Bill Nye won the creation/evolution debate last night... but not for the reason you think

Sadly, says dino-science reporter Brian Switek, the reality of this church does not follow through on the potential promised by its signage. Brian took this photo in the town of Dinosaur, Colorado, near the Dinosaur National Monument.

This seems like a lovely moment to mention that the debate between Bill Nye (the science guy) and Ken Ham (the creationism guy, at least now that Kent Hovind is in jail for tax fraud) happened last night.

You can watch the debate online and also read journalist Chris Mooney's live tweets, which add a little commentary to the proceedings. Who you think won probably depends entirely on what you thought about the issue going into watching it. The big problem with a debate like this, and why I chose not to pay much attention to it myself, is that the two debaters are debating different things. Ham went in to talk about theology, the idea of man's relationship to nature and to God, and the role that belief in a deity may or may not play in ethical and moral behavior. Nye was there to talk about scientific evidence supporting evolution. It's hard to have a real debate when you're not talking about the same subjects.

It's also hard to have a real debate when one side flat-out admits that there is absolutely nothing that could or should ever change their mind — which Ham did towards the end of last night's presentation.

From what I can tell, the most valuable thing Bill Nye did also came towards the end, when he explained that Ken Ham's views don't represent all religion or even all Christianity. This isn't a debate about God or no god. There are many, many people who believe God and accept the evidence of evolution, too. As religion blogger Fred Clark pointed out, there really should have been two debates — one about evolution and a separate one about Ham's theology. Too often, scientists in this kind of situation fall into the trap of accepting that what the creationist says represents the only real, true Christian belief. Kudos to Bill Nye for figuring out that wasn't the case, and pointing it out to the audience.

Notable Replies

  1. That's a different denomination.

  2. Hyphen says:

    What Bill might have done as well is kick off a new push for people who believe in evolution to engage with people on the other side. I think the Dawkins approach of "we should not legitimized these people" has been a disaster because it has given Creationists a floor where many of silly arguments were not refuted. This is not just our chance to teach about evolution. It's our chance to teach how science works.

  3. I don't think I did. In fact, I meant to do the opposite. Bill Nye won that debate, as far as I am concerned, because he treated Christianity as more than one thing and religion, in general, as more than one thing.

  4. Exactly. Who's to say that God didn't alter the path of a free radical here, or made a neutrino interact with an atom there? That's "theistic evolution" in a nutshell. There's no evidence for it, but there's also no evidence against it - nor can there ever be. To say nothing about the "first cause", i.e. the inherent unknowability (is that a word?) of anything that happened "before" the Big Bang.

    To be clear: I'm an atheist, because there's no evidence for the existence of God, and because the question itself is rather meaningless for me. But looking down on everyone who believes in some form of higher power - often for very understandable, human reasons - just strikes me as a very assholeish thing to do.

  5. What it did is hurt the US' reputation abroad as people around the world slapped their foreheads and went "They're STILL debating this ?"

    I mean this shit was settled in the fourth century. Here's a quote from St. Augustine ("De Genesi ad Litteram"):

    "Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion".

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