July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.
We are told that open debate is a productive, cherished, and necessary component of functioning democracies. Our steadfast devotion to the principles enshrined in the oft-referenced First Amendment ensures that in the marketplace of ideas, the best ones win the day. John Stuart Mill recognized that silencing dissenting viewpoints is an assumption of infallibility. “Judgement” wrote Mill in his treatise On Liberty, “is given to men that they may use it.” Presumably, in the age of reason, learned men such as Mill had faith in the power of rational discourse, and in the ability of reasonable men to distinguish the better argument from the worse.
“Judgment” wrote Mill in his treatise On Liberty, “is given to men that they may use it.”
But does this view elevate the significance of rational argument to unreachable heights? Is it built on a foundation that assumes a far too clinical posture regarding the conduct of debates? Does it diminish the role of the speaker’s charisma and rhetorical skill, and even more so the audience’s bias? Are men, in fact, given judgment to use it, or do they make judgements that confirm their prejudices? In short, does Mill’s line of thinking overstate the importance of reason in debate?
I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to nudge someone away from their firmly entrenched views. This is something I’ve often faced in institutional settings as a philosophy professor, as well as when engaged in private discussions with my peers in the diverse circuit of – sometimes contradictory – subcultures among which I revolve. More often than not, I find the arguments boil down to parroted views infused by the social or political climate in which one is immersed.
A more widely publicized, and arguably more interesting recent event relevant to this post is the debate that occurred between “Science Guy” Bill Nye and creationist Ken Ham to debate the question: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” You can watch the debate for yourself on YouTube. (Or below) Notably, the debate was held in the Ken Ham created “Creation Museum.”
Most observers, including The Christian Science Monitor, agree that Nye won the debate. Even televangelist Pat Robertson does not take Ken Ham’s version of “young earth” creationism, espousing the literal version of creation in the Bible, seriously.
However, there is a flip-side to that story.
Perhaps the rational arguments of Nye may have been better than those of Ken Ham. However, that may be irrelevant. The first clue to this may have been that Ken Ham’s “creation museum” was the location of the event.
Maybe it was a very effective publicity stunt. Maybe those who so eagerly jumped on the bash-the-creationist bandwagon were completely inaccurate in assessing the objectives, and therefore the success or failure of the debate. Maybe it was a financial and political success for Mr. Ham with plenty of donations, attention, and visitors to the “creation museum,” who will be provided with ample resources to confirm their beliefs not just concerning religious views, but also about science.
Perhaps Ken Ham won in ways that his detractors failed to even recognize, due to their own biases. Many of the so-called ‘open minded’ and ‘progressive thinking’ types are often simply blindly relying on sources, cloaking their dogmatism under the veil of ‘science.’ Now the ‘young earth’ creation crowd has their own brand of ‘legitimate science’ to support their own dogma.
Oh, and kids under 12 are free with an accompanying adult throughout 2014, at the Creation Museum.
Enjoy the video.
PS: Forward to 46:25 for an interesting note on Darwin’s ideas that may not be so well-accepted today.