The internets are abuzz about the big debate last night at the Creation Museum between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. Bill Nye is “the Science Guy” who I used to watch on PBS every evening. Ken Ham is a creationist. Creationists are scum.
I need not say any more about this, but they are scum. All they ever do is speculate or misrepresent actual science.
And when a qualified person of reason decides to engage in a formal debate with one of these demagogues, it elevates the scum to a respectable level that they clearly don’t deserve.
I watched the debate this morning, and all I can say is that Ken Ham’s argument was twofold: 1. There are a few prominent scientists who are creationists and 2. It’s just a difference of worldview and interpretation of data.
Number 1 is irrelevant to the debate. Lots of brilliant people have thought stupid things. Lots of brilliant people have accepted erroneous ideas. Konrad Lorenz was a Nazi scientist. Thomas Jefferson believed that Africans were a subhuman race.
Number 2 is not true at all, and no one in their right mind would accept it. When Ham surrenders to the “difference of worldview” argument, then he opens up the door to all sorts of postmodernist bullshit being paraded out as science. All they have to do to defend themselves is say “We have different worldviews, and we interpret the data differently.”
That is a standard that no scientist could ever accept.
Nor should one.
As bad as Ken Ham’s arguments were, I still don’t think he lost the debate.
That’s because whenever a rationalist person tries to debate a creationist, the entire metrics of success are different for each side.
On the facts and logic, Bill Nye beat Ham hands down. Nye even taught me a thing or two, which is really the only reason to watch one of these debates. You can learn a lot when someone really qualified uses facts and reason to debate someone who clearly does not.
But the creationists are not playing that game: To a creationist, it matters very little if what they say can be verified empirically. The only thing that matters is belief.
And that is why they are impossible to debate.
And a formal debate is the worst place in which to engage one of these people.
That’s because in a formal debate, both sides get equal time, and it’s well-known that a lie can make it half-way across the earth while the truth is just putting on its shoes.
So a creationist can engage in what is called a “Gish Gallop” — so-named for the creationist who developed this debating technique of using his time during the debate to let loose a volley of half-truths, misrepresentations, and absolute lies that his opponent couldn’t possibly correct. (Federal inmate Kent Hovind was a master of this technique. He should be called the Gish Marathoner!)
But Ham didn’t even try this technique– at all.
He just went back to these two themes, and if we’re going to assess the debate on those grounds, Ham lost. Severely.
However, I don’t think you can say that Billy Nye won.
Bill Nye made his argument for “the reasonable person”– should the “reasonable person” accept Ham’s creationist model?
The answer is, of course, no.
But a huge section of the American body politic– and most of the people in the audience– are not reasonable people.
Belief is all that matters. Defending this belief against all reasonable objections is considered a virtue– one of the highest virtues. That’s what Christians call “faith.”
And you simply cannot debate them.
All you can do is call them out and expose them for what they really are.