Many are criticizing Bill Nye’s decision to debate Ken Ham arguing that the very willingness to publicly argue gives recognition to the creationists. The opponents of such a confrontation also state the absurdity of the fact that we are even discussing creationist nonsense in modern times. Should we also debate where lightning comes from and include Zeus as a “competing scientific theory?” According to creationist logic we should, otherwise we’re not promoting “critical thinking” skills for our children.
The people against the debate are wrong. Bill Nye is absolutely right in doing this, and here’s why. If someone had a belief that human babies came from storks, we wouldn't need a debate. If one third of the adults in this country believed that babies came from storks, as insane as it sounds, yes, we need to have the debate. And that’s where we are. The people who believe in creationism should be zero, but it’s not. And we have people like Ken Ham and a lot of misguided Republican politicians to thank for that. These people deserve to be crushed in argumentation. These people deserve to be ridiculed without mercy. The entire future of our species rests on science, and these people want us to go backwards.
Bill is making the right decision, but will he be prepared? Too many times intelligent people have not fared well against professional frauds because they were not prepared for the smoke and mirrors. A liar with good argumentation skills will defeat someone with the truth on their side who’s unable to articulate it. If you come into a debate with a creationist expecting honesty and reason, you will lose. You won’t lose on the issues, you will lose in the perception of the viewers by being thrown off and playing defense for most of the debate.
If you’re going to crush a creationist in debate, you can’t just be a scientist. You need to be a philosopher as well. You need to understand epistemology, as that’s what creationists often use to throw scientifically minded individuals off their game. You need to know how to answer the question, “How do you know what is real?” effectively.
You need to watch creationist debates and understand their game. You need to be prepared for shameless ignorance and outright lies. Be prepared for a creationist to use an incident of a fake fossil or scientific mistake to try and undermine an entire field of study. Be prepared for the intentional misrepresentation or the blatant ignoring of scientific discoveries. If you’re not prepared, you’re going to be playing defense. If you’re prepared, you’re going to be playing offense, and that’s the place to be.
Bill Nye will need to keep his composure in the face of absurdity in this debate. He needs to be prepared for both nonsense and personal attacks. Bill Nye will have the responsibility of explaining science in very simple terms in regards to scientific principles and specifically well-established science that supports an old universe and biological evolution. Science isn't about what makes us feel good or what people think is moral or immoral. Science doesn't care what religion someone belongs to. Science is about truth, either experiment supports an idea, or it doesn't.
Bill Nye will need to be selective in what he responds to. If he strictly reads prepared speeches in the debate, he will be accused of dodging. At the same time he won’t be able to answer to all the lies and half-truths Ken Ham is sure to throw at him. Bill needs to come prepared with statements that he’s going to make, and be selective of the statements he’s going to respond to. He should also pose pressing questions to Ken Ham to put him on the defense. Too many times creationists get away with spending the whole debate attacking science without being forced to defend the serious implications and insanity of taking the Bible literally.
Bill Nye has an opportunity to valiantly promote science over creationist nonsense. I expect Bill is going to do very well.
Argumentation techniques and recommendations for debating creationists and theologians:
(Note: Some of these strategies are hard hitting and probably not recommended for this particular debate. I would expect the theme for Bill Nye to be pro-science rather than anti-religious. I would expect the goal to be the promotion of scientifically minded Christians rather than engaging in atheist vs. theist dialog. In other words, I would expect this to be different than the Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig debate which was atheist vs. Christian apologist rather than scientist vs. creationist.)
Isolate the creationists from the Christians who believe in evolution
The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams recognizes that humans evolved from other animals.
Pope John Paul II recognized the realities of evolution in 1996.
Many Christians laugh at the notion of taking the Bible literally and recognize that Biblical stories such as Noah’s flood are fables.
Many Christians understand that Muslim theocracies that do not allow evolution to be taught, not surprisingly, fail to provide any modern day significant scientific contributions or achievements.
Theologians will use vague statements, counter with specifics
Ambiguity is the friend of a deceiver, or someone who doesn’t know the subject matter well. When knowledge and truth are on your side, specifics are your friend. In these debates Christian theologians will often use a vague statements and definitions, such as the definition of god. They will describe god as in some kind of higher intelligence beyond our perceptions and philosophies. This vague definition is difficult to hit. But this is not the god that the theologian believes in, but he knows specifics will work against him. The theologian is promoting specifically the god of the Bible which is a singular all powerful being with male reproductive parts whose jealous and doesn’t want us to eat shrimp. Force the Christian theologian to use Biblical definitions of god.
Be prepared for pseudoscience
From dust on the moon to curved rock in the Grand Canyon, be prepared for all the typical young earth creationist arguments and how they’ve been exposed as false by the science community.
A key source of creationist pseudoscience is a shameless organization called Creation Ministries International. http://creation.com
Good sources for refuting creationist claims are an organization called Talk Origins http://www.talkorigins.org and RationalWiki http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Main_Page.
Never let a theologian define god as perfect
Often he will try and do this at the beginning of the debate. If unchallenged, he has just established god as being perfect and therefore the source of perfect knowledge and perfect morals. This is nonsense and any creationist attempting to define god as perfect needs to be challenged on what perfect means.
Perfect as in jealous? Perfect as in vengeful? Perfect as in realizing he made a mistake in making humans and needed to drown everyone? Or by perfect do we mean a Machiavellian definition of the term? Do we mean might makes right perfection? God is perfect through the power to define what perfect is? Under that sadistic definition of the word, every viciously cruel act of every psychotic dictator in history can be morally justified. Force the creationist to reveal that in using the word perfect, it is not an understood or reasonable definition by any kind of human intelligence or decency.
Be prepared for epistemology
How do you know what is real without a divine knowledge giver? A vague question. When the theologian goes vague, force specifics. Like what? That we are currently having this debate? That I am currently standing? That I exist, I think therefore I am? How crazy do you want to take this question of knowledge and how does pretending there’s a knowledge giver add anything to it? In knowing what is real there are many methods such as using our senses, using technology to extend our senses, the scientific method, the Socratic Method, the 5 Ws, common sense, simplification, research, critical thinking and analysis, engaging subject matter experts, etc. The method used depends on the question being asked. What is the question?
Be prepared for attacks on scientific terms
Creationists will use terms such as Darwinian evolution or historical science. This is meant to daze and confuse. There is no Darwinian evolution, there is evolution. And evolution doesn’t claim to know how life began on Earth. But the fact that life started simple and became more complex over time is indisputable based on the evidence. Evolution is the best explanation we have for what is observed in nature, while clay, a rib, and a big boat are not.
Ken Ham uses the term historical science to try and say that science is different when it’s not currently observed at this very instance. We can observe that the earth orbits the sun, but we can’t make the claim it did 3,000 years ago because we weren’t there? Scientists don’t generally speak in terms of currently observable and historical science as Ken would have us believe as it’s mostly irrelevant. And yet hypocritically Ham claims that everything in the Bible is historically and scientifically accurate even though it’s not currently observable. Ken would have us believe that Adam from clay and Eve from a rib are scientific facts. Be prepared for attacks on scientific terms and be prepared for hypocrisy.
Don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed by stupidity
It can be very easy for a logical mind to be momentarily stunned by stupid statements. In order to prepare your mind for immunity, watch Dave Silverman debates on Fox News. Notice how he’s able to keep his wits no matter what absurdity is thrown at him. This is how you are to be in a debate. Don’t be phased by anything, keep your focus.
Be prepared for fear to accompany ignorance
After an onslaught of unyielding shameless ignorance the next weapon in the creationist argument is fear. We don’t know how the universe began and therefore it was the god of my religion. If you don’t believe what I believe you will burn in hell forever. Stand firm in the face of fear. Refuse to bow down to perverted justice based on mindless obedience over good character and good deeds. Refuse to believe that someone’s delusions can send you to an imaginary place after you die. Refuse to believe that a book which is completely ignorant of how life began contains divine knowledge of how life ends. Refuse to believe that ancient and ignorant bigots claiming to speak for god actually were speaking for god any more than all the other ignorant bigots making the same claim.
Expose the madness we’re supposed to embrace according to young earth creationists (YECs)
600 year old Noah after parking the ship planted a vineyard. He makes wine, gets drunk and passes out. His son Ham sees him naked. You would think after a flood that killed countless men, women and children that seeing Noah’s naughty bits wouldn’t be a headliner. But it is. Ham wasn’t supposed to look. He should have walked backwards to cover things up. He didn’t do this. So what happens? Canaan becomes a slave. Who’s Canaan? He’s Ham’s son. Did he see Noah naked? No! And this is the kind of madness we’re supposed to embrace while abandoning science and reason according to YECs.
Turn bad analogies against them
Ken Ham claims that mechanical engineering doesn’t use evolution because that would mean putting parts on the ground and expecting them to come together on their own. Of course an attempt to equate the natural biology of living organisms to human mechanical engineering is a bad analogy. As Sesame Street would say, one of these things is not like the other. But this bad analogy can still be used against the creationist.
When a modern mechanical engineer works on an airplane, he’s not working from scratch. He’s working with a design that is the result of other designs. Today’s airplane is far more complex than what the Wright brothers created in 1903. And what the Wright brothers created was a result of many older designs and countless failures. In this respect mechanical engineering follows evolution. If mechanical engineering followed the creationist model, we would begin with the perfect design of an airplane.
Beginning with the perfect design means perfect efficiency. Beginning with the perfect design means no failure. Beginning with the perfect design means no simple to complex progression. But what do we see in nature? Simple to complex progression over time and over 99% of newly developed species extinct. We don’t see results based on efficiency and success, we see results based on inefficiency and failure.
Remember, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
In one of his interviews, creationist Ray Comfort was asked how he knows god is real. Ray asks the man how he knows his wife is real and then answers the question for him. You know your wife is real because you have a personal relationship with your wife “you know her”. I know god is real because I have a personal relationship with him “I know him”. There’s only one problem with Ray’s argument. It’s absurd.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That was a famous expression of Carl Sagan. My wife is real is an ordinary claim. It can be confirmed with driver’s license, marriage certificate, and a few interviews with friends and family. In other words, the ordinary claim can be confirmed with ordinary evidence.
I have a personal relationship with the all-powerful man god specifically mentioned in this book is an extraordinary claim. If the claim of a personal relationship, “I know him,” constituted as proof of existence, imagine the consequences.
All the following would exist:
Every delusion validated by personal relationship claims of every inmate in the insane asylum would be real.
I “know” the tooth fairy. I put my tooth under the pillow at night, in the morning there is money. Tooth fairy is real.
I “know” Santa Claus. I’ve written him letters and talked to him over the phone. I’ve even seen him in person and have pictures of us together. Santa Claus is real.
Same thing with FSM, Big Foot, gremlins, goblins, angels, demons, Kraken, Zeus, Isis, Pikachu, TMNT, Bugs Bunny and of course Sponge Bob. According to Ray Comfort, a personal relationship equates to proof. But what if personal relationships with supernatural fictional characters completely contradicted the personal relationships of other people? What if someone had a personal relationship with reality as in empirical evidence and reason? Under Ray’s logic that would mean reality is true which completely contradicts his original statement.
Practice, practice, practice
Public speaking and argumentation is not easy, especially against professional frauds. It’s a skill that needs to be honed. The opening introductory statement in any debate is critical. Practice this in front of the video camera and review. Practice this in front of friends and get feedback. Practice everything else you plan on bringing to the argument as well. Have mock debates where others play the creationist side. Spend a lot of time anticipating what your opponent is going to say and practice your response.
When it comes to explaining science, be like Feynman
Good luck to all the warriors in the battle of reason over superstition and may logic and reason be with you!
-James Kirk Wall
“Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules; and history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain.” – Thomas Henry Huxley
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