A couple of days ago, Bill Nye and Ken Ham participated in a debate over whether Ham’s model of creation was a viable one for explaining the origin of life and evolution. It was fairly obvious to those who watched who won the debate – Ham quickly left the stage after the conclusion of the debate while Nye remained back to shake hands. Even afterward, Ham’s performance was criticized due to his reliance on non-evidence, such as the video testimony of a couple of men who hold PhDs and cite their personal beliefs as being in creationism. He was noted as frequently avoiding questions and failing to provide any evidence to support his claims. At several points during the debate, Nye directly asked Ham to answer specific questions which Ham never did. The central point of this debate was the question of whether it’s meaningful for scientists to bother with debating Creationists. Nye took the position that it was important for the sake of educating the public and encouraging children to pursue careers in science. Others have disagreed with his approach, though this has been regarded by some Creationists as some type of proof that scientists fear the Jesus.
The reason why it’s important for scientists to push harder to dispel the myth that humans appeared on Earth magically one day is because of the prevalence of this magical thinking in modern-day society. In 2012, Gallup found that 46% of Americans believed in creationism as opposed to evolution. Before you suggest that most of these people actually believe in some form of “intelligent design”, a poll in 2010 found that about 40% held a very strict belief in the belief that we literally poofed here one day about 10,000 years ago or so. These people do not necessarily believe that humans lived alongside dinosaurs, as Ham suggests, but they do believe that humans are somehow special and didn’t evolve like other, lesser beings may have.
This is very troubling to anyone who wants to see flying cars and teleporters in their lifetime. The point that Nye made at least a few times was that teaching this magical thinking is toxic for anyone who could become a scientist. Ham argued that Creationists can be scientists too, but he missed the entire point of the Scientific Method as Nye tried to explain very briefly.
The Scientific Method is something that is actually very simple to understand and absolutely incompatible with any sort of religious thinking (including Atheism). You start off by observing the world around you or by reviewing literature. While doing so, you’ll develop a testable question based on factual evidence, a hypothesis, which then you will test by means of an experiment. Not anyone can just come up with a hypothesis; it’s a question that is asked after you’ve been educated on some topic.
You cannot perform any kind of science if you approach the entire process with an assumption of what the outcome will be. If you start off by assuming that a god was behind whatever process you’re looking at, you’re going to wind up with a ton of bias in your experiments and analysis. Rather than examining evidence as it exists in the world, you’ll be working on explaining that evidence to fit your pre-established paradigm.
This is exactly why Social Scientists and Medical researchers use a double-blind sampling method in experiments. What that means, very simply, is that they’ll take a group of participants in and randomly assign them to be in the experimental group or the control group (think: placebo) in a way that the people administering some treatment, drug, or condition don’t actually know who is in which group. If you don’t know who is who, you aren’t as likely to treat subjects differently based on your assumptions on what is true.
So, essentially, scientists must always take a stance that nothing is ever “true” and that hypotheses or theories can only be “supported”. In science, you can never say that you “proved” anything. Since almost all experimentation is done to indirectly measure some process, you can never know something absolutely. That is why many scientists will recreate another experiment; they aren’t doing double-work but instead they are testing the validity of the results or derived theory from the experiment they’re reproducing. It’s a great way to see if the scientific community really has stumbled upon a new process or if what another found was an anomaly.
It seems to me that the difference in the thought process between scientists and creationists is exactly why there is a lot of disconnect between the two. Religious texts do provide an absolute answer that can’t be observed, recreated, or explained by any other means. Science demands that any assertions made are testable and based on measurable, observable evidence. Religion demands faith, which is belief without evidence. When a creationist attempts to “debate” a scientist, the difference between how the two groups think about the same issue is very apparent. Because scientists demand proof, a creationist will never be a worthy debate opponent and because creationists regard their bible as being the absolute authority on the issue of life, they will never be satisfied by evidence.
This is exactly why a lot of scientists and scientific thinkers do not want to debate creationists. It’s not that they’re afraid of anything, but rather it’s a waste of time because of the core incompatibility of the two mindsets. A scientist can point out the numerous problems with citing the bible as any sort of authority:
- mistranslations – almost no one is reading the original Hebrew script.
- excluded biblical texts – the bible was edited to include or exclude certain stories but there is no specific explanation as to why certain stories were chosen over others; we can only guess at the reasons.
- inconsistencies within the bible – because the authors of the books in the bible were various, there are many contradictions between stories that have been well-documented.
- different interpretations of the bible – as David Lose points out, the bible doesn’t actually instruct the reader to take the text literally nor have most Christians in the past taken it literally, thus the many different interpretations of the bible tend to contradict one another.
No matter what the inconsistencies are, the Creationist will likely not be swayed because they’ve already accepted the idea of “faith”. If they already believe in some literal interpretation of an English-translation of a biblical story as being absolute truth, it will not matter how many problems there are with the foundation of their beliefs. It’s sort of like the argument, “It is because I said it is”, which is an example of circular reasoning. The argument claims to prove itself. Circular reasoning is not accepted by scientists since it can’t be supported or denied by actual evidence, but creationists demand that any external evidence fit within their already-determined paradigm, otherwise they dismiss it.
That is the inherent problem in trying to debate a creationist. They will always be right because they believe they’re right and you, trying to appeal based on observations or evidence will never sway them because they’ve already decided that you’re wrong. This is also why scientists and scientific thinkers are so concerned about children being raised with this kind of mindset – a person who grows up with magical thinking and is taught that “it is because it is” may not be as curious or as questioning as a person who grows up learning to observe, hypothesize, and experiment. I don’t know if it’s true that a person will not learn how to question things around them if they’re not raised to question things around them, but that’s because I don’t have any proof to support one idea over the other.
I do understand the concern, though, and I think that it certainly couldn’t hurt teaching children to question what they’re taught. It’s not as though the simple act of teaching them how to think critically will make them serial killers, but it can boost their self-confidence and lead them to making their own decisions as opposed to caving into peer pressure. Given that, maybe it’d be good for kids to learn actual science in school. Well, that and if they don’t learn how to think logically, we may never get to see flying cars in our lifetime.