Bill Nye Debates Ken Ham: Why This Should Happen Over and Over Again


(Courtesy Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader via MCT)


(Courtesy Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader via MCT)
(Courtesy Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader via MCT)

Popular television personality Bill Nye debated with the founder of Kentucky’s Creation Museum, Ken Ham, in Petersburg on Tuesday, Feb. 4. The topic? The very nature of our existence. With Nye representing the theory of evolution and Ham representing the theory of creationism, it certainly appeared that the guns on both sides were locked, loaded and pointed straight at each other. But this meeting of the minds did not result in an apocalyptic destruction of the world nor should it be seen as such. In fact, this is exactly the kind of discussion that we should be having.

The grand misconception of the conflict between evolutionists and creationists is that, as a whole, it can be taken as a black and white issue, when, in actuality, it’s a lot more complex than that. It doesn’t necessarily boil down to ‘if you believe in God, you’re a creationist, if you don’t, you’re an evolutionist.’ If that was our reality, then there would be absolutely no chance for a compromise between the two viewpoints, and every thinker that falls into each of the categories would share in the exact same perspective. But this simply isn’t true.

In speaking of compromise between these two camps, I am reminded of the famous play “Inherit the Wind.” The protagonist of the story, Henry Drummond, is tasked with defending a young schoolteacher’s right to teach the theory of evolution over creationism, but he is unable to use the evolutionist text, Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” as evidence, and is restricted to using only the Christian Bible. Thinking on his feet, Drummond recalls that, according to the Genesis, God did not create the sun until the second day. Since Earth days are measured in full orbits around the sun, it was obviously impossible for the Earth to orbit the sun during the “day” before the sun was created. This means that the day in question could have had a duration longer than Earth days are now; it could have been a week, a month, a year or ten million years, thus explaining the presence of million-year-old dinosaur bones when creationists claim the Earth is only about 3,000 years old.

I’ve always been impressed with this particular character’s utilization of the opposing side’s evidence to fuel his own argument, for that is precisely what makes for a great debate. This is exactly the kind of thing that people should be doing, and thankfully, this is exactly what occurred during the Nye-Ham debate. In response to the allegation that biblical creationists cannot perform legitimate science, Ham brought up the example of the inventor of the MRI scanner, Raymond Damadian who, like Ham, believes that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. Ham uses this example to show that creationists can perform the same kind of science as evolutionists because they work off the same evidence that exists in the present; the only deviation is the perception of what happened in the distant past, and Ham claims that there is no way for evolutionists to accurately make a claim as to precisely what happened because they simply were not there. To this, Nye was allowed to respond, and his statement was that it is the job of science to make predictions, and just as evolutionary biology can accurately predict trends in the future, it can paint a picture of the past as well. To illustrate this, Nye took the example of the biblical story of Noah’s Ark. If Noah did indeed save 7000 species of animals from the flood only a few thousand years ago, and there are about 16 millions species in the world today, then that would mean 11 new species would have had to be discovered each day since the flood, and that certainly hasn’t happened; the world has to be far older than a few thousand years so as to allow enough time for the new species to emerge. This process of response, refutation and revision continued between Nye and Ham for the duration of their debate.

If anything, this mature, respectful and informational debate illustrates that dialogue between these two viewpoints is not only completely possible—it’s also beneficial. However, a huge obstacle that has stood in the way of such dialogue in recent times has been the perpetuation of the notion of mutual exclusivity, represented by the voices of vocal minorities, such as the Baptist hate group known as the Westboro Baptist Church, who have gone so far as to desire to protest the funeral of a 9-year-old girl who was murdered in Tucson during the same shooting that wounded Gabrielle Giffords, claiming that her death was God’s will and was punishment for the “idolatry of America.” On the exact opposite end of the spectrum sits Stephen Hawking, who has recently echoed Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote “God is dead” by claiming that spontaneous creation, and not God, is the reason for our existence.

While these people represent unmoving and uncompromising positions within their respective camps, there is an entire gray area that people seem to forget about. Through the kind of open dialogue displayed between Nye and Ham, we can tear down many of the harmful misconceptions that have plagued this topic in the past and replace them with new-found tolerance and respect and maybe even produce a few new and progressive ideas along the way. It’s far past time that people realized that you don’t have to be an atheist to study science nor do you have to adhere strictly to outdated religious traditions simply to accept the notion of a deity in your life. There is an element of validity in both the theories of evolutionism and creationism, and they aren’t so foreign from each other that their only possible fate is to be bitter and hateful rivals. After all, there is a good lesson to be taken from one of Voltaire’s most famous quotes: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”