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.


#1 Scott Potter (Guest) on Friday January 03, 2014 at 9:29am

They say you don’t take a knife to a gun fight. Likewise, you don’t take scientific facts to a religious fight. Facts can be twisted and are of no interest to zealots in any case. If you make it all about the facts, you’ll never get any traction when dealing with intransigence.

The debate must rest on the underlying premises of the arguments being made, specifically the part about ‘believing’ despite the evidence. Nye’s best approach in dealing with someone like Ham is to show up for the debate prepared to promote his own equally plausible creation myth, perhaps borrowed from Joseph Campbell, and emphasize the fact that Ham will not be able to ‘disprove’ it.

Then, present another and another of the thousands of creation myths from other cultures. He then should press Ham on how do we go about choosing one creation myth over another. Force Ham into admitting that NOT believing in Shiva and Vishnu makes him an atheist in other parts of the world.

Debate is both an art and science in itself. The difference between the pro and the amateur is knowing the difference between ‘rebutting’ and ‘undercutting’ defeasibility. A rebutting defeater is an argument that specifically challenges the facts of your opponent’s argument. You say TomAto, I say Tomahto. So I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

But an undercutting defeater places a spotlight on the error in your opponent’s argument without regard for the facts. I can accept your facts and still destroy your argument as weak at best and most likely absurd.

#2 Miles Rind (Guest) on Friday January 03, 2014 at 1:09pm

If the setting is Ham’s Creation Museum then presumably the audience will consist mostly of hopeless Dunning-Kruger cases who wouldn’t recognize that they’d had their creationist asses handed to them on a plate if they had the fact handed to them on a plate.

Here’s my prediction: Bill Nye will at some point say “I don’t know” about something or other and this utterance will be excerpted on video and spread to the faithful to show the triumph of God’s truth over atheist false science.

#3 6ball (Guest) on Saturday January 04, 2014 at 5:41am

...any chance either side records and distributes the proceedings for our entertainment?

#4 Elizabeth Price (Guest) on Sunday January 26, 2014 at 9:43pm

You can get you wish. You don’t have to be there, but it is being made available for free as a live feed. No tickets needed. Ken Ham is making available to all. You can also pre-order the video of debate.
Being a guest, I can not post URLs, but if you search for Bill Nye, Ken Ham, Debate, you can find the link for the “debate live.”

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