By now you have all read about the debate. If you want to view it so that this perspective and other review make more sense it is available here. It was an interesting event to say the least. But at the same time it raised some important questions – difficult ones for both sides of the issue. I am not going to cover the whole of their discussion but instead highlight some important concerns.
Before getting into the technical issues it must be stated that both behaved themselves quite well. There was no shouting or blatantly abusive speech. They were gentlemen.
Both made some strong points. Nye asked for evidence. What he wants to see is something specific that would demonstrate that the earth could only be 6,000 years old. What he got for a response was an appeal to the models being used. On several occasions Ham attempted to clarify that there was no disagreement on the existence of the raw data. Their difference boiled down to the model used to interpret the data. For Ham to make this appeal was to reach into an area where Nye with which was apparently unfamiliar.
This appeal to models is as true in evolutionary circles as it is in the creation-evolution debate. There are currently four (as best I can count) major evolutionary theories floating around – (1) classic Darwinism, (2) neo-Darwinism per Gould & Mayr, (3) neo-Darwinism per Shapiro, Wolfram, and Behe, and (4) non-Darwinian evolution per Fodor & Nagel. These theories raise questions about the relationship between adaptation and genetics, between being a random or a driven system, and whether or not materialism accounts for human capacity for mental abstraction.
As an engineer Nye wants things he can hold onto. He wants experimental evidence. A theory without evidence (“fruit” as they say) is a meaningless theory. To that question Ham appealed to the work done by many but did not have any specific answer. That was to his detriment.
Ham understands that worldviews shape thought. So he appealed to the “religion of naturalism” that drives evolutionary thought. Nye apparently could not grasp that. He had no substantive response.
Both presented some weak points as well. Ham never began with data or information. Were he to bring some of that to the table then the discussion might well have been over before it began. To his credit he came half-way and presented some of the flaws of dating methods. Though the discussion was not complete it was a half-point in his favor. It was not enough to lead listeners to a final conclusion on the matter and to me that makes it a weak point.
Nye showed himself a subscriber to scientism with an autocratic flare. He suggested that those who do not accept naturalistic evolution should not be working in the sciences. He also considers them unpatriotic. These suggestions ought be offensive to anyone hearing them.
His engineering perspective also came out in the phrase “eschew the process” as a description of doing science. I may be wrong here, but this sounds like an appeal to the empirical scientific method. In the scientific method the scientist has control of the process. But evolution is first about history and second about predictions and testing. These occur within the historical model and are part of its support mechanism. But all evolutionary theory is an attempt to answer the historical question of how we got to where we are. Like so many others with a positivist and empiricist flare Nye missed the core character of the theory he is supporting.
There is much more that could be said. Both made strong point and weak points. The discussion will not end with this debate. The end of a debate, after all, is never the end of anything but itself.