Saturday, February 8, 2014

My last word on the Ham vs. Nye debacle... I mean... debate.

Let me lay it right out there - this event should never have taken place.  That’s my position, one that has drawn some rather strong opposition.

I side with Dawkins who takes the position that a respected man of science debating a religionist on creationism vs. evolution is an exercise in the absurd, unworthy of such a man’s position and credibility.  In suckering Bill Nye into this sham of a debate Ken Ham wasn’t after promoting reason or winning a debate, he was after publicity - the marketing of his nutty Creation Museum in KY which is in desperate financial straights; drawing in more mindless fundamentalists to support him and contribute money; and using the fame and name recognition of a renowned proponent of science for that very purpose.

- Were any minds of the faithful changed? Who knows? At best it’s doubtful.
- Did any of the Texas School Board Creationists toss in the towel, or did any  parentteacher groups whose kids already have Creationism taught in their public schools say   ”Jeepers, maybe we’re wrong?” Unlikely.
Have you ever met a single fundamentalist whose journey to reason was founded on, or even pushed over the edge, by listening to a debate between one of his respected Christian defenders of the faith / standard bearer and a Godless purveyor of science "seeking to undermine the faith and destroy God"?  I’ve never met one. 

In that respect I say Ken Ham won … he got exactly what he wanted.

Does that mean the debate shouldn’t have happened?  Not necessarily. But like Dawkins says, any 2nd yr. biology grad student with the ability to speak effectively could have handled the challenge with aplomb.   In fact, I’d proffer he’d have made even a greater impact, if any impact on the debate viewers could be said to have been made.

Let’s ask our selves this question:  “Who would you rather see debate a popular Creationist bible thumper on the topic of creationism vs evolution?”:

1) An expert on evolution and science in general, whose back ground, research, writings, celebrity, and credentials span forty years, numerous phds, and accolades from the scientific community?  or

2) a hypothetical 18 yr old (or better a 16 year old college freshman, who skipped a few grades) honor student who was on his high school debate team since the age of 15; who knows the fallacy of the Creationist positions inside and out; and whose major/ focus of interest and study is biology, Darwin, the origin of species - the hard sciences? 

Now, before you answer:

-  Consider which of those two alternatives would make the greatest impression / impact on the audience by comfortably presenting the scientific facts (assuming the audience has the mental capacity to be impressed/ impacted by facts), and disposing of the well worn platitudes and fictions of Creationists.  

- Consider which one of those candidates would remove from the event any chance of the popular Creationist using the opponent's fame & name recognition to justify his claim of the validity of Creationism as a "serious scientific alternative" … the Big Gun or the no name prodigy?

- Considering the possible outcomes of such a debate, which proponent of evolutionary theory has the most to lose; or recognizing there is a virtual no-lose possibility for science: which proponent of evolution would cause the Creationist the most pain in terms of his dignity and loss of credibility if he is perceived to have been overwhelmed by science and utterly vanquished?

If one is being intellectually honest, there is really only one answer as to which would be the most satisfying pairing with the best possible results. 

But, if one is committed to entrusting only highly visible scientists to invest their name and credibility in a squabble of reason over long dismissed bronze age ignorance holdouts, then anything Dawkins or I have to say about the matter is of no import. To such people, only Einstein would do in debating Billy Sunday on how many demons occupy hell. As though Einstein would soil his hands


Anonymous said...

Stand up comedians. It gives the correct level of respect to the opposition, comedians are all about showmanship, think fast on their feet and could do more with a cutting remark than any listing of facts. Fact-backed ridicule is the way to go.

I nominate Dara Ó Briain

Anonymous said...

Gotta agree with Anonymous. Were I Bill Nye I'd have run the George Carlin YouTube on religion. Uncut.

RickRayFSM said...

By the way, I love your Atheist Camel books. They get right to the point and are extremely entertaining. I respect your point of view on the Nye/Ham debate, however I not only enjoyed watching Nye make Ham look like a fool, but I learned a few things myself. Nye didn't directly denigrate religion and as a result I think he earned some respect from the Creationists.

I agree with you that he probably didn't change many minds but he at least planted the seed of doubt into some Creationists' minds and hopefully some 'young-uns.'

Nye's approach was hardly what Dawkins or Hitch would have used but he kept it simple enough for the vast majority to understand, I hope.

Thanks again for your fabulous books which put Creationists and their ilk in their rightful place - at the bottom of the ladder.

Olivier said...

What annoys me here (on top of all the things you have mentioned) is that Bill Nye participated in spreading this idea that science can be settle by a debate. That is obviously not to say that science shies away from the confrontation of different ideas and perspective (this is precisely how science moves on), but there is a reason why scientists don't do debates like this. It's because it is generally futile and "winning" in this case has more to do with rhetorical skills and charisma rather than having strong empirical arguments. The whole exercise is sending the wrong message, basically saying that two media personalities with no formal training in biology (with all due respect to Bill Nye) can settle complex scientific questions with a simple discussion.

Anonymous said...

As though Einstein would soil his hands.

As though Einstein would soil his intellect.

I've been scrupulously ignoring the debate in question. I know from personal experience that one can never convince an evolution denier by reason or logic or mountains of evidence that they are f-word WRONG!!!

I stopped trying with my immediate family decades ago. I just hope they can be stopped teaching their lies in our schools.

Nan in MD said...

Nye gave him legitimacy. It should never have taken place. Those fundies will never, ever, change their minds.

zarton said...

I think the debate was a bad idea. I do think that some good can and will come from it, but overall I think the bad outweighs the good. I like the idea of putting a sharp witty comedian in a debate, excellent idea.
I disagree with Nan in MD and anon. YEC fundies do change their minds and debate, reason, logic and evidence can help. I know this because I was one who did.
I cannot point to any one thing that changed my mind, but all of it adds up. Even the ridicule helped in my case. I just don't think this dabate was an overall worthwhile investment.
In reason,

Chatpilot said...

As a former fundamentalist Christian myself there is one component that keeps being left out regarding these types of discussions or debates. Fundies like prepubescent teenage boys don't think with thier heads. In fact, they don't think at all. Their entire arguments and beliefs are not based on objective and empirical facts but rather on faith.

They did not become believers through the pursuit of intellectual integrity or research but rather through an emotional response to a need. I too think that these types of debates are pointless.

There is but so much you can say at a debate. The only way to learn about evolution is to read about evolution from reliable scientific sources. Not from biased creationists propaganda. For the most part:when it comes to fundamentalists you are preaching to the choir.

WhyNot said...


"In fact, they don't think at all. Their entire arguments and beliefs are not based on objective and empirical facts but rather on faith."

You're 110% right here, and it makes your further comment of "these types of debates pointless" right on the mark: They're a total waste of time and energy.

It's like trying to debate the finer points of music with someone who was born deaf, or discuss advanced painting styles and techniques with someone born blind.


PS: congrats for having saved yourself from the hell of fundamentalism.

Riley the Atheist Dog said...

You know Hump, I usually agree with you. But you are way off base here. The problem isn't the misogynist christofascist homophobe CREaTINistS, after all even they enjoy freedom of thought and freedom of worship. The problem is the dumbfucks are allowed to vote, and even worse, hold public office. This is a prima facie violation of separation of church and state.

The ONLY way to separate church and state is to insist every individual choose either to be a member of a religion OR to be eligible to vote and run for office. You want to vote? No problem, renounce all religion. You want to worship mythical figures? That's up to you but then you can't vote. Take your pick.

Imagine what the roads would be like if we didn't separate northbound traffic from southbound traffic. They'd be just as fucked up as our deity-infected governments.

Love your blog, Hump. Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

I found out about this "debate" on Facebook. From the start I knew Bill Nye had lost. By participating in this nonsense, he ceded victory to Ken Ham. So I'm in 100% agreement with you, Atheist Camel. Nye gave credibility to Ham. I think it has done more harm than good. It's bad enough that Ham and his ilk are continually attacking reason, thus undermining future generations ability to reason. But to see him as a debating partner, I don't think so.

Bookish Babe