I appreciated that both Ken Ham and Bill Nye were willing to engage in a dialogue, as I think such discussions – including this one – help to clarify and test positions. I personally found the two men enjoyable to listen to, and I thought both presented their cases lucidly.
First, I express respect for how Bill Nye handled the evening. He went into an unsympathetic environment, and represented himself well. While he is generally not hesitant to ridicule positions with which he disagrees, he restrained himself thoughtfully and considerately. Only the occasional “this is how we do it out there” was inserted into his discussion to imply that there was something very wrong in Kentucky (which was a plainly stated assertion, at times). I commend Nye for not only his restraint, but also his heartfelt appeal to those with which he clearly disagreed – that helped contribute to a worthy discussion, and probably earned him a greater audience than he had before he started.
Ken Ham also represented his position well, and I thought, maintained a respectful tone throughout the evening, even as the tension increased especially during the rebuttals. Ham’s goal clearly extended beyond the simple defense of creationist thought, to the issues of presupposition and worldview. Several times, he identified the significance of creation as it relates to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In short, these two men had larger purposes in mind than simply establishing a beginning point for earth’s history. This made for a good pairing and a great discussion, even if their grand aspirations hampered some of the important details.
It is an inherent characteristic of the debate format to have a winner and a loser; sometimes the winner simply presents better evidence, and in other cases the winner excels his or her opponent in the skills of rhetoric. In my estimation, this debate was neither. I could not discern a clear debate “winner,” in particular because this debate format did not seem conducive to addressing some of the key issues raised. Personally, I would have much preferred a roundtable. (I think more is accomplished in a free dialogue – at least when the two parties are respectful, as Nye and Ham were.)
In his opening statement, Ham’s major assertions were that creationists can make excellent scientists (citing a number of examples), and that the age of the earth and questions of origin fall in the category of historical, rather than observational science. While Ham did cite some specific scientific and historical data, his case was largely epistemological.
Nye’s opening statement included major assertions that there are several major reasons Ham’s creation model was not viable (age of rocks, trees, starlight, and the implausibility of the flood and ark story, etc.), that the creationist viewpoint contributes to a failure to properly apprehend science, and that such failure will ultimately hurt the United States’ global standing.
As the rebuttals by both seemed pre-prepared, the two men began to speak past one another on major issues that neither ever seemed to handle particularly well (or at all).
For example, Nye cited 620,000-year-old ice from a drilled cylinder, a 9,000-year-old extant tree, and a mathematical problem with speciation over a 4,000 year timeframe. Ham never addressed these specific issues.
Also, Ham cited a distinction between historical and observational science, the necessity of assumptions in defending both creationism and evolution, and some other specific issues, such as wood fossil dated 45,000 years but was fully encased in 100 million year old rock (to indicate some of the problems with current methods of dating). Nye did not deal with these issues (though he attempted a brief answer to the wood fossil issue, he did not engage the epistemological questions).
One particularly interesting series of answers was to an audience member’s question regarding what it would take for each man to change his mind. Ham returned to his theme that one can’t prove history, so there is no hypothetical in which the evolutionary model can be proven. In short, he asserted there was nothing that could change his mind. In answer to the same question, Nye responded that he would simply need to see some evidence that his view was incorrect. But how Nye earlier answered the issue of the wood fossil encased in supposedly older rock, for example, illustrates how precommitment to the old-earth model demands a dismissal of evidence inconsistent with the position. In fact, both men illustrated well that wherever there are as-of-yet unexplained (or even unexplainable) problems, these men rely on faith to fill in the gaps. And it is precisely because of this point that debate is arguably the wrong format for this dialogue.
Overall, the main points of each man were clear enough. I would have liked to see them deal more with the specific difficult challenges they posed to each other, however. Perhaps we could see a second discussion in roundtable format, to clean up some of the unanswered questions from the debate. In any case, I think the dialogue was a helpful one, with each man representing his view well enough that – while minds were probably largely unchanged by the debate – any open minded listener was given much to consider.