OK, so I blogged about it in detail yesterday and truly thought I was done, but no, an article has appeared in the Guardian that provokes me to return once again to the topic – “Bill Nye v Ken Ham: should scientists bother to debate creationism?“.
The argument is one that I do have a lot of sympathy for …
The public debate between Bill Nye and the president of a US creationist museum gives creationism a scientific legitimacy that it isn’t entitled to
So when some famous creationist apologist challenges … for example … Richard Dawkins to debate, Richard will very wisely refuse. Why? Well because several things happen
- It creates the illusion that there is an actual challenge here, a question that needs to be addressed, when in fact there is not. On one side you have evidence based science, and on the other you have … well to be frank … complete and utter bullshit and not one single jot of evidence.
- In other words, it lends an air of credibility to the non-viable and rather silly creationist claim
… and so some voices are being raised to suggest that Bill Nye should not have debated Ken Ham at all. This is the precise argument the Guardian article makes …
By standing on a stage alongside Nye, Ham appears to have a legitimate and equally opposing viewpoint to him, suggesting that evolution is somehow controversial and poorly evidenced. This could not be further from the truth. Understanding evolutionary theory does not require an act of faith, it only requires an objective assessment of the available evidence. And the available evidence consistently points to life evolving by means of natural selection.
While in general I do agree, the idea of scientists debating creationists is a bad idea … but … Nye vs Ham was different, very different and in this specific instance I am wholly convinced that it was a very good decision by Mr Nye to do it.
- Bill Nye is a highly experienced science communicator, and has decades of experience.
- He is immensely popular – so much so that over half a million people watched the live feed, so he was not simply reaching out to a few kooks in a room who had made up their minds before he even arrived, he was reaching out to a vast audience, many of whom have perhaps not been previously exposed to a direct challenge because they live too deep inside the belief bubble.
- He won – despite the usual creationist gish gallop and well worn arguments, Nye soared above all that and left Mr ham totally flustered and looking quite stressed by the time they came to rebuttals and counter-rebuttals.
OK, I’m totally biased here and I need to consider the distinct possibility that I’m not impartial when it comes to forming an opinion on who actually won, so here is a less biased and more independent source that verifies that he really did win by a landslide. Christian Today ran a poll and asked their readers who won, and this is how it played out …
Remember now, their readers are mostly the folks that believe, and the vast majority of them went with Bill, so he not only won the debate, but his enthusiasm and passion was contagious, he also won their hearts.
While he did indeed pull no punches, and was brutally frank …
… he did so with style and passion, and so did not alienate the audience.
My favourite quote: In response to Ken Ham asserting that all sickness was caused by the fall, Bill noted that fish get sick, then quipped, “are the fish sinners, have they done something wrong?”.
So why was this such a success?
Because Bill focused on what mattered and did not turn it into a belief vs non-belief debate, but instead got a very important point across when he noted that millions of Christians, and other people of faith, do not agree with Ham, do not deny evolution, and do not see evolution as somehow opposed to God, he was able to connect. With this thought hanging in the air, the deployment of his clear and distinct style to totally demolish Ken’s argument was perceived to be an attack on a rather embarrassing bad idea, and was not seen as an attack against their core belief. It gave the vast majority a way to side with Bill and potentially reject the bad idea of “young earth creationism” without also having to abandon their emotional investment in the core religious belief itself.
He won, not just in the strict sense of being right, but rather he won many hearts and minds.
Now that’s why this was the exception, and why doing this really was a very good idea.
Oh and if you are still seriously pondering the thought that Ken just might be on the something, then consider this last thought …