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.