For a grueling, PowerPoint-heavy two-and-a-half hours Tuesday night, scientist and TV personality Bill Nye debated the merits of evolution with Creation Museum founder Ken Ham.
The two clashed in a debate that seemed more about drawing a line in the sand than convincing any of its viewers. (It also probably led to a lot of angry viewers.) Ham extended the invitation to debate in 2013, and Nye accepted, against the wishes of many who said it would "legitimatize" creationism as a respectable idea, and only serve to pour money and attention onto the Creation Museum.
One central debate issue: Whether America's science teachers have been indoctrinating children against religion.
"Public school textbooks are using the same word science for observational and historical science," Ham said (emphasis his). "They arbitrarily define science as naturalism and outlaw the supernatural. ... They are imposing the religion of naturalism/atheism on generations of students."
The pot calls the kettle black, of course—many scientists have pointed to schools being arbitrary with the definition of "science," too, by including texts giving weight to creationism. In Texas, for example, the Responsive Education Solutions charter system came under fire in January over using creationism in its classes, as my colleague Liana Heitin notes over at Curriculum Matters.
Media critics said Nye lost the debate the moment he chose to participate, but he did seem to bring his A material nevertheless. He discussed, for example, how trees like Old Tjikko, estimated to be 9,550 years old, could never exist today if they had to endure a massive global flood, and that modern technology can indeed date the world.
"If we do not embrace the process of science—I mean in the mainstream—we will fall behind economically. This is a point I can't say enough," Nye said.
Both speakers in Tuesday's debate had initial 5-minute opening statements, followed by a half-hour each to give polished presentations making the case. (I bet Mitt Romney would have loved that in 2012.) A lengthy Q&A followed.
Ham espoused a purely Christian standpoint, which, as Nye pointed out, denies the viewpoints of other religions. Since leaving his popular show "Bill Nye the Science Guy," Nye has made a second career out of combating global-warming deniers and creationists, who he says are giving young people dangerous worldviews.
In a video published online on Aug. 23, 2012, Nye says we need "scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future," and teaching creationism undermines that.
You can view the full debate here:
The debate over having the debate is most interesting to me. (Your mind starts to wander after an hour of watching.) It's hard, personally, to understand the idea of not engaging in a thorough dialogue with an earnest opponent, even if only one of you argues from a factual basis. You might not convince them, but maybe you'd convince some onlookers. Many debates can be held with some people arguing in bad faith, sure, but I wonder how you teach children the difference. What do you think?
Image: TV's "Science Guy" Bill Nye stand speaks during a debate on evolution with Creation Museum head Ken Ham, Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the Petersburg, Ky. museum. Ham believes the Earth was created 6,000 years ago by God and is told strictly through the Bible. Nye says he is worried the U.S. will not move forward if creationism is taught to children. —Dylan Lovan/AP