Field of Science

Bill Nye Won the Debate and Why I Think It Matters.

Not actually Ken Ham
There are 2 rules most people know:
1. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
2. Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.
I would like to promote a third that is less commonly known:
3. Never debate a creationist*
*unless you're Bill Nye, the science guy.
First, I will up front state that I was not a proponent of Bill Nye agreeing to debate Ken Ham at the Creation Museum on a topic related to evolution and creationism. In fact, if another debate were planned, I am still against Bill Nye participating. I saw and foresee nothing good coming from said debates.

Second, I was wrong.

I am not in favor of a debate between evolution and creationism for a variety of reasons:
  • There is no basis for comparing these two topics other than a lot of people have issue with one topic or the other. Evolution is so strongly supported and affirmed by the evidence, a debate equating evolution with creationism is akin to a debate on gravity and consciousness-dependent falling. 
  • Many of the points creationists use were debunked years ago. It has been explained over and over, and yet they keep using the same points. It's almost as if they are being willfully ignorant or outright lying. I saw a talk last semester that used the same discredited talking points Ham did. 
  • Debates are not about truth or getting at the truth, but are exercises in oration. Who has the best oratory skills does not equate with who is correct or not correct.
This particular debate was worse because it took place at Ken Ham's Creation Museum. Furthermore, the tickets were siphoned towards a creationist-friendly audience. So not only was the environment completely lopsided in pro-creationist favor, but the Creation Museum made money on the endeavor through ticket sales and the soon-to-be-available DVD. Even if Nye were to win (doubtful given the audience), the mission of Ken Ham would be supported.

One thing I did not consider was the internet. The debate was streamed live for free and is currently still available for viewing. Importantly and surprisingly, the debate was watched live by at least a half million viewers! So while Nye clearly lost the debate in the forum it was held, he won in a landslide via the intertubes. As to my first premise that Nye lost in the forum it was held, the evidence comes via Matt Stopera of Buzzfeed who took these  pictures among others of event attendees:
It is, they aren't, because it is. (How can both a sprinter and a faucet run?)
It does not. (Look up on a sunny day if you don't understand why.)
Garbleblarglegable, non-sequitor
However, in the intertubes Nye kicked ass or maybe a better way to put it is Ham presented his own ass to Nye on a silver platter. Why do I say Nye won? Well actually Christian Today says Nye won or at least the readers of Christian Today think so. The fact that >500,000 people saw the debate streaming live tells me Nye won. First, these were not carefully screened creationist-friendly viewers such as those found at the Creation Museum. Second, Nye had all the evidence and Ham had….. Third, Nye was fortunate enough to have Ham keep opening his mouth.

Nye in his opening remarks noted that billions of believers accept evolutionary theory (in general terms). This is a powerful point to make because Ham likes to link evolution to atheism as much as possible (disregarding the facts that most Christians accept much of evolution and the physics and that much of evolutionary theory and physics was developed by believers).

The question the debate centered on was "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern, scientific era?" Nye essentially addressed this question throughout the presentation; Ham noted the question and then proceeded onto the standard talking points. This was obvious to any viewer.

But perhaps the kiss-of-death occurred during the question and answers. When asked 'what would change your mind?' Ham responded with essentially 'nothing would change my mind' and Nye responded with 'evidence' and then listed some things that evidence could look like.

Why I think this is important is that in a more accessible format, Ham showed the Christian community in this country how 'stone cold fuck nuts (thanks Mr. Black)' he and his followers are. When the state legislature in South Dakota is trying to bankrupt a community by preventing K-12 administrators from preventing science teachers from teaching creationism, we need Christians to realize how dangerous these peoples are.

So I was wrong, at least in the larger context. I think the debate was a win for science and Bill Nye and for that I thank Mr. Nye.


Bjørn Østman said...

CTRL-R Hamm Ham

Glad to see you changed your mind about debating creationists. I think at the end of the day whether it is a good idea or not is an empirical question that isn't very easy to answer. My bet is that there are a lot of homeschooled children who saw this who had not seen a scientists debunk creationism before.

Bjørn Østman said...

Testimony from a post-creationist.

The Lorax said...

Thanks Bjorn, I don't know how I got on the 'Hamm' spelling.

The Lorax said...

Speaking of home schooled kids, the Twin Cities Home School Science Fair (put on by the Twin Cities Creation Science Association) is coming up Sat the 15th.

The Phytophactor said...

It's amazing how little the gotcha "questions" from creationists have changed over the 40 years I've been involved in making presentations about this topic. But essentially, I think debates only show who is the best debater, and it does give creationism a forum, a legitimacy, that they don't have in science. So I always explained why we don't use debates to decide "truth" in science.

The Lorax said...

I'm still not in a proponent of debating creationists, but I think in this specific context (and the large number of the internet viewers), the debate worked out in favor of science or at least strongly against creationism.

Anonymous said...

Scientific questions are answered by experiment , not discussion. Let me measure your god or shut up.

Anonymous said...

If some people want to stay that ignorant, why should scientists care? Let them live in their own fantasy world that is defined by the lack of common sense. I really try not to think too much about these kind of people.

The Lorax said...

If some people want to stay that ignorant, why should scientists care? Let them live in their own fantasy world that is defined by the lack of common sense. I really try not to think too much about these kind of people.

Because these people are teachers or take over school boards and fight against solid foundational education, screwing over generations of students. Because these people vote into office asshats that do not have a clue about how to make a rational decision (or least pretend they don't so they can get reelected). Because these people promote anti-intellectualism, which allows anti-vaxxers, anti-GMO, anti-etc. a platform.

Anonymous said...

ty lorax.

Bend said...

I second what Bjorn said. Look, evolution may not be as popular as it should be in the US, but it's more popular now than it was during the Scopes trial. And its improved popularity is so not because scientists have refused to debate something that was beneath them. I was raised by my mom as a creationist. Because our church had no position on evolution, however, it was an occasional topic of debate even in church meetings. I remember one such debate where a university student said something along the lines of, "the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy or 'disorder' has to increase, so evolution is impossible." A chemical engineer congregant responded with something like, "That is an excellent point... if you ignore the giant ball of nuclear fusion dumping solar energy on our planet and the virtually infinite ocean of molten rock and metal that the earth's crust is floating on. The biosphere isn't a closed system and relatively small increases in entropy from the vastness of our solar and planetary system easily make up for local decreases." That exchange led me to re-examine my mother’s instruction. At this point, I’m obliged to inform that my mother is an amazing woman who raised 10 kids on her meagre school teacher’s salary (English-not science). Debates can make a difference. I think Francis Collins would have been a more effective advocate for evolution as he could have formed a relationship of trust by building on common beliefs with the evangelicals in the audience, but he would not likely have had the same effect on billing.

agostino marchetti said...

Just shared this post with a colleague, we had a good laugh...