By Zac Losey
Last week the “debate of the decade” took place between Bill Nye (of “Science Guy” fame) and Ken Ham, founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis, a Christian apologetics and ministry organization. The topic at hand? Evolution and creationism.
Spurred by a series of online videos in which these two men passive–aggressively attacked each other’s views on the subject, the debate was built up by the media as a momentous moment in the ongoing science–religion conversation.
While Ken Ham was applauded for agreeing to the debate and his people over at Answers in Genesis have been basking in all the attention this event has given them, Bill Nye received a very substantial amount of criticism for accepting the challenge.
Many reputable science supporting organizations, and quite a few individuals, were upset with Nye because by debating the merits of evolution with a young–earth creationist, he was implying that there is actually something to debate (which there isn’t, in case you weren’t aware). He was decried by his colleagues over and over, but went through nonetheless and last Tuesday we saw the result.
The two men faced off in the heart of the beast—at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. It was immediately apparent that the crowd was hostile to Nye, but overall the debate seemed to go quite well.
While Nye was off topic at times, certainly less than concise, not always quite as compelling as we may be accustomed to, and definitely went over people’s heads with some of the science he was talking about, all of his arguments were quite clear and (more importantly) sound. He most definitely could have taken better care to hone his debate skills, but the evidence which he cited and the explanations he gave were convincing and valid.
Ham, on the other hand, baffled me completely. I had expected his usual charlatanous lunacy about “historical” versus “observational” science, but he totally gave up the game almost immediately by admitting he’s not actually defending any sound, reasonable arguments (not his choice of words, but the essence of what he said). More than preparing for an actual debate in which he would engage the gargantuan, colossal, prodigious amounts of well-established evidence for evolution, Ham appears to have simply prepared to deliver an emotionally enticing sermon.
Now, to be fair, I don’t think Nye completely stayed on topic or addressed every one of Ham’s points, but he most certainly presented evidence where it was needed. And the evidence presented was compelling. The argument was clear and logical, exactly the opposite of what we saw from Ken Ham…big surprise.
But who won? Well, that depends. On one hand, I’m inclined to agree with so many others who claim that Nye lost just by showing up — by giving these evidentially impervious kooks a forum to spread their message, and by giving credence to the idea that there is actually a debate about merits of young–earth creationism versus evolution.
However, ignoring creationists isn’t going to work either—they’re clearly not going to just disappear, and with a massive number of Americans who believe the earth is <10,000 years old (46% was the figure last time I checked, but I could very well be wrong) something must be done.
A debate type forum is almost certainly not the best forum for dissemination and explanation of scientific principles, especially ones that require at length engagement to truly comprehend such as evolution. Real, honest truth seeking is not done in debates — two entrenched opponents do battle to be as convincing as possible, regardless of what manipulation and misrepresentation must be done. While I don’t think much of that occurred on the part of Nye last Tuesday, I also think his message could have been so much more effective through a different medium. Though he did well, and engaged an astoundingly large audience, Nye did not win. He most certainly didn’t lose, but the only real winner here is Ken Ham and the Creation Museum, who quite cleverly portrayed this as an attack on Christianity and him as the brave defender of the faith.
More than anything though, I think the defining moment of the debate came during the question and answer session at the end. When asked what could possibly change their mind about the issue, Ken Ham responded that nothing could convince him the word of God is not true. Asked the same question, Bill Nye responded much more simply and admirably: evidence.
This, I think, is the key issue here. Ken Ham and many others in his trench start with assumptions from which they cannot be dissuaded — there is no arguing with someone who will never change their mind. More than anything, this is what I found repulsive. Ken Ham and AiG never intended for any truth searching to happen, nor for an honest evidence–based debate to take place; rather, they intended only to spread mindless, unreasonable dogmatism in an utterly deceitful manner.
Evolution and creationism are not equals, and there is no controversy to teach. So maybe Bill Nye shouldn’t have given creationists a forum, and maybe he should have chosen a better way to spread scientific literacy and his passion for discovery.
I don’t know what the answer is to halting the spread of this plague of ignorance, but I do appreciate someone taking up the torch and at least trying to steer people in the right direction.
Regardless of what else it did, the debate reminded me that maybe it’s time that rather than entrenching ourselves into ideologies and convictions, we could all take a leaf out of Bill’s book and start to believe things for the only good reason there is to believe in anything – evidence.