Evolution vs creation
If you have 2.5 spare hours, you may want to watch the debate between a creationist and an evolutionist.
The moving content begins around 13:00.
Bill Nye is known as "The Science Guy" who became famous after he stole Professor Proton's shtick (and Sheldon Cooper's wallet). Ken Ham is an Australia-born founder of various creationist facilities. A CNN host moderated the debate somewhere in Cincinnati.
Their yesterday's debate was sort of friendly. Once viewed as the prototype of a bitter intellectual war, the creation-vs-evolution cold war morphed into a pleasant piece of debate. It can't be compared with the climate change debate which is much more vitriolic. I think it's largely because of the societal implications of the climate panic – and because it's not clear where the front lines are. In the religion-based debates, everyone knows that everyone has heard most of these things and the believers or creationists have a certain concentration in some regions and it is only changing slowly. In the climate debate, the concentration of the enemies could be around the corner.
When it comes to the climate change, Bill Nye would be a hardcore Young Earth creationist who believes that the climate began to change not 6,000 but just 100-200 years ago. The climate was created to the man's image and nothing about it is natural, he believes. He is a complete lunatic. But when he talks about the longevity of the Universe and the Earth and about Darwin's theory of the origin of species, he is just fine. I think that he designed the case very cleverly.
Ken Ham is a pleasant, modest man. He is a believer. You will hear the proper creation defended, with God as the unmasked primary authority, without any postmodern tactical labels such as the Intelligent Design.
I think that it's clear that the evidence just doesn't work for him and he knows it. That's why lots of his focus goes something else than actual empirical arguments. We hear the testimony of several inventors and scientists who are fundamentalist Christian believers. Raymond Damadian, the inventor of MRI, is probably the biggest achiever among those. Well, I think that Damadian's contribution is a bit overhyped. MRI would be impossible without the underlying physics, NMR, that was found by Isidor Rabi in 1938 (with improvements by Felix Bloch and Edward Mills Purcell in 1946).
1938 may look like a long time ago and your humble correspondent may look "not that old" but my former colleague (with whom I would often communicate during academic dinners) would actually do some important work – Ramsey method – before Rabi. ;-) Yes, it was Norman Ramsey who is no longer among us.
Ken Ham also offers complaints about the harassment of scholars who are Christians, complaints that often sound like conspiracy theories. He added comments about the hypothetical decay of the society that results from the secular science. I know that much of this criticism of the Academia is completely justified. On the other hand, it is very clear that Ken Ham focused on the sociological would-be arguments because the actual empirical evidence doesn't allow him to present a convincing case. For the same reason, climate Young Earth creationists such as Bill Nye (in another context) love to talk about 97% consensuses and dying grandchildren because their actual scientific case makes no sense whatsoever.
Ham believes that a "secular religion" is being sold as science – it is sometimes true but in most cases, it is not because some assertions called "secularism" are actually supported by proper science. And he made a big deal of the division of science into "empirical science" and "historical science". Bill Nye rejected this division and it seems to me that the division was indeed designed to make you believe that the laws of Nature are changing with time, that miracles could be possible in the past but impossible today, and that nothing is obliged to fit in a complete picture quite generally.
Well, in principle, the laws of Nature could be variable. But the strong assumption that they are not variable is compatible with all the observations which is a highly nontrivial confirmation of the assumption that can't be overlooked. And if one allows the laws of physics to change at all times, the theory designed not to contradict the empirical data is too loose and "fudged" and unconvincing – or unlikely.
Bill Nye had the task to debunk a rather easy target – the young Earth. I would probably pick almost identical evidence as he did. By parallax, billions of stars are clearly further than 6,000 light years. The number of species (tens of millions) is too large to evolve from 7,000 "kinds" ("big species" relevant for the Big Flood proposed by Ken Ham) in 6,000 years (this calculation was partly demagogic because the 10+ new species predicted for every day could very well emerge in the tropical forest where no one sees them, so it wouldn't be a contradiction; after all, people are discovering new species at a comparable rate even in this real, Darwinian world).
The ice cores exhibit up to 650,000 annual cycles, also impossible in 6,000 years. Geological layers allow us to go to millions of years. These long timescales may also be deduced from the radioactive decay of some isotopes with long lifetimes, and so on, and so on. The Young Earth picture is clearly incompatible with any kind of reasoning where you expect to make sense of the doable empirical observations.
Back to Ken Ham. We can't observe the age of the Earth and many other things because they fall into "historical science", he argues. This is bizarre. Every science is historical to some extent because all the data we use to develop, refine, and test theories are observations of something in the past. The past is known although sometimes some extra "indirect" work is required to translate the direct observations of the traces to the events in the past. Some of these analyses are more indirect than others but there is no qualitative "gap" that could allow you to divide the science into historical science and empirical science.
It may make sense to talk about the "historical science" as a science about some one-time events that are "no longer repeatable" while the empirical science is about the lab experiments that may be reproduced as many times as you want. That's OK but there are very thick relationships between these two groups of insights. Some one-time historical events influenced something we can repeatedly observe today; and the one-time historical events were also affected by some laws whose validity we may repeatedly test in the lab, too. Some natural scientists have more of the "unrepeatable historical component" in their research, others have less, but as long as they are doing any natural science, it is impossible for them to live just with one "would-be part" of science.
Ken Ham also talked about some problems with radioactive dating methods. Except for the (wrong) claim that the methods (significantly) disagree, I didn't understand anything in these arguments, probably because it makes no sense. Ken Ham would also criticize the inconsistency of Old-Earth Christians. Their "misbeliefs" are argued by the words of the Bible. Too bad. And all dating methods are unreliable etc. – the only good method is to trust a witness who was there, namely God.
Bill Nye responded similarly as I would – why it's bizarre that they (including lions) had to be vegetarians before the Big Flood etc., why it's strange to place so much faith on a Bible translated many times into English (and censored at various congresses). We always observe the past because the speed of light is finite, and so on. Bill Nye is troubled that interpreters of the Bible such as Ken Ham are supposed to have a stronger authority in finding the truth than the fossils you may find in your Kentucky garden.
Ken Ham is reduced to enumerating about a dozen of fellow believers who have PhDs. It's not just "his models". Well, it wouldn't really matter to a scientific ear. Even if it were just his models, it could be right if it would be empirically viable. The ark may have hosted just 2 x 1,000 animals so there is a plenty of room over there. ;-)
Ham complains that the ice core layers estimate the age only when they rely on "assumptions". Sadly, he doesn't present his alternative set of assumptions that would be compatible with the existence of the numerous layers as well as with the Young Earth. And how did Bill Nye dare to question Noah's ability to build bigger boats than the 19th century engineers? Sometimes it sounds like a parody. ;-)
Concerning the speed of light (and distance of many stars), Ken Ham made an amusing argument that made me laugh out loud. The Big Bang Theory has the horizon problem (he didn't know the right terminology but he meant it), so everyone has a problem, so we're tied. ;-) The only problem is that the horizon problem is harmless for all questions about the Universe that is more than a fraction of a second old and the Big Bang Theory and proper astronomy still explains all the data; Ken Ham's picture breaks down as soon as he encounters first old tree or fossil or anything like that. So it is not a tie. The learning is a gradual process and the Big Bang Theory is able to describe 14 billion over 6 thousand i.e. 2 million times greater portion of the spacetime, with much more natural initial conditions.
Nye said that the shipbuilding is getting better, not worse, species are probably being lost, not created. And the assumptions that Ham complains about are supported by something, by some previous knowledge (or, I would add, by the tests that the assumptions pass later). Bill Nye also explains the possibility of your making a revolution in science.
At 1:50:00, they begin to ask visitors' questions.
First one for Ham: how the celestial bodies are explained and what is their purpose in the Grand Design? The answer is that they are receding now and we don't know the reason but it's probably done in this way for His glory, ;-) to nurture His ego. He is great, indeed. He is infinite. We are small. Wow. Bill Nye talks about kids' curiosity and asks Ham for predictions.
Nye says that "what was before the Big Bang" is a mystery. I would disagree with this approach to the answer. And what will happen in the future? Nye says lots of wrong things about the history of cosmology, wrong years etc. Nobody knows why the expansion is accelerating. People laugh and they have a reason. I find this summary by Nye misleading. Ham informed Nye that there's actually a book out there that explains where we came from and it says, in the first sentence, that at the beginning, God created Heavens and the Earth. Ham adds lots of bizarre spiritual dogmas that "matter can't create information" etc.
Ham is asked about the extra evidence aside from the Bible he has but he starts to talk about "majorities are not always right" which is true but he clearly failed to give an answer to the question.
Nye says that we don't know how consciousness arises from matter. Well, I would say that we know most of answers to refined versions of this question that are demonstrably meaningful. Nye repeats that without science education, the U.S. economy will fall behind. Ham says that the book out there also answers the consciousness question. Ham says that life is meaningless without afterlife.
What would change your mind? Ham effectively says "nothing, I am a Christian". But they may at least refine the detailed geometry of the Big Flood. ;-) Bill Nye enumerates dozens of groundbreaking types of evidence – that stars are nearby, and so on – which could change his mind. Bill Nye is asked to enumerate non-radiometric estimates of the Earth's age. Stars' age, deposition rates, etc. Story about Kelvin's burning-coal model of the Sun. He could know many more methods... Ham says that only meteoroids were radiometrically dated, not Earth. He claims that lots of methods contradict billions of years.
Ham is asked about the rate of continental drift 6,000 years ago. He apparently has no clue what continental drift is. ;-) Instead, he offers a name of PhD literal Christian geologists. Suddenly, he starts to talk about catastrophic plate tectonics. He would repeat that nothing can be said about the past so the question remains unanswered. I mean, if you're asked about a number, this vacuous tirade of conspiracy theories just can't replace this number.
Nye says a few basics on the plate tectonics. Of course that plate tectonics is another way to show the longevity of the Earth that he had previously forgotten. He also points out that various clocks always "differ a little bit" which doesn't mean that they're fundamentally wrong. Nye picks green as the favorite color, Ham picks blue. Ham won this one.
Nye is asked how he reconciles evolution with the second law of thermodynamics. It is a fantastic law, he says. Some intro to heat losses and entropy. The answer is that the Earth isn't a closed system. The energy from the Sun drives it. Well, the Earth is really converting high-energy heat quanta to low-energy heat quanta by which it increases the entropy of the radiation, which allows the Earth-bound processes to reduce the entropy. Nye didn't "quite" explain that. Ham repeats his thesis that energy and matter can't create life, just God has a license for that. ;-) Entropy is too much for Ham.
Ham, would you still believe Jesus if the Earth were shown to be old? Ham answers that it's impossible to prove the age of the Earth using the scientific method (to him because he is already stuck, I must add). Nye, is there place for God in science? He talks about believers who still like science or use its results.
Should we take the Bible literally, Ham? Stone those who touch a pig to death, marry several babes. He takes it "naturally" but what it means is arbitrary. God said that multiple women are wrong. Nye complains that Ham has the power to divide the Bible to "real stuff" and "poetry". Has Nye ever believed that evolution was achieved by a higher power? Nye chooses to be an agnostic about a higher power here but the ID is wrong because the complexity increases without a designer as a mediocre model of life is being eaten by the better model. Nature is bottom-up and it fills Nye with joy. Ham claims that there's no function ever created that wasn't there previously, genetically. Bizarre. One first has the genes and the animals with functions is built around the DNA. But all pieces of DNA and corresponding functions were created for the first time; most of the people's organs' genes are not in the genes of primitive bacteria, clearly.
Ham, is creationism used to produce a single useful product? Ham: yes, many (including secular inventors) are borrowing from the Christian view. So the Bible says that God invented the clothes etc. ;-) He enumerates Maxwell etc. who were creationists, too. Ham repeats the names of creationists in science; Nye repeats the "lack of predictive power". They haven't trained enough material. ;-)
Nye is asked how growing IQ is compatible with smart folks in the past. He says the IQ isn't growing, just the fitness. Ham says that there's just survival of the surviving and it is a tautology with no new information. That's an interesting argument but it's completely wrong. The survival of the fittest implies and explains that and why the complexity is increasing.
Most important pillar of his belief. Ham: the Bible, better than any religious text and it has everything (a five-minute summary of the Bible follows). Nye: information and process we call science. It fills him with joy. And we want to know: is the E.T. listening? It drives us.
Warning to the audience: county is under snow emergency now. Too bad that Nye hadn't just talked about global warming in the previous monologue.
The Daily Beast has a thoughtful article saying that Nye has lots and had to lose (but he loves media attention) but I disagree with that. He did a very good job and it had to be too clear that Ham didn't actually have any answers to any real questions. There are surely believers who don't care and who won't change their mind – most people won't. But I think that sufficiently curious and technically skilled listeners regardless of their religion or irreligion were affected – in Nye's direction.
By the way, Nye and Ham continued to debate at Piers Morgan's CNN show. Ham destroyed Morgan's plans for the segment when he revealed that he is a climate alarmist whacko just like Bill Nye and Morgan himself, in contrast with Morgan's expectations. So Ham and Nye essentially differ only in the point that according to Ham, global warming is a punishment for a human who touched a pig; while Bill Nye thinks it's a punishment to a human who exhaled some CO2 after he touched the pig.