The Rhetoric Guy Live Blogs Bill Nye vs Ken Ham

Hey Readers!


[Stay tuned for a wrap up!]

A good friend of mine suggested that I put a little of my rhetoric muscle to use live blogging the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham in just a few hours.

Before I get started, you should know that I am a full time novelist with a degree in Rhetoric and Writing from the University of Texas at Austin.  I studied critical thinking, public argumentation, and persuasion during my time there, and I will be using those techniques here to comment on the debate as it happens, with a post-debate wrap-up to follow.  Let’s start by looking at their opening salvos though.

Let’s begin with Bill Nye, who threw the first punch, arguably, with his video entitled “Creationism is Not Appropriate for Children” which you can see here:

Rhetoric Score:  89%

Why It Works:  Bill Nye keeps the dialogue largely centered around himself and his own experiences.  He presents his own beliefs, and the reasons he believes it is important to educate young thinkers to his way of thinking.  He argues that it opens up certain understandings and advocates for moving forward from these understandings.

Why It Doesn’t Work:  Nye does not do an adequate job of characterizing his opposition.  He doesn’t address their position, and while you might argue that since he wasn’t intending debate but expression of position he was alleviated of the persuasional burden, I would judge that the original video was presented, from the title onward, as an attack on creationism, rather than a support of evolution education.  That means that in order to be persuasive, Nye needed to spend time really ethically demonstrating that he understands and can address the concerns raised by creationists.

And now for Ken Ham and co.

Rhetoric Score:  47%

Why It Works:  Ken Ham raises some interesting points.  He demonstrates a strange understanding of Bill Nye, but at least he makes an attempt at ethical characterization of the opposition.  He uses specific examples from Nye’s video and from Nye’s body of work to raise concerns about what Nye states, and he creates a useful distinction between historical science and observational science which surprises me in that it permits Nye to retain a modicum of respect (he knows this other KIND of science) without necessarily resorting to calling him a quack or an idiot.

Why It Doesn’t Work:  The largest problem arises in the “so what” phase of the arguments presented here.  I think there are some good points raised about History versus Observation, however the conclusions DRAWN from these concerns (IE that because there are problems with Evolution, Creationism deserves equal time) are not very sound.  But because the concerns sound reasonable, the proposed solution does as well.  However, by this same logic, ANY theory could be taught in the classroom so long as evidence against the prevailing theory were sound enough.  What I’m saying is they don’t make an effective argument for why Creationism is the SOLUTION to their raised concerns.  They just point out “here is a problem with Evolution, so Creationism should be taught side by side”.  Also, they do not address the fact that Bill Nye is not making an argument that information about Creationism should be limited, but rather that is should not be taught alongside Science in the CLASSROOM.  At no point does Nye state that he wants Creationism banned.  He simply states that he wants to see science classrooms focused on science and the theory of evolution is a huge underpinning of science.

I could go on with problems with the reasoning of Ham, but I think the major rhetorically objectionable points have been made.  Stay tuned for my live blog, which will begin at 7:00 PM EST.

Link to the debate to watch it:

9:28 PM:  Awwww Nye!  Quoting Sagan…”We are a way for the Universe to know itself”  fitting way to end things.

9:27 PM:  Koran, Mahabarrata, many Native American myths, almost all Pagan traditions, Buddhist texts, Shinto…I could go on.  ANY RELIGION EVER lists those things Mr. Ham.  Night day, creation, etc.

9:26 PM:  What is the one thing you base your belief?  Ham: Bible.  Nye: Evidence.  Am I right??

9:23 PM:  Nye!  Nice little global warming touch off.  Humans are not getting smarter.  No evidence of that.  Indeed.

9:22 PM:  So much wrong with the answer on principles of creationism that I can’t even keep up live blogging.  Will address in the wrap-up.  Oh Hammy…  Once again, he is making the fundamental argument that because many people believe in creationism it is valid, but then he doesn’t apply the same logic to evolution…which ALSO has many people believe it…

9:19 PM:  Actually not a bad point Mr. Ham…I mean rhetorically speaking.

9:18 PM:  That was an interesting answer to the question Mr. Nye.  Not sure I totally grasped it.

9:16 PM:  The problem isn’t that an Intelligent Design might or might not have happened, the problem is that nothing suggests HAM’S God is that Designer.

9:15 PM:  Nice opening Mr. Nye, talking about cherry-picking.  Call out the cherry picker!  OH!  And we drew it back around to the real question at hand…

9:14 PM:  Whoa…wait a second…are you making an argument that God’s law in Israel was NOT divine but contextual?  That’s a dangerous road for a theologian biblically…

9:13 PM:  Mr. Ham, literally has a specific definition.  So your answer is no, you don’t take it literally.  You take it NATURALLY.  End of question.

9:09 PM:  I am really enjoying watching Nye try to redirect Ham.  He is getting less and less gentle.

9:08 PM:  Is there room for God in science?  Hmm…Nye is kind of dancing around this question now.  I think he doesn’t want to disrespect the people here.  Oh wait, on the end there he brought it back around…

9:07 PM:  Of course really, Nye is not here to change or defeat Ham, he is here so that all those creationist raised kids whose parents make them watch this debate get good data poured into them, for at least one night.  He is like Jesus going into Hell to preach to the sinners…He’s descending into science hell to set the captive minds free!  (I may be getting dramatic here…)

9:06 PM:  Mr. Ham we’ve come around with the question again “What would make you change your mind?”  to which his answer is always, “Can’t be done” which means he is fundamentally engaging in bad faith argumentation.

9:05 PM:  Mr. Ham, the problem is that you make assumptions that because something has not been discovered YET it cannot be discovered, which is a [find name of fallacy]

9:04 PM:  Nye!  Why are you answering what the second law of thermodynamics is?  Aren’t these people supposed to be informed scientists??  You got jipped on time!

9:02 PM:  Ha!  Nye just referenced “we” on “the outside” again.  Love it.

9:01 PM:  Ham just said “infact very technical papers”.  He might as well say “sciency”

9:00 PM:  Wow…listen to him just list off people, rather than an answer.  Question about continental drift.

8:58 PM:  Watch Ken Ham, in his rebuttal, also not point out how creationism is sufficient, but how evolution still has issues with it.

8:56 PM:  What evidence outside of radiometrics supports age of Earth theory?  It’s interesting to note that creationists seems to relate “data” from science as correlative to “biblical” evidence.  Which is a problem that is not reconcilable in this format.

8:55 PM:  Lol Bill Nye.  All I would need is evidence.  ha

8:52 PM:  What if anything would ever change your mind?  THAT is a critical question, and one that is important to answer for yourself BEFORE a debate.  I like how Mr. Ham is NOT answering that question, because the truth is that he isn’t open to changing his opinion, not through argument at least.  I like how he encourages to approach religion with confirmation bias…

8:50 PM:  I like how Nye turns these questions back to Kentucky and says, “That’s a great question!  You could raise a student that answers it!”  The idea that you look out and are not satisfied with just “because the Bible says so”

8:49 PM:  It’s hard when I agree with him so much to poke holes in Nye.  I’ll have to spend some time thinking about whether he is as ethical as he sounds…

8:48 PM:  Watch him dance!  Trying to dance around the question of what evidence BESIDES the Bible.  He only tries to state that evolution is as likely to be wrong as the bible.  Lolz.

8:47 PM:  Do we not remember a time when evolution was NOT the majority Mr. Ham?  Don’t you remember the intellectual tyranny of the Christian church?  Or of ANY religion really?  Are you really just making a reverse persecution argument?

8:45 PM:  Mr. Ham…why is is the only thing that makes sense?  The same problem with atoms before the big bang is PRESENT in the concept of God.  What was before God?  And if you can just accept that there is “a beginning” then why can’t you accept that a big bang is just “a beginning” as well?  You’re not logically consistent.

8:44 PM:  How do you explain the atoms before the big bang?  He starts out being a little “faith like” but I think again he points out that science is comfortable with uncertainty where religion is NOT

8:41 PM:  Excellent rebuttal Mr. Nye.

8:40 PM:  It’s a lovely story Ham is telling but…completely irrelevant.

8:39 PM:  Why does the Universe expand?  The interesting thing here is that he sounds reasonable when he says “yes, it doesn’t contradict” but it isn’t about NOT CONTRADICTING, it is about whether the viewpoint is useful for exploring FURTHER

8:38 PM:  Did the moderator just READ the audience?  The SHADE of it all!

8:37 PM:  This is an important point here, that Nye is OPEN to evolution being incorrect, and is merely asking for objective data.

8:36 PM:  Yes Mr. Nye…even if you postulate a GOD why HAM’S GOD?

8:35 PM: Bringing him back around to the same question, very effectively.  I am dubious as to whether Ham will respond…

8:34 PM:  Actually, I would say he isn’t saying Noah had super powers, but that God inspired him.  Sorry…but that is not a fight you’ll win there.  But maybe you aren’t talking to him but the viewers I suppose, as both of you are.

8:33 PM:  Oh…Mr. Nye agrees with me, lol

8:32 PM:  There are a lot of points of data here.  But the fundamental question was not addressed

8:30 PM:  Bear teeth.  You’re wrong.  A lion’s teeth are nothing like a bear’s.  A bear has…oh go google it!

8:29 PM:  Mr. Ham…keeps talking about people agreeing with him…but then has no data?  WHY do they agree?  What basis of fact do they base their opinions on?

8:28 PM:  Actually, no, in a model that postulates all things can happen given the correct conditions could completely explain how logical laws came about.  Just because an explanation DOES make sense doesn’t make it true.  And if it did, you just made the argument for EVOLUTION

8:27 PM:  This is a serious question I hope Ham will actually address. Which is why we should take “your word” for it, Mr. Ham?

8:26 PM:  I think that Nye is making pretty much an excellent point which is “we aren’t really having a conversation here” more or less.

8:25 PM:  The Speed Of Light!  Awesome Nye smackdown here…I feel like he should have done an experiment on stage.

8:21 PM:  Technical difficulties.

8:20 PM:  I would like to see the Creationists make a good faith effort to show how these beliefs are sufficient

8:19 PM:  Mr. Ham is pointing out that there are insufficiences in evolution (the dating method bit), not pointing out how creationism is sufficient.  I feel like I could just copy paste this.

8:17 PM:  Mr. Ham seems incapable of addressing direct questions posed to him.

8:15 PM:  Great job Mr. Nye

8:15 PM:  I don’t think that the question “How did this happen” is an effective question here Mr. Nye, because they postulate an omnipotent force that directly intercedes and changes things based on no laws but rather Its will alone.

8:14 PM:  Ouch.  No nuclear medicine program?  I guess this is why Nye is here.  He may just want to get creationists interested in modernizing.

8:13 PM:  I love how passionate Nye gets.

8:11 PM:  Off topic a little, the background sound, but a good piece of evidence for why “regular science” is good stuff.

8:09 PM:  I love how he has the same hand gesture for “the outside” everytime.  Probably not effective for his audience, but accurate in talking about bringing them out of what is essentially a cult.

8:07 PM:  He sure uses a lot of personal stories.

8:07 PM:  LOL!  I wish they would show how uncomfortable the crowd is with such a nice guy as Bill Nye talking so reasonably about fish sex.  This is totally Nye trolling them…love IT!

8:06 PM:  Are you about to make a marriage counterpoint?!  Please say yes.

8:05 PM:  Aha…Ken Ham Creation Model.  Again, a good way of moving away from the idea the CREATIONISM is insufficient and more that BIBLICAL creationism has been SHOWN to be insufficient.

8:04 PM:  Nye’s presentation is full of data anecdotes.  Highly effective given the question.

8:02 PM:  Nice definition of science’s goals rather than what science is.  Indicative of Nye’s belief that science is a tool not a religion.

7:59 PM:  Now…this is a place where Nye could use a little audience consideration.  If your audience is creationists you have to realize they accept the interference of DIVINE powers.  Your argument about what happened in their stories not being logical is pretty ineffective because they will simply say “God provided”  So…that’s wasted time…and you are straying from the point.  Back on track please!

7:58 PM:  Wow…the audience is VERY hostile towards Nye

7:56 PM:  Numbers are effective ethos too Mr. Ham…your presentation could have used some…

7:55 PM:  Once more…watch how he is so on topic…I’m pretty impressed.

7:51 PM:  Again, notice how he is directly addressing the premises raised by the creationists?  Not trying to redefine what a creationist is

7:49 PM:  Notice how Nye is actually using evidence to point out how BIBLICAL creationism is insufficient as a model of science education and for teaching young people to think about the observable world.  As he said, this is just two stories.  Neither one likely accurate.  The question is which one empowers further inquiry the best.

7:48 PM:  Is it wrong that just him talking makes me click over to little kid “teach me Science Guy!” mode?

7:47 PM:  Let’s do go back to the actual question Bill…please?

7:46  PM:  Seriously…this moderator is…funny??

7:45 PM:  Here Ham is making an argument that what…creationism is viable because adhering to biblical principles makes the world a better place?  At least that is an ATTEMPT at addressing the real question.  Bad attempt.

7:44 PM:  Again, the idea that science is religious does not address whether creationism is a useful model for teaching science.

7:42 PM:  I agree, creationist can be academics, however just because a creationist is an academic does NOT mean that you get to state that academics are religious LIKE creationists

7:41 PM:  And NOW we’ve entered the evangelism phase.  This is also…completely off topic.  Isn’t there a moderator?  Shouldn’t he be redirecting??

7:40 PM:  Marriage debate?!  Are you seriously going to MARRIAGE debate??

7:38 PM:  Challenge to admit belief as an underpinning of science?  The question is NOT whether evolution is sufficient.  The question is whether creation is sufficient.  The SCIENTIST is asking you to show him how creation is sufficient.  He isn’t denying that evolution may be insufficient or incorrect.  He is simply pointing out that it predicts MORE than creationism accurately.

7:37 PM:  OHHH!  Historical and Observational are an intellectual mechanism for assuaging cognitive dissonance.

7:36 PM:  I wonder if Bill Nye is wearing a retainer so he doesn’t grind his molars to a pulp…

7:34 PM:  Defining the terms isn’t even a GOOD delay tactic.  Blurgh.

7:33 PM:  So yea, Darwin’s ideas started out a little racist, but HELLO?  People use the Bible WAY more to justify racism than they do science.  Science grew OUT of it’s racist phase…remember that part?  Where the theory, because it isn’t a religion, EVOLVES and changes and betters itself??

7:32 PM:  These little ethos boosts are an interesting tactic.  The talking heads don’t contribute meaningfully to the debate.  They just help to add weight to whatever it is Ham says.

7:31 PM:  No…you can’t state that because they reject creation orchards that schools are teaching a science religion.  Just because you reject something as religion, and something else has similar qualities doesn’t make the other thing a religion.  That’s classically fallacious thinking [find fallacy name]

7:29 PM:  A bait and switch is inviting someone to debate how creationism is sufficient and then using that debate as a platform to set up a persecution model and to poke holes in a rival theory while trying to characterize the opposition in an unethical way.

7:28 PM:  I love how they just drew a tree above a wolf and that is entered as scientific data on their behalf…but I guess they’re using the Bible as a scientific text soo…what can ya do?

7:27 PM:  Creation Orchard?  Hahahaha….

7:26 PM: YES!  He said “I think” because science is not a belief but a series of questions.  You keep trying to make science a belief, but no scientist is arguing that way.

7:24 PM:  What?!  You can’t state that just because GOD Is not the authority MAN is the authority.  That is a false dilemma.

7:23 PM:  I’m getting tired of the “you weren’t there” stuff….

7:21 PM:  I can see your point about different between observe and your conjecture about the hows, but isn’t creationism just a different story?  You are stating there is no difference in data, so what basis do you support your creationist theory, and not just creationist BUT biblical creationism.

7:20 PM:  How well accepted is that textbook?  What state is it from?

7:19 PM:  Your question is valid.  But you are not the one asking questions.  You’re supposed to be ANSWERING them…

7:18 PM:  The culture of persecution model again does not address the question.  Bill Nye BEING here is evidence against the persecution model.  This is your chance to speak out ETHICALLY and make your points…but you are using it as a platform to set up your model of self-pity…

7:18 PM:  The astronomer guy again offered no data to support his claims.  All ethical appeals.

7:17 PM:  The MRI Guy is NOT relevant to the question.  Which is HOW IS CREATIONISM SUFFICIENT!

7:14 PM:  Again, Nye is ethically keeping his viewpoints within the realm of his own experience.  He is not trying to characterize the opposition viewpoint here.

7:13 PM:  Nice…the flood is a good point for Ham to have to respond to.  The first REAL attack on the question.

7:12 PM:  OHHHH!!!  That is SNEAKY Nye!  Sneaky indeed.  You turned it around to show the audience that really this is all THEORIES and you are not talking about a belief.  You are willing to examine evolution because it is NOT a belief…fantastic!  Of course you bow-tie bitch slapped him as your opening salvo…

7:11 PM:  Also…how does THIS story relate to the question???

7:10 PM:  Must compensate for bow-tie engendered good will predisposing me to be kind to him…..

7:09 PM:  That is an excellent CLAIM but what is your EVIDENCE for this statement that Creationism is the only viable model for explanation of origins?

7:08 PM:  Funny how you talk about word hijacking and then attempt to hijack the world religion and apply it to your opposition.

7:07 PM:  Again, how does this relate to the question?  You are talking about how Evolution is INSUFFICIENT, the question is how is Creationism SUFFICIENT…

7:06 PM:  Where is Burgess’ data?  That was a total fallacious appeal to authority!

7:05 PM:  And we’re off.  Not addressing the question, setting up a culture of persecution…took him literally 62 secons.

7:02 PM:  Has Ken Ham lost weight?  Nice.

7:01 PM:  I’ll be SHOCKED if they stick to that question.

7:00 PM:  Here we go…seriously?  Museum advertisement first???

6:56 PM:  Can’t wait for the debate


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