Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Insignificance of the Debate Between Bill Nye and Ken Ham

On February 4, 2014, Bill Nye [the Science Guy], formerly known for his television show that explains various principles of science, took part in a debate versus Ken Ham, the president of the Creation Museum. The questions pertained to whether or not our species was created by an intangible, abstract entity, or through a slow process that involved the natural selection of the environment's optimal species.  As expected, the scientist's views demonstrated stronger, more consistent, empirical and statistical evidence.

The question of how humanity started is ultimately a scientific question, not a religious one.  Here's why:

Science answers questions that we know we can answer.  The origin of humanity can be traced, and   although there may not be a perfectly determined "right" answer, there are clearly "wrong" answers.  Stating that we were created by falling out of a storm cloud is not supported through any experimental knowledge that scientists have generated.  Stating that it took millions of years is consistent with how other modern species developed, as well as the age of the fossils of our evolutionary ancestors.  Carbon dating has done wonders in showing a relatively accurate age of ancient rocks and fossils.  Our knowledge of plate tectonics shows that geological patterns occurred in the same time period as the species that correspond to the different parts of the planet.  Science has made amazing ground in answering a question that was once thought unanswerable.

Religion has no place in trying to trump the findings of science.  Religion, unlike science, cannot change and adapt views when a better theory is found.  Scientists, on the other hand, are eager to find a better explanation than they have already found.  Religious institutions generally fear such improvement.  Ham's argument seemed mostly focused on the idea that we are not capable of judging the interpretation of the data.  I feel like this is an evasive position that does not take charge of the consistency of found information.

Ham seemed to try to associate his faith within the realm of scientists.  He cited examples of notable scientists and inventors who believed in the 6,000 yr old planet.  I do not find this to be convincing because the world is a very large place, and there will always be a few PhD-caliber persons who believe something different than the majority of PhD caliber individuals.  My own physics advisor in college, I suspect, would side with Ham on this issue.  This does not mean that we as citizens cannot dispute such position.  Even peer reviewed journals will publish such ideas.  Although peer reviewed journals require an extensive process, it does not prevent any idea from being published (that would be censorship, to which I also oppose).  Of course, what about the solid majority of scientists who do not accept Creationism (99.9% according to Donald Prothero's Reality Check)?

Nye previously stated a couple of years before that "Creationism is not appropriate for children."  He is exactly right; the product is an instilled set of values that are not consistent with other worldly observations.  In 2nd grade, I looked at a world map and felt like I could put together all the continents like a jigsaw puzzle.  5 years later, I would find that this is one of the arguments for plate tectonics.  Kids should be focused on learning relatively factual information; information that is inductively/deductively proven.  They should be told the potential sources of error of such arguments.  The world is much safer when children learn self-consistent information that fosters future thinking about systems, and I think it is a generally fun process when what you learn is consistent with prior knowledge.

It may seem that I am trying to dismantle the entire institution of religion.  I do believe that religion has a place in society, but I think that place needs reformation.  Religion has every right to foster the development of interpersonal values.  In order for society to function cooperatively, social organization is of great necessity.

Religion should not focus on trying to concretely answer descriptive questions; it is instead the role of the institution to foster moral values, promote humanist, altruistic behavior, organize charities and promote love and peace.  There is no reason for the church to even have to answer a question that has been answered in a way upon which most scientists generally agree.

Ultimately, this debate does not close any gaps between science and religion.  It reminds us of the societal dysfunction that remains from furnishing descriptively inaccurate tales, and presenting them to young children, who in turn pass them along to future generations.  Ham will never concede his counter-factual claims, and generally, individuals who militantly defend the Bible will not open up to new information.  Science is what predicts and prevents natural disasters; science is what allows us to determine how increased carbon emissions affect global temperature.  Science is what makes up our bodies; science is what tells us how to live longer; science explains what we can confirm we know.

3 comments:

  1. Do you think it's worth trying to convince staunch creationists? Is there an age where it's no longer worth the conflict?

    ReplyDelete
  2. By age, do you refer to a person's number of years, or "age" as in the era in which we live?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As in how they old they are. I ask this because I used to be an extreme creationist - even debating about in Facebook. But then two years ago after having no response to this image http://i.imgur.com/xWpvw.jpg I questioned my beliefs, did some research, and found evolution to be far more plausible.

      My religious parents, however, will likely never accept evolution.

      Delete