Monday, January 27, 2014

Nye v. Ham

Those interested in the so-called "creation-evolution" controversy might be interested in watching a debate being held on February 4th at 7:00 p.m. The debate will pit creationist Ken Ham against the popular "science guy" Bill Nye, and, because Nye is such a well-known media figure, the event has generated a lot of media attention. Details for viewing it can be found here.

Ken Ham is a creationist. Creationists hold that the book of Genesis provides an accurate picture of biological and geological origins and that any scientific conclusions which conflict with Genesis must be rejected. They also believe that ultimately all scientific findings will be seen to conform to the Genesis account.

Nye is a Darwinian evolutionist who holds that there's overwhelming evidence that life arose from a common ancestral form billions of years ago and that natural processes and forces are adequate to explain everything we see in the world today.

This might be a good time to stress that creationism is not the same thing as intelligent design (ID). Creationists like Ham, who's a young-earth creationist (YEC), hold that the world was created by God in six days about 10,000 years ago. ID, though, makes no formal claims about who the creator was, how the creator acted, or how long ago it acted. The claims of ID are much more modest than those of the creationist. ID advocates assert only that the universe and life show much evidence of having been designed by an intelligent agent and that the belief that these were the products of impersonal and blind processes is highly implausible. The designer agent could be God or it could be an inhabitant of another world in the multiverse, the process he used could have been evolutionary or more rapid, the earth could be 5 billion years old or much younger.

Whatever the case, the ID advocate argues that there's good reason to believe that the naturalistic view that natural, physical processes were alone at work in producing the universe and life is quite likely wrong. The fine-tuning of the cosmos and the ubiquity of information in the biological world are strong evidence for an intelligent provenience.

To help understand the difference between ID and YEC consider this: If it were proven beyond doubt that the Genesis account was false and that all life evolved from the same ancestral forms it would be devastating for YEC, but it wouldn't make any difference to ID.

To understand the difference between ID and naturalistic evolution consider this: If it were proven beyond doubt that the origin of life and the massive amount of biological complexity and information in living cells could be explained purely in terms of the laws of chemistry and physics it would be devastating to ID. On the other hand, if the origin of life and of biological information continue to resist explanation in purely naturalistic terms, then ID will grow proportionately more attractive to both philosophers and scientists.

In any case, ID is not represented in the Ham/Nye debate which promises to be interesting nevertheless.