Answering Skeptics: A Brief Evaluation of the Nye-Ham Debate

Answering Skeptics: A Brief Evaluation of the Nye-Ham Debate

This article offers a brief evaluation of the recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham with recommendations for an effective response to skeptics who adhere to an evolutionary world-view.  Although Ken Ham made many good points in his remarks, he did not succeed in exposing the philosophical bankruptcy of Bill Nye’s “mainstream” position and the flagrant contradictions between what is observed in nature and the laboratory and Nye’s evolutionary belief system.  Time will not permit me to review the debate in detail, so I will concentrate on a few key points which should have been established to decisively refute Mr. Nye’s evolutionary account of origins.

An effective defender of the true doctrine of creation before a skeptical audience must:

1) Establish the existence of God first and foremost through metaphysical argumentation, rather than through probability arguments. For example, one can demonstrate the existence of God by an argument from contingency which does not require any appeal to empirical science. Similarly, one can refute the belief of Carl Sagan and so many contemporary evolutionists that the “cosmos is all that is, that was, or ever shall be” by showing that anything that is, was, and always shall be MUST be the way it is; and that, since the cosmos could be other than it is, it fails to meet that standard.

2) Establish the authority of Scripture on the foundation of the historical record of the life, miracles and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ who, in turn, established the Catholic Church as the Guardian of His Revelation and the guarantor of the Holy Scriptures. To cite the Bible as one’s authority without laying this ground-work is irrational and completely unconvincing to a skeptical audience.

3) Show with examples that the Christian doctrine of creation provides the best possible framework for scientific and medical research.

4) Show with examples that the evolutionary account of origins was established in the nineteenth century upon speculation in geology and biology unsupported by empirical evidence and that twenty-first century natural science findings contradict nineteenth century evolutionary speculation and harmonize perfectly with God’s Revelation as defined by the Church Fathers, Doctors, Popes, and Council Fathers in their authoritative teaching since the time of the Apostles.

5) Show with examples that faith in the evolutionary account of origins has retarded scientific and medical research during the last 150 years, while faith in the Catholic doctrine of creation has fostered fruitful scientific and medical research.

6) Show with examples that faith in the traditional Christian doctrine of creation produces healthy, happy individuals, families and societies, while faith in the evolutionary account of origins has produced a deluge of death, disease and disorder in the lives of individuals, families and societies.

7) On this foundation, ask the audience whether it is more reasonable to trust the Revelation of God as preserved in His Church from the time of Jesus for a reliable account of the origins of man and the universe or to trust in the wild speculations of fallible human beings which have been shown to be irrational, speculative, unsupported by evidence and destructive of life, liberty and happiness.

This approach works, even with many skeptical individuals whose hearts have not been completely hardened against the Truth, and this is the approach that we take through the Witnesses for Christ evangelization project. Since this is not the place to elaborate on each of these seven points, I will elaborate on just three of them, the first, the fourth and the fifth.

I argued in the first point above that we should establish the existence of God first and foremost through metaphysical argumentation. In light of the traditional theology and metaphysics of the Catholic tradition, the key distinction to be made in the origins debate is not a temporal distinction between historical science and operational science. The key distinction is a metaphysical distinction between the order of creation and the natural order of providence.

Since Protestantism is a very recent development in Church history, it is hard (from a Protestant perspective) to appreciate the significance of the fact that Descartes was the first influential thinker in Christendom to speculate that it was more reasonable to explain the origin of stars, galaxies and other kinds of creatures in nature in terms of the material processes going on in the present than by divine creation. In reality, we do not see–nor has any man ever recorded seeing–stars, galaxies, life, new kinds of creatures, or even new organs coming into existence naturalistically; and it is thus more reasonable, based on God’s revelation and thousands of years of human observations, to believe that these entities came into existence through divine creation than through any observable material process. To argue otherwise is to make an act of faith in naturalism, which is much less reasonable than a Christian’s act of faith in Jesus Christ and His Revelation.

I say that it is hard to appreciate the perversity of Descarte’s naturalism from a Protestant perspective because a Christian who does not evaluate ideas in light of the entire history of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, rather than in the framework of the last five hundred years, cannot appreciate the folly of thinking that an idea like Luther’s sola scriptura or Descartes’ naturalism that had no precedent in the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church for fifteen hundred years could be a key to plumbing the depths of divine revelation or unlocking the secrets of nature.

The devotees of naturalism, like Bill Nye, cannot point to any production in six thousand years that would justify man’s faith in nature’s ability to produce stars, galaxies, life, plants, animals, or even organs of a body. On the other hand, Jesus Christ proved his total mastery over nature before thousands of witnesses, raised corpses to life in a split second, created complex functioning organs by fiat where they did not exist, and continues to work these very same miracles through the members of His Mystical Body the Church, as documented by impeccable testimony from innumerable witnesses for two thousand years. Thus, instantaneous fiat creation of life, bodies, and organs of the body is a matter of observation, confirming the credibility of the Christian doctrine of creation; whereas, Bill Nye’s blind faith in the naturalistic formation of life, organs, plants and animals is based on nothing but irrational longing and wild speculation. His fatal error is not his faith in the consistency of natural causes over time, but his rejection of the divine order, over and above the natural order, metaphysically distinct from and superior to the natural order of things.

I argued in the fourth point above that an effective defense of the true doctrine of creation must:

Show with examples that the evolutionary account of origins was established in the nineteenth century on speculation in geology and biology unsupported by empirical evidence and that twenty-first century natural science contradicts nineteenth century evolutionary speculation and harmonizes perfectly with God’s Revelation as believed by the Church Fathers, Doctors, Popes, and Council Fathers in their authoritative teaching, since the time of the Apostles.

In this regard, it is essential to show that the geological time scale was formulated in the nineteenth century on the basis of the principles of Lyellian geology which have been invalidated by the work of Berthault, Lalomov, Schieber and others. To this day, index fossils are used to assign dates to sedimentary rocks; and all other data from radiometric dating, ice cores etc. are interpreted on the assumption that the dates assigned to these “index fossils” are correct. This is circular reasoning, and it flies in the face of a mountain of empirical evidence.

In addition to the work of Berthault and Lalomov which have empirically demonstrated that large sedimentary formations can be laid down rapidly, Schieber has demonstrated that mudstone, which makes up two-thirds of the sedimentary rocks all over the earth, can also be laid down rapidly in turbulent environments. In defending the historical reliability of Genesis 1-11 in regard to the Flood, apologists should not fail to point out that evolutionists are trying to shoe-horn twenty-first century scientific evidence produced with twenty-first century scientific tools into a nineteenth century geological framework–and it doesn’t work!

Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5730 years and should be absent from coal or bones that are more than 100, 000 years old, but numerous published studies show that C-14 is present in coal and bones at every level of the geological column. Moreover, coal from formations dated (within the nineteenth century Lyellian geological framework) at 30 to 300 million years contained C-14 in the same amounts, indicating that all of the material that made up the coal was deposited at the same time and that the hundreds of millions of years do not exist.

Bill Nye repeatedly–and rather disingenuously–said that mainstream science welcomes revolutionary research that challenges the status quo. In reality, as evidenced by the treatment of Dr. Thomas Seiler at the AGU conference in Singapore where he presented clear and convincing evidence of the presence C-14 in dinosaur bones allegedly tens of millions of years old, mainstream science greets such revolutionary research with intimidation and censorship. Dr. Seiler’s research was accepted and presented without any objection to the methodology or content of his presentation from the attending scientists, only to be removed from the conference website, without explanation, at the protest of the two non-Asian scientists who were present in the room when the presentation was made!

Ken Ham had a perfect opportunity to challenge Bill Nye to take coal and dinosaur bones from collections in various parts of the United States and have them dated for C-14 using accelerator mass spectrometry. He could have said, “Mr. Nye, if you are as open to new discoveries as you say you are, why don’t you duplicate the research of Dr. John Baumgardner, Dr. Thomas Seiler and other scientists, and C-14 date dinosaur bones and coal from various parts of the geological column and publish the results for all to see? If there is no C-14 in any of the samples, that will be a strong confirmation of your evolutionary world-view. However, if all of the samples contain C-14, that will be a strong confirmation of the view I am defending.”

Had Mr. Ham done this, he would have called Mr. Nye’s bluff for all the world to see!

Defenders of the historical reliability of Genesis should also be prepared to mention the discovery of soft tissue, DNA, blood and bio-molecules in dinosaur bones and other partly-fossilized plants and animal remains dated at tens or hundreds of millions of years according to the mainstream nineteenth century evolutionary framework. These published evidences effectively falsify this outdated geological framework that Mr. Nye defends as the only “show in town” in the twenty-first century.

The fifth point cited above was that a defender of the true doctrine of creation must:

Show with examples that faith in the evolutionary account of origins has retarded scientific and medical research during the last 150 years, while faith in the Catholic doctrine of creation has fostered fruitful scientific and medical research.

This topic is addressed with several examples in the paper on the Kolbe website entitled “The Negative Impact of Faith in the Evolutionary Hypothesis,” which was published in 2012 with the blessing of Pope Benedict XVI in the proceedings of a conference held at Gustav Siewerth Akademie in Germany. Here I will just mention two particularly flagrant examples of evolutionary anti-science in regard to embryology and so-called “junk DNA.”

From the time of Darwin until today, his disciples have argued that similarities in structure among diverse life forms prove that they all evolved from a common ancestor. According to German anatomist Ernst Haeckel, the existence of similarities in embryos of various kinds of organisms proved that the higher life forms “recapitulated” their evolutionary history before birth and that they had all descended from a common ancestor. To make this “proof” more compelling for his contemporaries, Haeckel doctored drawings of the embryos of fish, salamanders, chickens, turtles, rabbits, pigs, and human beings to exaggerate their similarities and minimize their differences. Although Haeckel’s fraud was discovered and exposed during his lifetime, the evolutionary hypothesis demanded common descent, and the concept of embryonic recapitulation continued to exert a profound influence on the study of embryology for many decades.

According to Jane Oppenheimer in her work Essays in the History of Embryology and Biology, Haeckel’s influence on embryology was considerable, “acted as a delaying rather than an activating force; and . . . was stifling to immediate progress.” One of the leading lights in the study of embryology in the twentieth century, Gavin R. de Beer wrote that “Haeckel’s theory of recapitulation . . . thwarted and delayed the introduction of causal analytic methods into embryology,” since “if phylogeny was the mechanical cause of ontogeny as Haeckel proclaimed, there was little inducement to search for other causes.” De Beer’s observation implied that Haeckel’s influence had come to an end by the 1950’s-but this was far from being the case.

The foremost apologist for evolution of his generation, Sir Julian Huxley, argued in the 1950’s that “embryology offers the most striking proof of evolution.” And to this day, biology textbooks all over the world argue that similarities between embryos of fish, amphibians, reptiles, humans and lower mammals constitute evidence for the evolutionary hypothesis. Typical of examples too many to cite is the caption that accompanies drawings of embryos of various life-forms from a widely used American biology textbook published in 2002. Entitled “Embryonic development of vertebrates,” it states:

Notice that the early embryonic stages of these vertebrates bear a striking resemblance to each other, even though the individuals are from different classes (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals). All vertebrates start out with an enlarged head region, gill slits, and a tail regardless of whether these characteristics are retained in the adult.

Although Haeckel’s distorted drawings do not accompany this caption, the statement gives the impression that human embryos–as members of the vertebrate phylum–possess gill slits. But this is patently false. The pharyngeal arches in human embryos have no connection with gill slits whatsoever but develop into the outer and middle ear, and into the neck bones, muscles, nerves, and glands. Moreover, after the discovery of DNA, confidence in the truth of the evolutionary hypothesis led many evolutionary biologists to predict that similar body parts in diverse organisms would be controlled by the same genes.   This, however, proved to be false, as embryologists have discovered that the realization of the same body plan–such as five digit extremities–in diverse organisms (such as whales and humans) is controlled by different genes and is achieved through totally different embryonic pathways.

Indeed, the idea of embryonic recapitulation not only led embryonic researchers down the wrong pathways–it has also led to a denigration of the unborn child. All over the world, abortion advocates have used the alleged similarity between human and lower animal embryos to trivialize abortion in the early stages of pregnancy, in spite of the fact that the Michael Richardson photographs of the human embryo and the embryos of the chicken, pig, fish, and salamander at the same stage of development, published in Scientific American, utterly refuted the bogus notion of embryonic recapitulation.

Richardson’s photographs not only show that the human embryo is distinct from the other kinds of creatures from the beginning of her embryonic development. They also show that the other kinds of creatures are distinct from each other in their development as well! This photographic evidence completely contradicts the evolutionary predictions of all of the leading evolutionists from Darwin to Haeckel to Julian Huxley down to the present, but it agrees perfectly with the traditional Christian doctrine of special creation–that God created all of the different kinds of creatures by fiat in the beginning.

But there is more to the story. To appreciate how much faith in evolution has retarded scientific progress in embryology, consider a recent book by evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne at the University of Chicago entitled Why Evolution Is True (published in 2009). In it, Coyne argues that embryology still offers strong evidence for the truth of the evolutionary hypothesis. His reasoning reveals the fundamentally anti-scientific nature of evolutionary faith. He writes:

One of my favorite cases of embryological evidence for evolution is the furry human fetus. We are famously known as “naked apes” because, unlike other primates, we don’t have a thick coat of hair. But in fact for one brief period we do – as embryos . . .

Ideally, in making a presentation to a skeptic like Bill Nye, we should pause at this point and ask if he thinks that Dr. Coyne’s thinking is reasonable. The answer will almost certainly be that it is. One can then proceed to follow Dr. Coyne into the maze of evolutionary pseudo-scientific reasoning, as he pontificates:

Now, there’s NO NEED for a human embryo to have a transitory coat of hair. After all, it’s a cozy 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the womb. Lanugo can be explained ONLY as a remnant of our primate ancestry (emphasis added)

At this point, one should ask the skeptic (if only rhetorically) whether he thinks that Harvey, Maxwell, or Faraday would have reasoned in this way. Would they have said, in effect, “I do not understand why this hair–the lanugo–exists on the body of a human embryo, therefore, it MUST be a hold-over from our primate ancestry”?

The point that MUST be brought out is that none of these great scientists would ever have concluded that “Because I cannot understand the function of this particular trait (of a plant, animal or human), therefore, it has none.” That is an anti-scientific attitude! In reality, it was already well-established when Dr. Coyne published his book, that the lanugo has an ingenious and important function. As an anatomy textbook published in 2003 explains, the key to the mystery of the lanugo is the existence of the cheesy varnish that covers the little babies skin in the womb of her mother:

This substance covers and protects the skin of the fetus from the constant exposure to the amniotic fluid in which it is bathed. In addition, the vernix caseosa facilitates the birth of the fetus because of its slippery nature and protects the skin from being damaged by the nails. Gerard J. Tortora and Sandra Reynolds Grabowski, Principles of Anatomy and Physiology (John Wiley and Sons, Tenth Edition), 2003, p. 154.

And, as any teacher of embryology worth his or her salt teaches today: 

Vernix caseosa is a culmination of sebaceous gland secretions and dead epidermal cells, and the lanugo hair helps retain it on the outer skin surface. Philip R. Brauer, Human embryology: the ultimate USMLE step 1 review (Hanley & Belfus), 2003, p. 95.

Thus, Bill Nye’s “mainstream” colleague with a Ph.D. from Harvard has demonstrated that his evolutionary faith actually fosters an anti-scientific attitude which replaces the presumption of stable form and function that characterized the work of Maxwell, Faraday and Pasteur, with an evolutionary presumption of flux and dysfunction which retards the progress of scientific and medical research.

Let me give one more example.

Although faith in the evolutionary hypothesis has resulted in immense harm to millions of victims of abortion and abortifacient contraception, that same evolutionary faith has contributed to an equally serious threat to scientific progress and public health in the realm of molecular biology. It can be demonstrated that faith in the evolutionary hypothesis has delayed the recognition of the functionality of so-called “junk DNA” (or non-coding DNA which does not code for protein) and has thus retarded the discovery–and, at least in some cases–the cure of many genetic disorders.

The origin of the term “junk DNA” has been traced to a paper by Dr. Susumnu Ohno in 1970 in which Dr. Ohno speculated that just as fossils of extinct species litter the geological record, so DNA that has lost its function litters the human genome. Although some scientists argued that DNA would not have been conserved for the alleged millions of years of evolutionary time if it had no function, the term “junk DNA” began to be widely used to describe the bulk of the human genetic material that does not code for protein.

The Human Genome Project officially began in 1990, and the data it uncovered proved to be quite a surprise. By 2007, with the results of project ENCODE made available, it finally became clear that the most important factors in genome functioning reside in non-protein-coding DNA. One of the pioneers in establishing the functionality of “junk DNA”, Prof. John Mattick, recently claimed that “the failure to recognize the implications of the non-coding DNA will go down as the biggest mistake in the history of molecular biology.” This prediction will most likely be fulfilled, not only because of the way that the “junk DNA” concept has retarded the scientific investigation of genetic material that does not code for protein, but perhaps more importantly because of the way that the evolutionarily inspired “junk DNA” concept has delayed the medical understanding and treatment of serious genetic disorders.

In recent years, medical researchers have identified numerous elements of “junk DNA” that play a key role in the prevention or development of a host of human diseases. The website of the International Post Genetic Society posts summaries of dozens of reports from scientific journals documenting links between human diseases and non-protein coding genetic material. For example, an article on “junk DNA”-related factors in diabetes and heart disease reports that:

Gene hunters at Johns Hopkins have discovered a common genetic mutation that increases the risk of inheriting a particular birth defect not by the usual route of disrupting the gene’s protein-making instructions, but byaltering a regulatory region of the gene. Although the condition, called Hirschsprung disease, is rare, its complex genetics mimics that of more common diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

‘It’s a funny mutation in a funny place,’ says study leader Aravinda Chakravarti, Ph.D., director of the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine. ‘But I think the majority of mutations found in major diseases are going to be funny mutations in funny places.’

Far from being a problem, the finding is good news, he suggests. ‘Mutations in the protein-coding sequence can’t really be fixed, but those outside the protein-coding regions — perhaps we can fiddle with them, perhaps they are ‘tunable.’ The protein should be fine if we can just get the cells to make the right amount,’ he says.

‘Our finding really underscores the fact that health and disease can be affected by all regions of a gene,’ he continues. ‘For diseases like diabetes and heart disease, just as for Hirschsprung disease, multiple inherited factors contribute to the disease, and these factors are not just going to be in protein-coding regions.’

Faith in the evolutionary hypothesis and the related concept of “junk DNA” has unquestionably retarded the understanding and treatment of a host of diseases caused by factors other than protein-coding genes. In all of these cases, the belief that random natural processes over long periods of time produced biological entities with nothing more than “vestigial” functionality led to a lack of interest in (and funding for) studying that functionality.

On the other hand, throughout the last 150 years, Catholic and non-Catholic Christian believers in the true doctrine of creation have argued that embryological evidence would eventually establish the distinct pattern of human embryological development and the functionality of most, if not all, of the non-coding DNA. If the “mainstream” scientific community so dear to Mr. Nye had operated within the framework for scientific research provided by the Catholic Church, it would have initiated the study of the non-coding DNA decades ago, leading to medical discoveries that would have undoubtedly led to cures or preventive treatments for a host of genetic disorders and diseases. And it is important to point out that–as strange as it seems to those who have not studied the history of evolutionary errors–Dr. Ohno’s false evaluation of the non-coding DNA as “junk” was completely rooted in his faith in the false, speculative nineteenth century geological framework of Lyell, Darwin and their disciples. Remember Dr. Ohno’s reasoning: Just as fossils of extinct species litter the geological record, so DNA that has lost its function litters the human genome.

In reality, rightly understood, fossils of extinct species do not testify to hundreds of millions of years–which is why we find C-14, soft tissue, DNA, and intact bio-molecules throughout the fossil record. The non-coding DNA in the human genome is not the relic of hundreds of millions of years of evolution, and the fact that it is all functional contradicts Mr. Nye’s blind faith in long ages of evolution in more ways than one. In the first place, the functionality of the entire genome testifies to the magnificent design of the entire system. In the second place, it testifies to the recent origin of the human genome in light of the destructive effects of what geneticist Dr. John Sanford calls “genetic entropy.”

Simply stated, “genetic entropy” refers to the destructive effect of mutation on the integrity of the genome, a process which can be compared to the cumulative effect of “bugs” in a computer program. As Dr. Sanford has demonstrated in his book Genetic Entropy, in contradiction to Mr. Nye’s repeated assertion that evolution “increases complexity,” even “mainstream” geneticists recognize that mutation is NOT a creative force introducing new functional information into the genome. Indeed, the integrity of the human genome testifies to the fact that it has not been subject to genetic entropy for hundreds of thousands of years.

Researchers Kimura and Kondrashov have shown that the vast majority of mutations have a slightly-harmful effect on an organism. These slightly-harmful mutations accumulate, producing a steady degradation of the genome, and imposing a time limit on the existence of vertebrate lineages–a time limit much lower than the millions of years evolution requires. Moreover, there is no evidence that the destructive effects of mutation can be reversed, so that these destructive mutational effects would have rendered the human race extinct if they had been going on for more than tens of thousands of years. The history of the mainstream scientific community’s false predictions regarding “junk DNA” and the terrible consequences for medical research demonstrate that Mr. Nye’s evolutionary belief system is anti-science and that the acceptance of the Christian doctrine of creation favors fruitful scientific research and would have led to a much earlier investigation of non-coding DNA.

I hope that the little that I have written here suffices to show how much more effectively the “science guy” could have been refuted by presenting the arguments outlined here in light of the rich treasury of Catholic theology and philosophy.

Hugh Owen