Ham vs Nye: Whoever Wins, Who Really Wins?

Question from Jordan:
Hello ATA.

I was wondering how you felt about the upcoming Ham/Nye debate. From what I can tell, most atheists are not happy about the debate. They claim that an atheist should never debate a creationist because there is nothing to debate—evolutionary thinking has already won. They claim that the act of simply debating gives the creationist credibility.

I think it is obvious that this atheistic claim sounds like an excuse. If creationism is so flawed, it should be simple for an atheist to dominate in a debate. Yet creationists keep asking, and many atheists keep refusing. It is as if the atheist is thinking, “I’d rather have people THINK I’m a coward, than for people to KNOW that I’m wrong.” The fact that Bill Nye is willing to debate, shows he is confident in what he believes.

From my experience (as a creationist) on this site, you all seem happy to debate someone on the issue. Are you excited about the upcoming debate (like myself and most other creationists)? Do you see this as a chance for the idea of creationism to be buried, or are you upset with Bill Nye like Dawkins and the many others like him?

Answer by SmartLX:
Whether evolution is or isn’t a fact (it is) is not the reason these atheists don’t want Nye to debate Ham. A debate depends very little on whether one side or the other is objectively correct. It’s the ultimate exercise in rhetoric, where even if you don’t convince a single person you can still be ahead on rhetorical “points” at the end of the debate and thus “win” it.

The mass refusal of evolutionary biologists and other scientists to debate creationists is a relatively new thing. Debates like these went on all the time in the 80s and 90s, which is how people like Duane Gish became famous for doing them. Richard Dawkins even did one at Oxford, when creationism actually had a chance at being taught there. The concerted refusal was later instituted, by Dawkins and other major figures, because of the observed effects of these earlier debates.

– If the audience consisted mostly of creationists or at least devout Christians, as will certainly be the case in the Ham/Nye debate, the debate sounded like a victory for the creationist no matter what was said.

– There are a multitude of creationist “refutations” of evolution (all in the pattern of “evolution can’t explain X, therefore God”) dozens of which can be rattled off in a matter of minutes. Even if there’s a perfectly good evolutionary explanation for each one it takes a lot longer to explain, so some points will necessarily go unanswered and that’s a terrible thing to happen in a debate. The late Duane Gish would throw out as many claims as he could right at the end of a debate, knowing most of them would stand unchallenged purely for reasons of time. To this day, it’s known as the Gish Gallop.

– Even if the creationist was soundly and undeniably defeated, he (I’d say “or she” but most or all of the prominent ones were men) would be invited by other creationists to speaking engagements and radio shows where he could make the same points again, alone and undisputed, as if the debate had never happened. According to Ray Comfort, the main goal of any evangelist is to spread the message, regardless of context; God supposedly does the rest of the work, or doesn’t. When he talks about his televised debate with the Rational Response Squad, the important thing wasn’t that he adequately defended the Gospel but rather that he reached the audience of Nightline. (Also see his book, You Can Lead An Atheist To Evidence But You Can’t Make Him Think.) Any embarrassments during a debate can be buried under a subsequent succession of appearances with sympathetic hosts and audiences, where the combative “evolutionist” can be demonised.

Besides the above, the claim that creationists gain credibility from debating scientists is a valid one. Credibility among the already devout for not being swayed or cowed by the scientific establishment, and credibility among the neutral for appearing with a qualified professional as an apparent equal, even if he gets trounced. The credibility, however, is secondary to the publicity; Ken Ham may have been mentioned more in mainstream media in the last few weeks than in the previous several years, and far more positively because the news isn’t about the imminent financial failure of his Ark Park project. Speaking of which, the proceeds from DVD sales of this debate will go straight into the coffers of Answers in Genesis and prop up the Park, which all by itself is a reason for non-creationists not to support the event.

To summarise, there are plenty of reasons why Nye should not debate Ham even if it’s assumed that Nye will win. Furthermore, there are plenty of ways for Nye to effectively lose even if he is right and Ham is wrong. On a pragmatic note, the simple fact that creationists everywhere are so eager for this debate to happen (and that Ham set it up in the first place) means that they expect their cause to benefit from it one way or another regardless of the arbitrated outcome (if there’s even a judge), and I don’t think they’re wrong. Nye shows no signs of pulling out, so I guess we’ll see what happens.

Well, Nye is generally accepted to have won the debate by a mile, but AiG received such a boost in financial support and apparent legitimacy that it is at least claiming that it’s secured the municipal bonds necessary to break ground on the Ark Encounter park. No surprises at all.

TAG: The Power of Pedantry

Question from James:
Hi, I am having a debate with a friend at school, and I stuck on an argument I am having with him. I first responded to him saying the transcendental argument is not valid. He then responded to me, and I’m not sure how exactly to respond. I was wondering if you could help me form my response. thank you

Here is my response:

However, I really do not think that TAG is a sufficient argument. This is what it concludes: “Since the Logical Absolutes are transcendent, absolute, are perfectly consistent, and are independent of the universe, then it seems proper to say that they reflect a transcendent, absolute, perfect, and independent mind. We call this mind God.” CARM.org This is why this conclusion is self-evidently not true.

Logical absolutes, as defined in TAG, are indeed transcendent and independent of the universe, in that they hold true even if the universe did not exist, or ceased to exist.

Unfortunately for Matt Slick, Logical absolutes, as defined in TAG, are also transcendent and independent of God, in that they hold true even if God did not exist, or ceased to exist.

For example: If God didn’t exist, then it would be true that he didn’t exist and not-true that he exists.

If God used to exist but then disappeared, then it would be true that he disappeared and not-true that he still exists.

Therefore logical absolutes hold true and exist even in the absence of God.

Therefore, of necessity, God is not the author of logical absolutes, but is SUBJECT to them.

Therefore while the fact that logical absolutes are transcendent and independent of everything including God does not disprove the existence of Fairies, Leprechauns, Demigods and other supernatural but non transcendent entities, it necessarily proves that an entity which created the logical absolutes cannot exist, because one cannot create that which it is subject to, and that which of necessity existed before one attempted to create it.

Therefore “God”, as defined in TAG, of necessity does not exist.

Here is how he responded:

“Hey Sean, Sorry for the late response. First off Jason’s argument is that Logic cannot exist apart from the Christian God, so unless you can prove that logic makes sense in another world view, you can’t make the argument that He is subject to logic, because, technically if logic doesn’t fit with your worldview, then your world view doesn’t allow you to make an argument based on logic. “in that they hold TRUE even if the universe did not exist or CEASED TO EXIST.” Similar to the first paragraph of this reply, how does the word ‘true’ fit with your worldview? I don’t even know what position you are arguing from. Evolution? Polytheistic? Relativism? Because if you’re using an evolutionary argument while you believe in something else, this conversation is pointless, similar to how someone using morals to attack the Christian foundation is borrowing from that foundation. That only supports one thing, that the foundation from which it is borrowed is true, in no way would that prove your worldview is true. The fact that your using words like true, imply morals and consistency, which means they exist, according to you, but if they don’t fit with your worldview, then you’re contradicting yourself. Even saying ‘ceased to exist’implies something is holding it together, and in a random chance universe, that also doesn’t fit, why should something be held together consistently when everything is random? What in your worldview allows for consistency. It makes sense in the Christian world view, the Bible says God holds all things together, but if we are a random combination of chemicals based on probabilities, what kind of probability is it to have a probability of 1, all the time. That doesn’t make sense. Your example of logic is exactly that, an example of logic. It may be valid, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. This example only proves that logic currently exists. It doesn’t prove how logic can exist before God. Explain how, if logic was pre-existent, that logic created the Universe, logically. Christians believe God was pre-existent to creation, and other worldviews still had to chose something to be pre-existent, in this case, logic. Logic is a formula, information begets information, what begot logic? Logic is based on order, creation is evidence for intelligent design. If someone finds tools in an abandoned cave, it’s evidence that someone else designed those tools and left them there. No one would think, “oh look at how these tools magically appeared here.” A rock doesn’t tie itself to a piece of wood. Also your second premise to your conclusion isn’t sound. I’m assuming you’re talking about the Christian God. If you say “God used to exist but then disappeared” you cannot be speaking of the Christian God, because the Christian God always was and always will be. In that case, sure logical absolutes do exist apart from god, because you’re not talking about the God who created it.”

Answer by SmartLX:
The Transcendental Argument for the existence of God, or TAG for short, is a pain in the arse. It has demonstrated no power to bring non-believers around to a theistic way of thinking, let alone a Christian way, but it’s unparalleled in its ability to reassure Christians that they’re right and everyone else is talking nonsense. So atheists get hammered with it all the time, fruitlessly, and yet the proselytisers get internal propaganda and an ego boost out of it. Check out what I’ve already written on the subject, my initial piece here and the addendum for the Sye Ten Bruggencate version here.

To address the main argument, your opponent is placing the burden of proof on you to establish that logic can exist without the Christian God. You both agree that logic exists, but that it’s dependent on God is an assertion on his part supported only by the idea that he doesn’t know any other way it can exist. It is, in other words, an argument from ignorance. What makes it obvious is when he challenges you to “explain how” (key words right there) logic created the universe without God; his internal reasoning is that if you don’t know, there’s no way. That would only be necessarily true if you were omniscient yourself. Logic may be as timeless and yet effectual in the physical world as God is supposed to be. Whether it “created the Universe” is only worth considering if we know to begin with that the universe was created, which we don’t.

That brings me to all the other little canards scattered throughout his piece. He’s pulling them from everywhere.
– “Creation is evidence for intelligent design” again assumes an act of creation by the designer whose existence he’s trying to establish in that very argument. He’s “begging the question”, or to put it less ambiguously his premise overlaps with his conclusion.
– The concept of whether something is “true” or not fits with any worldview that accepts the axiom that you can’t have both A and not A. You might not know why that’s the case, but experience has led you to be extremely confident in it. He doesn’t know either; he asserts one all-purpose entity which explains everything (vaguely) but has no explanation itself, and furthermore has no available evidence for its existence, and hopes that’s the key to it all.
– Christianity did not invent morals, and its own morals borrow from countless earlier sources, most obviously Judaism. They can claim God handed down their morals, but they can’t justify using this in argument unless they first establish the existence of God. Christianity can easily be attacked for its moral stances on multiple objective merits – simple things like fairness and the minimisation of harm.
– He characterises quantum mechanics as the idea that we all have a chance of winking out of existence at any time (if our “probability” drops below 1), but for God keeping us here. I don’t know where to begin.
– Artificial, obviously crafted tools in a cave are evidence of toolmakers. Natural, unshaped rocks in a cave which can be used as tools are evidence of no such thing. The existence of logic is closer to the second scenario. You can’t say it’s evidence of a creator unless you know in advance that it was created. Another question-begging exercise.

I hate to say it but you haven’t got much chance of convincing this guy to drop the TAG, or even preventing him from thinking he’s won. Once Christians start thinking of TAG as unbeatable, when a contrary opinion starts to make sense they have the option to dismiss it and think, “They’re reasoning without God, so even if I can’t find the flaw in their logic they MUST be wrong somewhere.” It inoculates believers against the reason of non-believers, and I think that’s why apologists like it so much.