Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What Did Bill Nye and Ken Ham Miss?

Oliver Putz, writing for SFGate (The San Francisco Chronicle) argues that Bill Nye and Ken Ham both missed the boat in their debate Tuesday of last week.  He writes:
Whether you see religion and science as irreconcilable enemies or not depends first and foremost on the premises with which you engage the question of their relationship. For example, if you agree with Ham that all we have to do to figure out the origins of the various species on Earth is to pick up the Bible and read it literally, you are bound for conflict with evolutionary biology. If your response to Ham is that only scientific evidence leads you to the truth, you are likewise a far cry from common ground. The question is whether these are the only two options when it comes to evaluating the origins of biological diversity.
One commenter remarked that Bill Nye's position is painted in such broad strokes as to constitute a straw man and that Nye never argued that there was only one way to the truth.  This is true and it isn't.  At no point in the debate did Nye state that religious perspectives are worthless or irrelevant and that science is the only way to get at truth.  On the other hand, Nye makes no secret of the fact that he is agnostic and exalts scientific endeavors to a level that is, perhaps, unwarranted.  Science is, as with anything else, a human enterprise and not above error.  One need only look at the Piltdown hoax to see that.

Oliver Putz is correct that there are other alternatives.  An obvious one (that he points out at the end of his post) is evolutionary creationism/theistic evolution, which I represent.  While Ham has made no secret of the fact that he does not care for this perspective, Nye has not said one way or the other if he thinks this is acceptable as a philosophical construct.  As I mentioned in my last post about this, a good response on Nye's part to Ken Ham's litany of “scientists-who-are-also-creationists” would have been to respond with the names of Francis Collins, John Polkinghorne, and Davis Young as “people of faith” who think that young earth creationism is nonsense.  He did not.

The problem with the format of the debate as it was presented is that each person had a chance to say things that the other did not have a chance to counteract or rebut.  That gave the appearance of two people talking past each other.   A better debate structure would have been a roundtable setting with a moderator where each would be able to directly address the claims of the other.  This would have bridged the gap between science and theology.

“Tell me, Mr. Ham, what is the extra-biblical evidence for the Tower of Babel, the flood and the Garden of Eden and why do you hold to such a rigid, literal interpretation of scripture when theologians the world over don't accept this reading?  Tell me, Mr. Nye, can religion play a role in the daily lives of scientists and would Linnaeus’ classification of “God's creation” be an example of this?”

Those (among others) are questions for which I would like answers.

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