Creationism debaters Nye and Ham say event is not about changing minds

ctruman@herald-leader.comJanuary 31, 2014 

Bill Nye said he has heard it all — that his opponent Ken Ham is going to demolish him during their debate over creationism, that the auditorium will be filled with Ham's followers, that the intellectual atheist elite don't think there's a need to debate creation anyway, that the TV science guru is on a fool's errand.

Nye doesn't expect that minds are going to be changed during Tuesday evening's much publicized debate at the Creation Museum in Petersburg. Despite that, the event has gone viral in its appeal — drawing attention from newspapers, websites, blogs throughout the church network in which Ham's organization, Answers in Genesis, spreads its message, and other groups, both religious and otherwise.

During a phone interview Monday, Nye, who holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and is the star of TV shows such as Bill Nye the Science Guy, said he expects the auditorium to be filled with creation-theory supporters.

"We'll see how each performer does," Nye said. "I will be in the belly of the beast. ... That suits me very well, I confess that."

Ham, a former public school science teacher in Australia with a bachelor's degree in applied science, said during a phone interview Thursday that his organization also did not expect such a firestorm of media attention about the debate. However, he said, the event is happening at a moment when the debate about evolution is reaching a turning point.

Ham cited the Texas science education standards, which permit public school teachers to teach alternatives to evolution. He said he doesn't know the makeup of the audience and assumes that Nye will have supporters on site.

Said Ham: "I don't think it's about winning or losing. For me, it's about overcoming censorship about getting information out there to get people thinking critically."

The debate was scheduled after duelling YouTube videos of the two men were posted, and Ham invited Nye to debate the question, "Is creation a viable model of origins?"

Regardless of the purpose of the debate, the event itself is being battled over on numerous fronts. Some posts on the Richard Dawkins Foundation website — named for the prominent atheist and author of The God Delusion — take Nye to task for debating Ham for several reasons, chief among them that debating creationist science is unnecessary because it is based on belief rather than science.

Nye, an agnostic, said that he was bothered by the criticism — "Richard Dawkins is kind of a genius, and he has changed the world in so many ways" — but nonetheless Nye thinks the debate is a valuable way to discuss declining standards for American science education.

The American economy depends on innovation, Nye said, which depends on a scientifically literate workforce. Teaching creationism is not the way to that work force, he argues.

The Dawkins Foundation and its supporters simply misinterpret what is authentic science, Ham said.

"When they say science, what do they mean by science?" Ham said. "They're using science in a particular way to intimidate people. ... Just because you're a creationist doesn't mean you can't be a great scientist."

Claims that Ham is unduly harsh on progressive Christians, calling them more dangerous to Christianity than atheists, have been misconstrued, he said.

"I don't attack them personally. ... We are so misrepresented so many times," he said.

"We're not saying you're not a Christian, but we are saying, you're undermining Biblical authority," Ham said, adding that while the debate was not set up to become an international juggernaut, "obviously, it gives exposure to the organization, to the museum."

Nye plans to tour the creation museum, but only if he has a cameraman with him to record his observations on its inaccuracies, he said.

When asked if he was aware of the Internet-circulated Ken Ham-Bill Nye creationism drinking game, Nye said he was not. One example of the game explains that participants get to drink if Nye says, "Science rules!" or Ham says, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it."

He doesn't expect to be actively heckled during the debate, Nye said, adding that he believes the creationism supporters really think they would be helping him by bringing him around to their faith.

Even if he suddenly and unexpectedly found such faith, Nye said, one thing would still be true: The world did not spring into existence 6,000 years ago.

About that, he said, he will never waver.

Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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