The Great Debate

Two nights ago Bill Nye “The Science Guy” debated a man by the name of Ken Ham. The subject of the debate was Creationism versus Evolution, and whether or not the former should be taught in science classes alongside the latter. And the whole thing was fascinating and disturbing to me.

Nye argued that scientific research is incompatible with Ham’s “historical science”, a set of hypotheses that are based on the teachings of the bible and which the Australian claims explain Life, the Universe, Everything. Anyone who watched was frustrated by Ham’s repeated reference to scripture as a response to The Science Guy’s accusations of a lack of data to support his creationist “theory”. There’s a drinking game in which participants must take a shot every time Ham says “There’s a book”. You won’t stay sober if you try it.

Most media, even on the right, agree that Nye won the debate, with even traditional fundamentalists stating that they were embarrassed by the presentation of the “young Earth theory”. But, even before the debate, a lot of folks on both sides were saying that no matter what, Nye lost; that by simply engaging in the debate he was providing Ham’s ministry (I refuse to refer to it as a museum) with attention and legitimizing its beliefs. And with that I disagree.

I’ll admit that I have no small admiration for Bill Nye, a passionate engineer who has always crusaded in the name of education in general, and  the sciences in particular. Acknowledging that, I believe he was smart enough to know that he was not going to “win”. There was no way that he could convince his opponent to come around to his point of view, and it was unlikely he’d convert any of the congregants of Answers in Genesis. What he did have a chance of doing was bringing attention to the subject of creationism being taught as a science in local schools. There was a possibility a kid who was brought by a parent with instructions to cheer for the nice Australian man, but to ignore the one who spoke against scripture and would lead them astray might, just might, pick up a copy of Origin of Species or a physics text and start forming dissenting opinions of their own. A local tax payer might be swayed by his impassioned pleas to teach kids real sciences, and that person might make a difference the next time there were school board elections.

If that happens, I think it was worth it and Mr. Nye won. But, maybe I’m just being optimistic.

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