Like many other people, I was wary of the idea of Bill Nye (The Science Guy) engaging in a public debate about evolution with Ken Ham (Creationist, and founder of Answers In Genesis).
Public debates like this certainly don’t resolve important issues, and usually each side claims “victory” anyway. No doubt the creationists who viewed it will think that Ham came out on top, but it doesn’t really matter what they – or Nye’s supporters – think. The big question is whether either participant was able to sway those viewers who watched the debate without any firmly held beliefs either way.
Overall, I think that Nye won this one hands down. His strategy was to explain science – what it is, and how scientists find out and verify the knowledge they accumulate, using examples and illustrations. And he also underlined the point that America’s prominence economically depends on its ability to stay at the forefront of scientific discovery.
Ham’s strategy, on the other hand, can be summarised as : “God did it.” The Bible says it, he believes it, that settles it. He offered no science himself, but let’s face it – “creation science” is a self-contradictory term anyway. For Ham, there are no mysteries – all you need to know is, God did it – which is not actually an illustration of one’s knowledge, but an illustration of one’s ignorance. It explains exactly nothing.
For me, though, there was one key point that brought the whole debate into sharp focus. This was at the end of the debate when Nye and Ham were taking questions from the audience. The question – for both men – was breathtakingly simple: “What would change your mind?”
Believers in religion and the paranormal always accuse scientists and sceptics of being closed-minded – so firmly entrenched in their beliefs that they are just not going to admit that they might be wrong. But now Ham was put to that test and failed miserably.
Ham answered first and was visibly flustered. Asked what would change his mind, he put his faith first, and confirmed what everyone knew anyway: there is absolutely nothing that will change his mind. Ham’s own closed-mindedness was put on display for all to see.
Nye, however, was in no doubt: (confirmable) evidence will change his mind. It’s what scientists do every day. They do not hold on rigidly to cherished beliefs when contradictory evidence arises – they embrace it and investigate it. And when you think about it, how could science have made such huge advances if it was not willing to change in the light of new discoveries?
America is a leader in science, but that is despite religion, not because of it. The Constitution requires separation of church and state, and for that reason religion in the form of creationism is not allowed to be taught in American state-funded classrooms. If creationism ever were allowed into science classes, then Americans can kiss their scientific lead goodbye.
Bill Nye did a first class job and deserves to be lauded for it.