Just got done watching the debate: one of the greater debates I have had the opportunity to check out.http://debatelive.org/
My take away:
First, I should say that I disagree with those who say that Nye shouldn't have debated Ham. I think the debate was well done, both were respectful, and people who watched it, whichever side they were on on the main issue were better off for it. Besides, if you can't defend your beliefs and ideas in public, perhaps those beliefs aren't worth holding. Good for both of these individuals for doing this, and I hope it is done more often.
On Ken Ham- Pro- Yes, science is an ideologically based theory, which offers explanations to conform with people's world view. If you are predisposed to believe that the world is 4.5 trillion years old, no amount of "evidence" which contradicts that theory will likely change your view. Instead, what you will do is come up with a corollary theory which accounts for that evidence. In this sense, the implicit assertion that Nye made throughout, that science is a reflection of what is real, as opposed to Ham's "interpretation in American English" of an ancient text is problematic.
On this account, as I said on Becky Arney's post, as far as I know the world began on the date of my birth, and I merely choose to accept the arguments of others that it actually began before then. I merely choose to accept the scholarly argument that there was an 18th century, because I hold the world view that there was things that happened in say 1781 or something.
Con- If this is the criteria that we are supposed to use to reject the null-hypothesis and accept, in its place, the creationist hypothesis that God created the world 6000 years ago and so forth (there is a LOT more than that, but I won't make his argument for him) then Ham loses. Because if Nye is merely expressing a set of assertions which seem to conform to his ideological worldview, so is Ham, and if Nye's beliefs are not compelling for that reason, neither are Ham's, unless I was already ideologically predisposed toward creationism. Otherwise, we have to accept the null hypothesis, which is, currently, that the argument that the world is 4.5 billion years old is far more empirically demonstrated than the argument that the world is only 6,000 years old. In fact, Ham adopts this privileged position, and it is mostly based on the dogma that God exists and is to be worshiped. There is next to no empirical evidence that the world is only 6000 years ago, while we happen to know that there are human artifacts that are much older than that- In fact, there are historical records from more than 10,000 years ago. At the very least, that crushes Ham's hypothesis.
Also: you can have logic without God, unless you assert that non-contradiction is God. But there is a kink even in that. It is absurd to think that a single object can be in two completely different places at one time, that it can be at once here and also over there, and yet, in the lab, scientists have created just such a situation. Seemingly defying the laws of logic, in fact, and yet it is the case that an object can be in two completely different places at the same exact instant. Just because science is based on assumptions of logic doesn't mean there is a God which is in control of anything.
On Nye- Pro- Nye had the null on his side. Arguing the negative has this advantage. It is far easier for him to make the point that the wide scientific community generally accepts a certain theory and the affirmative has yet to make a more compelling argument that the status quo theory is not the correct one, but that we should accept a radically different understanding of the history of the planet. In protecting the negative, as it turned out, he didn't even need to show up. The affirmative attempted to fiat their case, and as a result, helped Nye score a win.
Further more, his explication on the meaning of evolution I found to be very impressive. "Survival of the fittest" does not mean what the social darwinists used it for: it is not survival and dominant of the best, but simply the right organism for the time, place, and climate. For example, there is a reason why alligators inhabit swamps, but there are no metropolises built there: It is because Alligators have adapted better for the swamp environment. It doesn't mean that alligators are smarter than humans in the swamp. It merely means that they are better suited for that environment. Humans, on the other hand have developed the ability to adapt the environment to us, but, as Nye correctly stated, something many many times smaller than us, the influenza virus, killed dozens of millions of us in 1919. A different disease may eventually be more successful. Understanding evolution in this way has really opened up a different take on it than I had before.
Finally, extra points for addressing the selectiveness of the adoption of Parts of the Bible. While we should take Ham at his word, that he only takes the parts which describe the "history" on face value while dismissing God's laws as laws for other countries which he is not bound to follow, we should not assume that all people who claim that the Bible is literally the Truth-- the word of God from God-- believe in this sort of selective picking and choosing. This is a problem- you simply cannot pick and choose which of God's words to follow, unless you are prepared to acknowledge your own interest in doing so, which is to promote your own ideology over others'...
Con- Nye was unable to respond to the very damning charge that "science" as merely a set of assumptions made by motivated individuals was actually a religion in disguise of an assertion of truth. In fact, Ham's case was made on this point very well. We can think what we like about history and evolution. The fact is, we do actually only observe the past indirectly, unless we are actually looking at the past when we are required to wait a moment for light bouncing off an object to reach our eye, or looking up into the sky to see stars which may have actually died out thousands of years ago, because their ancient light is only just now arriving at Earth. When we try to measure the distance between then and now, we do run into problems. On earth, there is a relatively wide variation on carbon dating, for example. There are cases when carbon dating simply does not work- for example, when the radioactivity of the carbon isotope has completely changed the form of the atom, and in this case, we need to use a different technique, which has its own set of issues. At the end of the day, we have to go in with the best evidence we have, which is a LONG way, often from the actual truth of the matter (for example, how do we know that dinosaurs were green and scaly? We don't, and there is no way we can, but we guess based on the information we have.)
And yet, scientists take this matter as a form of capital "T" truth, when in fact it is merely observation which happens to conform to a very specific set of assumptions, control being the main one. As the philosopher hinted, just because I run into the wall 100 times out of the 100 times I try it, that doesn't mean that there is a zero probability that I will ever pass through it and appear on the other side. We can be relatively sure, but we can never actually know, especially when the methods we use are based on the assumption that most things are ultimately knowable, and then theories are formed based on that set of assumptions, regardless of whether or not those theories have any connection whatsoever to the actual Truth.
On balance, Nye won that debate because Ken Ham failed to provide a more compelling theory. We can assume that both men were arguing from an ideological predisposition, and that I am scoring it on the same ideological predisposition, but then again, the first rule of wing-walking is in effect here: You don't abandon one theory without another, more compelling one to adopt. Otherwise, you simply step off the wing into nothing but thin air, and then the theory of gravity wins.