Well, that could have been worse. Last night at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, young earth creationist (YEC) ringleader Ken Ham took on children’s TV personality and playfully bow-tied atheist Bill Nye in a debate to – once and for all – settle the matter of whether or not YEC is a valid model for explaining origins. Suffice it to say, the matter was not settled. And, for reasons I will explain, the only “knockout blows” landed by the combatants were to themselves, rendering the entire event fairly ineffectual. Here’s why…
First, I’m going on the premise that both Ham and Nye wanted to change some minds – pull people across (or off of) the fence toward their respective positions. I don’t believe either man accomplished that. (And why is it always MEN that engage in these debates? I strongly suspect it is because women are reasonable enough to know how silly they are – how they typically amount to little more than schoolyard swagger. In other words, mano-a-mano debates seem to be fueled more by testosterone than logic.) So why did they fail to change anyone’s minds? Because both combatants inadvertently played straight into the stereotypes that keep their positions from being seriously considered.
First, Mr. Ham. (I don’t think he’s a doctor, so it isn’t “Dr. Ham.” It’d be fun if he was a sergeant… “Sgt. Ham” has a nice ring to it. But I think we’re stuck with Mr. Ham.) Mr. Ham appealed to the Bible. Again. And again. And again. How do we know the earth is young? The Bible! How do we know evolution can’t be true? The Bible! “I’ve got a book for that, Mr. Nye!” This is exactly what atheists and skeptics hate about Christians – arguments that don’t really have any argument behind them. We simply appeal to the Bible. Which Ken Ham did over, and over, and over. And anyone who tuned in to see if this Bible museum fellow had anything surprisingly insightful to say, tuned out as soon as a 3500 year-old document was introduced as the “final word” in cosmology. “Just as we expected. No need to listen any further.” Self-inflicted wound.
So what about Mr. Nye? My assumption was, even more so than with Ken Ham (who may have been playing to his base), Bill Nye would try to reach out to conservative Christians to show them they don’t need to “fear” science – that science itself isn’t the enemy. And this appeared to be his goal, except that he, too, walked right into stereotype. “This book (referring to the Bible) has been translated over and over for 35 centuries… translated in American English.”
I’m not sure why the “American English” data point is relevant in the reliability of the Bible – as if British English or Australian English would have produced a more trustworthy document. But Nye made this point at least 3 or 4 different times as a way of saying, “You have too much confidence in this really old book. It shouldn’t be trusted.”
Well… telling conservative Christians they shouldn’t trust the Bible is a little like showing up at Bible study in an “I’m with Satan” t-shirt. “Hello, my name is Bill Nye and I am your mortal enemy” might as well have been his opening line. Nye walked right into the stereotype of “scientist-as-enemy-of-Christianity,” and nothing else he said really mattered after that point.
And thus, the evening was a wasted opportunity for both men. Both walked into stereotypes that greatly reduced the appeal of any good argument they might have otherwise made.
If you ask me, the most beneficial debate would have begun with the question, “Mr. Ham – why do you maintain that the only true reading of Genesis 1 is a reading that even many conservative Bible scholars find simplistic and overly modern?” That would have made for an interesting debate. But as participants in that debate Bill Nye is woefully unqualified, and Ken Ham is, as far as we can tell, unwilling.
And that’s a shame.