by Samantha Haub
On Tuesday Feb. 4th hundreds of thousands of people streamed the live debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye at the Creation Museum in Hebron, Kentucky. Since, the debate has received over two million hits on YouTube as those who missed it continue to plug in. Ham, founder and CEO of creationist organization, Answers in Genesis, and as well as the Creation Museum, faced off with Nye, Executive Director of the Planetary Society and graduate of Cornell University, in a mediated debated over whether creationism is a viable account of origins in our modern era. For the millenials who both grew up in the 90s watching Bill Nye the Science Guy on television and witnessed the foundation of the Creation Museum, this was a battle of the ages.
Ham kicked off the debate with semantics claiming that “the word science has been hijacked by secularists” and proceeded to differentiate between observational science and historical science. “I say that the creation-evolution debate is really a conflict between two philosophical worldviews based on two different accounts of origins or historical science beliefs.” According to Ham, both evolutionists and creationists share the same physical world, evidence and observational science, but their presuppositions determine how they interpret such evidence. In addition to listing off creationists that have contributed to modern science, he outlined his creationist model of the earth being created about 6,000 years ago. He stated that death only entered the world after Adam sinned, that God created animals according to their “kinds” or families that descended into the species that we have today and that about 4,000 years ago, the whole world was submerged under water for a year as a part of Noah’s Flood and God’s judgment against mankind. To Ham, the Bible is the ultimate authority on historical origins and should be interpreted literally.
Upon his turn, Nye graciously acknowledged the billions of people in the world who enjoy lives enriched by religion, but reject the notion that the earth is only 6,000 years old. Interestingly, Nye questioned the viability of Ham’s specific model of creationism – not creationism or intelligent design in general.
Nye disputed the credibility of a global flood during which a 500-foot wooden boat (constructed before the craft of shipbuilding was perfected) could house 14,000 animals and eight zookeepers. Not only is there low viability of any plant life surviving after a year submerged underwater, but the time since the flood does not allow enough time to produce the animal diversity observed today. Nye noted that if there were 7,000 of Ham’s “kinds” of animals on the ark, and the flood occurred 4,000 years ago, that we would expect to discover 11 new species every day since the flood to achieve the 16,000,000 species in existence today. The daily number of new species required would be even greater if there were fewer kinds represented on the ark as claimed by Ham.
Other than the validity of a global flood, the debate greatly focused on the age of the earth. Nye asked Ham to explain how we can have so many ice layers that are formed in winter-summer cycles that are observed around the world if the earth is only 6,000 years old. Some ice cores have up to 680,000 layers of ice formed in the annual winter-summer cycles. If you divide the 680,000 layers by 4,000 years since the flood, then there would have to be a minimum of 170 winter-summer cycles every year. “Wouldn’t someone have noticed that?” asked Nye. Nye also mentioned a tree in Sweden named Old Tikko that is 9,500 years old – significantly older than the dates provided by a literal interpretation of the Bible.
Finally after the multiple examples of evidence supporting an old earth, Nye brought up the fact that fossils are found in distinct layers of rock without ever crossing the layers. He then asked Ham if he could point to a single example in which we see fossils that had swum up through the layers, as we would expect if all animals once lived and died together at the same time in the event of a global flood. Ham gave no answer. “If you can find one example of that anywhere in the world,” said Nye, “you would change the world.”
Once both sides were presented, Ken Ham and Bill Nye were given the opportunity to answer specific questions from the audience. For all the times that Nye encouraged people to take their questions about origins and pursue answers with science, Ham sounded like a broken record saying “there’s a book,” claiming the Bible has all of the answers and virtually snuffing out the curiosity that fuels research and scientific advancement.
Ken Ham was asked what, if anything would get him to change his mind about what he believed. “Well, the answer to that question is,” answered Ham, “I’m a Christian. As a Christian I can’t prove to you that God has definitely shown me very clearly through His Word and shown himself in the person of Jesus Christ, the Bible is the Word of God… I can’t ultimately prove that to you… As far as the word of God is concerned, no one is ever going to convince me that the word of God is not true.” And with that Ham shed light on a paradox as old as the creation-evolution debate – that many Christians and especially the followers of Ken Ham, will continue to adhere to what they believe despite the evidence against their claims.