The Epic, the Faith, and the Facepalm in the Nye Vs. Ham Debate

By Grant Hawley


I'm a Young Earth Creationist (YEC from here on out). That's my belief because I believe it is the most natural way to read the Bible, and God has shown me that He knows better than I do. I only want to believe what the Bible teaches, as best I can understand it according to solid hermeneutical principles (Don't know what that is? Read this book to find out what it is and why it's important).

I think it is a reasonable belief in light of scientific evidence, as well, but I'm really pretty simple about it. I know that the universe is so big and the data so massive and so open to interpretation that I can't trust my own thoughts on the matter. There are people with more than one Ph.D. in certain Astronomy or Biology or Geology, etc., who are creationists, and there are those with the same degrees who are evolutionists.

That being said, you don't have to believe in a young earth to be a Christian. You need to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the One who died for your sins, rose from the grave, and offers eternal life to you as a free gift. It's, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life" (John 6:47), not, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in a young earth has everlasting life" (2 Opinions 6:47).


On Feb 4th, 2014, there was a debate between Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Answers in Genesis CEO, Ken Ham on the question "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern, scientific era?" Bill Nye was representing the "No" position, while Ken Ham was representing the "Yes" position. There was not a clear winner of the debate. Naturalists will likely believe Nye won, and Creationists will likely believe Ham won. Objectively, both sides brought up points that weren't answered by their opponents.

The debate's format is partly to blame for this, as the debaters weren't given the opportunity to ask each other questions when the other had a chance to respond. Nye posed several questions to Ham in his rebuttals when Ham didn't even get a chance to speak in response. Ham asked three questions during his prepared remarks during his opening 30 minute presentation, Nye didn't answer, but stuck with his prepared remarks, as is expected.

Also at fault for this is the fact that the field of science is so big that one person cannot be expected to know everything. Bill Nye clearly had no idea that wood radiometrically dated at 45,000 years was found encased in rock dated at 45,000,000 years. Nor did he seem to have an idea at how newly formed rock inside of Mt. Saint Helens could be dated over 9 million years. I'm not sure he even understood the point.

The Epic

Prior to this debate, I prayed (and many others joined me in praying) that Ken Ham would display kindness and a Christlike attitude during the debate. I was very pleased with the calmness, kindness, and patience he displayed. There was a marked contrast between his and Nye's attitudes. Ham was gracious and fair, Nye misrepresented Ham repeatedly and resorted to ad hominem attacks (more on that below).

Ken Ham gave a reasonably clear gospel presentation several times. There was one time where he incorrectly used Rom 10:9 and gave the impression that confession is necessary in addition to faith in order to receive everlasting life, but I took no issue with any of his other gospel presentations and was very thankful that he kept it clear that salvation is by grace and not by works. Millions of people were watching, and while many of those were believers, many others were not, and some, I'm sure were ready to hear the gospel. I'm thankful for this.

Despite Nye's insistence that there is no difference between observational and historical science, I believe Ham effectively made the point that there is a difference. Historical science falls under the realm of "belief" rather than science because we cannot observe history directly, nor can we test origins with the scientific method. The best we can do is to use observational science to give us a set of facts to work from, how we interpret those facts is up for debate (which is what scientists spend a lot of their time doing). Ken Ham did a good job showing that we must make certain assumptions in our interpretation of observable facts to arrive at a conclusion about origins. Nye apparently did not understand the point (more on this below), but I believe many people watching did.

Though Nye insisted repeatedly that Creationists cannot accurately predict outcomes, Ham did show a few examples where Creationists have accurately predicted outcomes based upon their model. One excellent example is the support for the "creation orchard" rather than the "evolutionary tree" in the discovery of one single human race.

Another related point is that after Naturalist scientist, Dr. Richard Lenski had discovered certain ecoli bacteria had developed the ability to grow on citrate in a lab, Dr. Andrew Fabich had correctly predicted that the genetic information to make it happen was already present in the ecoli bacteria. It only needed to be "switched on." See here.

Ken Ham accurately stated that there is no scientific answer for the origin of information. Non-information does not produce information, yet the DNA of even the simplest organism is an incredibly complex store of information. Nye's answer to the question of the origin of information, essentially, "I don't know how that could happen. Go find out, that's what science is all about" was a good answer, nevertheless, it did concede that current science really does have no answer for this problem. The same can be said of the question, "where did matter come from?" and Nye's identical answer.

The Fail

I am a member of some groups that are largely populated by YECs, and a lot of people are frustrated that Ken Ham didn't bring up a lot more of the science supporting YEC. I would have preferred Ham gave one or two very clear and concise gospel presentations and spent more of his limited time on science, in order to increase the impact of the gospel presentations he gave. Ham ended up with quite a bit less time to talk about science because of the significant time he spent appealing to the authority of the Bible and sharing the gospel. It put him at an unfair disadvantage because of the time constraints, and did not need to be so extensive to get his point across.

Even Ken Ham's own organization has addressed the issues of ice layers (here and there's an excellent short video from Kent Hovind here) but he did not spend much time on that point and when he did, it was much later in the debate. They also have a great deal of info on rapid sedimentation (here and see this link from ICR here), and vast resources on the fossil record. Yet Ham did not spend much time on those points, either.

Ham could have relentlessly pursued the points for which Nye had no answers, but he didn't. He could have produced a great deal of examples where Creation Science predicted outcomes, but he stuck with only a few. Here are a few short examples from Ken Ham's ministry.

Here are a few more extensive examples (there are so many more) he could have used (some of these are a bit technical), that I am sure Ham was fully aware of. The first two are especially significant:
Polystrate Fossils
Dinosaur Soft Tissue Found
Deposits Remaining from the Genesis Flood: Rim Gravels in Arizona
"Geotheory": Past and Present
Ultrastructure of Lichen Cells
Time Required for Sedimentation
One-Hour Oil Production

Ken Ham did not adequately answer Nye's charge that older animals are never found in newer layers of rock. This is simply untrue. We even have found animals alive today that were supposedly prehistoric animals. Here are a few examples that are supposedly many millions of years old, yet are unchanged today. Nye said one example would change his mind and shock the world, but scientists are unmoved by many examples. Ham should have made this point.

The Facepalm

Bill Nye seemed at times to ignore what Ken Ham had said and argued against views that Ham said he doesn't hold. ...We would need evidence that the Universe is not expanding . We would need evidence that the stars appear to be far away but they're not." Ham had already said the universe is expanding and expressed the importance for God's glory in recognizing how the universe is "so large."

Bill Nye's "Telephone" example was ridiculous. He mentioned that the Hebrew of Genesis was translated thousands of times, and compared that to the game Telephone. The problem is, it wasn't translated from one language to another, then from there to another thousands of times. It was translated from the Hebrew directly into English. A game of Telephone with two people would be surprisingly uninteresting, especially if the words were written down and could be checked for accuracy instead of whispered into an ear. Here are a few articles on translations from our site: Reliable Manuscripts, Early Translations, Modern Translations.

Bill Nye's statement: "It's very reasonable, perhaps to you that Noah had superpowers" is not worthy of this kind of debate. This is of course not Ken Ham's view and Nye had no reason to suggest it was except that he was trying to make Ken Ham look stupid. This is just one of many similar examples.

Nye's consistent insistence that Ham believes that natural laws changed showed that he didn't understand Ken Ham's point about the distinction between historical and observational science. Nye took Ham's point about historical science to mean that in the past, natural laws were different. That wasn't Ken Ham's point at all. Ken Ham's point is that we cannot observe origins and test them with the scientific method. Therefore we must make certain assumptions when trying to discover things about the past, and those assumptions may or may not be true. Ken Ham assumes a cataclysmic world-wide flood which offers a reasonable explanation for a great deal of things we observe today. If that flood didn't happen, then his historical science would be inaccurate. We were not there to observe the flood, so we cannot prove it scientifically. Bill Nye assumes matter arose from nothing, that intelligence was created from non-intelligence, and that the evolutionary process creates greater complexity over time. None of those things can be observed in a lab or in nature either. If those assumptions are incorrect, his historical science is incorrect.


Ken Ham did well in that he did offer some points that Nye could not answer under the naturalistic model, he presented the gospel clearly (most of the times he presented it), he made the case that assumptions must be made to interpret the past no matter your view, and he gave a couple of good examples in which YECs have correctly presented outcomes.

Ham could have done better by offering more examples and emphasizing points where Bill Nye had no answer. One friend likened the debate to "a ping-pong match in which one player keeps messing up and setting himself up to be spiked hard, but the other player just gently taps the ball back over to him."

Though I felt the same way about it, I am thankful that the debate occurred, and look forward to seeing more discussion on this topic in the future.