Thursday, February 06, 2014

Throwing Ham under the bus

Here are some comments I've run across regarding the Ham/Nye debate:

"I still respect Ken Ham a lot. I think he's doing tremendous work for the Kingdom and am not pleased at all by professing Christians who seem all to eager to throw him under the bus." 
"Give me a break! Like I said to disgruntled Christians, how about praying for Ken Ham instead of criticizing him? Is it Ham's fault that they promoted the debate better than Dr. Craig? Does the average Christian need 2 doctorates, etc. to do apologetics? Man...some Christians never have enough to complain about." 
"I had families from church over to watch the debate and there were 7 kids. Most of those kids got was Ham was saying. Now, had this debate featured a "higher level" Apologist who used more technical terms, those kids probably would not have followed."

i) I'm going to begin by saying some positive things about Ham. I appreciate the fact that he's been an outspoken critic of Peter Enns. That's more than I can say for the grand muftis in the PCA. Why is Enns still an elder in good standing in the PCA? He's been a ripe candidate for a heresy trial for some time.

Likewise, I appreciate the fact that Ham founded AiG. That's a very useful resource.

In interviews, Ham said he challenged Nye to a debate because the scientific establishment has silenced public debate over evolution in primary and secondary education, so this is a way of bypassing official censorship. Going over their heads to directly address the general public. That's why he also does the talk show circuit (The O’Reilly Factor and Fox and Friends in the Morning; CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, ABC’s Good Morning America, the BBC). I think that's a commendable strategy.

ii) There's a right way and wrong way to score the Ham/Nye debate. For instance, you had old-earth creationists who said he lost because he defended young-earth creationism, and you had theistic evolutionists who said he lost because he defended young-earth creationism. But that's the wrong way to score the debate. Since he is a young-earth creationist, that's going to be his frame of reference. The proper standard of comparison would be the most sophisticated exponents of young-earth creationism. Did he bring to the debate the best that young-earth creationism has to offer? 

Now for the other side of the argument:

iii) Ham doesn't know his limitations. And that's not admirable. That's prideful. Given that he's recruited a number of contributors to AiG who have the expertise he lacks, why didn't he tap his own talent pool? Instead of presuming to spearhead the debate himself, why not volunteer one of his AiG contributors? Why not challenge Nye to debate one of them?

It's possible that Nye would have declined that challenge. However, since Nye is very self-confident, it wouldn't surprise me if he'd accepted the challenge. That would have given Nye a much stronger opponent. Consider Jerry Coyne's damning admission:

I hope that, in the future, Nye is not so emboldened by his success in this debate that he starts debating creationists. Eventually he will run into one that is not as Ham-handed as Ham, and he’ll lose badly.

iv) The debate question (“Is creation a viable model of origins?”) was so broad that it was practically impossible for a creationist to win. Nye can hurl too many objections at his opponent. There's not enough time to respond to the objections. So the debate question needed to be very narrow.

Sure, Nye could still go off-message, but in that event his opponent could the remind the audience that Nye was tacitly conceded that he lost the argument whenever he felt the need to change the subject.

v) Some Christians think we should go easy on Ham. Do they think your kid's high school biology teacher will go easy on Ham style arguments? Do they think your kid's college astronomy or geology prof. will go easy on Ham style arguments? If you send your kids into battle with light armor, they will return in bodybags. 

vi) No, the average Christian doesn't need two doctorates to do apologetics. But that misses the point. If you're going to defend Christianity on a national stage, then that raises the bar. Likewise, science is very specialized. You can't just bluff your way through a scientific debate if you lack scientific expertise.

vii) There's more to Christian faith than arguments. Some Christians don't need arguments. They've experienced God in unmistakable ways.

But if you are going to argue for the faith, then your argument should be able to withstand hostile scrutiny. It's pointless to argue for your position in the first place unless you have good arguments. A bad argument is worse than no argument. 

viii) I'm not clear on how Ken Ham relates creation science to biblical authority. To judge by the debate reviews, he seems to use the Bible to defend creation science rather than using creation science to defend the Bible. If so, that's backwards. Isn't the point of creation science to give scientific reasons for believing Gen 1-11? So Ham needs to defend creation science on scientific grounds. Creation science is supposed to provide supporting arguments for Gen 1-11, as well as scientific objections to Darwinism, &c. 

Moreover, to judge by the debate reviews, he appealed to biblical authority without giving the audience reasons for believing the Bible. But in a national debate, where many members of the TV audience are unbelievers, that's not something they will take for granted. 


  1. "iii) Ham doesn't know his limitations. And that's not admirable. That's prideful. Given that he's recruited a number of contributors to AiG who have the expertise he lacks, why didn't he tap his own talent pool? Instead of presuming to spearhead the debate himself, why not volunteer one of his AiG contributors? Why not challenge Nye to debate one of them?"
    They are both evenly matched scientifically-minded laymen. Nye is a 'science guy' not a scientist with honorary doctorates. I fail to see how this claim holds water in this case.

    1. The issue isn't whether they are evenly matched, but whether Ham makes young-earth creationism seem weaker due to his own weaknesses.

    2. True. I concede that point. It would be far more interesting had Sarfati from Creation Ministries debated him instead.

  2. His sheep hear His voice.

  3. Note: I have not watched the debate yet, and I'm not sure if I will. I tend not to like modern creation-evolution debates because they tend to talk past each other and elephant hurl.

    Ham tends to approach the creation issue from a more philosophical perspective, albeit a not very sophisticated philosophical perspective. It would have been better if the debate had been about philosophy of science because I think that's creationists' strong suit. Evolutionists (and most moderns, even creationist ones) tend to assume that "science" can answer all sorts of questions it cannot really answer. Ham and AiG's distinction between "observational" and "historical" science helps bring this out, but I don't think it goes far enough. Much of what we call "science" more resembles philosophy than experimental science and the equivocation confuses not only laymen but also many scientists, at least by the way they think they can answer all sorts of questions, from ethics to metaphysics to eschatology, based on a few observations in a laboratory.

    I'm personally very grateful to Ham because Answers in Genesis and a few of his simple observations really opened my mind to the idea that maybe the Old Earth I had been taught was not the unquestionable orthodoxy I thought it was. However, I still think Creationists have a long way to go challenging the predominant philosophy of natural science that makes our view of reality dependent on the "scientific" priesthood. Even many ordinary Christians buy into this idea. While I think Answers in Genesis and Ham have their basic points correct, I think that they really need to be developed into a more coherent and systematic theory of science itself. Right now, I think creation scientists are coming from such a different perspective than the modern person and they have not really explained that perspective well enough to connect to those people.

  4. A couple of points. Is it possible that Ham decided to do the debate in part because he has a much more high profile image than other creationists? Therefore the debate would draw a larger audience.

    I agree there are many better men to do the job. However, the debate cut across wide-ranging topics and many expert scientists in one area would be lost in another. For example, Ham acknowledged his lack of expertice in the matter of plate tectonics, but at least pointed to scientists who knew the subject well. On another note, he failed to correct Nye's misrepresentations about the textual transmission of the Bible, yet many creation scientists may not have felt comfortable supplying accurate info on that topic even if they were aware of the issues. It seems that unless the debate topic is narrowed to specific areas of expertise it is difficult to expect one man to address all possible subjects that may come up. I think Ham did a decent, though not excellent, job given the nature of the debate.

    Personally, I would have loved to see someone like Jay Wile do the debate. He has done low profile debates before and he is a well-informed general practitioner, if you will, of a wide range of scientific issues.

  5. I saw someone saying Ham is a presuppositionalist. If so, that explains your final point. It also means it's very unlikely that he'd even understand the criticism you're making.