There has been a lot of talk lately all over the interwebs about the upcoming debate between Bill Nye (you remember him, the Science Guy) and Ken Ham (he’s that tool who runs the Creation Museum), especially amongst free-thinker circles where the debate itself has sparked much debate about whether there should even be a debate. I suppose it’s fairly clear just whose side I’m on concerning the debate itself, but I’m torn about several aspects of the larger argument.
Biologist and perhaps the most famous atheist in the world, Dr. Richard Dawkins, has repeatedly refused offers to publicly debate creationists, saying it offers the creationist a “currency of credibility” to stand on stage with a prominent scientist (and Dawkins is about the most prominent biologist living today) as if there were actually something to debate about. He has also stated that a scientist discussing evolution versus creation with a religious individual is akin to an obstetrician debating human reproduction with someone who adheres to stories about The Stork bringing babies to expectant couples. Who am I to argue with Richard dawkins? The man has a pretty good point.
Nye has addressed the concerns coming from the atheist activist community by saying that he is “frightened” by recent pushes for creationism to be included in science textbooks (news flash: it’s not SCIENCE!) and taught alongside evolution in school scicence classes (and rightly so, I’d interject. That’s scary shit). He also said, “If the United States produces a generation of science students who don’t believe in science, that’s troublesome. We want to raise the most scientifically literate students that we can.” Okay, also who am I to argue with Bill Nye the Science Guy? He clearly has a point as well.
It’s a scary world we live in, especially in America, where if you don’t happen to believe in a talking snake you are in the minority of the populace. Even as “out” atheists are climbing in number in this country, so is the number of people who accept creation and reject evolution. Evolution represents rejection of the things we were taught as children to many Americans. Atheism is what the (gasp!) communists taught. In America we believe in God and Country and NASCAR and Budweiser. In that order. Terms like atheism, evolution, agnosticism, and free thought sound subversive to us. They sound European and elitist. Gimmie that Old Time Religion, it’s good enough for me, dammit!
On the whole, we’re not a very bright culture.
At first I wondered whether Bill Nye was even the right guy to have this debate with Ken Ham. Nye is a mechanical engineer, not a biologist. Is he even qualified to debate evolution? Of course Ken Ham is a charlatan and a snake-oil salesman His Creation Museum features an exhibited dinosaur wearing a saddle. For his young-earth creationism to work, man must have co-existed with dinosaurs, so naturally we rode them like the Flintstones. Ham is not qualified to debate much of anything, even against a schizophrenic bag-lady, so he should be no challenge for Nye regardless.
It’s not as though Nye expects to sway Ham’s opinions nor does Ham really expect to sway Nye’s, I imagine. Debates like these are more for those watching than anyone else. Its fairly likely that, whatever happens during the discussion and regardless who makes which points better, both sides will likely consider themselves the “winner.” As Nye has already stated that he intends to enter the debate as “a rational man,” something Ham is completely ill-equipped to do, I’d say he’s already way ahead. But that’s just me. I could be right.