NBC News reports on the debate, and bonus anti-Ham tw**ts

February 5, 2014 • 1:39 pm

There’s no need for me to reprise this short but informative piece by NBC News‘s science editor Alan Boyle, so go read “Bill Nye wins over the science crowd at evolution debate.” Your host is quoted, but there are two more interesting parts of the piece. One is the tw**t below, reflecting something I’m sorry I missed: Ham’s claim that no evidence could change his mind about the Biblical-literalist view of biology. It’s by Dan Arel, who writes for the Dawkins Foundation and originally thought that Nye shouldn’t debate Ham:

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Ham made a serious error when he said that—one that will come back to haunt him!

And a bit of dissent, which I predicted, from the old-earth creationists (i.e., Intelligent Designoids); this is from the NBC piece:

Tuesday’s debate dwelled on Genesis and didn’t consider alternatives to evolutionary theory that are less overtly biblical — such as old-Earth creationism or intelligent design. That led Casey Luskin, an advocate for intelligent design at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, to characterize the event as a “huge missed opportunity”:

“People will walk away from this debate thinking, ‘Ken Ham has the Bible, Bill Nye has scientific evidence,'” Luskin wrote on the institute’s Evolution News blog. “Some Christians will be satisfied by that. Other Christians (like me) who don’t feel that accepting the Bible requires you to believe in a young earth will feel that their views weren’t represented.”

And here’s a Christian making excuses for Ham, proving his lameness:

On the creationist side of the fence, Ham drew strong support on the day after the debate. “The debate was how viable is teaching of creation in today’s world, and from that perspective I would give Ken Ham the victory,” one commenter said on Ham’s Facebook page. Another wrote, “Yes, maybe somebody else could have done a better job on defending creation, but maybe God was more interested in people hearing the gospel message! And on that note Ken Ham did a great job.”

Translation: “Ham might have not done so well, but he sure could praise Jesus!”

Finally, reader Barry sent some amusing tw**ts from a dialogue in which he participated:

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86 thoughts on “NBC News reports on the debate, and bonus anti-Ham tw**ts

    1. It was a pretty hollow ( and failed ) attempt at argument from authority.

      Maybe I’m starting to get used to this creationist gish-gallop, but there was nothing in particular about Ham’s performance that grinded my gears. I genuinely think he believes what the bible says as opposed to pure snake oil salesmen who are deliberately lying.

      Ham just comes off as rather ignorant and illogical in his reasoning.

      1. He didn’t really say anything new. We’ve all heard these bad arguments before. For people not accustomed to these arguments though, I found they had a harder time tolerating the debate. My dad told me he had to stop watching it & that he just couldn’t believe the stupid things Ham was saying.

  1. I think QA part of the debate was most interesting. I remember when Ham was squirming while trying to answer the question on what would change his mind, finally admitting that nothing.

    The other question he was also trying to avoid was asked by Nye about his literalism and if he believe in some nasty citations from Bible. Ham tried to attack the definition of ‘literalism’ which was disaster and kind of funny to watch.

    1. The ‘what would change your mind?’ question is a devastating one to faith, because ‘changing one’s mind’ is equating to ‘abandoning a commitment.’ You’re supposed to bravely and staunchly insist that you will NEVER break your promise, that nothing would or could force you to throw away your values and virtues.

      But fact claims are not the same things as ‘values and virtues.’ Ken Ham was put in an awkward position because he knew his audience would interpret “changing one’s mind” in the super-duper special “humility” sense of religion — but also know that failure to do so was a sign of arrogance in the real world in which they also lived. It was a no-win situation.

      He’s turned abandoning Creationism into abandoning God.

      Of course, refusing to change your mind about God is also arrogant — but that one’s harder for the faithful to see.

        1. Remarkably (or not), Ham’s horrific answer to that critical question was supported by some of the leaders of BioLogos in their post-debate critique:
          See especially John Walton’s statement:

          “When Ham was asked what it would take to change his mind, he was lost for words because he said that he could never stop believing in the truth of the Bible. I would echo that sentiment, but it never seemed to occur to him that there might be equally valid interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis, or maybe even ones that could garner stronger support.”

        2. “Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one’s mind” (Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage).

      1. It was especially delicious (and I can’t believe he walked into it) because there was the subtle hint in his glitzy opening where one of the creationist scientists hinted that he was shunned by the scientific community because of his fantastic ideas and he only reason he was shunned was because the ideas were “creationist” ones.

        It was a good play that Nye brought up how science would welcome such claims if there was evidence and that such a game changer would make someone famous.

        It couldn’t have worked out better. Ham totally went into the honey trap.

  2. And here’s a Christian who’s distressed over how Ken Ham has set back the Jesus movement a decade. He concludes: “So, thanks, Ken. You just made my job harder and I didn’t even get a pay raise out of it.

  3. Also precious were the moments when Ham was answering to Nye that the answers are in his favorite fable book, which was immediately welcomed by salves of laugh from the audience.

  4. Ham’s AIG says this:

    “By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.”


    So he’s pained himself into a corner when it comes to evidence. He is literally (as in not figuratively) incapable of acknowledging the validity any evidence that contradicts the bible.

    1. He must have trouble with bible passages that contradict each other then. Such conundra would probably require higher theology.

    2. The way out for most theologians and laypeople, though (after ignoring problems for a while), is to reinterpret scripture.

      For example, “Actually, it turns out that an honest reading of the Bible supports gay rights, and in fact, that’s been implicit in our faith since the beginning.”

      That’s where Ham should have gone and where most of the faithful will go.

  5. In regards to Ham’s avowal of certainty, it’s difficult to beat Mark Twain’s comment: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

    As with verbal contracts in Hollywood, unsupported certainty isn’t worth the paper it’s not written on.

  6. You gotta watch the Ken Ham vs Bill Nye Post-debate Show on youtube starring Eric Hovind and others.


  7. The “nothing” vs. “evidence” comments nicely summarize the situation. If you can’t change someone’s position with evidence, there is no reason to debate.

    1. Wrong. There is plenty of reason to debate because your goal shouldn’t be to change the mind of the person who’s mind won’t change.

      It is to make the case visible to the countless other people who are watching. That’s where the change happens.

        1. Right. When Lincoln and Douglas were debating slavery, they were not trying to change each other’s mind.

          The debate may influence young people whose beliefs have not solidified. When I was a teenager, I believed in UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster, astrology, Uri Geller, all that junk. This is not because I was stupid or crazy or closed-minded, but because I was young and believed what I was told. The school library had books on “Flying Saucers” and “Abominable Snowmen,” the Scholastic [sic] Book Club marketed Tarot cards and books on ancient astronauts to students, my 7th-grade biology teacher taught us about ESP, astral projection and thinking plants. (He used to complain that “The Russians are ‘way ahead of us in studying parapsychology.” Hey, it was the ’70s!) When I was in High School, the school brought in Ed and Lorraine Warren to present a slide-show on ghosts and the Amityville Horror. Nobody told me that these things were nonsense–I assumed that they were facts. (Except for the Warrens–even then, I thought that they were full of it.)

          It was only when I began reading Asimov, Sagan, Randi and other skeptics that I learned that these beliefs were baseless. I didn’t change my mind overnight, but I gradually became a skeptic. Don’t assume that everyone who believes in pseudoscience is a fanatic whose mind is made up. Some believers simply need to have the facts clearly explained to them.

      1. Yup. Ham wasn’t the audience – the world was the audience. 🙂

        I would also echo someone a poster said on a different site – debating people like Ham may force more moderate, mainstream Christians to take a stand for secularism. They seem content to ignore fundamentalism as long as they don’t get any backblow from it, but Ham is making Christianity out to be incredibly anti-science. So, now the theistic evolutionists had better speak up against fundamentalism, or watch their sects get taken down the toilet by Ken Ham.

  8. Ham’s claim that no evidence could change his mind about the Biblical-literalist view of biology.

    Worth quoting what Richard Dawkins had to say about creationist Kurt Wise, AB Un. of Chicago, PhD Harvard (student of Stephen J. Gould)

    Depending upon how many Kurt Wises are out there, it could mean that we are completely wasting our time arguing the case and presenting the evidence for evolution. We have it on the authority of a man who may well be creationism’s most highly qualified and most intelligent scientist that no evidence, no matter how overwhelming, no matter how all-embracing, no matter how devastatingly convincing, can ever make any difference.


    1. That would be convincing if the only people watching were Kurt Wise or Ken Ham. But lots of other people are watching, and as former creationists have attested on these pages, especially young people catch a glimpse of what rational thinking looks like at events like this. Those are the targets, not the Ham and Wise sorts.

      1. Apparently, the folks holding up the signs in the post immediately before this one weren’t convinced. I suppose that it could be argued that if even as few as 1 out of a 100 rethink their position, the exercise is worth it. Unfortunately, I don’t have the patience to suffer fools gladly and so would be a poor choice to participate in such a spectacle.

        1. As someone posted on that particular post, the audience is noise – they were mostly fundamentalists. The online audience reached ~535k (from when I checked it) and that has a big impact too. Note that Nye often addressed people watching online.

          Also, the video will hopefully be around for viewing by others in the future who have doubts.

          1. We don’t know that it has an impact though. It is just that people who likes “to play nice” assumes so and asserts it wildly.

            Jerry has mentioned that Dawkins refuse to debate creationists. Have Dawkins had a poor reception and little influence, which is what would be expected if the “play nice” people are correct? No.

            But on the other hand we can’t yet exclude that individuals are reached by such debate.

            It is just that the risk for harming science and education can outweigh the benefits of reaching a group you wouldn’t ordinarily reach.

            But we don’t know that either.

            So I’m tentatively for that people may approach this differently, But I’m wary of the risks, and I’m not happy with people implying benefits that may not balance the costs.

            What we know from trends is that atheism (Dawkins et al) works; accommodationism (Miller et al) doesn’t. Maybe Nye can beat Miller, but I doubt it.

            1. That’s my take, too.

              People are (obviously) going to do whatever they want to do. I hope they don’t debate creationists, just as I hope they don’t debate UFOlogists or cryptozoologists or flat Earthers or astrologists.

              If they go ahead and debate them anyway and an objective analysis of the results show that it works, fantastic. And Nye’s nomming of Ham is certainly a data point in that direction.

              But a lone data point isn’t enough from which to draw conclusions, let alone overcome all the myriad reasons why debates in general and against crackpots in particular are a bad idea.



              1. Even if our side “won” consistently according to public opinion, that could be entirely due to things like charisma, looks, humor, eloquence, or any of a myriad of attributes that have little or nothing to do with veracity of message.

                Debates are all about persuasion, not accuracy.

              2. Exactly.

                Even if we “win,” what is it we’ve won?

                In politics, winning a debate often helps one win an election, and that can have very real consequences.

                But if we “win” people to the Evolution flag, but only because they like our debater’s hairstyle better, the fundamental problem remains.

                And the debate format tends to reinforce the superficial salesmanship mentality that is faith that’s the real root cause.

                Again, if it can be shown that more debates equates to more people independently verifying the answers for themselves, I’ll withdraw my objections (though, because I’m human, I’ll likely be reluctant to do so). But I just don’t see that as being likely.


              3. Oh, politics is the epitome of why debates are a terrible idea! It’s no accident that smooth psychopaths advance so easily.

              4. No arguments there. I’m just pointing out that there’s an objective reason why one should debate one’s opponents in politics: it’ll increase your chances of winning office.

                I don’t even see that much advantage to debating crackpots.


            2. It’s anecdotal but a lot of people who came to atheism started googling Dawkins which led to Harris and Hitchens and more. These people who report about their apostasy often state that seeing such debates won them over. They may not have been ready when they initially started having doubts but it became crucial once doubt was piled upon doubt.

              I agree that Dawkins shouldn’t debate creationists. He has an influential body of work and I think with the idea of him as the atheist god, it would turn into a fiasco. However, I don’t know that I hold the absolute position that in all circumstances, one should not debate creationists.

  9. It’s funny that even some Christians are embarrassed by a kook like Ken Ham.

    But what they don’t seem to realize is that Ken is simply staying true to their ancient holy book.

    And that the fundamental doctrine of Christianity—the blood atonement of ‘sins’ through a barbaric act of cruelty of some god/human hybrid in the ancient Middle East desert— is so staggeringly preposterous that nothing that came out of Ken Hams mouth sounded remotely more asinine than the central pillar of Christianity itself.

  10. Taking an example from islam fundamentalist, Ken Ham is in a way like Osama bin laden to less fundamentalist brethrens.

    Even though their comrades cringes at what he does, disavowing him will be very problematic to their own positions.

    While “problematic positions” usually have dire and very earthy (financial) consequences.

    We can safely conclude that the reactions of most of the fellow religionistas will be similar: suggesting a minute and inconsequential difference, while re-affirm the faith, and no (or very slow) actual changes.

    Then, some will arrange a backlash, attacking the real-enemy (“the west” and new-atheists respectively) with renewed vigor, the harshest attacker will be the new winner.

    We will see. Photos of young people with their faces and stupid declaration in the other thread guarantees that there are lots of cannon-fodder on these renewed battle.
    We will see.

  11. Not only did Ham candidly admit that no evidence could change his views, but he failed to respond to Nye’s observation that he deliberately distinguishes between “historical” and “poetic” portions of the Bible in a manner corresponding to what he likes and doesn’t like (i.e.: being stoned for touching a pig is a law only meant for Israel!). In other words, Ham’s position reduces to: “Creationism is viable because I’m telling you that God said so, and you can’t refute that without relying on belief-driven historical science. Now here are some PHD-powered creationists who agree with me!”

  12. Not that I want to defend Ham at all, but with regard to Happy Heathen’s FAIL post in the article above: I do believe Ham’s point in showing that slide was that he said his “kinds” model is supported by the conventional research in that it produces a similar bush/twig whatever thingamabob. That why he has it displayed upside down so it matches his own graphic. It wasn’t supposed to be his own research. This was one his “biblical predictions” that Nye kept asking for.

    Personally, I was disappointed to see no outright challenges by Nye with regard to “the book” with all the answers. Fine, you think all the answers are in the Bible. Why the Bible? Why not the Rig Veda which is older? Why not the Pyramid texts which make them all look like today’s newspaper?

    Or,with regard to the historical science and “you weren’t there…” claptrap, why not take the moderator’s jest and assert that Larry King IS in fact 2500 years old and can first hand refute most of what’s in the bible. Sure, Jesus was nice and all, but he didn’t do all those things… Ham was showing slides of chronologies with 800 year old Noah’s and Moseses (?), so who is he to question Larry’s (now) “Observational Science”?

    And lastly, for all the constant reliance on Noah and the flood, how could Nye resist bringing up that the entire Noah’s ark story exists in Gilgamesh a good half millennium prior to “the book”? Not to mention all the good information run here less than a couple weeks ago with the article on Irving Finkle.

    So perhaps Nye was just being polite or perhaps there were some guidelines they had agreed to ahead of time. But attacking your opponents evidence isn’t attacking your opponent. Like he said… Tear it up!


    1. For people who believe in Noah’s Ark (I used to be one), the fact that it appears in other ancient writings (there’s also a Greek version) is evidence that it is true. If the Flood happened, one would EXPECT other cultures to mention it–why would the Jews be the only people who remembered it? Sure, these other versions contradict the Biblical story, but that’s because they are garbled versions–passed down by word of mouth–of a real event, while the accurate version is the one in the Bible. So, bringing up multiple versions of the Flood story would be counterproductive.

        1. If there are, you can simply insist that the date must be wrong. After all, these are people who think dinosaurs and humans co-existed.

          I doubt that the average believer pays that much attention to chronology–I once heard Charlton Heston talking about the Bible on a talk show (he was hosting a TV show on the subject) and he mentioned that Moses came before Noah. No-one contradicted him.

      1. You have a point. But even a casual stroll through the abundant history of China brackets the flood by millennia with a continuum of relics, agriculture and people. Or… did they put two very industrious Chinese people on the Ark too?

        1. I agree with you–I stopped believing in the ark when I learned that there were civilizations that existed before, during and after the supposed time of the Flood. A True Believer, however, would insist that Chinese history MUST be wrong if it contradicts the Bible. Some people confronted with the evidence will change their minds; others will dismiss the evidence. I can imagine Ham asking, “Chinese history contradicts the Flood story? Were you there?”

      2. I don’t think it’s counter productive if you address it properly. Bring up that false conclusion and show why it’s false.

        A similar argument is made with god – all these cultures experience a god. Or with near death experiences – they are all the same across cultures. The part they are missing is we are all the same people with the same brain….we are remarkably similar (more than religions would have you believe).

    2. Personally, I was disappointed to see no outright challenges by Nye with regard to “the book” with all the answers.

      I think focusing on the wonder of science and inviting young people to participate it is much, MUCH better than directly attacking their holy book.

      Look, if we really believe that critical thinking and education will reduce religiosity, then we should trust education to do the job we claim it does. Our job should be to get young on-the-fence fundamentalist students excited and interested in taking mainsream biology, chemistary, physics, etc.. Then let biology, chemistry, physics, etc. do the deconversion heavy lifting for us.

      1. I don’t mean attack as in insult, but demand an explanation for why it’s held in such regard.

        Where is the evidence for the Bible being the source of all truth and wisdom? What made Ham choose the Bible and not the Koran, the Gita or anything else? I know the answer, he _knows_. My point is that is the tactic Nye could have used – his explanations are independently testable/verifiable whereas Ham’s require the same spiritual experience to _know_ a particular book is true.

        It’s very much in line with what you’re saying about critical thinking.

      2. Don’t forget the power of cognitive dissonance, and of the desire of children to not have people think they’re idiots.

        Which is exactly what they are if they think the adult version of Santa Claus is any more real than the childish one they just figured out is fake.



  13. Re Ham saying, “You weren’t there, you can’t know.” That’s simply not true. We are here and we do see the ongoing processes of evolution.

    1. It is also true of almost everything else he said: we can figure out what would happen if the speed of light changed, etc. (Hint: we’d be dead.)

      I think what he’d say though is the bafflegab about ‘kinds’ and ‘information’.

  14. What would cause you to change your mind?

    Pose this question to any other fundamentalist of any other religion and it must follow, as the night the day, the riposte would be the same. Since, in a logical sense, only one religion could be true and all others false, or all religions be false, does this alone not totally bug**r Ken’s intellectual credibility?

  15. Looking back to my older letter….

    … I hope that Readers of WEIT will join with me in urging those at the ‘Imagine No Religion’ conference at Kamloops in May, to present a Lifetime Achievements Award to Ken Ham for his services to the cause of atheism. As you know, Ken has worked tirelessly to make Christianity sound so preposterous that eight year old kids are walking away from it. In one classic move he placed dinosaurs in the nativity scene. Bravo to Ken! His energetic opposition to the Theory of Evolution has made religion seem as daft as a box of tap-dancing frogs….

  16. Tuesday’s debate dwelled on Genesis and didn’t consider alternatives to evolutionary theory that are less overtly biblical…

    It strikes me that this is just as much a giant fail as Ham’s admitting no evidence will change his mind.

    The tw**terer has just admitted that they want explanations which are covertly biblical, and that other forms of ID creationism are still based on the bible, just less so. Shotgun, meet toes.

  17. So I’ve been thinking a little bit on how I would answer the question — what would change my mind — and it isn’t the Precambrian rabbit. One little anomaly wouldn’t outweigh the masses of contrary data we already have. What would change my mind would be an explanation: a different theory that would explain the data, both new and old, better than the one we have now. I’ll admit that it seems very unlikely that such a theory would come along, or that even in such an event it would at all resemble Ken Ham’s idea. But that’s what it would take.

    1. Of course, just as the theories that replaced Newtonian Mechanics reduce to it in the relevant domain, anything that replaces Evolution will similarly reduce to it in all the ways we’re familiar with it.

      That is, the replacement might explain some things Evolution can’t, or it might come up with the same results but in a more efficient manner, but you’ll still get the right answers for most of biology using (neo-)Darwinian Evolution.


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