A review of the great debate: Nye vs Ham

Last night (4th Feb 2014) a controversial debate between Ken Ham (CEO of Answers in Genesis) and Bill Nye (The Science Guy) took place at the Creation Museum in Kentucky (amazing that there is such a place…).

The subject of the debate was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?”

Before the debate even started, it had kicked up quite a storm of controversy, particularly among the atheist and scientific communities. Dan Arel, writing for the Richard Dawkins Foundation wrote a very thoughtful piece titled “Why Bill Nye shouldn’t debate Ken Ham”. He pointed out that:

Creationism is a worthless and uneducated position to hold in our modern society and Nye is about to treat it as an equal, debatable “controversy”

Jerry Coyne, Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago wrote, via his blog “Why Evolution is true” that

Nye’s appearance will be giving money to organizations who try to subvert the mission Nye has had all his life: science education, particularly of kids. And you know what? I don’t even care if Nye mops the floor with Ham. Though that would be great (especially because the DVD promises to be “uncensored”), it doesn’t justify Nye making money to further Ham’s program of lying about science

Many people were expressing similar concerns, and largely I agreed with them. There seems to me no legitimate reason to have a debate about whether creation is a viable model of origins or not – it simply isn’t. There’s no real controversy, evolution is provable, proven and irrefutable. Creationism is based on a loosely assembled collection of badly translated myths written down by people ignorant of science centuries ago that has had no utility in explaining the reality of the world we live in, nor in making predictions about it. Evolution and Creationism simply are not comparable, and by offering to participate in a ‘debate’ it inevitably legitimizes those who would like to have Creationism on an equal footing with Evolution.

Bill Nye went ahead anyway, and explained his reasons for going ahead were because he is worried about science education and that a generation of children will grow up in the US as scientifically illiterate, leading to all sorts of problems, particularly economic ones. He also felt that people in Kentucky (where the debate would take place) might be influenced by the facts presented, and realise the problems of being presented with a scientifically illogical set of beliefs.

Given that the debate went ahead, what was the result?

Fortunately, Bill Nye made a very good showing at the debate, and although there were some minor problems with what he said, I felt that he acquitted himself well. Ham, of course, simply played out his box of tricks, and ultimately just said that he believed the bible, and that nothing would change his mind.

Bill Nye, being a reasonable person, stated on a couple of occasions “I don’t know” as his answer, and when asked what might change his mind, stated “Evidence”.

This is the crux of the matter. It is why there can be no debate with Creationists. When Bill said “I don’t know” Ken swooped, and his answer was “I do know, because the Bible said…”.  This is just a dirty trick, because clearly Ken does not know, he just believes. But it was a trick he used several times, and it was a winner for his crowd. Oh, how they loved it. The stupid science guy just doesn’t know, but look, the answers are right there in the Bible!

There is no debate, because the result of debate is to decide based on the information presented, which position is reasonable. Bill Nye, from all rational, reasonable points of view “won” the debate, but his opponent(s) are not rational nor reasonable.

Ham and his supporters already knew the outcome of the debate, and it was that Ken Ham and his young earth creationism are “right”. Those supporters of Ham are right now rejoicing and basking in the fact that their new hero has been given the exposure his views “deserve”. It does’t matter that Bill had actual evidence. It doesn’t matter that all the real science was on Bill’s side. It doesn’t even matter that Ken Ham has not a single shred of credibility in the real world (in what Nye consistently referred to as “the outside”), it only matters that Ham’s platform has now been elevated to one of equal footing with Nye’s. The “controversy”, in the minds of his supporters, has been exposed. In their minds, Ken Ham won, because Ken Ham’s supporters are unable to distinguish evidence from belief.

In Nye’s defense, I think it is unlikely that many who did not already believe will have been swayed by Ken’s silly arguments, and it is also perhaps good that many in the audience were exposed to some actual science. This for me, is the only redeeming factor in this debate, that the audience, which inevitably would have been packed out with Ham’s supporters have likely NEVER been exposed to the real science that Nye presented. Perhaps one or two of them will think about what was said. Perhaps also, among those watching, there would also be many theists who were cringing at the ludicrous things Ham was saying, and they may be provoked into sharing with their friends that they don’t subscribe to his nonsense.

Most of the reporting after the fact is using headlines like “Bill Nye Defends Evolution in debate…” This is exactly what many feared. Let me state again: Evolution DOES NOT NEED DEFENDING. This stupid sort of reporting is incredibly disheartening – it is actually Ken Ham who is on the defensive. To say that there is any defense necessary for evolution would be to deny all evidence. It would be like defending the Seattle Seahawks against those who say that the Denver Broncos really won the Super Bowl.

In the end, this will probably do no lasting damage, but at some point, we need to stop pretending that evolution or science needs defense, and the first step is to simply ignore the ignorant. Do you think Bill Nye would have agreed to debate with people who think the pyramids were built by aliens, or that crystals can heal cancer? Of course not, as they are ignored for the cranks they are. Ken Ham and his ilk are no different, they are either truly delusional or they are deliberate liars who are fleecing the gullible. Given that the DVDs of this debate are already being sold (I wonder if they will really be uncensored) on the Answers in Genesis site, I think we can all figure out the answer.

If you haven’t seen the debate, you can watch it here on YouTube: Bill Nye debates Ken Ham – and you can draw your own conclusions.