I just realized the title might be a little misleading but you’ll see what it’s about very soon. I wanted to throw in my two cent on the Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate, which you can watch over on DebateLIve if you missed it. Full disclosure: I am a graduate student in the biochemical sciences, and my real first name is Darwin. This means that I don’t believe in evolution. In fact, no one should have to believe in evolution, but everyone should understand why evolution is true and how it explains various aspects of the modern world.
Overall, I thought the debate went very well and most of it was fairly entertaining. There were a lot of objections beforehand, particularly from scientists, about having the debate at all. In a way, it presents a platform for Ken Ham to present some misguided ideas and had the potential to confuse viewers about the “evolution controversy” as being 50:50 in the scientific community, when it really is more like 99.9999 to 0.0001. However, the debate ended up being a lot of re-hashing of old ideas for both sides. Bill Nye recounted the massive amount of evidence that we see, and Ken Ham tried to sell the idea of historical vs. observational science. I would give the victory to Bill Nye simply because he was able to promote future learning and present some key data that certain people might not have known about. The hard core people will not be swayed no matter what evidence you present, but there are a good number that are simply unaware of the available data and targeting them was a great idea. It helped that Ken Ham was promoting the extreme end of the spectrum in Young Earth Creationism, and not some sort of God-guided intelligent design idea that requires more scientific background to dispel.
I broke down some of my favorite (and least favorite) parts of the debate.
Best of Bill Nye:
Facts. The sheer amount of data he presented from all fields of science including geology, astronomy, and biology. His continued insistence on requesting examples of a provable hypothesis and his willingness to acknowledge what data would be necessary to disprove evolutionary theory. He also directly addressed the viewers and encourage scientifically literate education and voting for the future.
Worst of Bill Nye:
Jokes. It’s clear the science guy probably did not write the hilarious parts of the old TV show as he tossed in a few jokes that were just bizarre. The other thing was that he failed to address a few of the studies Ken Ham brought up. Some of those studies Ham brought up are commonly used by creationists and are easily refuted if you heard of them before.
Best of Ken Ham:
His favorite color is blue, I like blue too.
Worst of Ken Ham:
There were a lot of logical fallacies, especially appeals to authority from Ken Ham. Ham would show a video of a PhD scientist who would list off a few accomplishments and then say he does not believe in evolution. Of course, Ken Ham also states the views of a majority of scientists are not necessarily right. Furthermore, the whole idea of “you weren’t there so you don’t know” and “what’s the point of discovery if it’s gone when you die” are the two worst ideas for education.
Most Egregious Use of Logic:
Ken Ham, during a discussion of Noah’s Ark and whether or not Noah was skilled enough:
“Who said Noah couldn’t build a big boat? The Chinese and Egyptians built boats”
Most Awkward Example:
Bill Nye was discussing an example involving a minnow specie that can reproduce sexually or asexually. Instead of simply stating that, Bill Nye giggled and said that the minnows sometimes have:
“traditional fish sex” and sometimes “sex with itself”
Doesn’t it make you wonder what “kinky fish sex” entails (ha)?
My Favorite Moment:
During the audience question and answer phase, someone asked Bill Nye about the origins of the Big Bang and human consciousness. Although both are outside the purview of evolutionary theory, Bill Nye’s answer put a huge smile on my face:
“We don’t know!”
That ladies and gentlemen is why we do science…because frankly, we know very little about a lot of things. That very quote is the essence that drives our curiosity and leads to new discoveries/inventions. On the other hand, Ken Ham’s answer for all the big mysteries was of course:
“There’s a book out there that explains it”
Well gee, if I knew that, I would have looked at it to solve all of our mysteries instead of working on a PhD. One of my friends did point out that there is a book out there that explains a lot of the evolutionary questions brought up during the debate; we usually call it a high school biology textbook.
I’m looking forward to some good old Twitter comments and debates, since that obviously was not around during the Scopes monkey trial. I just hope that some student out there somewhere learned something today….that this thing called science, isn’t just a bunch of magic tricks and a black box. It’s a wonderful network of knowledge that explains the world we live in.
What are your thoughts on the debate or the education controversy in general?