The Ken Ham vs Bill Nye creation/evolution debate: Who said what?

Bill Nye "the Science Guy" and Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis faced off yesterday at the Creation Museum in Kentucky to debate the question "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?"

The full debate lasted more than two hours, but here are some of the highlights.

Ken Ham:

At the centre of Ken Ham's argument was that there is a big difference between observational and experimental sciences compared to what Mr Ham called "historical science".

Historical science, Mr Ham argues, is where you interpret data about an event that you did not directly observe.

The comparison would be between seeing a crime happen, compared to piecing together what happened by examining the evidence afterwards.

If you see something happen, you know exactly what you saw. But looking at evidence afterwards means there are multiple possible versions of events. With more evidence, the number of possible versions decreases, but Mr Ham insists that the version of events he supports is still possible with current scientific data.

"The word evolution has been hijacked using a bait and switch to indoctrinate students to accept evolutionary belief as observational science."

Mr Ham quoted a text book, Earth Science (Indiana Teacher's edition) to make this point that scientists accept the difference: "In contrast to physical geography, the aim of historical geography is to understand the Earth's long history."

Mr Ham often said that what Nye and those of his persuasion were arguing for was "molecules to man evolution".

He characterised the entire debate this way: "The creation/evolution debate is really a conflict between two philosophical worldviews based on two different accounts of origins or historical scientific beliefs."

He asked Mr Nye how he accounted for the origins of the laws of logic in the universe by merely natural processes.

He dismissed assertions that being a creationist could not go hand in hand with being a good scientist.

To demonstrate this, he introduced Raymond Damadian, the inventor of the MRI scanner who said in a short video presentation: "The idea that scientists who believe the earth is 6,000-years-old cannot do real science is wrong."

He asked Mr Nye to provide a single example of a technology that could only be developed if you first assumed "molecules to man evolution".

"All scientists have the same experimental or observational science," Mr Ham insisted.

Giving specific examples, Mr Ham argued that recent papers published prove the creationist view that rather than there being a single tree of life with one origin point, there is in fact an orchard of life with multiple individual animals created by God as starting points.

He suggested that while there may be many different types of dog, they are all the same "kind" using the language of Genesis, where God is described as making animals each according to their kinds.

He also suggested that recent evidence that e-coli bacteria can live on sulphates is not evidence of the bacteria changing, but rather is proof that the ability has been latent, but has become active because of the new environment.

"There's certainly change but it isn't the same change as molecules to man."

He claimed that 90% of the various forms of dating systems that exist, be they radio-carbon based or other forms such as natural gas in the earth, all support the thousands, rather than millions of years theory.

He highlighted an individual lava dome at Mount Saint Helen's. The whole rock was dated to be 0.35 million years, but two different elements within it were dated to be 0.9 and 2.8 million years.

Talking about teaching of science, he said: "I want children to be taught the right foundation, that there's a God who loves them... that they are made in the image of God."

Summing up, he said: "I challenge evolutionists to accept the belief aspects of their worldview."

Some other choice quotes from Ken Ham during the debate:

  • "Every single Biblical doctrine or theology is founded in Genesis."
  • "It's a battle over how we interpret the past."
  • "The battle is authority … who is the authority? Man or God?"
  • "I believe the word 'science' has been hijacked by secularists."
  • "If you believe in the millions of years earth, you can be a Christian because salvation is based on faith in Christ, not Genesis. But you have a problem. Because how do you explain death before the fall?"
  • "God is necessary for science."

Bill Nye:

Mr Nye took the view that the big problem with the creation model is that it does not offer any predictions. While science predicts the kinds of animals we expect to find in different places and how they live, creationism just describes things, and infers that things were different in the past than they are now.

"What we want in science, as practised on the outside, is an ability to predict."

Mr Nye then went into the example of gaps in the fossil record that have been found and filled. He pointed out that given that we have lungfish and we have toads, evolution would suppose that an intermediary stage between these two animals. He then gave the example of the tiktaalik, a cross between a fish and lizard from the Devonian period.

"[Scientists] made a prediction that this animal would be found, and it has been found.  The Ken Ham creation model has not been able to do this."

To show the kinds of predictions he was talking about, he gave an example of topminnows, an animal that can have "traditional fish sex and can have sex with themselves".

"One of the real chin-stroker questions in life science... why does anybody have sex? There are more bacteria in your tummy right now than there are humans on earth. And bactria don't bother with that, they just split in half. So why do you do it?"

He added "your enemies... bacteria and parasites, they're the things that'll get you," pointing out that animals that reproduce sexually have increased resistance to disease, and thus better survival rates.

Topminnows that reproduced sexually were found to be more disease resistant than asexual ones, just as the theory predicted. 

It is this kind of prediction, Mr Nye argued, that could not fit into the creationist model.

In Kentucky, where the debate was being held, he asserted, there were rocks that held thousands of generations of tiny coral plant life forms. Mr Nye argued that if the earth really was just a few thousand years old, there would not have been enough time for those life forms to grow.  

He pointed to built up layers of snow ice found in places like Greenland and Antarctica. In one case, it was found that there were over 680,000 layers of snow ice, which supported the conclusion that the earth could not possibly be younger than 680,000 years old.

"How could there be 680,000 snow layers of ice if there were not 680,000 years?"

For it to work on an earth that was only a few thousand years old, "There must have been 170 season cycles per year, every year! Wouldn't someone notice that?"

He also referenced trees in California, Sweden and Japan that are over 9,000-years-old. He asked how such trees could survive a global flood.

Talking about the kind of evidence that would change the game of science, Mr Nye said that if you could find one example of a more developed animal appearing at a lower level in the fossil record than the first example of a less developed animal, "you would be a hero to the scientific community".

He also questioned how, if there was a truly global flood, humans could have ever reached Australia. He said that Mr Ham's model required a land bridge which has not been proven to exist.

Talking about the age of the universe demonstrated by astronomy, Mr Nye asked: "How could we see stars, more than 6,000 light years away, if the earth is only 6,000-years-old?"

"Mr Ham, your assertion that there is a difference between the natural laws today, and the natural laws 4000 years ago is extraordinary and unsettling."

Mr Nye said there was a danger of limiting scientific education on this point. He highlighted how in the case of medicine that uses radioactive elements to reveal defects in the heart, "There is no place in Kentucky to get a degree in this kind of nuclear medicine. I hope you find that troubling.

"You want scientifically literate students in your commonwealth for a better future for everyone.

"We need to innovate to keep the United States where it is in the world."

Some other choice quotes from Bill Nye during the debate:

  • "There is no distinction between observational science and historical science, these are constructs unique to Mr Ham."
  • "I base my beliefs on the information and the process that we call science. It fills me with joy. It is a wonderful and astonishing thing to me."
  • "If we abandon all that we have learned, if we let go of everything we have learned before us, if we stop looking for answers, we will be defeated."
  • "We have to embrace science education. We have to keep science education in science classes."