I’m worried about this Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye Creation/Evolution debate on February 4. Not because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool creationist, or because I have strong objections to theistic origins of the universe, but for a number of other reasons.
First, I don’t think celebrities with monosyllabic surnames of less than 3-letters should debate one another. It’s just silly and wrong. Bernie Mac versus Rin T. Tin, anyone? Well, they’re both dead. It’d be a pretty quiet debate.
Second, Bill Nye was chosen, not for his strength as a scientist but because he wasn’t a “mocking, strident evolutionist” (I read this as “gregarious” and “verbose”) and because (as Ham’s Creation Museum website states) Nye is “a serious advocate for his beliefs, [whose] opinions carry weight in society.” These statements say one thing: Ham wanted to find somebody he can pick apart, and possibly humiliate in the course of debate, in order to bolster the Creationist viewpoint.
Third, in 1925, the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial was 89 years ago, and Nothing. Has. Changed. Debates don’t change minds. Debates bolster the opinions of people’s already-deeply-held beliefs. Don’t believe me? In 2012, Gallup Analytics wrote “Despite the many changes that have taken place in American society and culture over the past 30 years, including new discoveries in biological and social science, there has been virtually no sustained change in Americans’ views of the origin of the human species since 1982. The 46% of Americans who today believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years is little changed from the 44% who believed this 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question.” Here is the link to the survey results.
My thinking is this: if Ham’s position is so strong in the first place, he wouldn’t need to resort to debates against celebrities on his home turf. Nye is a TV personality, whose voice carries some weight precisely because he’s a TV personality. A Ham victory against Nye does more than prove a point, it proves a point loudly and publicly. This is a publicity move, pure and simple.
Why would Nye do this? because he thinks he can win? Because he thinks he can affect some sort of social change? Are they offering him money? How does he feel about crucifixion because that’s what’s going to happen on February 4.
It’s also rather telling of Ham’s strategy to look at the people he didn’t choose. Adam Savage from Mythbusters. Magician Penn Jillette. Comedian Bill Maher. They’ve all come out in favor of Evolution and are hugely popular celebrities personalities. What’s more, any of those three could win the debate. What’s even more more, I don’t perceive any of these folks as introverts. None of them would tolerate being subjected to the typical tactics such as ad hominem attack, appeals to emotion, and bandwagon arguments. I’m not saying Bill Nye has no intestinal fortitude; but I wager he’d be more willing to let personal attack slide, while it eats away at him for the rest of the evening.
I dunno. I could be entirely wrong on this count, but I don’t see anyone talking over Adam Savage or Penn Jillette while he’s making a point.
February 4, I’m staying far, far away from this sham of a debate. I believe I already know the outcome, and the outcome will sadly not based on science, but rhetorical tricks and staking weight on the louder of two voices.
Note: As to the rhetorical devices that worry me so much, James Kirk Wall captures my concerns fairly succinctly in this advice post written as an open letter to Bill Nye. I don’t necessarily agree with Wall’s language, but I have seen every one of these tactics used both from the pulpit and in debate forums, to shut up and shut down opponents of various religious viewpoints. I’m betting Ken Ham will any and all verbal weapons at his disposal.
Exercise update (Skip if you wish): I ran today, maybe 10 minutes in all, during a 30 minute workout. It was chilly but not frigid (32ºF/0ºC), and the rain/snow mix was very light, hardly even noticeable. I wasn’t so utterly winded that I needed to puke, so I must be doing something right. Tomorrow morning is supposed to be 5 degrees (with a wind chill of -15) so I wanted to get my run in today, before all this weather hits the fan.