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Keeping Up With the Creationists, Vol. I, Issue 3: Special Nye Smoked Ham Edition

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.

Image has Ken Ham's photo on the left and Bill Nye's photo on the right in a black frame. The caption reads: The main difference between young-earth creationism and mainstream science in a nutshell. When asked what would change their mind, they respond... (Under Ken Ham's photo) "Nothing." (Under Bill Nye's photo) "Evidence"   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.

That’s huge.

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:

Pharyngula

Skepchick

Friendly Atheist

And others, I’m sure – feel free to add your favorites below.

For those still getting round to watching the debate, you can find some good drinking suggestions at Wonkette and in the comments here.

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.

Comments

  1. rq says

    I had some smoked ham for breakfast this morning. It was dee-licious. Full of science.
    I’ve been reading so many positive things about the Nye/Ham debate, that I was actually surprised to see this criticism on my Facebook. Interestingly, it doesn’t focus on the substance of the arguments, but on the method of delivery, and comes to the conclusion that Ham is the more charismatic and interesting speaker. And openly calls Ham the smarter man (although, I believe, politically, not necessarily scientifically… I still don’t agree). Sad, really…
    So here’s some sphalerite with calcite to cleanse the mind. Lovely minerals, so old and scientific.

  2. scoobie says

    Kudos to Nye. He got off to a good start and put Ham on the defensive for most of the debate, no mean feat in the lions’ den. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Nye seemed to have several dodgy moments during his presentation where he was less than clear. Fortunately he had so much material that he was able to eventually bury Ham, whose only responses were to show films of creationist friends and repeatedly say “but it’s in the Bible”. The main result of this talk for me was to show how utterly devoid of content Creationism is.

    I was a little disappointed that Nye never brought up how old Noah was. 600 years old when he built the ark?! 950 years old when he died?!! Hellooooooo…?!!!!

  3. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    … 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). ..(Snip) ..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.

    Yes. That – well put.

    I was going to add Phil Plait’s post on this but I see you’ve got it there already so I’ll just second it.

  4. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    PS. What’s that quote (Shawshank Redemption?) noting that geology is about time and pressure.

    Maybe inspiring people to change their minds on issues like this is like that too.

  5. moarscienceplz says

    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

    Isn’t it wonderful how Zen one can become if one adopts a geological timescale? Maybe that is why the YECs always seems so wound up. They are convinced the end of the world is just around the corner, so they can’t relax, even for a moment.

  6. rikitiki says

    Dana, this part here:
    “…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…”
    That second “left” should be “right”…right?

  7. Storms says

    Ken Ham ripped the fig leaf off the anti-evolution crowd and torched it.
     
    Priceless!
     
    (And yet an image I really didn’t want to carry of Ham and his Ilk. *shudders* I now need to go look a pictures of pretty cephalpods or Ansil Adams photos or something)
     
    My take-away:
    Ham – We take this bible story and try to force-fit all evidence to support it.
    Nye – We take evidence as it comes and create the most reasonable, meanful and useful story ever told.
     
    My respect for Bill Nye went way up. He relentlessly fenced Ham’s Creationism into the fringe. Bravo!

  8. says

    Love this, and right on target:
    “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.”

    Hey yeah this creation stuff is bullshit! I mean religion. I mean…

    Mooney managed to set my teeth on edge too:

    “We’ve been in a rut in this battle for too long, with school boards and lawmakers continuing their stealth anti-evolution attacks (rarely admitting, as Ham so plainly did, that they’re driven by religion) even as scientists wring their hands about American anti-intellectualism from the safety of their college towns.”

    And the horse you rode in on, too, CM. If we’re stuck in a rut it’s because for too long we’ve let the other side define the terms and tell the story. High time we took off the gloves. Oh, I’m sorry, your old sheepherder legends should be respected as science? Not in this space-time continuum.