Ham on Nye: last-minute articles and video on tonight’s debate

February 4, 2014 • 2:43 pm

Remember that tonight is the big debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, which promises to be a lot more entertaining than the Super Bowl.  So make your nachos, crack a brewski, and watch the debate (livestreamed here) at 7 pm U.S. Eastern Standard Time (that’s midnight in England, 11 a.m. in Sydney). The topic is this: “Is creation a viable model of origins?”

As I’ve mentioned, I don’t think this debate is a good idea for Nye. First, the issue is settled: evolution is a fact. Issues that are more congenial for real debate—that provoke true thought—are those involving opinion rather than pure fact, issues like politics, abortion, war, and so on. Second, giving creationists a place on the platform with evolutionists (or respected science educators like Nye) simply gives creationism credibility. It’s like putting a famous geologist up against a flat-earther to debate the question, “Is the earth really flat?” What’s the point?

Further, these debates are exercises not in education but in rhetoric, and that’s not the way for the public to adjudicate scientific issues. I have been a bit worried that Nye simply isn’t sufficiently “up” on the data supporting evolution, though (despite his t.v. experience), sufficiently eloquent to debate a preacher like Ham. Finally, if Nye wants to really promote evolution, I’d urge him not to debate creationists, but to write articles and speak to the public—singly, and not in a debate forum—about evolution. That’s what most of the rest of us do when we’re in “public education” mode.

If that weren’t enough, this event is going to make money to support creationism. The proceeds, except, I suspect, minus whatever fee Nye gets, will go to support the Creation Museum, and Ham as well as other creationist organizations are selling DVDs of the video. Even if Nye somehow “wins” the debate, the dosh will still go to support what he hates: peddling lies about science to kids.

Meanwhile, the Lexington Herald-Leader, a paper in Kentucky, has published this cartoon by Joel Pett, and it’s not favorable to Ham’s side:


In the meantime, if you want to do some last-minute boning up, Professor Ceiling Cat has done the legwork for you, finding something to read or watch with each of his four paws:


Alan Boyle, the science editor of NBC News, has a piece on “Will evolution debate blow up in the Science Guy’s face? It’s debatable?” Like many of these pieces (and I’ve talked to four reporters about this in the last week), it’s concerned largely with scientists and others who don’t think Nye—or any science educator or scientist—should be debating creationists.

Boyle quotes Professor C.C. in extenso, repeating my opinion that Nye shouldn’t be debating any creationist. But I was most interested in the principal’s preparation:

[Nye] said he’s been preparing for the debate by consulting with experts via email and studying how Ham and other creationists have stated their case in past forums. . . Ham is preparing as well — in consultation with creation-minded colleagues who have Ph.D.s, such as molecular biologist Georgia Purdum and geologist Andrew Snelling. Like Nye, Ham is researching his opponent’s past statements on evolution. And like Nye, Ham says he’s doing this debate to reach the next generation.

Consulting experts by email is not, to my mind, the best way to prepare for such a debate, though it’s good to read what Ham has said in the past.

Ham also notes that he’s had only one formal creation/evolution debate in his career; this is a deliberate attempt to lower expectations.

Finally, I was interested that criticism of this debate has come not just from people like me, but from advocates of Intelligent Design:

Even among folks who insist there’s evidence that the universe was designed by some sort of intelligent being, such views don’t always sit well. Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and the author of “Darwin’s Doubt” sees pluses as well as minuses to Tuesday’s debate.

“It’s a plus because it generates interest in the topic,” Meyer told NBC News. “It’s a minus because it inhibits an understanding of the complexity of the issue.”

Meyer worries that the debate over evolution will be portrayed as Darwinian materialism vs. biblical literalism — leaving out such ideas as theistic evolution, old-earth creationism and his own perspective, intelligent design. “It would be really terrific if the proponents of the mainstream Darwinian view of origins engaged some of the other critics of their theory, who see evidence of design in nature but are not biblical fundamentalists,” he said.

It would be great if we could somehow get the young-earth creationists to go up against the IDers, deflecting their attention from us. But given that IDers have allowed young-earth creationists like Paul Nelson into their tent, that seems unlikely.

Boyle will be in Kentucky for the debate, and I presume will file a piece afterwards. Stay tuned.


Similar themes crop up in a piece by Kimberly Winston at the Religion News Service:Ham-on-Nye debate pits atheists, creationists.” The usual suspects oppose the debate:

“Scientists should not debate creationists. Period,” wrote Dan Arel on the Richard Dawkins Foundation’s website. “There is nothing to debate.”

Arel, a secular advocate, is echoing the position of Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist who has long refused to debate creationists.

“Winning is not what the creationists realistically aspire to,” Dawkins said in 2006. “For them, it is sufficient that the debate happens at all. They need the publicity. We don’t. To the gullible public which is their natural constituency, it is enough that their man is seen sharing a platform with a real scientist.”

But accommodationists also oppose it, though on different grounds:

“It is this huge stereotype that all Christians reject science and an event like this reinforces that stereotype,” said Deborah Haarsma, president of the BioLogos Foundation, an organization whose motto is “science and faith in harmony.” “It looks like science versus Christianity and it ignores the people who have accepted the science of evolution and have not let go of their faith. . .“A debate like this sets up a false choice” between science and religion for viewers, Haarsma said. “We don’t want them to have to choose.”

Well, if you’re intellectually consistent, you really do have to choose between superstition (and that includes what many at BioLogos espouse—theistic or God-guided evolution) and rationality. You don’t have to choose between science and religion only if you’re a pantheist or someone who maintains that God doesn’t really do anything; but if you’re a deist, a theist, or anyone who believes in a supernatural being or force that actually does something in the cosmos, you have to choose—or suffer cognitive dissonance.


PuffHo has two pieces on the debate. Reader Gunnar sent me this link to a short video, “Bill Nye explains why he’s agnostic,” with his characterization of the video: “Nye is pale, timid, and unconvincing in promoting science” as well as Gunnar’s warning: “Careful, this may produce nausea.  Sadly, a fail for our side.  Seems like he mainly wants to be known as a nice guy, rather than a science guy.”

Indeed, Nye is taking what I call the Weasel Approach: he’s an agnostic because he “can’t know” whether God exists.  Yes, and we also can’t know absolutely whether Bigfoot, Nessie, and UFOs exist, either, so is Nye “agnostic” about those issues, too? He should just admit he’s an atheist, which would be great for the cause, or not waffle in this way. In fact, the interviewer describes a much more cogent distinction between atheism and agnosticism.

But I urge you to watch Nye’s discussion of the ape-human “similarity of DNA” at the end, which starts about 2 minutes in. He completely screws that up, claiming that we have 2-3% genetic differences from  chimps, and asks whether organisms that had 0% ”chimp sequence” be like gods to us, even more intelligent than humans with DNA that resembles those of other apes.

That’s completely bogus. Not only is that diatribe without a point, but it’s wrong. Yes, we have DNA and protein-sequence similarity to chimps, but that doesn’t mean that if we replaced those similar amino acids or DNA bases with different ones, we could be “more” human, or as Nye hypothesizes, like “gods.”  But those genetic similarities do not mean that we carry “chimp DNA” that prevents us from being even more godlike and awesome. The similarities, insofar as they function in making proteins, are what makes us human, for being human involves some morphological and functional similarities with other apes.

Listen to this Nye’s discussion yourself; that confusing biobabble worries me that Nye doesn’t even understand what it means to say that humans have a certain genetic similarity to our close primate relatives.  And that suggests that he’s not knowledegable enough to have a give-and-take debate about modern evolutionary biology. Further, as Gunnar noted, Nye is neither eloquent nor especially convincing.

Finally, there’s another video as well as an article by David Freeman at PuffHo, “Bill Nye’s debate of creationist Ken Ham has some scientists bothered.”  In the three-minute video, Laci Green gives several reasons why Nye shouldn’t debate, and I’m with her.
The article by Freeman gives your host some publicity, and although it’s on PuffHo, I do like what they quoted (except for using the word “bl*g” for the site):

Dr. Jerry Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, called the debate “pointless and counterproductive” in an article posted on his popular blog, Why Evolution Is True.

“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,” he wrote. “By so doing, he gives them credibility simply by appearing beside them on the platform.”

Coyne’s comments echo those made by Dr. Richard Dawkins, the world-renowned evolutionary biologist and a public intellectual who has made it his policy to reject invitations to debate creationists.

“Inevitably, when you turn down the invitation you will be accused of cowardice, or of inability to defend your own beliefs,” Dawkins wrote in a 2006 article entitled Why I Won’t Debate Creationists. “But that is better than supplying the creationists with what they crave: the oxygen of respectability in the world of real science.”

. . . Still, Coyne acknowledged his concern that Nye might run into trouble when he squares off against Ham at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. on Tuesday night. Coyne wrote on his blog that he was convinced Ham was preparing furiously for the “Ham on Nye” debate, adding that “I pray* that Nye is doing likewise.”

What’s the asterisk for? At the bottom of the post, Coyne–like Dawkins, an atheist–explained:

“I am praying metaphorically.”

I’ll be watching this, sans nachos, but probably with a good Lustau sherry and a fine cigar. Good luck to Nye, but I’m not hopeful.

Cat wants to eat Ham with his popcorn

h/t: Steven C., Roo, Gunnar, Steve

190 thoughts on “Ham on Nye: last-minute articles and video on tonight’s debate

  1. I’m not going to watch it unless the reviews here tomorrow suggest it’s not an embarrassment.

    (That’s the first time I’ve spelled embarrassment correctly without being warned by spell check.)

    1. WARNING (posting at top so people see this)

      debatelive.org is an AIG owned URL so I recommend people watch it at one of the other places that will be streaming it… I’ll probably go to MSNBC.com or WCPO.com. Some Youtubers have also set up live streams.

      I began to suspect this when an acquaintance said that he had registered at debatelive on Saturday and was immediately spammed with emails from Answers in Genesis. I just verified it by checking Whois for domain ownership. Registered by AiG 14 Jan 2014.

      Don’t give them the hits.

          1. Ah, you succumbed to the Ben Goren blandishments. Where’s that impulse control? (I’m watching too. 😉 ) Why did you not first tie yourself to the mast of your ship and fill your compadres’ ears with wax?

            Anyway, it’s not like being poked in the eye with a sharp stick.

            1. I know – silly me. I’m no Odysseus! Ham said “secularists” have hijacked the word “science”. Aye carumba! Where is that wax?!

    1. Ditto. I can’t bring myself to watch an extended session of Gish galloping, lying, and audience pandering. I spent 25 years going to fundamentalist church services. I’ve done my time.

  2. Consulting experts by email is not, to my mind, the best way to prepare for such a debate, though it’s good to read what Ham has said in the past.

    Absolutely right. A debate is a performance. Politicians preparing for debates don’t just read up on the issues; they have mock debates with associates and allies playing the role of the opposition. They practice debating, in other words — with the high-level political debate preparation even going to the level of duplicating the stage and the lighting and everything else.

    Musicians and actors and others in the performing arts know how important it is to practice, and performers past a certain level know that practicing performing is every bit as important as what goes on in the practice room. That is, you need to get out and perform in front of audiences, the same basic gig, repeatedly, before you really hit your stride. Opening night of an amateur musical or opera might have the most nervous energy, but it’s usually not until the third or fourth show that they’ll hit their stride. For performers who only do one show and that’s it, that’s a problem. (Professionals who’ve made a career out of performing naturally do better.)

    That plus so many other warning signs tell me that we’re looking forward to Ham on toasted Nye in a few hours. I think we might actually want to hope for Nye to simply come across as an incompetent public speaker, somebody who so obviously stammers and can’t quite think straight that nobody can seriously think that he’s anybody to be taken seriously.

    It’s sad. I’m planning on watching it, but for the same reason that I don’t think I could turn away from a train wreck happening in front of me. And it’s one of “our” guys who’s just driven onto the tracks, parked himself there, and is too busy fumbling with his seatbelt to realize what’s about to hit him.

    Ah, well…time to break out the Whirley-Pop, at least.


  3. IIRC, Nye is clumsily paraphrasing something NdGT said in an interview (posted here recently?). I wasn’t particularly convinced by the original; Nye just mangles it.


    PS. My wife and daughter are Nyes; I’m embarrassed for their namesake.

    1. Whatever NdGT statement Nye paraphrased, Nye surely does not employe NdGT’s “When In Doubt, Shout” modus operandi.

  4. A strong pot of coffee should do the trick…..with a good vibes playlist ready in the background just in case the gish-gallop gets too unlistenable…

    I’m still cautiously optimistic despite the dire predictions. Hopefully it’s learning by doing.

  5. “claiming that we have 2-3% genetic similarity to chimps”

    I didn’t remember that from the first time I watched it some time ago, and am sure I would have. I re-watched it just now, and he says we are 98% similar to chimps.

    But I do agree that he totally screws up the point Neil deGrasse Tyson was making when he originally said it.

    1. Thanks for confirming (#6).

      So, I’m not planning on staying up until 02:30 to watch it.

      But, a thought just occurred to me. Has Nye been *deliberately* inept in interviews since this was announced to sucker Ham?


    2. UGH, yes, that was a mistake, and I’ve fixed it. Actually, I’m not quite sure what Nye was trying to say here, except that our “chimp” DNA was somehow holding our evolution back, and I didn’t hear Tyson’s comment. But whatever Nye was trying to say, it was a. completely irrelevant to the discussion, b. garbled, and c. not likely to make him look good in the interview.

      1. I think this is the Tyson discussion in question.
        Tyson points out that a relatively small DNA difference produces a large difference in intellectual capability in chimps vs. humans and then speculates that an alien species could thus perhaps be as far beyond humans as we are beyond chimps. He doesn’t try to imply that the aliens would be “uber-human”, merely better equipped to understand the universe.

        1. You’d need some form of eugenics for that to happen. I don’t imagine natural selection is currently selecting for increased intelligence – why would it?

          1. I don’t see why. It could simply be an “accident” of evolution, in a myriad of ways.

            Also, it might be a little early to call the question of whether or not natural selection for increased intelligence (whatever might specifically be meant by that) is possible, settled.

  6. The website for the live stream already has DVDs of tonight’s event for preorder. The site states “The event is also recorded for DVD and digital download distribution to help offset significant costs in organizing and sponsoring the debate.” I hope Mr. Nye shares in this profit.

    1. Those DVDs bug me worst of all. IMO Ken Ham is fully capable of editing the recording to make Nye appear to say things he never intended.

      1. Well, perhaps Nye has contemplated the high likelihood of this and perhaps will arrange for a lieutenant to record from a remote computer so as to have a benchmark with which to compare resulting Ham Spam.

        1. Well of course anyone watching it live could record it, but the YECs buying the DVDs won’t bother to check that.

  7. I don’t think I’ll watch. I just can’t stomach Ken Ham and I’d rather someone else tell me about it later so I can decide if I am in the mood to watch at a later date.

  8. Nye is violating a fundamental intellectual principal: never argue or debate anything w/ a moron; they’ll just drag you down to their level and beat you senseless w/ stupidity.

    Violating this principle almost always gets you in deep doo-doo. As tempting as it might seem, one should resist.

    I’m praying for Nye too because I think he’s going to get so clobbered by stupidity that his cranium will crack.

  9. I’d like to believe Nye has put on a bumbling act leading up to tonight, and Ham will go down like he got punched with a fist wrapped around a roll of nickels.

    I also like to believe the next lottery ticket I buy will take the jackpot, too.

  10. [Gunnar’s] characterization . . . : “Nye is pale, timid, and unconvincing . . . Gunnar’s warning: “Careful, this may produce nausea . . . .”

    I guess I have rather stout intestinal fortitude today. 😉

    Perhaps he needs a consultant to come in and evaluate the lighting situation at wherever he was being videoed.

    Maybe he should get a little more sun. (Though perhaps he has sought to avoid the sun over the years, so as to avoid the cumulative damage to which we light-skinned folk are susceptible.)

    Perhaps some bronzer?

    Beyond that, perhaps a prayer to Pallas Athena that his scientific knowledge be made deeper and wider, and that he be delivered from his putative timidity, perhaps empowered with the interruptive prowess of a Romneyesque debater or Faux News interrogator?

    “Seems like he mainly wants to be known as a nice guy, rather than a science guy.”

    Perhaps it’s not impossible that Nye would welcome specific, positive recommendations on how to be less nice. Perhaps there are some choice Donald Trump and Gordon Ramsey (sp.?) video tutorials he could take in. (As Hitch said of greed, so it is with the lack of social graces – some human attributes require no reinforcement.)

  11. About a half hour in, Ham proffers videos of others on behalf of his position. Perhaps they should be on stage instead of him. Is this a recent trend in “debates”?

    1. It’s a trend when you have thousands of pre-orders of the debate DVD from your young-earth creationist supporters. Just recycle old material, present a well-scripted presentation and you’ll look like you know your stuff. It’s sad to me that Mr. Ham says he ‘loves science’ yet clearly ignores all the evidence in favor of a blind faith.

  12. I clicked on Georgia Purdum’s link above because I had never heard of her. On her blog she states that she had a conversation with Bill Nye on some panel about Science and that she found it necessary to correct Nye’s assertions that creationists think the Earth is only 10,000 years old.

    She told him that the Earth is actually only 6,000 years old!

    And she said that the fossil record is best explained by Noah’s flood.

    I don’t think I could make this shit up if I tried!!

    1. Ham’s whole argument has been one big Gish gallop. It’s hurting my head! I think I’m going to have to get drunk after!

      1. Gish used the Gish gallop effectively though…. He had 30 minutes to make his case….
        His Evidence for creationism:
        The bible is god’s word……
        There are young earth creationist scientists thatagree with me…
        Were you there?……

        Now he’s talking about gay marriage and abortion lol.

        1. Yeah. What I’ve learned from Ken Ham tonight” Aussies say “blokes” & he wants to kill cats. Clearly, he is evil just for the cat shout out.

  13. I totally agreed with Jerry coming into this thing that it was a bad idea… I’m starting to change my mind…. Ham is a horrible debater.

    1. Yeah, Ham was pretty dire and Nye is doing pretty well (I liked his calculation of the rate of new species formation under the creationist “model”). I hope the audience gets what he’s saying.

      The true chances to look good or bad, of course, will come during the rebuttals, which, sadly, are only ten minutes total for each debater.

      1. The bird part was good – it’s understandable! He needs more pictures and people saying he’s right though (joke).

    2. Let this be my public apology to thinking Bill Nye was making a big mistake as well. He did quite well after getting off to a bit of a slow start. Near the end o the debate, Nye is confident and Ham seems dejected. The 900 people in the audience don’t matter; the perhaps million watching on the internet and on later CSpan re-run do.

    3. Be that as it may that Ham is a horrible debater (and he’s had every reasonable chance to hone his craft), Nye kept not just his head but his belly button above water.

    1. Some would say that Hitchens was more articulate than Craig, and by most accounts Hitch lost that debate.

  14. Unfortunately Nye is dumping too much on his audience. As one who has spoken to fellow churchgoers on science/age of earth etc you have to stick with very basic evidence and easy analogies. The ice cores were good. Geologic layers/fossilization good. I would have used astronomical evidence. That comment by the astronomer Faulkner that went something like ‘no astronomical evidence disputes a young earth/universe’ just turned my stomach. sighs

    1. I’m excited that Tiktaalik got a shout out. I just ordered my glow-in-the-dark Tiktaalik coin today! I even used a chart showing fish moving to land animals next to the word “adaption”. The presentation was for Agile development. LOL!

      1. Oops I mean I used a chart showing fish evolution to land animals in a presentation. I’m usually better at multi tasking.

    2. How does one know just the right amount of info to dump on a given audience? By what amount too much did Nye dump? 8.3%? Pi%?

  15. Relax derekw, Ham is doing more damage to himself than Bill Nye ever could. His arguments just sound bizarre and weird. Bill should just let Ham talk.

    1. Agreed. It’s a gish-gallop of predictable, utter drivel.

      However, bear in mind just where the ‘debate’ is held…

  16. Bill’s doing pretty well…. fortunately Ham used his 30 minutes to make the same bullshit speech that he’s been giving for years…Bill’s doing good…. Not as good as someone like Ken Miller would do…

    (from Miller’s debate with Henry Morris:
    “Okay, in summation, what have we got? We have a so-called scientific theory called special creation, which Dr. Morris says fits the facts perfectly. How does it fits the fact, fit the facts? Number one: it ignores the age of the universe. Number two: it ignores radiometric dates from rocks. Number three: you get right down to it, it ignores the fossil record, gaps and all, and says the fossil record is a great illusion which fools us into believing the earth has changed. It quotes extensively from critiques from, from scientists criticizing mechanisms and theories of evolution and misplaces the criticism to pretend that what they’re really saying is that evolution never happened. It maintains that there are no transitional forms – friends, there are lots of transitional forms. It says that there’s nothing intermediate between man and any other species. When I get the chance to speak again, I’ll show you that there are lots of intermediates between us and other species. It says that the remarkably consistent details of molecular evolution are just an accident, or just an act of [40:00] a creator trying to fool us. And lastly it says, as Dr. Morris did when he opened, that evolutionary theory is a historical process in the past, it exists on faith and it cannot be disproven.

    Now I want to close by taking the last point. The contention that because evolution relates to origins it cannot be disproven is simple nonsense. It stems from criticisms from various scientists of evolutionary theory as being too vague. But could evolution be disproven? Of course it could be disproven. Evolution as a historical occurrence could be disproven if it –f we could see that the size of the observable universe was then thousand light years or less. Throw it right out of the park. It could be disproven if radiometric dating, when it was invented, suddenly told us the earth was only ten thousand years old. And it certainly could have told us that. It could be disproven if simple molecules could never become converted to complex ones in experiments like those of Stanley Miller. It could be irrefutably and overwhelmingly disproven if when we dug into the ground we found that life at every level was the same as it is today, if we found human skeletons and puppy dogs and maple trees all the way back to Precambrian rock. And it could be disproven [COLOR=”yellow”]if we found that the relationship of molecular biology or the relationships that molecular biology tells us were entirely at variance with each other and with evolutionary pathways.

    If no process of evolution had taken place, any one of these things could have disproven the idea of evolution. But instead, at every case it’s the idea of special creation which is falsified again and again and again. Now one must look very closely at the ideas of Dr. Morris and beg us – beg him to show us the scientific evidence that supports those ideas. And failing that test, we must deal with special creation in the same way that Copernicus dealt with the notion that the sun orbits the earth. And that is by choosing instead the model of simplicity and truth. Thank you.”

    1. Well, should one reasonably expect Nye to do as well as Biology Ph.D. Ken Miller? Surely, Nye is doing decently well for an “engineer,” eh? 😉 (I have very great respect for engineers. They, along with other STEM types, find themselves, and endure having to be, “handmaidens” to MBA types.)

  17. People today are exposed to snake oil salesman on such a regular basis. Someone like Ken Ham comes off as having an agenda to even a very unsuspecting observer. Considering how few people are even watching this, Bill Nye’s best strategy would be to convince open minded young people who grow up in very conservative households. These kinds of people (ages 16-24) might be watching this. There minds aren’t yet closed and will likely be receptive to what Bill Nye is presenting, its very interesting.

  18. Ken Ham: You can’t use historical science to argue that the earth is billions of years old…. (a few moments later)…. there is no evidence that contradicts young earth creationism 🙂

    1. Nye did very well addressing that. I am very impressed with his use of the speed of light to explain.

  19. Why doesn’t Ham just come out and say that the earth was created not just 6,000 years ago, but on 4004 BC(E) Sunday October 25, in the evening, which is what Bishop Usher first postulated!

    Well, no… Because that would be just silly.

  20. I think that Nye is doing an excellent job. He brings up one Ham contradiction after another. He should, however, catch up Ham on “we use the same evidence”. Not so. Ham sweeps all the physical evidence off the table and holds up the Bible.

    1. A couple of times Nye is good to quickly acknowledge, “We don’t know,” about just how reality began, how life began prior to natural selection kicking in, how “consciousness” came to be.

      Ham repeatedly saying, “Bill, there’s a Book out there . . . .”

  21. I wasn’t expecting Ken Ham to be as talented of a debater as William Lane Craig but I am astonished at how horrible he is…..

    1. Agreed, it’s just as if he’s reading from a prepared script, and is unable to swerve from that. That cannot be the case, surely!

  22. I don’t think Ham has any argument other than “it happened in the past so we cant know what happened (unless of course it is written in some book I happen to agree with)”. I’m not sure how he knows what he had for lunch yesterday.

  23. At approx. 1:39:45, Ham attempts to counter Nye that the 45,000 yo wood is “encased” in the 45,000,000 yo basalt. Do I correctly understand that basalt is hardened lava? Lava could flow in copious quantities, cover, and harden over wood, no?

    1. Mr. Nye missed a point there. The trees were the age that the basalt indicated they were, the erroneous carbon-dating was because carbon-dating is unreliable after about 45,000 to 50,000 years. Mr. Nye should have remembered that point and pointed out why Mr. Ham’s story was bogus (and why Mr. Ham should have known it was bogus).

  24. This illustrates quite clearly what utter drivel it really is to hear a grown adult on a stage talk professionally about Noah’s Ark as a scientific fact. It really does beggar belief.

    I’d be a terrible debater I’m afraid. I’d have walked over to Ham and punched his lights out long ago…!

  25. The vegetarian thing was just over the top. Anyone watching this of low to mild intelligence will think of Ham as a lunatic.

      1. People like Ham, when they know only basic arithmetic, they already think they can explain problems in differential equation ..

        Funny thing is that for those in kindergarten people like Ham are thought to be clever ..

        I hope what Nye said here might intrigue some of the pre-schoolers minds around.

  26. I know that Richard refuses to debate creationists…. I hope he’ll make one exception and debate Ham lol….. That would be epic. Ham is terrible.

  27. Nye is much better than I thought he would be, Ham is also much worse, but really, well done Bill (so far). Amazed that Ham wanted to bring stuff like gay marriage into this as well.

  28. I was really pissed off when I heard that Bill was going to debate Ken Ham…. I’ve totally changed my mind… I thought Ken Ham would’ve at least memorized some bogus scientific arguments in favor of young earth creationism…. he just keeps bringing up the bible over and over again.

  29. Question: What would change your mind….

    Ken Ham: No one is ever going to convince me that the word of god is not true.

  30. I think Nye did a pretty good job. I still don’t think scientists should debate these clowns, but this wasn’t bad.

  31. At 2h:11m Ham is asked about the distance of stars and the speed of light and prevaricates and tap-dances to “I’m no expert” and plate tectonics and to the effectm “how can we know that the rate of change (continental drift, and also I guess by implication, speed of light, 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) of any given phenomenon long ago is the same as today.”

  32. Face it guys – we were all wrong. Ham is terrible, nothing but bible quotes, and Nye is great.
    You can debate creationists and win.
    And it’s all over the internet….

    1. Actually I think Nye is on par, but Ham is surprising, do you really think that he can command such corporations with those “museums” and arks only with that level of garbage?

      I know Ham has to be bible-literalist, but -even if I don’t know how- I think he must know more tricks to fool the idiots (and part their money!) for so long?

      We definitely should not overestimate the intelligence of the IDiots!

  33. One thing is for sure, Bill Nye is more intelligent than I realized. I thought he was really intelligent but wow.

  34. 2:23

    OK, Nye is being accommodationist, but perhaps also prudently magnanimous in front of this audience.

    Couple of years later, Ham says polygamy “a real problem.” Wonder if he thought slavery “a real problem”?

  35. Wow I was really worried about the debate but it actually went great…. Ham was horrible…. Nye did pretty well

  36. 2:42

    An excellent but prudent ending remark by Nye, appealing to the economic self-interest of the U.S. citizen vis-à-vis science. I look forward to the day when one can also appeal to a citizen’s sense of wonder, the numinous, to science and learning and satisfying of intellectual curiosity for its own sake.

    1. Yes, he asserted that a few times and it was well done. I often argue this point as well – you will be left behind (and I’m not talking Revelations but the real left behind) if you choose to ignore science in favour of revelation.

  37. Why did I bother? two and a half hours of good sleeping time wasted. Somebody shoot me.

    But really, how can you expect to reason with those who’ve abandoned rational thought for faith? Can’t be done, they just stick their fingers in their ears and say “jebus loves me” or words to that effect until the nasty facts go away.

  38. I think I’ll go a bit against the tide of enthusiasm for Nye. I don’t think he actually did that great a job, with a fair number of science cock-ups akin to the one about the chimpanzees in the earlier interview video.

    In comparison with the complete joke that Ham was, Nye looked good. But I would want high school science teachers to have a better command of science than Nye showed tonight.

    His enthusiasm was good, and I could easily see how he could be excellent in a scripted TV program. But he just doesn’t have the chops to be able to do this type of extemporaneous speaking.

    We dodged a bullet tonight, but only because the other side was aiming at its own foot.



    1. ” . . . Nye looked good. But I would want high school science teachers to have a better command of science than Nye showed tonight.”

      I trust that there would be no strenuous objection to, and undue criticism of, the average high school science teacher rising to the occasion to debate Ham and his ilk, in the absence of a Dawkins, etc.

    2. Remember that Nye wasn’t speaking to scientists or the science literate. He was speaking to the Joe-six-pack voter and the moms in the southern states where there is a real movement by people like Ham to get this malarkey into public classrooms. He doesn’t need to be specific with the science. His job is to hopefully transmit some of that wonder and enthusiasm for science into the minds of parents and voters in the bible belt. I think he did okay.

      1. It wasn’t his level of specificity I’m objecting to. Indeed, I think he got bogged down in spots with details that should have stayed on the cutting room floor.

        I’m not particularly interested in re-watching it, but he had some outright scientific flubs of the same nature of his confusing the meaning of the differences between human and chimpanzee DNA. Glossing over the science in the interests of brevity is one thing; getting it worng is another entirely.


    3. Just checked it out – I think he did pretty well, although I wasn’t too impressed by the accomadationism in the last post he answered, it’s hardly a big win to turn young earth creationists into old earth ones or ID proponents.

    4. “But I would want high school science teachers to have a better command of science than Nye showed tonight.”

      A bit of charity is in order, I think. Nye’s command of the science in question might be quite a bit better when he’s not in front of an audience of thousands.

      And I don’t know any scientist who doesn’t commit a boo boo or two when he’s discussing a field outside his expertise. That applies even more to a generalist like Nye.

  39. As someone pointed out at pharyngula, Nye went through the whole debate without ever calling the facility a “museum.”
    Well, I didn’t waste 21/2 hours – most entertaining. Ken is no debater

      1. Which he probably regards as a grievous sin for which he has to continuously beg forgiveness from his lord and master…

  40. Noted that when the camera shut off, a good bit earlier than I would have expected given how such things are usually broadcast, Nye was still on stage, while Ham had departed maybe 30sec earlier, not seeming to have been rushed by anyone from either side of the stage. Given the mindset of the Hammophiles, Nye may have been the perfect person to joust with him, to be able to crack their veneer. I’m not expecting any sea change, but it’ll be interesting to see what the inevitable polls (exit polls?) turn up.

  41. I think that Nye kicked proverbial ass.
    I was as critical as any up front, but as it turned out, religion came across as pathetically inadequate.

    When Ham spoke, Nye eyed him grim faced, like a prosecutor would a felon.The audience questions drilled Ham on issues of falsifiability. Nye beat Ham at his own game, preaching the wonder of scientific mystery and exploration over canned explanations. We all know what canned Ham is. 😉

    Most importantly, I think Ham thought that he lost. He walked off the stage and Nye walked forward to meet audience members coming up. And I think that Nye might have actually changed minds where Ham was left “preaching to the choir”.

    I think that Nye did good. Ham is really not left with a “debate” that he even wants to make money on. Every DVD he sells undermines his cause.

    1. 10 to 1 that Ham sells the DVDs anyway. One, because he cares about making money more than he cares about anything else, including how foolish he looks. And two, because he cares about making money more than he cares about anything else, including how foolish he looks.

      1. Check! None the less, each DVD is memetic virus. I think that Nye actually did a brilliant job as an educator. You could tell in Ham’s expressions, after the first flashy presentation, his argument collapsed. Nye just kept teaching the audience stuff they didn’t know.

      2. Spot on. Ham is playing the long game. Tickets were sold, traffic to his website is up, visibility of his “museum” among the uninitiated is rising, he has a new DVD to sell complete with pre- and post-debate “analysis” about how Nye failed to engage him.

        In the end, Ham doesn’t care how many people think he lost the debate or that he’s a charlatan. He won’t lose sleep over the fact that more people find him oily and deceitful as long as there are *enough* people sending him money. Bill Nye’s goal was to illuminate. Ken Ham’s goal was to grow the consumer base for his niche market.

        In that sense, Ham already won when Bill Nye accepted to come. A snake oil salesman only cares that there are *enough* people who buy into his pitch; enough people willing to indulge his ego, enough people willing to part with their money or surrender their intellectual autonomy in exchange for a fairy tale. That is a real sort of power.

        1. Do you think people like Ham, Chopra, Craig, Hovind etc. don’t actually believe what they are saying and just view their gullible audience as a market? I honestly don’t know, probably it differs between individuals.

            1. Exactly! Ham may not even be able to honestly answer what he believes. He just knows what he’s convinced himself for the con.

          1. I think some of them do, but they are also businessmen who have made it their living to sell what they believe. If they weren’t good at it, they’d have to find a different line of work.

  42. I wish Nye had responded to Ham’s assertion that without God where did the laws of nature, and logic, etc. come from by asking Ham where God came from, and that if Ham’s answer is that God just always was and always is, that that’s not a valid answer.

    I also wish he brought up the Douglas Adams example of the puddle that assumed there was a designer because of how perfectly the hole it was in fit it.

    1. I like the answer he gave better. “Where did [your] God come from?” comes off as aggressively anti-theistic. OTOH “we don’t know, but scientists love looking at the world to find these things out” comes across to me as inspiring. Nye extended a metaphorical hand to young watchers, inviting them to become scientists. IMO that’s much better than attacking their beliefs, even if such beliefs are irrational.

  43. It took a high school science teacher type with a broad if not deep knowledge of science to take him down. Of course Ham takes the most radical fundamentalist view.

    And of course he’s in a bubble when he takes the “observational science” vs the “historical science” view. I think that it became clear that this meant that the rules of the universe were different 4000 years ago….way back when the stars were first created! 😉

    I think that Ham is Spam.

  44. I loved how Bill Nye addressed the consciousness question. We don’t know yet, but we do not assume the answer a priori, we are looking for it. And that’s why we need you people who are watching this. There are still mysteries waiting to be solved. Come to science, we need more scientists and engineers, consider becoming one. I am glad that he managed to get this general, but all-important, message across.

    1. Yes! In other words, scientists take explanations of ‘consciousness’ explicitly, and no one takes dualism seriously. We’re working on it….

  45. Ham convinced me – that there’s even less to his arguments than I thought. If science kept going back to the same source, I wouldn’t be reading this website. I bet that some of the faithful in the audience noticed the pattern and started to think about the authority of the bible.

    1. Check! I think that despite his flashy prepared beginning, he only demonstrated how pathetic his literal translations of “the text” were. Nye kept ‘ham’mering him on his literal ‘english’ translation of a single book from a single religion. Nye found a way to appeal to other religious disaffected by xtianity. Where we are all universally affected by technology.

      Engineering with Nye’s ‘predictable’ results presses the reliability of the scientific message to the self interest of others. When Nye talked, the audience was listening to something that they hadn’t heard before, We should give him credit for being the ‘Science Guy’, after all.

  46. So basically we found out that:

    1) Ken Ham is not as mighty debater as assumed before (YECs are people too! 😀 ).
    2) Nye is accomodo (no, not a comodo!).
    3) Debates like this could be entertaining (useful?).

    Next thing I want to know: the financial aspects of this brouhaha .. like how much Nye was paid, how much Ham & co got ….

    1. “Nye is accomodo”

      Yes, I caught this too…still we’re working on ‘fundamental’ levels here. One thing at a time….any port in a storm….politically the right thing to do…pointed out Ham’s xtian alienation of anyone not xtian.

      1. So that is a tactical move for Nye?

        I was half-expecting Nye to use the outside-faith-test as a line of attack to Ham’s elite-xtianity. But that would alienate most of the audience (hammian xtians).

        well ..

  47. We all have our things we wish Nye might have said, and I’m sure he has his own list. Two that I would have liked, but it’s probably best that he didn’t go into them since it would have taken too long were:

    1) The guy from Liberty U. If Ham had leaned on that more, Nye could have pointed out that at Liberty, all faculty have to annually affirm an oath essentially to interpret everything in light of the Babble. Doctrinal Statement, I think it’s called. Yes. Easily found by Googling Liberty University Doctrinal Statement. And then point out that real universities don’t require their faculty to affirm any oaths.

    2) Other evidence essentially for cross-checking geological time. The number of days/year as back-calculated based on the deceleration of the earth’s spin and the coral samples whose number of annual deposits is greater (by memory, something over 400d/yr) correlates with the age of the sediments they were found in as (by memory) indicated by certain isotope ratios. That work was from ca. 1961.

  48. I made a short blog in response to the “debate”. My summary is this: I’ll put it simply for you: To believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old is to deny every branch of science. You must deny and reject all of the scientific understandings and advancements based on clear and objective observation, experimentation, and analysis. Therefore you can no longer accept the treatment recommendations made by your doctor; nor undergo surgery for any medical condition. All of these things are based on reasoning which you find invalid.

    In the words of Richard Dawkins “Science. It works, bitches.”

  49. Eric Hovind has put a post-debate show on his youtube thread. Depressing. I think they do and say all this creationist stuff for money. Exhibit A is sitting in federal prison for tax evasion.

  50. Nye did a really good job.

    I really liked the ice core images (wish he had shown the bands that illustrate how obvious each year is). I also wish he had added known human-witnessed events such as the ash layer from Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. The 7000 year old tree was a killer piece of evidence that he should have pressed Ham on. Everyone knows trees can be dated by counting rings. I was dying for him to ask Ham about how long he thought it took for a trilobite or a 600 year old tree to turn to solid stone (become fossilized or petrified)? 4000 years would seem a bit short. Or that those fossilized sea creatures can be found at 17,000 ft on mountains (tectonics). How long would that take, Ham? Nye had some other great evidence and anecdotes and came off as folksy and not nerdy. I loved the many references to fossil evidence and poor science education in the state of Kentucky.

    I thought he got too technical with radioisotopes, the cosmic microwave background, etc. He shouldn’t have banged on about fish sex (irrelevant). The ark construction was weak (God was helping Noah). One fossil out of order in the geologic column would hardly make me accept God. Lastly, I thought selling science as important to keep the US competitive with the world was completely irrelevant to the discussion. Lastly, we all cringe at the argument that scientists who are Christians proves science and religion are compatible.

    That said, I liked it. Ham looked pretty uncomfortable.

    1. “Lastly, I thought selling science as important to keep the US competitive with the world was completely irrelevant to the discussion.”

      I agree that it was irrelevant, but Amuricuns get monumentally beat over the head with the economic competitiveness thang by media pundits, economists and corporate god Movers-and-Shakers, and even creationists want their children/students to get “good jobs,” eh?

  51. Bill Nye was brave, if foolhardy, to step into that lions’ den knowing what happened to Daniel’s accusers in Ken Ham’s book (Daniel 6:24 if you want the gory details).

    I was interested because there’s an awful lot of ham in my extended family and in this sea of Christianity that tries its best to drown me.

    Our First People, who have been in Australia for more than 50,000 years, would also choke on all that YEC. No wonder he skedaddled to the US!

      1. And human ancestors have been in Africa for millions of years at last count, and Homo sapiens sapiens have been on that continent for some 100,000 years at least.

        I suspect this debate will have a telling effect on the demise of creationism, in all its various incarnations including IDiotism. And I think it will be as telling as the Scopes and the Kitzmiller vs Dover School Board trials.

        Good on you Mr Nye. A job well done.

  52. John Loftus throws down the gauntlet for Jerry et al! Bill Nye Won His Debate Against Ken Ham: More Evolutionists Should Debate Creationists:

    Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, and PZ Myers are all wrong. I call upon them to change their minds. Yes, evolution is a fact. It is beyond dispute. But if we want to change the minds of deeply imbedded Christians within their communities who will never consider evolution then we need to go where they are found. And debates on creation are the perfect solution. We must do it for the children. We must do it for the youths in the grip of this religious indoctrination who can see for themselves when watching a debate. Consider it another way to educate the American youths of the future so we can be a leader in the science of the future. If you still refuse to debate creationists then stop hindering other evolutionists like Bill Nye who buck the social pressure you provide. Stop discouraging evolutionists from debating creationists, please.

    Loftus also reports that the Christianity Today online poll is overwhelmingly in favour of Nye:
    Viewers Poll by Christianity Today: Bill Nye Slaughtered Ken Ham
    . But we all know how reliable online polls are … 


    1. Welly, Nye showed it can be done well. But he’s also a trained TV speaker. That’s a different skill than being a good scientist, and being the latter doesn’t make you the former. I’m not putting down Dawkins’ or anyone else’s rhetorical skills, just saying that “Nye did it” is not a good argument that scientific experts in evolution in general can do it.

      Ham is also a YEC bible-thumper, and I have to echo Jason Rosenhouse’s commentary and say that one reason this debate went so well is because – when placed up against real science – YEC bible-thumping comes off looking really unscientific. Debating a cagey and intellectually dishonest or deceitful IDer – i.e. someone who avoids bible references altogether and instead uses Behe or Dembski flawed arguments – may be an entirely different barrel of monkeys. Just because Ham came off looking like an unscientific bible thumper doesn’t mean some more cagey creationist would.

      1. This is true, but did you catch how Ham was using some Dembski-inspired arguments? All of that bafflegab about “language” and how matter cannot create the language of life or what not.

    2. From an article that identifies 5 Christian Right yahoo’s presently leading in their ’14 Congressional campaigns — hoping the polling results change by November.

      What I fear most is the obedience factor introduced into US elections by the presence of Winger Christianity. Nye-Ham debates seldom influence people in this group regardless of whether a Ham-type focuses a bit of light on the insanity of religious belief. The faith virus prevails anyway, which is why it is the pernicious thing that has to be disabled.

      You’ll notice the state in the story below is Ham country:

      ‘Matt Bevin, a self-employed businessman, is contesting the GOP primary for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s seat. Bevin, who describes his life as being “built on a bedrock of strong Christian values,” is now leading McConnell by 4 according to the most recent Rasmussen Report poll.

      Right-wing blogger and Fox News contributor Erick Erickson says Democrats are “squealing like a stuffed pig” because of polling data that shows Bevin leading Democrat Allison Grimes, while McConnell only draws out a statistical tie. “If the GOP does not gain the Senate in 2014, it will probably be because they lose Kentucky. They only lose Kentucky if Mitch McConnell is the Republican nominee,” says Erickson.

      Like all those on the far right, Bevin, who is a Southern Baptist, is obsessed with controlling all matters related to sex and abortion. Earlier this month, on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Bevin penned an op-ed that read, “The fight for the unborn could not be any more important. Since that dark day in 1973, America has seen more than 55 million babies killed under the guise of ‘choice….Being pro-life is more than simply a slogan to us. It is a belief that every life, born and unborn, is so precious to our Creator, that it compels us to action.”

      In case you missed it the first time, he’s leading McConnell and the Democrats by a handy margin.’

  53. I know many people on here, Jerry especially, stay away from Tw*tter, but the reaction on there, may have made this whole thing worthwhile…

    Several comments I saw at #CreationDebate, were from Young Earth Creationists, genuinely questioning what they had been taught. Some saying their Pastors were liars, others that they may have been misled, but it probably wasn’t wilfully, even a couple that were now questioning their faith.

    Thank the Ceiling Cat!

  54. “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,” he wrote. “By so doing, he gives them credibility simply by appearing beside them on the platform.”

    This is so wrong imo. Coyne and Dawkins can preach all they want, but their voices will never reach the creationists. Instead the creationists will listen to their ‘experts’ as they dissmantle Coyne’s and Dawkin’s arguments, which will usually mean mis-representation, lies and ignorance.

    The only way to change someone’s mind is to challenge them, and if they invite you to challenge their ideas, you should jump on it!

    People, from my experience, are pretty resonable, at least within the context their reason lives in, and the only way to change someone’s mind is to change its context, and that will never happen if you do what Coyne and Dawkins argue for, by ignoring them.

    1. Refusing to debate is not the same as ignoring.

      People in my former department ignored them, partly, I suppose, out of self-preservation. Spending your time engaging creationists and sophisticated theologians (how do you make the damn TM symbol?) is a deep hole, as we’ve seen from many of the 7000 posts here. When people are dealing with getting tenure, it’s something that there’s no time for, and how our host manages to keep an active research program going and do this to boot astonishes me.

      1. ™ => ™

        In case that comes out garbled, ampersand (shift-7), the word, “trade,” and a semicolon.

        And, yes. Not debating != ignoring. Jerry often doesn’t ignore Creationists, but he certainly doesn’t debate them.


        1. “ampersand (shift-7), the word, “trade,” and a semicolon.”

          Can’t get much more simple and intuitive than that!

  55. For those who are interested Ars Technica covered the debate: link Ars is good for reading comments because the audience is allowed vote up or down comments. Because the audience is very savvy in regards to science, the creation-minded arguments get “disappeared” as the votes decide which comments stay and which are promoted.

  56. I think this went very well. Bill did a fine job, despite a few minor imperfections. He aimed at the right target audience and kept his arguments to a level they could grasp.

    A VERY important point about this was revealed to me when I went searching for the debate and commentary on it using Google. I found that many conservative churches had special events to watch this debate!

    Fundamentalists and their children, who are seldom exposed to science advocacy, were exposed to it last night by Bill Nye. Bill got right past their carefully cultivated fences and into their Bible-based silos. They came to a church event expecting to see their mighty “man of God” defeat science, but instead saw a pleasant, non-threatening, science guy mop the floor with a slab of ham.

  57. I find that I’ve somewhat modified my attitude on debates like this following this one. I think Bill Nye has done our side considerable good in this case. Creationism is so pervasive in the public sphere these days, constantly intruding into public schools and political conversation that I no longer think it feasible to “starve them of the oxygen of respectability”. Creationism needs to be confronted in more places than just the courts.

    That said, debating is a form of performance art, not a place for “doing science”. But that only means that we need to encourage scientifically inclined performers to go out and do battle. I think Bill Nye succeeded because he has a long history of explaining science through performance and when you put that together with the idiocy of the other side’s position, you get a winning combination.

    Nye was interviewed on The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell last night and made a comment that stuck with me. It was something like “This isn’t graduate school science we’re talking about here. This is basic grade school material that I’d expect every kid graduating 8th grade to have.” IOW, you don’t have to be an expert in all domains of science to win at this. You can afford to make some factual errors. But someone’s got to confront these guys and when you have an opportunity to embarrass someone like Ken Ham in front of millions of viewers, the opportunity shouldn’t be missed.

    Finally, I don’t think this means that guys like Jerry or Richard Dawkins should just start jumping into debates with creationists. There is great benefit to targeting their power against the Sophisticated Theologians™ instead, as we saw some time back when Jerry debated John Haught. That debate was brilliant, IMO, because it hit the Sophisticated™ position directly with carefully reasoned argument, something that theologians (wrongly) imagine they excel at.

    We should be encouraging the Bill Nye’s (and Aaron Ra’s and others similarly inclined) to go after creationists in debates whenever possible.

    Sorry to be so lengthy in my comment.

  58. Andrew Snelling was mentioned. This YEC has a PhD from a reputable Australian university and has done work for mining companies and written for reputable journals. When he does this he speaks of ages of millions and billions of years. When he writes for his creationist buddies it all shrinks to about 6000 years. I never trust two faced people like that.

  59. I *love* all the negative attention Young Earth Creationism is receiving right now, thanks to this debate. It’s constantly surprising to me how many people don’t really even know about YEC or how rampant it is in the US. I think it’s just as important to wake these people up as it is to try to reach the kids of YECs who are sheltered from real science.

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