As you know, Bill Nye has agreed to engage in a debate about evolution with Ken Ham at the Kentucky Creation Museum. You may also know that I suggested that this debate was a bad idea, not so much because it is Bill Nye doing it (he’s a great spokesperson for science and science education) but because the whole idea of a debate is questionable for a number of reasons (discussed here).

Bill recently made a few comments on the debate on CNN.

Here, I’d like to list a handful of the points I’d make if I was doing this debate.

  • It is not necessary or even possible to argue against “creationism” because creationism is a belief system based on faith. Science, on the other hand, is all about arguing about interpretation of observations and developing the best descriptions and explanations we can of the natural world.

  • In the 18th century, western thinking, “Natural philosophy,” described and explained the world in a way that incorporated religious thinking and referred to scripture. That view is almost identical to the 21st century creationist view. “Intelligent design” is indistinguishable from Paley’s view of the natural world, which he wrote about in his book “Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity” in 1809, which is a kind of capstone for the previous century’s thinking.

  • The 19th century, with Darwin and Wallace and a host of others advanced modern scientific thinking and challenged the previous century’s way of thinking. There was indeed a debate at that time, and evolutionary biology won that debate.

  • During the early 20th century, Darwinian thinking was advanced and revised to include a huge amount of ongoing observations about nature, including the discovery of genetics. By some time early in the 20th century, what might have been a valid debate about the nature of nature itself faded away and became a political debate instead.

  • That political debate, not a scientific debate, between a religious belief system (creationism) and science (evolutionary biology), persisted through the 20th century and into the 21st century and has been used by a minority of religious institutions and individuals as a tool. There is no longer a scientific debate about the validity of evolution, and there has not been one for a very long time.

  • Many of the criticisms of evolution maintained by creationists are about the age of the earth and the way that fossils are ordered in time. That ordering in time is central to evolution because it demonstrates dramatic changes in life forms. But those criticisms are not so much about the biology, but rather, about the physics and geology.

  • The physics that help us understand evolutionary change over time is the same science that the United States military uses to develop and maintain our all-important Nuclear Navy. It is the same physics that underlies the development of an important part of our power grid, the nuclear power plants. It is the same physics that underlies the development of the not-so-pleasant nuclear arsenal. Before creationists complain to biologists that the science of nuclear physics is wrong, they should take their case to the Military and the nuclear power industry, because if nuclear physics is wrong, we are all in a great deal of trouble.

  • The geology that helps us understand the record of evolutionary change in the past is the same geology that gives us the ability to engineer safer structures, build seemingly impossible bridges, locate and exploit important resources such as minerals and, of course, petroleum. Before creationists complain about evolutionary biology’s use of this geology they should talk to civil engineers and petroleum and mining geologists about how they must have all of that wrong as well.

  • Evolutionary biology also underlies our medical practices. Comparative anatomy is part of the proof of evolution, and it is also the source of much of our understanding of human physiology. The study and treatment of infectious disease and epidemiology is based on evolutionary thinking. Before creationists complain about evolution they should talk to our medical professionals and inform them that the basis of their efforts to treat and prevent disease and medical disorders is all wrong.

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Check out the Planetary Society, where Bill Nye is Executive Director.

More on science education HERE.

Also, check out my novella, Sungudogo, HERE. It is an adventure story set in Central Africa which ultimately turns out to be a parody of the skeptics movement.

Comments

  1. #1 ron
    January 9, 2014

    Debating the debate for the next month should be a loo-loo.

    As is often the case, the debate will come down to definitions (as I’ve not read that there is a “neutral” moderator in this debate). Each side will seek to represent the other side in such a way that will please their own audience and nearly offend the other side (as in “creationism is a belief system based on faith” as though there is some observable evidence of a change of kind somewhere in any field of science and rejecting any observable evidence offered in support of creation-ism).

    I would like to see each side agree on certain data points and recognize that they interpret that data via a different set of presuppositions, offering various other verifiable, repeatable observations to support said presuppositions.

    Since there seems to not be a moderator, I fear a rambling filibuster that simply runs the clock without offering data points or evidences to establish or refute a perspective.

  2. #2 editor-b
    January 9, 2014

    Some questions for a more chaotic but friendly debate, for instance: is there evolution if there is no time? How will evolutionary biology meet new physical paradigms about time, space and so on? Will new conceptual changes deny evolution? Or on the contrary, will it become a more extraordinary process, full of astonishing implications? If so, will past human beings and the rest of living beings become different as science progresses? After all, is life something fix-finite-defined? That is, can one understand it by means of using a brain and its limited words? Does the whole of life fit into a bone box? Indeed, will science add indefinitely without understanding completely? Anyway, is it possible to understand something completely? Along these lines, there is a different book, a preview in goo.gl/rfVqw6 Just another suggestion

  3. #3 GregH
    January 9, 2014

    Speaking of rambling filibusters, what if editor-b and ron were to debate each other? If there’s no time, will your opponent ever shut up?

  4. […] writer Greg Laden offered this morning a short list of points he’d like Nye to make.  In general, Laden suggests that Nye focus on the […]

  5. […] Laden’s post on this matter makes a number of essential points, including several that relate to how current understanding of […]

  6. #6 BCreason
    Canada
    January 17, 2014

    Received an email from Eric Hovind today asking me to preorder the Nye debate for $19.95. Proceeds to go to Answers In Genesis. Supposedly they also sold all 900 tickets for the event 2 minutes after they went on sale. This seems to be a big money maker for AiG. Whether Bill wins or looses AiG wins. (They’ll never admit defeat anyway. Along with the free live streaming, Answers in Genesis has asked Creation Today to partner with them to make DVD’s and Digital Downloads of the debate available to the public. The proceeds for these preorders of DVD’s and Digital Downloads will go to support Answers in Genesis and help offset the cost of hosting this historic event.

  7. #7 John
    January 20, 2014

    ID vs. science
    I instructed a course in “ID vs. science” as part of an adult lifelong learning program. Most of the students were creationist oriented but wanted to know about science. I presented 2 DVDs in their entirety made by ID people. Some creationists noted they learned some things about ID.

    I also would recommend you not do the “debate” because it may be (probably is) only a promotion effort for ID.

    I offer some critique:
    1. Do you know what the proposition is? I this a discussion or a debate?
    2. Avoid letting him set the frame of the discussion – that is, avoid the position of defending evolution on his terms. His terms were on the outskirts of science knowledge (where the models are not complete) in a field little known by the general public (microbiology and probability). Therefore, the one statement that, I think, you could use will be lost and ignored. I noticed it because I was looking for it. (The statement: science produces results – predicts observations – and ID does not. You did talk of the scientist going into the lab to get results, but this is lost on the general public because they don’t understand what this means to them. The part of “ID does not” was really lost.
    3. How to set the frame – define science in a 15 second sentence or 2 in the beginning. Usually in a debate each side has an introductory remark. Include what purpose science serves to people and how it works. Talk of the computer not the semiconductor/solid state science.
    4. Suggestion: Science is a part of human knowledge that helps people and our species survive by advancing our ability to predict observations (you said “results” that I think is a bit too esoteric). Our knowledge is limited and growing. Predicting brings us the ability to make machines, to lengthen our life span, to be comfortable, and to control our environment. Evolution is a science because it has predicted and continues to help us expand our knowledge. How does ID help us expand our ability to create the future?
    5. You could follow up with a statement specifying religion’s purpose without triggering the creation part of Judaic philosophy: Religion also serves us by enforcing morals that hold society together.
    6. Or, the 5 second intro.: Science and traditional religion help people advance, ID offers nothing more.
    7. The frame could be science helps people and ID does not. ID is useless because it overlaps the other great aid to people – religion. What part of ID offers anything more than traditional Judaic religious belief that also offers the moral glue that holds society together? ID is vacuous.
    8. Then question repeatedly “How does ID help people?” “How does ID help us advance?” “You (ID) haven’t said anything positive, you only attack.”
    9. Avoid getting hung up on some esoteric part of science such as microbiology and probability (favorites of IDers). The general public doesn’t understand the technobable except to ascribe some expertise on the paret of the speaker. IF you respond in technobable, ID wins the credibility. When the subjects on the edge of science arise – so note it is a field of investigation and we will know it sometime as we have often learned these thing through science.
    10. The BIG BANG also plays into the ID discussion. It begs the question of what caused the bang. Turtles all the way down should be avoided because it suggests ID. Better, I think, to focus on the idea science knows only a portion of the universe and is learning more. Not “going into a lab” but “learning more”. Traditional religion serves the remaining need of humans therefore ID is unnecessary.
    11. Drop the “not fair” kind of thing. Nature is not fair. Selection is not fair. “Fair” today is a liberal goal. Your opponent did not pursue this but the attack could be nature is cruel and definitively not fair. How can this unfair process of natural selection be good for us?
    12. What purpose in nature do humans serve? Why did we evolve? Answerers to these could have been used in a few contexts of ID propositions.
    13. The ID idea of a better mousetrap being designed only by design could be fought a bit better. (In my day it was a better mousetrap which was solved by noting the tie clip.) The watch seems to be the thing now. What is needed is an example of a (simple) machine created by man that serves as a missing link.
    14. I noticed recently ID opponents choose to not pursue the “goldilocks” issue. The two DVDs I showed the classes were about the goldilocks and mousetrap issues (“Where does the evidence lead?” and “Unlocking the mystery of life”).
    15. Sometimes when the discussion reaches a point of the ID has nothing more, the ID discussion turns to personal attack, slander and shouting (or conversation hogging) – definitely not collegial. I don’t know how to handle this. My approach has been to note they lose and stop trying. This may not be possible in your venue.
    16. You must find a way to deal with interruptions and long tirades. The moderator is supposed to handle this. Is the moderator neutral or an ID enthusiast – don’t do it your only the fall guy in promoting ID.
    17. Another apparently recent thrust of ID is to frame the issue in the Dawkin’s 2 alternatives that I paraphrase: (a) God created the universe in such a way that mankind would arise and complexity would increase. (b) God created the complexity and evolution couldn’t possibly do this – (the ID) case. The first is often phrased differently. I point out both are religious issues and not science related. Go argue with a priest not a science guy.
    Good luck.

  8. #8 Ichthyic
    January 21, 2014

    Speaking of rambling filibusters, what if editor-b and ron were to debate each other? If there’s no time, will your opponent ever shut up?

    ROFLMAO

    perfect.

  9. #9 arizona jack
    January 26, 2014

    With so much evidence to the contrary,the idea of the earth being only 9,000 years old is ludicrous. If that were true,we would have T-Rex hunting on Wall Street,today! Here is a question nobody on either side of the issue has the guts to address,with anything that resembles common sense or logic. How do we know that God did not create evolution,in order to meet His ultimate goal?