At Bob Jones I and about 5,000 other unwilling students were forced to sit through formal debates. The university debate team was a fearful opponent, routinely taking first place in competitions against other colleges near and far. But there were many other teams within the school, and they debated one another.
I didn’t like the debates for two reasons: (1) the topic was an issue I didn’t care about, and (2) the teams had to be able to debate either side of the question. To me this seemed intellectually and morally questionable. I didn’t believe that there were two sides to every question; I believed that there was one side, the right one, and it was everyone’s duty to find the truth and argue for that position only.
Mine was a naive stance borne of ignorance, overconfidence, and immaturity. On paper it might look plausible, but in fact the quest for truth doesn’t work that way. Humans are too imperfect, our knowledge is too limited, and questions have too many variables; for instance, which is better, a Cadillac or a tractor?
Watching debates at the university educated me and ruined me at the same time. Since then I’ve never been able to sit through a debate because I’ve never seen one conducted properly and argued by well-prepared contestants. What I’ve always seen was two windbags throwing irrelevancies at one another and barnyard fertilizer at the audience.
Last night was different — sort of. Somebody somehow had gotten two guys to actually engage in some kind of structured debate and remain silent when it was not their turn to speak. I haven’t seen the likes of that in thirty seven years.
The question of “who won the debate” hinges, of course, on what you mean by “won.” By what criteria do you judge? I give the prize to Ham because he stuck to the topic better. Bill Nye, on the other hand, wasn’t prepared to do that.
The topic was “Is creation a viable model of origins?” That does not ask, notice, whether or not creationism is the best model or whether the Bible is true. Nye spent most of his time presenting evidence for a “deep time” universe (17 billion years since the big bang) and an “old earth” (4.54 billion years, give or take a week). This says very little about creationism. Suppose creation occurred in deep time? (I don’t believe it did, but that’s not the point.)
When Nye wasn’t presenting old-earth evidence, he was belittling the Bible and demonstrating that he was out of his league. This occurs in evolutionism debates routinely: guys who are smart scientists think they can put to flight scholars in a topic totally outside their field and they make fools of themselves in the eyes of those of us who know the Scriptures.
Ham was never distracted by Nye’s antics. He carefully gave definitions of the terms he would use and steadily argued that creationism was a model superior to the molecules-to-man model of atheism. Also, to my delight, he included in his model a clear presentation of the gospel upwards of six times (I didn’t count them). This is a strong argument for biblical creationism, by the way, because the atheist alternative is powerless to explain the purpose and dignity of human life.
In my opinion, either contestant could have been shredded if he had faced a better opponent. Nye seemed oblivious of the actual scientific arguments of creationists and was blindsided by Ham’s approach. Ham, on the other hand, did little to assure the listeners that creationists have responses to Nye’s deep time evidence, nor did he articulate clearly where the philosophical boundaries lie. Assertions such as “There’s nothing in astronomy that proves the universe is old” and “You cannot prove the age of the earth” are rather unconvincing when Nye had appeared to do exactly that by presenting one proof after another. (For the slow who might read this, I repeat that I do believe in a young earth.)
The debate was obviously a PR success for Ham and the Creation Science Museum. They rake in plenty of money as it is, and this event was very popular, sold out in two days, and streamed to perhaps a million viewers. DVDs and videotapes are already for sale on the AIG website. Nye did well, also, as Nye’s normal speaking fee is $50,000 to $75,000, according to Celebrity Talent International.
Ham probably knows that one cannot “win” a debate over such a topic in such a format. If his goal was to preach the gospel to hundreds of thousands of unbelievers, he succeeded wildly. Nye, on the other hand, might have won a few creationists to the “deep time” position if they’d never seen the evidence before. Nye’s strength does not lie in debate, but in celebrity interviews where he doesn’t have any opposition. This event surely has won him a large number of such appearances and their accompanying fees.