JISHOU, HUNAN — Bill Nye, the Science Guy, debated Ken Ham, the Bible Guy, Tuesday, as I am sure you’ve heard. Nye defended the theory of evolution; Ham, the Young Earth Creationist (YEC) perspective.
I haven’t watched the whole thing, and I haven’t found a transcript of their remarks yet, but it seems Nye had the edge, as he should, since evolution is real and the 6-day Creation wasn’t. Whether the debate made any fence-sitters change their minds remains to be seen.
Ken Ham is a leading champion of a literal interpretation of the Biblical account of Genesis. Ham insists the Earth is no more than 6,000 years old, and that God created the animals and plants in their present forms we see today. As for the dinosaurs, they perished when God sent the Flood.
His Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., attempts to debunk more than 200 years of solid scientific evidence that demonstrates the Earth is more like 4.6 billion years old, that present-day plants and animals are the results of billions of years of evolution, and that the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, long before any human-like animal walked the Earth.
Among the world’s scientists — even theologians — there is no debate about Creationism. It. Is. Just. Plain. Wrong.
There were some scientists and authors, such as the Richard Dawkins Foundation, who advised against Nye participating in a debate with Ham, because they feel it’s a losing proposition. Debates between Creationists and scientists have been done before, and the science guys usually come off looking like the losers. They come prepared for a reasoned point-by-point discussion between peers. Instead, their opponent throws out an opening barrage of Biblical “facts” and contorted scientific “evidence” — the so-called Gish Gallop — leaving the poor scientist no opportunity to catch his or her breath.
From what I’ve read, that was Ham’s opening salvo, a breathless exposition of every thing that’s wrong with evolution and right with Creationism. But Nye didn’t fall into the trap. Instead, he challenged Ham to respond to examples of scientific evidence and the inherent contradictions within Creationism. Ham had no credible responses.
The same writer who advised against Nye’s participation, Dan Arel, admitted Wednesday that Nye won the debate. But, Arel says, the debate gave Ham a platform to reach an international audience of millions with his reassuring, yet over-simplistic story of how we came to be.
That’s a good thing, despite what Arel says, because it showed the world how basically silly the Creationist argument is. It holds no water.
Believers, of course, say Ham won the debate, because the Bible. Nothing Nye could have done could have changed their minds, even if he could have transported the author of Genesis from the dim past to testify in the present day.
Nye’s tactic was to get Ham to defend Creationism on its merits as religious belief. There is no science behind Creationism, no matter what Ham and his followers say. Its only foundation is several chapters of one book of the Bible. The YEC crowd, when pitching Creationism to school boards and lawmakers, instead try to argue it is science and obfuscate the religious angle.
Evolution, on the hand, depends on more than 200 years of research in geology, astronomy, physics, cosomology, genetics, biology, paleontology, and many other scientific specialities. It does hold water.
I recently signed up for an online course on human evolution, led by John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’ve been struck by the multidisciplinary approach to researching human origins, from dating fossils embedded in rock layers to extracting DNA from teeth to find out what early hominins ate.
This is how science works. There is no one book that tells us how humans came to be. Not even Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man has all the answers. Unlike Ken Ham and the YEC, scientists don’t run to Darwin’s book to see if the great man would approve of their conclusions. Darwin only provided a framework, not the complete blueprints for the story of human evolution. He left it to future generations to support or falsify the theory. Most of what we know now was not available to Darwin, yet his theory remains sound.
Students should be learning about evolution, because it is real science. It is the science of us, at the most basic level. Research is ongoing, and new discoveries are made every year.
But the Creationists have politicians, teachers and public school boards running scared. While they are relatively few in number, YEC proponents are well organized, fanatical and persistent.
So, many students learn nothing about evolution in biology class. Consider that for a moment. One of the most important scientific theories of the last two centuries is ignored in American schools. It would be like skipping atomic theory or Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.
Nye made headlines some time back by saying the teaching of Creationism was like child abuse, because neglecting the theory of evolution in school deprives children of the kind of knowledge people in the 21st century have to have to succeed.
There is an alarming percentage of people in the USA who doubt evolution is valid. It will only get worse, if politicans, parents and educators do not stand up to the religious bullying of Ken Ham and his supporters. If they want to teach their kids that God created the Universe in six days, 6,000 years ago, they can. But they have no right to force that kind of ignorance on everyone else’s kids.