In other words, it was evolution versus creation, a debate that's surfaced in various forms since Darwin. Last week's manifestation, however, was a peculiar blend of old and new, with both parties emphasizing the importance of science for contemporary technological innovation, but Ham representing a rather old-school form of creationism — one according to which God created the world in six literal days some 6,000 years ago. (Even televangelist Pat Robertson balked, calling Ham's view "nonsense.")

The debate has provoked a variety of responses. While the overwhelming majority of those polled think it was a clear victory for Nye, others have questioned the wisdom of his consentingto such a debate in the first place. The National Center for Science Education's Ann Reid and Glenn Branch, for example, warn against formal oral debates "if the goal is to improve the public's understanding of evolution and the nature of science."

When it comes to the evidence for evolution, I don't have much to say. To quote Chris Mooney, "the case for evolution is a slam dunk." But the debate did reveal some surprising assumptions about the nature of science — on Ham's part — that have received less attention in debate postmortems, and that are worth some careful scrutiny.