Thursday, February 6, 2014

The creationism debate...

This post deals with the creationism debate, both the debate that has been going on for many years over how the Earth and its inhabitants came to be and the debate between Bill Nye the well known engineer and promoter of scientific learning and Ken Ham the founder of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. I have been observing the first debate in the news and by listening to people around me for years and I just watched the first half of the second debate (it is three hours long, sorry, I haven't been able to watch it in its entirety as of yet).

Let's start off with the recent debate in Kentucky. First I will say that, as a debater, I was very impressed with Ken Ham. He didn't come across as a crazed maniac who simply ignores science because of his belief in the Bible. No, he is obviously someone who has done a considerable amount of research looking for scientific mis-steps to try and show that scientists are not trust worthy. His presentation was slick and seemed to present a multitude of facts, his biggest problem though was his inability to see anything other than the facts he wanted to see.

I have not gone through and checked the veracity all of the evidence that Ken Ham presented and so I will assume that all of the research he mentioned, the age testing of rock samples and organic materials, was all true, in other words I will not call him a liar. However I noticed something in his presentation, he constantly presented evidence to say that science is wrong, while the only thing he claimed that was correct was the Bible and the chronology of the Earth's age that was created from a literal reading of the Bible performed by a 17th century Irish bishop by the name of James Ussher. Mr. Ham strongly believes the Biblical account of creation in Genesis and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, but he offers no factual support for either of these beliefs. Instead he falls into a trap of confirmation bias in which he searches out anything that will support his beliefs, or, if he can't find anything to support his beliefs, he looks for evidence that discredits his opponents. This is a good way to prove things to yourself that you already believe and is something that you often see used by politicians and lawyers and preachers and every day people. Of course it means you have to ignore any and all evidence that supports the views of those who disagree with you. When that evidence is overwhelming, say you believe and want to promote that science is a bunch of hooey and yet you find yourself going to doctors and watching youtube videos of the moon landings, then you have to find a way to alter your argument. Mr. Ham did this very effectively by separating science into two camps, "observational science" in which one can see things happening today and "historical science" in which one looks at things in the past. According to Mr. Ham there is no problem with observational science, if you show him that over the past two weeks one species has evolved into another species he will be fine with that. However if you tell him that apes evolved into other species over the past millions of years and at some point into humans, not matter how much evidence you have he will refuse to believe you.

Mr. Ham's arguments can therefore be summed up in this way, if he can see it with his own eyes he will believe it and that the only truth, even when it seems far fetched and is not supported by any other evidence in any way, about the past is the literal word of the Bible. These two ideas give someone who agrees with Mr. Ham all they need to ignore anything they come across that runs askew of their beliefs and they will use these arguments to try and convince those who disagree with them.

Bill Nye's presentation was very different than Mr. Ham's. First off he seemed rather nervous and slightly manic. He jumped from one topic to another without always making it clear how they were related. He seemed to suffer from having a brain full of knowledge and facts and wanting to empty all of this information out on to the audience as quickly as possible. Mr. Nye presented scientific fact after scientific fact that showed the Earth was much older than 6,000 years, he described science's ability to make predictions based on information it had previously found, and he showed the logical inconsistencies in Biblical stories like Noah's ark and the flood and the ways that Mr. Ham described them. All in all though I would have to say that Ken Ham came across as the better presenter of his argument than Bill Nye did, I would also have to say that they both failed and I find it very doubtful that either man changed anyone's mind on this subject.

You see Bill Nye tried to use science to argue with someone who has clearly rejected science, at least "historical science" as he calls it. Ken Ham tried to use science to argue his point when he was dealing with an opponent who was vastly more knowledgeable on the subject. They weren't debating each other as much as they were debating their preconceived notions of each other, which is quite sad.

Personally, I am a Christian but I don't believe the Biblical account of creation or that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Being a Christian does not prevent me from believing obvious and well supported facts and trusting science doesn't mean that I can't see great truths and important lessons in the Bible, but maybe it helps me see the disconnect between these two men. If I had been on that stage, not that I am qualified as either a scientist or theologian, I would have been arguing Bill Nye's side of things, but I would have done it quite differently. Mr. Ham argued that science was untrustworthy because wood samples that were dated at 45,000 years old had been discovered encased in a layer of rock that was dated at 4.5 million years old and obviously both could not be true. Strangely Bill Nye didn't mention the obvious point that even though these tests had disagreed with each other, and possibly for a very good reason which we might find with further investigation, neither of them said that the samples were less than 6,000 years old. When Mr. Ham argued that "historical science" was a belief system just as religion is Mr. Nye never said that this would mean that at the least science should be as highly regarded as the Bible. Most surprisingly Mr. Nye never based his argument from a faith perspective.

Not only in this debate, but in the large debate over creationism vs. evolution I would have asked Mr. Ham and people like him what they would say to other religious groups, like say the Hindus. The Hindus believe that some of their holy scriptures are millions of years old, not 6,000 years old. They believe that the creation of the Earth and the universe happens over and over again and that sin isn't brought to the world by a snake but instead Lord Vishnu rides on the back of a snake in the vast ocean that covers the Earth each time it is destroyed and before it is reborn. You see it isn't just science that disagrees with Mr. Ham, many of the world's other religions do as well. All he has as evidence in that argument is that he believes the words of the Bible while Hindus believe different sets of religious texts. Mr. Ham has one book to rely on in that argument, a book that he isn't reading it its original languages and that has been translated multiple times quite often with very different results. This is why we shouldn't teach creationism in our schools, this isn't just a religion vs. science debate, this is also a religion vs. religion debate. Science, historical science, to be exact has discovered the locations of several sites mentioned in the Bible, does Mr. Ham reject those discoveries? Yes, scientists make mistakes from time to time but the beauty of science is that the results of one study are reviewed and compared to the results of other studies to build up a body of evidence. If 500 scientists all find the same answer to a question even though they have used varying methods to arrive at this answer and 10 scientists find an opposing answer science doesn't default to that opposing answer because that would be ridiculous. Now if evidence starts to mount that supports that opposing answer then science will, and has, start to take another look at that particular question, but Mr. Ham only has a book that disagrees with the texts used by many other religions. I would ask him how he would respond to this? Religion and science are not opposed to each other unless we make them opposed to each other. The world has seen its share of both false religions and bad science. As a Christian I believe that we have the powerful minds that we have so that we can use them to understand our world and each other better, the rejection of science by people like Mr. Ham is to me, not only silly, but it is also not very Christian. Why would he want to see people not use one of the most powerful gifts God has given them? More importantly, as an obviously very intelligent man, why is Ken Ham not making better use of his own mind?