Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thoughts on Ham/Nye

The other evening a young earth creationist named Ken Ham debated the well-known science popularizer Bill Nye on the question whether Creation is a viable model of origins in the modern scientific world.

I watched the first hour and a half of the debate and thought it went about as I expected it would. Ham's argument was largely theological and Nye's argument was more scientific so the two pretty much talked past each other. Ham's case rested on his interpretation of the Genesis account in the Bible, which he believes requires an earth not more than 6000 to 10,000 yrs. old - far too young for evolution to have occurred - and Nye's argument was based on empirical evidence that the world is on the order of billions of years old and that Ham's model is therefore scientifically untenable.

Given the topic of the debate, Ham's inability to respond convincingly to Nye's critique of the young earth hypothesis swung things decidedly in Nye's favor. I couldn't help thinking, though, that had Nye been debating an intelligent design proponent he'd have fared far worse. In such a debate the age of the earth and, in fact, the process of evolution itself are irrelevant. The relevant question is whether the evidence that scientists are everyday discovering in their labs, under their microscopes and through their telescopes, is better explained by blind, purposeless processes or by some kind of intelligent, intentional agency.

Issues like what process was used, how long ago it acted, and who the agent was may all be important in themselves, the last certainly is, but in a debate between a materialist like Nye and an ID proponent they're distractions. The chief question is whether we have good reason to believe that the universe is the product of an intelligent agent or not. Only after that question is answered in the affirmative does it become relevant to ask who or what that intelligent agent might be.

Such debates are taking place, but they don't receive the media attention that Ham/Nye did. For those who might be interested here's a link to a recent radio event featuring philosopher Stephen Meyer, the author of Darwin's Doubt, and chemist Charles Marshall.

More commentary on the debate can be found here and here, including links to other commenters of varying positions on the topic.

In the Dock

Bill Whittle at Afterburner asks us to imagine that we stand before a jury of millions of Americans who struggled, bled, and died for our freedom. The question we're presented with is, what did we do with their gift?
Part of what makes the boiling frog metaphor apposite is that so many of us do nothing because we don't know what's going on in the world or in our government and we tend to think that there are others who do know who are looking out for our freedoms.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way, or, maybe it's better to say it doesn't work out well that way. Every citizen has a responsibility to be at least moderately informed. Thomas Jefferson put the reason for this obligation pithily when he advised us that "whoever expects to remain ignorant and free expects what never was and never will be." Edmund Burke likewise cautioned us that all that's necessary for evil to prevail (in the world or in society) "is for good men to do nothing."

Watching the Whittle video raised several questions: Do we still value the freedoms from which we've traditionally benefited? How precious to us are they? Have we become so dependent upon the government in the last few decades that we would today gladly lay our freedom and privacy at the feet of bureaucrats in exchange for the promise of security? Has the gradually warming water in the pot made us so flaccid and apathetic that we'd much prefer to repose in the bosom of a government that pays us not to work, that keeps us addicted to the opium of government benefits, than exert ourselves to provide for ourselves and our family?

What do you think?