Bill Nye talks about his upcoming debate with Ken Ham

January 8, 2014 • 7:40 am

A few days ago Bill “The Science Guy” Nye appeared on the Cable News Network discussing his upcoming debate (Feb. 4) with Ken Ham at Kentucky’s Creation Museum. The topic: “Is creation a viable model of origins?”

Here’s the clip from CNN:

Nye’s rationale, as given in this interview, is not to “win,” nor to change “this guy’s mind” (I love that he refuses to mention Ken Ham’s name), but to prevent children from adopting a “scientifically illiterate” view of biology.  He adds he hopes to “influence people in the area”—presumably Kentucky.

If that’s the case, I reiterate that this debate is pointless and counterproductive. The audience is not going to comprise children, but (as Nye admits) mostly fundamentalist adults—Ham supporters. How, then, can this change the minds of the younger generation? And if the audience does consist of Ham supporters, how can Nye influence the thinking of Kentuckians? If Nye makes a good showing, which I hope but consider unlikely, then Ham may not release a video.

If Nye wants to further acceptance of evolution, he should just continue to write and talk about the issue on his own, and not debate creationists. By so doing, he gives them credibility simply by appearing beside them on the platform.

Further, even in this friendly interview Nye doesn’t respond well to the criticism that he’s not really an expert on evolution, nor does he seem especially eloquent.

I suspect that Ham, in a William Lane Craig-like way, is preparing furiously for this debate, and I pray* that Nye is doing likewise. That’s the only way he’ll survive.

Some readers have suggested that this debate is a very good thing, but I simply can’t agree. I suspect that such optimism stems from their respect for Nye’s accomplishment as a science presenter, and his demeanor as a nice guy.  But Nye never had Ken Ham on his children’s show.

And I can’t shake the feeling that part of Nye’s motivation is to stay in the media spotlight. But doing it this way is a terrible mistake.

*I am praying metaphorically

148 thoughts on “Bill Nye talks about his upcoming debate with Ken Ham

  1. Ken Ham is already advertising sales of the DVD for this debate which is yet to happen. He would not do so if he has not already decided that whatever the outcome he will present himself as the ‘winner’. He knows that the only winner in this ‘debate’ will be Answers in Genesis. The reason any(all) creationists wish to debate high profile scientists is not for the debate, just for the publicity and so that they can generate cash and followers. Regardless of the actual arguments, the facts, the science, Ham will declare a conclusive ‘win’ over Bill Nye. That ‘win’ will be communicated and shouted from the rooftops and will simply become another notch in the creationist belt of fallen scientists, which of course, like the ‘scientific concept of creationism/intelligent design’ does not actually exist.

    The simple question to ask any creationist who proposes a debate is ‘what evidence would be needed for you to accept evolution as the explanation for the development and diversity of all life on earth?’ the almost universal reply is that there is no evidence they would accept as they cannot get past the fact that ‘God’ created all life and all created life is not subject to major evolutionary change.

    This being the case there is no debate that can be had with a creationist.

    Conversely I can envisage evidence that would show to ne that a God does exist and hence I am open to persuasion. I doubt that such evidence can ever be produced, but I am willing to concede that I cannot prove that God does not exist, but I can envisage evidence that shows God might exist.

    1. If Ham is really selling DVDs of this, I hope Nye gets a cut, but even so it means that Nye is helping making money for an organization that lies to children. He is helping fund anti-science, except in the unlikely even that he insists that no profits go to Ham or his organization.

      1. I am a christian but NOT a fan of Ken Ham!! There are many christians and the number is growing that believe that the earth IS 13 billion years old. Dr. William Craig and Ken Ham are no where on the same page when it comes to the age of the earth. Ken Ham has slammed many wonderful christian apologetics who teach old earth theory.

        1. the earth IS 13 billion years old

          I’m sure that was just a thinko. It’s been a baker’s dozen billion years since the Big Bang; the Earth itself is only about four and a half billion years old.

          Those wanting more precise figures can find the current best estimates, including uncertainty ranges, at your favorite online encyclopedia — where you’ll also find summaries of and references to the research supporting said figures. Follow those references and you’ll soon learn everything you need to do to independently verify the figures for yourself…if you’ve got the time, patience, passion, and resources necessary. Fortunately, for ballpark-type confirmation, spot-checking many of the important points isn’t all that difficult. For example, a satellite TV dish hooked up to some equipment your nearest friendly Ham radio operator is likely to be more than happy to have and assist you in using will let you observe the cosmic microwave background and confirm its frequency.



    2. That’s sort of why, when people ask if I’m an atheist or agnostic I have to pause a microsecond before I answer athiest. I can imagine situations that might make me change my mind.

      For example, if someone were to drag a god into my office by the tail and plop it on my desk, I’d have to consider that it might be a god. Or if the stars in the sky some night rearrange to spell “Hi, I’m a god!”. So the probablility that I ever see any evidence of a god is so close to zero that, for all practical purposes, I’m an atheist.

      That’s a bit of a long explaination for most people, so after the microsecond pause I say “atheist”.

      1. Well thy might just as well drag a flying spaghetti monster into your office – How long would you need to pause before not believing in that?

      2. “That’s sort of why, when people ask if I’m an atheist or agnostic I have to pause a microsecond before I answer athiest.”

        You have no reason to pause. Atheism simply means a lack of *belief* in a god. It is not the assertion of no god. It is the neutral ground

        You may be an agnostic also, as a-gnosticism (without knowledge) is a lack of *knowledge* of a god.

        You either believe in a god, or you do not. You are either a theist, or you are not (a-theism or non-theism)

        I myself am an agnostic atheist. I don’t believe, nor claim to know.

        There are agnostic theists out there.

      3. Same here. This is what’s also known as a “tooth fairy” atheist or a “teapot” atheist. It is neutral ground, and it isn’t. We aren’t ruling anything out, but the idea that there’s really a god seems about as likely as the idea that there’s really a tooth fairy or that Russel’s teapot is really out there.

        It’s a common myth that atheists believe that there isn’t a god. I used to think that before I became one. In fact, we do the opposite. We do not believe that there is one. We’re unbelievers. And yet, if you just tell people you’re an atheist without qualification, they’ll usually interpret what you’ve said as if you had said you were a “believer” in the claim that “there is no god,” hence, my own hesitation.

        I find to say I’m a “tooth fairy” atheist works. Most people aren’t familiar with the term, and it sounds comical, so it gets a laugh which is never a bad place to start a conversation…

        1. I’d put it a bit differently. I’m not a believer in there being no gods but I’ve concluded that there are no gods, at least to the extent that I imagine some kind of semi-coherent definition of “god”.

          Lacking a coherent definition, it is marginally crazy to waste time fretting over whether one or more exist.

          Purging the words “belief” and “atheist” from use together is one of my techniques.

          1. Yes.

            Show me evidence of a phenomenon you want to label as divine, and we can discuss both the evidence and whether or not the phenomenon (for the sake of argument, granted to be real) warrants the application of the label.

            Or, give me a definition of the term, “god,” and a way to distinguish “god” from “not-god” that doesn’t reduce to special pleading or other logical incoherence.

            Theists do neither. They want to label rainbows and eyes as some form of proof of the existence of their gods — never mind that we know perfectly well everything there is to know about either, and there’s nothing remotely divine about either. And then they tell us that their god is the supremely powerful entity who cares so much about justice that he never lifts a finger to help any in need.

            And people wonder why I have no gods? (Other than, of course, Baihu and the Sun.)



    3. As always, questions of existence come down to definitions.

      If you put some thought into it, the definitional dividing line between god and not-god can only come down in a few places.

      First, for anthropological definitions, whether or not the entity in question is worshipped, regardless of whether or not the entity exists or, if it does exist (such as is the case with idols), if it possesses the claimed properties. Using this sort of definition, it’s clear that there are countless gods — but it’s also clear that this isn’t the subject under investigation.

      The next dividing line is between the overwhelmingly powerful and the mundane, with super-powerful space aliens or the programmers of the Matrix being popular modern examples. These sorts of “gods” might or might not exist. It is important to note that there is overwhelming evidence that none are now interacting nor have ever interacted with humanity or left even an hint of a trace of evidence of their existence. Still, it’s equally important to note that they’re logically impossible to disprove. However…if we are to describe them as gods, then so too must we grant that James “The Amazing” Randi could be a god to a back-bush tribe should he feel the inclination and throw away all his integrity and morality. While there may be pragmatic reasons to label these sorts of entities as gods and worship them or what-not, from a sober perspective they’re clearly false gods, no matter how truly powerful.

      And the final line would be the one that’s generally used in practice: entities that really can do the impossible, not just the very difficult. That, after all, is the point of miracles — walking on water, raising the dead, creating the Universe, and so on. However, this line makes clear that these types of gods can only be and only ever were meant to be literary plot devices. If any of those miracles were real, then the very reality would demonstrate that these aren’t impossibilities but rather things we don’t (yet) understand. And that makes the entities demonstrating their divinity through use of miracles just another variation on the Space Matrix Randi theme. Even if we’re incapable in principle of comprehending the miracle in question, the mere fact that it’s demonstrably real is proof positive that it’s not miraculous, merely wondrous.

      And, thus, we can safely conclude that, even if there’re some very powerful entities out there that we haven’t encountered and couldn’t fathom even if we did…well, they may well be damned impressive, but they’re not gods. Gods can only exist in faery tales, by their very nature.



    4. I, a creationist, come in peace. I have to admit that I was very surprised that Nye agreed to this debate. From wherever you choose to stand on the Origins continuum, there will be little persuading of either camp. It would be like me trying to “convince” anyone on this forum to move toward the creationist side of things.

      In reading through this article and some of the comments, I’m amused at the Kentucky/yokal/hick stereotypes hinted around here. You might be surprised, nay terrified to see the young, smart-looking, clean families that flock to the Creation Museum. Heck, they even are wearing shoes! 😉

      Well I will admit frustration that this topic has to be so emotionally charged. It is difficult to find people willing to civilly discuss anything about this.

      Lurker mode back on. All the best to you and your families.

      Sean “the Zealot” Martin

      1. I, an evolutionist, have written a book giving the massive and incontrovertible evidence for evolution. Since you’re lurking on this website, have you read it? I’ve read tons of creationist literature; are YOU willing to move toward the evolutionist side of things? If not, could you explain to me the meaning of the temporal sequence of fossils between dinosaurs and birds, or between reptiles and early mammals, or, for that matter, between land animals and whales? All this is detailed in my book. I am writing you a civil response, so let’s see you be civil as well. Is there ANYTHING that would convince you that evolution is a fact? (I can, by the way, list a dozen or more possible observations–none of which have been made–that evolution didn’t occur.)

        1. Jerry,

          Let me start with my story.

          When I was a kid (that has been 40+ years ago), my parents bought me all sorts of science books and magazines and I read them greedily. Some of my earliest memories of my Methodist great grandma was sitting on her lap, leafing through kid’s encyclopedias, looking at the articles about animals, space, the earth ‘s core, dinosaurs, etc., loved it!!!
          You see, I was raised an evolutionist, I lapped it all up. But I also have always been open to the idea of something (someone) more. And I read the Bible as a child. So I was trying to fit things together, so I guess I was more of a theistic evolutionist.

          At some point I walked and have not really looked back.

          I’m quite impressed with your credentials and see that you are a prolific blogger with tons of snarky/off the wall religious stories that appear on your site. I recognize there is MUCH to lampoon in the religious community, but I have also experienced some pretty beautiful spiritual stuff in my time here.

          As far as convincing me that evolution is true, I would be interested to hear some of your observations including the observations that evolution did not occur.

          Kind Regards,

          1. If you’re seriously interested in the evidence that evolution is true, just read my book.It’s all in there, and if you’re open-minded, I expect you’ll find it convincing.

          2. In all that I am about to say, there have been many nice, encouraging responses in this thread and for that, I am very grateful.

            I originally ended up on this site as I was searching for news about Nye/Ham 2014.

            Is it possible to discuss Evolution/Creation without the snarky attitudes? I suspect not and I am more unsettled as I read more and more of this site. But I will make the observation that perhaps some of this anti-religion fuel may come from more the Church as a man-made institution than anything else. In my years of following after this most interesting historic figure Christ, I have experienced many wonderful, mountain-top experiences. But there have been plenty of hellish moments too. The hellish stuff always starts with people, always.

            I have friends who love to lock horns and wrestle someone to the ground figuratively. But I have never had the stomach for that sort of thing.

            Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

            All these arguments have been argued before. What good would any of my comments do? *shrug*

            Perhaps I am railing against human nature. We like to hunker down on a side of a debate topic, find like-minded peeps, and began to slam/lampoon the other side. I’m seeing this trait on BOTH sides of this topic, not pointing fingers just here.

            Good night all,
            Sean (nitrams0)

          3. Eccles. didn’t take a very long-term view.

            The span of time during which life on Earth has been evolving is hard for even the layperson who accepts (the theory of) evolution as true to grasp. So too, the astonishing volume, variety, detail, and consilience of the evidence for evolution by natural selection &c., which Jerry’s and others’ (Dawkins’s, Prothero’s, Shubin’s, &c.) books only scratch the surface of.

            But quite apart the hard-to-grasp billions of years of the fossil record &c. — and putting aside any criticisms of theistic religion as such — anyone who thinks that the world was created only thousands of years ago, when we have human artefacts that date back further than that, is only deluding themself*. From the point of view on a scientifically literate freethinker, it is very easy to be snarky about such a perspective.


            * attested since C14**.

            ** nothing to do with radiometric dating.

          4. Generally these discussions revolve around misunderstandings of the science. This often arises when people look for confirmation of what they already believe.

            And whilst TOE appears easy to understand (everyone *thinks* they understand it), the long timescales and lack of intentionality (there is no purpose in how natural selection works) lead to confusion, even with people who are very well educated in other spheres (Mary Midgeley springs to mind).

          5. I did not observe evolution occurring in the snowfall I shoveled on the sidewalk this morning. Does that count?

          6. Again, I’m trying to reply to Ant, but there’s no reply button on the post.

            I thought you were being facetious, since I’ve read many of your comments here, but I added the Origin and Descent titles just in case someone wasn’t sure and was curious enough to want to read them.

          7. You need to click on the nearest “Reply up the page. You missed this time. (It’s easily done!)

            Fair enough.


            PS. “I thought you were being facetious, since I’ve read many of your comments here…” Hmm… 

          8. Uh oh, you’re developing a reputation. I would think your rep would be more “puny” than “facetious” though.

          9. Nor, as far as I can tell, is anyone on this planet aware of any “observations that evolution did not occur”. I’ve certainly never seen or heard even a shred of evidence that it didn’t and there there’s overwhelming evidence that it did — as anyone who reads Jerry’s book (or, for example, one of Darwin’s — slightly heavier going and much longer, but well worth the effort).

          10. This is supposed to be a reply to Ant (below) — I can’t find a reply button on his posting.

            I’ve read On the Origin of Species (1st edition) and The Descent of Man. Both are very detailed and long, so again, I’d suggest Jerry’s book as a start.

          11. @”including the observations that evolution did not occur”.

            I took that to mean (in Jerry’s post) possible things one might see if evolution was wrong. i.e. observations that if made would falsify TOE, such as rabbits in the Pre-Cambrian.

          12. Well, I suppose that’s could be what Sean meant.

            But the theory of evolution is now so well evidenced that even rabbit-in-the-Pre-Cambrian-type observations would seem far more likely to be sophisticated hoaxes… 


          13. Was just trying to fix a misunderstanding here. I think Nitram (Sean?) misinterpreted Jerry’s: “dozen or more possible observations–none of which have been made–that evolution didn’t occur.” to mean something else…

            And yes if someone found such a rabbit it would likely be a hoax. Creationists are quite fond of that sort of thing. I suspect that what Haldane intended, with his rabbits, was that if rabbits were a common feature found in pre-cambrian deposits then that would falsify evolution – but they aren’t! i.e. he was countering the assertion that evolution isn’t falsifiable, which tends to knock around from time to time.

    5. I am a creationist and there is evidence that would completely change my mind. If we at some point are able to duplicate the origins of life in a laboratory I will be convinced. If they find a way to take inorganic material and with only natural forces turn it into a DNA molecule then I will denounce creationism.

      1. Why would creating DNA from inorganic matter lead you to conclude that DNA-based life evolves over time?

        Or, put another way, why does the (current) inability to do that mean that DNA-based life doesn’t evolve over time?

        The fact of evolution is observable without knowing the details of how RNA and DNA came into existence. (Although work on those questions is under way and making progress.)

      2. Oh, carp! Not the confusion between evolution and abiogenesis again!

        In any case, iirc, current models posit that RNA was evolving before DNA arose.

        All you need for evolution is a replicator and scarce sources of energy. It doesn’t have to be DNA.

        And… It’s all organic chemistry!


      3. Dan, are you the sort of creationist who is a YEC? Also do you accept theistic evolution but not naturalistic evolution?

  2. Nye appears to have the support of many of the skeptics/atheists/freethinkers in my immediate area based on the dialogue we’ve been having online about this debate. I’ve been in the minority arguing some of the same points you have Jerry. I think this debate will do little if anything to advance science literacy, but will most likely lend some aid to the creationist camp. But it is now pretty much useless to try to stop this train since it has left the station. So I will hope for the best.

  3. I was in full agreement with Jerry until I saw that still photo of Bill Nye on CNN.

    How many people will be in that debate hall? 200 people? 500? Most of them, of course, will be fundamentalist Christians who have no intent on actually listening to Nye’s arguments.

    How many people have seen that CNN segment of Bill Nye talking to a reporting, with no Ken Ham anywhere nearby? One million people? Two million?

    Given that Nye wouldn’t be on CNN were it not for this debate, it’s clear that he has already used the debate in his favor — and ours.

    Bravo, Mr. Nye.

    1. I think this is a good point. The audience is much broader that the yokels who end up in Ken Ham’s Hall of Dinosaur Mirrors.

      Still, I remain inclined towards the “refuse to give them the oxygen of respect” position.

  4. I agree with the criticism of Nye (i.e. that he’s not an expert in either debate or evolution) and because of that, he may have trouble with succinctness and clarity. The perfect person for a debate like this is Ken Miller – he’d be able to parry each the of the Gish Gallop moves due to his firm grasp of the subject matter and experience debating this “type”. I also think “Evolutionary Biology Professor at Brown University” or the like would carry a bit more weight than “Science Populizer/Kid’s Show Host”, which is how most people view Nye.

    1. “Evolutionary Biology Professor at Brown University” vs. Ham gives Ham to much weight. Implies some equality. Kid show host is better, Bozo the Clown would be best.

    2. “…he’s not an expert in either debate or evolution… and because of that, he may have trouble with succinctness and clarity.”

      I think that actually being an expert creates trouble with succinctness and clarity.

    3. Ken Miller isn’t an evolutionary biologist either, but his background in cell biology helps with people like Behe and he’s humble enough to ask for help on things like geology. I’m hoping Bill Nye has a similar attitude.

  5. Debating with a Creationist is tough because they’re typically armed with a full supply of crap arguments drawn from the usual websites that cover multiple fields of science (e.g. cosmology, geology, biology, etc). So you have to know enough about fields outside of your area of expertise to be able to counter them. And you need to have specific examples ready to hand that you can use as ammunition (because Creationists will always demand that kind of thing). You have to be prepared. I know because I’ve debated local Creationists and won. Now my field is chemistry, but I had to read up on some biology & geology in preparation for said debate.

    So I guess the moral of the story is you have to go in there prepared, and you also have to be eloquent enough to explain your points in a compelling way. I’m hoping Bill Nye is up to this, because yeah, he’s a great science presenter, but presenting science is a little different than debating with someone whose sole purpose is to confuse the issue and muddy the waters. Let me put it like this: I just hope this is going to turn out better than I think it will.

  6. Some readers have suggested that this debate is a very good thing, but I simply can’t agree. I suspect that such optimism stems from their respect for Nye’s accomplishment as a science presenter, and his demeanor as a nice guy.

    One of the major reasons I’m not as worried about this debate as you are is because it’s taking place on creationist turf in front of a primarily creationist audience. Given that, there’s nowhere for Nye to go but up. Ham has lied to a lot of people who have been sheltered. If they still disagree with evolution but now have a better understanding of evolution than they started out with, that’s win.

    And if they still disagree with evolution but think evolutionists don’t seem quite as obnoxious or irrational as they were portrayed, then that’s win too. Baby steps.

    I do agree, though, that the financial angle is worrisome. Nye better have had a shrewd lawyer looking out not just for Nye’s interests, but for scientific integrity and the fact that using this debate as a fundraiser for AIG is a moral no-no. I suspect not. That’s bad.

    One of the things which surprised me about this video though is that it looks like Nye may actually go after Ham’s sincerity. He wants to find out if ‘this guy’ really believes what he’s saying about the earth being only 10,000 years old. What — during the debate?

    I suppose that might be an interesting counter to all the “evolution = no morality” crap Ham will be dishing out. And it might be interesting but a bad idea, too.

    1. I think it would be in Nye’s favour to insist all proceeds go to an agreed upon charity and he could make this request known to the public.

      1. I would be tempted to go and take my non-believing, homeschooled teens if that was the case. Field trip! But as it is, I don’t want my ticket money going to the museum.

  7. I’ll repeat my earlier observation after first seeing this clip: he has the potential to not become roadkill.

    There’s reason to hope for a good and effective performance from Nye…but that doesn’t have any bearing on Jerry’s many other objections — and those objections are arguably part of a bigger picture than just Nye’s debate performance.



  8. “… will be an interesting debate …”

    and “We’ll be watching,”

    Yep, this is going to look way better on Ham’s CV than non Nye’s …

  9. I just think it’s really healthy for the public to actually hear two people like this that are really polar opposites in many ways, because what you believe about who you are and where you came from affects your whole worldview

  10. I wonder if Lawrence Krauss would lend Bill Nye his buzzer?

    FWIW I think that this is a colossally bad idea. Then again, as a Brit, I don’t really know what Bill Nye is really about.

  11. We know from many examples of deconversion that many believers never really hear the arguments against creationism – see Ken Daniels for example, who explains how only coincidental personal events and exposure to ideas had a long term effect. Many believers sound as if they are familiar with atheist ideas by the assuredness with which they denounce them, but mostly it’s ignorant bravado.

    This debate will do nothing for the die-hards. But if it stimulates some exposure to atheist arguments and evidence among creationist communities then it is at least worth this experiment; and who batter to do it in the US than Bill. Better than Dawkins or Harris trying such a debate. But it’s an experiment worth trying. The publicity received so far, just because it is Bill, will be about the best opportunity for informing so many creationists, and the public exposure of the creationist side of the debate might help in the struggle to persuade moderate liberal theists and atheist accommodationists giving creationists such an easy time.

    Let the data of the outcome speak for itself. If it does fail in the ways predicted here without any positive outcome, then at least the hypothesis that debating creationists is useful will be further falsified. Times and demographics change. New young creationists are born and indoctrinated, but in a changing climate of religious criticism. I don’t see why this is such a bad experiment.

    1. I think it is impossible to say with any expectation of accuracy whether or not a debate like this will be beneficial or detrimental, in the near term after the debate.

      We all watch the debate, watch / listen / read responses to it for a few days, and then start forming opinions about how it turned out. But how in the heck do we try and measure long term effects initiated by this specific event in people, that may take years to come to fruition, and are likely just one grain in an entire bushel that caused the persons change of mind?

      It seems to me that if we think that debates like this can help some 1st, 2nd or 3rd, etc., parties down the path from anti-science to science accepting, or religious to non-religious, in general, then in specific cases like this we should probably give them the benefit of the doubt. Of course I well understand that many people are skeptical of these kinds of debates having any benefit, even nudging on the fence bystanders in the right direction, so obviously this would not apply to those people.

  12. I agree the [bad idea] debate is heavily skewed in Ham’s favor. I was struck by the interview itself. CNN is trending toward Foxification more and more recently. It’s not an improvement. The interviewer asked the question and in true Faux form, interrupted Nye repeatedly, was dismissive, then abruptly ended the segment. Bill wasn’t prepared and it doesn’t augur well for the upcoming event. I can’t call it [the interview] a win for science PR either. You can’t play “kumbayah” at the Lord of The Flies campfire dance.

  13. I’d love to see the contract between Nye and Ham.

    What are the rules of the debate? Specific topics to be discussed? (Ham’s blurb about Genesis looks like a maze of non-scientific rabbit trails.)

    Who is the moderator?

    What are the fees and royalties?

    Promotional plans? (All tickets told to Ham supporters?)

    And, why in the world did Nye agree to this venue? And, why is he letting Ham control the PR? And, the subsequent videos.

    From my perspective, this looks like a mess.

  14. This debate interests me because I’m a creationist. The trouble with no debate is how evolutionists resort too often to the “you’re stupid” argument rather than refuting well organized statements of fact.

    Nye isn’t getting a lot of support on here but that appears to be a hedging against a poor showing more than anything else. When Ken Ham presents facts and suppositions that cannot be argued beyond citing conventional theory, that is Ham will argue many premises, Nye will simply assert they are true without being able to defend them.

    For example: each of the dating methods used requires assumptions. Carbon 14 dating requires the assumption of a consistent amount of carbon 14 throughout history. There is reason to doubt this assumption is accurate. Similar doubts about other dating methods exist.

    There is so much reason to doubt evolution yet when questioned the answer is all to often a condescending remark about the “scientifically illiterate” opposition. Condescending ridicule was a sufficient answer on the playground in third grade but an example of foolish arrogance for scientists.

    The 800 tickets sold out in 2 minutes.

    1. “Carbon 14 dating requires the assumption of a consistent amount of carbon 14 throughout history.”

      Actually, no it doesn’t. Quite the opposite in fact! From the beginning of the the Wikipedia article (not hard to find!):

      However, over time there are small fluctuations in the ratio of ¹⁴C to ¹²C in the atmosphere, fluctuations that have been noted in natural records of the past, such as sequences of tree rings and cave deposits. These records allow fine-tuning, or “calibration”, of the raw radiocarbon age, to give a more accurate estimate of the calendar date of the material.

      Misrepresenting well-proven science does nothing to disabuse us of creationists’ purported scientific illiteracy.


    2. Mark, have you read Jerry’s book, the one who lent its title to this Web site?

      I’m not trying to drum up sales for Jerry. Superlative as his book is, it’s not the only source of information on the topic. I heartily recommend the book, but we can still proceed even if you’ve sworn an oath to never touch it.

      Rather, the reason I ask is that Jerry addresses radiocarbon dating in the first couple dozen pages or so of the book. If you’ve got Jerry’s book and find fault with what he wrote on the topic there, that would be a good starting point for discussion. Otherwise, there’re free online sources I can point you to.

      The short version, of course, is that C-14 is but one of many dozens of methods of dating, all of which corroborate each other, all of which have limitations, and many of which can be used to calibrate each other. So, for example, supernova explosions leave telltale signatures in terrestrial rocks, and we can use astronomical observations to locate (and thus date) them and use that to correct the drift of other methods.

      It’s not a perfect method; that’s why there’re error bars (plus / minus figures) on all these dates. But that’s not a problem for science any more than it is for you when you’re driving your car. The exit signs aren’t placed with micrometer-scale precision, and your odometer certainly isn’t anywhere near that accurate, either. But it’s plenty to make sure you get off at the exit for Mill Avenue as opposed to Rural Road.



      1. Mark,

        To make it worth your while, and to make it worth anyone elses while to converse with you on the subjects you broached, when reading Ben’s very cogent and straitforward post in response to you, you need to engage your reasoning faculties and disengage your emotional faculties. As you should when considering evidence for any truth claims, you need to make at honest effort at being impartial. You need to be willing to do the mental work necessary to first understand what is said before you can fairly assess it.

        And of course, if you value your Faith beyond any evidence as a matter of principle, then why do you even bother with the pretense of debate?

        Now, could you please define what you mean by the term “Fact”, and explain how you judge whether any given claim has achieved the status of a “Fact”.

    3. Hey pal, why did Ham refuse to debate Aron Ra when he was challenged? Because Ra is an experienced debater and Nye is not.

      By the way, C14, has nothing to do with evolution. C14 has a 1/2 life of 5000 years and a useful life for dating of 45000 years, totally inadequate for evolution which takes place over hundreds of thousand if not millions of years. Other unstable nuclei such as U238 are used to date fossils.

    4. Mark,

      I’m a science student and am interested in learning more about the limitations of the dating methods we are studying.

      In particular, could you be more specific about the limits of the potassium-argon and Sr-87/Sr-86 methods and what effect
      they have on age of earth measurements?


  15. Early this morning, I found that the live stream for the debate was already in the works and available for $4.99. I was excited and told my wife. My 6-year-old came to see what I was looking at on the computer screen and proceeded to ask what the debate was about. Looking at the picture above, I began to think about how I could explain this to her in an easy-to-understand way.

    Then I figured it out.

    I pointed to the picture of Ken Ham and said, “He believes that God created everything.”

    Then I pointed to Bill Nye and said, “And he believes that nothing created everything.”

    Taken back by the simplicity of the statement, I thought, “Is it really that simple?”

    Yes, it is. That’s what it all comes down to. Creationists believe that God created everything. Atheists believe that nothing created everything.

    I ask you – which one is living by an unfounded, blind faith?

    — Eric Douglas, Truth Matters

    Ham’s target audience has already decided that Nye’s lost (in more than one sense!).


    1. Few atheists would know how ‘nothing’ could create everything, so on the question of the origin of the universe most atheists would say ‘I do not know’. And that answer is perfectly ok. Astrophysicists should say ‘I do not know, but it could be … because of this evidence….’. One does not need to make up gods to fill in gaps of knowledge in atheist-world.

  16. I would be a proponent of this debate if the circumstances were more neutral. A location that is not obviously a stronghold of one side, with an experienced and balanced moderator. And all the money earned by both sides goes to a charity, either one that both parties agree to or two separate ones. This way some of the biases are swept away and the debate is more about the issues than building Noah’s Ark in the backyard. Though as I am typing this I realize it is a pretty idealized situation, though certainly not impossible.

    But yes, in the debate’s present form, I’m worried.

  17. This audience will be packed with Ken Ham’s acolytes and anyone supporting science will be excluded. Aron Ra was already refused a ticket, on the grounds that the event was sold out, even though he and his associates applied very shortly after the sale of tickets was announced. Nye is walking into a hornet’s nest with the cards stacked against him. A very bad idea from the get go.

  18. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone doesn’t know their place. Nye isn’t an ideal representative for evolutionary biology nor a practiced scientist in any biological concentration. Having said that, you don’t need a Jerry Coyne to debate a clown such as Ken Ham. Nye did seem ignorant of Ham, and his tactics, which could be problematic if he doesn’t educate himself on the way this nut operates.

  19. The previous two comments — #17 by Douglas E and #18 by colnago80 — have all but erased what little hope I had that Nye would be able to avoid becoming roadkill.

    His collapsed wedding demonstrates a certain level of naivete that will not do him well, and the confirmation from Aron Ra that Ham is holding all the strings means there’s not much hope of secularists getting equal opportunity to make use of things should Nye actually pull off a rhetorical win.

    The most to hope for at this point is that it’s not an unmitigated disaster.


  20. I think that even if the debate turns out to be a complete disaster for Bill Nye and science in general, resulting in a barrage of YouTube video clips with titles like “Ken Ham destroys evolution in a debate”, “Creationist leader overturns 160 years of scientific research, donate to the new Ark Museum today!”, etc. all with millions of views… it will still serve a useful purpose, as it will (hopefully) open the eyes of other science communicators like Neil DeGrasse Tyson who (at least such is my impression) choose not to confront the religious delusions for fear of losing many of their god-fearing fans.

    PS I strongly recommend Bill Nye a careful reading of Prof. Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution Is True”, _AND_ Dr. Dennis R. Trumble’s “The Way of Science” before setting foot in the CM.

    From “The Way of Science”:

    “Judging from my own experiences on the Christian front (an extremely small but remarkably consistent sample group) it would seem the prevailing attitude among the faithful is that people in general are inherently wicked and will act accordingly if not chastened by the thought that they are being watched by an all-powerful, all-knowing god who is prepared to punish them for their every transgression, in this life or the next. Perhaps this is what prompted the wife of the Bishop of Worcester to exclaim upon hearing of Darwin’s theory in 1860: ‘My Dear, descended from the apes! Let us hope it is not true, but if it is, let us pray it will not become generally known.'”

  21. I’ve never really watched Bill Nye before, but that interview does not inspire confidence, as Jerry has implied.

    He seemed to embody the typically naive scientist-type about to debate the religious for the first time: “Science is obviously right” “this guy’s beliefs are obviously cuckoo” so “what, me worry?”

    He strikes me as totally unprepared for the type of tactics he is about to encounter, and he speaks at a pace 3 times slower than the average creationist debater, so you can just see the creationist audience ticking off all of Ham’s arguments he won’t get to.

    I hope to be wrong.


    1. You will not be. I know that Ham can rattle off a lot of false claims with a very practiced air. He does not even have to think about them, they come out on autopilot. That is what he does. Lies take a second. Truths take explaining and so take at least a minute. This is why a formal debate is not the way for science to counter pseudoscience.

    2. As Bunge pointed out, scientists can often think people are as honest as they tend to be, and so it is useful to have someone around to remind them how there are professional charlatans – he was talking about the “good” professional charlatan, James Randi. Unfortunately, even I (who heard the remark) still expect too much of people sometimes this way (both that people will heed this lesson) and I will adopt it myself.

  22. I’m wondering who ended up with the tickets.

    Supposedly, ticket holders will have to show ID along with their tickets to gain entrance to the event.

    That’s 900 tickets and ID’s to be screened. Were they really able to sell 900 individual tickets in just 2 minutes?

    Or maybe some tickets got sold in batches, say for a family group. OK, that’s possible. Maybe some got sold in batches say for a church groups. OK.

    So, what would be the point of requiring ID at the door? (Duh, to keep out certain critics….?)

    But seriously, they sold 900 tickets in 2 minutes? And, we’re to believe they’ll check 900 ID’s?

    I’m wondering who really got those tickets.

    1. They did sell 900 tickets in 2 minutes. And, of course it’s possible.
      Firstly, they were sold online.
      Secondly if enough creationists were “in the know” they could buy up all the tickets as soon as they came online.

      The official reason for the ID is that they want the buyer of the ticket to attend to avoid scalping. However, this will also avoid the possibility of any tickets being sold to evolutionists in sheep’s creationist’s clothing.

  23. I hope that Nye is getting coached. If he has not, he should reach out to those who are experienced in this sort of thing for coaching. Debate is a skill, and it takes practice and experience.

    1. Anybody who doubts this should note that presidential candidates, who almost always are experienced public speakers, lawyers, and media celebrities, always intensively prepare for their debates.

      So, too, do even the most skilled musicians prepare for their performances, even of works they’ve performed countless times before.

      If you don’t think you need to prepare for a debate, it’s because you’re an amateur who lacks professionalism.



      1. Well, what happened to Obama in the first presidential debate in 2012 when he was caught off guard by Rmoney’s Gish Gallop? He was unprepared. Having learned his lesson, he did much better in the latter two debates.

      1. Good! And Prothero would be on my A-team of people I would hope would step up and help Nye. I teach evolution to undergrads, but I would not want to ‘debate’ even a fool like Ham. Knowledge alone will not do it.

        1. Well, Prothero has debated Stephen Meyer, and even debated Duane Gish back in the eighties, so he has had some experience.

      2. Prothero knows his fossils (among other things!). So maybe Nye can counter with a gallop of his own – just rattle off example after example of transitional forms when that subject inevitably comes up.

    2. Hopefully Nye and his coach are also studying the predictable Ham ‘arguments’. Although JC’s book is worthy of reading, my recommendation would be to spend some time at Admittedly it is another type of ‘creation ministry’ but it has many nice rebuttals to the standard YEC tripe. There is even a whole section addressing Ham’s claims. If Nye would use such responses prepared by xians, perhaps some xians in the audience and online would take note.

    3. Last night I watched a video of a few years’ old debate between Hitchens and Turek. In his 20 minute intro, Turek reeled off 8, or so, points that lead him to believe in a god. He then crowed for the next 1.5 hours that Hitchens hadn’t addressed the points of his Gish Gallop.

      I suspect the Nye/Ham debate will follow much the same format since the creationists never (can’t actually) come up with new arguments. But it often doesn’t matter since they have a captive audience for their idiocy.

      We have seen this type of scatter-gun approach to “reasoning” fluster our very best debaters. And Nye doesn’t begin to approach the knowledge level and debate skills of a Hitchens.

    1. From the article:

      “We need to do better than simply dismissing the creationist movement because it’s not going away—and it’s doing real damage to the science community.”

      No no no. Refusing to enter debates is not the same as simply “dismissing the movement.” Steve Gould didn’t participate in those debates yet wrote and spoke eloquently to a wide audience against creationism and testified in court cases on the side of science. That wasn’t doing nothing. Richard has done the same (minus testifying in court).

      It’s about picking the appropriate avenues to address creationism, avenues that do not overwhelmingly favor the other side. If formal debates were a great way of ascertaining the truth about things, then scientists would probably debate a lot more.

      The formal response to a debate request from someone like Ham should be along the lines of: “Save your breath. Evolution is the consensus position among scientists because it has the weight of evidence on its side. If you have evidence to the contrary, please make it available in a research publication for examination by experts. Show us how you know what you know is not dependent on what was written down in a old book.”

      1. Gould did get involved in a debate with a YEC. I forget the name and year. But the consensus is that technically Gould lost. Although he was brashly confident over his opponent before it began, he was reduced to apoplectic yelling as he tried to deal with a simple Gish gallop.

        1. Thanks for this. I was under the impression that in his pomp, he declined all of these debates as a matter of principle – not giving the creationists the “oxygen of respectability”. Apparently, a bad experience or two also might influenced that position!

          1. I am hoping that someone here would track it down, hopefully to corroborate what I said. I have searched online, and have not found it, but dammit I know I read it! I thought it was in Shermers’ book Why People Believe in Weird Things, but my copy is at work.

  24. What if you were asked to debate a holocaust denier in front of an audience of devoted holocaust deniers? You are given a month or so to prepare. Furthermore, you know that your opponent has been immersed in holocaust denial for decades and in fact runs a museum devoted to it.

    You have nothing more than a very general knowledge of the holocaust. You can repeat the consensus view of what happened; for example, you can make accurate but broad statements like “there is an enormous amount of evidence that the holocaust happened, from multiple lines of inquiry, such as thousands of documents, photographs, and eye-witness testimony”. But you cannot go into much detail about those lines of evidence. You are not familiar with the many anti-holocaust arguments, and thus lack quick, concise, and decisive counterpunches. Oh, and you have little to no formal debating experience.

    How would you fancy your chances at the debate?

  25. As someone who was once a Evangelical/ Creationist….don’t undersetimate the power of someone like a Nye explaining Evolution.

    Yes-many of the peoplke in the hall will be Ham supporters. But many of them will be young adults, brought their by parents. They may hear Nye’s arguments and not be so quick to disregard them. They might initially think there must be someway that he is wrong.

    But well stated facts in everyday language could lead some to to their own research and come across this site or others that are able to address the issues that Creationists use to keep people from understanding Evoltuion.

    I understyand Jerry’s concerns, but not that long ago…I was one of those Christians looking for ways to reconcile Creationism and Science-only to discover that all the things I had been told about Evoltion(by Creatioists) were distortions and half-truths.

    1. Would a debate have swayed you though? What can Bill possibly say in the space of an hour or two that would seriously damage the beliefs of a creationist? Or even “plant a seed” of skepticism?

      The only time to my knowledge that I have ever had success in seriously undermining the beliefs of a creationist was when I was in college. Over a span of most of our freshman year, the individual and I went through books by Henry Morris and Duane Gish, and I pointed out instances where they 1) were internally inconsistent) 2) had badly misquoted scientists, to the point where it was hard to believe that these creationist authors were not deliberately lying, and 3) clearly nonsensical. It was a laborious process that I would never have time for today.

      And the person did not completely abandon creationism. They insisted on a special place for humans in the natural world and that this now-plausible evolution thing must still have been directed by God.

      I could do nothing to undermine the reason – religious faith – that this person was resistant to evolution in the first place. Scientific evidence still had to be filtered through their faith.

      1. I doubt a debate alone would have persuaded me…but it might have led me to research the topics borught up in the debate.

        I certainly would have attempted to see any evidence for Evoltion through the lens of faith, but it doesn’t mean that the debate would have been a waste. After all, I am no longer a Christian and no longer a Creationist.

        Just my 2 cents…

  26. This event could be the stunning media event of the decade [century?]. If I were Nye I would start my opening statement by directly asking the audience the question:
    “Who here really believes that I could possibly change their minds at the end of this debate, or that they would seriously consider researching up on evolution for themselves?”

    I would call for a show of hands. {“Put your hands up if you really believe that is possible?”] [Earlier I would have arranged for a cameraperson to sweep the audience to ensure capturing the moment hands are raised for a record of the event.

    If fews hands went up, I would say to the audience, “You have shown me the truth. It seems the debate has already been wrapped up even before it has begun.”

    And retire from the building.

    Should the number of hands raised be many then to business as usual.

  27. This event could be the stunning media event of the decade [century?]. If I were Nye I would start my opening statement by directly asking the audience the question:
    “Who here really believes that I could possibly change their minds at the end of this debate, or that they would seriously consider researching up on evolution for themselves?”

    I would call for a show of hands. [“Put your hands up if you really believe that is possible?”]

    Earlier I would have confidentially arranged for a cameraperson to sweep the audience to ensure capturing the moment hands are raised for a record of the event.

    If fews hands went up, I would say to the audience, “You have shown me the truth. It seems the debate has already been determined well before it has begun.”

    And retire from the building.

    Should the number of hands raised be many then to business as usual.

  28. Ahhhh! Christopher Hitchens could have fared better in this interview after 16 double Johnny Walkers! This is going to end terribly! Nye thinks he’s going to jump in there with a happy fun presentation and Ham is going to Gish gallop all over him! Or he’ll pull a Wiiliam Lane Craig and act like he gets to define the terms of the precedent for evidence. Its even worse than if Ham beat a prominent scientist. Most people don’t know any prominent scientists, but they know Nye. Ham controls the venue and the video that will come out of it. This is AIG’s greatest dream no matter how it comes out!

  29. The debate, whatever its outcome, isn’t likely to change anyone’s opinion.

    It has been my experience that belief/fatih trump logic, and rationality, no matter what science has to offer.

    Even if Nye does an excellent job and trumps Ham at every step, people of faith have proven unwilling to change and step away from that faith even in the face of facts, data, name it.

    The model that existed to punish Galileo is alive and well, and remains in place today. It is just more subdued in its geocentristic behavior in this era, so as not call for, or require the death of, someone who disputes it.

    If there is, or ever was a god, it is nothing like the god whom those who are blindly attached to the Abrahamic versions insist upon.

    Frankly, in my experience, and I was raised in a tradition of catholicism and science, god is their default answer for what they cannot explain, and for anything they refuse to accept rational explanations for.

    The more you challenge them, the tighter their grip becomes. This is what faith does. It is an ideology that changes or warps a portion of the brain to accept nothing else but the ideology. From this, dogmas are created and makes them willing to sacrifice truth.

    1. It has been my experience that belief/fatih trump logic, and rationality, no matter what science has to offer.

      No, that wasn’t your experience. YOUR experience was being “raised in a tradition of Catholicism” and that didn’t happen, did it? Are you assuming you’re the exception that proves the rule or something?

      I don’t know. Are the atheists who make the argument that “many atheists used to be firm believers but science and reason changed their minds” the same atheists who make the argument “the more you challenge believers, the tighter their grip becomes?” Or are these completely different groups?

      They sure as hell sound like completely different arguments.

    2. I think the best possible outcome we can hope for is the Nye does well & the video is out there on the InterWebs for a long time and others see it and are persuaded.

  30. Bill should stick with popularizing science and let people with the deepest knowledge of a subject to debate with creationists.
    Human societies have evolved (pun intended) with making assumptions and fixing them along the way.
    Bill should explain scientific literacy is the key to continue our progress in science and explain clearly how the scientific method works, how it helped us know what we know or assume to know so far.
    He should not let Ham try to debate this or that theory.
    Once will always try to put God here and there to explain this or that theory.
    My 2 cents…

    1. let people with the deepest knowledge of a subject to debate with creationists.

      I don’t think one needs deep knowledge of the subject to debate creationists. Creationists make childish, faith-driven arguments, deep knowledge of evolution makes no impression on them. After all, what knowledge can refute “God did it.” But creationists can’t be the primary audience anyway, and, if he’s speaking to third parties, it seems like clear, simple arguments would probably be the most effective.

      1. The problem is that the Cretinists are all but guaranteed to launch a full-on Gish Gallop barrage of scientific-sounding factoids, many of which you need postdoc-level knowledge to properly refute in the same level of detail in which the speeches have been memorized. Worse, for every minute of technobabble spewed by a Cretinist, somebody like Jerry would need an hour just to bring a lay audience up to speed on the subject in order to properly address it.

        There’s no effective way to tackle that sort of thing head-on. At best, you get into a game of dueling titan expert opinions that the audience doesn’t understand but convinces them that their guy really must know what he’s talking about. If you just hand-wave the blather away, you get accused of avoiding the hard facts. That’s why debates aren’t the proper fora for these sorts of questions.

        If you really do find yourself in the thick of things, your best bet is to sidestep it as deftly as possible and go straight for the jugular. At least you’re not getting your foundational scientific principles from a fourth-rate faery tale about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard.



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