Nye/Ham Debate Probably a Bad Idea, but I’d Love to Be There for It

January 3, 2014

Planetary Society director and forever "Science Guy" Bill Nye has apparently agreed to debate young-earth creationist Ken Ham on February 4th at Ham's sprawling Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. At least Ham says so on his website, and I haven't seen a denial from the Nye camp yet. Opinions are mixed on this, and mine are too -- there's a very real risk that Nye will shine a fresh spotlight on a fading evangelist whose museum has lately been grasping at straws to keep its attendance numbers up. But it's sure to make for great theater.

Richard Dawkins is well-known for discouraging any prominent atheist/skeptic from debating creationists. In a nutshell, he says such events only give creationists apparent legitimacy. On the other hand, Nye will be going into a battle of wits against an unarmed opponent, and the proceedings are bound to be astounding to watch.

Christian debaters have long relied on a strategy of debating bookish intellectuals and winning over the audience through their superior presentation skills. (William Lane Craig has made a career of rolling out the same old tired claims against one freethinking opponent after another, and all too often coming off better than he deserves because he's superb with audiences.) The Rev. Ham is also an accomplished presenter. But in Nye he'll be going against one of the bravura showmen on today's freethought scene. My prediction: Nye will hand Ham his butt, dinosaur print and all.

As for Ham himself, he is perhaps contemporary Christianity's premier exponent of know-nothingism.  Whenever I think of him, I'm reminded of one of the least Christian things ever said by that late, great televangelist Dr. Gene Scott (who, full disclosure, was not talking about Rev. Ham when he said this): "If brains were gas, he couldn't drive a pissant car around a B-B." The Science Guy will probably drive circles around Ham. I just hope Ham's crackpot museum (and his crackpot cause) won't pull a net benefit from the whole sorry spectacle.