only option, and he freely ignores any evidence to the contrary. The irony in Paine's statement is that judging from his tone, he was at least as guilty of being set in his opinion as the Colonial loyalists he said should be kicked off the continent and whose property should be confiscated to finance the Revolution.
I don't think that specific irony applies to Nye and many like them. I believe them when they claim if that they were given real evidence to support the claims of Creationists that they would change their minds. After all, that's how science works. The modern understanding of evolution and natural selection is not exactly the same as the idea that Darwin set down in the Origin of Species. Since the publication of that book, new evidence has been discovered that has led scientists to modify the theory. True, Darwin and his most famous book are still taught and often revered in scientific circles, but, like Nye pointed out, any scientist would love to disprove such a foundational theory as evolution is to biology. It would make his career.
Besides, Ham never really made any real points. He has three main arguments (at least so far). His main argument, the one he keep coming back to is that we weren't there, so we can't know that things worked the same way throughout history. This is technically true. In fact, assuming systems like climate and ecosystems are unchanging would lead to bad conclusions. The problem is that his point is even more valid when attacking his own position. We weren't there when the Bible was written. How should we know whether to take the creation story literally or figuratively. When your only guide to the authenticity of the evidence is the item of evidence itself, there are obvious questions left unanswered. At least with science there are ways at looking at other things and seeing if they support the evidence.
He also kept referencing scientists and inventors who are creationists. It is true that some scientists are young earth creationists, but these are fringe scientists or people in unrelated disciplines. Trying to convince the public that these guys are more legitimate usually results in creationists having to resort to conspiracy theories, which is ridiculous. Like mentioned earlier, if these guys had good evidence, they would be stars in the fields of physics and biology and not outcasts.
His final main point is that if we allow science to go unopposed, religion dies and that's bad for kids. I think that people like Ham do more harm to belief in religion than any science textbook ever written. After all, what are intelligent children expected to do when faced with a preponderance of evidence suggesting an ancient universe and evolution through natural selection and religious fundamentalists claiming that their religion says the truth is some crackpot idea unsupported by the facts? I think that if I had grown up in a religious environment where the science was acknowledged and a figurative reading of the creation story was accepted that I would have never been driven away from organized religion. People like Ken Ham try to force believers to make a choice between reality and faith when the choice does not have to be made. While it is true that mainstream scientists to to be atheist and agnostic at a higher rate than the average American, that doesn't mean that there aren't completely mainstream Christian scientists. They just aren't Ham's scientists.
And this is why I hate myself. I just spent all this time writing this post about something not even Bill Nye should have given the time to validate by arguing the point.