In spite of my deep-seeded belief that all human beings are stupid in one way or another, I will never call Ken Ham or Bill Nye idiots. Both have respect of their respective communities, have contributed much to the world of science and debate, and have done the public greater good overall. (I will stop others who wish to bash Ken now: whatever your beliefs in the argument between evolution versus creationism, He has brought more to the creationism argument than most people, including scientists. It may not be enough to persuade you to consider his arguments, BUT you have to admit that if you were going to listen to ANYONE on the subject, only a handful of people, including the Pope and God himself, would be better.)
Those that caught my remarks online when I watched it almost 12 hours later – it having happened while I was in class – know how I feel: Neither side persuaded me away from my feelings, and both sides had questionable content. One thought really bothers me, however, and I might have missed it, but I really don’t think so. (If I have, I apologize – I’m a big enough man to step aside when accurate facts prove me wrong.)
Both of these men opened with 5 minute arguments that explained what their view is, and had half an hour to tell us why they support their view. By the end of the night, it devolved, as debates usually do, to an argument between who was right, and while it didn’t get to calling each other idiots or breaking into fisticuffs, the best parts of the debate were long gone.
What bothers me about this debate – and most debates about science vs. anything – is how science is viewed: as fact. Both of these mean argued in such a way as to not let the possibility of the other guy being right in the slightest. While this behavior is expected of Ham, and while Nye said a couple of times in the debate that if you could find him scientific proof of (Ham’s) arguments, he’d flip sides. This, in spite of how dismissive to every argument he brought up – some of which, were worth considering and investigating.
Bill Nye’s world view is closest to mine, which is why I’m starting with him first: Science is the explanation and understanding of how the world works. The difference between his view and mine might be much closer, as he didn’t say it, but the way he handled it was on the absolute that it sounds: This is how it works. There is no margin of error, no misunderstanding of the data – This is how it is! This is one of the biggest reasons why I had a bad taste in my mouth after watching him.
Ken Ham, on the other hand, had to make his simple belief into something complex. His belief is that we have two sciences: One that is historical, and one that is observational. Like Nye, his belief and argument was an absolute: This is the way things work, as dictated by our lord and savior. Unlike Nye’s answer, EVEN IF evidence proves the current belief is wrong, he’d refuse to change.
Whichever line you stand on, however you feel, there are some absolutes that can not be argued. While things may change, grow, and evolve, how those changes happen, how things work currently and in the future – those things won’t. Our understanding, or what we currently call science, no matter which side you come from, always will. Hence my definition, which is the best one I have found: Science is the explanation and understanding of how the world works as we currently understand it. What we understand of our world is based on what we can prove repeatedly, and what has yet to fail.
This is important to think about in Nye’s responses of how Kangaroos came to Australia: currently, no one has found either fossils of, or ancestral fossils of, kangaroos anywhere beyond Australia. In the debate, he made it seem like there was no way that was going to happen. To me, this is a big problem: It’s okay to say that currently there is no way to prove something, even if it has consistently failed to test true for that condition. I can accept that some things will never test in favor of a theory, no matter how many tests you run. I refuse to accept permanence to it, however, mainly because some things can’t be proven true until a key missing piece of information comes into the equation. The theory can’t always be proven now because we’re limited to what we currently know.
In some ways Nye was trying to sat this, because he brought up old beliefs we used to have that have since been proven wrong, such as (the standard favorite) the Earth was flat. Could you imagine how difficult it would be to convince people to travel if we still believed that? We might be trying to dig oil rigs boring straight into the other side, or watch as ships hit the edge of the planet and sail into space. (On a side note: think of how much cheaper space exploration would be then!) However, we’ve proved what others believed to be true many years ago, thanks to boat and airplane travel, satellite imagery and space exploration – about the only time it will ever be flat now is on a flat device such as a tablet, phone or paper.
It’s also a big reason I hate debates: Debates expose how little people listen to each other. Sure, Nye and Ham responded back and forth between each other – and Ham took to responding online as well – but that lack of listening increased while the amount of ego and respect of the other’s beliefs decreased.
So go ahead and argue that Nye won: You can’t put testimony of others to solid evidence and testable outcomes.
However, when you forget a key part to that, whether you’re two bums off of the street or these two guys, you need to remember the human factors of test ability and understanding. That’s something both ham and Nye got wrong.