Regarding the recent debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis (AiG), I have a few thoughts:
Ken Ham is not a scientist. Science is a process involving logical methods and accountability designed to eliminate human bias and error so that we can increase our confidence in theories that describe the observable universe. Science is the best tool we have available to filter out bias. Ken Ham freely admits that he starts with conclusions drawn from his interpretations of the Christian Bible and that nothing could possibly change his mind. To start with conclusions, refuse to question those conclusions, and attempt to find evidence that justifies those conclusions is not science; it is the epitome of biased thinking.
To be fair, there is also a “scientific establishment” which induces pressure upon scientists to hold certain institutional biases. I think Bill Nye is a bit naive to say that “just one piece of evidence could change the world!” and “the scientific establishment embraces discoveries that change understanding of natural law.” Once an idea has taken hold, it is difficult to alter it because scientists, whether atheist or religious have certain personal biases. Nevertheless, if the scientific process is allowed to continue unimpeded eventually things will be sorted out and the “truth” will prevail. As Arthur Schopenhauer said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
Nevertheless, Ken Ham’s position is completely unscientific because he has ruled out from the beginning of investigation the possibility of having any evidence alter his conclusions. Naturally, everything he observes confirms his preconceived ideas because he filters out all contradictory data. His position is based in fear. The consequences of his worldview being broken are terrifying. Any genuine search for truth cannot begin with fear. It has to begin with freedom to question and accept what ever conclusion to which the data points.
Ken Ham repeatedly tries to create a distinction between scientific study of past events and scientific study of present events. Bill Nye appropriately points out that the scientific method is used all the time in crime scene investigation to draw conclusions about past events. We can look at a bullet hole in a wall and draw conclusions about the velocity and trajectory of the bullet (in the past). Ken tries to impart doubt in the capability of science to make inferences about past events by pointing out “we weren’t there to witness it.” But scientists routinely make observations and discoveries regarding past events that turn out to be accurate and offer useful predictions for future events. Ken Ham’s argument is self-defeating: if science cannot be used to tell us anything about the past, why are Young Earth Creationists attempting to derive scientific justification for beliefs about past events?
There is overwhelming evidence the earth is far older than 6,000 years. Radiometric dating is one important tool used to draw conclusions about the age of the earth. Any tool can be misused and there are a number of known ways that radiometric techniques can give incorrect dates. Geologists are aware of these potential problems and employ multiple methodologies that overcome these problems in order to hone in on the ages of rocks. Young Earth Creationists often hold up examples of faulty use of radiometric techniques as proof that all radiometric dating is useless. This is dishonest. Young Earth Creationists like Ken Ham are fond of saying that radiometric dating is based on “assumptions” which implies that these assumptions were pulled out of thin air with no scientific justification. One “assumption” is that radioactive decay rates have been more or less constant during the period in question. The constancy of constants has been the subject of a great many studies which give us a very high degree of confidence that the decay rates have been constant. I have gotten deep into debates over this subject with Young Earth Creationists before and it always comes back to the statement, “well we just weren’t there so we just don’t know for sure,” which is a self-defeating cop-out that rules out the ability for science to tell us anything whatsoever about the past.
Bill Nye was asked, how does consciousness come from matter? He responded appropriately, “we don’t know!” No one really even knows how to define exactly what consciousness is. If we can’t agree on what it is, we will have a very hard time working out the technical means by which it works. Furthermore, inherent in the question is a duality: matter and consciousness. Perhaps this is a flawed question if mind and matter arise together as one. Ken Ham’s response was that, “God breathed into Adam the breath of life.” This is a very poetic representation which, taken poetically and non-literally, I cannot disagree with. It tells us that the life and spirit of man is inextricably linked with and derived from the universal mind, Elohim, The Gods, the I Am, or as we translate it, God. It gives us something to think about; however, it does not address the specific question of “how?” Scientific knowledge of how God does something does not necessarily mean God is not the one doing it. You make your heart beat thousands of times a day without knowing how you do it. Scientific knowledge of how you make your heart beat does not mean you are no longer the one doing the pulsing.
When I was Young, I was a Young Earth Creationist. I was outraged that the evolutionists were conspiring with Satan to steal away God’s greatest miracle, the instantaneous materialization of the universe a mere 6,000 years ago. Then I began debating evolutionists on a forum and encountered evidence and arguments that shook my whole paradigm. Since I had been taught that either the Bible was true or Evolution was true, just opening my mind to the possibility of an old earth shattered my entire belief system. I questioned everything. This was incredibly painful and depressing. But looking back, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. The honest search for truth begins with true freedom to question and the opportunity to go wherever the data leads.