Ham on Nye. A Debate Critique.

Home / Articles / Ham on Nye. A Debate Critique.
Ham on Nye. A Debate Critique.


Therefore apologetics involves intellectual reasoning and argumentation regarding the Christian worldview’It is a matter of intellectual analysis and confrontation. The loathing of such things in many quarters of the modern Christian community is unhealthy. Reasoning is not an unspiritual activity to be shunned nor does argument’ automatically denote personal contentiousness. Dr. Greg Bahnsen in Van Til’s Apologetic, page 30-31

Cast down reasonings and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God – 2 Corinthians 10:5

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen or heard about the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate. I saw someone call it the Ham on Nye (clever). From the beginning I was skeptical about this debate. Whenever I see something so widely and heavily interpreted as the debate that will once and for all bury evolution I’m skeptical. To be fair that is not how the debate was marketed by Answers In Genesis (AIG). Yet it does show the success Creationism has had because of ministries like AIG.

The 900 tickets sold out in minutes after their release and several million watched it live on the internet for free. Make no mistake; this debate was an unqualified success for AIG in terms of marketing and revealed what the internet is able to do as the new television. It also illustrates the power of evangelical fandom on the internet. When the debate was set, it made the front page of our newspaper here in Syracuse, NY, one of the most postmodern cities in the United States. AIG found a way to make their message impact the culture to the degree that both the evangelical and secular world was interested! Bill Nye was a great choice of opponent since everyone in my generation and a bit younger learned about science through his well-produced TV show. The next time someone tells you how terrible the culture has become, remind them of the success of this media event and the fact that it was spearheaded by a Christian ministry.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, Ken Ham presented the gospel in this debate at least five times. Think about that for a minute. When was the last time you were able to present the gospel five times to several million people, live? Of course, this does not count the more than 1.6 million views this has had on YouTube since the debate.

Post-debate analysis has been split as to who won this thing. I’ve seen some evolutionists state that Bill Nye got his posterior handed to him by Ham and I’ve seen some creationists suggest that Bill Nye won. That’s all you really need to know: no one technically won this debate, except the Lord since it was a win for the gospel.

The presupposition of this article is: It’s ok to critique a Christian when they presume to step into the realm of science in order to defend Christianity. Why? I’ll give you the short answer here: the practice of science and the art of debate historically are both benefitted when they are critiqued. I could go into a lengthy research paper here showing this to be true, but if you stop and think about it your common sense will tell you as much. If you are interested in what a debacle this kind of thing can be when criticism is NOT applied by the evangelical world, do a little research into the Scopes Monkey Trial which amounted to a highly publicized debate that the creationists WON in the court room but lost in the culture.

Ken Ham failed to do all he could have done because he failed to commit to a presuppositional argument as the basis of his debate.

Ken Ham referred to the presuppositionalist argument a couple of times. This apologetic is best presented for the average believer by Sye TenBruggencate in his video, How to Answer the Fool. [Sye ably condenses the thinking of men like Greg Bahnsen and Cornelius Van Til into a video that the average believer can understand and taught by a former factory worker.] However, Ham did not stick with this line of argumentation and this is why he did not mop the floor with Nye. Some outspoken believers have suggested that Ham lost this debate and I would suggest that this is the reason why.

If you think mop the floor is too strong of a term to use of an opponent, let me remind you that the purpose of a debate is to win and if you do not think you can then perhaps you should rethink your position. For an instructional video on said mopping check out The Great Debate featuring Dr. Greg Bahnsen on YouTube. This is one reason why high profile atheists will not debate presuppositionalists’they cannot win.

Let’s look at the debate. The topic being debated was Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?

Introductory Remarks

In Ham’s introductory remarks he refers to scientists who are Creationists. While this is encouraging to Christians, it does not prove anything. Francis Crick, half of the brain trust that mapped DNA and a Nobel prize winner, believed in transpermia, the idea that alien life forms (think E.T.) seeded the universe with the building blocks for human life (see his book, Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature published by Simon and Schuster in 1981). What reputable scientists believe about origins does not prove its viability otherwise transpermia would be widely taught in public schools, and for the most part, it has not been. We do not believe in Creationism because the guy who invented the MRI believed in it. If he believed in transpermia, would you believe that? We do not need to create a baseball trading card mentality in apologetics in order to score points. If there was not ONE accomplished scientist who was also a Creationist it would have no bearing on the truthfulness of creationism. To start with this worst of evidentialist arguments started Ham on a bad foot.

The reason why creationism is a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era is not because of what experts believe. The reason why is because without this understanding, you cannot make sense out of anything. Bill Nye and every other evolutionist you care to name already knows that God exists and to begin the debate with this kind of argument ignores that fact and makes the basis of Ham’s argument the opinion of man about God and not what God has said clearly about man (Romans 1:18-20).

Those who think that Ham’s debate was presuppositional missed the point that Ham stated as his thesis: The creationevolution debate is really a conflict between two philosophical worldviews based on two different accounts of origins or historical science beliefs. Creation is the only viable model of historical science confirmed by observational science in today’s modern scientific era (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6kgvhG3AkI 21:56-22:09 minutesecond mark). The second half of this statement descends into an evidentialist apologetic which cannot win in a debate forum because there is ALWAYS some evidence out there that you do not have an answer for.

On the other hand, Nye’s CSI analogy was pretty good. Crime scene detectives care about observational science. Evidence. In that one move, Nye was allowed by Ham to establish the evidential playing field and anything that Ham brought up after that about presuppositionalism would only be incidental to the argument. Ham conceded the evidential aspect in his opening thesis.

Fortunately for Ham, Nye started slowly: his Noah’s ark argument has nothing whatsoever to do with origins and was obviously a red herring (even though it was never identified as such). His ignorance about fossils that go across strata indicated he did not do his homework on the AIG material that Ham usually teaches at home school conventions. Nye went on to say that if you could find evidence of that you could change the world. Not so much, Bill, because that evidence does exist and it hasn’t exactly convinced you of anything. But the reason has nothing to do with evidence. It has everything to do with your desire to suppress the truth of what you already know regardless of the evidence. And this is why Nye should not have been allowed to get a free pass to make this about evidence at all, even if he put his proverbial foot in it regarding it. All Nye has to do as he suppresses the truth in righteousness is find better evidence. And make no mistake, it is out there. I’ve heard undergraduate students at community colleges make better evidential arguments than what Nye put forward.


Ham says at the beginning of his 30 minute presentation that both creationists and evolutionists can make great scientists (28:34). Well, no, they cannot. Great scientists use logic consistently and an evolutionist cannot do so. An evolutionist should not be encouraged in any way to think otherwise because in so doing you give validity to his foolish worldview. You also merely make creationism one of a couple of valid possibilities and not the ONLY one that makes any consistent intellectual sense. Biblical Christians understand that evolution is not a valid possibility and should not be treated as such.

This is basic to the understanding of the presuppositional argument.

Ham gives a tip of the hat to presuppositionalism with a by the way comment at 31:27. Presuppositionalism, by definition is not a by the way on the road to an evidential argument. It is the ONLY argument Scripturally and logically speaking. Evidentialist arguments make the unbeliever the authority on the existence of God and His testimony about His creation. This is blasphemous and unscriptural. Merely making presuppositionalism a footnote to this debate is like making nuclear weapons a footnote in World War Three. If you’ve got a host of ICBMs in the silo but you only talk about their existence without using them as your main offensive it’s a Presuppositional Questiongood way to lose a war. A two minute tip of the hat to presuppositionalism that was only incidental to Ham’s evidential presentation does not a presuppositional argument make. Ham was right to ask Nye, How do you account for the laws of logic and laws of nature from a naturalistic worldview that excludes the existence of God? The only problem is that Ham never took advantage of the opportunity for direct challenge that Nye used during the Q&A.

When Ham asks the (apparently) rhetorical question of Nye regarding one technological advance using molecules to man evolution, he asks the wrong question. Who cares? What if he could? Would that send Ham on his way back home? Better debaters than Nye can point to several. This is why evidentialism fails. And this is why Ham’s 30 minute presentation failed: how do you decide which pieces of evidence prove that creationism is a viable model? And what would Ham have done if he faced a competent debater who could have refuted his evidence?

Around the 53:00 point, Ham makes a case for the Book of Genesis as the record that God has given for origins. Here, he stumbles into the presuppositional argument as most Christians do by referring to the Word of God as the authority. This has always been the strength of AIG’s ministry’it’s commitment to the Word of God as the only reliable source on origins. He ought to be applauded for that. My family owes him much in this regard. What I believe is missing from Ham’s presentation in this debate is a Scripturally and logically consistent argument, that if held to resolutely, would have exposed Nye’s arguments as patently foolish. It would have also shown that Biblical Christianity owns the argument on origins and that nothing else should be taught in any school because it is a lie.

After Ham finished his presentation Nye launched in to his evidential argumentation and proceeded to blaspheme God by denying the Word of God. Ham had already caved by making the vast majority of his argument evidential and Nye took the ball and ran with it. He should not have been allowed to. The argument gave him a foundation to build his red herring argument regarding the Flood. In the process, Nye makes a good evidential argument that Noah couldn’t have built an ark that worked based on a similar sized vessel that failed historically. Never mind the fact that this wasn’t the debate. No matter how good your evidence is there is always someone who can make your evidential argument look ridiculous. The fact that Ham has come up with a 1% scale model of the ark that answers the question of the structural integrity of the ark will convince exactly no one of anything. In the process it gave an enemy of God and his fandom an occasion to blaspheme.

For the presuppositionalist and for any Christian, this should be an outrage. Nye was given the opportunity to look credible in his attack on the reliability of Scripture when he should have been rebuked. Who is this Philistine that he will attack what God has said? He cannot account for the immaterial laws of logic and we’re going to argue with him about ship design? He does not deserve the opportunity to present such blasphemy as respectable in any forum. The moment that you take such nonsense seriously, you give it more credibility than it deserves.

As Greg Bahnsen has written about the atheistic worldview, His [the atheist’s] presuppositions preclude the unbeliever from making claims to know anything intelligible or meaningful. (Van Til’s Apologetic, page 311, emphasis mine). This should have been exposed and it was not. Instead, Nye was treated as an intellectual equal when in fact he is a fool (Psalm 14:1). He could have done so graciously, but he should have done it nonetheless.

Ham would have done well to at least follow the example of Nye during the question and answer period of holding his feet to the fire. Nye kept demanding that Ham answer specific questions regarding the evidence. At this point he was taking the scientific high ground since that was the field that Ham agreed to play on. Ham should have demanded that Nye answer the question he posed in his presentation about Nye’s failure to account for immaterial laws of logic as a naturalist materialist. He should have made the nonsensical epistemology of the Darwinian atheistic worldview the issue and not condescend to play by Nye’s rules. Once you’ve seen an example of this in a debate setting, you long to see it used regularly in debate with atheists. Sye TenBruggencate did an admirable job of this when he debated Dan Courtney here in Syracuse, NY. Check out this video at the 25:30 mark to the 26:44 mark. This is what it looks like when you are committed to the presuppositional apologetic and don’t care about trying to cater to the atheist. Once the point is proven epistemologically there is no other point to prove and you beat them with it until they cry uncle.

Objections to Serious Critique

These are my concerns regarding the debate. After the debate I was shocked at how shocked some believers were to see Ham critiqued. I’m quite sure some will read this and offer objections to this critique. If so, let me try to head them off with a couple of observations.

First, if Ken Ham does not wish to be critiqued on his performance, he should have had a private email exchange with Nye and not done it publicly. Ham presumed to represent a large portion of evangelical Christianity, just as Nye presumed to represent Darwinian evolution. You can bet that Nye’s performance will be written up in academic journals. After all, this is science we’re talking about, and science is supposed to thrive in an environment of criticism. Why should Ham get a pass?

Second, we are called as believers to do all things for the glory of God. This means we do them to the very best of our ability. I would think that Ham, like anyone else, would want to know how he could have done better. I know I would. Why? This is about God and His truth. We ought to make Biblical arguments and those arguments include the manner in which we address those who suppress the truth they already know in unrighteousness. The issue is not evidence. The issue is unbelief. A mountain of evidence the size of Mt. Ararat, complete with an ark sitting on top of it, would not convince Bill Nye of anything. He would probably refer to holograms, optical illusions, or a conspiracy by Ken Ham.

Third, there is a legitimate concern in sociological circles about the dumbing down of America. In good higher education, you are taught to think critically about your own positions as well as those of others. The internet has created a fandom amongst evangelicals that brooks no compromise when it comes to brand loyalty. It is a form of anti-intellectualism that scares those outside of evangelicalism when they see it. It scares me too. If someone quotes John 3:16 or Romans 10:9 during a debate it should not give them a free pass for criticism.

As I wrap this up, let me use a sports analogy to explain why we ought to care about this.

I am a Buffalo Bills fan. I grew up near Buffalo, NY. It is my cross to bear. Don’t pity me. As a Bills fan, I am quite opinionated as to why the Bills have not been to the playoffs in something like 13 years. No one would question my devotion to the Bills because of my concern to see them win. In fact, I would say that if you are a true fan, you will have definite opinions on coaching, players, the draft, ownership and the like. The fan that says, Shut up, you haters! Cut me and I bleed red, white and blue! are the worst kind of fans any team could have in the NFL. They are the ones that boo at good calls by the refs and who yell block the punt on third down. Fill a stadium with those, and your team will descend into mediocrity. Exhibit number one (ok, number two after Buffalo): the Dallas Cowboys (sorry couldn’t resist). Have fans that care enough to stay home when they lose, and the team will make changes. And they will start winning.

If I care for football like that, shouldn’t I care far more when the truth is not represented as strongly as it ought to be? Shouldn’t I care that this was a lot closer than it should have been? Playing the role of cheerleader no matter what happens doesn’t help anyone. And it does not sharpen the tools of the average Christian who will take this debate as an instructional video.

My respect for Ken Ham’s ministry is enormous. However, in a debate forum the materials that AIG has produced cannot win debates. They can encourage Christians. But they cannot reveal the atheistic worldview as foolish as long as the evidential approach takes their unbelief seriously. In a debate you may have the opportunity to present the gospel. But the gospel is a jewel and ought to be presented as such. Presuppositional apologetics gives the gospel an opportunity to be presented with all of the pomp and circumstance of the crown jewels. Evidential apologetics provides a background that is not worthy of the gospel in a debate setting. My hope and prayer is that AIG will pursue the presuppositional approach as they confront unbelievers and use the evidential material for the encouragement of believers.

Jon Speed
Latest posts by Jon Speed (see all)