On February 4, both science and creationism will witness a metaphorical clash of the titans as Bill Nye “The Science Guy” takes on creationist leader Ken Ham, in the Creationism Museum for a livestreamed debate. Both men are extremely knowledgeable in their subject matter and are, by and large, highly recognizable figures for science and creationism, respectively. The already sold out event is also being livestreamed for free so anyone can watch from the comfort of their computer room. Ken Ham’s organization, Answers in Genesis, is already offering pre-ordered copies of the debate on DVD. It seems like quite an exciting event, so why are many people saying that it could be troubling for Bill Nye?
David MacMillian, a reformed creationist argues that creationism is a system of beliefs and theories and for people like him who were born and raised into the system; it is an incredibly difficult ideal to just abandon. MacMillian did not learn anything different than creationism until he went to college to receive a Bachelor’s degree in physics and even then, he says it took him beyond his four years of study to receive a good understanding of evolution, geology and cosmology. He also explains how as a creationist, it was incredibly easy to either simply ignore or explain away evidence for these theories because it did not match what he had been taught in creationism.
Salon Magazine provides the interesting perspective that Bill Nye’s debate, or at least the creationist mindset, falls directly under the concept of Richard Hofstadter’s “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.” It is explained in this book how the first opponents of Darwinian evolution felt the concept challenged democracy. They were angered and troubled by the fact that a small group of people could challenge the Bible’s teachings of creationism in order to teach a scientific interpretation. William Jennings Bryan, the leader of the anti-intellectualism revolution proclaimed that “The one beauty of the word God, is that it does not take an expert to understand it.” Therefore, according to Salon, an American does not need to be scientifically literate in order to declare Darwin and evolution fraudulent.
According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in December, 60 percent of American side with evolution while 33 percent are strong believers in creationism. Something else that is quite interesting is that a poll on NBC News which asks readers to cast their votes reflects these numbers almost exactly. At the time this screenshot was captured, out of nearly 60,000 votes, 65 percent are with The Science Guy and 30 percent are loyal to Answers in Genesis. A small percentage chose to remain neutral.
Some religious leaders say that even within their Christian circles, Hams particular notion of creationism is somewhat questionable. Nevertheless, the upcoming debate has gone completely viral and will undoubtedly have a large audience of both believers and atheists alike.
Even Ham has admitted that he is shocked at the media attention the debate has received, and how viral it went on the Internet. He believes that it is a chance for himself and Nye to sit down and show that it is possible to publicly demonstrate how these issues can be civilly conversed. His comments may have been spurred after Nye’s controversial YouTube video “Creationism Is Not Appropriate For Children,” which took sharp jabs at creationism went viral over one year ago.
Meanwhile, Bill Nye has no misconceptions that he will sway Ham to become agnostic. Nor does he imagine Ham intends to turn him into a believer. Instead, Nye’s goal from the debate is to shine light on the issue that it is not acceptable to teach children creationism methods, such as that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago and in six days. According to Nye, he is not troubled by religious believers and says that there are billions of people around the world who get a lot out of religion. According to Jerry Coyne, the “blogging biologist,” what could be an issue is that he finds debates are not a good way to change people’s minds about a subject. Instead, he encourages Nye to keep talking about evolution and giving lectures, but not to square off against a creationist.
By Jonathan Holowka