Bill Nye Won Last Night's Creationism Debate

by Jerry A. Coyne | February 5, 2014

photo credit: AP Photo/Dylan Lovan

Let me start out with a tweet contributed (but not written) by reader Barry:

My daughter on the Nye/Ham event: "it's not fair because the stupid guy gets to use his imagination and Bill Nye has to use facts."

— god Free World (@GodFreeWorld) February 4, 2014

Well, I watched most of the Ham/Nye debate last night on “Is creation a viable model of origins?” I stopped watching after both rebuttals, though, as I had work to do, so I have no idea how the audience Q&A session went. I expect readers who watched the whole thing will weigh in below.

How did the principals do? Well, Nye did surprisingly well, though he made a few glitches and missed some good opportunities. Those glitches and missed opportunities were probably visible only to scientists, though. But Ham’s performance was execrable. That’s not just the opinion of a biased scientist, but also of religionists. Here are the results of a poll at Christian Today asking readers “Who won?”


 Who won the debate last night?


92% for Nye!

Now perhaps this poll was invaded by evolution-lovers, but I doubt it. The most likely explanation is that these are liberal Christians who were turned off by Ham’s reliance on the Bible as an inerrant guide to science, and by his incessant preaching. NBC News science editor Alan Boyle also has a piece, “Who won Bill Nye’s big evolution faceoff?“, but he doesn’t answer the question (he can’t, as he’s a news person).

At any rate, there’s a lot to say, and, as I’m pressed for time this morning, I’ll just emit a stream-of-conscousness flow of thoughts:

Two final remarks. After the debate I was fulminating about Ham’s performance, grumbling about his being a “liar for Jesus.” My friend said that no, Ham wasn’t lying—he truly believed the palaver he was spewing. And I realized that she was right. Ham’s brain has been so deeply marinated in his faith that that organ has simply become impermeable to facts. He really does believe in Noah’s Ark, the Fall, and talking snakes, and must reject or rationalize facts that don’t comport with his Sacred Book.

That is a mindset that I don’t understand, and, being a scientist, perhaps can never understand. But it shows how religion can poison one’s mind so deeply that it becomes immunized to the real truth about the cosmos. Ham was not lying, but simply suffering from a severe delusion—one that should cause him cognitive dissonance but doesn’t.

So much the worse for him, but his delusions also cause him to poison the minds of children, and that is not all right with either me or Nye. It’s simply wrong to teach creationism to children, for that is teaching them lies, and I fault Nye a bit for helping the Creation Museum raise funds by participating in this debate. By so doing, Nye was subsidizing the brainwashing of the children he so wants to reach. But I forgive him, for he did a creditable job.

I hope that, in the future, Nye is not so emboldened by his success in this debate that he starts debating creationists. Eventually he will run into one that is not as Ham-handed as Ham, and he’ll lose badly. Moreover, as I’ve said repeatedly, debates are not the place to resolve scientific issues, and only give credibility to creationists. Would it be useful for a famous geologist to debate a flat-earther on the topic “Is the earth round?”

My advice to Nye is this: keep talking and writing about evolution, but not in a debate format. You’re charismatic, funny, and, most important, have the truth on your side. Learn a little bit more about radiometric dating, and about the crazy arguments that Biblical literalists are wedded to—like the bizarre and unscientific concept of animal “kinds”. Talk to people about how there’s no real difference between the accuracy and value of “observational science” and “historical science.” It is the combination of eloquence and truth, not his skill in a rhetorical contest, that will bring Nye his victories.

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