Thursday, February 6, 2014

Why The Nye-Ham Evolution Debate Was Worthwhile

Billy Nye explains that the Earth
isn't 6000 years old to Ken Ham.
Bill Nye, the Science Guy debated Ken Ham the founder of Answers in Genesis yesterday. By all accounts Bill Nye won the debate with the standard scientific case for evolution using evidence. Ken Ham relied on the bible and probably gave his supporters what they wanted to see and hear and got some publicity for his creationism museum.

My Facebook feed was chock full of status updates in the hours following the debate, and most of what I saw was slightly negative. Some secularists/science enthusiasts thought the debate was a bad idea because they thought it gave credibility to Ken Ham and creationism. Others saw it as simply an excuse to point and laugh at the stupidity of the creationists. I was disappointed that these two sentiments overshadowed the important science advocacy of Nye.

At first I am somewhat inclined to agree that it seems like such a waste to have science advocates in a debate setting with people who get their facts from a book written three thousand years ago. I can see how some think that gives credibility to the other side. But someone needs to engage these people, and offer the case for science to the audience whether they be physically present or watching via webcast like the 750k viewers did yesterday.

If scientists refuse to debate creationists or intelligent design advocates, then it seems like they are scared. The credibility objection doesn't work because of this. Simply listening to any conspiracy theory will convince yourself of this. It is better to use these debates as ways to show that science is indeed the method for obtaining knowledge and that revelation doesn't work. Nye did a great job of this, and although many short-sighted people don't think so, he changed minds. I can guarantee that there is a group of people in that 750k figure that are now going to read books on evolution because their viewpoints were successfully challenged.

I don't think that the task of challenging people to learn about their origins demands that we make a laughingstock of them. I saw a lot of sneering in my Facebook feed that day and I can see how counter-productive this is when I look at the people in this article. Some of the questions are creationist gotcha-type questions. But many of them strike me as coming from a real curiosity and an interest in finding out what evidence really supports evolutionary theory.

I realize that it is probably religious beliefs that are keeping people from understanding the foundational principle of an entire field of science. They are hard to change, but not impossible. Most non-believers I know including myself started out on the opposite side. It is obvious to me that people can change their minds, however tiresome the process seems to observers. I think Nye holds that the people that watched the debate are worth educating, or at least giving them a chance to see the explanatory power of science.


  1. I agree entirely.
    I think Bills target audience was lawmakers, school board decision makers etc. If he changes a few of their minds then I think he would of considered it worthwhile.

  2. Yeah. I think people forget sometimes that someone changed their mind once. It's worth it, even if (we) don't always want to be the one doing the tedious mind-changing.