Bill Nye ‘The Science Guy’ is debating Ken Ham of the Creation Museum this Tuesday. As I noted here, there are good reasons for Bill Nye agreeing to this debate. However, if he does not prepare well or if he goes in with the incorrect framework, then the debate will likely turn into a winner for Ken Ham. I don’t think that would be a horrible thing, because I believe American society needs to flesh out these issues. But evolutionary attitudes in our society will not be helped if Nye looks foolish, even though it will not reflect the facts of evolution.
As one who debated a creationist, this is something I have some experience with. My primary pieces of advice to Bill Nye include the following:
1. Be prepared! To those educated in modern science, the idea of believing that the earth and universe were created thousands of years ago is essentially incomprehensible. It seems--and in many ways is—akin to believing the earth is flat. Thus, it would follow that anyone who would believe such nonsense is a fool. A video of Bill Nye discussing these issues suggests that this might be what he thinks (see here). If he does not expect Ham to offer intelligent sounding critiques of evolution he will be wrong and likely embarrassed.
2. Do not get bogged down in arguments that attempt to raise questions about some specific aspect of evolution or the age of the earth. If you are curious about what I mean, here is a fairly detailed list from TalkOrigins (a great resource for this issue). It is a standard tactic to make some empirical sounding claim that points to a young earth and watch the evolutionist try to defend it. This is not good science, but it works for good rhetorical ends.
3. Related to point two, focus on the big picture of evolution and all the sciences and ideas that it connects, from cosmology to geology to chemistry to genetics to morphology to psychology and everything in between.
4. Do not make the debate predominantly about evolution! I like the title of the debate, which is “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins?”. Learn about and keep the focus on Ken Ham’s creationism. That is what Nye should be emphasizing.
Specifically, Nye should hammer home that Ken Ham is a Chirstian fundamentalist whose central belief is that the Bible is either literally true or it is not true at all. Thus, it is an all or nothing game for Ham, and his core, fundamental conclusion is that it is an absolute must that the Bible is believed. That means Ham already knows the answer, the truth has already been delivered. Thus, his interpretation of the Bible DETERMINES what new information he is willing to believe. And that means that scientific evidence to Ham is irrelevant and meaningless to the extent that it contradicts his literal interpretation of the Bible. Nye should point out that Ham's writing makes this very clear:
“Believing in a relatively ‘young earth’ (i.e., only a few thousands of years old, which we accept) is a consequence of accepting the authority of the Word of God [the Bible] as an infallible revelation from our omniscient Creator….
“I understand that the Bible is a revelation from our infinite Creator. Therefore, one cannot allow a fossil record of millions of years of death, bloodshed, disease and suffering before sin (which is why the fossil record makes much more sense as the graveyard of the flood of Noah’s day).
"Once I accept the plain words of Scripture in context, the fact of ordinary days, no death before sin, the Bible’s genealogies, etc., all make it clear that I cannot accept millions or billions of years of history. Therefore, I would conclude there must be something wrong with man’s ideas about the age of the universe."
Ham is also very clear why he approaches the issues this way. Ham rejects evidence of an old earth because he fears it opens the door to disbelief. He writes:
“[The crux of the issues is that] when Christians have agreed with the world that they can accept man’s fallible dating methods to interpret God’s Word, they have agreed with the world that the Bible can’t be trusted. They have essentially sent out the message that man, by himself, independent of revelation, can determine truth and impose this on God’s Word. Once this ‘door’ has been opened regarding Genesis, ultimately it can happen with the rest of the Bible. You see, if Christian leaders have told the next generation that one can accept the world’s teachings in geology, biology, astronomy, etc., and use these to (re)interpret God’s Word, then the door has been opened for this to happen in every area, including morality…”
The point is that this debate is not at all about science. It is about Ham’s religious commitments. He believes--even though folks like the Pope and Billy Graham completely disagree--one must interpret the Bible to mean six literal days. If you don't believe that it threatens all of what one can have faith in. And because of this, he knows that the earth CANNOT be old.
Ham's worldview is a pre-modern, anti-science, anti-humanistic approach to understanding the world. If that sounds good to people, then so be it. But that is very clearly what is being defended by Ham and his ilk. That is why this has nothing to do with the science of evolution and everything to do with Ham’s existential crisis and his primitive solution—at all costs, defend a simplistic, concrete, literalist interpretation of the Bible, for if we don’t do that, humanity is lost.
So Nye needs to ask the audience…Is this a viable model for living one’s life in the 21st Century?