Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham: Dinosaurs vs. Dragons

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Bill Nye’s “evolution versus creationism” debate with Ken Ham will only work to promote scientific literacy if there’s no “debate” at all.

Let me explain. Bill Nye is a science educator. Ken Ham is a science obfuscator. The two together on one stage could go one of two directions for Bill Nye (the science guy). That direction will depend upon how Bill Bill Bill approaches the – shall we say – discussion.

First things first: there is no debate. Evolution is true. Evolution is taught in grade schools, primary schools, colleges and universities the world over because it’s real. Evolution is at the foundation of modern biology because it’s real. Evolution explains why there is an “R” in MRSA because bacterial developing a resistance to antibiotics is bacteria evolving and therefore, is real. Evolution explains the fossil record, because fossils are real. Evolution explains vestigial features, because vestigial features are real. I could go on, but please understand this, there is no controversy. In fact, suggesting there is, is absurd.

And that is why Bill is on dangerous territory. Many pro-science writers such as Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Dan Arel have built articulate cases for why it’s a bad idea to get science on the same stage with creationism. They argue, quite correctly, that just the appearance of equality might give creationist activists enough confidence to dust off their snake oil and try yet again. That said, the NCSE, the FFRF, and others are forever thwarting attempts by biblical literalist lawmakers to back-door Adam and Eve in to science curricula. So while this “debate” may arm creationists with one or two fancy-sounding yet fatally flawed pieces of “evidence,” the gazing populace of yokels will likely continue to pop up irrespective of Bill and Ken.

Now, if Bill Nye chooses to go toe to toe with Ken Ham’s apologetics smoke screen, he may struggle. There is only so much evidence and reason one can reference if the other party is not interested in respecting evidence and reason. But that is precisely the type of cognitive dysfunction that Bill Nye can exploit to “win” in the lion’s den that is the Creation Museum. He needs to connect with the rational minds of the  viewers and audience – for each of them have it buried in there somewhere.  People need to start feeling uncomfortable when they hear their truth claims couched in terms of the ridiculous. Bill might even be able to put cracks in the creationist facade. This is an education opportunity for science. Bill Nye is talking about dinosaurs. Ken Ham is talking about dragons. Bill Nye is talking about astronomy. Ken Ham is talking about astrology. Bill Nye is talking about medicine. Ken Ham is talking about witches’ brew. Bill Nye is talking about evolution. Ken Ham is talking about creationism.

Bill must plant in the minds of listeners at the outset, that science is based on evidence and that evidence is based on what’s real. He must remind people that wishing something to be true, does not by itself, make that something true. Finally, Bill must do what he does best: educate. If he chooses apologetics pugilism, he will lose. Ken Ham will preach. Ken Ham will reference Bible verses as scientific evidence and there will be hundreds of unnerving “amens” from the audience. Bill must remind audience members that there’s a difference between reality and make-believe. He must remind what surely will be a pro-creationist audience that science is something each of them rely on, every single day. And then finally, Bill will need to explain the facts. If he does all this, he might just come out ahead in spite of the justified angst that surrounds this “debate.” He may emerge from the lion’s den unscathed after all.

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13 thoughts on “Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham: Dinosaurs vs. Dragons

  1. I hope he is getting plenty of practice in debate in this area with people who know how to deal with the populist approach he will face. Many a scientific expert relying on rational argument hs been made look a fool by the likes of Fish and Ham. It may not be appropriate rationaly but my fingers are crossed for Bill Nye.

  2. This is what I left on Salon after reading a concern troll posting about Nye and Ham. To with:

    Total bunch of NOM garbage. First off, Nye isn’t the firebrand atheist of the sort that ought be lumped in with the more ‘militant’ atheists listed. I don’t see this debate as one between religion and science. It’s just a debate about science and whether we are to let religion redefine what constitutes ‘evidence’ with the same ease that we let Bush redefine torture as “enhanced interrogation”. It wouldn’t be such a pressing issue if these creationist lunatics weren’t trying to affect public school educational policies Down that road lies folly. It’s nearly impossible to discuss the subject of what constitutes scientific evidence with fundamentalists and not get accused of trying to attack religion. I’ve scoured and searched, looking high and low for what science taught me was useful as “evidence” and have found none that documents the contemporary presence of Jeebus. Not a one of the many miracles attributed to his lifeline has any independent reporting thereof, and that seems, I dunno, a BIT odd considering these alleged miracles went so far as causing zombies to walk the streets. Any sane person would have to wonder how it is that none of the population of those places where all these glorious events were said to happen, failed to mention it in the local version of the Palestinian Gazette. The God(s) I don’t believe in and mock relentlessly have failed to smite me. Most of you are only one God removed from being a complete atheist like me. Come on aboard the atheist bandwagon and help us find problems for humanity instead of crawling about on your knees and blindly wailing for help from above. It’s starting to look more ridiculous (and dangerous) every day. Failing to acknowledge their is a God only means you know it’s up to all of us to improve out own lot in life. You don’t really want to live an eternity in an imaginary heaven anyway. You’d get bored with the harps and golden streets a lot faster than you realize.

    Enjoy.

  3. The second thing at play here is the fear that Nye will somehow be “misused” by Ham to further his creationist empire. Poppycock. Within the narrow confines of those who are too deluded to look at evidence perhaps, but on the wider scale of public exposure, there’s no winning strategy for Ham versus Nye, as Nye possesses a far superior intelligence and as you rightly pointed out, there is NO REAL DEBATE over the science (and the science of what constitutes proper evidence). This is a very bad deal for Ham and one that he has not thought through well enough if he thinks it will be a net positive for him here in the US. Enjoy.

  4. Todd Hathaway

    A poor article, I’m sad to say. At first it says the only way the debate can “work” (whatever that means) is if there is no debate, then goes on to say what Bill must do in the debate.

    I disagree with the stance that creationists should not be debated. There IS a controversy that needs clarifying. As long as there are still lawmakers trying to force creationism into textbooks and having legal successes in creationist agendas, these people need to be confronted by those who are best equipped to dismantle their claims.

    Once there is no more legal threats, and lawmakers/government entities no longer take creationism seriously–once they go the way of flat-earthers, then there will be no more need for confronting them.

    1. Todd, thanks for your criticism. I will endeavor to draw out my literary devices more explicitly in the future. I trust you agree with my point that exposing pseudoscience as ludicrous, is the best way to suck the wind out of it. Cheers!

    2. The only “controversy” that needs clearing up is the one involving the extremely limited educational exposure to the use of logical fallacies and rhetoric in debates. Even if Ken Ham dominates Bill Nye in this encounter, the educational machinery of America will have a nice video to deconstruct on how not to fall for such obvious flimflammery. I do not think that Nye will let it devolve to that, but let me emphasize again here that there is NO net positive way for this to end if you are Ken Ham. It’s just pure and unadulterated personal ego getting in the way of a much better “low profile” strategy of continuing to milk the remaining rubes out of the admission price at what is likely to be the next big example of an abandoned and aging theme park. Something most people will only ever visit on Atlas Obscura. Enjoy.

      1. Todd Hathaway

        I agree with your viewpoint, which is counter to the viewpoint held by leaders in the scientific field. These buffoons should be debated to expose their wrongness. To say, “I won’t give their stance credence by debating them” is not going to make anyone think, “Oh, that side of the argument must be valid, because they refuse to debate.” Quite the contrary. If I see someone who refuses to debate, I assume it’s because they think they will lose.

  5. Pingback: Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham: Dinosaurs vs. Dragons | Devils Doll

  6. Pingback: Now that Bill visited Ken’s ark…tips for the next Evolution v. Creationism debate – Ryan Bays

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