Does Life Imply Creation? Don McLeroy Says Yes

Should mainstream scientists debate with creationists?  This morning we have another chance to discuss the nature of life, science, and evolution with a prominent creationist intellectual. Will anyone take it?

Don McLeroy

Science, c’est moi…

Some mainstream scientists affect a pose of exhaustion. Speaking with creationists, they say, is not worth the effort. Some folks criticize popularizers such as Bill Nye “The Science Guy” for deigning to debate young-earth impresario Ken Ham. Doing so, critics say, only feeds creationist pretensions to the label “science.” Doing so, critics insist, only gives creationists a win; it falsely implies that evolution is “controversial,” a controversy worth sharing in America’s classrooms.

Dr. Don McLeroy, erstwhile head of the Texas State Board of Education, has shared an essay he’s penned about the deficiencies of materialism.

I hope readers will take time to read and consider Dr. McLeroy’s intellectual claims. Dr. McLeroy, after all, is not your run-of-the-mill creationist. While other creationists fume and fuss over new evolution-heavy textbooks, Dr. McLeroy encourages kids to read em. Why? Because, Dr. McLeroy thinks, the truth will out. If students read about evolutionary science, they will quickly see that the evolutionary emperor has no clothes.

In his essay, Dr. McLeroy insists that only “biblical explanations” pass the test of science. As he puts it,

materialist explanations concerning the origin of the universe, the origin of plant life, the origin of creature life and the origin of human consciousness, fail the test of science.

Dr. McLeroy claims allies such as Richard Lewontin, who insisted in 1997 that only our “prior commitment” to materialism makes it seem convincing.

If we can only lay aside for a moment our faulty assumptions in favor of materialism, McLeroy argues, we can see how empty they really are. For example, the astounding suggestion that something—everything—could come out of nothingness only makes sense if we assume that God is involved as the Uncreated Creator.

As McLeroy concludes,

we do see a cosmos that had a beginning and thus had a cause; we do see plants and animals that reproduce after their kind and can be organized into distinct classifications; we do see creatures with a life and not just a living form; and we do see man in a separate class from all the other unique creatures. All these simple observations support the ideas of Genesis; they pass the test of science. Therefore, why not give the biblical explanations a better look? As [Neil DeGrasse] Tyson explained: let us ‘build on those ideas that pass the test, reject the ones that fail, follow the evidence wherever it leads and question everything.’

Are you convinced? More important, if you’re not convinced, why not?

Let’s Fight about Evolution and Climate Change

Put your money where your mouth is. That’s the message Trey Kay explores in his new Us & Them podcast. What happens when creationists and scientists put up a challenge to their foes? Trey talks with a creationist and a mainstream scientist, both of whom have put up big money to lure their enemies into a losing debate.

The two sides are represented by creationist Karl Priest and physicist Christopher Keating. Priest has offered a $10,000 Life Science Prize. Anyone who can debate Joseph Mastropaolo and can convince a judge of the evidence for evolution will win the money. Keating has put up $30,000 to anyone who can come up with scientific evidence against human-caused climate change.

For those of us interested in educational culture wars, it doesn’t get much better than this. Trey talks with both men alone, then puts them together for a culture-war conversation. What makes creationists so confident? Mainstream scientists?

As Trey concludes, both men offer their prizes in an attempt to get attention for their side. Neither really hopes to convince the other.

That’s been the case for evolution/creation debates for a long time now. Some of us remember the recent head-to-head debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. As we discussed at the time, this sort of debate tends to preach to the choir on each side. For mainstream scientists, Bill Nye’s arguments sounded iron-clad. For creationists, Ken Ham made his case.

As historian Ron Numbers has documented, these evolution-creation debates have a long and checkered history. Time and again, high-profile public figures have challenged their foes to debate the issue. Does anyone really hope to solve the issue this way?

As Trey Kay explores in this podcast, it is easy enough to talk politely to one another. But once creationists and evolutionists try to debate, we quickly end up just spinning our wheels.

A Brazillion Creationists Out There

How powerful is creationism worldwide? Some pundits have suggested that creationism is unique to the USA. But recent news from Brazil indicates that global creationism may be gaining steam.

The latest report from Brazil comes to us from the National Center for Science Education. Proposed legislation in that country would introduce US-style creationism to Brazilian public schools. My Portuguese is no good, but according to the NCSE report, this bill insists that schools include creationist science, including “the ideas that life has its origin in God, the supreme creator of the whole universe and of all things that compose it.”

Why? Because, in the words of the bill’s sponsor, “the creationist doctrine is prevalent throughout our country.”

Is it? Some science pundits, such as Bill Nye, contend that this sort of creationism is “unique” to the United States.

In this case, The Science Guy is flat-out wrong. Creationism—even if we limit it to just the Christian kind—is a global phenomenon. And the reasons for that globalism matter.

Pundits like Bill Nye might assume that creationism thrives in those corners of the globe that have not yet been incorporated into the global conversation. In some isolated regions, this theory goes, the obvious truths of evolution have not yet penetrated.

But that explanation gets it backward. The reason for thriving creationism in Brazil is not due to ineffective science education. It is due, rather, to explosively effective religious education. That is, Brazilian creationists are not simply religious primitives who have been isolated from the gospel of evolution. Instead, they are religious innovators who have been connected to a global gospel of creationism.

As usual, historian Ron Numbers—my grad-school mentor—put it best. In his book The Creationists, Ron captures this experience with a pithy chapter title: “Creation Science Floods the World.”

A growing force in Brazilian politics...

A growing force in Brazilian politics…

Throughout the twentieth century, conservative evangelical Protestants have successfully spread their religion throughout Latin America, finding a particularly congenial home in Brazil.

As a recent study from the Pew Research Center for Religion & Public Life makes clear, US-style evangelicalism has aggressively moved into Brazil, courting the country’s Catholics and converting them in large numbers.

For a hundred years, evangelical groups have spread via missionary organizations into Brazil. As Andrew Chestnut of Virginia Commonwealth University explains, groups such as the Assemblies of God have been particularly successful in Brazil. With this Pentecostal denomination, at least, Brazilian locals have taken over and made it their own. And they are now asserting their power politically.

For instance, the author of the recent creationist legislation, Marco Feliciano, is an Assemblies of God pastor. And he insists that Brazilians are on his side. Poll numbers back him up. According to the NCSE report, fully 89% of Brazilian respondents think creationism should be taught in Brazil’s public schools. Nearly that many, 75%, think ONLY creationism should be taught.

I’ve argued in the past that evolution educators often have a missionary zeal to spread the truth about evolution. This news from Brazil suggests that evolution’s missionaries are just not as good as the creationist types.

US Government Employs Creationist Scientists

Thanks to the ever-watchful Sensuous Curmudgeon, we learn of plans to open a new, enormous creation museum near Boise, Idaho.  But in exploring the announcement of this planned mega-museum, we came across an interesting tidbit: Two of the creationist scientists involved in this project worked for the US government as geologists.  Does this mean that the government is funding creation science?  And does it prove the creationist claim that their experts are engaged in “real” science?

As reported yesterday by the Boise Weekly, the Northwest Science Museum has big ambitions.  Its founders want to open an enormous display area, 300,000 to 450,000 square feet.  They hope to build a full-size replica Noah’s Ark that could rival the plans of the more-established Creation Museum in Kentucky.

Big Plans for Boise

Big Plans for Boise

Whether or not the Idaho creationists succeed in their lavish plans, they will likely end up adding another stop to those who want to tour the nation’s many creation museums.  More interesting, the announced plans also raise crucial questions about creationism and government support for religion.

In their attempt to raise funds for their new project, the leaders of the Boise museum published a prospectus that includes information about themselves.  According to this document, the leadership team includes two experienced geologists.

Douglas J. Bennett, founder of the museum, has degrees in geology and science education from Boise State University.  For the past eighteen years, Bennett has worked as a geologist for the US Bureau of Reclamation.  Similarly, museum founder Brent Carter earned a degree in geology from a large public university and worked for 42 years as a geologist for the same US Bureau, retiring with the title of Chief Geologist of the Pacific Northwest Region.

More than the opening of a new creation museum, these careers raise important questions for those of us interested in issues of evolution and creationism.

First, some might suggest that long governmental careers for these ardent and active creationists implies government support for religion.  But does it really?  After all, the government likely hired them to do specific jobs.  They had the necessary qualifications.  Whatever they chose to do in their private lives wouldn’t be any of the government’s business.  Nor would the government be supporting these men’s religious work, as long as each geologist didn’t do his creationist research while on the clock.

More interesting, we have to ask what these careers tell us about the intersection of mainstream science and creation science.  In the recent debate between leading creationist Ken Ham and leading science pundit Bill Nye, Nye repeated his charge that creationism blocked kids from learning science.  Ham retorted with several examples of successful creationist scientists and engineers.

The careers of Bennett and Carter seem to help the creationist case.  After all, if they have both had successful careers as geologists, how can we say that creationists can’t do science?  One might suggest that the sorts of engineering tasks these creationists engaged in were not primary science.  But it seems to me a stretch to say that these creationist geologists did not have careers specifically in the science that is contested.  In other words, both of these men worked as geologists, though their religious beliefs gave them very non-mainstream ideas about that geology.

Consider—again from the museum prospectus—the tasks Bennett claimed to have worked on for the US government.  As part of his job, Bennett

Performed surface and subsurface geotechnical studies and exploration programs utilizing diamond drill, power-auger, test pits, tunnels, and other processes to secure data for seismotectonic, ground-water, and other special studies of dams, reservoirs, canals, tunnels, spillways, power plants, and related structures.

One might say that none of this engineering work includes primary geological research.  And if it did, someone who believed in a young earth and a recent world-wide flood would be at a crippling disadvantage.  But anti-creationists sometimes make a different point.  Bill Nye, for instance, has warned that a creationist nation will soon fall behind in technology and engineering.

The careers of Bennett and Carter seem to demonstrate the weakness of that argument.  Indeed, Nye argues that creationism will turn kids away from science-related careers.  But in the case of these two men, at least, it was precisely their religious beliefs that led them to careers in geology.

So does this case show government support for creationism?  Not really.  But it does offer evidence that creationism does not necessarily deter young people from going into science-related careers.  Indeed, because of the tumult over the nature of biology and geology, perhaps creationist beliefs actually drive some young people into careers in science.



Was I Fair to Ken Ham?

Ken Ham complains that I was not precise enough.  I think I was.

Here’s the issue: On his blog today, leading young-earth creationist Ken Ham chided yours truly for saying “Ken Ham” when I really meant something like “conservative Christians.”  Ham was reacting to a recent post of mine in which I asked about Ham’s inordinate influence over some conservative Protestant colleges.  In that post, I noted Ham’s recent pronouncements about leading evangelical schools such as Calvin College and Bryan College.  I wondered if conservative schools had to bend over backwards to satisfy Christian critics like Ham.  Did schools like Bryan College have to toe the Ham line in order to maintain their support base among conservative evangelical Protestants?

Be More Precise, Please

Be More Precise, Please

Ham said I needed to be “more precise.”  Ham made the fair point that Science Guy Bill Nye often used the unfair rhetorical strategy of reducing all creationism to simply Ken Ham.  Of talking about creationism as if it were just a one-man crusade to bilk taxpayers and fool schoolchildren.

When it comes to Bill Nye’s language, I agree with Ham.  Bill Nye–with whom I generally agree–does not always seem to understand creationism.  In a recent post, for instance, I agreed with Mr. Ham that Bill Nye “Misse[d] the Boat on Creationism.”  I have also agreed with Mr. Ham that Mr. Nye’s use of phrases such as “Ham’s followers” is sneaky and unfair.

But in this case, I was not doing any such thing.  In my essay about Mr. Ham’s influence on conservative Christian colleges, I was talking precisely about the work of Mr. Ham and Answers In Genesis.  If I was incorrect about the influence of Ham in the recent controversy at Bryan College, I’ll apologize.  But I won’t apologize for mistakes I didn’t make.

Ham also notes that I expand my questions to include the state of conservative evangelical colleges and sexual assault.  As ILYBYGTH readers know, this is a question that has been bandied about here recently.  Those who are new to the blog will not be aware that we do not simply attack “fundamentalist” schools as rape havens.  Indeed, our recent string of commentary began with questions about a journalist’s unschooled presumptions about the nature of fundamentalism.  We do not assume that sexual assault is somehow unique to conservative religious colleges, but it does seem that there is a connection between the opaque authoritarian cultures of many conservative colleges and a culture that blames the victims of sexual assault.

The central point of interest to me, though, then and now, is whether and how Mr. Ham has come to wield such authority over conservative evangelical colleges.  In the case of Bryan College, at least, Ham’s worries led to changes at the school.  I can’t help but wonder if Ham’s say-so is of enormous influence at similar colleges and universities.  This is not a question about conservatism in general.  This is not a question about creationism in general.  This is a specific question about the influence of Mr. Ham’s Answers In Genesis ministry.


Bill Nye Misses the Boat on Creationism

What does it mean to be a creationist?  Especially a young-earth creationist of the Ken Ham sort?  “Science Guy” Bill Nye argued the other day that creationism represents “striking science illiteracy.”

I like Bill Nye.  I like science.  But Nye’s statement represents a lamentable cultural illiteracy.  In the long run, it doesn’t help the cause of evolution education.  It does not help to bridge the culture-war trenches.

Around minute five of the video above, Nye begins to discuss his recent debate with young-earth creationist leader Ken Ham.  Nye humbly acknowledges that it might not have been a good idea to debate Ham.  But he went ahead with the debate.  Why?  Because Nye worries about the “striking science illiteracy” represented by young-earth creationism in the United States (around 6:23 in the video clip above).  Without science, Nye goes on, there would be no internet.  There would not be enough food for everyone.  Science and especially science education represent basic building blocks of a just and prosperous society.  Nye hopes that high-profile debates might help voters and taxpayers de-fund and delegitimize creationism in America’s public schools.

For the record, I agree that the “Ham-on-Nye” debate was a good thing for those of us who want more and better evolution education in America’s schools.  I applaud Nye’s bravery and his presentation skills.  But I wish he would not rely on this false notion that young-earth creationism represents a simple lack of knowledge about evolution.  It is not true, and it suggests bad policy approaches to improving evolution education.

Consider, for example, our best recent polls about science literacy and creationism.  As political scientists Eric Plutzer and Michael Berkman recount in their book Evolution, Creationism and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms, creationists are not less scientifically literate than non-creationists.

For instance, one Pew poll from 2005 found that Americans who know about the scientific consensus in favor of evolution still support the teaching of creationism in public schools.  You read that right: Among the 54% of Americans who agree that scientists agree about evolution, large majorities (74%) supported teaching creationism, intelligent design, or some mix of evolution, ID, and creationism in public-school science classes.

Another poll that Berkman and Plutzer summarize found that general scientific literacy was not correlated with belief in evolution.  That is, whether or not one was aware of general scientific information had no relation to whether or not one evinced a belief in evolution.

As Dan Kahan noted recently, even the National Science Foundation has considered removing a question about evolution from its science-literacy poll.  Why?  Because there is no correlation between general scientific knowledge and beliefs about evolution.  What people know or don’t know about evolution does not give us any information about whether they believe it or don’t.

Knowledge is distinct from belief.

Bill Nye’s assumption that young-earth creationism represents a lack of scientific knowledge is more than just an embarrassing ignorance on Nye’s part.  The educational and political tasks in cases of naïve non-knowledge are worlds apart from the educational and political tasks in cases of intentional or constructed non-knowledge.  In the case of evolution education, if creationists were simply unaware of evolutionary science, then outreach programs would have a good chance of success.  The task would be simply to spread information.  But in reality, evolution education must recognize that many students and families are not simply ignorant, but resistant to this form of knowledge.  Educational efforts must strive first to understand the reasons for this resistance.  Only then can evolution educators hope to develop effective strategies to teach evolution.

Consider an example from outside the world of evolution education.  Imagine your task is to deliver polio vaccine in a rural area.  If the people in the area did not know about the vaccine, you could simply publicize the benefits and the location of the vaccination clinic.  Then people would bring their children to receive the vaccine.

But if the people in the area thought that the vaccine was dangerous, you couldn’t simply put up posters and distribute flyers.  You would have to engage in a very different task.  You would have to understand why people thought the vaccine was dangerous.  You would have to get to know the reasoning involved in order to offer counter-arguments that would be convincing.  Only if you could convince people that the vaccine was helpful and not dangerous could you ever hope to vaccinate large percentages of the population.

Bill Nye is talented.  Bill Nye is brave.  Bill Nye is smart.

But he continues to display a puzzling ignorance about the contours of creationism in America.  Instead of using his considerable influence to suggest pragmatic policies to spread evolution education, he continues to misdirect evolution education policy.  He needs to learn about creationism if he wants to debate it intelligently.


Ham on Nye: The Debate Continues

He-said-he-said.  Who are we to believe? Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and creationist leader Ken Ham have published reflections on their recent debate.  Nye explains his triumphHam says, not so fast.  To this reader, Ham seems to be on the defensive.

As ILYBYGTH readers recall, the debate itself occurred a couple of months ago.  Bill Nye traveled to Ham’s Creation Museum to tackle the question, “Is creation a viable model of origins in the modern scientific era?”  The debate rollicked over some familiar territory and included some surprises.  Ham focused on his idiosyncratic definition of science, split into authentic “observational” science and illegitimate “historical” science.  Nye piled on the traditional skeptical puzzlers: How could a tree be more than 6,000 years old on a young earth?  Why are there no fossils out of order?  How could an Ark survive?

In the pages of the Skeptical Inquirer, Nye recently offered his reflections on the debate.  He explains his strategy to pile on example after example of young-earth-confounding science.  He explains his decision to spend his first precious ninety seconds on a mild joke about bow ties.  He profusely thanks his advisers, such as the experienced creation/evolution debaters at the National Center for Science Education.  Nye’s tone is profoundly celebratory.  In short, he explains how and why he triumphed.

Perhaps not surprising, Ken Ham took exception to Nye’s comments.  Never one to back away from a challenge, Ham recently published a rejoinder to Nye’s memoir.  To me, Ham’s article seems strangely defensive.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m no follower of Mr. Ham.  But I have defended him against vicious verbal assaults from skeptics.  I have also taken The Science Guy to task for his woeful misunderstanding of the culture of creationism.  But in this case, Ham’s only defense seems to be to niggle around the edges of Nye’s memories.

Ham objects, for example, to Nye’s memory of how the debate came about.  The way Nye tells it, Ham persistently challenged Nye to a debate until Nye agreed.  The way Ken Ham remembers it, however, the whole thing came about at the suggestion of an Associated Press reporter.

Ham also objected to Nye’s repeated suggestion that Ham has a “congregation,” and that all of these museums appeal to “Ham’s followers.”  Such language, Ham protests, seems to be an effort to marginalize Ham’s Answers In Genesis ministry as a fringe cult.  Fair enough.  I would be surprised if Bill Nye knew much about the history of parachurch organizations in American (and Australian) evangelical Protestantism.  For evangelical Protestants, there is often a clear distinction between church and broader organizations that also help the cause.  Missionary groups, Bible leagues, youth organizations, and similar parachurch organizations are a familiar part of the evangelical experience.  Nye really does seem to miss this distinction entirely.  But does it matter?  Does it really hurt Ham’s cause if outsiders think of his work as a “congregation” instead of a “ministry?”  It seems the distinction only matters to members themselves.

Perhaps strangest of all, Ham claims to catch Nye in an embarrassing distortion of the truth.  Nye insists that he had never been inside the Creation Museum before the debate.  One time when he was in the area, Nye explained, he drove around the parking lot, but the museum itself was closed.  Nye says he saw the “infamous” statue of a dinosaur with early humans outside the museum.  But Ham seems to prove that Nye distorted this memory.  Ham produces a photo that apparently shows Bill Nye outside the Creation Museum in 2011.  Ham even notes a 2011 Facebook post that seems to confirm the date and duration (122 seconds!) of Nye’s visit.  The museum, Ham claims, was indeed open at the time.  Plus, there is no statue outside the museum that depicts humans cavorting with dinosaurs.  How could Nye have seen a statue that doesn’t exist?

Nye's 122 Seconds Outside the Creation Museum

Nye’s 122 Seconds Outside the Creation Museum

These sorts of nitpicks put Nye in an awkward position.  Why would Nye embellish his memories of his 2011 visit to the Creation Museum’s parking lot?

In the end, though, they don’t seem to make a difference.  Throughout this post-debate commentary, Ken Ham takes a decidedly defensive tone.  He pokes holes in Nye’s memories, but he doesn’t really challenge Nye’s central conclusion that the debate was a triumph for mainstream science.


Will Creationists Take Half a Loaf?

Okay, so here’s a deal: If science educators in public schools agree to remain neutral about creationists’ beliefs, will creationists allow teachers to teach their kids evolution?

I don’t rule the world, but if I did, that would be my cure for our creation/evolution battles.  Let me try to spell it out in a little more detail:

I’m working on a short book with philosopher Harvey Siegel, tentatively titled Teaching Evolution in a Creation Nation: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives.  Why would we attempt such a thing?  It wasn’t our idea.  Our little book will be part of a series cooked up by historian Jon Zimmerman and philosopher Randy Curren.  What if, they asked, what if we could get philosophers and historians talking to one another about educational issues?

This past weekend, the authors of these books gathered for a workshop at New York University.  Harvey and I made our case.  The high-caliber intellectual firepower gathered around the table asked lots of difficult questions.  Hardest of all, IMHO, was the one above: Will Creationists Take Half a Loaf?

In essence, given the long history of cultural battles over the teaching of evolution and creationism, Harvey and I make the following argument:

  • Creationism may or may not be science, but it’s not the best science out there.  Students in public schools must be taught the best science available.  At this point in history, that means the modern Darwinian synthesis.  (Bear with me for a minute here.  I know we can argue about what we mean by this, or whether or not that is the best name for mainstream evolutionary theory.  But for the moment, for the sake of argument, let’s proceed.)
  • Too many scientists and science teachers take this to mean that creationism must be purged from students’ minds.  If we consider creationism to be a form of religious dissent, that sort of attitude among mainstream scientists seems both cruel and pedagogically ineffective.
  • Teachers in public schools, therefore, must teach evolution.  Real evolution, not watered down with bogus religiously inspired alternatives.
  • But teachers must not make any claims on the religious beliefs of their students.  If students acquire a reasonable knowledge of evolutionary theory, their teachers will have succeeded.  Full Stop.  Public schools should tell students nothing about what religious beliefs they should hold.
  • In short, the goal of evolution education should be for students to understand or know evolutionary theory, but not (necessarily) to believe it.

One of the big issues that came up in our weekend workshop was whether or not students and teachers could really walk this line between understanding and belief.  How practical is it to ask students to “know” something they don’t “believe?”  But let’s leave that aside for a moment.  The question I’d like to ask this morning is different.

Assuming teachers could embrace this goal of “understanding-not-belief,” do you think young-earth creationists would go for it?  That is, would creationists who hold ideas that differ radically from the mainstream scientific consensus agree to allow their kids to learn evolution, IF the public schools agreed not to meddle with their children’s religious beliefs about evolution?

Smart people are skeptical.  With good reason.  At the recent blockbuster debate between young-earth creationist Ken Ham and science popularizer Bill Nye, for example, Ham did not take the role of a religious dissident, but rather insisted that creationism meant superior science.  Creationists have always insisted that their beliefs are better science, not just a religious dissent from good science.

So I ask again: Will creationists accept public education that teaches real evolution—and only real evolution—in science classes, IF that education remains stubbornly neutral about related religious beliefs?

Evolutionists Roast Ham


Thanks to the brilliant Matt Stopera, we also have a series of 22 questions evolution-believers would like to ask Ken Ham.

[If you’re just joining us, you can catch up on the details of the Ham-on-Nye debate here; some analysis here; and some of Stopera’s creationist questions here.]

As a preamble, let me remind readers that I am a “self-identified evolutionist” myself, so my comments here will be more along the lines of family disagreements than were my comments about the creationists’ questions.

I cringe the most when I see the snark inherent in some of these questions.  Worst of all, one questioner asked about the Flintstones.  This kind of question just poisons the well.  If I were a young-earth creationist reading this, it would reassure me that everything I believed about mainstream intellectual/scientific culture is correct. First, this kind of question demonstrates a determinedly hostile attitude toward creationist belief.  Second, it implies that creationists believe things they don’t really believe.  Third, it doesn’t demonstrate any knowledge about evolution or science, only a knowledge of kitschy old TV cartoons.  Finally, it proves that only creationists are willing to talk politely and civilly to those with whom they disagree.  As Ken Ham tried to prove in the debate itself, many creationists believe that evolution believers are “indoctrinated” into believing evolution by fake science that has “hijacked” the name science for its own anti-God purposes.  Closed-minded burns like this Flintstones question demonstrate first and foremost–to any intelligent creationist–that Ham was right.  Evolution, this question implies, is something we’re not even willing to talk about.  All we can do is make fun of those with whom we disagree.  A shameful repudiation of liberal civil values.

Also sad, some questioners chose to make only assertions.  One woman wrote happily, “Science rules!”  Not exactly a proud demonstration of the clear intellectual superiority of the modern evolutionary synthesis.

Happily, other evolutionists asked better questions.  The best point Nye made during the debate, IMHO, was the irrefutability of the fossil record.  Find a single exception, Nye repeated, and you’ll convince me.  The evidence is clear.  Several questioners challenged Ham to address that issue more clearly and directly.

Other evolutionists, surprisingly, focused on religious themes.  As one guy put it, “What’s with all the raping and pillaging, God?”  Now, this doesn’t have anything to do with evolution directly, but I think religious questions are the proper field of discussion here, not scientific ones.  It makes the most sense to me for evolutionists to challenge creationists–especially Ham’s brand of young-earth creationist–on the theological and logical problems with the religious attitudes at the heart of YEC.  Why should we believe in a six-day creation, in other words, and not the rest of the Old Testament?  Of course, intelligent YECs have answers to those questions, but by asking religious questions, IMHO, we keep this discussion where it properly belongs.

Stoperas HamOther questions seem less well thought out.  One person asked, for example, how one could doubt evolution, since there were entire disciplines devoted to it?  That seems like an ignorant question to me.  Why would anyone assume that something that gets studied a great deal must be true?  The history of science can give us plenty of examples of radically untrue notions that attracted lots of academic attention: quantity of angels on pins, phlogiston, phrenology…the list could go on and on.

Some smart questions demonstrated a more understandable ignorance.  One person, for instance, asked, “How can you deny microevolution?”  A good question, but one that shows a lack of knowledge about today’s young-earth creationism.  Creationist scientists these days are actually some of the most ardent advocates of the distinction between “micro-” and “macro-” evolution.  Creationists eagerly agree that microevolution occurred.  In the debate, Ham referred to this as the changing of God’s original “kinds.”

Finally, several of the questions asked about educational issues, the questions near and dear to our hearts here at ILYBYGTH.  Some were silly, such as one who said he required his textbooks to be newer than 4,000 years old.  This is not only silly in the obvious sense that creationists use lots of new textbooks, but in the deeper sense that YECs would call the Bible a “textbook” only in a unique sense.  The Bible to many YECs is indeed a storehouse of knowledge, but it is much more than that.  As Ham argued in the debate proper, the Bible has a unique status, something much more than a textbook.

Another made the great argument, “Keep religion out of my science classes!”  Even better would be if this person added, “Keep YOUR religion out of my science classes.”  This is indeed a strong point.  Whatever one may say about it, even Ken Ham agrees that YEC is a belief based in religion.  Indeed, he goes through verbal (and mental) gymnastics in his efforts to prove that evolution is also a religion.  Both sides agree, though, that science classes in public schools ought not teach religion.  And intelligent YECs admit that their evolutionary beliefs are frankly religious.

OK, nuf sed.  Three cheers for Matt Stopera.  This 22-vs-22 has been at least as illuminating as the debate itself.


Creationists Grill Nye


What did creationists want to ask Bill Nye?  In Tuesday’s big debate, we heard a series of audience questions, but there must have been many audience members who still wanted to ask more.

Journalist Matt Stopera was there, and he asked self-identified creationists what they would wanted to have asked Nye.  Whatever your analysis of the debate, these questions help us understand what creationists thought of Mr. Nye and his presentation of the evolutionary worldview.

Some of the questions demonstrate ignorance of mainstream evolutionary science.  One respondent, for example, wondered why there were still monkeys if we came from monkeys.  That’s not what evolution says.  This is the sort of simple, naïve ignorance that too many non-creationists think makes up all of creationism.  A couple of other questions asked similarly naïve questions.  How can there be a sunset without God, one asked.  Another asserted that since the world was “amazing,” there must be a God.  It doesn’t take a Bill Nye to poke scientific holes in that sort of naïve creationism.

But that’s not all there is to the intellectual fabric of American creationism.  The other questions show the diversity among creationists.  One question asked simply, “What about noetics?”  Another woman wondered how we can understand salvation if we believed in evolution.  Another challenged Nye: “Are you scared of a divine creator?”  Two people asked about the Lucy fossils.  Some asked what caused the Big Bang.  When this came up in the debate itself, Bill Nye frankly and enthusiastically responded that he did not know, but that non-knowledge and the excitement of discovery lay squarely at the heart of real science.

stopera nye

Some of the questions showed that creationists have learned science, but a very different science.  For instance, one woman wanted to know how evolution could account for an increase in genetic information.  This is a question mainstream science can answer, but it is often presented by creationist scientists as a decisive disproof of mainstream evolutionary science.  What does it matter?  It shows that some creationists are not simply unaware of mainstream science.  Rather, their knowledge about evolution has been occluded by a compelling–if not scientifically accurate–counter-knowledge.  This is different from people who just don’t know about evolution.

Several questioners wanted to ask Nye about schools.  “Are you influencing children in a positive way?” one asked.  Why not teach more than one “theory” of origins, a couple more wanted to know.

Thanks to Stopera for sharing this fascinating gallery of creationist conundrums.