Monday, February 10, 2014

The Nye-Ham debate, Feb 4, 2014, on: "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern, scientific era?" -- a pivotal moment in the civilisational civil war

As the promotional poster to the left shows, Bill Nye "the science guy" and Ken Ham, founder of the leading Young Earth Creationism [YEC] ministry, Answers in Genesis, met in debate live streamed on the Internet, on Tuesday evening, Feb 4, 2014. 

The focal topic was: 
"Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern, scientific era?" 

. . . and this was taken up in response to Ken Ham's counter-challenge to Bill Nye's public claim in a "viral" web video directed to Creationists, that:
 “[I]f you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.”
 Frankly, this is a shameful, bigotry-laced smear and false accusation that willfully and improperly indicts millions. Nye -- a public spokesman for science and science education -- should have known better.

And the smear is all the worse, for the fact that ever so many are inclined to believe it, making it a willfully continued misrepresentation in the teeth of duties of care to truth, fairness and reasonable respect even across differences of views. 

It is a sad testimony to the deep polarisation and latent . . . or, is that, increasingly emergent . . . rage against God and people who stand up for God that lurks dangerously in our civilisation in our time.

First and foremost, then, people of good will should firmly correct the smear and politely insist that it be retracted and apologised for.

Yes, retracted and apologised for.

Now, if not sooner.

Wrong has been done and toxic bigotry-driven falsehood spread as though it were truth; falsely persuading many that it is truth.

Which, we all know is destructive.

"But, but, but . . . "

Yes, "but . . . " far too many people are ill-informed and bigoted, having been misled to such hostility against "Creationists" that they are willing to entertain any smears against such ignoramuses and fools who are so obviously  
"ignorant, stupid, insane or . . .  wicked . . ."
(That bigotry-laced one liner comes [with but slight ellipsis] from the dean of the lab coat clad atheists, Richard Dawkins; and after years and years, he has not apologised for it either. See the repeated problem here?)

Enough is enough, and it is time to make amends.

Now, if not sooner.

Let some basic, easily shown facts speak.

Dr Ben Carson, distinguished neurosurgeon, author,
Christian spokesman and Creationist, who rose from the
slums to the heights of scientific and medical achievement
For instance, it is obvious to anyone who takes but a moment to reflect accurately from reliable sources on the founding of Modern Science, or on the current achievements of scientists who are Christians and people of other theistic faiths that stand on our world being a Creation, that 
one can hold to Creation as a key plank of one's worldview and become a successful -- or even distinguished  -- scientist, engineer,  computer programmer, technologist or medical practitioner. 
 We can simply call the name Ben Carson as one of the first among a very distinguished list. 

A list that includes Nobel Prize winners, and goes back as far as Kelvin, Maxwell, Faraday, Newton, Boyle, Galileo, Kepler and Copernicus, just to name a few. 

Indeed, let us now hear Newton, in his General Scholium, in effect an introduction to his main scientific work, the Principia of 1688 on; in which he introduced the universal law of gravitation, and the famous three laws of motion -- the very epicentre of the scientific revolution:
. . . This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially since the light of the fixed stars is of the same nature with the light of the sun, and from every system light passes into all the other systems: and lest the systems of the fixed stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, he hath placed those systems at immense distances one from another.

This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God pantokrator , or Universal Ruler; for God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: these are titles which have no respect to servants. 
The word God usually signifies Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God: a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God. 
And from his true dominion it follows that the true God is a living, intelligent, and powerful Being; and, from his other perfections, that he is supreme, or most perfect. He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient; that is, his duration reaches from eternity to eternity; his presence from infinity to infinity; he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. 
He is not eternity or infinity, but eternal and infinite; he is not duration or space, but he endures and is present. He endures for ever, and is every where present; and by existing always and every where, he constitutes duration and space . . .  
Every man, so far as he is a thing that has perception, is one and the same man during his whole life, in all and each of his organs of sense. God is the same God, always and every where. He is omnipresent not virtually only, but also substantially; for virtue cannot subsist without substance. In him are all things contained and moved [i.e. cites Ac 17, where Paul evidently cites Cleanthes]; yet neither affects the other: God suffers nothing from the motion of bodies; bodies find no resistance from the omnipresence of God. It is allowed by all that the Supreme God exists necessarily; and by the same necessity he exists always, and every where. [i.e accepts the cosmological argument to God.] Whence also he is all similar, all eye, all ear, all brain, all arm, all power to perceive, to understand, and to act; but in a manner not at all human, in a manner not at all corporeal, in a manner utterly unknown to us. 
As a blind man has no idea of colours, so have we no idea of the manner by which the all-wise God perceives and understands all things. He is utterly void of all body and bodily figure, and can therefore neither be seen, nor heard, or touched; nor ought he to be worshipped under the representation of any corporeal thing. [Cites Exod 20.] We have ideas of his attributes, but what the real substance of any thing is we know not. In bodies, we see only their figures and colours, we hear only the sounds, we touch only their outward surfaces, we smell only the smells, and taste the savours; but their inward substances are not to be known either by our senses, or by any reflex act of our minds: much less, then, have we any idea of the substance of God. 
We know him only by his most wise and excellent contrivances of things, and final cause [i.e from his designs]: we admire him for his perfections; but we reverence and adore him on account of his dominion: for we adore him as his servants; and a god without dominion, providence, and final causes, is nothing else but Fate and Nature. 
Blind metaphysical necessity, which is certainly the same always and every where, could produce no variety of things. [i.e necessity does not produce contingency] All that diversity of natural things which we find suited to different times and places could arise from nothing but the ideas and will of a Being necessarily existing. [That is, implicitly rejects chance, Plato's third alternative and explicitly infers to the Designer of the Cosmos.] But, by way of allegory, God is said to see, to speak, to laugh, to love, to hate, to desire, to give, to receive, to rejoice, to be angry, to fight, to frame, to work, to build; for all our notions of God are taken from. the ways of mankind by a certain similitude, which, though not perfect, has some likeness, however. 
And thus much concerning God; to discourse of whom from the appearances of things, does certainly belong to Natural Philosophy [--> i.e. "Science" as we now call it].
It is therefore no surprise to see that the founding era scientists saw themselves as:
 thinking God's creative and sustaining, cosmos-ordering thoughts after him, as part of their stewardship of creation. 
An approach, that has continued to this day, on the part of many men and women of science, engineering, computing, mathematics and medicine.

 But in our sad day, it seems that the most we could expect in the aftermath of protest at toxic smearing words, was a widespread assumption that Mr Nye's bigoted, ill-informed words were true. 

And, the most we could hope for was his condescending to a debate (one in which the same accusation was repeatedly insisted on in the teeth of counter examples presented live before our faces, and was followed up by remarks to the effect that the list of people of science presented by Ham was a list of "Bad Scientists" working for AiG, his Creationist Ministry [in fact even this last suggestion is not accurate . . . but Mr Nye was letting nothing get in the way of his "No true Scotsman Scientist" fallacy]).  

Where also, many leading Darwinists were publicly counselling Nye that it was a mistake to even go onstage with Creationists.

That is, such advocates of evolutionary materialism rest content that their constantly repeated smear is working, and don't give the time of day that grievous wrong has been done by spreading such toxic false accusations. Never mind, having been corrected on same any number of times.

They plainly have a wanton disregard for duties of care to truth, accuracy, respect and fairness.

This is the same attitude of deep-seated wrong that lies underneath the notorious remarks of Richard Lewontin in his 1997 review of a book by Carl Sagan; which appeared in the New York Review of Books, NYRB. Let me excerpt, as it is an inadvertently utterly revealing statement:
[T]he problem is to get them [the common people] to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations [--> Notice the undisguised scorn for the attitude that respects and takes God seriously as being irrational to the point of delusion, kindly cf. here on for foundations of a theistic worldview], and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth [--> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]. . . .

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [--> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [--> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.  [From: “Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997. (If you have been misled to imagine that the above is "quote mining" -- a favourite ad hominem laced retort by Darwinist advocates to citation of embarrassing quotations, I invite you to read the fuller cite and remarks here, in context.)]
 Seminal Intelligent Design thinker Philip Johnson's reply to Lewontin et al in November that same year, is well merited:

For scientific materialists the materialism comes first; the science comes thereafter. [Emphasis original] We might more accurately term them "materialists employing science." And if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence. That theory will necessarily be at least roughly like neo-Darwinism, in that it will have to involve some combination of random changes and law-like processes capable of producing complicated organisms that (in Dawkins’ words) "give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose."  

. . . .   The debate about creation and evolution is not deadlocked . . . Biblical literalism is not the issue. The issue is whether materialism and rationality are the same thing. Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses. [Emphasis added.] [The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism, First Things, 77 (Nov. 1997), pp. 22 – 25.]

There is plainly an ugly side to today's lab coat clad atheism, and Mr Nye unfortunately exemplified it before, during and after the debate.

And if you think it is somehow "offensive"  or "rude" for me to plainly point out that wrong is being done and should be corrected, think about the pain unduly suffered by the people who are smeared, derided, lied against and then discriminated against because the smear I am highlighting has been spread far and wide.

In short, it is high time to face this problem and fix it, before it does horrible damage to real people.

We may also wish to (and should) take time to watch the debate and its aftermath of questions and answers, e.g. (HT, ABN)  here:

Also, it may be useful to see how Mr Ham then appeared thereafter with one of his staffers, Dr. Georgia Purdom, to give his perpective on what was achieved by having the debate:

Of course, all sorts of people have weighed in since, all over the web, giving heir own arguments and views on the issues and who "won."

{U/D, Feb 17:} Creationist Ian Juby of the This is Genesis Week video series is noteworthy, as in his view Nye "won" the debate but did so rhetorically and on questionable tactics, rather than the actual merits. So, he responds:

 I think that some such discussion is healthy, but the first thing is that it needs to be firmly put and insisted that
 a toxic false accusation has repeatedly been made by Mr Nye and ilk, and in the teeth of correction was pressed beyond reason and responsibility to truth, fairness and decency, and that an honourable person should admit and retract, then apologise and make amends. 
Only then can a reasonable, civil, mutually respectful discussion be entertained.

When such is finally on the table, I think the following points for reflection will prove significantly helpful:

1 --> Mr Ham and Mr Johnson etc. are right, there is a clash of worldview level assumptions and commitments, leading to unwarranted imposition of a priori evolutionary materialism, which has seriously begged big questions and has seriously warped origins/natural historical science studies.

2 --> If you doubt me, here is the US National Science Teachers' Association (NSTA) Board, on Origins Science education, in July 2000:

The principal product of science is knowledge in the form of naturalistic concepts and the laws and theories related to those concepts . . . .

Although no single universal step-by-step scientific method captures the complexity of doing science, a number of shared values and perspectives characterize a scientific approach to understanding nature. Among these are a demand for naturalistic explanations supported by empirical evidence that are, at least in principle, testable against the natural world. Other shared elements include observations, rational argument, inference, skepticism, peer review and replicability of work . . . .

Science, by definition, is limited to naturalistic methods and explanations and, as such, is precluded from using supernatural elements in the production of scientific knowledge. [[NSTA, Board of Directors, July 2000. Emphases added.]

  3 --> The Rev Al Mohler, very properly, therefore wrote the next day:
As the debate began, it was clear that Ham and Nye do not even agree on definitions. The most friction on definition came when Nye rejected Ham’s distinction between “historical science” and “observational science” out of hand. Nye maintained his argument that science is a unitary method, without any distinction between historical and observational modes. Ham pressed his case that science cannot begin without making certain assumptions about the past, which cannot be observed. Furthermore, Ham rightly insisted that observational science generally does not require any specific commitment to a model of historical science. In other words, both evolutionists and creationists do similar experimental science, and sometimes even side-by-side.
4 --> Patently , we did not observe nor do we have generally accepted record of the deep past of origins of the world of life, from those who were there. It is as a simple matter of fact, unobserved and unobservable. What we have is things we believe are traces from that past, which we try to interpret and explain, giving an historical account of what happened through what causal factors and processes.

5 --> Where, ever since Newton proposed the vera causa principle: that we should explain by "true causes," it is a reasonable expectation that if we call into play a candidate causal factor to account for traces from the remote past of origins, we should first show that the factor can and does reasonably produce the type of effect we see from the past. And, that we should expect that we would identify a particular candidate as the uniquely successful explanation only where its superiority in coherently and economically accounting for the relevant traces from the past is unmatched by other candidates.

6 --> That is, it should not be accepted as reasonable practice to exclude potential factors with relevant track record of power to cause relevant phenomena, on ideological grounds, as we see Lewontin and the NSTA et al doing.

7 --> Where, in fact, it is easily shown that functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information [FSCO/I] such as in the text in this blog post or the code in the programs on the computers which you are using to read this, or even the functional organisation of the computers themselves, are among the many billions of cases that underscore that routinely, such FSCO/I is produced by design. 

8 --> Indeed, it is only produced by design in our observation. For the excellent reason that the atomic resources of our solar system or observed cosmos across any scientifically reasonable estimate of their age, are simply unable to blindly sample more than a very small fraction of the possibilities for arranging a string of 500 - 1,000 or more bits. So, the only reasonable expectation -- on the valid form of the layman's law of averages -- is that we will capture a sample of the bulk of the distribution of possibilities, not very special and restricted zones as the requisites of integrated function impose.

9 --> If you want more, we can make a needle in haystack estimation: 
1,000 bits accounts for some 1.07*10^301 possibilities, and it can be shown that in the lifespan of the observed cosmos, we could have at most 10^150 observations made by the 10^80 or so atoms in that cosmos.
Taking that set and equating it to a single straw, we can then see that the set of all possibilities would take up a cubical haystack billions of times larger than the observable universe.
Observable cosmos, 93 bn LY across, our
galaxy is too small to notice. [HT: Wiki]
Drop our 93 billion light year across observable cosmos in it, and then blindfold yourself.

Then, pick a one straw sized sample at random from anywhere in the overall haystack.
No reasonable person would expect to pick up the observed cosmos or even any one of millions of such cosmi in the haystack, for the same reason just explained:

too much stack, too small a scope of sample.
10 --> And yet, just the minimal genome for a first cell based life form would credibly require 100,000 to 1 million bits of info, dwarfing the search challenge just laid out. The needle in haystack challenge easily explains why we have not seen blind chance and mechanical necessity creating FSCO/I, but we have seen billions of cases of such produced by intelligence.

11 --> Blind chance and necessity singly or in concert is not a vera causa principle credible source of explanation for the FSCO/I rich phenomena of the living cell or of the many dozens of major body plans we see. And until the FSCO/I challenge is decisively answered by observed demonstration that does not turn out to be yet another case of design coming in the back door, blind chance and mechanical necessity can only be allowed to explain minor variations not origin of complex FSCO/I rich systems.

12 --> That is, we already have excellent empirical and logical grounds to hold that FSCO/I is a characteristic sign of design as a key cause of life based on cells, and its major body plans ranging from trilobites to trees, seaweed to whales, and of course people. 

13 --> In short, once the ideological imposition is blocked, design emerges as the candidate to beat.

14 --> But, Mr Nye would say, we do observe the remote past of origins, we simply look out billions of light years away in the stars and do the math, it takes billions of years for the starlight to reach us. Not so fast, again, we are observing traces we believe to come from the past, we are not directly observing the past ourselves. The only star we have been able to make close observations of is our sun. And even then, it is a matter of indirect observations, as the sun is an extremely hostile environment. 

15 --> Besides, if we take the evidence in hand that points to a big bang origin of our observed cosmos some 13.7 BYA, we find that it credibly has a beginning. Which, per vera causa, means, it credibly has a cause, and is contingent. Such already points to a begin-ner as its best explanation.

16 --> Worse, it turns out that the laws, constants, proportions and so on of physics for our observed cosmos are astonishingly fine tuned in dozens and dozens of ways that lay a basis for Carbon Chemistry, watery medium, cell based life. 

17 --> For just one instance, it is set up on fine tuned parameters, so the first four elements are H, He, O and C, with N coming up close behind. That gets us to: stars, the rest of the periodic table, water, organic chemistry and amino acids, thus proteins. 

18 --> No wonder the famed astrophysicist, Nobel-Equivalent prize holder and lifelong agnostic Sir Fred Hoyle went on record as follows:
From 1953 onward, Willy Fowler and I have always been intrigued by the remarkable relation of the 7.65 MeV energy level in the nucleus of 12 C to the 7.12 MeV level in 16 O. If you wanted to produce carbon and oxygen in roughly equal quantities by stellar nucleosynthesis, these are the two levels you would have to fix, and your fixing would have to be just where these levels are actually found to be. Another put-up job? . . . I am inclined to think so. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has "monkeyed" with the physics as well as the chemistry and biology, and there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. [F. Hoyle, Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 20 (1982): 16.Cited, Bradley, in "Is There Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God? How the Recent Discoveries Support a Designed Universe". Emphasis added.]
19 --> This seems to have originally appeared as the conclusion to a talk given at Caltech in 1981 or thereabouts. Earlier in the talk, he elaborated on Carbon and the chemistry of life, especially enzymes:
The big problem in biology, as I see it, is  to understand the origin of the information carried by the explicit structures of biomolecules.  The issue isn't so much the rather crude fact that a protein consists of a chain of amino acids linked together in a certain way, but that the explicit ordering of the amino acids endows the chain with remarkable properties, which other orderings wouldn't give.  The case of the enzymes is  well known . . . If amino acids were linked at random, there would be a vast number of arrange-ments that would be useless in serving the pur-poses of a living cell.  When you consider that a typical enzyme has a chain of perhaps 200 links and that there are 20 possibilities for each link,it's easy to see that the number of useless arrangements is enormous, more than the number of atoms in all  the galaxies visible in the largest telescopes. This is for one enzyme, and there are upwards of 2000 of them, mainly serving very different purposes.  So how did the situation get to where we find it to be? 
This is,  as I see it,  the biological problem - the information problem . . . . 
  I was constantly plagued by the thought that the number of ways in which even a single enzyme could be wrongly constructed was greater than the number of all the atoms in the universe.  So try  as I would, I couldn't convince myself that even the whole universe would be sufficient to find life by random processes - by what are called the blind forces of nature . . . .  By far the simplest way to arrive at the correct sequences of amino acids in the enzymes would be by thought, not by random processes . . . . 

Now imagine yourself as a superintellect working through possibilities in polymer chemistry. Would you not be astonished that polymers based on the carbon atom turned out in your calculations to have the remarkable properties of the enzymes and other biomolecules? Would you not be bowled over in surprise to find that a living cell was a feasible construct? Would you not say to yourself, in whatever language supercalculating intellects use: Some supercalculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule. Of course you would, and if you were a sensible superintellect you would conclude that the carbon atom is a fix.
20 --> Remember, this is a distinguished astrophysicist and lifelong agnostic speaking, not Ken Ham or Henry Morris or Carl Wieland or the like. And, to cap all off, at about the same time as he was testifying in Arkansas in a Scopes II trial in ways that challenged Young Earth Creationism, Hoyle also said this, right there at the holy of holies for astrophysics [host of the famous Mt Palomar 200-inch telescope . . . ], Caltech:
 I do not believe that any physicist who examined the evidence could fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce within stars. ["The Universe: Past and Present Reflections." Engineering and Science, November, 1981. pp. 8–12]
 21 --> But, but, but you are not debating interpretations of Genesis, or disputing fossil dates and the formation of layers of coral limestone.

22 --> Yes, now you know the difference between a design theory inference on the inductive logic of inference to best explanation, and a Biblical Creationist Genesis-based apologetic, especially that which we hear from one of  Young Earth stripe such as Mr Ham.

23 --> In short, debates over Genesis and the like may be interesting [and kindly cf, AiG here and CMI here in the aftermath of the debate . . . ], but are tangential to the core of the matter: 
providing we don't beg questions by imposing a priori materialism, there is abundant and convincing evidence that life is designed, that major body plans including our own are designed, and that all of this happens in a cosmos that shows astonishing fine tuning setting such up. (Indeed, one can hold to common descent, even universal common descent from a common unicellular ancestor and hold that on the patent and decisive signs of design present , such was engineered.)
22 --> What about the Bible interpretation questions? Uncommon Descent's V J Torley observes:
I had a thought recently: had Galileo been able to prove his ideas at his trial in 1633, he would have avoided punishment altogether. What got me thinking along these lines was a passage I recently stumbled across in Pope Leo XIII’s 1893 encyclical, Providentissimus Deus:
15. But he [the modern expositor of Scripture - VJT] must not on that account consider that it is forbidden, when just cause exists, to push inquiry and exposition beyond what the Fathers have done; provided he carefully observes the rule so wisely laid down by St. Augustine – not to depart from the literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes it untenable or necessity requires; (40) a rule to which it is the more necessary to adhere strictly in these times, when the thirst for novelty and unrestrained freedom of thought make the danger of error most real and proximate. Neither should those passages be neglected which the Fathers have understood in an allegorical or figurative sense, more especially when such interpretation is justified by the literal, and when it rests on the authority of many.
The reference is to Augustine’s De Genesi ad litteram I, viii., c. 7, 13. In other words, had Galileo been able to prove his ideas, the Church would have said, “Fine. In that case, the literal interpretation of these passages cannot be the correct one, after all.”
23 --> He goes on to say that this can only go so far, there are certain points that are simply not so flexible, but I suspect that is a matter that competent interpreters can reasonably handle in both old and young earth paradigms, as there are such schools of thought out there. Science and Scripture can intersect and can -- and do -- clash, but that is not decisive on the issues that are before us.


That issue is first to resolve a false and toxic accusation, then to reasonably address the actual weight of the evidence in front of us on its merits, without question-begging a prioris. END