Feb 05 2014

Bill Nye the Science Guy Debates Young Earth Creationism

Published by at 2:00 pm under Videos

Watching this debate last night was probably the most worthwhile two and a half hours I’ve spent on the internet in months. In it, Bill Nye (the Science Guy!) debates young Earth Creationist Ken Ham at the Creationism Museum in Kentucky about the age of the Earth (3.5 billion years vs. 6,000 years), evolution, the big bang, and so on.

I’m not going to launch into a tirade about Ken’s belief in an infallible book as scientific evidence, because that’s not what Nye does. He calmly and clearly explains why we know the things we know, and why it’s exciting that there are still things we DON’T know.

This is outside the normal purview of our site, but I know we have a smart bunch of folks here who can appreciate an intellectual debate, and I really do think everyone should watch this.





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18 responses so far

  • cypher20

    I would like to point out that as a Christian I believe the Bible is infallible yet don’t think the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Plenty of others do, a good site to check out is reasons.org. That is all.

    • Nick Ramsay

      Isn’t the fact the bible can be interpreted by you one way, and yet in a fundamentally different way by someone like Ken Ham, proof of the bible’s fallibility? Shouldn’t an infallible document be clear and unambiguous?

      • cypher20

        No, not when people are fallible. People can twist something to say anything they want.

        • Nick Ramsay

          But why would an infalliable author write his book in such a way as to allow fallible people to misinterpret it? Especially if he knew how much suffering and conflict would come about from such misinterpretation.

          If an engineer or scientist produced a technical document with enough ambiguity that two completely incompatible interpretations were possible, he would be fired. Why would we hold our earthly captains of industry to a higher standard than our deity?

          • David R

            You’re unpacking what could be a pretty dense theological debate here, but the short answer is that a lot of people consider misinterpretation, along with all the other mistakes we’ve proven ourselves capable of making, to be part and parcel with the existence of free will.

            On a more basic level, language use and reading comprehension are much less exact sciences than whatever your engineer would be dealing with. I understand you framing the question that way but it’s very much in “apples and oranges” territory.

            Also, a lot of the truly damaging misreads of the Bible (like the ones used to support slavery) come from cherry-picking or otherwise deliberate misunderstanding as opposed to problems with the text itself. Again, free will.

            Personally, I’m still unsure of where I stand on the issue of infallibility, mainly when it comes to English-language translations, mainly because there’s like a dozen and some of them pretty clearly don’t articulate the content accurately. Usually only in minor details, but still. That said, I consider the issue to be a non-faith-threatening one, albeit one that should be taken seriously.

          • korinthian

            The slavery part is not a misread, it outright tells people how to own people.

          • cypher20

            Sorry, but many abolitionists were Christians, just look up William Wilberforce. So the notion that the Bible supports slavery is false.

          • korinthian

            Don’t confuse what the bible says with what Christians do. You know as well as I do that not all Christians follow both the old and new testaments.

            But if you want to keep this on a simplistic level I can just counter with that the slavers used the bible to justify owning humans.

          • David R

            Sure, but it was written in a context where slavery was common practice, and that practice was somewhat more nuanced and humane than the practices we saw in the American South and associated trade. Still not awesome, but it’s a difference worth noting.

            I’m being way reductive here, but a lot of Christian teachings are more concerned with how to be a good person in your society, than they are about how to change the society to fit your values. Respecting local governments, power hierarchies, and the like isn’t uncommon in scripture. “How to own people” is a more attainable short-term goal in a society built on owning people. Or, said another way, Christianity is more concerned about people than their societal trappings. And again, ancient forms of slavery were often more nuanced than the contemporary definition anyway.

            The teachings of scripture and Christ were a strong motivating force in the abolitionist movement, which isn’t proof in and of itself but it’s worth noting that Christian values ultimately played a strong role in bringing about the death of the institution of slavery in Western civilization. And not only that, but the changes brought about in America during the Civil Rights movement.

    • korinthian

      Every time a Christian says that the bible is infallible and you ask them about Thing X In The Bible that’s obviously wrong, then the Christian starts giving the talk about metaphors and context. It boils down to the Christian’s interpretation in the end, which is why (as David Silverman said) there are more Christian denominations than there are sentences in the bible.

      If you argue that the bible is infallible, but the people reading it are fallible, then it doesn’t matter how perfect the book in question is. Also, that sounds like the stupidest possible way of a god to instruct humanity.

      • cypher20

        Hard to think of a better way to handle the issue given our human limitations. I guess God could always speak to us in visions and dreams and such. However, then if Joe says God told him to go left while Jack says God told him to go right, which is lying? A book lasts throughout history and is more objective then so and so saying God told them this or that. With a book, if someone says “God told me xyz” I can check the book to see if what they’re saying lines up with the book. Now if you’re smarter then God and have a better way to handle the situation, would love to hear your insight ;-)

        On the other point, you’re seriously overestimating the range of interpretations. There are pretty orthodox interpretations accepted by wide swaths of Christianity (Christ is the Son of God, etc). You’ll always have fringe groups, but they’re on the fringe for a reason. Between many denominations, it can be hard to find major points of difference. Also, the preponderance of denominations is largely a product of our American culture, it’s not a phenomenon you see in many other nations. So it’s not a good argument for Biblical fallibility as in many other cultures and throughout much of history, you don’t see such a large number of denominations.

        • korinthian

          “I guess God could always speak to us in visions and dreams and such.”

          Don’t be bizarre. I’m sure god could figure out how to appear to two people at once. Or use TV, or write commandments on the surface of the moon. You sure don’t hold your god’s powers in high regard.

          “With a book, if someone says “God told me xyz” I can check the book to see if what they’re saying lines up with the book.”

          Which is why all Christians agree on what’s in the book? They don’t? Well, I guess that defeats your argument then.

          “Now if you’re smarter then God and have a better way to handle the situation, would love to hear your insight”

          Than*. Yes, a smarter way would be to appear to all of humanity at once instead of to bronze age fishermen 2000 years ago. Or have a temple where the leaders of the world could talk to him (while it was all filmed on TV). These are just some obvious examples that are much better than having dozens of people write down text that was later edited and translated. I guess I just proved that I’m smarter than your god.

          “There are pretty orthodox interpretations accepted by wide swaths of
          Christianity (Christ is the Son of God, etc). You’ll always have fringe
          groups,”

          Christ being gods son is pretty much the definition of belief in Christianity, I’m sure you can come up with a better example.

          The bible is clear that homosexuality is wrong, yet this issue is *Far* from a fringe issue. Same with condoms, abortion, women’s rights.

          The problem here is that the bible clashes with modern morals.

          I don’t need to appeal that the bible is written in a way that is not clear (though it is a mess), I can just refer to how it gets abiogenesis and the beginnings of the universe wrong. That’s just the first two books.

  • David R

    I’m all for getting out of the site’s purview when the occasion calls for it.

    As with most issues regarding science and religion, I find myself thinking that both sides overreach when they attempt to comment on or correct the methods and concerns of the other. One of the major faults with Biblical literalism as an answer to scientific concerns, is that the Bible — particularly the portions of it dealing with prehistory — really wasn’t written with the intent of providing a scientific account of the world. Using one to deal with the other is sort of like trying to use math to answer an English paper, or a philosophical model to describe photosynthesis.

    The scientific process is a marvelous thing; it’s brought a staggering amount of improvements, advancements, understanding, and the like. But we know it’s not the end all, be all. That’s why our philosophy and our fiction — hell, even our nonfiction — are often obsessed with the answers to questions not answered by biology and chemistry. Not “How?”, but “Why?” and “What now?” Broadly, this is the aim of such pursuits as art and philosophy. Likewise, religion explores its own mysteries. Broadly again, it looks for what is Truth; not what is Fact.

    On the plus side, this debate provided a good platform for Nye to sketch out the methods employed in determining the natural history of the universe, and that’s a cool thing to watch. The man clearly knows his field.

    • korinthian

      And you don’t think you’re overreaching when you claim to know with what intent the books of teh bible were written?

      • David R

        Not in this case, no. But I’m not claiming absolute understanding so much as a general knowledge that the questions Bill Nye would be asking aren’t the sort that the writers of the Bible are concerned with answering.

        • korinthian

          I’m sorry, but just claiming that you know what the authors of the bible intended is not enough for me, and should not be enough for anyone.

          What evidence can you bring that supports your claim?

          We don’t have the information of why the authors of the bible wrote what they did. We don’t even have the information of who the authors of the bible were, or exactly when the bible was written. So unless you have a private collection of dead sea scrolls with the collector’s edition DVD commentary, your overreaching comments can be safely ignored until evidence is provided (I’d like to have that DVD too).

  • Alec

    Thanks for linking; I was looking for that actually.

  • Tyler Brown

    I read somewhere the other day that the Bible and any religion for that matter should be about “why” we’re here not “how” we got here. If only they could keep it at that.

    As a take away from this debate I was actually partially disgusted with how Ham twisted words and even co-opted evolution by saying we believe in evolution we just believe it started 4000 years ago after the “flood”. I LOVED how Nye tried to take it down by talking about the number of new species that would need to be created to end up with where we are now.

    I also think that the question of “what would change your mind” sums up the whole science and religion thing perfectly. Nye said evidence, Ham implied nothing without saying as much.

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