This may not end well

January 3, 2014 • 6:53 am

On February 4, Bill Nye the “Science Guy,” will debate creationist Ken Ham at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. (The link gives details.) The topic is “Is creation a viable model of origins?”, and admission is $25. That’s a lot of dough!

My worries are these. First, Nye is likely helping fund the Creation Museum. Had I been Nye, I would have suggested some other recipient of the money. Not only that, but why hold such debates in a Temple of Ignorance instead of on neutral ground?

Second, Nye is giving special credibility to Ham. After all, The Science Guy is known and beloved by many Americans as a popularizer of science. Why debase himself this way?

My third worry, then, is this will look great on Ham’s c.v., but not so much on Nye’s. It is my practice not to debate creationists for reasons #2 and #3. Nye can attack creationism on his own, as he has been doing with great effectiveness. Debates are not the way to help people accept evolution.

Finally, does Nye have experience in debating creationists? It is almost entirely an exercise in rhetoric, not a search for truth, and is Nye prepared to deal with the “Gish Gallop”?

Screen shot 2014-01-03 at 4.20.39 AM

Finally, there’s no doubt that Ham will try to pack the house with his fellow creationists. To that end, I urge my friends in Kentucky, particularly those at the nearby University of Kentucky, to show up to support real science, despite the ridiculous $25 admission fee.

h/t: Ben Goren

141 thoughts on “This may not end well

    1. This is the debate

      This worked well because it was not so formal, they were talking to each other, not an audience, and Aron Ra could interrupt when Ray started off his argument with something horribly wrong. I don’t know how it will work when Nye and Ham are given 10 minutes to speak freely. No creationists understand evolution, I am hoping Ham will quickly get out of his depth, Nye should be able to talk for days about the evidence and how we know what we know, all Ham has is the Bible (which is good enough for creationists) but that will be very limited. At this point Ham will have to start playing games to move away from the science and it will turn into Alice debating Humpty Dumpty in Through The Looking Glass.

      1. Yes, should have linked to it.

        AronRa was very good, precisely because he jumped on every silly thing Ray said, these people shouldn’t be allowed to go on a gish gallop.

      2. “all Ham has is the Bible” This is wrong. If you get into a debates with a creationists on youtube you quickly realize that it is harder to debate a YEC then any other creationist, since their evidence is not limited by science or even consistency. So they can pull arguments out of nowhere.

      1. Everyone likes to do those things, why sully them by associating them with something as immoral and reprehensible as Ray Comfort?

  1. I agree with everything you said except your last sentence.

    Ham and his ilk should not be given oxygen, or our money. Nye would obliterate Ham in a properly moderated debate, but we all know what will happen.

    1. Everyone who is on the science side of this debate will have to give $25 to the Creation “museum.” Bill Nye will be responsible for that. We can’t support him without supporting the Creation “museum.” Nye is already losing this debate, he has nothing to gain from this.

      1. I could not agree more. Jerry’s worries 1-3 are all on point. But it is the $25 fee for the Creation Museum that makes this an impossible win for science. I don’t know how much money the Creation Museum will make from this but even if it is enough to pay a janitor to dust off Adam and Eve, it is too much.

        1. I think evolution is worth more than 25 bucks per head, but maybe we can convince Nye to donate his fee ( if any ) to charity.

          Would that make more sense?

          Ignore the claims, ignore the crowd, explain evolution.

          1. Explaining science is the only reason I can think of for Nye to go on stage with Ham. Too many creationists would avoid the internet for learning, usually they are protected from science by disabling comments and ratings. This show may be the first time some of them have ever had science explained to them by someone who knows what they are talking about.

            1. I very much agree. Even though it may bruise the ego to ignore some of the points Ham probably will be trying to make and the following reaction from the crowd ( this is worst case scenario btw ), it may be the simplest and, in the long run, the best approach.

              KISS and stick to your guns no matter what the reaction from the opponent and the crowd might be.

    2. I agree with that point too. I would add though that not only we should not finance the Ham’s temple of ignorance but also we should allow more of his usual religious audience to hear Nye.

      I think that Nye knowing that the debate will become known in creationist circles, he hopes that it will give the chance to be listened by some of the people who sit on the fence or never were exposed to scientific argument.

      1. Two points:

        I hope a substantial part of the entrance charge is going to pay a thumping big speakers fee for Bill Nye.

        Bill is a seriously bright guy and is connected to Shermer’s Skeptic outfit some way, so he must be pretty familiar with the general landscape of this debate. I’ve seen him several times at Skeptic events. I’m optimistic that he’ll do well, though I’ve not heard him in a similar format.

  2. Yeah, those second and third reasons are solid principles. Too bad Nye hadn’t thought of them.

    I hope someone gives Nye some pointers before he steps into the ring since verbal boxing is probably what this encounter will be reduced to. If Nye shows even the slightest hint of exasperation… well, it might be over for him (at least for this “debate”).

  3. Agree with the OP.

    But now he’s done it I would hope he gets some support both in preparation and in learning from the experience.

  4. Yep! Bill Nye shouldn’t have agreed to this and if he really felt compelled to debate Ham and for that entrance cost, it would’ve been better if it were a bigger production on neutral territory where it could also be recorded. This can only go in Ham’s favour but I hope I am wrong & surprised. Good luck Bill!

  5. I’m not so sure this is an entirely bad idea.

    Sure, there’ll be loads of gish-gallop and Nye can’t counter that point-by-point, but maybe that isn’t why he’s doing this.

    AFAIK Nye has a special platform because he’s used to dealing with presenting facts to children ( pun sort of intended, but not really ). IMO that gives him an advantage because you can’t label him as strident or angry and for some that just might do the trick.

    If he can explain evolution in simple terms and ignore most of the creationist claims, then maybe there’s a chance that he’ll plant some seeds of doubt in the creationist/christian audience.

    1. Those are good points, but his abilities to explain things can be nullified in this situation. Ham could control conditions of a debate on his home turf, including the balance of the audience and who the judges are (if there are judges outside of the audience). The creationists in the audience are not likely to be persuaded by Nye, IMO. They rarely change their minds on this subject.
      Right now I am hoping that as the situation becomes better known, Nye sees it as an ambush and calls it off. Formal debates are not a good way to educate a public, since it is more about skill in making claims that cannot be directly rebutted by the other person.

      1. I worry that might be the case too, but at the same time I don’t think shying away from debating them will accomplish anything either.

        If this debate is youtubed then there’s also the more neutral audience that might see creationism for what it really is when compared to evolution.

        It’s learning by doing and hopefully Nye has a few tricks up his sleeve.

  6. I am pretty sure Hitchens would have done it and there would be no doubt he could ruin Ham. I also think Krauss is directed enough that he could smash Ham. I say this, however, without having ever heard Ham speak, but from what I have read he would not fare well against those two. Nye may do fine and at the very least it will be educational for those who have no idea how to debate a religious person who is unwilling to change their position.

    1. “I am pretty sure Hitchens would have done it and there would be no doubt he could ruin Ham.”

      Probably not. Hitchens wasn’t a science guy and wouldn’t have been the best person to debunk Ham’s creationist claims. Hitchens did better with issues concerning the influence of religion on society.

      1. Having seen videos of Hitchens debating science based issues on many occasions I am quite certain he would demolish Ham without any difficulty. Ditto Krauss, even if his specialist field is not biology. It doesn’t take expertise in Biology to argue against the idiocy of creationism, only good debating skills. The specific talent needed is an ability to deal a fatal blow to a high-steam gish gallop. The most skilled debater in doing a hatchet job on a creationist gish gallop (IMHO) was John Maynard Smith.
        And I do think there is some value in confronting the likes of Ham in debate, if it is done well. It can make borderline believers in an audience see the real truth, and can even make those with the most hardened views feel the fear of doubt. That is not a bad outcome to seek.

      2. I agree with Howie Korstein on Hitchens. I was just watching a few videos of him on Youtube last night. IMO he would just shred any argument that any creationist could produce – you don’t need a PhD in science to grasp the relevant points of evolution or why creationism is hopelessly wrong. What is needed is an ability to marshal the facts in simply expressed coherent terms and deliver them clearly – which Hitchens undoubtedly had, to devastating effect.

        Of course, that might have just convinced the audience that All Atheists Are Mean…

    1. I don’t know. Nye is no fool and I’m sure he is quite clear on what he’s doing. I don’t happen to agree, but I don’t think he is remotely naive. Then again, perhaps I am. 😉

    2. Evangelical creationists are not nitwits. They believe in some nitwitty things, sure. But Ham shouldn’t be too sure of his audience.

      Like every other group, they’re not a monolithic block … and none of them is a nitwit in every conceivable way. They’re not under his total control, they’re not cartoon characters, and they’ve been carefully trained to say that reason and evidence is important. My guess is Ham’s in more trouble than Nye, if we’re just going to consider this particular audience. Don’t underestimate their basic intelligence; play into it.

      1. I classify anyone who believes the world is less than 10,000 years old a nitwit.

        So if you don’t think anyone who believes this is a nitwit, then please tell me your definition of a nitwit.

        Give me an example of a person who you would classify as stupid. And don’t give me this PC crap of “there aren’t really any stupid people”. There ARE stupid people.

        1. It’s not PC crap — it’s accuracy. When it comes to basic IQ the average evangelical is … average. Most people keep the religion they’re raised in.

          If you want to classify anyone who believes the world is less than 10,000 years as a “nitwit” then that’s understandable. My problem was that you were saying that it’s not possible to convert ‘nitwits’ through reason and evidence — which doesn’t apply to your definition.

          Creationists are in general mentally capable of understanding evolution and accepting it. They’re not “stupid” in the sense of legitimately cognitively challenged. Their problem is with the emotional weight they give to their religion. It throws them off.

          I grew up with a mom who volunteered regularly with the mentally handicapped, taking them on outings to which I often went along. As a result I’m very sensitive to labeling people as “stupid” (and I can’t even say the ‘r’ word.) They are BEING stupid.

          Technically though it doesn’t really matter then what you call them. The point is that “they” are not an undifferentiated block of idiots and many of them can change or at least improve — and have. The defeatist attitude is inaccurate and … stupid.

      2. “they’ve been carefully trained to say that reason and evidence is important”

        Interesting point there, and one that may level the playing field a little for Bill Nye. One point in favour of Ken Ham’s AIG is that they do have some respect for rational argument. (Obviously we clash with them on whether the Bible is a valid basis, but they’re not overtly anti-intellectual). AIG does deprecate some of the more annoying straw-man arguments (e.g. ‘just a theory’ and ‘why are apes still around?’ and ‘Darwin recanted’) as discrediting their position and not being intellectually worthy of use.

        So hopefully some of the audience may give Bill Nye’s arguments a fairer evaluation than we (most of us) seem to be assuming. But AIG does apparently have a qualified biologist on staff, so if she’s given Ken a briefing he may not be as off-beam as we expect.

        (As an aside, for those who like irony – AIG don’t seem to regard ID with much favour, since it doesn’t address the problems of theodicy, the age of the earth (AIG are YECs and fluvian literalists), nor does ID ever specify who the Creator might be. “The Creator and His creation cannot be separated” )

  7. I am sure there is plenty of material online to inform Nye what he might expect from the Hamster. He was on NPR about a year ago along with Michael Shermer. The discussion was not in the formal debate style, but it was a balanced back and forth. In that format Shermer (and so I hope Nye)handled himself pretty well, but then Ham did a Gish gallop that could not be fully rebutted due to lack of time. I suppose we can expect that sort of thing again this time.

  8. Prediction: Ham will record the debate, edit said tape to his own satisfaction and declare himself the winner.

    1. I don’t think that’s much of a worry in this case. For one, Nye is enough of a media star to have standard legal boilerplate that will give him rights to original footage. For another, even if Ham doesn’t yet know of the power of the Streisand Effect, said effect is more than powerful enough to force him to release the entire unedited debate.

      Now, Ham may well wind up producing his own edited version, especially for inclusion in some other work. But the full unedited debate will be on YouTube in less than a week after it happens, and very likely the next day.



      1. Yes, I assume that’s true. I can’t imagine that Bill Nye would allow Ham to have complete control of taping & public release.

    1. You just have to keep at them. If you don’t try you won’t convince anyone.

      Rationalists have to market their product too -can’t count on creationists absorbing things out of the air. But, they can be convinced by trying. Look for openings, or broadcast and hope that some point strikes someone in a receptive mood.

  9. Even if Ham misrepresents the debate, say by editing video to his advantage and releasing it, that is not necessarily a total loss. In that case there is the opportunity to demonstrate to any that are capable of accepting it that Ham is being dishonest, and why would he need to do that if his position were righteous?

  10. Bill Nye is a very public character who needs to be in the spotlight in order to survive professionally. This could be a good career move for him, if he does his homework and is ready to call out the dishonesty when it surfaces.

    1. Is it just me or has Bill Nye suddenly become “strident”?

      Maybe he’s financially secure enough now that he’s not worried about “surviving professionally” and is actually doing this for “noble” reasons.


      1. He is definitely committed to the cause of rationality and science and is not just in this for the money — though I hope he makes a lot of it.

  11. All evil has to do sometimes to win is for good to do nothing. Nye is attempting to educate the masses. Though he should remember that even Jesus said it was sometimes the equivalent of throwing pearls to swine.

    1. Pearls to the swine, aye. But a better deal for the swine than to be possessed by evil spirits and run off a cliff, eh?

      Do I correctly understand that Muslims abhor pork? Does it gall radical Muslims and Judaists (?) that they share at least that in common?

      Is it a matter of swine being cloven-hooved? If so, whither the consumption of beef?

      1. Generally, anything that is kosher is also halal. Halal permits shellfish and mixing of milk and meat, neither of which are kosher. Kashrut permits alcohol and halal forbids it. There are other differences, but none you’re likely to encounter in the typical Western diet.



  12. Agree with everything you said except buying tickets. No one should give $25 to the Creationist Museum. The profits will fund teaching children creationism.

    1. Without trying to second guess Nye, I wonder if that’s exactly why he agreed to meet at the Creation “Museum,” the sole purpose of which is to indoctrinate children with nonsense. Go to the source where you can point out the silliness on site to discredit them?

      1. I would bet money that Bill Nye is not doing this for free. He is a huge media star up there with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Those guys do not do work for free.

  13. 2014 Greer-Heard Event Schedule
    Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 @ 7:00 p.m.:- “God & Cosmology” Sean Carroll & William Lane Craig “in Dialogue” + Q&A
    @ New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary , Leavell Chapel

    DETAILS HERE [It seems to run in two parts Saturday & Sunday, but the Seminary has screwed up the “schedule” tab details ~ so I’m guessing]

  14. The real problem is, what’s the point of debating this? Scientific fact is not up to debate. Even if Ham were to “win” the debate, that would not mean a darn thing — evolution will still be fact. Plus, if somehow Nye wins, Ham and his people will still not accept evolution. Nye is on a fool’s errand. As the saying goes, never mud-wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and the pig likes it.

    1. Ham and his people will still not accept evolution…

      “His people?” They’re not minions. Nor “pigs.” They’re people.

      Don’t count on none of them ever accepting evolution no matter what they’re exposed to. That’s what we want Ham to think.

  15. Has Nye confirmed he will participate in the debate?

    An article, Jan 2, 2014 8:15 PST says,

    “Nye . . . said in that interview that he would be willing to travel to Kentucky and debate Ham if the museum paid his travel expenses.

    An email message sent to Nye’s assistant was not returned Thursday.”

    1. A spokeswoman for Nye has confirmed that the debate is on his schedule. That would suggest that it is going ahead.

    2. I think so. I just added this over at the Sensuous Curmudgeon:

      Lordy, lordy – was enjoying a nice IPA and some nachos at Turley’s bar and looked up to see the bow-tied Nye on CNN with the runner saying he was going to debate a creationist [no mention of Ham in print]. The volume was off, but I would guess that it may have been interesting…..anyone see it??

  16. Ham has already declined to debate Aron Ra and PZ Myers.

    As I noted in a comment on Panda’s Thumb, it possible to debate creationists if one is well prepared. Ken Miller successfully debated Henry Morris and John Maynard Smith successfully debated Duane Gish. The bottom line is preparation to combat the Gish gallop.

  17. Strictly timed debate is a terrible format for getting at the truth of any point of contention. It’s very structure always favors the more dishonest, unscrupulous side, which is why creationists and other denialists love it so.

    The only arena where timed debate is even purported to be used as a normal procedure is in legislatures, and even there it’s influence on the creation of laws is largely mythical.

  18. Since Ham’s tactic will undoubtedly be the Gish Gallop, Nye should ignore Ham’s blather and just say his piece, as clearly and forcefully as he can.

    Sam Harris has recently adopted this tactic in similar situations. Otherwise, you spend all your time refuting inane nonsesne.

    All debaters must remember that, for the right-wingers, this is not about finding facts. It’s about “winning” the debate, scoring points, getting a (picked) audience reaction.

    I once worked with a right-winger and he proudly told me about how he could do a weird movement with one of his eyes (he could) that would invariably distract his “opponent” and help him “win”. I asked him whether it bothered him that he was “winning” using what was basically a parlor trick, not a good argument. Didn’t bother him a bit.

    This is the mentality that we are dealing with. In addition to the fact that they put more store in an Iron-Age book of legends than they do in scientific data.

    1. Which brings to mind, again, one of my favorite quotes from Bertrand Russell:

      The fundamental difference between the liberal and the illiberal outlook is that the former regards all questions as open to discussion and all opinions open to greater or less measure of doubt, while the latter holds in advance that certain opinions are absolutely unquestionable, and that no argument against them must be allowed to be heard.

      — Bertrand Russell, Freedom and the Colleges, 1940

      This is why conservatives have no interest in real debates: They think they already know everything. Which means that you are intellectually dead: You refuse to learn.

      1. In this respect my favourite quote is:

        “To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.
        If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps
        down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it–the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.”
        [William K. Clifford, The Ethics of Belief (1877)]

      1. You mean Harris/Craig debate? I think that it was very clever thing he did. I emitted very powerful eye-opening message to the audience about immorality of religion. The message was later further magnified by internet channels.

        1. The problem with debating with religious people is, among others, this: they are exposed to “catch-all” psychological tricks that are very difficult to crack. For example: “everything that is against us is the work of the devil; so, if you start having doubts, that’s the Devil planting the seed of evil into your brain”. Add to this an emotional attachment to ideas, a tendency to think magically and a personal distaste for those bad “atheists who my parents loathe” and you have a almost impossible nut to crack.

    2. My prediction is that Bill Nye will more or less ignore the whole ‘debate’ format and instead focus on the very thing which made Ham mad enough (on several levels) to challenge him: the poor kids deprived of proper science. He will address them — and their parents. Everything he says about evolution will be specifically aimed at taking advantage of this opportunity to introduce youngsters, for the very first time, to the joys and wonders of scientific discovery and the theory of evolution.

      As JBlilie suggests, “clearly and forcefully” — but in language and tone meant for bright and curious children.

      And Ham will get pissed off because none of his opponents have done this before and he’s losing the “I protect your children’ credit.

      I predict that technically speaking, Nye will lose the debate. But it will be a ‘spiritual’ victory because he’ll have had the kids — some of them — move to his side and want to know more.

      It would also be my suggestion.

    1. It is not my intent to single you out personally, many people have made similar statements on this very thread and elsewhere in the past . . .

      but . . .

      If you really mean that then I would say, just because you can compose a statement does not mean that the statement is accurate.

      Or perhaps you don’t really mean, specifically, what you wrote here. It seems to me you are speaking figuratively or rhetorically. In which case I would ask, why? Why not just say what you really mean?

      To even have a chance of being accurate your statement requires that people agree with whatever you think the issue is, whatever you think a debate is, and whether or not your ideas of what those things are are actually relevant to the situation, regardless of the terms being used. And then there is the slight matter of what the participants goals actually are, again regardless of the terms being used.

      It may be your opinion that these confrontations are pointless, or even detrimental. But if one of your metrics is, “does this help in any way to move anyone away from religious faith,” which seems to pretty clearly be a metric that most people around here are interested in, well, the evidence is pretty clearly yes. People that have made the change from believer to unbeliever have stated so. Not once or twice, many times.

      I don’t think anyone believes that the purpose of these kinds of debates is to determine what the truth of the matter is. The purpose is to convince people that your views are true and to accept them, or to at least cause doubts about your opponents views.

      1. (Your last paragraph)

        Thanks, darelle, for clearly demonstrating the falsity of one of the oft repeated reasons for not debating scientific issues.

        1. And perhaps I had no choice (that whole free will issue) but to point out that that obvious statement is irrelevant in this context. It is a non sequitur. These kinds of “debates” are not about trying to do science. You’d be hard pressed to find anybody that thinks that they are. Even among people that don’t have a good idea about what science is.

          1. If those debates served to do this, and gained more evolutionists than lost them, they would indeed be useful. But I’m not sure that is the case. Now some of the “God-vs.-no-God” debates, especially those that involved Hitch, have been cited by former believers as reasons that helped them give up their faith. But I’ve never heard of one person who came over to the evolution side because of a creation/evolution debate. And even if one did, you have to find out how many people on the fence became antievolutionists (or were strengthened in their antievolution resolve) by such debates as well.

            Note that in my post I never called for Nye to withdraw. That in fact would be a bad move at this point. I just think he should not have accepted the invitation. My guess is that Nye, now that he’s no longer doing his show, still wants to remain in the spotlight.

            1. We shall see. While I lean toward the “starve them of the oxygen” side of things I also respect Nye’s abilities and none of us here really know how he came to this decision. So I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment.

              As for whether debates of this sort sway people to the side of reason, I suspect that they probably do sometimes. I’ll wager there are some converts commentariat who were swayed by a creation/evolution debate. Or perhaps the sample size for this kind of debate is much smaller than god/not-god versions?

              I attended one very annoying creation/evolution debate a few years ago. It was annoying because the evolution argument wasn’t made by a scientist but by a philosopher who was himself a religious person. While the debate took place at a public university, it was sponsored by local Lutherans. The whole thing made my skin crawl as it boiled down to a bunch of believers trying to deal with accomodationism vs. biblical literalism. I’m confident that Nye will do much better.

  19. Usually creationists invert these debates into attacks against evolution, as if creationism wins by default when they can come with a single argument from ignorance: “I don’t know how some beetles can squirt fire out of their arses, therefore God exists”. And it’s very hard for any scientist to be familiar with every such argument.

    1. Best defense is a good offense. I’d like to see someone carry the debate into religious territory some time. If the theory of evolution has weaknesses, the theory of Christianity has 1000X more. Maybe that should be mentioned.

  20. I have only formally debated a creationist (a Christian medical doctor from India)once and that was my first and last time. A complete waste of my energy as I feel this debate will be

    1. Is there an authoritative list, of those at least leaning toward the creationist side, with whom the majority of posters here would approve a debate?

      Otherwise, with whom shall one from our side be allowed to debate? Surely we’re not restricted to debating among the choir.

      I think the debate should be via remote TV,as with the Nixon-JFK debates. Keep the debaters from the audience, so as to prevent the distraction of fatuous, ignorant ululations and interruptions from the audience.

      1. The general attitude is that debates aren’t the proper format for these sorts of things.

        Richard Dawkins has been interviewing an awful lot of people. For a while I think he was participating in moderated discussions, but simple back-and-forth conversations are generally more interesting and productive.

        That requires, of course, participants with the courage and courtesy to not monopolize the conversation. I don’t think Ham is capable of either the requisite courage nor courtesy. Fundamentalists generally aren’t. Richard has, however, had a number of discussions with religious people, most notably the Archbishop of Canterbury.

        …and that really helps drive home the pointlessness of a debate. Can you imagine Ham having a productive conversation with Richard or Jerry or Sean Carroll or anybody else? What would there be to converse? It’d be the scientist attempting to give Ham an elementary science lesson, and Ham spouting nonsense about faery tales as if they were true. Sheer insanity.

        All a debate does is formalize who talks when, to help keep passions in check. And while I’m sure tempers would run hot in that sort of a setting, it’s not the emotions that make the exercise pointless; it’s the content…or, rather, the lack thereof.

        An hour-long debate between Ham and anybody else is worse than an hour-long American commercial broadcast of the “anybody else.” In the broadcast, you’ve got 40 minutes of somebody intelligent speaking, and the commercial interruptions aren’t anywhere near as obnoxious and offensive and distracting as Ham’s blather.



          1. Again, formal debates aren’t a good idea.

            I would love to watch an extended discussion between Richard Dawkins and Ken Miller. Jerry, if you’re reading this and think you could put the two of them together in the same room, please do do!

            I imagine a similar discussion between Lawrence Krauss and any top Vatican astronomer would be equally enlightening.

            Dan Dennett and the Archbishop of Canterbury would be a blast.

            But hacks like Ham don’t deserve the air.



            1. I’ve sometimes thought we need to develop a cadre of rationalist debaters with no reputations, but well versed in crummy debate tricks. Send these “destroyers” out against the likes of Ham instead of using heavyweights who automatically lend some credibility to the nutters. If Ham holds his own against Joe Doaks, obscure jr. scientist, he gains no honor, but if he gets torpedoed by Joe’s debate tricks — he sinks. Dawkins is right about resumes and who benefits when he debates these guys.

  21. I’ve been thinking about this – there is a kind of trap here. If proponents of fact refuse to debate with myth-purveyors, they (the myth-purveyors) will say: “they don’t want to debate! They are afraid! Evolution is a lie!”

    1. This is where the suggestion I just made to train obscure rationalist debaters might come in. And if Ham, or whoever, tries to weasel out of debating Joe Doaks, — accuse him of being afraid to even debate this young recent graduate. No need to use big weapons against a pesky fly. No need to imply that big weapons are required.

  22. I just linked to “gish gallop” to learn the source of that term which is described on I’d never visited this site but poking around, found it to be the most idiotic, needlessly snarky, and vacuous Internet trash bin I’ve come across. Does anyone actually go here?

    1. I am not especially familiar with the site, but the article on “gish gallop” itself seemed OK to me. A bit soft, perhaps, given that it’s talking about a tactic that is the refuge of unscrupulous liars, but basically correct. Perhaps you could share an example of what you consider to be idiotic, snarky, vacuity for our consideration?

      1. Read the articles on Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens. They are bumbling attempts at sarcasm that faceplant, are dishonest, and border on ad hominem. Really unfair and I will never visit this site again and Jerry might cautiously make references to it as a source. I have no problem with criticism of Harris’s or Hitchens’ ideas but these articles written about them are arrogantly and blithely self-righteous.

        1. Ah, reading those articles I see what you mean. From it’s name I would have assumed that it was attempting to be like Wikipedia, with something like a neutral point of view and all, but clearly it has a different aim. The articles are often straight up opinion pieces, some hatchet jobs, and there are attempts, often failing, at humor throughout. So, not a good general reference to cite. I wouldn’t say that it’s completely without redeeming quality, though. After all, the article on Ken Ham starts thus:

          “Ken Ham is a creationist wackaloon, and the president and founder of Answers in Genesis. He hails from Australia, where all the kangaroos floated during the Flood.”

          This at least made me smile.

  23. … but why hold such debates in a Temple of Ignorance instead of on neutral ground?

    As I argued over at PZ’s, the fact that this is NOT neutral (or, worse, academic) ground makes this debate virtually an automatic win for Nye. If the audience is packed with committed creationists then the only place any of them can move is towards science and reason. From that standpoint, there’s nowhere to go but up.

    Fundamentalists keep themselves and their children sheltered for a reason: contact with the outside world can be “disturbing.” It can generate “discontent” and “thoughts” which will lead away from “faith.” That’s why creationists can manage to get away with making up what they don’t distort.

    I think Ham is excited about the potential opportunity to triumph over a well-known humanist evolutionist and has forgotten that he’s been systematically lying to a carefully protected and insulated group of followers. He’s cocky. He thinks he has them sewn up and giving them more of the usual schtick they’ve been hearing their whole lives will outweigh the fact that many of them, for the very first time, will be hearing something NEW.

    Different. Unexpected. Not quite what they’ve been told — and it’s coming from someone likeable and funny, the sort of person you feel like you can trust. If Nye is entering a Temple of Ignorance, then the merchants better watch out. They’ve got competition where they had a monopoly. If only one person changes their mind somewhere down the road because they got this opportunity to hear the Other Side — then Ham served it up to them on a silver platter.

    1. “If only one person changes their mind somewhere down the road …”

      I think that’s an excellent argument indeed, for Mr. Nye to DO this debate:

      No matter the perceived outcome of the debate, it’s extremely unlikely that someone who accepts evolution will be driven away from his views by Mr. Nye and won over by Mr. Ham.

      In that respect, it’s much more likely that Bill’s arguments will plant a seed in people who thus far were (maybe because of unfortunate ignorance) leaning towards creationism.

      No matter who will eventually be declared the winner, when it comes to changing minds, only Mr. Nye can win here!
      As for Mr. Ham, while his arguments may make creationists feel justified in their beliefs, he’s certainly not going to CHANGE anyone’s mind in a debate with Mr. Nye!

      1. I did a couple of these debates vs. minor-league creationists early in my career (and the fact that the campus creationists haven’t asked me to do another may suggest that I did okay). I went into them fully aware that I wasn’t going to change the minds of the hard-core believers; instead I imagined a 10-year-old, dragged there by parents, whose sense of reasoning and curiousity haven’t entirely been stomped out yet; a shy 16-year-old, nominally a creationist but who rode the church van to the debate mainly in hopes of sitting next to a cute creationist girl; a college student who’s just starting to have their once rock-solid beliefs shaken, hoping the creationist will sweep aside their doubts but not completely closed-minded.
        If the Ham-on-Nye debate plants a little seed of doubt in the minds of a few budding creationists, that could make it worthwhile. I don’t think having a bunch of people from our side hooting and hollering will be necessary, especially not when it gives $25 to the stupid Creation “Museum”.

        1. But for USD 25 a head, I’m afraid there won’t be many young people. (Maybe that’s the reason the Hamster charges that much).

          1. Maybe a rationalist or atheist group should try and organize a means of paying for any believers 25 years or younger that would like to attend.

    2. I think this is a very salient point. It may be hard for people not raised in a fundamentalist environment to realize how total the information control can be. I think information control is a major, if not the major, survival strategy for fundamentalism. Mere exposure to any and all contrasting information and ideas is generally proscribed in such groups. Even possessing a book that is mildly not orthodox (in whatever way your narrow group defines it) is enough to earn you a measure of opprobrium in many religious circles. You are furthermore taught that entertaining wrong thoughts is itself a kind of sin, or at least a flirtation with “falling away” and ultimately going to Hell. Ideas are not merely right or wrong, they are moral or immoral, safe or dangerous (to your immortal soul), and good people don’t think about immoral or dangerous ideas like evolution. Many people go their whole lives not merely ignorant of correct information about evolution but making super human efforts to avoid ever being even exposed to it. Ideas that don’t fit with the fundamentalist orthodoxy are treated like some kind of deadly disease of the soul that you can catch simply by holding an offending book in your hands. So it may well be that this is a large audience of people who live in a total vacuum of accurate information about evolution, people who will hear accurate information for the very first time.

      One can hope that it will be attended by many homeschooled children who are often the most in the dark.

      1. Growing up in a fairly fundamentalist church and conservative community, I can attest to the opprobrium and conformist pressure you describe. As a callow youth I would have had to travel to the state university an hour away to hear an opposing opinion, assuming that I could somehow otherwise have been made aware of that opportunity (and didn’t have to confront much opprobrium from my seniors when they became aware of my activities).

        I trust that all Ham-Nye debate attendees will simply rest their voices and listen. (I know that that’s exceedingly unlikely.) The less any one of them wants to sincerely listen and learn, the less civil one is, the more likely one will loudly yammer and ululate in response to something one likes or doesn’t like. Too often speakers are shouted down and not allowed to speak.

        1. Oh, I think it very, very unlikely that the creationist audience will try to shout down Bill Nye or do anything else which would make them look boorish or rude. On the contrary, they will likely be a model audience and as polite as possible, given that they know that they are being evaluated by at least one (and maybe even more!) Nonbelievers.

          Besides, they’re usually polite anyway, thinking it a Christian virtue. The ones who decide they don’t want to listen will be seen with their eyes closed, muttering inaudible prayers to their Personal Savior.

  24. It’s happening already! The Nanaimo Daily News picked up the story from AP this morning. Ken Hamm is made out to be a rational human being with a legitimate point of view. This is why you don’t debate YE Creationists.

    1. I just read the article. Shame there are no comments. I was ready to explain that there was no “creation-evolution issue”, there are fantasies and there are facts.

      The article seemed unbiased and really just reported on the events with quotes from the two of them. Kind of light and needed more information about creationism and evolution but I guess the writer isn’t that kind of journalist.

  25. Perhaps Nye should meet with Ham privately, before the debate, to come up with some clear rules that will allow the average onlooker to unambiguously determine the winner.


  26. I don’t think Nye should try to present the evidence for evolution at all. I think his strongest approach would be to say, “For the sake of argument, let’s say no one had ever formulated the idea of evolution by natural selection, and let’s forget about it. Instead we’re going to see if the evidence supports the biblical account. Let’s see if there is evidence that the earth and universe are 6,000 years old; that there was a global flood; that the human population bottlenecked at 2 people; etc.” This approach would neuter Ham’s likely attempts to undermine evolution by taking it off the table. If done well, it would reduce all of Ham’s arguments to special pleading, aka “goddidit.” I suspect that many folks who are creationists are content to see supposed holes poked in evolution and just assuming that therefore creation must be true.

    1. That would be my own approach, too; I would show, in very painful but brief detail, how the Bible is a very bad ancient faery tale anthology.

      But I don’t think Nye is going to take such an approach. It’s one thing for a well-liked science popularizer to demonstrate the positive evidence in favor of evolution; it’s quite another to demonstrate the foolishness of religion and the utter folly of the Bible.

      If he did go that route, there’d be a few very predictable and bad-for-him results.

      First, he’d get mired in a million-and-one rationalizations of competing interpretations. “A day is as a thousand years to the Lard, so it’s silly for Nye to nitpick about this happening on a set schedule,” and so on.

      Next, if he did actually score — and especially if he took my approach — he’d be seen as ridiculing and insulting religious faith. Now, while I’d be more than happy to do that, that sort of thing would be very bad for his audience approval ratings.

      Last, if he treats the Bible with any sort of serious or dignity or respect, he’s elevating it to the same level as objective observation; he’d legitimize the Bible as a source of information. And that would be disastrous, especially amongst fence-sitters. “If a scientist like Nye is willing to take the Bible so seriously, maybe there’s something serious in there after all.”

      Nye never should have accepted the invitation in the first place. But, since he has, his only hope is to not even obliquely refer to the Bible at all. Don’t explain how the Bible is worng; explain what the actual observations are, how we can trust them, and what the simplest conclusion from said observations is.

      In short, he should ignore everything Ham says and simply give prepared summaries of different sections of Jerry’s book in each of his allotted time segments. Pick one catchphrase of Ham’s as the segue to the prepared bit; “Ken made an interesting statement when he said that this all happened six thousand years ago. In reality, six thousand years ago was the middle of the Egyptian Fifth Dynasty, so we can rule that out, along with everything else he said that depends on that so-called “fact.” It might help if I explain how we actually know the dates for things that happened when nobody with a calendar was there to report on it….”



      1. And, as I suggested (and predicted) above, Nye should aim his talk to the kids, addressing them directly and right under Ham’s nose. That’s what started the whole thing in the first place — Nye’s publicly expressed distress that children were denied a proper and thorough exposure to the knowledge, joys, and wonders of science and the theory of evolution. They’re being kept ignorant.

        Not by the time he’s done, they won’t be. Thanks, Ken!

      2. Seen from the outside it would very much be bad mojo to equate creationism with the bible.

        One thing at a time.

  27. This is going to benefit Ham and his “museum” far more than it will increase acceptance of evolution among the likely audience. It is a hideously bad idea for Nye to give Ham this level of credibility.

    Please join me in writing to Bill Nye to encourage him to drop out. His email address is the initial letters of “Bill Nye Science Guy” (at)

    1. Would you care to name several notables with creationist tendencies whom you would not object to Nye debating?

  28. Creationists are actually rarely beaten in these debates, because they are generally unscrupulous sacks of $#@%. Scientists do not fare as well in debates, as their honesty and commitment to the tentative nature of scientific claims can come across weakness to the average, scientifically-illiterate mind. And when a scientist does try to speak in a more straightforward manner, she/he is liable to be labled as dogmatic or strident!

    So dozens upon dozens of errors and outright lies about evolution, and the inerrancy of the Bible for that matter, will be confidently visited upon Mr. Nye by Mr. Ham. Bill will only have time to address a few of them, mostly in broad terms that are utterly unconvincing even to those “on the fence”, if there are any such people in the audience. The unaddressed lies and mistatements will be seen as points scored.

    If such debates are to be had, I would like to see creationism compared to a falsified piece of science such as the geocentric solar system. Say that, as a scientists, we would readily recognize evidence of a created world, and go into detail as to what that would be. Contrast it to what we actually see and why it supports the evolutionary model. Make it explicit that this is a debate that is fundamentally about honesty – one side is willing to look at all of the evidence, and the other will only look at evidence that is filtered by a literal Bible interpretation.

  29. Ham: Welcome to our debate. Ladies & Gentlemen… please welcome “Science Guy” Bill Nye!

    *Nye walks slowly to the podium, stone-faced, like a prisoner being led to the gallows. He looks over at Ham, who is taking his seat.*

    Nye: Am I going to Hell, Ken?

    *The audience burbles in shock & surprise, and then once again goes silent. Even Ham seems a bit non-plussed.*


    Ham: *Smiling now* You don’t have to, Bill! It’s entirely up to you! Well, and up to God, of course. But our generous Lord gave us a pretty good instruction book on how to avoid Hell and arrive at a much better place. You should read it!

    *The audience erupts into applause, with a few cheers and whistles, accompanied by a smattering of boos.*

    Nye: I have read it, Ken, but I don’t believe for a minute that it contains advice for living life derived from some supernatural entity. It’s just a book, written by men. Anybody can see that. So, back to my question, which you will certainly agree is an important one: am I going to Hell?

    Ham: *Snarky* Well then, yes, I’m afraid so.

    *Two YEC newlyweds stand up and clap loudly; upon realizing they’re virtually alone, they resume sitting down, giggling to each other.*

    Nye: *Eyes wild* Well then HELP ME, KEN, FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE MAN! HELP ME!

    *Caught off guard, Ham stays silent, trying to measure the situation*


    Ham: *His voice softens; eyes peering out of suspicious slits* I already told you what you must do, Bill.


    Ham: We Christians believe there is no other way. Following the Bible is foundational, not optional.



    (Okay I was bored, but I think Jerry is right… this can’t end well.)

  30. You are all doomed! DOOMED, I say!

    Hambo isn’t interested in your fancy science, or learning, or evidence. Hambo is the Kurt Wise Professor of Faith. Even if all the evidence in the entire universe points to science being “true” and the Bible being “false,” both Hambo and Kurt will still believe.

    Dawkins referred to Wise as a “disgrace to the human species” for that blind faith.

    Thus, it is IMPOSSIBLE to win a debate with Hambo or even make him look bad. I mean, he already looks bad! Hambo’s position is very, very simple and unmovable: God exists, God does not lie, the Bible is the Word of God, therefore, ergo, ta da, the Bible is true. And everybody else, and that means Everybody Else, is wrong. End of story. Debate’s over.

    So, all this talk about Gish Gallop, strategies for dealing with old Hambo is crazy talk or, as the youth put it, cray-cray.

    What I would LOVE to see, however, is the IRS grilling old Hambo about his “ministry,” series of 501c “charities,” municipal bonds the the monetary disbursements to date from his Ark Encounter project. Now, that would be worth digging into! Somebody’s living rich off the flock and it’s not the Science Guy!

  31. Just a few comments:

    Bill Nye cannot, at this stage, pull out of this debate without looking more foolish than he could ever look by continuing with the debate.

    Why are so many commenters here presuming to know what Bill Nye’s motives are in accepting the debate and how he will conduct the debate. I’m sure he has his own reasons and his own ideas about how he will conduct the debate.

    Debates on science topics are not about establishing scientific truth claims but about convincing the audience of the value of science in establishing truth claims.

    Not matter how you look at it, it is a cop out to refuse debates such as these. Ken Ham has a public prominence that is undeserved, but he does have that prominence. Refusing these debates gives him a win without a battle.

    Christopher Hitchens did it well and Sam Harris does it well. Dawkins doesn’t have the temperament, which is a shame. Bill Nye has been around a long time, he’s an intelligent guy, he’s accepted the challenge, so let’s just see how he goes.

    1. Well Dawkins does debate, just not creationists as far as I know. He still tackles people with equally silly beliefs such as Lennox, for instance, and is mostly pretty sharp in those debates.

      1. A question for any poster here: regarding with whom it is acceptable to debate, where is the dividing line between Lennox (and Lane Craig for that matter) and Ham and his ilk? How does one identify that line? Why should Dawkins (or Harris or any one else in the same camp) deign to debate ANYONE who claims the existence of any god?

  32. Is this an act of courage or naiveté? Nye has probably thought through the implications and anticipated the attention and pressure.

    Occasionally, the debate must be courageously brought to the adversary’s home court, as Hitchens instructed. Whatever the outcome, the debate will not likely end with this event in Kentucky; at the very least, the debate will make for good comedy (one of Nye’s strengths).

    Setting aside the ticketing and money concerns, I remain cautiously optimistic. The debate could stimulate reflection and discussion among the young skeptics and superstitious in the audience. Would this not be reminiscent of Hitchens’ courageous decision to take his “God Is Not Great” book tour through the bible belt? Incidentally, I cannot recall a lot of folks opining against Hitchens’ admirably bold move through the treacherous evangelical homeland.

    I am not a fan of Nye and please forgive the comparison to Hitchens, but if Nye can learn from Hitchens and amass, and effectively apply, a substantial dialectic and rhetorical arsenal, then maybe something grand will ensue. Dawkins rightly described Hitch’s risky tour of the bible belt as a success:

    “With characteristic effrontery, he took his tour through the Bible Belt states — the reptilian brain of southern and middle America, rather than the easier pickings of the country’s cerebral cortex to the north and down the coasts. The plaudits he received were all the more gratifying. Something is stirring in that great country.”

    It’s go-time for the science guy!

    1. I was in Hitchens’s Raleigh audience.

      From what I observed, he triumphed. (“The fearful, bawling infancy of our species.”)

  33. Yesterday, January 3, I saw an interview with Bill Nye on CNN regarding the debate. I have changed my mind, I think we are all selling Bill short. He was brilliant, spent most of long interview talking about science and the need for real science in the schools. He refused to mention Ham by name, referring to him as “this guy.” When the interviewer brought up the bible and religion, Nye said he was not interested in talking about religion and continued on his agenda of talking about science. He also said that he doesn’t believe that “this guy” really believes what he is saying and implied the Ham has other motives (i.e. money, although Nye did not say that out loud.)

    It was funny and right on. I am now looking forward to the “debate.” I think Nye knows exactly what he is doing and does not need any coaching from us.



    I applaud his courage, both for standing up to a thoroughly dishonest rhetorist on his own turf, and for bucking the fashion of non-involvement among evolutionary science promoters.

    Of course it’s a trap. Of course, most of them will blindly rooting, and claiming victory, for Ham no matter what. So what? Nothing will have changed for them; and their YouTube diatribes about it will be glorious fodder for the far more competent cadre of atheist vloggers.

    The point of the debate isn’t to “win” it. For many of Ham’s followers, this could be the first time they’ve ever had the motive or opportunity to seriously consider a scientific point of view.

    This isn’t about changing the minds of diehard believers. This is about reaching out to all the incipient doubters and rationalists who’ve had the misfortune of being born into fanatical families. For those to whom he shows the path of science and reason, Bill will be a saint.

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