Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Bill Nye the Science Guy ... debates evolution? Or gives a crackpot undue credibility?

I haven't watched The video of Bill Nye's debate with fundamentalist Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, a "Young Earth Creationist" group.

Mixed opinions are coming in. But I'm inclined even before seeing the video to agree with Michael Schulson in The Bill Nye-Ken Ham Debate Was a Nightmare for Science Daily Beast 02.05.14: "Ham won this debate months ago, when Nye agreed to participate."

Because it's part of the fundamentalist anti-science scam to try to get scientists to debate creationism as science. It's not science, it's Christian fundamentalism dressed up in pseudoscientific trappings.

Not only has that been a characteristic of Christian fundamentalism science it developed in its current form in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to try to make beliefs founded on a "literalist" interpretation of the Christian Scriptures sound more scientific than science. But they've been working for decades to get around laws and court decisions banning the teaching of religion in public schools by trying to present creationism as an alternative scientific explanation of the origins of the Earth.

Judge John E. Jones III of the Pennsylvania federal district court int he 2005 Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District case, a challenge to the required teaching of "intelligent design" (ID) as science, explained the creationist pseudoscience scam in his opinion, Memorandum Opinion 12/20/05, US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

I discussed that ruling in "Intelligent design" scam loses big-time in federal court 12/21/2005.

Ana Kasparian and John Iadarola of The Young Turks report on it in Creationist Signs at the Bill Nye/ Ken Ham Debate 02/05/2014:

John makes a good point there about how creationists deliberately blur the meanings of "theory" in English as a scientific theory (a systematic description explaining empirically verified facts) and the colloquial meaning of "just a theory" (a vague guess).

Stoyan Zaimov reports in the conservative Christian Post, Bill Nye, Ken Ham Discuss Humans and Dinosaurs With Piers Morgan; Reactions to Creationist Debate 02/05/2014 on how our friend Bro. Al, considered the leading theologian of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the US, reacted:

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and who supports young earth creationism, was present at Tuesday's event. He saw the debate as being "about the central worldview clash of our times, and of any time: the clash between the worldview of the self-declared 'reasonable man' and the worldview of the sinner saved by grace."

Mohler pointed out that Nye, who identifies as an agnostic and as a "reasonable man," has failed to acknowledge that man's reasoning has been corrupted by the fall (of man), as described in Genesis and other passages in the Bible.

"This is what theologians refer to as the 'noetic effects of the fall.' We have not lost the ability to know all things, but we have lost the ability to know them on our own authority and power," the theologian argued. "We are completely dependent upon divine revelation for the answers to the most important questions of life. Our sin keeps us from seeing what is right before our eyes in nature."

Not all Christians believe in young earth creationism. Protestant pastors are split on the age of the earth. A LifeWay Research survey conducted in 2011 found that 43 percent don't believe the earth is approximately 6,000 years old while 46 percent believe it is.
In practice in most conservative churches, "we have lost the ability to know them on our own authority and power" means: just trust what the preacher tells you. Even about scientific questions on which he has no special knowledge whatsoever.

Josh Rosenau (How Bill Nye Won the Debate 02/04/2014) on the blog of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) notes that Nye did gesture toward the religious nature of the creationist story. (Rosenau to his credit notes in his post that he was part of the teamed that prepped Nye for the debate.) But it sounds like he largely played into the setup that creationism is a scientific theory to be debated as science:

Nye prepared well. On the way to the venue, he picked up a piece of limestone from the roadside, with a fossil in it, to show how the rocks beneath the auditorium themselves show the evidence of evolution. He opened by undercutting the core of Ken Ham's claim to authority, emphasizing that Ken Ham bases his claims not on the empirical evidence, but on a very particular reading of Genesis. And that way of reading Genesis is very specific to Ken Ham, not to most of the world’s religious people, or even Ham’s fellow evangelicals. He never stopped emphasizing that Ham’s theology is an outlier, and that he doesn’t speak for religious people, Christians, evangelicals, or even all creationists.

Throughout, Nye did a great job keeping the focus on the failures of Ken Ham's creation model, and the key ways in which it fails to provide any sort of viable explanation for the world around us. A good, viable model has to make real predictions, he emphasized; those predictions can't be wrong, and a viable model has to be of practical value. In various ways, Ken Ham's creation model fails on all three prongs.
Schulson took a much dimmer view of Nye's performance:

Ham had nothing to lose. When you exist on the cultural fringe and make your living by antagonizing established authority, there’s no form of media attention you don't love. All Ham had to do was sit still for two-and-a-half hours, sound vaguely professional, and pander occasionally to his base. Sure, if you listened closely, what Ham was saying made absolutely no scientific sense. But debate is a format of impressions, not facts. Ham sounded like a reasonable human being, loosely speaking, and that’s what mattered.

Nye, meanwhile, spent three-quarters of the debate sounding like a clueless geek, even if his points were scientifically valid. He went on strange asides and make awkward appeals to the obviously hostile audience, which he at one point referred to as "my Kentucky friends." He spent 10 minutes delivering a dry lecture on geological sediments and biogeography, using the kind of PowerPoint slides that a high school junior might make for his AP Biology class. Ham, seemingly aware that debate is a form of entertainment, and that entertainment thrives on human stories, presented testimonial videos from engineers and biology PhDs who hold creationist views. Nye, on the other hand, spent a lot of time talking about the "billions of people" who "are religious, and who accept science and embrace it" — because God knows that Americans love nothing more than conforming to the religious opinions of foreign nations.

Another post of mine on creationism: Creationism, quack medicine and the solidarity of the conmen, the gullible and the superstitious 11/02/2012.

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