Field of Science

Bill Nye totally won that debate

The debate tonight between Bill Nye and Ken Ham was won by Nye hands down. Hands up.

Take a look at this lovely slide:

That is a fantastic point. I have not seen it made before. The point is that if there were only 7,000 "kinds" on Noah's Arc, then with the conservative estimate of 16 million species today, then an average of 11 new species should have evolved (even in Ham's creationist model) every day. There should have, in Bill Nye's words, a daily newspaper column listing the new species. Yet nothing like that has ever been observed.

So that was one thing that made this whole debate really enjoyable or me.

Bill Nye did the right thing. In his opening 30 minutes he went right for the jugular of the creationism model. The question to debate was "Is creation a viable model of origins?", and Nye attacked that directly by making several points that shows that it is direct contradiction with science:

  • Antarctic ice-cores show that the first snow that fell and made the bottom layer of the ice is 680,000 years old.
  • There are trees  that are more than 9,000 years old.
  • Grand Canyon is many millions of years old.

These are all dated by different scientific methods, and directly contradict an Earth that would be only 6,000 years old.

Other points from the opening remarks:

  • If fossils all died during the flood, then similar species should not necessarily be found in the same sedimentary layers, but should be mixed.
  • If kangaroos walked from Mount Ararat to Australia (via a land-bridge for which there is no evidence), then there should be remains of dead kangaroos along the way, and yet there is not a trace.
  • The Arc as described in the Bible is simply too large to function when made of wood.
Ken Ham also said some things. The main point he made, which he made very many times, was that there is a difference between observational science and historical science. Historical science is not valid science, according to Ham, who said that if you weren't there, then you can never know. But since God was there, and because he wrote it down in the Bible, we can only know what happened by reading the Bible. This stance of course eliminates our ability to conduct criminal investigation, but no one would actually be that dumb. I have at least never heard of any creationist picketing crime scenes and courthouses when they obtain and allow historical evidence.

I predicted that Bill Nye would win this debate. What I meant was in the long term. What matters is inviting young people and children to explore science, and showing them that there is another model than creationism that in fact most people in the world find more credible. That was the goal, also as stated by Bill Nye.

However, I also think that Nye won in the short term. He clearly came away looking way better than Ken Ham, having presented his case with a confidence that I think most viewers noticed. He made great points that hopefully will make young creationists think twice and make them go look at the science for themselves (thank goodness for the internet) before they become hardened creationists heavily invested in creationism.

The fear of some people, like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, was/is that debating at all lends credibility to the creationists: "Well now, if Bill Nye takes Ken Ham seriously enough to publicly debate him, then maybe there really is something to creationism", or "That Bill Nye shows up in the first place confirms my belief that Ham's creationism model is correct". I just really, really don't think this is the case anywhere. I'd love some data on this, and to change my mind the data should show that this effect is greater than the effect of getting children interested in (real) science.

I think Nye did an excellent job, thank you very much.

Why Bill Nye will win this debate

In just two days Bill Nye and Ken Ham are having a public debate in Kentucky over evolution vs. creationism. The question to be debated is “Is creation a viable model of origins?”

Update: Sign up for free live streaming of the debate.

The meta-debate is whether it was clever or not of Bill Nye to accept the invitation to debate in the first place. Many people believe that Ken Ham has already won just because Bill Nye has agreed to debate. Debates are not the way science is done, and obviously both parties are going to stand their intellectual ground and not move an inch. What scientists seem to fear the most is that accepting to debate science with creationists lends them credence, that creationists looks like they are being taken seriously, and as a consequence that their theory, creationism, in the eyes of the public is afforded credibility.

Jerry Coyne, for example:

He thinks there are better ways for Bill Nye the Science Guy to make use of all the good will he's earned from his science TV shows. 
"I'd tell him, 'Keep going around giving talks about evolution. Write about it. Give lectures.' People love that," Coyne said. "He's greatly beloved by a large number of Americans. But don't get into a one-on-one with a creationist. If you show up for a debate like that, you lose."
"Poeple?" What people? Yes, people who watch science programs on the TV in the first place. But many of the creationists don't let their children watch them at all! With a debate like this, it is possible that Bill Nye can reach some of those, and sow a few seeds of enlightenment, so to speak.

I don't think there is anything to worry about for one simple reason: the facts are on our side. Evolution really is true, science really does work, and prayer really, really doesn't. Therefore, the more this debate is made public, the more children and high schoolers are made aware of the opposing sides, the more people will understand and believe in evolution (i.e., accept the evidence) in the future.

All Bill Nye has to do is calmly (or not calmly) explain why evolution is true and why creationism is not, and sit back and let Ken Ham make a fool of himself. Ham can go ahead and sound as eloquent and wise as he wants - the bottom line is that his view of the world is the wrong one, and there is nothing he can do to stop the coming generations from learning that, save for stalling it by affecting the school boards across the country that determines what is taught in school.

I predict that whatever commentators will say in the days following the debate on February 4th about who won and why, the real test will be determined years ahead when we see that, indeed, more and more young people flee from creationism and realize that science is the only reliable way to learn about the natural world, and that creationism can teach us nothing about it. That will be the real victory, and Bill Nye will have been part of it.

Besides, it's going to be a good old laugh, and you know it!


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