Nye/Ham debate: a few thoughts and questions

By Richard Nelson

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February 5, 2014

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Of all the heat Bill Nye the Science Guy took from the scientific community for agreeing to debate Ken Ham on the topic of evolution, he didn’t do so bad. He presented himself well and was articulate and confident. Yet Nye couldn’t answer some of the most fundamental questions at the heart of the debate: Where did atoms come from to create the Big Bang? Where does consciousness come from? Good questions, but questions outside the realm of evolutionary science.

As Ham pointed out, the scientific method depends on observation, the collection of data, and using the data to test the hypothesis. Hence, evolution is precluded from the scientific method. Ham held his own, but it’s tough to win when arguing around the opponent’s assumptions.

While testimonials from accomplished scientists who are also creationists bolstered the bench, Team Creation failed to successfully move the debate deeper into philosophical territory. “You depend on a book more than the power of observation,” Nye said. Ham could have quipped “you depend on the power of observation more than a book.” Irksome to scientists is that the debate over evolution and origins is primarily philosophical and theological and lies within the rules and realm of logic. Scientists can observe, collect data, posit theories and help us to better understand the world around us, but they cannot tell us all of reality. Technology can make life easier but it cannot tell us the purpose and meaning of life.

Nye raised some good objections to the creationist model, but when he implicated creationists for dragging the nation behind in science, he failed to give a reason why the country should go ahead with science. Perhaps we’ve reached our evolutionary zenith and it’s time for another nation to rise to the top. Just a thought.

To lift science up as the arbiter of truth and reality is to coronate scientific man as more powerful than he really is. Scientists are men. Men are finite. By definition a finite creature is limited in his knowing. Even his observations are limited by the constraints of the human condition.
Questions that should have been asked or debated at greater length are: Where does matter and energy come from? How do living things spring from non-living matter? Where does intelligence come from? What about morality? If we are evolving and the weak genes weeded out, why is there compassion and care for the sick and dying? Why do researchers seek cures for cancer? And what is the meaning and purpose of life?

We live in a seemingly infinite universe, and thus mankind cannot know all of reality.  To pretend to do so is hubris on level with the afflicted Job who directed his indignation at his Creator. God responded, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” (Job 38:4-5)  Science has greatly helped us understand our material world. It has made life better and more livable. It has helped to fight disease and hunger. Science is good but it is not God.

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Director, Commonwealth Policy Center