Now that Bill visited Ken’s ark…tips for the next Evolution v. Creationism debate

Bill-Nye-Ark-Encounter-tourA giant replica of an ark has been built in Kentucky. Presumably this ark is of the same general size as the fictional boat made famous in the biblical story of Noah.

The construction of this ark was not without controversy, as the proprietor, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, is among the most infamous creationists in the world, and therefore his intention behind the construction of this massive unseaworthy vessel is to ignore all of science and to teach the story of Noah as if it’s true.

This of course would be perfectly legal, although colossally wasteful, were it not for the fact that for purposes of receiving tax breaks from the state of Kentucky, the project couched itself as more of a theme park than a religious institution, and conversely for the purposes of restricting who they hire to only “born again” Christians, the project couched itself as more of a religious institution than a theme park.

But these issues have been well documented so rather than rehash them here, I thought I would would revisit the Bill Nye, Ken Ham debate, especially since Bill took up Ken’s invitation to attend the Ark Encounter’s grand opening this past week. Keep in mind this “debate” turned out much like many of us who have experience speaking with creationists expected, and hence warned against (see my piece Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham: Dinosaurs vs. Dragons for more on that discussion).

So what follows are my suggestions should the two meet again to have a similar discussion.

My first four are below, but feel free to add your own in the comments section. So let’s get to it.

1. Bill: Right out of the gate, ask Ken Ham if he believes humans and dinosaurs lived on the planet at the same time.

As a Young Earth Creationist, Ken will be forced to answer “Yes,” thus exposing the depths of his delusion to the audience and to the hundreds of millions of people across the world who know that dinosaurs lived a very long time ago; between 230 to 60 million years to be a bit more accurate. We also know, thanks to the Ark Encounter theme park, that Ken literally believes dinosaurs were on the Ark.  He has some replica dinosaurs in one of Noah’s animal cages. I’m not kidding. Now, normally there is a cost associated with being irrational. For example, exhibiting irrational behaviors, such as “watch me fly” or “check out my force field,” often result in bodily injury to the irrational person. No doubt jumping off a bridge or walking in front of a bus extracts a very high cost for the irrational individual, and it also serves as an incredibly potent if not macabre illustration to others of the dangers of being delusional. Irrational ideas on the other hand are a bit easier to get away with, particularly if they are shielded from ridicule by the veneer of religion. But this isn’t fair. All irrational ideas should come with a cost; at the very least, the cost of public humiliation. Let’s play this out. Take Ken Ham to any elementary school in almost any town in the United States, and ask him to admit that he believes humans and dinosaurs lived together, and the reaction of the schoolchildren will be one of two things: laughter or fear. Why? Because kids know dinosaurs. They know Tyrannosaurus rex, they know Triceratops, they know Stegosaurus, they even know that Brontosaurus is actually an incorrect term for Apatosaurus, and above all, they know that dinosaurs ruled the earth for hundreds of millions of years, millions of years ago. So when Ken Ham says that dinosaurs lived alongside humans some five to six thousand years ago, kids will laugh at him thinking he’s joking, or they will be afraid of him thinking he’s serious. Either way, the cost of public humiliation will have been collected.

2. Ken: If you have to keep reminding people your scientists have PhDs, you are implicitly admitting you have a credibility problem.

Ken needs to realize that having a PhD in something, doesn’t preclude you from being painfully obtuse in something else. We understand that Ken has managed to recruit a few real scientists who were willing to waste what might have otherwise been promising scientific careers, in order to feed the Answers in Genesis confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance machine. It’s sad actually.  It’s also interesting to notice during their first debate, that when Bill was citing his scientific sources, he didn’t say “PhD astrophysicist Carl Sagan,” he simply said, “Carl Sagan.” Credibility is more than credentials.

3. Bill: Remind Ken there are no such things as secular versus religious science journals.

There are just science journals. If Ken’s “PhD scientists” are finding their papers are being rejected from science journals, it isn’t because the journals are explicitly irreligious as opposed to religious, it’s because the papers reflect bad science. Science journals publish evidence-based findings for peer-review. If that purpose precludes your papers from being published, then revisit your papers, don’t blame the journals. In fact, if a credible science journal were to stray from reality and publish a paper with poor or worse, fabricated evidence (religious or not), it would be forced to retract the paper or risk losing all credibility in the field. In effect, it would be finished.

4. Ken: We all know you “have a book,” now give us the evidence that supports your book.

During the first debate, Ken kept referring to the Bible as evidence for the claims in the Bible that he believes support Creationism. This is a fundamental circular reasoning fallacy that Ken will need to address in the next debate. We know his book means a tremendous amount to him and we aren’t denying that.  But it’s a religious text and religious texts only have special meaning to those who practice that religion.  For the billions of people who don’t practice that religion, it’s just another text.  Offering the claims of an old, personally sacred book as evidence for the claims in the same old, personally sacred book does not make for compelling evidence. By way of analogy, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hogwarts is a wizarding school in England;  but no rational person thinks that Hogwarts is actually a wizarding school in England. Claims need evidence and to quote the late Christopher Hitchens, “that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”  Ken will need to remember that no matter how badly he hopes the claims in his book are true, his hope isn’t evidence.

And there you have it. A few pointers for both Ken and Bill should they meet again on the debate stage. Here’s to hoping that doesn’t happen.

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