As a scientist I had my favorite going into this debate and in a few paragraphs I will make my case for a winner based on content.
But first I would like to look at this debate another way.
To me it is clear that we all won on this one because Bill Nye and Ken Ham treated each other with respect. They did not resort to name calling, innuendo or sophomoric humor that lowers the bar and diverts attention from the debate itself.
Both debaters delivered their message and stayed on point, Ham as a true believer and Nye as a dedicated scientist. In the end we got a clear picture of the thought processes which lead both Ham and Nye to the passionate defenses of their sides of the argument.
Two thumbs up for the audience too. Watching the web video stream and based on the accounts of reporters who were there the audience did what audiences were supposed to do - observe.
In this day and age of screaming radio talk show hosts, world views that would fit on a bumper sticker and utter disrespect of anyone who does not think as you do this debate was a refreshing break.
Now about the substance of the debate:
I will not feign neutrality here. I am a scientist, not because I am a TV meteorologist but because I think like a scientist.
I use the scientific method in problem solving, I have seen how it works, how it self corrects and how it got humans to the moon with much less computer power than my iPhone.
I do not believe in the scientific method. I have observed it in action and the evidence is ample and conclusive - the scientific method works!
A scientist observes, organizes those observations into data, analyzes the data, develops a hypothesis and then subjects the work to the unrelenting criticism of her peers.
Science is always a work in progress. Sometimes new work throws the hypothesis out the window and other times the hypothesis is merely tweaked.
Eventually the evidence is so overwhelmingly supportive of the hypothesis that it is elevated to a theory, and that is where much of the difficulty between the brainiacs of science and the remainder of the world begins.
The public will quip, "After all evolution is only a theory." A scientist at the same time says "... yes it is a THEORY."
To the scientist a theory is almost as sure as it gets. A theory may need to be tweaked in the future but a theory is just about a done deal. The only thing more sure is a Universal Law.
The Law of Universal Gravitation is an example.
No one in the universe can tell you what gravity is but we know how it works so well that when an astronomer using a powerful telescope sees a barely visible far-distant star wobble, the astronomer can predict that the star is orbited by a planet.
For example, the most distant known exoplanet is OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb. It is near the center of the Milky Way galaxy at a distance of 21,500 +/- 3,300 light years from Earth. OGLE stands for the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment.
When an astronomer is viewing this exoplanet she is seeing it as the planet was about 21,500 years ago. It took light, traveling at 186,000 miles per second, that long to get here.
We also know the planet is about 5.5 times the mass of Earth, takes about 10 Earth years to orbit its sun (star OGLE-2005-BLG-390L) and would fit in our solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Because the output of its sun is less than the output of our sun we know a planet orbiting that far out is unlikely to support life.
The point is that we cannot see the planet and even if we could we would be looking into the distant past. Yet the scientific method allows us to make predictions because we know the laws that govern the universe. Those laws apply everywhere in the universe past, present and future.
In a heady, mind-blowing kind of way this example summarizes Bill Nye's major argument. We make observations, apply the laws of physics that govern the universe and can predict the existence of a planet that will likely never be seen by human eyes.
We apply one scientific method and one set of laws that extend far into the past, because now is the past at the far edge of our ability to observe.
While scientists observe and analyze persons of faith believe. Faith requires no proof and a case can be made that a person who seeks proof cannot be a person of faith.
To me the first weakness of Ken Ham's argument is that he is debating at all. Mr. Ham has a deep, profound belief that defines his journey through life. In a faith-based world view it is enough to say, "This is what I believe." Period. Proof belongs in a world view based on observation.
Ken Ham's biggest problem with his approach is that so many of his points require special circumstances. Historical science vs. observational science is the prime example. You did not see it so you cannot prove it, Ham contends.
An accident investigator called to the scene did not see the fatal car crash. But when she observes skid marks crossing the double yellow line ending in two mangled vehicles she concludes which vehicle is at fault. Evidence, the skid marks, allows the investigator to see into the past and conclude which car was at fault.
The trained accident investigator does not invoke a special circumstance explaining that the double yellow line moved because the laws that govern those things were different in the past.
In the end this is not like debating whether the 1927 New York Yankees were better than the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. Both teams played the same game and played by the same basic rules and individual and team statistics can be invoked as evidence to support an argument.
The science vs. faith debate is like debating whether the Seattle Sea Hawks are a better football team than Manchester United. The name of the game is the same but the rules are not comparable.
In the end Nye and Ham summed it up best. When asked what could change his mind and move him to the other side of the argument about the age of Earth Ham said nothing could. For Nye all you have to do is show him the evidence.
Faith vs. Science. In my view science won this one.
Have a question or comment? Follow Steve Horstmeyer on twitter @TrustSteve19.
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