A lot of my friends moaned and groaned when Bill Nye agreed to debate Ken Ham at his bizarre Creation Museum in Kentucky. They contested that sharing a stage with him would unduly promote this fundy preacher to the level of “legitimate thinker.” Time will tell if their concerns were valid. I see what their point was, but I felt like Nye was after something worthwhile. And after watching last night’s debate, I think he did precisely what he came to do. A bunch of my friends were watching the debate, commenting on a Facebook thread in realtime. It was a blast for me, like a Super Bowl for skeptics and science nerds. Coincidentally, it seemed to me that the debate was about as one-sided as the other Super Bowl just two days earlier (for real though, what happened there, Denver?) But in a little bit I’m going to take a deep breath and head over to the fundy side of the internet in order to peek into that bubble to see how much praise they’re heaping on their guy today. For you see, that’s the way debates usually go. Each side usually feels they “won.” As long as one person up there was saying the same stuff that you already think, you will come away thinking your side won.
Having acknowledged that limitation of the very concept of having a formal debate—and having acknowledged the inescapable subjectivity of declaring a “winner”—let me just say that I loved how this thing went down last night. The whole thing. Sure, I had to sit through several little sermonettes from Ham (heard all that a million times before), and I had to watch him trot out the precious handful of science practitioners who still cling to the same sets of beliefs which he preaches. But there were several things I loved about last night.
I loved that the first speaker was decided by a coin toss. There’s a poetic irony in that. Think about it.
I loved that whenever Ham used a graphic to juxtapose the scientific consensus with his religious views, his own side of the graphic had to be represented in little cartoons. Cartoons. Need I say more?
I loved how infectiously Nye communicated his love of learning and discovery. He came to pass along his love for science, and he did a fantastic job. While Ham oozed intellectual complacency and scientific incuriosity (“Bill, I have to tell you…there’s a book that answers that question…”), Nye threw out several unanswered questions that still drive him today, hoping perhaps to infect others with his hunger to know more. He didn’t come just to share answers. For the scientist, the questions are as exciting and invigorating as the answers.
I loved watching the moderator struggle to even make sense out of some of the poorly-worded questions offered by the (almost certainly) fundamentalist-heavy audience. Who do you think bought up all those tickets within an hour of Ham announcing this event? I’ve had discussions with people from this insular subculture before, and I know how he feels. The moderator did quite well.I loved it when Nye talked about fish sex. I was half-expecting to see audience members covering their kids’ ears for that part. There were probably some fun questions in the car on the way home. “Traditional fish sex.” LOL. I also loved it when he asked if the fish got diseases because they were sinners.
I loved how carefully Nye avoided ever saying the name of the museum he was standing in. Each time he almost said the name of the place, he would stop and just call it “this…facility.” That’s was shrewd. Clearly he wasn’t wanting to add any more publicity to the place than this event already had garnered. The main complaint I keep hearing from my friends is that this event will benefit Ham’s movement. I contend that even if it does in the short run, in the long run it will not.
I loved how clear it was that Ham had little of substance to offer outside of “Well, there’s a book, and I have to go by what that book says.” Nye could look absolutely anywhere and everywhere for evidence of the view he came to represent. Ham had only one place he could look, and it was obvious. Every time he repeated that refrain, he dug his movement’s own grave a little further. Anyone truly committed to following the evidence wherever it leads learned something last night.
I love that Ham’s narrow dogmatism and inflexibility will force Christians all over the world to differentiate between his approach and theirs. Generally speaking, the people participating in the /r/Christianity subreddit felt that Nye did an excellent job, far better than Ham (many others from multiple perspectives seem to agree). Granted, those who frequent reddit (even Christians) tend to be very science-positive, and not ultra-conservative. But this debate will make people think a little harder about their assumptions, and I think that’s a good thing. There will be as many Christians as skeptics facepalming at Ham’s remarks. Maybe now they will openly admit it.
I love how obvious it was that Ham cannot and will not change his mind. By his own admission (twice in one evening), his perspective does not allow for change or growth or modification. It is closed off, epistemologically speaking. He couldn’t have made it any more obvious. When Nye was asked what would change his mind, only time constraints could limit how many possible answers he could generate. For Ham, the time allotted for a reply was more than sufficient. His answer? “Nothing.”
Someone pulled a 3 minute clip from the evening which illustrates what I mean and it encapsulates the whole debate. If you don’t get a chance to watch the longer version (quite tedious at times, I’ll admit), perhaps you can view just this one portion. It really nails how the whole evening went: