Bill Nye vs Ken Ham

Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum has invited Bill Nye ‘The Science Guy’ to a debate. The debate will take place on February 4 at the Creation Museum. Tickets are $25 each and will be available for purchase through the debate event page starting Monday, January 6. (Tickets are sold out.)

The hall can hold 900 people. I predict most of those seats will be occupied by AiG/YEC supporters who are hoping to see Ken Ham show convincingly how ‘observational science confirms the scientific accuracy of the Genesis account of origins, not evolution.’ I don’t know how many non-YECs (or ‘Evolutionists’ if you like) will buy tickets.

I think many that plan to attend will already have their minds made up regarding Creation vs. Evolution. Attending the debate will only serve to confirm what they already believe. Still, there just might be others who have not made up their minds and want to go and have a look-see and listen.

However, I don’t really understand what purpose this debate will serve. Will he who speaks more convincingly win? Will he who wins get to dictate which account of origins is correct?  That is not how science works.

If people wish to challenge a theory, then that is an excellent and honourable path to follow in the best of scientific traditions.  But there are well-established ways of carrying out a scientific critique and these involve the tough course of becoming a member of the scientific research community, and then finding and publishing results in peer-reviewed journals that may challenge a particular theory.  That is how theory testing is done and it is the only way that will win the respect of the scientific community.  Public votes, popular articles, political pressures, campaigns or even sermons by famous preachers will have no effect on scientific opinion because that is not how science is done.  So really serious objections to evolution, if there are any, have to be presented the tough but proper way, by publication of solid results in reputable journals.

–  Dr. Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose

At scienceblogs, Respectful Insolence said this:

They seem to think that science is decided in public debates and view the quite proper reluctance among scientists like myself and skeptics to engage cranks in such spectacles as “cowardice.” It is not, but cranks continue to labor under the delusion that science is somehow decided in such forums, which are a variant of a sort of argumentum ad populum, in which something is argued to be true because it is popular or, in a debate, an argument is thought to be closer to the truth because it is more popular. Science doesn’t work that way. It is decided on evidence presented at scientific conferences and peer-reviewed journals, where the real scientific debate plays out until it is temporarily settled and scientists come to a provisional consensus. That provisional consensus, of course, is always subject to change as new observations, data, and experimental results come to light, but it takes observations, data, and experimental results to change the consensus, not “live public debates.” Such “live public debates” are meant for one thing and one thing only: To sway public opinion to a viewpoint not supported by science, in the process elevating pseudoscience or the unproven to the same plain as the scientific consensus as a scientifically viable “alternative.”

If Stanislaw Burzynski—or antivaccinationists, purveyors of “alternative medicine,” HIV/AIDS denialists, creationists, 9/11 Truthers, or the like—want to convince scientists, there is one way to do so: Publish their data and do battle where scientists normally do battle, in the scientific literature and in scientific conferences. “Live public debates” might sway a few souls when the odd hapless scientist or skeptic unprepared for the Gish gallop makes the mistake of going up against a smooth talking crank, but the scientific consensus remains unchanged. Burzynski can change my mind and the minds of my fellow Skeptics™. It just takes him publishing all the evidence from his completed phase 2 clinical trials. If we find the data compelling, we will start to rethink our positions. Skeptics thrive in uncertainty, while those whose views we criticize crave certainty.

I am flummoxed as to why Bill Nye accepted Ken Ham’s invitation to a debate.

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Posted on Tuesday, January 7th, 2014, in Answers in Genesis, Bizarre, Christian Living, Church, Creation Scientists, Creation vs Evolution, Education, Evolution, Faith and Culture, Fundamentalism, Religion, Science, Theistic Evolution, Young Earth Creationism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I was also surprised that he accepted it. Perhaps he think some nugget of information might sway someone.

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  2. I think there is value in public discussion and even debate, but not under these terms. Unless Nye is charging a significant appearance fee (which he should, but probably isn’t), Ham is going to get a windfall from this, and likely will have publication rights from which he will produce a highly edited video of his “victory” over Nye, from which he will bring in additional revenue. I like the idea of a neutral site, with proceeds going to a mutually-agreed charity, and either mutual or public domain distribution rights.

    To me, the bigger issue is that these shucksters, who are often very used to public speaking forums and even debates, intentionally pick individuals (a) whose field of expertise is not evolution, (b) who aren’t as used to public debate environments, (c) who aren’t well-versed in countering creationist talking points, and (d) don’t know how to negotiate a proper debate contract that would allow for things like neutral moderation/location, publication rights, proceeds, etc. It is well-known among the individuals who are part of the atheism/evolution/YEC/ID public sphere that individuals like Aron Ra, who would be able to address all 4 points above, would be willing to debate Ham under mutually-agreed conditions, but Ham would, for lack of a pun-less comment, become lunch. And he’s savvy enough to know it so he seeks out other individuals. If you look at forums where pretty strict neutrality is enforced, such as a courtroom (see, e.g., the Dover case), creationism and ID tend to fare poorly.

    Debates, when done properly, can serve a similar functional as science popularizers, such as Sean Carroll, Brian Cox, Neil De-Grasse Tyson, Michio Kaku, Krauss, etc., and in fact bring scientific perspective to an audience that would not normally voluntarily subject themselves to scientific understanding. Unfortunately at least from initial outward appearance, the Nye-Ham debate, won’t possess the necessary qualities for a properly-done debate.

    Finally, for the sake of science itself, I humbly submit here a compelling video regarding the new scientific theory of Infantapaulting, the human evolution of adaptive infant aerodynamics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94_omZ2RnfI

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  3. Good points, hktelemacher!

    I think Ken Ham is worried about the falling attendance/revenue at the Creation Museum and trying hard to drum up interest.

    All the tickets to this event sold out in 20 minutes.

    I don’t have a good feeling about this ‘debate’ simply because it’s not on a level playing field.

    I’m hoping that those who get to attend and/or listen via simulcast will give an honest report of how it went down.

    Funny video!

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  4. Looks like 2014 could be the year of the high(er) profile debate:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/sean-carroll-to-debate-william-lane-craig/

    I’ve seen some of Sean’s stuff (from which I have fairly high expectations), and follow him on Twitter (hence how I knew of the debate), but only have exposure to a limited amount of material by Craig. But I do expect that debate to be more scientifically interesting than Ham/Nye, which will likely tread over well-trodden ground, so to speak. Carroll is very up on cutting-edge cosmology, I fully expect there to be parts of their debate I won’t be able to follow until I read up on background material afterwards.

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  5. Thanks for that. Will take a look later. Too warm to think at the moment.

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