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Posted by on Feb 4, 2014 in Creationism, featured, Science, Skepticism | 23 comments

The “Were You There?” Argument – Ham/Nye Debate

I did not watch but about 5 minutes of this debate. I was doing something important. I taught my son how to play Ticket To Ride and we had family game night.

What?!!??!? you think.  How could someone so into the creation/evolution thing miss this debate. Well, as I said, it’s family game night. But the other reason is that I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that there would be nothing new presented at this debate. Bill might stumble, he might eviscerate Ham, he might not even show up. But the arguments that Ham has are all at least 50 years old.  Some of them go back over 200 years.

IF there was some kind of evidence of the unique creation of an animal species, or that Earth was 6,000 or 10,000 years old, or that the god of the Bible existed, I am confident that the first we heard of it would not be in this debate. Evidence is discussed in scientific literature, not the sound stage of a creationist ‘museum’.

Still, this will give bloggers like me fodder for a few days as we utterly crush every single argument that Ken Ham made. I have decided to start with a simple one (and the one I heard in the few minutes I listened)… “Where you there?”

Stephen Meyer (of Darwin’s Doubt and Signature in the Cell fame) uses a version of this that Ham mentioned. The difference between “historical science” and “real science” or “physical science”. In other words, stuff that happened in the past can’t have real science applied to it, because we weren’t present to observe the results.

Meyer and Ham need to be careful though. If you apply that same argument to their chosen holy book, well, it all goes out the window too.  Neither Meyer nor Ham were present during the time described in Genesis.  Of course, the author of genesis wasn’t present either. But we’ll ignore the hypocritical demands for time travel to observe evolution or creation.

I’ll start with an example. A man is on trial for murder. He owned the weapon that committed the murder. The weapon was found in his hand. He was standing over the victim. He had several fights with the victim. Several people heard the victim screaming for help moments before.

Now any jury would probably convict the man, right.  But the lawyer pulls the “were you there” argument. He asks each policeman if they were present when the murder happened. Of course each of them answered, “no”. Each person who herd the scream was asked “were you there”. Each, of course, answered no. The lawyer then says that since no one actually saw his client commit the act, then he should go free.

Creationism is like this lawyer. Science is the jury. The jury can’t use eye witness testimony because no one was there. But the evidence, a great deal of evidence, supports one position. That is, the man is a murderer.

This, creationists would have you believe, is a critical mistake. Unless, there is some kind of eyewitness testimony, “you had to be there”, then there can be no statements about the rest of the evidence.

Think about that a second. I’m willing to bet Ken Ham has never built a car, yet he drives one every day. I bet Ken has never seen an electron, yet he uses electricity every day. I bet Ken has never been to the surface of the moon, yet he knows what it is like. Ken has never been to the center of Earth, yet he knows what that is like too.

All of that is Ken Ham (and other creationists) ignoring their own rule. They believe that if you didn’t do it or see it happen, then you can’t prove that it did. And they are right.  Of course, they will still use their computers and cars and earthquake forecasts. Hypocritically that is.

Here’s the thing. Science doesn’t have to have an observer present and never has. That’s not a requirement for science. Much like our jury, science goes on the preponderance of the evidence. In science, we call it probability. Is it possible that the Earth is 6,000 years old and every we see is a lie created by some deity to test our faith? Sure it is. In fact, it’s possible that the entire universe was created last Thursday and all of our memories and experiences are fake as well. It’s called Last Thursdayism.  But we have to put that as a very, very, very low probability. Why? Because we have all that evidence that would have to be ignored.

In our modern science of evolution, we know how things work to a degree that Darwin never dreamed of. We know what genes are are and how they are transmitted through the population. We know that mutations occur, and that offspring aren’t always exactly like parents. We know the mechanisms of those mutations (and there are dozens, if not hundreds of them). We know how populations work. Some things, we’ve seen for ourselves. We’ve seen speciation happen. We’ve seen mutations happen. We’ve seen all this evidence.

Have we ever seen a population of fish evolve into amphibians?

Of course not. But it’s not required that we do see this (except by creationists). I’ve discussed how higher orders of life can form from simple mutations that we have seen happen.

What we have not seen is a deity. We have not seen any holy book that’s even close to accurate compared to what we know is true. We have not seen real miracles. We have not seen faith healing ever work. We have not seen prayer work. We have not seen anything of the things that creationism implies. And neither has Ken Ham or Stephen Meyer or our own creationist commenters here.

When they say, “Were you there?”, it’s an attack.  That’s all it is. They weren’t there anymore than my kid was. But we know how physics works. We know how chemistry works. We know a lot about how biology works. And we know that these things haven’t changed since we have been keeping records. We know that we can look back in time and see that events happening even billions of years in the past match what we see today. Nuclear chemistry (the basis for radiometric dating) is the same 10 billion years ago as it is now.

This and the millions of observations and experiments that have been done in biology, chemistry, and physics, form what is called “a preponderance of the evidence”. Are we 100% right?

Of course not. That’s the nature of science. As new data comes in, we change what we think (see The Monkey’s Voyage review I wrote to see a direct example of how that happens). Unlike creationism, which must somehow fit new data into their old, unchanging framework.

What’s truly disturbing though, is that this is basic stuff. This is basic logic and basic scientific understanding. Yet Ken Ham and other creationists trot this out like it’s a devastating blow to modern science. They think that we, including scientists, are utter morons. They think that if they say this loudly enough and often enough that someone will believe them.

And the data shows that people do believe them. They are hypocritical, misrepresentative, and terrible researchers (or outright liars, no creationist is willing to answer that question) and yet, people believe them.

I’m going to share this around and I hope that if you have any questions about evolution, science, or anything else, please feel free to ask.  I’m always looking for ideas to help explain and educate others.

  • jg29a

    Aw, yeah! I also did not read but one paragraph of this post before writing this reply:

    “Ticket to Ride” is the standout game of our time. We play its various boards a lot at our local expat hangout/board game cafe near Busan, Korea, and I must have played about 200 games on my phone when I was recently in the hospital with two broken ankles. Lots of strategic depth and subtle mind-reading/bluffing that goes on.

    Now I’ll read the stuff about the debate, I suppose…

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

    My favorite examples:

    No one has been to the center of the sun but is there any reasonable doubt that it is powered by a fusion reaction?

    In your murder example, instead of standing over the victim, there are bloody footprints leading to the front door and towards the house next door. But the footprints fade in the grass. However, there are bloody fingerprints on the door handle of the house next door. On searching the house, the suspect is found holding the knife matching the stab wounds.

    Would/should any jury aquit the suspect because there are “missing links” in the footprints?

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      I like that!

    • Common Joe

      It is a good example; however, think about this. The more time you have in between the evidence collecting and the actual event can cause even larger missing links – ones that would cause the jury to acquit the suspect. Give your example of a murder and evidences with blood, weapon, etc. (no person holding knife there) and then let it pass 300 years. Now find your murderer! That is more applicable to how we determine scientific evidence based on origins.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

        The analogy went to the “were you there” argument and used a limited set of evidence to show that you don’t have to be at the scene of a crime in order to collect evidence convincing “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

        But, if you want to extend the analogy to a 300 year old crime, that’s easy enough. The scene shows signs of a struggle and flesh and blood is found under the victim’s fingernails, DNA is extracted and sequenced, as is the victim’s DNA. 300 years later a body is found in a remote place, clutching a bloody knife. DNA is extracted from the blood on the knife and from the body. In the admirably efficient police department’s records is found an account of the crime (the victim was very, very famous) with records of the DNA sequencing done back then. The blood on the knife matches the victim’s DNA and the body’s DNA matches that found under the victim’s fingernails. Is there a reasonable doubt that the body is that of the killer, even though how he got from the scene of the crime to the spot he died is a “missing link”?

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

          I forgot to add that no evidence is ever convincing beyond an unreasonable doubt.

  • Common Joe

    I would disagree that he is ignoring his own rule. In fact, that he has a car proves to him there is a car. If he wants to prove there is a car, then he could get the blueprints and build it, or he could simply go to a factory to see it done. The same would go for studying electrons, earth’s core, etc. These are observable things that can be proven today.

    You can look back billions of years based on assumptions that things have always been exactly as they are. And it is viable, but completely accurate. It is possible there are other scenarios – and ones that make sense and are viable. The thing that Ham got across was that to assume your way of doing science takes a leap of faith that you are not sure of. You base it on studies that may or may not be completely accurate by placing your faith that they are. He does the same.

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      Wrong. If he hasn’t ever seen gasoline explode, then he can’t know for sure that it does until he does it. That’s the basis of his complaint.

      And, interestingly, we actually CAN see what is happening billions of years ago. By looking deep into the universe, we can see that stars are doing nuclear chemistry exactly the same way that our star is now. We can see that gravity and light behave exactly the same as they do right now.

      It is not an assumption that things happened the same way in the past. It is not faith that things happened the same way in the past. It is the best conclusion from all of the observable evidence.

      The thing that Ham most got across was that he believes the Bible and no amount of evidence will ever change his mind. Why is he ever pretending to talk about science then?

  • Ken

    Your blog is painfully ignorant. Since you didn;t watch it, Ill let you know how the first argument went. Ham noted that he too was not there. And both THEORIES, for that reason have the same validity using that argument. Nye was quite ignorant in his statements too. Asking whether or not fish were sinners. Talking about boulders and trees being so old and so forth.

    So a little explanation… First off, sin is a result.. not an action. Sin is anything that is against God’s original design.. so.. death is sin. Does that mean we are doing something wrong when we die? No. It is the RESULT. Society and the man made organization of the church have mostly declared sin as actions. ‘If you do this you are sinning, so don’t do that.’ They are in a sense, one dimensional and shallow views.

    The age of trees and boulders… Now this is my opinion.. I wasn’t there so I cant state as fact. But it is no more deniable than species turning into another species.
    When God created the Earth there had to be balanced order for there to be conditions habitable for man. It is more than likely God created these things already in maturity. If you ask me how I can believe God could create something that is already old.. you’re being silly. I believe he created everything so clearly creating something with age is no problem.

    Lets state some fact. Million year old boulders have rings all the way through them. Flash flooding is known to cause dating methods to give millions of years to something 60 years old. The universe defies physics by expanding faster as it moves further apart.

    Boulder rings: large boulders are formed from the heating and cooling process of molten material. Each time this happens, the cooling down process causes rings to disappear. In order for such large boulders to maintain their rings, they would have had to been made that way in an instant, or spoken into existence perhaps?

    Trees: As I stated before, I believe God created things old and with age. Nye asks us to take a sapling and submerge it in water for a year and we’ll see that it can’t survive. Of course he can’t ask us to take an age old tree and submerge it… its impossible. Its not an observable test that can be comparable. If the world was submerged in water for a year, it is more than likely that large trees survived. But hey.. my opinion.

    The Universe: It expands. No one denies it. It expands further as it moves outward, no one denies that. What no scientist will say is that there MUST be a force that transcends physical time and space that initiated that beginning. It must defy our physical laws of physics. It must defy what we know. For me, that force is God.

    There are plenty of other things that Bill Nye said that have been argued for so long with viable questions. Of course he kept his topics ignorant as to appear infallible…. but really all the issues he presented have been shot down time and time again.

    As for Ham, it’s not like he said anything new. But as debaters go… Ham was the better one. Stuck to his topic better and presented his arguments WITH the admittance that some are based on belief… Nye can’t even admit that evolution is a belief… As if to say.. He knows someone ‘who was there.’

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      It’s fun making up stories isn’t it?

      But we require evidence. If you want to be taken seriously, then you can’t just make up stories (like those in the Bible). Indeed, why would anyone using the Bible as evidence even bother talking about science? Why, because it’s needed to be taken seriously in our world.

      Here’s the thing, you can say whatever you want. You can read whatever you want and write whatever you want. Until you can provide evidence that it happened, then no one will take it seriously. Just because many people believe in something, doesn’t make it true.

      Unlike the stories of creationism, science has evidence. Honestly, it’s shocking to me how many people are truly ignorant about the state of modern science. Creationists stopped talking about modern science in the 50s and people who follow creationism think that the 1950s is the limit of modern science. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

      I would go on, but I would have to explain molecular biology, genetics, comparison studies and hundreds of peer reviewed papers to you. I just don’t have that kind of time right now.

      I will say this. After reading your claims, I can’t find a single thing in them that is correct.

      Science, by definition, is not belief. It is based on evidence. Until you can tell the difference, then there’s not much point.

      • Ken

        You realize you saying you can’t find proof that flooding distorts our aging methods, the universe expands faster as it moves outward, no species has evolved into a genetically new species simply means you did zero research right?

        You must’ve had fun with your story.

        • SmilodonsRetreat

          Explain to us… in detail… how water alters the nuclear reactions that occur during radioactive decay.

          The universe expands. Yes, this is a known fact.

          Really? Are you saying that you have never seen evidence that a new species has evolved from a parent species?!?!?! Really!??! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

          Here’s some. You may not believe me. Fine, get the papers and show where (in detail) and why (in detail) each and every one of them is wrong. When you’ve done that, let me know and I’ll get you a few hundred more and when you’ve debunked all of those, I’ll get you a few thousand more. Because, until you show that every single one of these events actually did not happen, then speciation happens. It’s observed and since speciation is all that is needed for higher taxonomic orders to form, then it’s game set and match.

          Further notice that these are all at least a decade old. I selected these specifically because they are old. Ignorance is no longer an excuse.

          Evidence For Rapid Speciation Following A Founder Event In The
          Laboratory by James R. Weinberg Victoria R. Starczak and Danielle Jörg, Evolution 46: 1214-1220 (15th January 1992)

          Experimentally Created Incipient Species of Drosophila by Theodosius Dobzhansky & Olga Pavlovsky, Nature 230, 289 – 292 (2nd April 1971)

          Founder-Flush Speciation In Drosophila pseudoobscura: A Large Scale Experiment by A. Galiana, A. Moya and F. J. Alaya, Evolution 47: 432-444 (1993)

          Phagotrophy By A Flagellate Selects For Colonial Prey: A Possible Origin Of Multicellularity by Martin.E. Boraas, Dianne.B. Seale and Joseph .E. Boxhorn, Evolutionary Ecology 12(2): 153-164 (February 1998 )

          Sexual Isolation Caused By Selection For Positive And Negative Phototaxis And Geotaxis In Drosophila pseudoobscura by E. del Solar, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 56: 484-487 (1966)

          The Phagotrophic Origin Of Eukaryotes And Phylogenetic Classification Of Protozoa by Tom Cavalier-Smith, International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology 52: 297-354 (2002)

          A Molecular Reexamination Of Diploid Hybrid Speciation Of Solanum raphanifolium by David M. Spooner, Kenneth. J. Sytsma and James F. Smith, Evolution, 45(3): 757-764 -
          DOCUMENTATION OF AN OBSERVED SPECIATION EVENT

          Cavefish As A Model System In Evolutionary Developmental Biology by William R. Jeffrey, Developmental Biology, 231:, 1-12
          (1 Mar 2001) – contains experimental tests of hypotheses about eye evolution

          Chromosome Evolution, Phylogeny, And Speciation Of Rock Wallabies, by G. B. Sharman, R. L. Close and G. M. Maynes,
          Australian Journal of Zoology, 37(2-4): 351-363 (1991) – DOCUMENTATION OF OBSERVED SPECIATION IN NATURE

          Crystal Structure Of An Ancient Protein: Evolution By Conformational Epistasis by Eric A. Ortlund, Jamie T. Bridgham, Matthew R. Redinbo and Joseph W. Thornton, Science, 317: 1544-1548 (14 September 2007) – refers to the reconstruction of ancient proteins from extinct animals by back-tracking along the molecular phylogenetic trees and demonstrating that the proteins in question WORK

          Evidence For Rapid Speciation Following A Founder
          Event In The Laboratory by James R. Weinberg Victoria R. Starczak and Danielle Jörg, Evolution 46: 1214-1220 (15th
          January 1992) – EXPERIMENTAL GENERATION OF A SPECIATION EVENT IN THE LABORATORY

          Evolutionary Theory And Process Of Active Speciation And Adaptive Radiation In Subterranean Mole Rats, Spalax ehrenbergi Superspecies, In Israel by E. Nevo, Evolutionary Biology, 25: 1-125 – DOCUMENTATION OF OBSERVED SPECIATION IN NATURE

          Experimentally Created Incipient Species Of Drosophila by Theodosius Dobzhansky & Olga Pavlovsky, Nature 230: 289 – 292 (2nd April 1971) – EXPERIMENTAL GENERATION OF A SPECIATION EVENT IN THE LABORATORY

          Founder-Flush Speciation On Drosophila pseudoobscura: A Large Scale Experiment by Agustí Galiana, Andrés Moya and Francisco J. Alaya, Evolution 47: 432-444 (1993) EXPERIMENTAL GENERATION OF A SPECIATION EVENT IN THE LABORATORY

          Genetics Of Natural Populations XII. Experimental Reproduction Of Some Of the Changes Caused by Natural Selection by Sewall Wright & Theodosius Dobzkansky, Genetics, 31(2): 125-156 (1946) – direct experimental tests of natural selection mechanisms

          Hedgehog Signalling Controls Eye Degeneration In Blind Cavefish by Yoshiyuki Yamamoto, David W. Stock and William R. Jeffery, Nature, 431: 844-847 (14 Oct 2004) – direct experimental test of theories about eye evolution and the elucidation of the controlling genes involved

  • http://disnotblog.blogspot.com/ Eugen

    Smilodon “I did not watch but about 5 minutes”

    That’s 5min more than me. Who has 3 hours to waste.

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  • Doc Bill

    I watched the whole thing, painful as it was, including the question and answer right to the end. It was nice to have a neutral moderator, an actual question to debate and rules that were followed. I thought Nye comported himself well sticking to telling Hambo his claims were “extraordinary” and beyond what a “reasonable man” would think. I also liked how Nye constantly referred to Science as being done on the “outside,” that is, outside of the childish, creationist bubble of willful ignorance and denial. (I would have lost points for calling Hambo a “lying bucket of slime, con man and grifter” in the my first five minutes, then gone downhill from there.

    The question on the table was “Is creationism a viable model” and the answer is a resounding NO. Creationism explains nothing, predicts nothing and is totally useful as an intellectual tool.

    Ask a creationist why a quarter inch of quartz is transparent while a quarter inch of iron pyrite is not and they have no way to figure that out. God made it that way, I guess. However, a hundred years of the science of physics, the nature of light and matter does have an answer and it can make predictions about other materials and how they will interact with light.

    Hambo mentioned Baumgardner as having studied “run away subduction” although he didn’t use that term, but what Hambo did not reveal was that Baumgardner abandoned that “theory” because he couldn’t make it work without vaporizing the planet. Yet, creationists still talk ignorantly about continents roaring around at 100 miles per hour.

    The speed of light as a constant is not an assumption, rather it’s a consequence of Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism, all of which, collectively, has provided an accurate, predictive model about electromagnetism.

    Thus, when creationists bray about “assumptions” and “bias” I have to LMAO because just by saying that tells me that creationists don’t know anything about either Science as a method or the outcomes of science.

    Hambo pulls a bait-and-switch with his “were you there” schtick. First, he artificially creates “historical science” that can’t be known because “you weren’t there” then makes the most extraordinary claim that an incorporeal deity was, in fact, “there” and years later “inspired” scribes to write his story. The bait is “you weren’t there” and the switch is that Hambo invents this magical, invisible, unknowable (except to Hambo) deity that has nothing better to do than inspire some unknown, unnamed scribes with stories that are very, very similar to stories passed down generation after generation from many other human populations.

    Practically, how does creationism enable us to prepare for the next generation flu virus? It doesn’t. Creationism and the magical deity are silent on what the next generation flu virus will look like, how it will behave and how we can prepare immunization against it. However, a solid understanding of evolution and the process of evolution, the mechanism by which it operates, does give us an edge and we can prepare.

    In the end that was Nye’s call to action. We need young people who understand science to protect us, in this example, from the next generation flu. Hambo’s call to action was to donate to his Ark Park and trust in the deity.

    You choose.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

      Creationism and the magical deity are silent on what the next generation flu virus will look like, how it will behave and how we can prepare immunization against it.

      Not quite! As Behe told us, only God … opps … the “designer” could have made malaria resistant to our best drugs against it! So we know that the next generation flu virus will be really nasty because … well … the designer loves us!

    • Doc Bill

      Good grief, who edited that mess? Oh, me.

      I meant “creationism is totally USELESS as an intellectual tool.”

      And the entire Genesis story is so implausible, dull and boring. Talking snake? Did those people have no imagination? Here’s what I think really happened:

      Ding dong.

      Eve: Who is it?

      Door: Pizza delivery.

      (Eve, naked, opens the door. Pizza boy gives Eve the “elevator look” then smiles.)

      Pizza Boy: Nice place youse gots here, Miss Eve, mind if I come in. The pizza’s gonna get cold.

      Eve: Well, I suppose so. Adam is out naming animals and he won’t be back for a few hours.

      (Cue deep bass an clarinet music… whaa whaa boom-chicka-boom)

      • Void L. Walker

        Mmm….Genesis porn…..

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  • Christine Janis

    My favorite “were you there” example (my late husband’s idea, not mine) was “is there gravity on Pluto”. Think about it.

  • Luke Breuer

    If you apply that same argument to their chosen holy book, well, it all goes out the window too.

    I first thought of the forensic evidence for a crime example, but this is better! Especially since this is precisely what God says to Job:

    “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
        Tell me, if you have understanding.
    Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
        Or who stretched the line upon it?
    On what were its bases sunk,
        or who laid its cornerstone,
    when the morning stars sang together
        and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)

    Hey Job, were you there?

    Unless, there is some kind of eyewitness testimony, “you had to be there”, then there can be no statements about the rest of the evidence.

    Sounds positively Berkeleyian, without the bit where God is watching the universe to keep it existent while no human is. :-p

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      Are you saying that the universe can’t exist without an intelligent observer?

      • Luke Breuer

        Nope, I was half-jokingly saying that one could construe the “were you there?” objection to be a denial of God, in a Berkeleyian idealism sense. Philosophy nerd humor!

        • SmilodonsRetreat

          I don’t do philosophy. And it’s very hard for me to get sarcasm… I’m not “a people person”. ;)

          • Luke Breuer

            Learn it learn it! :-) Seriously, sarcasm is great for getting people to question their presuppositions when otherwise they wouldn’t. It catches one by surprise, with one’s rationality guards down. There is a reason Martin Luther said “reason is the devil’s handmaiden”—garbage in, garbage out!