I’ll admit, I thought Bill Nye was making a huge mistake when he agreed to debate Ken Ham. I thought this would be a fiasco when I found out he’d agreed to debate Ken at Ken’s own Creation Museum, with only Answers in Genesis putting out DVDs, and when it seemed like only creationists were getting in the doors. And I’m still not happy this stunt will pull in some dollars for that epic fail of an organization. But to go on the creationists’ own turf, and still hand Ken Ham his ass in a sling, that’s some serious good-for-science there.
No, Bill probably didn’t convince anyone who isn’t already convinced. But we don’t aim this stuff at the people who have their minds set in stone (although even those minds may form a tiny stress fracture that will, with further weathering from gentle rains of science freezing and thawing in that tiny crack, break the whole thing open). When we take on creationists, whether it’s through a debate like this, or by fisking Christianist textbooks, or ripping their supposed science to shreds in blog posts, we’re aiming at the people on the fence – and some of them will get knocked right off that comfy perch. We’re handing information over to people who know creationism is wrong, but not why that’s important, or how to present the truth to others who don’t know it. And we’re doing it in an entertaining fashion that will get people who maybe aren’t passionate about science completely hooked. Watching scientists take on creationists was one of my gateway drugs, you know – I probably wouldn’t be a science blogger today if it hadn’t been for Barbara Forrest and PZ Myers and others showing me why it’s important to know this stuff, then showing me how amazing science actually is.
And this debate, my darlings, appears to have hit the target nearly dead-center.
It showed, clearly, that there’s no valid science in creationism. It’s religion all the way down. And that’s going to be invaluable in future battles with creationists over science education. We have that lovely unbroken line tracing the evolution of creationism from its origin through its various mutations as it attempted to survive First Amendment challenges, all the way up to and including Intelligent Design, which is creationism watered-down and disguised. At core, it’s all about what Ken Ham’s about: the Christian god.
That ain’t science.
Even without that, there was this moment, where the debate showed in stark clarity the difference between a scientist and a dogmatic jackass.
I swear to you, I’m printing this out on my snazzy new all-in-one printer and framing it on my wall. I can paste in any two images I want, and the result will always be the same. The Discovery Institute people, the Answers in Genesis people, the Institute for Creation Research, any number of the assclowns writing the Christianist textbooks Jonny, Dok and I excoriate, those people on school boards and in classrooms who think the First Amendment doesn’t apply to their god…. I could put any of their photos on the left. No amount of evidence will convince them (they say – I will always leave room for a tiny crack of doubt that will widen into a chasm). I can put any scientist on the left. It would take clear and convincing evidence, but given that, yes, their minds would change.
That moment, to my mind, is the one that made this whole debate worth it. It demonstrated to over a million people just how stark the difference is between science and creationism. It will make it that much easier for them to realize that creationism and its descendants like ID don’t belong in science classrooms.
And Bill Nye has undoubtedly cracked some previously impervious foundations. We’ll see an influx of people months, even years, from now, who will trace their journey from dogmatic religion to freethought and learning actual science, back to this moment. The only question is how many.
So yeah, pretty stoked. So are many others.
For those who want to relive the live experience, here’s a few select liveblogs of the event:
And others, I’m sure – feel free to add your favorites below.
There’s a reason why I’m so pleased with the way things turned out: David MacMillan shows us how, when a bit of genuine information slips through, creationist minds can change.
For an idea of just how badly Ham got trounced, see the end of this Christian Science Monitor article, where a blogger for Powerline Kingdom Ministries acknowledges Ham lost, but claims he deliberately threw the debate, because reasons. Tee-hee.
Sara Lin Wilde thinks the debate sowed some science seeds that may grow inside some creationist noggins, which wouldn’t have happened if Bill Nye hadn’t stepped onto AiG’s turf.
A lot of us were worried Bill Nye would go in unprepared. If we’d known the NCSE spent an entire day coaching him, I think we would’ve relaxed. Josh Rosenau’s inside scoop and analysis is great.
Mark this in your calender o’ significant things, because this may be the only time I link to Chris Moody and say nice things about him. His piece on the debate was great. And he brings up another reason why this debate worked in our favor: it stripped creationism of its cover, and left it fully exposed to national attention. This is a good thing.
ZOMG. I agree with Chris Moody on something. *ACK* *thump*
This piece may interest you: a Christian explains why a literal reading of Genesis makes no sense, not just from a scientific standpoint, but because of its literary genre. This is something people terrified of science may be able to grasp. Another crack in the foundation.
You might have seen and giggled over these messages from creationists, including such greatest hit gotchas as explaining sunsets without God, 2nd law of thermodynamics, it’s only a theory, and why are there monkeys.
Phil Plait very patiently and gently answered all 22, in his patented style of sincerity and excitement.
So did Ethan Siegal, setting up a dedicated page for it: 22 Messages of Hope (and Science) for Creationists.
Those are the two to send to creationist friends and relations who need someone to gently open their minds and pour the wonder in. If you need someone with a sledgehammer, turn to Amanda Marcotte, who had rather less patience, and is a snarkmeister supreme.
And Libby Anne advises, with insider knowledge, how and how not to answer such questions sincerely. She urges us not to be just as ridiculous: if you’re going to challenge a creationist, you need to know their arguments, and you need to know the commonly-posed questions from science supporters that they already have answers to.
Finally, who do you think was the biggest loser? Jason Rosenhouse thinks it was Intelligent Design and its proponents. I agree. Ken Ham ripped the fig leaf off the anti-evolution crowd and torched it.
All in all, this turned out far, far better than I think any of us expected. I still think it’s not usually a good idea for scientists to debate creationists, and especially not on creationist turf – that does indeed give creationists more attention than they deserve, and people who do science rather than entertainment for a living might not do as well presenting in a way that holds even hostile attention. But professional science popularizers like Bill Nye should probably have little hesitation rolling up their sleeves, preparing thoroughly, and then bringing on the real science.