WWBD?: Bill Nye, Ken Ham, and When Smart People Say Dumb Things.


(Welcome to our first of many posts on the upcoming Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate. Not only are we going to have editorial posts, but Lord willing, we’re going to be covering the debate live. Stay tuned for details. This debate sold out in two minutes. Those are Super Bowl like numbers. Never fear, however, you can live stream the event for five dollars over at the Answers in Genesis site.)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to be a minister who hung out with atheists. When I first started this at Ohio State, I went through a crash course of trying to understand how atheists thought. I found out a lot of cool things and my misconceptions about atheists were corrected. They pushed me into studying science and eventually led me down the road to re-embracing the Catholic tradition.

On second thought, they may not approve of the latter.

One of the things I discovered during that time is the Internet has led to an atheist revolution. Every atheist from every corner of the world can now find instant community on blogs, social media, and YouTube channels. As I participated in these communities, I made good friends, learned a lot, and also came to realize that atheists could be very much like Christians.

Why? They are very good at manufacturing drama where none really should exist.

Take for example the hue and cry of Bill Nye (rhyme unintended) the Science Guy (rhyme intended) agreeing to debate Ken Ham at the Creation Museum.

Let’s sample some of the reactions, shall we?

First, is from a  friend of mine, Hemant Mehta and Patheos blogger. He gives a great summary of the events that led to this debate which you can read here.  Still, the title of the post sums up Internet Atheist reaction “Hey, Bill Nye, Why the Hell Would You Agree to Debate a Creationist?”

That sentiment was echoed all over the atheist internet including the comment section on PZ Myers’ famed blog.  Panda’s Thumb takes it to the realm of the blatantly offensive with this quote:

If it is true, I sincerely hope Mr. Nye will reconsider. There is nothing to debate, and a “debate” with Mr. Nye will only give Mr. Ham credibility that he does not deserve and increase not only his visibility but also his ability to attract investors. May I suggest that Mr. Nye take his cue from the noted Holocaust scholar, Deborah Lipstadt, who told the magazine Limmud,

Limmud’s organisers invited Lipstadt to participate in a panel discussion with [Holocaust denier David] Irving, she would refuse point blank. “I don’t debate Holocaust deniers. Putting him on a panel would mean someone lost their mind. He’s a liar – why give a liar a platform?”

For those of you not following along, the writer just compared Creationist to people who deny the Holocaust. Why is this a problem? Um, yeah, ask your Jewish friends how they’d feel about that.

Anyway, what would prompt Internet Atheists to such high drama and absurdest speech? Essentially, they think Bill Nye is not an evolutionary scientist and not a good debater. They’re afraid that Ham and his “debating tactics” will run the poor ole science guy through the buzz saw. Or, to put it more mildly, they believe, Ham and his followers are religious idiots who will never change their mind. Further, they fear, Nye is giving the Creationists “credibility” by going into the “dark heart,” the Creation Museum.

Let’s break this down. Apparently, they are already making excuses for Bill before he even steps into the ring. Frankly, I’d be pissed and tell them where they could stick their copy of Origin of the Species. Nye, however, seems unfazed. He seems confident, and ready to enjoy the experience. Word of advice, Internet Atheists, it doesn’t make your guy look good when you’re already making excuses for him. I’m sure the Science Guy will hold his own just fine.

Second, Nye is showing basic human decency, something that many people in our country have forgotten. He is truly loving his neighbor by giving Ham the dignity of addressing him as a fellow human being. Imagine that. Imagine if we all decided to start treating our ideological opponents with common decency. Indeed, one of the rules of logic (something that many Internet Atheist and Christians shut off when they turn on their computers) is that you always present your opponent’s position in the strongest possible light, in terms they, not you, recognize. Not only does this show respect, but it goes to show you’re not an arrogant d-bag who doesn’t take the time to read an opponent’s book once in awhile.

Finally, the assumption that people will “never” change their minds is inherently dangerous and a complete inability to understand human beings. People change their minds all the time. Take me, for example. Twenty years ago, I would have classified myself as a Young Earth Creationist in the vein of Ken Ham. Now, I’m someone who is in Theistic Evolution camp with some distinct qualifications.

However, I don’t think that YEC people are idiots anymore than I think Total Naturalists are idiots. They certainly aren’t liars and “Holocaust” deniers (good lord). People’s mind can change and so can what we know through science. As for the theory of evolution, I think it’s a great, provable, workable theory with the information that we have at our disposal. Could that change? Of course it can. Science is full of major seismic changes in our understanding. That is what true science does; it continually sifts the evidence

Until then, let’s stop the drama and name calling. I’m not saying, “Hey, let’s all hold hands and think we are the same.” We’re not. We have different beliefs and worldviews. Many times, they clash. Our survival as a society depends on respect in the way we dialogue with each other.

So, in other words, ask yourself this question: WWBND? (What would Bill Nye Do?)

About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, published by Open Road Media, is in bookstores everywhere. The sequel, Dark Bride, will be out in April 2015

  • Brian Westley

    Essentially, they think Bill Nye is not an evolutionary scientist and not a good debater.

    No, you still don’t seem to understand atheists, at least in this case. The objections that I keep seeing are:

    1) Ken Ham isn’t an honest debater.
    2) Debating creationists helps creationism and does little or nothing to further the understanding of evolution.
    3) In this particular debate, it’s also raising money for creationism.

    Each is a sufficient reason to not debate Ken Ham.

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      I quoted chapter and verse from articles, Brian. Actually, I think the only one I didn’t address is the last one.

      • Brian Westley

        What you quoted is pretty much what I said, but I don’t see how you come up with “they think Bill Nye is not an evolutionary scientist” or “not a good debater” from any of that.

        • Author Jonathan Ryan

          I can furnish more quotes, if you like. I picked the ones that I thought illustrated the point.

      • UWIR

        “Ken Ham is a liar”
        “No, he’s not”

        That’s not “addressing”, that’s simply contradicting. Do you seriously not understand the difference?

    • DKeane123

      The third one is a big one for me. Why sponsor a “museum” that is designed to fool people into thinking that evolution is on shaky ground and the bible is the actual word of a supreme being? Big Mistake – if he would like to do it, give the money to a proper charity.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

    I don’t think you get it… no one’s worried Bill Nye won’t do a good job. The worry is that this debate happening at all (with Nye’s approval, no less) makes it sound like there’s a legitimate scientific debate to be had when there is none. The Holocaust-denier analogy isn’t a bad one here since there’s no legitimate reason to deny the Holocaust. It happened. End of story. Nye should know better than to debate science with someone who makes up his own facts.

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      Sorry, bud, I can’t agree with you here. First, I’ve seen it said in a number of places that Bill Nye won’t do a good job. I think that’s fair reporting. Second, no, sorry, the Holocaust denier involves the murder of six million human beings. This is a philosophical and scientific disagreement. It’s a false comparison and therefore a logical fallacy.

      Any debate in a scholarly circle is legitimate. The topic is legitimate because it’s in the cultural air we breath. You can deny it all you want, but it’s so. The issue ought to be addressed and I think Nye is right in doing so.

      • sujovian

        I’d say it’s fallacious to call YEC “scholarly”, and simply engaging it in debate gives it undue validation.

        • Author Jonathan Ryan

          To say something is “fallacious” implies there is a logical fallacy in my statement. As that is unproven on your part, maybe you mean, “I think you’re wrong to make this statement”.

      • UWIR

        “This is a philosophical and scientific disagreement.”

        It’s a disagreement about whether the plain historical evidence should be ignored simply because it doesn’t agree with your preconceptions. That is quite similar.

        “It’s a false comparison”

        What, exactly, is a “false comparison”?

        “and therefore a logical fallacy.”

        The term “logical fallacy” is not a synonym for “argument I don’t agree with”. You even acknowledge this below. So why are you being hypocritical and using the word “fallacy” this way in your post, while decrying such use in sujovian’s?

    • Tennessee Aftra

      When 46% of Americans believe in creationism by god, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Sure, as atheists we can sit back and say we’re right, but until we are out there and attacking these ridiculous ideas, no hearts and minds will be influenced. School districts have begun teaching creationism in biology class. This is not a non-issue. There is no controversy in the scientific community but there certainly is in the general public.

  • sujovian

    Really? You don’t think YEC people are idiots? Seriously? There are literally CITIES on earth that have been around longer than YEC loonies claim the earth has existed. Forget evolution of species, civilization itself is older than they claim the earth to be. I do my best to stifle a laugh and walk away pitying their feeble minds.

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      Hope that smugness keeps you warm at night. And you wonder why no one wants to listen to each other…gee….

  • Trevor

    I think the only reason Nye agreed to it is because he’s naive. Other biology experts have learned that “debating” creationists is like debating the flat earth society. It’s a debate of science vs. religion being falsely sold as a purely scientific debate. It’s beneath the dignity of science.

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      Didn’t realize Science was supposed to have a “dignity”. I thought it was neutral and explores ALL questions. My mistake…

      • Trevor

        Science itself is a verb and completely objective. But to pretend that’s the end of the story would be to ignore the fact that there are people fighting to get evolution out of biology textbooks, using misinformation for political gain with regard to global warming, engaging in scare tactics to obstruct the development of nuclear energy, etc.

        Look at science educators and you’ll see what kinds of battles they have to fight. That’s where this whole silly “debate” thing comes into play.

        • Casey Scott

          Uh, the word “science” is a noun, not a verb. Think about this sentence: “I’m totally gonna science that guy.”

          • Trevor

            I’m not in the habit of responding to random commenters, but while you have your nose in the dictionary, you should go look up the entry for “simile”.

  • Daniel Webb

    Jonathan, do you think that the point of the holocaust comparison was to draw parallel in terms of tragedy or just in terms of denial in the face of overwhelming evidence? I would say it was the latter.
    Other than that, I would generally agree with what you wrote. The debate will happen…and people will dig in on each side. Then we’ll get the opportunity to watch each side proclaim victory and nitpick their opponents like politicians after the State of the Union address.

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      I realize what was trying to be accomplished with that comparison. However, it’s a very bad analogy to use, as that has obvious emotional connections that are inappropriate.

      • Daniel Webb

        I agree, it certainly is. It probably would have been better to use an analogy in the same basic type of discipline like comparing denial of a heliocentric solar system, but an emotional reaction to an event (the holocaust) because you zoomed past the principle (denial of evidence) isn’t really a strike solely on the author..I’d say the reader bears equal responsibility. That’s a big part of what being rational is all about–removing misguided emotion.

  • Godlesspanther

    Creationist – holocaust deniers is a fair comparison. They use exactly the same “debating” tactics. They are equally hateful, dishonest, sleazy — scumbags.

    The problem is the Nye is naive. Creationists should be given no more credibility than those who believed that they could catch a ride on the Hale-Bopp Comet by committing suicide. I am not saying that creationists are going to commit mass suicide, but the concepts are equally wrong and stupid.

    • Casey Scott

      In most human concerns, “fair” is a matter of perspective, as anyone with siblings can tell you. And, I’m sure that since Darwin wrote Origin, no evolutionist has ever been “hateful, dishonest, sleazy — scumbags” to a creationist. Now who’s being naive? (Sorry, couldn’t resist the sarcasm)
      I think the author and Daniel Webb’s point is well-founded: There are much better analogies than one that is so emotionally charged. If you disagree, please enlighten us – how many people will die because of creationist ideology?

      • UWIR

        “In most human concerns, “fair” is a matter of perspective, as anyone with siblings can tell you.”

        Funny how Christians keep accusing atheists of moral relativism.

        “And, I’m sure that since Darwin wrote Origin, no evolutionist has ever been “hateful, dishonest, sleazy — scumbags” to a creationist.”

        The issue isn’t that some creationists are that, it’s that it is a defining characteristic of creationists, and Ken Ham in particular is all these things.

        “how many people will die because of creationist ideology?”

        Creationism is intimately tied to other right-wing ideology, such as racism, sexism, and homophobia. Uganda now has the death penalty for gay people, in part due to American creationists.

  • UWIR

    “Why? They are very good at manufacturing drama where none really should exist.”

    What an incredibly offensive thing to say. How dare you say that there ought to be no drama regarding Nye debating someone who put up this billboard:


    “Panda’s Thumb takes it to the realm of the blatantly offensive with this quote:”

    So, you’re offended when people disagree with you.

    “the writer just compared Creationist to people who deny the Holocaust.”

    No, he compared debating Creationism to debating the Holocaust.

    “Second, Nye is showing basic human decency, something that many people in our country have forgotten.”

    No, “basic human decency” does not require one to debate any crackpot idea. I may have sympathy for someone who thinks that the CIA has implanted chips in their brain, but I’m not going to organize a debate to discuss the issue.

    “However, I don’t think that YEC people are idiots anymore than I think Total Naturalists are idiots.”

    YEC people are idiots, liars, or ignorant. And Ham is not ignorant. I don’t think he’s an idiot, either. And I’m not familiar with the term “Total Naturalists”.

    “They certainly aren’t liars”

    Yes they are. That’s been well-established. Anyone who claims that there isn’t solid scientific evidence for the earth being billions of years old is a liar. And there are plenty more lies that Ham has told.

    “Until then, let’s stop the drama and name calling … Our survival as a society depends on respect in the way we dialogue with each other.”

    Our survival rests on our willingness to call out people who are lying bigots, even if some people say we’re “calling people names”.