Did Bill Nye Hurt Science?

Feb 5, 2014

It happened. Bill Nye faced off against Ken Ham to discuss evolution versus creation. Though this had been strongly advised against, it carried on as planned. Of course, it should have because the fallout of pulling out a debate would have been worse than the debate itself.

So what happened during the debate? Did it hurt evolution? Not at all. Nye presented a powerful and strong case for why the theory of evolution is the best explanation for the diversity of life on this planet. He presented understandable slides that show geological evidence for the age of the earth and explained how species diverged over billions of years.


Ham however presented one piece of evidence all night, the Bible. This was mistake number one seeing as how the Bible is a claim, not evidence. Ham also attempted to present two types of sciences, historical and observational. He also attempted to redefine the definition of evolution, claiming secular scientists hijacked the word. This presented a strong weakness in his case for creation because his case cannot be made using words already defined dictionaries around the world and without splitting science in two and creating his own fields of science.


All science is observational. Of course I cannot go back in time and observe with my own eyes as Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) walked the earth and watch as each newborn slowly diverged into another species over millions of generation, but I can look at fossil records and DNA to put together a predictable and testable hypothesis, one that has been tested, and tells us how this happened. I can also use that same method to recreate this in the lab with fruit flies, plants, and many other species. I can observe how this works. Creationism cannot offer the same.


Ham’s own argument would set every murderer and rapist free who did not have an eye witness account, because all the evidence against them is useless because you were not there to see it. Ham missed this glaring obvious misstep in his argument.


Nye was easily able to break down Ham’s claims about the great flood and Noah’s ark, using such great evidence and observations that Ham had no ground left to stand on other than claiming he still had faith such a boat could exist, and then turned to the creationist handbook to discuss “kinds”, the very unscientific term used to describe species while avoiding any evolution. Ham offered up a beautiful fairy tale of there being “kinds” on the ark, not species, as we know them today. One has to wonder if creationist like Ham simply makes up creation stories on the fly.


What Ham did get however was close to one million people listening to him proselytize them about the Bible and his faith. This is what most people feared would come from this debate. It was a mistake to allow him this opportunity to ignite a fire under the creationist’s movement. This platform offered them legitimacy as a worldview worth debating.


Just look around Facebook and Twitter and you, predictably, will find creationists rejoicing in Ham’s victory. A fictitious victory yes, but the creationists now feel energized, they truly believe their argument won out and they will now take this fight further. They will use Ham to the fullest to market creation as a viable worldview in courts and in school board meetings around the globe.


Nye walked all over Ham. This was obvious. Ham deflected any question put to him to supply predictable hypotheses from the Bible. Nye also was unafraid to say, “we don’t know” and be proud of it. If science didn’t have an answer, he was honest and that helped win him the debate. Ham had an answer for everything, the Bible. Nye could not answer how matter came into existence, Ham could. Ham was wrong, and offered no evidence. He simply said God did it and moved on, again using nothing more than a claim as empirical evidence.


What really lost this whole debate for Ham was the question, “what would change your mind?”


Nye listed all the things that would change his mind, and it all revolved around evidence, and not far-fetched stuff. Honest scientific evidence that would unravel the timeline, and Nye would change his mind. Ham’s answer was in short, “nothing.”


How can you have an honest worldview and claim to care about evidence when nothing can change your mind? This showed that Ham was not interested in the truth at all. He cared about one thing and one thing only, his opinion. Ham shined here as the charlatan that he is.


So the aftermath, was this debate a mistake? Yes. Regardless of how well Nye did, and he did better than many predicted he would, Ham still got airtime. Ham still stood in front of more people than he can normally grab on his own and espoused his gospel and Ham still ignited his base. There is very little doubt donations will be pouring into Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum over the coming weeks and months.


Let’s not end on that note though. Nye presented a great case. The evidence was on his side and he answered questions with confidence and honesty. He understood the arguments that Ham came prepared with and was able to combat every creation claim put in front of him. For that, Nye deserves to be commended.


And maybe, just maybe, a handful of kids around the world were inspired by Nye and his presentation and will look at the world a little differently and question the beliefs that are being jammed down their throats. Maybe a child being raised in a creationist environment can watch this debate and become the next great scientist of their generation.


Dan Arel is a freelance writer, speaker and secular advocate residing in San Diego, CA. He writes on secular and humanist values on subjects such as secular parenting, church and state separation, education reform and secularism in public policy.  Follow Dan on Twitter @danarel.

Written By: Dan Arel
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