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Bill Nye: Why I'm debating creationist Ken Ham
Science educator Bill Nye, left, will face off against creationist Ken Ham in Tuesday night's debate.
February 4th, 2014
01:17 PM ET

Bill Nye: Why I'm debating creationist Ken Ham

Editor's note: Ken Ham will debate Bill Nye on Tuesday at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, with CNN's Tom Foreman moderating. The debate will be live-streamed at 7 p.m. ET on CNN.com, and CNN's "Piers Morgan Live" will host both Ham and Nye at 9 p.m. Tuesday after the debate. 

Opinion by Bill Nye, Special to CNN

(CNN) – A lot of people have been asking why I accepted Ken Ham’s invitation to debate the origins of life Tuesday night at the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

In short, I decided to participate in the debate because I felt it would draw attention to the importance of science education here in the United States.

What keeps this country in the game economically is our ability to innovate. New ideas lead to new technologies, which drive new businesses and new opportunities.

Technological innovations absolutely cannot be created without fundamental understanding of science, the means by which we know nature.

How many young adults and taxpayers use mobile phones? How many of us rely on global navigation systems that use satellites high above the Earth’s surface to find our way around?

Even if you eschew smartphones, you rely on the system to keep airplanes in the sky and ships at sea on their routes. Modern farmers plant seeds in fields with extraordinary precision using information beamed from satellites in space.

MORE ON CNN: Ken Ham: Why I'm Debating Bill Nye 

For the United States to maintain its leadership in technology, we need well-educated science students. To allow our students to come of age without the knowledge gained through the extraordinary scientific insights and diligence of our ancestors would deprive them of understanding of nature and our place in the cosmos.

It would also rob our students of their future. Without scientists and engineers to create new technologies and ways of doing society’s business, other economies in other countries will out-compete the United States and leave our citizens behind.

Tuesday's debate will be about whether Ham’s creation model is viable or useful for describing nature. We cannot use his model to predict the outcome of any experiment, design a tool, cure a disease or describe natural phenomena with mathematics.

These are all things that parents in the United States very much want their children to be able to do; everyone wants his or her kids to have common sense, to be able to reason clearly and to be able to succeed in the world.

The facts and process of science have enabled the United States to lead the world in technology and provide good health for an unprecedented number of our citizens. Science fuels our economy. Without it, our economic engine will slow and eventually stop.

It seems to me that Ham is a fundamentalist. Around the world there are billions of people, who embrace the facts and process of modern science, and they enjoy their faith. By all accounts, their faith enriches their lives. These people have no conflict with their faith and science. Ham is unique in this regard.

Fundamentally, Ham’s creation model is not part of modern science. His idea has no predictive quality or ability. It provides no means to learn more about the world around us. It does not enable students to make consistent sense of nature.

So, we’ll see. We’ll see if his model stands up to traditional scientific inquiry: If a certain claim is true, then we would expect a certain outcome.

I’m excited and very much looking forward to the encounter.

Bill Nye is a science educator and CEO of the Planetary Society. The views expressed in this column belong to Nye.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Creationism • Culture & Science • Culture wars • Evolution • Science

soundoff (2,158 Responses)
  1. joeyy1


    1

    February 16, 2014 at 7:36 pm |
  2. Creationists say the darndest things

    Especially the young-earth variety.

    One only need search for "young earth geology" on youtube to get a plethora of videos from a Dr Snelling who was referenced a few times by Ham in the Ham-Nye debate. But what story is this Dr Snelling telling? Another geologist, Dr Alex Ritchie has some interesting insight.
    ==========

    Will the Real Dr Snelling Please Stand Up?

    Dr Alex Ritchie, The Skeptic, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp 12-15

    Dr Alex Ritchie received his BSc. (Hons) in Geology and a Ph.D at the University of Edinburgh. He worked as a palaeontologist at the Australian Museum from 1968 to 1995 where he is currently a Research Fellow.

    For several years, Australian creationists, representing the Creation Science Foundation Ltd, [now Answers in Genesis] have been publishing articles and addressing school and public groups on the topic of the age of the Earth. The theme of these articles and talks is that there is scientific evidence that the geological features of Australia are explicable within the context of an Earth which is only some 6-10,000 years old and that most such features can be attributed to a world-wide flood which occurred more recently still. The author of these claims made them with the authority of a BSc (Hons) in Geology and a PhD. However, in a recently published paper, this same author makes some very different claims about the age of geological features of the Australian landscape.

    These remarkably contradictory, and unexplained, claims by one of the very few Australian creation 'scientists' who has genuine scientific qualifications, calls into question whether anything said by this group on the subject can be taken seriously.

    Dr Alex Ritchie, palaeontologist at the Australian Museum, takes up the story.

    There appear to be two geologists living, working and publishing in Australia under the name of Dr Andrew A Snelling. Both have impressive (and identical) scientific qualifications – a BSc (Hons), in Geology (University of NSW) and a PhD, for research in uranium mineralisation (University of Sydney).

    Curiously, both Drs Snelling use the same address (PO Box 302, Sunnybank, Qld, 4109), which they share with an organisation called the Creation Science Foundation (CSF), the coordinating centre for fundamentalist creationism in Australia.

    But the really strange thing about this is that the views of these two Drs Snelling, on matters such as the age of the earth and its geological strata, are diametrically opposed. This article, the result of my extensive searches through the literature, highlights this remarkable coincidence and poses some serious questions of credibility for the Creation Science Foundation and for either or both of the Drs Andrew A Snelling.

    For convenience I refer to them below as follows:

    (a) Dr A A Snelling 1 – creationist geologist, a director of CSF and regular contributor to, and sometime editor of, the CSF's quarterly magazine, Ex Nihilo (now CREATION ex nihilo).

    (b) Dr A A Snelling 2 – consulting geologist who works on uranium mineralisation and publishes in refereed scientific journals.

    Snelling 1 seldom, if ever, cites articles written by Snelling 2 and Snelling 2 never cites articles written by Snelling 1.
    Snelling 1

    For the past ten years Dr Andrew Snelling BSc, PhD, the CSF's geological spokesman, has been the only prominent Australian creationist with geological qualifications. His credentials are not in question here, only his influence on science education in Australia.

    Snelling 1 writes articles for creationist journals and lectures throughout the country in schools, public meetings and churches. Although his geological credentials are usually highlighted in creationist publications it would be more accurate to describe Snelling 1 as a Protestant evangelist, not as a geologist. Some CSF literature openly refers to him as a 'missionary'.

    Why should Snelling 1's activities concern the scientific and educational communities? To appreciate this, one needs to analyse his published articles to see how geological data and discoveries are misused and reinterpreted from a Biblical perspective.

    CSF members subscribe to a lengthy, very specific Statement of Faith. Apart from purely religious clauses, not relevant here, several clauses carry serious implications for those in scientific and educational circles, especially for those in the Earth (and other historical) sciences. As the extracts below reveal, to a dedicated creationist, scientific evidence is always subservient to Biblical authority.

    "(A) PRIORITIES

    1. The scientific aspects of creation are important but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator and Redeemer.

    (B) BASICS

    3. The account of origins presented in Genesis is a simple but factual presentation of actual events and therefore provides a reliable framework for scientific research into the question of the origin and history of life.

    5. The great flood of Genesis was an actual historical event, worldwide in its extent and effect.

    (D) GENERAL

    The following attitudes are held by members of the Board to be either consistent with Scripture or implied by Scripture

    (i) The scripture teaches a recent origin for man and for the whole creation.

    (ii) The days in Genesis do not correspond to Geological ages, but are six
    (6) consecutive twenty-four (24) hour days of creation.

    (iii) The Noachian flood was a significant geological event and much (but not all) fossiliferous sediment originated at that time.

    (iv) The chronology of secular world history must conform to that of Biblical world history."

    These statements reveal 'creation science' to be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, based on religious dogma (and a simple minded dogma at that). Despite its name, 'creation science' has little to do with real science and, in fact, represents the antithesis of science.

    Everything in his creationist writings and activities indicates that Snelling 1 subscribes fully to CSF's Statement of Faith. Where this clashes with scientific evidence, the latter is always secondary to the former and his message, although often cloaked in scientific jargon, is simple and unequivocal; indeed one of his favourite lecture topics is "Why, as a Geologist, I Believe in Noah's Flood".

    From the Gospel according to Snelling 1, the Earth is geologically young, created ex nihilo ("from nothing") by a supernatural being, during a short, well defined construction period of only six days. This miraculous creation event, usually dated some 6000 years ago (around 4004 BC), is not the end of the story. The Earth we live on today is not the same as the original created model, which was almost totally destroyed and remodelled some 1,600 years later (around 2345 BC) by an irate Creator who conjured up an unique, world-wide Flood to do the job.

    This Flood, lasting just over one year, tore down all previous land surfaces, rearranged the continents and thrust up all existing mountain chains. It also destroyed all pre-existing life forms, plant and animal – except for a chosen few saved on Noah's Ark. Thus all of the remarkably complex geology of the present day Earth's crust formed during the one year of Noah's Flood and all the innumerable fossil remains of former animals and plants were all buried and preserved by the same Flood.

    Snelling 1 (1983a) presented his views on Flood chronology in an article, Creationist Geology: The Precambrian. After reviewing mainstream views on geology and evolution, he remarked:

    "On the other hand, creationists interpret the majority of the fossiliferous sedimentary rocks of the Earth's crust as testimony to Noah's flood....Creationists do this because they regard the Genesis record as implying that there was no rain before Noah's flood, therefore no major erosion, and hence no significant sedimentation or fossilisation."

    "However the flood was global, erosional and its purpose was destruction. Therefore the first major fossilisation commenced at this time, and the majority of the fossils are regarded as having been formed rapidly during this event. Creationists therefore regard sedimentary strata as needing to be classified into those formed during the time of creation week, pre-flood, flood (early, middle and late), post-flood and recent" (p. 42)

    Snelling 1 then quoted one J C Dillow, a creationist writing on the Earth's supposed pre-Flood "vapour canopy":

    "It should be obvious that if the Earth is only 6000 years old, then all the geological designations are meaningless within that framework, and it is deceptive to continue to use them. If, as many creationist geologists believe, the majority of the geological column represents flood sediments and post-flood geophysical activity, then the mammoth, dinosaur and all humans existed simultaneously .... Some limited attempts have been made by creationist geologists to reclassify the entire geological column within this framework, but the task is immense." (Dillow 1981, "The Waters Above". Moody Press, 405-6)

    Snelling 1 criticised Dillow and other creationists for restricting Flood strata to Phanerozoic rocks (Cambrian and younger) and claimed that most Precambrian rocks are also Flood deposits:

    "It is my contention that those who do this have failed to study carefully the evidence for the flood deposition of many Precambrian strata and have therefore unwittingly fallen into the trap of lumping together the Precambrian strata to the creation week. The usual reason for doing this is that the evolutionists regard Precambrian as so different, so devoid of life in comparison with other rocks, that creationists have simply borrowed their description." (1983, 42).

    Snelling 1 thus pushes the earliest limits of Flood strata far back into the Early Precambrian (early Archaean) times , before even the first appearance of fossils resembling blue-green algae:

    "What I am contending here is that fossils, whether they be microscopic or macroscopic, plant or animal and the fossil counterpart of organic matter, along with its metamorphosed equivalent graphite, are the primary evidence which should distinguish flood rocks from pre-flood rocks, regardless of the evolutionary 'age'." (1983, 45).

    Lest there remain any doubt, Snelling 1 (1983, 42) stated:

    "For creationists to be consistent the implications are clear; Precambrian sediments containing fossils and organic remains were laid down during Noah's flood. Creationist geologists need to completely abandon the evolutionist's geological column and associated terminology. It is necessary to start again, using the presence of fossils or organic matter as a classification criterion in the task of rebuilding our understanding of geological history within the Biblical framework."

    It is difficult to believe that the writer of the foregoing article has a BSc (Hons) and PhD in geology! However an examination of other articles by the same author in Ex Nihilo reveals that, to Snelling 1, everything geological (Ayers Rock, Mt Isa ore deposits, Bass Strait oil and gas, Queensland coal deposits, Great Barrier Reef, etc.,) can be explained as the result of Noah's year-long Flood.

    DOOLAN, ROBERT & ANDREW A SNELLING, 1987. Limestone caves ...a result of Noah's Flood? Limestone caves... a result of Noah's Flood? (4), 10-13.
    READ, PETER & ANDREW A SNELLING, 1985. How Old is Australia's Great Barrier Reef? Creation Ex Nihilo. 8(1), 6-9.
    SNELLING, ANDREW A 1982. The Recent Origin of Bass Strait Oil and Gas. Ex Nihilo 5 (2) 43-46.
    SNELLING, ANDREW A 1983. Creationist Geology: The Precambrian. Ex Nihilo 6 (1), 42-46.
    SNELLING, ANDREW A 1983. What about Continental Drift? Have the continents really moved apart? Ex Nihilo 6 (2), 14-16.
    SNELLING, ANDREW A 1984. The recent, rapid formation of the Mt Isa orebodies during Noah's Flood. Ex Nihilo 6 (3) 40-46 (cf. also abstract 17-18).
    SNELLING, ANDREW A 1984. The Origin of Ayers Rock. Creation Ex Nihilo 7 (1).
    SNELLING, ANDREW A 1986. Coal Beds and Noah's Flood. Creation Ex Nihilo 8 (3), 20-21.
    SNELLING, ANDREW A 1989. Is the Sun Shrinking? Creation Ex Nihilo (pt. 1) 11 (1), 14-19. (pt. 2) 11 (2), 30-34. – The Debate Continues. (pt. 3) 11 (3), 40-43 – The Unresolved Question.
    SNELLING, ANDREW A & John Mackay 1984. Coal, Volcanism and Noah's Flood. Ex Nihilo Tech. J. 1, 11-29.
    SNELLING 2

    If we now turn to the scientific articles published by the other Dr A A Snelling, consulting geologist (also from PO Box 302, Sunnybank QLD, 4109), we find a remarkable contrast, both in approach and content. None of them mention the Creation or Creation Week, Flood geology or the need to revamp the classic geological timescale.

    The latest paper by Snelling 2 (1990, 807 -812) is a detailed technical account of the "Koongarra Uranium Deposits" in the Northern Territory. It appears in an authoritative two volume work on "Geology of the Mineral Deposits of Australia and Papua New Guinea" (ed. F E Hughes), published by the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Melbourne. The references list eight earlier papers by Snelling 2 in refereed journals (or symposium volumes) on aspects of uranium mineralisation; three as sole author and five as junior co-author.

    In discussing the regional geology (p. 807) and age (p. 811) of the Koongarra uranium deposits, Snelling 2 describes their geological history in fairly technical terms, however, to avoid the charge we lay against the creationists, of taking quotations out of context, I will quote Snelling 2 verbatim from the paper (p. 807):

    "The Archaean basement consists of domes of granitoids and granitic gneisses (the Nanambu Complex), the nearest outcrop being 5 km to the north. Some of the lowermost overlying Proterozoic metasediments were accreted to these domes during amphibolite grade regional metamorphism (5 to 8 kb and 550° to 630° C) at 1870 to 1800 Myr. Multiple isoclinal recumbent folding accompanied metamorphism."

    For the benefit of lay readers, this statement is summarised and simplified here:

    "The oldest rocks in the Koongarra area, domes of granitoids and granitic gneiss, are of Archaean age (ie to geologists this means they are older than 2500 million years). The Archaean rocks are mantled by Lower Proterozoic (younger than 2500 million years) metasediments: all were later buried deeply, heavily folded and, between 1870 and 1800 million years ago, were subjected to regional metamorphism at considerable temperatures and pressures."

    There is no question here of "abandoning the geological column and its associated terminology", and the term Myr refers unequivocally to millions of years.

    One further quotation (p.807), "A 150 Myr period of weathering and erosion followed metamorphism.", is self explanatory.

    There are several further references to ages of millions and thousands of millions of years, and to commonly accepted geological terminology, throughout the paper but, to spare the lay reader, I will only summarise them here:

    1. During Early Proterozoic times (from 1688-1600 million years ago) the area was covered by thick, flat-lying sandstones.

    2. At some later date (but after the reverse faulting) the Koongarra uranium mineral deposit forms, perhaps in several stages, first between 1650-1550 million years ago, and later around 870 and 420 million years.

    3. The last stage, the weathering of the primary ore to produce the secondary dispersion fan above the No 1 orebody seems to have begun only in the last 1-3 million years.

    Nowhere in this, or in any other article by Snelling 2 is there any reference to the creation week, to Noah's Flood or to a young age for the Earth. Nor is there any disclaimer, or the slightest hint, that this Dr Snelling has any reservations about using the standard geological column or time scale, accepted world-wide. The references above to hundreds and thousands of million of years are not interpolated by me. They appear in Dr Snelling 2's paper.

    The problem is obvious – the two Drs A A Snelling BSc (Hons), PhD (with the same address as the Creation Science Foundation) publish articles in separate journals and never cite each other's papers. Their views on earth history are diametrically opposed and quite incompatible.

    One Dr Snelling is a young-earth creationist missionary who follows the CSF's Statement of Faith to the letter. The other Dr Snelling writes scientific articles on rocks at least hundreds or thousand of millions of years old and openly contradicting the Statement of Faith. The CSF clearly has a credibility problem. Are they aware they have an apostate in their midst and have they informed their members?

    Of course there may well be a simple explanation, eg that the two Drs Snelling are one and the same. Perhaps the Board of the CSF has given Andrew Snelling a special dispensation to break his Statement of Faith. Why would they do this? Well, every creation 'scientist' needs to gain scientific credibility by publishing papers in refereed scientific journals and books and the sort of nonsense Dr Snelling publishes in Creation Ex Nihilo is unlikely to be accepted in any credible scientific journal.

    I think that both Dr Snelling and the CSF owe us all an explanation. WILL THE REAL DR ANDREW SNELLING PLEASE STAND UP?

    POSTSCRIPT

    Several years ago, in the Sydney Morning Herald, as one geologist to another, I publicly challenged Dr Snelling (the young-earth creationist version) to a public debate, before our geological peers, on a subject close to his heart – Noah's Flood – The Geological Case For and Against.

    I've repeated the challenge several times since then and it still stands.

    For reasons best known only to himself, Dr Snelling has declined to defend the creationist cause.

    In the light of the above I suggest the reason is obvious. In his heart, and as a trained geologist, he knows that the young-earth model is a load of old codswallop and is totally indefensible.

    February 16, 2014 at 1:30 pm |
  3. Creationists say the darndest things

    Especially the young-earth variety. It's time for them to take off the blinders.

    February 16, 2014 at 1:12 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.