Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and creationist Ken Ham are taking part in an evolution vs. intelligent design debate next month. Brian Magee argues why this is a bad idea.
There is a lot of disappointment in store for those looking for something of value to come out of the upcoming debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on the scientific fact of evolution. This upcoming performance will do nothing to enlighten those who don’t understand evolution (or don’t want to) and will not infuse the missing substance from creationism. The only substantial outcome of this event will be the false elevation of a proven bad idea by what I’m going to call the shared stage effect.
This is the phenomenon that creates a perceived equivalence whenever people (or ideas) appear “side by side.” In this case it’ll be Nye and Ham appearing together, but this effect also comes into play, for example, when two articles are contained within the same journal or differing claims are contained within a single news article. This effect is a big part of the reason why fringe politicians try so hard to join more mainstream candidates in a shared stage debate forum and others try so hard to keep them out. It is also why a photo with someone famous is prized—by the person who is not famous.
Other examples of creating a perceived equivalence can be seen on TV talk shows and news sets. Chairs are adjusted so that co-hosts appear to be the same height, or in the case of many talk shows, the furniture is chosen so that the host is seen as taller than the guest, where the perception of equivalence is not desired, similarly to the way judges are physically elevated in courtrooms to remove any idea that they are equivalent to anyone else.
Even when Nye wins the debate—which is a certainty, given that he’s the only one who will be properly using scientific facts—he will have also lost because the episode will be a public relations coup for Ham and his creationist cohorts. He will be wrongly elevated no matter how silly he will look trying to explain away modern scientific findings with guesses made before the invention of the fork.
There will be some people of all persuasions who will enjoy this event, but it will not be the boost to science that Nye does so much otherwise to promote. The shared stage effect will likely have the opposite result, giving anti-science forces an unwarranted increase in their false credibility, making it even harder to do things like removing non-scientific claims from public school science classes.
This debate will not do anything for or against the veracity of evolutionary science, which is already settled. It will be a distraction and a delay to the goal of scientific acceptance Nye wants. But since Nye has already agreed to this event it would be a mistake to back out now because that will give Ham an even more valuable boost to his invalid claims—with neither of them taking any stage at all. So all we can do now is hope that the event’s fallout will be minimal.
Read the counterpoint article by Maggie Ardiente, “Why the Bill Nye-Ken Ham Debate” is a Good Thing.