Bill Nye Debating Creationist a Mistake, Scientists Say

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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)

,” Dr. Laden said.

As insane as that sounds, it’s true, because Ham could make the debate about anything.

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.

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  1. BrandtHardin The further past the Bible Belt you go, the worse it gets.  Tennessee has actually passed Monkey Law legislation allowing Creationism to rear its holier-than-thou head in the classroom once again.  Just as this debate proved, an open forum for argument of religious vs. science falls on deaf ears for those blinded by their faith.  Read about how the pulpit has been opened in our schools at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/04/pulpit-in-classroom-biblical-agenda-in.html
  2. Paul S Unbelievable that we even find this interesting.   Not even intelligent design, they go for the full justo of the 6,000 year theory?  Seriously. I am a spiritual person by the way.   The religiousity of Hamm is what some of us might call human arrogance.   When you become solely dependent on a written text, you are assuming that human beings can fully understand God.   The conundrum is that biblical text tells you this time and again.   But it seems Ham and other require certainty over mystery when it comes to their spiritual life.   That is fine for the indvidual, but when that kind of mythology becomes engrained in the public conscience, it can do some very real damage.
  3. RickR2 I think your fears were well founded. Whether you enjoy going to church or laughing at those who do, it was clear that Bill had trouble staying on point and articulating his ideas. I am a Christian and found myself consistently telling my children that there are others that could have served his view better. I also thought that the structure of the debate interfered with their exchanges.
  4. RichNorman 1. Science is not swayed by how old you are, which religion you practice, or who is in power.  Gravity still sucks. :) 2. Given that those who follow Christianity still tend to divorce, eat shrimp, and shun those who throw stones at non-virgin women, possibly even marry those very women, all against the teachings of their bible, it is not surprising that they drive cars to work, use microwave ovens, and yes, even use computers, all the while shunning the very discipline needed to create such things. Look on the bright side: Science professions pay quite well. Let those who don't believe in science and the scientific method continue to stay home while we compete for the jobs. I appreciate it :)
  5. WrightDumark IVNetwork TheScienceGuy No one wins debate. We are free to think and believe what we want. Why do we have to choose one or the other?
  6. RichNorman Alex_G He might have a better chance convincing him of science :)
  7. JoshuaAlvarez I understand the point about implicitly portraying creationism as an equivalent "alternative" to evolution. I am also a bit nervous about how Nye will hold up in a debate, something he does not know how to do. At the same time, I think it's good for people, especially young people (who are the most educated generation in American history), to hear the creationism argument because its silliness becomes especially obvious when you hear it from creationists themselves. Still, there are plenty of good debates of this nature on YouTube. Just search Christopher Hitchens.
  8. NPeck the only thing I know about science is that nothing is ABSOLUTE. that's it's never 100% but some 99.99999 on things.  science has changed to much to be accurate.
  9. Alex_G If bananas are so intelligently designed, why didnt Nye just debate a banana?
  10. Ulises_Jofre Some fossilized questions for a transitional and healhty debate, for instance: is there evolution if there is no time? How will evolutionary biology meet new physical paradigms about time, space and so on? Will new conceptual changes deny evolution? Or on the contrary, will it become a more extraordinary process, full of astonishing implications? If so, will past human beings and the rest of living beings become something different as science progresses? After all, is life something fix-finite-defined? That is, can one understand it by means of using a flesh brain and its limited words, axioms and dogmas? Does the whole of life fit inside a bone box? Indeed, will science add indefinitely without understanding completely, is there an infinite pool of knowledge and ignorance waiting for us? Otherwise, will religions use the word God forever and ever, as if it were a death thing, a repetitive thing that is part of human discussions? And, in order to speak about God, are they using his limited brain or do they use unknown instruments? Along these lines, there is a different book, a preview in http://goo.gl/rfVqw6 Just another suggestion in order to freethink for an skeptical  while
8 comments
Paul S
Paul S

Unbelievable that we even find this interesting.   Not even intelligent design, they go for the full justo of the 6,000 year theory?  Seriously.


I am a spiritual person by the way.   The religiousity of Hamm is what some of us might call human arrogance.   When you become solely dependent on a written text, you are assuming that human beings can fully understand God.   The conundrum is that biblical text tells you this time and again.   But it seems Ham and other require certainty over mystery when it comes to their spiritual life.   That is fine for the indvidual, but when that kind of mythology becomes engrained in the public conscience, it can do some very real damage.





RickR2
RickR2

I think your fears were well founded. Whether you enjoy going to church or laughing at those who do, it was clear that Bill had trouble staying on point and articulating his ideas. I am a Christian and found myself consistently telling my children that there are others that could have served his view better. I also thought that the structure of the debate interfered with their exchanges.

RichNorman
RichNorman

1. Science is not swayed by how old you are, which religion you practice, or who is in power.  Gravity still sucks. :)

2. Given that those who follow Christianity still tend to divorce, eat shrimp, and shun those who throw stones at non-virgin women, possibly even marry those very women, all against the teachings of their bible, it is not surprising that they drive cars to work, use microwave ovens, and yes, even use computers, all the while shunning the very discipline needed to create such things.


Look on the bright side: Science professions pay quite well. Let those who don't believe in science and the scientific method continue to stay home while we compete for those jobs. I appreciate it :)

JoshuaAlvarez
JoshuaAlvarez

I understand the point about implicitly portraying creationism as an equivalent "alternative" to evolution. I am also a bit nervous about how Nye will hold up in a debate, something he does not know how to do. At the same time, I think it's good for people, especially young people (who are the most educated generation in American history), to hear the creationism argument because its silliness becomes especially obvious when you hear it from creationists themselves. Still, there are plenty of good debates of this nature on YouTube. Just search Christopher Hitchens.

NPeck
NPeck

the only thing I know about science is that nothing is ABSOLUTE. that's it's never 100% but some 99.99999 on things. 

science has changed to much to be accurate.

Alex_G
Alex_G moderator

If bananas are so intelligently designed, why didnt Nye just debate a banana?