So if you’ve been paying attention the last couple days online you may have noticed the ‘historic debate’ between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. I’m not going to focus too much on any of the specifics and arguments so if you haven’t already, I highly recommend seeing it in its entirety (preferably before you continue if you don’t want spoilers). There have been many opinions on who won and who lost and in my opinion, Ken Ham is the winner. Wait, what? Did you just read something wrong? Was there a typo? For those who know me, I am about as non-religious as they come. I’m not a Christian. I’m not not Buddhist. I don’t consider myself to be Agnostic, or even Atheist. Quite frankly, each of those suggests that you have some opinion about life and spirituality and all that good stuff. I personally just don’t care. Is there a God? There could be or there couldn’t be, but I don’t care to expend any energy to find out. Maybe in the future I may divulge myself into different schools of religion and find something to believe in or reject, but as of now, I simply don’t care. So then why do I say Ken Ham was the clear winner? Simply put, I believe the debate between Science and Religion is akin to that of an adult to a child. Not to define childish as others commenting on the debate as being un-intellectual or irrational, but rather the way a child responds.
So we need to set victory conditions for each side of the debate. For Ken Ham, it’s simple; just rationalize his model of creationism. For Bill Nye on the other hand, he holds the massive burden of having to absolutely disprove Ken Ham’s claim. This isn’t like the justice system where he only has to convince us beyond reasonable doubt. No, he must make it so there is 0% chance of Ken Ham’s hypothesis to be true. Even if there is the smallest sliver of chance of being true, Bill Nye has not disproven Ken Ham’s theory, and Ken Ham will have defended his position and have won the debate.
So Adult vs Child. Science takes on the role of the adult, and Religion takes on the role of the child, not only in this debate, but in virtually all debates or disagreements of Science vs Religion. Remember, we are not talking adult and child in terms of knowledge but in terms of rationalism. Usually, Science vs Religion debates go something along the terms of Science pointing out that something we observe is inconsistent with scripture. Religion then counters to make an explanation that to them, resolves this contradiction. This can then continue several times until Religion makes an argument or challenge that Science just has no way of proving or disproving.
An easy way of illustrating this is with the adult-child model. Say a Child claims to have an Imaginary Friend. We shall call him ‘Bob’ for shorthand sake. The Adult in this case will make a suggestion that Bob is in fact not real and is just made up. The Child them makes claims that Bob is ‘invisible to everyone but the Child’ and can move through objects. The Adult may then ask the Child to see if ‘Bob’ would like to reveal himself to the Adult, but the Child, being Bob’s proxy, says ‘No, Bob doesn’t want to.’ In this case, the Adult has no way to prove that Bob is or is not invisible and can move through objects. In essence, Bob does indeed exist simply because the Child believes it to be true and the Adult has no way of proving to the Child that Bob does not exist.
Does this scenario sound similar to a certain series of exchanges between Bill and Ken? It should. Some examples: Bill points out that Noah would not have been able to build a seaworthy arc. Ken claims God gave him the knowledge to do so. Bill says the layers of sedimentary rock in the Grand Canyon must be laid down over millions of year. Ken claims that the rate at which deposits were laid down were much much faster in the past. Bill asserts that the speed at which the universe is expanding confirms the big bang theory and the age of the universe to be billions of years old. Ken simply claims that God made the heavens the way they are now and has decided to expand them to show man his greatness. And, when asked to justify his claims, Ken Ham simply points to the Scripture, a piece of literature which is claimed to be a collection of accurate historical records, and poetry written several millennia ago. Bill Nye has no way of going back in time to witness the writing of the Scripture to prove if it was indeed historic or poetry. In poker terminology, Ken Ham is still the winner if he’s got at least on ‘out’ and the inability to witness the writing of or ask the author of the Scripture give Ken Ham that one ‘out’ he needs.
Furthermore, a question by an audience member sums up the entire global Science vs Religion debate. “What would change your mind?” Sometimes in debates, if you can change the other person’s opinion, you win. Bill Nye’s response? Any piece of evidence that contradicts on of the many “Natural Laws”. Just one. Ken Ham’s response? Nothing. How is it possible to win against someone who is unwilling to even consider the idea of being wrong. What inevitably happens is rationalization of contradictions that only satisfy one party until the both are unable to prove or disprove.
In summary, the great debate between Science and Religion will always be a one sided fight. The fundamental nature of Science is that there are always unanswered questions. (edit: so I got off on a tangent here and strayed from the main point of the article which was is not about a particular debate which confused both me and others after reading. so it has been removed). Meanwhile those who are adamant and stand by their faith will not be swayed and will continue to attempt to rationalize any challenge to their beliefs. The Nye-Ham debate as it played out to be, is really not so dissimilar from any other debate or argument over conventional science and faith. From the side of Science, it will always be an uphill unwinnable argument.