Monday Night Muddle: Krauss vs Ham on O’Reilly

29 05 2007

As PZ noted yesterday, Lawrence Krauss and Ken Ham both appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show last night and the YouTube video is now up (and PZ’s take on the subject appeared online just as I started typing this post, along with a transcript and some comments by Jason Rosenhouse). In case you haven’t seen it as yet, here it is;

Ham opens up with a classic bit of Gish gallop, all of the false claims he sputters out (especially about the creation museum being “mainstream science”) requiring more time to refute than is given to Krauss. Krauss doesn’t do a bad job overall, but (being the O’Reilly Show and all) the debate seemed more about religion than responsible science, and I think Krauss’ statements on the intersection of faith and science could have been better. I know it’s a hot topic (do we really need another round of calling people militant atheists or appeasers?), but for my own part I don’t have a problem with concessions like God started off the universe, knowing man would be created and intervened at a later point; as Krauss rightly notes that’s a religious notion and not science.

What irked me about Krauss’ response was his use of the term “purpose”, which immediately conjured up (at least in my mind) the phrase “purposeful arrangement of parts” and other ID catchphrases. I know this isn’t what he meant at all, but he needed more time than was given to explain (you can’t tackle an issue like this in sound bites). I’m not saying that everything else said by Krauss was therefore worthless, but when I hear the term “purpose” show up during these debates I do cringe, as it seems to make some room for intelligent design. Of course, I can’t guarantee that I would have done any better, and although I was not at the rally from what I’ve seen Krauss has done a wonderful job organizing people in response to the house that Ham built. It’s easy to be critical on my own blog without remembering the good, so I don’t want to primarily come across as a crank or malcontent.

In any event, it was a rather crappy interview. It was good to see the conservative newscaster side more with Krauss than Ham, but by the same token he was more concerned with Krauss’ allowance for God than with good science. In that way it reminded me of many debates about “science” on television that were really about religion, being able to drive gas-guzzling cars, etc., so it seems that unless science seems to be running in conflict with certain beliefs or market practices, many people just don’t care. Even so, that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, and I am thankful that there are people who are willing to confront creationists in the media even though the odds are stacked against them.



4 responses

29 05 2007
Cory Tucholski

Yeah, that sucked. I think that they both did as good of a job as they could, but it’s impossible to answer O’Reilly’s questions in the time that was being alloted. Entire books have been devoted to answering why creationists believe in a 6,000 year old universe, and entire books have been devoted to why mainstream science believes in a 14 billion year old universe. He gives them less than a minute to explain those positions? Please.

I did appreciate Dr. Krauss’s response to O’Reilly asking weather God placing a spark into humans at some point during the creation process to set them apart was possible. Dr. Krauss said that wasn’t a scientific question, which is very true.

29 05 2007

[…] Monday Night Muddle: Krauss vs Ham on O’Reilly […]

29 05 2007

Thanks for the comment Cory. I have no problem with the idea that God was the “1st Cause” or “Spark” that started off creation at all, but I did find it interesting that the host was looking for this concession from Krauss more than he cared about actual science. I think Krauss did as well as he could given the circumstances given the question, and I agree that it isn’t a scientific question, but I think it would have been nicer to hear from the guests more than have the host railroad over them.

Sometimes I wonder whether scientists should even bother going on such shows; we need to exposure and the ability to tell people about science, but today’s media (where a sound-bite can make or break you) isn’t very conducive to explaining complicated topics.

29 05 2007
Lawrence M. Krauss

thanks.. I don’t disagree with a number of your concerns…. the segment was supposed to be 7-10 minutes, which itself was short, but was the reason I had agreed to do it.. thought that might give me 3.5 min to actually talk a little about the science….then it got cut by almost a factor of 2 when we actually taped it.. and(a) he departed from things we had agreed to talk about and (b) announced after 4.5 min that time was up.. wasn’t very satisfying..

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