In a blog post from Feb. 17 titled, “What Does Bill Nye Really Think of Me—and Christians in General?”, creationist Ken Ham responds to the change in Bill Nye’s tone regarding Ham in an interview with Bill Maher, and the more disconcerting praise Nye received from “a number of Christians.” After previously stating his respect for Ham, Nye appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher and said he may have “misspoken.”
Nye made his initial remarks during coverage following the debate. Ham points out that on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Nye stated he had “respect for Mr. Ham and his beliefs” and on Nightline, Nye said that the two were “more alike” than different. Asked if viewers were seeing the birth of a friendship, Nye essentially dodged the question but said he has a “mutual respect for colleagues” who are passionate in their beliefs.
Then in the interview with Maher, Nye’s tone became more mockery than respectful. Ham writes that Nye gave in to Maher when asked if he had respect for Ham. This is the point in the interview when Nye responded that he had “misspoken,” but Ham continues by saying that he is more upset with the Christian critics who were more complimentary of Nye over his defense of evolution. Ham points out that he quoted the gospel multiple times but critics attacked him on his belief in Genesis.
One of Ham’s critics, televangelist Pat Robertson, took issue with the creationist’s literal interpretation of the Bible to explain the Earth’s formation 6,000 years ago. Robertson believes in evolution in the sense that God started it all, but said that Ham was insulting Christians and misusing information from Bishop James Ussher, who based his creation dates on Biblical knowledge and ancient civilizations, back in the 16th and 17th centuries.
One important distinction to be made is the difference between facts and beliefs. On Maher’s show, Nye also said that what he respects about Ham is his passion. Before the debate Nye thought Ham might be a charlatan trying to take advantage of people, but Nye thinks Ham believes what he teaches.
Ham’s post is about his beliefs, and his use of the word is striking. He writes, “those who believe in an earth and universe that are only thousands of years old” and “What I believe about the young age of the earth comes out of taking the Bible as written” and so on. Scientists would not talk this way unless maybe they were forming a hypothesis. Ham has the right to his beliefs, protected by the First Amendment. In a debate over science, however, facts overrule beliefs.
Even some of those who subscribe to evolution would disagree with that last statement. In his article for The Week, author Damon Linker discusses what both Nye and Ham got wrong. Linker says of the debate, “or more accurately, that tedious exercise in dueling one-sided pronouncements,” that “how one thinks can matter nearly as much as what one thinks.” He argues to oppose dogmatism and think skeptically. Ham actually makes a similar point in his blog, in which he says the debate was a philosophical battle over worldviews. Ham believes that they were looking at it from different perspectives, but that Nye would not engage with this because he has beliefs that affect how he looks at evidence.
Facts are facts. They may start off as one thing but do not become facts until they have proof and evidence. Had the debate been over the existence of God or any higher power than this is a very valid point because neither believers nor atheists (and anyone in between) possess any proof. But the debate was over evolution and creationism. A debate that ended with Nye being praised by some Christian critics, and Ham hurt over the antics in an interview.
Opinion by David Tulis