Watch the debate above.
Scientist Bill Nye, whom many millennials will know well as Bill Nye the Science Guy, will debate a leading voice for creationism, Ken Ham, on Tuesday, February 4, 2014. The debate will take place at Ham’s Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky and will be streamed online.
As someone who grew up watching Bill Nye, and arguably learned more about science from his show than in the public school system, I must confess my knee jerk reaction was excitement at the idea. It would be great to see Nye own a debate on whether or not creation is a viable model of origins. Science can give a short answer to this question: no, it isn’t.
However, the more I thought about it, the more I began to think that such an idea is not good for someone respected in the scientific community. Two individuals sharing a debate stage implies that the ideas presented on that stage are equal. For a scientist to debate a creationist says that he or she lends some measure of credibility to the creationist.
For any scientist, there is no debate on the matter. Empirical evidence is on the side of the scientific theory of origins and evolution and there is absolutely no evidence that gives empirical credibility to creationism. So, as Dr. Greg Laden asked: why debate?
Bill Nye is not an expert in evolution, but more than that: he has no experience in debating. Anyone familiar with the art of debating knows that it is not solely about presenting the facts (just watch any presidential debate). It is not even about being right. It is about entering into the minds of the audience the suggestion that your debate opponent is wrong on something — anything — because if they are wrong, you are right.
Take this scene from the movie, Thank You For Smoking, which offers a simple, yet fantastic example which explains the art of debating perfectly:
Nick Naylor: Let’s say that you’re defending chocolate, and I’m defending vanilla. Now if I were to say to you: ‘Vanilla is the best flavor of ice cream’, you’d say…
Joey Naylor: No, chocolate is.
Nick Naylor: Exactly, but you can’t win that argument… so, I’ll ask you: so you think chocolate is the end all be all of ice cream, do you?
Joey Naylor: It’s the best ice cream, I wouldn’t order any other.
Nick Naylor: Oh! So it’s all chocolate for you is it?
Joey Naylor: Yes, chocolate is all I need.
Nick Naylor: Well, I need more than chocolate, and for that matter I need more than vanilla. I believe that we need freedom and choice when it comes to our ice cream, and that Joey Naylor, that is the definition of liberty.
Joey Naylor: But that’s not what we’re talking about
Nick Naylor: Ah! But that’s what I’m talking about.
Joey Naylor: …but you didn’t prove that vanilla was the best…
Nick Naylor: I didn’t have to. I proved that you’re wrong, and if you’re wrong, I’m right.
Joey Naylor: But you still didn’t convince me.
Nick Naylor: I’m not after you. I’m after them. (points to crowd)
The question the two men will debate: “Is creation a viable model of origins?” But, Ham may not focus on this point. He believes that young people are rejecting the Bible because of the theory of evolution, so all he has to do is talk about how the Bible should not be dismissed so easily and nothing else.
It is not about proving creationism is a viable model of origins — even if that is what Bill Nye wants to hear. For Ham, It is not about Bill Nye; it is about the people watching.
According to the biographical page on his website, Nye’s mission is “to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work.” While it is an admirable goal, this debate will not do anything to further his mission.
According to Pew, a growing number of Americans are accepting evolution — 60 percent, in fact. The 33 percent who believe humans and all living creatures have existed in present form since the dawn of time are not going to be swayed by anything Nye or any other person has to say about the scientific evidence of evolution. Society is moving in the right direction, but like with any social issue, no one is going to accelerate further shift in public opinion. It just has to play out as our knowledge and understanding of the world around us grows.