Creationism · Science

The Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye Debate

I watched the debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham, director of Answers in Genesis, the outfit that runs the creation museum in Kentucky.

When I heard that Nye had agreed to the debate, I thought it was a bad idea, for all the usual reasons, and in particular that it would give creationism too much credibility: if you put Neil DeGrasse Tyson on stage with someone who thinks we can travel to mars by growing pixie wings, the latter has a lot more to gain than the former. Pixie-wing-guy gets to brag that he discussed issues with a prominent scientist, whereas Tyson has to admit that he wasn’t allowed to laugh pixiw-wing man out of the room.

And so it was last night. A man who basically believes that, as Robin Ince put it, “Magic Man done it!” got to share a stage with a man who has mountains of real-world evidence behind his assertions.

Having said that, it didn’t turn out as badly as I feared. Not so much because Nye did well, though for the most part he did. Rather, because Ken Ham did a pretty good job of explaining what young-earth creationism is: it has nothing to do with evidence (he said in the Q&A that there was nothing that could change his mind) and everything to do with believing a particular interpretation of the Bible.

It’s traditional to say that no one’s mind is ever changed by such debates, but that’s not always the case. I don’t know how many people were on the fence last night. But if any of them didn’t know what creationism was before, they do now. As stealth-creationist Casey Luskin puts it:

People will walk away from this debate thinking, “Ken Ham has the Bible, Bill Nye has scientific evidence.”

I haven’t done an extensive search, but the consensus seems to be that Nye won the evening. Yes, that’s what you’d expect from sites like Pharyngula or Friendly Atheist or Daily Kos, but Uncommon Descent, Evolution News & Views seem to agree as well. Charisma News doesn’t have any comments, gloating or otherwise. The Blaze’s comments seem about evenly split between “Ham won” and “Nye won”; given its readership, I would’ve expected it to tilt much farther toward Ham’s side.

I’m also surprised at how big a deal this was. I’ve seen plenty of these sorts of debates over the years, but typically they don’t interest anyone except the sorts of wonks who actually follow this stuff. But this one was streamed live on CNN, and covered in the Washington Post and on NPR. So it’s possible that a lot of people who haven’t thought much about creationism have now been introduced to it, and hopefully shown that it’s not science, not even close.

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