Would You Debate Ken Ham?

YOU all know that Ken Ham is the creationist entrepreneur behind the infamous Creation Museum. Ham also operates the creationist website Answers in Genesis (AIG). That site has a Mission Statement that tells you what you need to know in order to evaluate the scientific value of Ham’s work.

But Ham isn’t alone. He has a colleague named Mark Looy, described at the AIG site as:

… a co-founder with Ken Ham of the fast-growing (275 staff) apologetics ministry of Answers in Genesis and its new high-tech, well-reviewed 70,000-square-foot Creation Museum near Cincinnati …

Looy has written a letter-to-the-editor which appears in the News Journal of Mansfield, Ohio. He’s upset about this letter which appeared in that paper on 13 August: Modern-day Christians too willing to embrace false and ignorant notions. That letter criticized the Creation Museum.

Here are some excerpts from Looy’s response: If you think Ken Ham’s ignorant, would you debate him? Looy says, with bold font added by us:

Would the letter writer (Aug. 13) who stated so confidently that our Creation Museum president, Ken Ham, is “ignorant,” “an embarrassment to critically thinking and scientific Christians,” and someone who makes Christians “appear as blinded fools” be willing to engage Ken in a public debate on the book of Genesis?An impartial moderator is what we would seek, plus a respectful attitude on her part. I hope she will accept the challenge.

A bold challenge indeed! Here’s how the Looy letter concludes:

In the end, we trust that the debate audience will come to believe that both a plain reading of Scripture and adding up the chronologies in the Old Testament are God’s testimony to the earth’s true age, and that attendees will reject the opinions of fallible people.

Mark Looy, co-Founder, Creation Museum
Petersburg, Ky

But what is there to debate? There is no scientific debate as to whether the earth is 6,000 years old, or whether there was a global Deluge in the recent past — those notions have been refuted long ago. Nor is there a scientific dispute as to whether all life on earth evolved over hundreds of millions of years and is related by common descent.

We’re aware of denominational disputes about how to read Genesis in connection with the theory of evolution, but such matters are best left to theologians. See: Statements from Religious Organizations. Somehow, we doubt that the Catholics, or the Anglicans, or the Methodists, or any of the others that accept evolution are interested in debating Mr. Ham’s interpretation of Genesis. The best case against Ham’s position was made more than fifteen centuries ago. See: St. Augustine on Creationism.

If there were a theological debate about Genesis, as Looy proposes, we assume that Mr. Ham can make a well-practiced presentation to justify his interpretation, and representatives of sects that disagree could make good presentations for their own interpretations. Who cares what an “impartial moderator” might decide? Neither party to such a debate will persuade the other.

Each side feels that its arguments are overwhelmingly powerful — but those boneheads on the other side somehow don’t agree. That’s how it is with denominational disputes, and that’s why we have so many denominations.

What do we learn from this? We learn that neither side has a persuasive case. If such existed, it would prevail and there would be no more debates. But the debates never end.

So they’ll just have to live with their disagreements, or — as sometimes happened in the past with religious disputes — they can go to war. But no matter what they decide to do about the situation, the question of how they interpret Genesis is strictly a matter to be decided by the denominations themselves. Scientists are — or should be — uninvolved in sectarian disputes, at least when speaking as scientists. If a scientist is also a churchman, then he can debate theology in that capacity.

Your Curmudgeon’s position, which you know by now, is one of indifference as to whether the sectarian disputants ever resolve their disagreements. As long as they don’t get aggressive, we’re not concerned with their debates.

We’ve previously expressed our opinion as to why scientists shouldn’t debate creationists about scientific issues. It’s like the absurdity of astronauts debating with moon-landing deniers. At best, creationists offer little of substance. See: Ignorant, Stupid, Insane, or Wicked. We’ve also said this before, but if you’ll forgive us, it’s worth repeating here:

Writing letters and making speeches are fine things to do, but we have misgivings about live debates with creationists. It’s bad strategy, because the mere appearance of a respected scientist on the same platform gives creationism credibility and creates the illusion that there’s some kind of scientific controversy that’s worth debating — and that creationists are qualified to debate with knowledgeable scientists. It also generates press attention. Creationists are not deserving of this.

There is also a tactical reason never to engage in a live debate with a creationist: They typically use their time to make numerous and often erroneous claims, all spewed out in a rapid-fire barrage that is impossible to rebut in the time allowed. Live debates are fine for politics, but not for science.

As for Mr. Looy’s challenge, here is your Curmudgeon’s response — a couplet from the lyrics of Louie Louie:

Louie Louie, oh no
Me gotta go

That ain’t much, but it’s all that the issue deserves.

See also: Ken Ham: “Why Won’t Anyone Debate Me?”

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “Would You Debate Ken Ham?

  1. No. Just like I wouldn’t debate the raving looney that stands on street corners, screaming out complete nonsense.

    Though it would probably be hard to tell them apart.

  2. comradebillyboy

    Sort of like debating the dining room table, except he’s rude, obnoxious and dishonest.

  3. Gabriel Hanna

    The problem with debating creationists is that they feel free to make things up.

    Anyone who feels obligated to stick to facts is at a disadvantage, especially if they argue before an audience that doesn’t know anything about the subject.

  4. I’m not sure how a debate on the intricacies of the bible may go, but in any setting where one side can dance the Gish gallop while the other side needs time to set up context, history and physical descriptions, it is a waste of time.

    Besides, anything of value beyond politics does not rely on debate to determine its veracity.

  5. No. Because science isn’t about rhetoric. It isn’t about opinion. It isn’t about winning or losing.

    It’s about FACTS.

  6. LRA says: “It’s about FACTS.”

    That’s the one thing they’ll never have. All their “challenges” are just desperate attempts for attention. No one would bother to debate the Time Cube guy, and that’s how creationists should be treated too. But it’s a bit of a problem when you have some crazy state school board that wants to change the curriculum and schedules hearings. I think all such events should be boycotted.

  7. Well, I checked out that Time Cube guy and my general response was…

    wha?????

  8. While, (as much as I love a good knock down) I think that oral debates are nonsense, written versions are necessary in this age of wide open, often unsourced, instantaneous information.

  9. Gabriel Hanna

    While, (as much as I love a good knock down) I think that oral debates are nonsense, written versions are necessary in this age of wide open, often unsourced, instantaneous information.

    I wouldn’t argue with creationists on their own web sites, but I would argue with them in neutral areas.

    Beliefnet, where Klinghoffer blogs, is largely visited by Chicken Soup for the Soul types. So I argue there, so that everyone can see that Klinghoffer just makes stuff up.

  10. LRA wrote:

    “Well, I checked out that Time Cube guy and my general response was…

    wha?????”

    You’re new to this stuff aren’t you?

  11. Well, new to the insane world of evolution-denying. Been around basic science since 1999.

  12. LRA, the Time Cube is the all-time number one example of an over-the-top kook on the internet. I thought everyone knew about the site.

  13. “The Truth of the Cube™ cannot be denied!”
    ;-)

  14. Looy’s ending sentence, “…attendees will reject the opinions of fallible people.” Since ‘To err is human’, doesn’t that mean that attendees will have to reject BOTH sides of the argument? Debate over before it has begun!

  15. Longie says: “The Truth of the Cube™ cannot be denied!”

    Tell it, bro!

  16. Would I debate Ken Ham? In fact I have “debated” him and every other creationist on earth – in the only way that counts. In 2007 I posted a request for proposals for alternate theories of human origins on Talk.Origins. I doubt that Ham himself has visited the site enough to notice it, but surely some of his cheerleaders have, and have alerted him and other AIG “researchers” to this golden opportunity. Ditto for the DI and other activist groups. As you expect, I have not received one proposal.

    Any pseudoscientist with good debating skills and a sympathetic audience can win a “debate” with any scientist. But they won’t be caught dead anywhere near a level playing field.

  17. Curmudgeon wrote: “There is no scientific debate as to whether the earth is 6,000 years old, or whether there was a global Deluge in the recent past — those notions have been refuted long ago. Nor is there a scientific dispute as to whether all life on earth evolved over hundreds of millions of years and is related by common descent.”

    That’s not just a “sectarian” or “demoninational” debate but one that occurs strictly within the confines of creationism, in that creationists themselves hold the full range of opinions. Unfortunately that’s still a well-kept secret among the general public, so the scam artists and their trained parrots can get away with spinning it as an “us vs. ‘Darwinists’” debate.

    There is a “creationists/IDers vs. ‘Darwinists’” debate of course, but that one is on the very nature of science, not on the details of “what happened when and how.” The scam artists knowingly bait-and-switch the 2 debates.

  18. Would I debate Ken Ham? In fact I have “debated” him and every other creationist on earth – in the only way that counts.

    The question you asked on t.o. had been asked before and elicited the same answer you got, which was nothing but hot air.

    But your asking the question and their refusal to answer the question doesn’t mean they don’t believe they have an answer. Walt Brown’s stories get brought up the most.

    The vast majority of creatobots hitting t.o. are there to disprove evolution, thereby in their minds, proving the existence of their particular version of god, not to directly support that existence. Answering your question does not fit into their goal.

    Occasionally, someone like McNameless will bring up the positives for their religion, such as one of the many found Arks, but in general people like Pitman, Pags, even Ray, can’t see the difference between disproving one isolated segment of science with proof for their particular belief system.

    In that sense, simply asking them a question they can’t or refuse to answer is not the same as debate. When we debate them at t.o., FR, PT, or any other venue, our intent is to get them to regurgitate the talking points they swallow and show how they are nonsense.

    Even when we do debate them on-line, the image and the effect is not the same as with the formal oral debate creationists like Ham so passionately crave. Face to face debates, rightly or wrongly, influence people’s perceptions on the issues more strongly than any other way.

    What we have to do is minimize the number of oral debates where showmanship is more important than information and increase the availability of well written, layman oriented debunking of creationist claims. This is where writers like SC, PZ and Harshman excel, each in their own way.

  19. B sharp wrote: “Even when we do debate them on-line, the image and the effect is not the same as with the formal oral debate creationists like Ham so passionately crave.”

    Sure, which is why creationist leaders have long since escaped to the safety of discussion boards that they can control. Only the “wannabes” (Pitman, Pags, Ray) remain on TO. And Pitman, the only one with remotely interesting arguments, has been very scarce lately.

  20. “Sure, which is why creationist leaders have long since escaped to the safety of discussion boards that they can control.”

    Pretty much all of the requests for debate come from the creatards. Almost all of the old guard like Hovind and Gish love the personal face to face confrontations because they know all they have to do to put the scientist on the defensive and in no position to make clear points is to hammer away with a lot of assertions.

    Aren’t even the ID fellows aside from Dembski and Behe rather fond of oral debate?

    Pitman has been scarce because the multitude that is Howard Hershey tears his arguments to shreds.