Why famous TV scientist Bill Nye, head of Pasadena’s Planetary Society, should not debate a religious extremist like Ken Ham
By Dan Arel 01/29/2014
Scientists should not debate creationists. Period. This may sound harsh but let’s start by looking at what sparked this statement. TV personality and science advocate Bill Nye (the Science Guy, who now heads the Planetary Society in Pasadena) has accepted an invitation to debate Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis / The Creation Museum on Feb. 4 at the Creation Museum in Kentucky.
Here’s why this is a bad idea.
Debating creationists offer their position credibility
When you accept a debate, you are accepting there is something worth debating. Political ideologies are worth debating, religion as it pertains to things like human well-being and flourishing can be worth debating, because these kinds of ideas claim to offer solutions to problems and they are debating the best way to achieve such solutions. Debates about the existence of God can be fun. They are not really that meaningful, but they are a debate about ideas and beliefs and can be worth effort.
Creationism vs. evolution however is not worth debating. Why? Simple, there is nothing to debate. Evolution is a scientific fact, backed by mountains of evidence, peer-reviewed papers you could stack to the moon and an incredible scientific community consensus. Creationism is a debunked mythology that is based solely in faith. It has zero peer-reviewed papers to back up its claims, it has absolutely no scientific consensus and is not even considered science due to the fact it cannot be tested.
Why would a scientist debate this?
Nye would do more good on his own going on TV and discussing evolution and the importance of scientific education instead of giving Ken Ham any publicity and a public forum with thousands if not millions of viewers to spew his dishonesty. Ham is a snake oil salesmen and Nye just offered him up an infomercial to sell his product. Ham can repeat his mantra over and over; “teach the controversy.”
Nye is not a biologist
I do not know an incredible amount about Bill Nye other than I loved his show. However, a Google search only turned up that Nye has nothing more than a bachelor’s degree in engineering and three honorary doctorate degrees. We fault Christian apologists almost daily for trying to ride their honorary degrees. It would seem only fair we hold Nye to the same standard.
So we have Nye, a very smart man with a degree in engineering, not biology, not anthropology, and he does not practice any form of research science. Nye should be credited greatly for his work in education, but as a qualified candidate to defend evolution, especially against the likes of conmen like Ken Ham, he is not.
You must fully understand your opponent
This is mere speculation but I have no reason to believe that Nye has the firm grasp on creationism that would be needed to go up against the likes of someone like Ham.
To win a debate successfully you must understand your opponent’s position better than they do. In fact, you should know it well enough that you could debate for them.
Creationists have no rules. Their dishonesty stops nowhere. Nye will attempt to use proper science and reason to bring down Ham, but Ham will care little for any facts or evidence and will stick to nonsense and will feed on audience ignorance and use terms like “irreducible complexity” to confuse the watchers into thinking he has made a valid point. Key phrases like “half a wing” will fly from his lips as he openly ignores science’s amazing understanding of the evolution of things like the eye, or wings. Ham will be relying on faith and pushing the biblical teachings onto viewers and will attempt to call out anytime science could have been wrong to tear down its credibility.
This debate is being held at the Creation Museum itself and this will ensure that the brain-dead creationist zombies come out in droves to support Ham and loudly applaud anytime he manages to string together a coherent sentence, or, even more likely, shouts that his grandmother was no monkey.
I honestly think it would be fantastic to see Nye destroy Ham, but will that do any good? Suddenly Ham, a little-known figure outside of his circles, will be thrust into the spotlight, reaching impressionable youths around the world, and as great as it would be to see him taken down, the risks of him winning are greater.
The American people are not going to dissect Nye’s credentials to accept such a debate, and if he goes down, he will take down a lot of hard work in science with him. If the American people, who are already weary of science and already disown the idea of evolution as quickly as possible, see who in their minds is a top scientist lose to a creationist, we will have taken steps backwards in time.
The risk versus reward in this scenario is not worth it. Nye is putting a lot at risk and he is not the man to do so.
Creationism is a worthless and uneducated position to hold in our modern society and Nye is about to treat it as an equal, debatable “controversy.”
This article first appeared on RichardDawkins.net. Dan Arel is a freelance writer, speaker and secular advocate residing in San Diego. He writes on secular and humanist values on subjects such as secular parenting, church and state separation, education reform and secularism in public policy. Follow Dan on Twitter@danarel.