Time for Ham on Nye!

Getting ready to watch the debate.  For those who are just emerging from their winter hibernations, I’m talking about the debate at the Creation Museum between young-earth creationist Ken Ham and “The Science Guy” Bill Nye.  You can watch live via debatelive.org.

I’ll update this post throughout the evening if anything comes to mind.  All are encouraged to put in their two cents in the comments column.

Here are some of the things I’ll be looking for:

  • Will Ham harp on the “observational” vs. “historic” science argument?  If so, will Nye call him out on the non-scientific nature of that argument?
  • Will everyone keep smiling?  If not, who will crack, and how?
  • Along those lines, will the Creation-Museum crowd give Ham an enormous home-field advantage?
  • Will Nye make the bad argument that creationism somehow prevents people from learning mainstream science and engineering?
  • Will Nye demonstrate his lamentable ignorance about the culture and history of American creationism?
  • What will either side say about other sorts of creationism, such as intelligent design, evolutionary creationism, or old-earth creationism?  I’m guessing neither will even mention them.

OK, nuf sed!  I’m going to go eat a taco and open a beer.  See you when the debate gets started.

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6:30: While we’re waiting, I encourage everyone to consider looking into the history of creation/evolution debates.  As usual, the best source for these things is with my grad-school mentor Ron Numbers.  Ron’s blockbuster book The Creationists includes great source material about the long tradition of public debate about evolution.  Even more nerdily compelling, Ron edited a collection of debates themselves.  The volume is harder to find, but anyone with a decent-sized university library nearby should be able to find it or request it via inter-library loan.  For all with an interest in the history of these debates, it’s vital reading.

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6:30: I gotta give the Creation Museum credit.  The other day when I tried to register to watch, I was a little skeptical that they would have it working properly.  But now they’ve got a nice set up with the format listed along the right side and an exciting countdown clock going.

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6:45: We’ve got music!  And a visual of the Nye-Ham weigh-in…  I like the titles: Ken Ham, AIG CEO; Bill Nye “The Science Guy”

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6:53: Ugh…whoever wins this debate, it won’t be the person who picked this elevator music…

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7:00: Here we go! What’s going on?  A Ken Ham cartoon?  Kids come free–an ad for the Creation Museum.  We’ve been welcomed!  “Hundreds of thousands watching online.”  That’s us!

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7:02: Who knew the moderator could make jokes?  Where did we come from?  He came from DC on a plane! Yuk yuk.  And a coin flip?  Perfect for a Broadway Joe Superbowl joke…

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7:04: Did Ken Ham just say, “I’m a Nazi?”  Oh… “I’m an Aussie…”

Ham’s lead-off: evolutionists have “hijacked” the name of science to squeeze out creationism.

And he’s got experts: Stuart Burgess.  I’m not familiar with Burgess.  Anyone else?

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7:07: Sure enough, Ham is leading with his main argument: “observational” vs. “historical” science.  Not the best approach.  But a better argument: we don’t need evolution to be good technologists.  A middle path: forcing evolution on school children is actually a religious argument.

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7:09: Nye’s turn at bat: He leads with a joke about bowties.  And a long anecdote for a guy with only five minutes to talk.  Grandpa and his bowtie.  Maybe that will be a good way to make “evolutionists” seem less terrifying.

Oooh.  Nye is changing the question.  His new version: Does Ken Ham’s creation model hold up?  Looks as if he’s taking on Ham’s observational/historical distinction.  Wow!  Nye is great.

If CSI can tell about the past from clues, then so can scientists.  All of them use the SAME science.

Uh Oh, Nye is breaking out his less-powerful argument that creationists can’t be good technologists or engineers.  That one just doesn’t hold up!

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7:16: Raymond Demadian.  A young-earth creationist and inventor of the MRI.  Now Danny Faulkner, AIG astronomer with PhD.  This is what worries me about Nye’s argument that creationists BY DEFINITION can’t do science or technology.  It is easy to find people who can poke holes in that assertion.

This bit drives mainstream science bonkers.  This is why the NCSE does its Project Steve.

7:20: Ham’s “We weren’t there” argument just doesn’t do much.  I think Nye’s CSI intro was a great way to predict this and defang it in advance.

NOW A GOOD ONE: a challenge for Nye–can Nye name a single technology that couldn’t be designed by creationists?

And snappy graphics: cartoon Nye vs. cartoon Ham.  The same evidence, interpreted differently.

7:25: Ham spends some time explaining the fact that evolution occurs, but only within biblical “kinds.”  That is, two ur-dogs on Noah’s ark created wolves, foxes, dogs, etc.

7:29: Whoops! Ham insists that public-school science teaches religion, since they teach evolution that has no basis in observational science.  Based on belief, not on observations.

Is it just me, or does Ken Ham seem nervous?  I’m surprised, since he is such a polished performer and public speaker.

7:32: Smart tactic, Mr. Ham.  He takes on Darwin as a racist thinker.  Biblical creationism, in contrast, insists that there can be no real racial differences.  Of course, he doesn’t explore the notion that today’s evolutionary scientists no longer argue that evolution proves the differences between races.  Nevertheless, as a political tactic, this makes good sense for Mr. Ham to focus on.

7:35: not as powerful: Ham keeps insisting (as we thought he would) on the intellectual paucity of “historical science.”  It would be a stronger argument to non-creationists like me if Ham kept it simpler–asked mainstream science to admit that there is SOME belief implicit in mainstream science.  But that belief does not inhere in mainstream science’s use of “historical science.”

7:37: Now Ken Ham enters into the theological roots of his belief system.  “We make no apology” for our religious roots.

7:40: Looking at Texas textbook battles.  Ham says the news slants the coverage, pitting “creationists” against “academics.”  Says that Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network is really the one imposing religion on public school students.  By insisting on evolution, kids are indoctrinated in a belief system instead of discovering truth on their own.

7:42: More preaching to the choir.  Evolution leads to more abortion.

And, what’s the real point?  According to Ken Ham, young people must learn first and foremost that God loves them.

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7:45: Now it’s time for Nye’s longer presentation.  Starting with limestone.  “We are standing on millions of layers of ancient life.  How could those animals have lived their entire lives in just four thousand years?”

7:48: As an “evolutionist” who reads creationist literature, I can hear the voices of creationist disputing Nye’s anti-flood, anti-young-earth examples–though there might be ancient trees and ancient rock layers.  But that does not refute the central argument of Ham and other YECs that such things are not observed, but assumed.

Oh, wait!  This fossil stuff is great.  There is NO EXAMPLE OF FOSSILS THAT CHANGE THE ORDER OF EVOLUTIONARY THEORY.  A flood would have produced much more turbulence.  Will this convince any YECs in the audience?

7:52: here’s another good one: If animals were all on the Ark, where are the kangaroo fossils on the way from Mt. Ararat to Australia?

How could one family have built an ark so big?  That doesn’t make sense.  Other great shipbuilders could not build a wooden ship that lasted in seas.  How could eight people have built a sea-worthy wooden ship?  Of course, the YEC answer here is easy: God can make anything happen.  I’m worried Nye here is not reaching any listeners.  Same with other arguments that Nye is not making: How could Jonah survive for days in a fish?  Etc.?  The answer is easy, and was the argument made by William Jennings Bryan in the 1925 Scopes Trial: Miracles are easy to believe if one has faith.

Plus, if all 16,000,000 species evolved in the last 4,000 years from the 7,000 “kinds” that went on the ark, that would mean we’d be seeing 11 new species every day.  Where are they?

I wonder if these mind-blowers will cause any creationists in the audience to reconsider their beliefs.  Or will they just dismiss them as bitter ravings from a confused non-Christian.

8:02: Nye overuses the word “remarkable.”  He uses it both in the usual sense, and as a veiled criticism of Ham’s scientific model.

Also, I wonder if Nye’s repetition of his sex argument (he’s making the point that some animals get genetic benefits from reproducing sexually, even in some fish species that are capable of asexual reproduction) will make some YECs uncomfortable.  Implies that Nye is a little too comfortable with sex.

8:13: good call, Mr. Nye.  The US Constitution says we should promote science.  But don’t specify this is only an issue for Kentucky, Texas, and Tennessee!

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8:14: Time for rebuttals.  Ken Ham first.  How does he rebut radioactive dating?  Dates done by this method produce inconsistent results.  Stuff in the same layers show very different dates.  Plus, dating methods assume constant rates.  How do we know this?

And watch out for Christians who believe in an ancient earth.  Death cannot have happened before Adam’s fall.

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8:20: Nye’s rebuttal.  Dating methods ARE reliable.  Why is the translated Bible a better source.  To Nye, that reliance on the Bible is “unsettling, troubling.”  But, again, why should it convince YECs if Nye is unsettled?

Nye condemns Ham’s argument as “magical.”  How will that convince someone who agrees wholeheartedly that it is miraculous?

If we use the Bible as a science text, what does that mean?  That Mr. Ham’s words are somehow to be more respected than what people can observe themselves.

Also, evolutionary theory is not racist.  Rather a simple matter of historic ethnocentrism.

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8:25: Ken Ham counter-rebuttal.  Bears are vegetarian.  But they have savage teeth.  Fruit-bats, too.  That does not prove that lions might not have been vegetarians before the flood.  And why couldn’t Noah have built a better ark than we could later?  Don’t assume that people in the past were not as smart as modern people.

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8:30: Nye counter-rebuttal.  Says Mr. Ham did not come close to addressing the huge problems with the numbers raised by the idea of a young earth.  Where did all the species come from?  There just isn’t enough time.  Nye says it is not “reasonable” to think Noah and 7 helpers could have built an ark.

What’s the central issue?  Ham says we can’t make assumptions about the past.  Nye says these are legitimate, not just made up.  Why should we accept Ham’s word for it that natural law changed completely four thousand years ago, without leaving any record?

And what about all the billions of religious people who disagree with Ham’s vision of the origins of life?

Whoops!  Says Ham’s model is based on the Old Testament, not the New.  That seems like another reach for Nye.  Those are questions YECs and others have debated for a looooooong time.

Great point: real scientists welcome proof.  If there is proof of a very different fossil record, no one wants to see that more than real scientists.

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8:35: Q&A from the audience.

Question 1: for Ham: How does creationism account for the celestial bodies . . . moving further apart?

Ham: That’s in the Bible.  God says he is stretching out the heavens.

Nye: Where did we come from?  We all ask it.  Astronomy is a science devoted to this question.  They are not satisfied with an answer from the Bible.

Question 2: For Nye: How did the atoms that created the Big Bang get there?

Nye: We don’t know.  Scientists engage in what we call science in order to find answers.  We do not take anyone’s word for it.  Nor even The Word for it.  This is the heart of real science.  This is the problem with Ham’s approach.

Ham: There is a book that tells us the answer.  “That’s the only thing that makes sense.”  How else would there be matter?  It could only come from “intelligence.”

Question 3: Scientists produce evidence for evolution.  Besides the Bible, what evidence can you produce?

Ham: Don’t make an argument based on what the majority of scientists believe.  We can see from history the danger of relying on the majority of scientific opinion.  When it comes to the past, we can’t know scientifically, we can only know through belief.  We’re honest, mainstream scientists are not.

Nye: If any scientist makes a big discovery, that scientist will be embraced.  Science progresses by seeing what works and by always challenging its own assumptions.  It is not true (totally) that science is dictated by majority belief.

Question 4: for Nye: How did consciousness come from matter?

Nye: “Don’t know. This is a great mystery.”  Science is all about the joy of discovery.  We want to find out the answer to this question.  Something about dogs?  And self-doubt?  We must encourage young people to investigate the question of consciousness.

Ham: Goes for the laugh!  There is an answer, Bill.  It’s all in the Bible.  It is not a mystery.  And if it’s all about discovery, what about life after death?

Question 5: for Ham: What if anything would ever change your mind?

Ham: pause….”I’m a Christian.” As such, he goes by God’s guidance.  The Bible is the Word of God.  You can make predictions based on that.  I can’t prove that to you, but I can say, try it.  See if God will reveal Himself to you if you ask Him.  “No one’s ever gonna convince me that the Word of God is not true.”  But that doesn’t mean they don’t keep learning and asking and inquiring.  Would Bill Nye ever change his mind?

Nye: All I’d need is one piece of evidence.  One fossil in a different layer.  One piece of evidence that stars appear to be far away, but they’re not.  Says he would change his mind immediately.  GREAT ANSWER.

Question 6: for Nye: Is there evidence for the age of the earth besides radiometric evidence?

Nye: Deposition rates, seen by Lyell so many years ago.  Plus, radiometric evidence is very strong.  The weight of the evidence is so strong that creationists need to find a way to disprove it somehow.

Ham: The age of the earth came from studies of meteorites, not earth rocks.  Every dating method is faulty.  But most dating methods say the earth is much younger.

Question 7: For Ham: Can you reconcile the change in the rate continents are now drifting, to the rate they would have had to have traveled 6,000 years ago?

Ham: This also proves my point about historical vs. observational science.  Our researchers look at this often.  Plate movements today don’t necessarily equal the rates in the past.  That is an unwarranted assumption.  We believe in catastrophic plate tectonics.  A big shift at one point in time.

Nye: The evidence for sea-floor spreading is clear.  It leaves a record in the rocks.  We can measure rates of continental drift.

Question 8: for both: favorite color?

Nye: Green.

Ham: Blue.

Question 9: for Nye: How do you balance the law of evolution with the second law of thermodynamics?

Nye: Energy is always lost to heat.  Entropy increases.  Here’s the kicker: the earth is not a closed system.  The sun is always delivering energy.  Day and night.  Ha ha.

Ham: Energy or matter will never produce life.  God imposed information.  Matter could never do it alone.

Question 10: for Ham: Could evidence of an ancient earth make you change your belief in God and Jesus?

Ham: Science could never prove such a thing.  It would be “historical” science and therefore based on possibly faulty assumptions.  Therefore, the question doesn’t make sense.  I believe in a young universe because the Bible says it.  Frankly and openly.  But there is nothing in real science to contradict that.  There is nothing that will make me change my belief.

Nye: You CAN prove the age of the earth using observations.  Ham thinks everyone should take his word for it.  His vision of a book translated into English.  How does he know that life cannot come from something that is not alive?

Question 11: For Nye: Is there room for God in science?

Nye: Billions of people are religious and yet embrace science.  Does anyone here not have a phone?  Anyone here who doesn’t use medicine?  Anyone who doesn’t eat?  Science makes life possible.  That has nothing to do with religion.  People can be religious, for example Francis Collins.  Ham is the exception, not the rule, for religious people.

Ham: God is necessary for science.  I love technology.  All of that has to do only with “observational” science.  God makes science possible, since God created logic and natural processes.  The Bible and science go hand in hand.

Question 12: for Ham: Should the entire Bible be taken literally?

Ham: “Literally” has many different interpretations.  I take the Bible “naturally,” i.e., in the sense in which it was intended.  One can’t insist on Old Testament rules as laws today.

Nye: Only certain parts of the Bible are to be taken literally?  Others are assumed to be just poetry?

Question 13: for Nye: Have you ever believed that evolution was accomplished through way of a higher power?

Nye: The idea of a higher power can’t be proven or disproven.  We can’t know some things.  But intelligent design is a different matter.  ID has a “fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of nature.”  The watchmaker analogy doesn’t hold.  Nature adds complexity through natural selections.  Better designs survive.

Ham: Are there any examples of new functions that arose from genetic material that was present?  It doesn’t happen.  The information has to have been already present.  Information is not created.  Just switched on or off.

Question 14: for Ham: Name one institution. . . other than a church . . . that uses . . . creationism to produce its product.

Ham: Any scientist uses creationism.  They all use the laws of logic, which only make sense in a God-created universe.  Otherwise, how can we count on natural law if we don’t assume an all-powerful creator?  This is the only way to raise a generation of innovative youth.  Teach them to trust natural laws created by God.  Plus, creationist scientists publish in secular peer-reviewed journals.

Nye: Creationism does NOT have a predictive quality.  A Biblical worldview is only shared by a few people. What about everyone else?  Were they condemned?

Question 15: for Nye: If evolution says that humans are getting smarter, what about smart people in the past?

Nye: Wait: that is not evolution.  It does not mean that people are getting smarter.  Natural selection does not mean the best.  It means those that fit in the best.  The right germ could kill millions.  No matter how smart.  Those who are resistant will survive, not those that are smartest.

Ham: Evolution says that some fish will lose their sight.  That’s not an improvement.  Evolution never provides new information, new function.

Question 16: LAST QUESTION: for both: What is the one thing. . . upon which you base your belief?

Ham: Easy.  The Bible.  Salvation relies upon it.  Test it for yourself.  Look at the evidence.  It all proves what the Bible says.  God can prove it to you, too, if you seek after Him.

Nye: I believe in the process we call science.  It is always a process of discovery.  It is a process of always seeking new answers.  We can all do it.  We are all seekers after knowledge.  Closing point: if we abandon science, we will lose out to other countries.  The USA must embrace science education.

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You can see the whole thing at debatelive.org for several days.

I’m going to bed.  Emotionally exhausted.  I’ll offer some thoughts soon on this debate.  In the meantime, thanks to all for playing along.  Please let us know what you thought.

  • Did one side come out on top?
  • Did anything surprise you?
  • If you started the debate strongly on one side or the other, what was the strongest argument you heard from the other side?  What drove you bonkers?

 

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57 Comments

  1. David Long

     /  February 4, 2014

    Tacos for Ham on Nye? Seems like the metaphors are mixing Laats.

    Reply
  2. This is the first time in awhile I’ll be actually paying strong attention to events in the evolution ‘debate’, as much as I think a debate was for the most part a bad move, I’m happy to get to sit back and watch. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Anyone have any better snacks? I started with cheez balls and beer, but I realized I can’t type and eat cheez balls unless I want to turn my keyboard orange…

    Reply
  4. David Long

     /  February 4, 2014

    Maduro cigar and a nice 17y.o. Kentucky bourbon.

    Reply
    • Wow, Klassy! That bourbon must have been specially created. By an intelligent designer.

      Reply
      • David Long

         /  February 4, 2014

        As a Col. of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, they do know how to do that very well.

  5. David Long

     /  February 4, 2014

    Side note: On Liberty U. campus last week for a research trip, there were debate posters all over the place, and many organized viewing parties….just like SUNY Binghamton, no?

    Reply
  6. Wow, don’t know how I missed the Numbers collection of debates. I will definitely look for that one. Thanks for bringing that to our attention.

    Reply
  7. willbell123

     /  February 4, 2014

    lol @6:53 update 🙂

    Reply
  8. willbell123

     /  February 4, 2014

    And we’re off.

    Reply
  9. David Long

     /  February 4, 2014

    Kids free in 2014!

    Reply
  10. God is with Ham, he won the coin toss. Proof: Seahawks won the coin toss as well.

    Reply
  11. Nye – nice job anticipating the historical science objection and hitting it right away.

    Reply
  12. willbell123

     /  February 4, 2014

    Nye did a good number on historical science. 🙂

    Reply
  13. David Long

     /  February 4, 2014

    Will be interesting to see how Nye takes up the worldview argument. Ham’s appealing to the effects of motivated reasoning. This effect isn’t easy to overcome with those strongly charged by polarized ideology.

    Reply
    • Right on. I think Ham is on his strongest footing when he insists that his creationism is part of a worldview. NOT when creationism is superior science to mainstream science.

      Reply
      • David Long

         /  February 4, 2014

        I seriously doubt Nye will even go there. He doesn’t have the background, and to this point in his public persona, any evidence of understanding the magnitude of this issue in the social domain. He can’t because it’s not his social world, nor can he (and many others) image how a Creationist exists. No imagination for hoe such views are supported through community.

  14. willbell123

     /  February 4, 2014

    Ken does seem a bit nervous, but as the moderator I believe said, the last time he was in a debate was the 90s, and I wonder if last time it was against someone with the same background with presentation. Bill is a good candidate because he’s specifically learned to talk in front of a crowd.

    Reply
  15. willbell123

     /  February 4, 2014

    Not sure mentioning marriage based on Christianity is a great thing to bring up to sway non-believers.

    Reply
    • Right, and even Ham’s longer theological argument here. All about soteriology, which carries absolutely no weight outside of Christian circles.

      Reply
  16. willbell123

     /  February 4, 2014

    Ugh, Agents of SHIELD is on in 12 min and I’m not sure I care enough about this debate to watch the Nye smack down of Ham and miss AoS.

    Reply
    • Yes, it seems as if these arguments are not new.

      Reply
      • willbell123

         /  February 4, 2014

        It’s somewhat comforting at least to know the creationists are still in a very old rut. To the extent that Talk Origins, as old as it is still probably could beat most of Ham’s argument. 🙂

  17. willbell123

     /  February 4, 2014

    I’ll see your recap after the event I guess.

    Reply
  18. nye needs to leave the Ark alone. Attacking the ark story just not a productive use of time. Go back to science and show how we can know history. Show that dinosaur poops include only ferns and no flowering plants and the layers of rock they are found in include the same plants as the poop includes. Communities of organisms are preserved and changed over time. Show we can predict what we will find.

    Reply
  19. I had low expectation for Nye. Unfortunately he is not even meeting those expectations. He is all over the place right now. Even his simple example are tooo complex for soundbites. I wish he would just focus on one thing. Big bang and radiowaves – deadly to an audience.

    Reply
    • Rubidium and Strontium? I agree, he seems to be getting a little out of most audience member’s interest zone. Oh, I see, this is about radioactive dating.

      Reply
  20. Yes, the use of sex several times was a miscalculation. OR maybe it was a crafty way to make the videos unsellable without a warning label:-)

    Reply
    • Seriously, too, I wonder if Nye’s harping on abstruse vocabulary is a strategy to present himself as a more educated person.

      Reply
      • David Long

         /  February 4, 2014

        Interesting that Nye’s crew made no attempt, except for an early mention, to analyze the theological history and novelty of American style Creationist thought. This is where these folks are weak.

      • I agree. This, IMHO, is Nye’s weakness, and Nye is not alone. Mainstream scientists and science educators should learn about the history and culture of American creationists.

      • Ay yi yi, refers to Scripture as a game of telephone. Just dont’ go there. Stick to the science and don’t attack the Bible in this venue. Does he really think that undermining the Bible is going to win that audience.

      • Hear hear. Nye keeps harping on the point that Ham is believing in an English translation of the Bible. Misses the point for many believes in an inerrant Bible. They are not unaware–rather, they are hyper-aware–of translational issues. My hunch is that Nye has not heard many YEC sermons that point out translational issues incessantly.

      • David Long

         /  February 4, 2014

        Finally Nye solidly addresses interpretation.

  21. “kentucky friend” sounded very pejorative to me, not a way to get people to listen to you. He is going back to his card of technology advances from modern science. I agree this is very ineffective.

    Reply
    • David Long

       /  February 4, 2014

      Progress. Progressing towards what? This is too easy of of a take-off to not have this conversation. Opens the science as technology run amok narrative that Ham could have capitalized upon.

      Reply
  22. Neither is well qualified to debate the science. It is was a PR event for both. And Ham adds to what the Bible says. http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/in-the-beginning/

    Here was a recent debate by real scientists.
    http://www.thegreatgoddebate.org/#.UttJFEM6H-g.facebook

    Reply
    • Michael, Thanks for the debate link. I love Michael Ruse, but I think it’s important to point out that he is not a scientist but a philosopher. IMHO, that does not disqualify him from talking about these things. On the contrary–and maybe as an historian this is too self-interested–but I think there is no reason why practicing scientists are somehow uniquely qualified to discuss these issues. It seems the best training would come from fields such as philosophy, religious studies, theology, anthropology, sociology, and, yes, history. In fact, I think the long debate has been hobbled by its definition as primarily a “scientific” question. It is not. IMHO, if we only talk about it as science, we’ll keep going round and round, speaking past one another, as this debate seemed to do.

      Reply
  23. Excellent live blogging. I feel, given my research topic, I probably ought to watch it, but I’m not sure if I can take the full 2:45, and your blog makes me feel like I know roughly what went down.

    Stuart Burgess, by the way, is England’s most distinguished creationist. He is a professor of engineering at Bristol University (which is a highly reputable institution). I think it’s a matter of some embarrassment for the university. I believe there have been issues with Burgess using university headed notepaper to write letters in support of creationism, giving a misleading impression that the university endorses his views.

    Reply
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