Why the Bill Nye-Ken Ham Debate is a Good Thing

Maggie Ardiente sees several advantages to the upcoming Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate and argues why humanists and atheists should support it.

Bill Nye “The Science Guy” will be debating Answers in Genesis director Ken Ham on the subject of evolution at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. The event sold out in minutes.

Examining the atheist-humanist blogosphere, it’s clear that the many in the freethought movement are concerned that this event will give legitimacy to intelligent design theorists while others think it’s a waste of time trying to convince these already far-gone new creationists. But is it?

We need to do better than simply dismissing the creationist movement because it’s not going away—and it’s doing real damage to the science community. According to Karl Giberson of The Daily Beast:

Americans entered 2013 more opposed to evolution than they have been for years, with an amazing 46 percent embracing the notion that ‘God created humans pretty much in their present form at one time in the last 10,000 years or so.’ This number was up a full 6 percent from the prior poll taken in 2010.

Examining the poll further, the number of people who believe that “humans evolved, but God had no part in the process” decreased by one percent.

So despite the incredible scientific and technological advancements we’ve made in human history, including access to a wealth of information and knowledge about the world, the number of people who believe in creationism is actually going up—and that’s even as the number of nontheists continues to rise. Apparently, even moderate religious people are susceptible to arguments from people like Ken Ham.

Some argue that debating creationists is like debating people who believe in ghosts or fortune tellers—that their absurd ideas are harmless and unchangeable. But I don’t see pro-ghost advocates successfully intervening in public school science classrooms to teach the possible existence of the paranormal. Creationism is more than just a belief—it’s a well-funded influential movement which aims to legitimize itself as a theory on the same level as evolution. State legislators in Colorado, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma are currently considering creationism bills while a number of our elected officials in Congress hold views supporting intelligent design.

The strategy to simply ignore intelligent design and hope it goes away is not going to work. If creationists are making inroads and changing people’s minds to allow for such nonsense, we can tug the pendulum back the other way and open people’s minds to real scientific evidence. Allowing intelligent design advocates to spread their message without strong rebuttals will gain more converts right under our nose.

Is a debate the best format for changing minds? Maybe not. But it’s already garnered national attention. It may not change the minds of people sitting in that auditorium, but the media coverage of the event just might be widespread enough for people to tune-in and make up their own minds. (Answers in Genesis will announce details of how to live-stream the event soon.)

And despite what you think about Ken Ham, he has a following. Answers in Genesis is a nearly $20 million operational organization—that’s more than all the national freethought organizations in the entire movement combined. The Creation Museum, despite declining attendance, still managed to get over 250,000 people to walk through its doors. We can’t just ignore him, just like we can’t ignore prominent people who publicly hold anti-atheist bias. Dr. Nye has a huge following too, and that’s why he’s perfect for this debate as a respected scientist and evolution advocate. He’ll be a terrific representative of the science and humanist communities.

Frankly, this debate is going to be damn good entertainment. Hell, I wish I thought of it and the American Humanist Association was hosting the debate ourselves. No doubt Bill Nye is going to lay the “science smackdown,” and I can’t wait to see him in action while Ken Ham undoubtedly fumbles with his ridiculous faith-based claims. As Nye stated in his Humanist of the Year acceptance speech at the 2010 American Humanist Association Conference, “Science is the best idea we’ve had so far. Got a better idea? Bring it on.”

Read the counterpoint article by Brian Magee, “Bill Nye Sharing the Stage With Ken Ham is a Mistake.