Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham
It happened. Bill Nye faced off against Ken Ham to discuss evolution versus creation. Though this had been strongly advised against, it carried on as planned. Of course, it should have because the fallout of pulling out a debate would have been worse than the debate itself.
So what happened during the debate? Did it hurt evolution? Not at all. Nye presented a powerful and strong case for why the theory of evolution is the best explanation for the diversity of life on this planet. He presented understandable slides that show geological evidence for the age of the earth and explained how species diverged over billions of years.
Ham however presented one piece of evidence all night, the Bible. This was mistake number one seeing as how the Bible is a claim, not evidence. Ham also attempted to present two types of sciences, historical and observational. He also attempted to redefine the definition of evolution, claiming secular scientists hijacked the word. This presented a strong weakness in his case for creation because his case cannot be made using words already defined by dictionaries around the world and without splitting science in two and creating his own fields of science.
All science is observational. Of course I cannot go back in time and observe with my own eyes as Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) walked the earth and watch as each newborn slowly diverged into another species over millions of generation, but I can look at fossil records and DNA to put together a predictable and testable hypothesis, one that has been tested, and tells us how this happened. I can also use that same method to recreate this in the lab with fruit flies, plants and many other species. I can observe how this works. Creationism cannot offer the same.
Ham’s own argument would set every murderer and rapist free who did not have an eye witness account, because all the evidence against them is useless because you were not there to see it. Ham missed this glaring obvious misstep in his argument.
Nye was easily able to break down Ham’s claims about the great flood and Noah’s ark, using such great evidence and observations that Ham had no ground left to stand on other than claiming he still had faith such a boat could exist, and then turned to the creationist handbook to discuss “kinds,” the very unscientific term used to describe species while avoiding any evolution. Ham offered up a beautiful fairy tale of there being “kinds” on the ark, not species, as we know them today. One has to wonder if creationist like Ham simply makes up creation stories on the fly.
What Ham did get however was close to one million people listening to him proselytize them about the Bible and his faith. This is what most people feared would come from this debate. It was a mistake to allow him this opportunity to ignite a fire under the creationist’s movement. This platform offered them legitimacy as a worldview worth debating.
Just look around Facebook and Twitter and you, predictably, will find creationists rejoicing in Ham’s victory. A fictitious victory yes, but the creationists now feel energized, they truly believe their argument won out and they will now take this fight further. They will use Ham to the fullest to market creation as a viable worldview in courts and in school board meetings around the globe.
Nye walked all over Ham. This was obvious. Ham deflected any question put to him to supply predictable hypotheses from the Bible. Nye also was unafraid to say, “we don’t know” and be proud of it. If science didn’t have an answer, he was honest and that helped win him the debate. Ham had an answer for everything, the Bible. Nye could not answer how matter came into existence, Ham could. Ham was wrong, and offered no evidence. He simply said God did it and moved on, again using nothing more than a claim as empirical evidence.
What really lost this whole debate for Ham was the question, “what would change your mind?”
Nye listed all the things that would change his mind, and it all revolved around evidence, and not far-fetched stuff. Honest scientific evidence that would unravel the timeline, and Nye would change his mind. Ham’s answer was in short, “nothing.”
How can you have an honest worldview and claim to care about evidence when nothing can change your mind? This showed that Ham was not interested in the truth at all. He cared about one thing and one thing only, his opinion. Ham shined here as the charlatan that he is.
So the aftermath, was this debate a mistake? Yes. Regardless of how well Nye did, and he did better than many predicted he would, Ham still got airtime. Ham still stood in frond of more people than he can normally grab on his own and espoused his gospel and Ham still ignited his base. There is very little doubt donations will be pouring into Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum over the coming weeks and months.
Let’s not end on that note though. Nye presented a great case. The evidence was on his side and he answered questions with confidence and honesty. He understood the arguments that Ham came prepared with and was able to combat every creation claim put in front of him. For that, Nye deserves to be commended.
And maybe, just maybe, a handful of kids around the world were inspired by Nye and his presentation and will look at the world a little differently and question the beliefs that are being jammed down their throats. Maybe a child being raised in a creationist environment can watch this debate and become the next great scientist of their generation.
Little Authoritarians: The Closing of Young Minds
John Dean, former Nixon crony, White House lawyer and Watergate co-conspirator, turned on the Republican Party a few years ago. The reason for his turnabout, he writes in his book Conservatives Without Conscience, is that true conservatism has been perverted by politicians and thinkers — primarily the religious right — who embrace an extreme version of authoritarianism, in both philosophy and policy. This authoritarian mentality, as Dean sees it, celebrates obedience, intolerance, and government intrusion into citizens’ choices and personal values.
It’s notable when a Republican of Dean’s stature rejects the party’s core principles, and his book is an important addition to the substantial literature on authoritarian thinking. Psychological scientists have been investigating the origins and consequences of authoritarianism for many years, but the mentality remains somewhat of a puzzle. Where does this tendency to submit to authority and social convention come from, and how does it unfold into xenophobia and prejudice?
It’s generally been assumed that the authoritarian mentality is learned, and crystallizes in early adulthood along with other political views. But this understanding is now being questioned. Isn’t it possible that authoritarianism is actually pre-political — a psychological tendency that exists independent of social and political expression? Is it possible that individual differences in conformity and similar values emerge much earlier than adulthood, perhaps even in young children?
A team of behavioral scientists, led by Michal Reifen Tagar of the University of Minnesota, decided to explore this possibility by actually studying preschool children and their parents. The scientists had the idea that they could look for signs of nascent authoritarianism in the way kids trust others. It’s known that, while children rely on others for much of their early learning, they are not completely credulous. Indeed, they are quite discriminating in who they consider a reliable source of knowledge, and they rely on cues to help. Specifically, kids are more likely to trust reliably conventional sources, and they are more likely to trust adults.
These two cues are quite potent, and in fact may be deeply rooted cues common to most human societies. But here’s the interesting link to authoritarianism. Adults who defer to convention and to those with higher status — these adults are also more authoritarian. So young children who are exposed to authoritarian parents should rely more strongly on these two cues — reliability and status — in deciding who and what to trust.
That’s what the scientists tested in a simple study of 3- and 4-year-old children and their parents. The children all played a trust game, which had two parts. In the first part, they watched film clips of an unfamiliar adult (who they never met in person) labeling common objects — a shoe, for example. In some cases, the adult used all conventional names, while in others they used all unconventional labels — calling a shoe a “ball,” for instance. Still others used some conventional and some unconventional names for the objects. This was meant to characterize the adults as conventional, unconventional or ambiguous in the children’s minds.
Then, in the test phase, the children watched new film clips of the same adult introducing novel objects — usually unfamiliar kitchen gadgets — and labeling them with made-up names — a “modi,” for example. Finally, when the videos were done, the children were asked about the labels: “She says that’s a modi. What do you think? Is that a modi?” The scientists were measuring how much the children trusted this unfamiliar adult.
Meanwhile, the parents of these children filled out a standard measure of authoritarian predisposition, which had them chose between values: obedience or self-reliance, independence or respect for elders, and so forth. They also completed an assessment of their social conformity.
The scientists predicted that children of parents high in authoritarianism would be more sensitive to cues of conventionality — that is, that they would be more trusting of unfamiliar adults who appeared to respect conventions. And that’s just what they found. As reported in an article to appear in the journal Psychological Science, the children of highly authoritarian parents — compared to children of less authoritarian parents — trusted other adults who adhered to social convention. What’s more, when the actions of the adults were ambiguous, these children of authoritarian parents were more apt to trust the unfamiliar adult, simply because he or she was an adult. In other words, they were more reliant on the deep-rooted cue: adult equals reliability.
These findings challenge the view that all children develop selective trust as a predictable milestone. It appears instead that there are systematic individual differences in this kind of discriminating trust — and that these differences are directly linked to the parents’ psychological disposition. Children of authoritarian parents are more likely to reject information from non-traditional sources and to accept information from conventional, high-status sources. This inchoate tendency appears to foreshadow the full expression of authoritarianism in adulthood — both the lack of openness to new ideas and the strict reliance on automatic, mindless judgments and decision making.