Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Ham and Nye talk past each other; film at 11

Surprising no one (well, certainly not me), Bill Nye and Ken Ham spoke at each other and past each other for some time last night.  The crux of the issue simply proved Wittgenstein right, though I don't think either of them realized it:

That all was further confirmed when a member of the audience asked what turned out to be the crux of the debate: what, if anything, would convince the men to change their minds? Ham’s answer: “I’m a Christian.” (In other words, nothing.) Nye, on the other hand, was happy to concede that just one piece of evidence to support a Biblical interpretation of Earth’s formation — that the universe is not expanding, or that rock layers can somehow form in just 4,000 years — would cause him to change his mind “immediately.”
Now, I understand what Nye means; but the fact is, "evidence" as understood by Nye is not "evidence" as understood by Ham.  Nye can insist on his own vocabulary all he wants; but he can't make Ham adopt it.  The exchange in the debate went something like this:

 Throughout the debate, Nye made the observation that Ham was essentially a cultish leader, he asked frequently why Ham’s followers would “believe him instead of what they could clearly see before his eyes.” Ham admitted that, “No one will ever convince me that the word of God is not true.” 
There is a bit more there than meets the eye (sorry!).  Nye speaks of what can be "clearly" seen; because clear sight = undeniable truth, right?  Except what Ham's followers think is undeniable truth is that the Bible is the Word of God, and they can see the Word of God quite clearly, thank you very much.

Which is not to say I agree with them.  I agree with Sean McElwee:  creationism is quackery. I agree with  Elizabeth Stoker, that Ham's argument is really about his vision of Christian ethics, and her conclusion that this argument should be handled by Christians:

[Ham] really is our concern, and his fears and the fears of those who believe as he does should be answered. So long as he can point to those who do not believe in God and have markedly different ethics than he does as the main proponents of evolution, his position that evolution ruins faith and Christian morality will appear at least superficially probable.
Arguing the reasoning of Creationism as if it were a science is like wrestling with a pig:  you get dirty, and the pig just enjoys it.  When you are dealing with people who think reading the Bible literally is not a hermeneutic (another system of interpretation), where do you start to find common ground from which to reason?

Wittgenstein understood (and post-modernism has been at pains to point out) that "reason" is not the universal baseline to which we all must agree (that was the death of logical positivism).  We may agree the table is hard or the rock is heavy, but beyond that kind of trivia we cannot begin to establish universal agreement on any more complex statements.*

And the irony is, that's the conclusion of the greatest of the empiricists, the school of philosophy upon which Bill Nye justifies his conclusions about reality.

These things that pass for knowledge I don't understand....

*for an example, read the comments at the McElwee article, and how many of them are concerned with refuting the term "New Atheists."  There's a lot of mental energy being expended, and a lot of offense taken, to reject a label that ain't exactly a racial slur, or even bears a significant social stigma.  Gotta wonder about that....


  1. I start saying "neo-atheist" when they complain about "new atheist", I have a list of atheists who have used "new atheist" to describe themselves and their admirers, Myers, Coyne, etc. but it's lost on my hard drive somewhere.

    One of the vulnerabilities of evolution is that it can't be seen. It happened at such a slow rate that it isn't seen. It is known indirectly, though rather impressively. Its invisibility also leaves it vulnerable to misrepresentation and there are none who do that with such confidence as evolutionary scientists and the supporters of evolution. The misconceptions about it on that Salon thread were quite breathtaking, and those were mostly from people for whom it is as much a question of absolute belief as its opposite is for Ham.

    I wrote a post on a comment that John Wilkins made to the effect that religious people didn't like Darwinism because it destroys religion. Of course he was wrong about that, it doesn't, though that isn't for want of trying by atheists like Wilkins, going back to the first weeks after Origin of Species was published. I do think he rather gave away the game for his side, though, because it is exactly its alleged debunking of religion, specifically Christianity, that makes the rather esoteric topic of evolution such a be all and end all for atheists and other secularists. It really is no where near as important as environmental science and the struggle to save life on Earth, though you would never guess there is anything else in a public school biology curriculum, topics essential for people to live a healthy and longer life and to avoid disease and things like unwanted pregnancy. It is because it is so vitally important to their #1 issue, destroying religion. I really have come to believe that most of this stuff is all about that for the atheists. Though I really think Nye was in it for the publicity.

  2. More embarrassing at the Salon comments were the apologists for Dawkins, people who clearly didn't like what he actually said and so made up things to make him more palatable.

    It is to laugh.

    I quite agree about evolution. There's a reason "Inherit the Wind" cloaks it's anti-McCarthyism in Darwin v. Christianity, and it's not because those playwrights made it up out of whole cloth. As you say, it goes back to Darwin; and it is part of the reason (a prime part) for fundamentalism.

    In the 70's we learned to call that "blowback."

    I've learned not to read comments at Salon, or anywhere else. Sometimes the articles are intelligent and informative; the comments are always depressingly stupid and kneejerk. Usually, it's quite clear the commenters haven't read past the headline, which is often a complete misrepresentation (i.e., clickbait) of the article.