This Tuesday sees Bill Nye, the science guy, venture into the Creation Museum in Kentucky, where he will debate the merits of Creationism with Answers In Genesis CEO Ken Ham. Tickets for this hotly-anticipated debate were sold out within 25 minutes, but a global audience is expected to join in via the internet. The debate is due to be livestreamed for free via debatelive.org at 7pm ET.
A storm of controversy has erupted in the run-up to this debate, with scientists sharply criticizing Nye for engaging with Ham. A statement on the Richard Dawkins Foundation website said that scientists “should not debate Creationists, period.” Many bloggers and opinion columnists have echoed this point of view, arguing that simply by offering Creationism an equal platform, Nye is lending legitimacy to the belief.
Others, including Nye himself, have pointed out that as beloved as The Science Guy might be, he is not actually a scientist. Nye holds a degree in mechanical engineering although he has built an extensive media career as a science communicator. While he will go prepared, some people are concerned about a non-biologist attempting to defend one of the key tenets of modern biology.
In an interview with HuffPo Live, Nye explained that he felt compelled to accept the invitation as he is is “scared” of the influence of Creationist beliefs in certain parts of the United States. Nye has previously pointed to the anti-scientific approach of Creationists such as Ham as being a serious threat to America’s legacy of technological innovation.
Although the debate is being livestreamed to the general public for free, when Bill Nye steps out into the 900-seater Legacy Hall on Tuesday, he will be mostly playing to a home crowd looking to support Ken Ham. As the CEO of Answer In Genesis, Ham is a key figure in promoting Creationism and other Biblical philosophies throughout the United States.
Ham is both a skilled debater and a qualified biologist, holding a degree in environmental biology from Queensland University. In 1980, he founded the Creationist organization known as Answers in Genesis, and in 2007 the group launched the Creation Museum, a facility used to question evolutionary science while showing portrayals of humans and dinosaurs co-existing. It has not been approved for membership by the American Alliance of Museums.
Whether he wins or loses in this debate, it seems to be set to provide a big financial boost to Ham’s next project. He is currently attempting to raise $73 million to build a replica of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky as a reminder of “the truth of God’s word.” The project is reported to have so far struggled to find funding. Ham has confirmed that the completed Ark will contain dinosaurs, which he maintains were amongst the creatures rescued by Noah.
Support for Creationism has been slowly waning in the United States over the past two decades. A 1991 Gallup poll showed that 47 percent of Americans believed in a young-earth theory of creation; that figure is now down to 32 percent nationwide. The issue continues to be fought over regularly by individual school boards, with nine states currently having some kind of legislation relating to the teaching of evolution. Bill Nye knows that he is unlikely to change the mind of Ken Ham or any other Creationists attending the debate, but he he hopes to highlight the fact that this is still an issue affecting science teachers in some parts of the country. To see how he does, be sure to tune in on Tuesday night when it will be livestreamed for free on debatelive.org.
By Bernard O’Leary