I was prescient! Bill Nye and the Ark Park

August 27, 2014 • 9:57 am

Mike Greer, a retired Baptist minister, is a rarity: someone who seems to speak out about the abuses inflicted by people who claim to have God on their side. He writes for Religion Dispatches, but that doesn’t mean he’s soft on faith. You can see that in his new piece, “Did the ‘Science Guy’ Bill Nye single-handedly revive Noah’s Ark theme park?

As you probably know, the “Ark Park” under construction in Kentucky was in financial trouble, in danger of not getting enough money from bond issues to build that Christian travesty. And then Bill Nye agreed to debate Ken Ham on the topic of “Is creation a viable model of origins?“, with the debate held at the Creation Museum, also in Kentucky. Ham’s organization, Answers in Genesis, is behind the park.

I didn’t like it, and kvetched several times about Nye’s bid for attention having the bad consequences of helping Ham raise money for the embattled park (see here, and here, for instance).  I watched the debate, and it was pretty much what I expected: the two debaters talking past each other, with the audience on Ham’s side. But what the debate did was energize the flagging Ark project. As I wrote in a New Republic piece at the time, Nye finally realized what he had done.

The Ark Park had been in financial trouble because people weren’t buying its bonds, but if Ham isn’t lyingand one has to worry about that given his creationist missionthe debate got the needed interest to revive the park. As the Guardian reports:

Creation Museum founder Ken Ham announced Thursday that a municipal bond offering has raised enough money to begin construction on the Ark Encounter project, estimated to cost about $73m. Groundbreaking is planned for May and the ark is expected to be finished by the summer of 2016.

Ham said a high-profile evolution debate he had with “Science Guy” Bill Nye on 4 February helped boost support for the project.

And Nye’s response:

Nye said he was “heartbroken and sickened for the Commonwealth of Kentucky” after learning that the project would move forward. He said the ark would eventually draw more attention to the beliefs of Ham’s ministry, which preaches that the Bible’s creation story is a true account, and as a result, “voters and taxpayers in Kentucky will eventually see that this is not in their best interest.”

And now we know that, at the end of July, the state of Kentucky approved $18 million in tax breaks for the park, assuring its construction.  Greer’s piece in Religion Dispatches points out what a bad idea the debate was, and gives a shout out to the prescient Professor Ceiling Cat (in bold below as some self aggrandizement):

When asked, Nye brushes off questions about whether he may rightly be criticized for taking part in a debate that helped to revive a creationist project he says he despises. Perhaps the correct question for Nye is, “Were you aware of Ham’s ulterior motives behind the staging of the February debate?” If Nye says he was not aware then it would only be fair to assume that Ham is light-years ahead of Nye when it comes to business acumen.

This isn’t just hindsight. A month before the debate University of Chicago professor of Evolutionary Science Jerry A. Coyne warned that Nye was making a very serious mistake and predicted it would resurrect the Ark Encounter project. If only Nye had listened to Coyne we wouldn’t be in our current predicament in Kentucky. 

Before the debate Ham’s project was on the verge of collapsing. The necessary bond sales weren’t materializing and the state wasn’t prepared to make good on a promise to provide tax incentives and road funds—all of which changed after the debate.

Last week the Ark Encounter project broke ground. The Commonwealth is set to provide tax  incentives and road improvement expenditures of $30+ million to a religious scheme that has grossly discriminatory hiring practices and promotes a state image of collective ignorance. Thanks Bill Nye. Thankfully, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is sending warnings that suing the state is an option if it insists on providing taxpayer support for this ridiculous venture.

So what should we all take away from this fiasco? A word to the wise. Those determined to take a principled stand against ignorance and bigotry ought to not only be aware of their own motives, but they must also make every effort to come to a seasoned awareness of the motives and goals of those they challenge. Otherwise, for all our good intentions, we risk being nothing more than pawns in the hands of those who will happily use us to forward their self-aggrandizing agenda.

Well, what’s done is done.  But I do resent Nye’s overweening penchant for the spotlight, which led him into this debate.  Further, Nye apparently is trying to become a spokesperson for science in general and evolution in particular. From what I’ve seen, he’s not doing a particularly good job of it.  I never watched “The Science Guy,” and so I can’t pass judgement on that, but Nye, who clearly misses the public attention he got on that show, is trying to sustain it with a post-t.v. life as a science popularizer. I hope he does good things, but, based on his performance during and after the debate, I just don’t think he has what it takes to keep it going as a science educator.  He needs to let Nye take a back seat to the science itself.

h/t: Al

102 thoughts on “I was prescient! Bill Nye and the Ark Park

  1. Ken Ham is like an evil bond character. Someone get him a monocle!

    He is wily too – he knew Nye wouldn’t be able to resist the debate and it didn’t matter if he won or lost because he’d be laughing all the way to the bank.

    Totally a Bond villain.

  2. Hey Jerry,
    Don’t hurt your arm patting yourself on the back too much.

    “Nye apparently is trying to become a spokesperson for science in general and evolution in particular. From what I’ve seen, he’s not doing a particularly good job of it.”

    If you would go to see him give a talk at a public venue, your opinion of his carrying the mantle of science popularizer might change. I saw him give a talk to an arena which was overflowing (overflow crowd had to watch via video terminal at another building) at the University of Texas Pan American right on the Mexico border several months ago. The atmosphere was electric in there. He is a super speaker and advocate for science and reason. The way he handled questions from the audience at the end was very impressive. This area of Texas is not known for its progressive or educated populace, and so it was awesome to see the reception he got there.

    He’s one of the best at popularization in my opinion. So are you. You two are on the same team. No need to tear him down.

  3. I think Dawkins said something to the effect of “That would look good on your CV but not on mine” when William Lane Craig challenged him to a debate – Bill Nye should have responded similarly to Ham

    1. Dawkins loves that line, but he was quoting Bobby May, I believe (doesn’t name him in the book where he first used it, but refers to the Australian accent).

  4. I get your point about the debate having been a bad idea. I was on the fence about it at the time, but now the evidence cannot be ignored. He shouldn’t have done it.

    But as to the wider issue of Nye as a science communicator, it’s important to note to whom he is primarily communicating. Younger people absolutely love the guy. Let’s not diminish the impact of “Bill Nye the Science Guy”. Talk to anyone in their late teens or twenties about it. It absolutely helped shape them. All those polls you cite which show the gradual rise of non-belief did not happen in a vacuum.

    I don’t care if Nye wants attention. He’s getting the attention of the next generation, and they seem to be getting the right message from it.

    1. As someone who is in their late twenties, I can definitely vouch for this statement. Nye’s show was very big when I was in grade school, and I can still remember how excited my science classes would get about it. Granted, we didn’t necessarily learn as much from it as from our regular lessons, but the enthusiasm that it engendered was truly impressive.

      That being said, I do agree with Jerry that the debate with Ham was probably a mistake. At the very least he should have made an arrangement wherein all of the money didn’t go straight into Ham’s coffers.

      Part of me hopes that the completed Ark might actually work against Ham’s argument, that when people see it in its finished form they might realize how unfeasible the whole thing is. Honestly though, I doubt that the vast majority of people visiting the park will be thinking critically about the whole thing.

      1. Of course the Ark park will work against Ham’s argument. How can it not? It’s ridiculous. Myths do not stand up to being visualized to vividly, and nothing like building an object to make it vivid. Consider, do you think that the saddled triceratops model in the creation museum has helped the cause of young earth creationism? It might provide a comforting escape from reality for some number of people determined to close themselves off from the world, but the wider effect of seeing pictures of people riding a saddled triceratops model is to make it undeniable that these people are bonkers. You can camouflage loony ideas behind a mock scientific enterprise and green screened labs, but you can’t fully camouflage the absurdity of those exhibits.

      2. I agree. I think it’s more likely to foster scepticism than otherwise. They will have so much trouble keeping the whole thing going that it will be very obvious how impossible it would have been for Noah to keep the ark afloat. (Pun intended)

        1. “They will have so much trouble keeping the whole thing going . . . .”

          So, if that happens, will Nye in the end get some credit/blame for it? 😉

    2. I’m in my fifties and I LOVED watching the guy when the show was on PBS. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and the goofiness and the obvious professionalism of the production.

      1. I like him better than than that tech guy Pogue…He can really grate with his goofiness, and I often enjoy goofiness…

        Speaking of science presenters, it’s been interesting recently watching the original Cosmos with Carl Sagan (DVD from library) after seeing many episodes of Neil dT. I think both shows – and men- are very good, but Sagan does seem very dated, with his turtlenecks and Hush Puppies(?) The old show clearly does not have all the info from the Hubble, but the space-travelling thingie doesn’t really seem any cheesier than the current one and, as I think we’ve discussed here, the animations in the new show are really cheesy.

        1. Suppose a blind person were listening to Sagan, either in 1980 or 2014 and beyond?Wither his sartorial dated-ness? (Finally got to visit his grave last week. Someone had left a hardcover Asimov “Founation,” some Jupiter-/Saturn-esque rubber balls/marbles, several votive candles.)

  5. “He needs to let Nye take a back seat to the science itself.”

    That is something scientists who happen to also be science educators usually do a good job of.

  6. Bill Nye is a good science popularizer and I don’t think it is right to knock him in general. Whether he made a boneheaded mistake in the Ham debate is a separate question, certainly he should have had a better awareness of how Ham would use the event. But that doesn’t mean that Nye should hang up his hat as a public science advocate.

  7. Wow! This is very harsh. It is probable that Bill thought it would help. Perhaps, he should at least be given the benefit of the doubt.

    I was eager to watch the debate and I thought Bill clearly won. Unfortunately, there is no reasoning with fundies.

    I was hopeful, and now I am discouraged. That’s sad. However, moving forward how should this matter be addressed? What shall we do about the 40% history deniers (as Dawkins calls them) if not debate them? How shall they be reached?

    About a month ago, I argued with an acquaintance about evolution. He asserted that scientists refuse to debate Ray Comfort because they are scared that they have no proof. No proof to withstand Ray Comfort! Thus it seems like not debating them is not a winning strategy either.

    Carolyn Hyppolite

    P.S. I think atheists can learn something from believers about not being so quick to throw each other under the bus.

  8. I totally agreed with Jerry’s prediction at the time that the debate was a terrible idea. Most of my friends however just thought I was being a negative curmudgeon, and thought Nye did a splendid job.
    Sadly, reality often looks curmudgeonly. It is why facing reality is so unpopular among the human species.

    1. I think you’re conflating two different things. Nye may have done a splendid job in the debate itself, as most people at the time concluded. It is a separate question as to what the context of the debate contributed to. Having it done at that venue under conditions that were easily turned to Ham’s post-debate advantage was a huge mistake. But the two things are not the same.

      1. I don’t think Nye did a splendid job, I thought his debate performance was poor and unconvincing. For example, he missed a lot of obvious ways to destroy the Ark story, while focusing on boat construction and obscure geology that laypeople wouldn’t understand. A brilliant performance would still not have won the audience over, but might have had a positive impact on a lot of people watching the podcast.

        1. You may so think. Many (most?) others disagree with you. But that’s irrelevant. The point I’m trying to make is that these two questions are independent and should not be conflated.

        2. ” . . . obscure geology that laypeople wouldn’t understand.”

          Or rather, wouldn’t and couldn’t be bothered to trouble themselves to try to understand.

          What ought one reasonably expect laypeople to be willing to trouble themselves to learn and to understand? Shall we resign ourselves to the idea, as Bertrand Russell said,that “Most people would rather die than think, and most do”?

          What if Nye announced (a la an Ingersoll or Thoreau) that he was giving a lecture in Kentucky, and let come who may, including Ham – any problem with that? Would there be many intellectually-curious laypeople attending and responding to a Hitchensesque invitation to challenge him?

          Or should Nye have gone into entertainment-heavy “Bill Nye the Science Guy” mode to reach laypeople, a la Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death”?

  9. It’s sad that they are breaking ground, but they still have a long way to go. I predict a state funded road to nowhere ending at a half built boat rotting in the countryside. With luck, Ham’s name will join Edsel and a few others as examples of business stupidity and colossal waste.

    Bummer for the taxpayers, tho.

    1. “Bummer for the taxpayers, tho.”

      It’s part of the learning experience. Education can be expensive.

  10. “But I do resent Nye’s overweening penchant for the spotlight, which led him into this debate.”

    I don’t know if Nye is sufficiently self-obsessed to seek air time just to ham it up. Perhaps you know him better than I but I’m inclined to believe that his primary motive for debating Ham was pedagogical.

    Nevertheless, I’m sure you would only say Nye’s foremost objective in participating in the debate was a “bid for attention” if you had evidence and I would be interested in learning what it is.

    1. I second that. If Jerry has reason to think that Nye’s speaking engagements are any more ego-driven than those of Dawkins, Harris, Tyson, or Jerry himself, I’d like to see those reasons spelled out.

      1. I’d go perhaps a touch further. Bill Nye, as I understand it (NB: I haven’t actually seen his stuff), is a public entertainer – and there’s nothing whatever wrong with that. Does he have a penchant for the spotlight? I should certainly hope so! Seeking the spotlight, or at least being in it, is part of his *job*. I’d be sorry to hear if he *didn’t* like it.

        1. Nye had a TV show back in the ’90s. These days, as noted elsewhere in the thread, his day job is CEO of the Planetary Society (the space science advocacy group founded by Carl Sagan).

    2. I also wonder where this attribution of motivation comes from? I also think it is a stretch to lay blame for X millions of dollars in additional funding at Nye’s feet. I can’t see losing a debate soundly really being that big of a rallying call for funds. I’d need to be convinced that the vast amount of this funding wouldn’t have come regardless and wasn’t already in the works.

  11. I recall you making a similar comment, about Bill Nye being eager for the spotlight, in one of those previous posts. That makes me curious about whether or not I’ve missed something in particular about Nye. I don’t know Bill Nye all that well, but he doesn’t seem to be any more eager for the spotlight than any other science advocate I’ve seen giving talks or participating in debates.

    The evidence is in, and you were correct that doing the debate would help the Ark project. His choice turned out to be a mistake. But, based even on just his performance in that debate, I don’t agree that he is a bad advocate for science.

  12. Not sure if we can
    1) believe/trust Ham’s explanation for the swell in his coffers. After all, he’s a deluded creature.
    2) discount any ripple effect the Hollywood movies “Noah” might have had, in lifting Ham’s boat.

  13. In addition to being a fantastic science communicator, Bill Nye is also the CEO of The Planetary Society. In that role he is doing an outstanding job as an advocate for planetary science, space exploration in general and manned space flight. The Planetary Society conducts advocacy and outreach works, lobbies congress to support and fund NASA and space exploration. The society also supports small independent projects related to planetary science. I think this aspect of his work is not always highlighted.

  14. I think the debate might have been a mistake, at least in the short term. But I think Nye is a great educator and communicator.
    Bill Nye gave the keynote speech at the Amazing meeting in July. He explained some of the aspect of the debate.

  15. Bill’s old shows are still a hit with kids. Teachers continue to show his clips in the classroom as a means to meaningfully present tough topics while making them fun and exciting (even here is backwards mountains of NC). I’m sure Bill’s popularity has resulted in much good for reason and science. Millions have seen the debate w/ Ham and many of these people have good impressions about him as the messenger. How many now question their thinking about a 6000 year old Earth? Who has attempted to measure the benefits like this which undoubtedly have resulted from the debate? Will there be a tic higher in the Nones religiosity category as a result of Bill’s creating some cognitive dissonances? The “see i told you so” adds nothing unless it is presented in totality of effects. What if 2 million parents now lean toward accepting theistic evolution instead of outright telling their children evolution is a lie? What if the Ark Park ends up being recognized widely for what it will most certainly be, a giant monument to ignorance? A Mecca for Ignorance? Fodder for endless late night ridicule? If Bill is partly responsible for the Ark Park receiving more funding and the results of the park are highly negative for the faithful, will Jerry still say “I told you so”?

    Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill . . . inertia is a property of matter . . . it’s so true!

    1. That’s a snarky comment and the snark is unnecessary. I am trying to point out that debating creationists is a losing proposition because it gives them unwarranted credibility. And I also think that Nye is eroding the goodwill he built up over the years by his more recent activities.

      If I were you, I’d apologize for the penultimate sentence.

  16. Unfortunately, the Ark Project is probably a viable business concept. Judged by the strong showings of three Hollywood movies: Noah, God is Not Dead, and Heaven is Real. (Look for more of the same to come out of Hollywood. At least we will hear less about liberal Hollywood until that gravy train runs its course. Hollywood’s God is green. It always has been.) Plus, the location is perfect -right in the buckle of the Bible Belt. It is sure to attract the hordes of intellectually squalid redneck trash thereabouts. I might go down there when it opens just to jeer and throw peanuts at them.

  17. To claim that if Mr. Nye just wouldn’t have participated in the debate the ark nonsense wouldn’t have gone forward is unfounded. Evidence. Where’s the evidence other than folks claiming causation and not showing it?

    There is no reason to think that the idiots in KY would not have given the tax breaks to this project, with or without the debate. There is also no reason to believe Mr. Ham in his claims. If he can show a massive influx of money that can be traced to the debate (from more than a few sources), then the claim above can be supported. If not, it is just one more baseless claim by a known liar, told to convince more people to donate.

    I also do not see Mr. Nye as being some kind of publicity hound. He is a known figure in presenting science to a large part of a generation (plus me and others who were out of the demographic his show was intended for). That’s why the debate got press and press is what was needed to show Ham and creationists for what they are. So many Christians want to pretend their fellows are harmless; this showed that they are not.

  18. I’m somewhat skeptical that the Nye debate had any effect on the funding. The Ark Park’s bond measure was about to fail in late February of this year because there is a minimum number of bonds that have to be sold, and they hadn’t reached it. Then on or around February 28th AIG admitted to purchasing some of the bonds at the last minute, and then AIG simultaneously announced that they got enough investment in the bonds for the bond measure to move forward.

    Now, it’s possible that lots of private investors came out at the last minute and purchased bonds because of the Nye debate three weeks earlier, but that seems highly unlikely to me. First because of the timing (everyone waited three weeks and then suddenly purchased them? That makes no sense. If Nye was responsible, there should’ve been a strong uptick in sales between Feb 4 and Feb 26, not a sudden surge around Feb 24-26). And second, because it sure looks to me like Ham just used parent corporation AIG to bail out daughter corporation Ark Park here. It seems very likely to me that AIG was forced to purchase the entire amount of shortfall, and was tried to hide that fact by not disclosing how much of the last minute bond sales was by AIG.

    1. Last comment from me until tomorrow; in a strategic sense, the bail out could actually be good news for us secularist critics. Before the bail out, if Ark Park failed AIG would’ve been mostly financially unaffected, because they were separate corporate entities. Now if Ark Park fails, their bankruptcy could take AIG writ large down with them. Or at least significantly hurt AIG. And even with the bail out, it still looks to me like its going to fail.

    2. I was about to try and dig up this data, which I recall having read a few weeks ago when you mentioned it on The Panda’s Thumb.

      Here’s what the AiG project manager said about it:

      Zovath said, “We needed to hit a certain target — about $45 million in project funds from the bonds. … We hit that target in late February.” In order to reach the target, Zovath said Answers in Genesis itself bought “probably between $2.5 million to $3 million” of the bonds.

      Note the weasel word “probably”, as if Zovath wouldn’t know the exact amount. I think it “probably” was a lot more.

      The Sensuous Curmudgeon is as confused about the amounts as I am. I though they needed about 15M$ for the first phase, Zovath suddenly mentions 45M$.

      But at any rate, this is only for the first phase. I say, let them break ground and start building. And go bankrupt halfway, dragging AiG holding with them.

  19. Also a comment about that $18 million in tax breaks: it does not assure construction. In fact it has little or nothing to do with construction because the breaks are for things like ticket sales. They only kick in after and if the park ever opens.

    Even the article you link to admits this, Jerry, though it puts that info near the bottom of the article. Here’s the relevant quote, from your own linked source: “If the tax incentives are approved by the state legislature, Answers in Genesis would get up to one-quarter of the anticipated cost of the project over 10 years only after the ark is built and open to the public.”

  20. Nye puts me right off my grits.

    I can’t stand his “nutty professor” routine that perpetuates a stereotype that science people are weird. Nye goes out of his way to be weird and kooky which may go down well on a kid’s science show, but when dealing with adults and adult issues, like the Ark Park, falls flat.

    Go away, Bill Nye. Ding! That was your 15-minutes expiring.

      1. True, I resemble that remark! I prefer “eclectic.” I don’t need a bow tie and to flap my arms like a bird.

        I’m more the Dr. No type, mysterious, quite possibly evil and with a secret lair.

  21. Your argument seems to consist of nothing but the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy, and ad hominem attacks on Nye.

    As for the latter, I will say nothing beyond that ad hominem attacks are about the lowest form of argument there is, and reflect more poorly on the attacker than on the target.

    Regarding the former, if you follow the links in the links in the links above, you will eventually find this, which says that the $62m bond had closed before the debate, and no more could be sold. Ham’s only claim is that the debate caused some to actually follow through on their purchases: “[A]lthough the bond registration had already closed before February 4 and no more bonds could be purchased—–the high-profile debate prompted some people who had registered for the bonds to make sure they followed through with submitting the necessary and sometimes complicated paperwork.” Even assuming Ham is telling the truth, for all we know, the debate also caused others who were going to buy bonds to not fill out the paperwork. In other words, at most the debate had a marginal effect on Ham’s fundraising.

    1. Originally the bond purchase period was to close before the debate, but they extended it to late February.
      Before calling your host nasty things because you perceive some factual mistake, you might want to check that fact. Jerry’s right and you’re wrong about the timing overlap.

      1. I was quoting one of the sources of the sources pointed to above. I can’t vouch for it personally. What is your source?

        Even if you are right on this specific point, the original post still suffers from the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy: money was raised after the debate, therefore the debate caused the money to be raised. That is not a valid inference. To show that the debate helped raise funds for the ark park, you have to actually provide evidence, not just a temporal sequence. For instance, you would need to show the timing of the donations. Even if you had that, though, that would only be half the story, because there is no way to know about the donations that were not made. Even if the debate did cause some people to donate, there is no way to know how many people were dissuaded from donating by the debate.

        I said nothing nasty, unless you think that any criticism is inherently nasty.

    2. Michael, I suggest you look up the definition of the ad hominem fallacy. Describing all criticism of a person’s character as ad hominem is far too prevalent on the internets. Jerry’s post was on the lines of “A, and incidentally B” not “B, therefore A”.

      1. The gist of the original post was that Nye ignored warnings about the debate, thereby causing a disaster, because of his obsession with being in the spotlight. That sounds ad hominem to me. Why include the attacks on Nye if they had nothing to do with the rest of the post?

  22. I respectfully disagree with Prof. Coyne. Kudos for the accurate prediction, though! I think the only way atheists will succeed in advocating for science and against religion is by having many entertaining and diverse programs and debates that teach young people the truth. Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson on Cosmos, Mythbusters, and Bill Nye Science Guy.

    But if you disliked Nye vs. Ham, then why wouldn’t you also dislike Harris and Hitch against Craig, D’Souza, Demski, Warren, Chopra, and others? Those widely available debate videos display some of the most powerful arguments against theism and much of the success of the New Atheist movement is because people like Harris and Hitch were unafraid to confront the faithful in their communities and churches. Dawkins’ sound bite that such debates ‘look good on your CV, less so on mine’ rings hollow. Have Hitchens’ or Harris’ CVs taken a hit?

    Perhaps you object to Nye allowing Ham to monetize the event towards the Ark Encounter. There will always be that risk and I would wager that Ham might have found another way to tip the State of Kentucky’s teetering coffer in his direction anyway.

  23. Ark park going ahead is a good thing, there will be construction videos, photos, and hundreds of workers to build it. Plenty of real experience to show just how improbable the story is.
    It’s hubris, Ham’s ego is writing a cheque that no amount of twisted financial wrangling will cover.

    1. True. Someone should ask Ham if his ark is going to be built using only the technology available in Noah’s day. And of course, it must be built by no more than 4 work men. Ideally, we should insist that one of the workmen be over 500 years old as Noah was, but we will probably have to skip over that point.

      1. The problem with that tactic is that he will simply BS about what technology was available. (I’ve encountered this myself, with appeals to mysterious “gopher wood” that is somehow stronger than battleship steel or something.)

  24. Kentucky is the real loser here. Their state deserves better. As do all the states in America.

    The motivation to hang on to religious ideologies is strong with those who want to live forever and make fragile social bonds to their ‘US’ group, while excluding the ‘THEM’ groups.

    The Ark Park will certainly be two things: intellectual repellant and a wincing embarrassment.

    1. “The Ark Park will certainly be two things: intellectual repellant and a wincing embarrassment.”

      Also funny. I predict that it will be very very funny in time.

  25. Unfortunately you were indeed correct. I feared at the time that it would play out that way. Ham may be a willfully ignorant fool when it comes to science, but he understood enough about business and human nature to hit a home run with that debate. Maybe Nye and others will think twice before succumbing to such tactics by those opposing science in the future.

  26. So since the revitalization of the “Ark Park” came after the debate, we therefore think that the debate was the cause? How do we know that the State wouldn’t have stepped in anyway? Perhaps it is true that the debate was the catalyst, but I for one will admit that Nye did much better in the debate than I thought he would. I wonder if Nye’s decent showing was successful in creating seeds of doubt in young, still reachable creationists, and that this positive effect will outweigh any fault that he may have in making the Ark Park a reality.

  27. Kentucky will have the Creation Museum and the Ark. What’s next, the Tower of Babel?

    If Ham wants to debate a linguist on the origins of the different human languages, would the Pinkah’ step up to the plate?

  28. It’s only speculation on my part, but I think that Nye had another motive for debating Ham than just “winning a debate”.
    We in the atheist/skeptic community are generally very well informed about fundie beliefs and tactics – Biblical literalism and anti-naturalism – packing school boards and state legislators with creationists who want to redefine science or pass “equal time” laws. But unfortunately, the vast majority of “liberal” xtians & Jews don’t know this. Their ecumenical tolerance makes them avoid looking too deeply into the theological beliefs of other xtians. I’ve had people laugh when I tell them about fundie beliefs. Surely, I’m kidding! There can’t be people who actually BELIEVE in Noah’s Ark? Aren’t they just a handful of harmless kooks?
    The fundies are pulling a bait & switch on these “liberal” xtians. They deliberately keep their beliefs vague (“We ALL believe in God who is the Creator of the Universe”). Most “liberal” xtians would agree with these sentiments – it doesn’t mean they think He did it, “Poof”, six thousand years ago.
    I think Nye was for many years like these “liberal” xtians, unaware of the ultimate goals of the fundies and that their political clout is far, far greater than their numbers indicate.
    When he realized this, he decided to use his popularity with science loving “liberal” xtians as a way to educate them about the threat that fundies pose to science education in this country. The “liberal” xtians certainly haven’t been paying attention to the warnings from Dawkins, Coyne, Hitchens and all those other “militant atheists”.
    I think Nye used the Ham debate to wake up the “liberal” xtians to what is happening right under their noses.

  29. $73,000,000 for a frickin’ non-boat at an amusement park? Ham should read something other than Genesis, like the parts about feeding the hungry and caring for the less privileged.

  30. Obviously this is a bad idea.

    In fairness, it is also a bad idea to debate William Lane Craig as well, but with so many many many prominent scientists and atheists having debated him in the past, he’s gained a de facto credibility he never deserved, but of course, that ship has long sailed by now. I always admired Richard Dawkins for not debating him, what is the point, at long last, how many times do we need to hear recycled versions of the thoroughly refuted Kalam cosmological argument.

    I’d say on balance debating Ken Ham is worse, but is it really that much worse?

    1. Agreed. The debates give the nuts a prominent platform and credentials, while probably not deconverting any of their supporters.

      For the same reason, I wish the media would stop covering Sarah Palin stories.

    2. I think Craig is worse. I am not sure why, but Ham struck me as deluded but sincere, where as Craig strikes me as a conman. Also, Craig’s ethics as a matter of actual defense of things, is far worse. (If they were both equally consistent, mind, they’d be the more or less the same.)

  31. I think having Bill Nye tell a certain generation that, like it or not, evolution is true, is a bit like having Walter Cronkite tell a different generation that the Vietnam War is not winnable. He doesn’t even have to do a good job explaining why, just the fact that it’s him saying it makes it a little bit safer for a whole lot of people to turn the possibility over in their mind.

    Most believers I know hate Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and the rest. I mean really hate them (or rather, they fear them, which as Yoda says is the path to hate). As a result, they would not listen to them talk about how kindness is good and ice cream tasty without tuning them out and turning the channel. Certainly many believers have been exposed to these guys, and many have have left religion as a result. But I think only a subset of believers, someone already involved with science, or a bit of a rebellious streak, or an above average amount of curiosity, will even let the words of these guys in to roll around in their mind to create cognitive dissonance. Especially in fundamentalism. I don’t think most people outside of fundamentalism can appreciate how thoroughly they actively cut themselves off from even hearing the voices of the evil other. But in stark contrast to the four horsemen, many (most?) believers I know seem to like Nye. He’s the benign and unthreatening science voice of their youth. I do not think it stretches credibility to imagine that Nye is reaching a whole chunk of the religious that Dawkins, Harris, and the like could never reach, if only because he doesn’t scare the pants off of believers.

    I obviously don’t know if he’s having a net positive impact on science education at present, I don’t have any way to measure that and I don’t watch enough TV to even have a first hand impression, but I’d wager that he is.

    1. Everybody is asking to cite evidence for claims here, but where is yours? It’s based on a feeling. So while we have tons of evidence that Dawkins and the others have changed people’s minds about evolution (e.g. Dawkins “Converts Corner”) we have no evidence save wish thinking that Nye has changed anyone’s minds about evolution. This is simply Chris Mooney’s old trope: atheists can’t convince people of science. There’s no evidence for that, and ample evidence against that.

      I tell you what: I’ll bet you $200 that I can produce more testimonies that Richard has convinced people of evolution’s truth than has Nye. You won’t take that bet because all I have to do is say “See Converts Corner.”

      Do you really think that Nye, who claims to be an agnostic, is going to reach all those evangelical Christians that even BioLogos (a group of Christians) couldn’t reach? If so, I think you’re living in a dream world. I have never seen a single person say, “You know, I’d believe if evolution if only that nasty old atheist Richard Dawkins would shut up!”

      1. I think the idea of dueling conversion-counts is not much of a way forward in this thread.

        The evidence I’d offer is that Bill Nye was/is hugely influential with a generation of (now) young adults. My kids are examples. They grew up watching him and became appreciative of science, including evolution, in part because of his influence. He deserves huge respect for that alone.

        Now, it may be that Nye was naive in how he engaged with Ken Ham. And it may be that he was taken advantage of in a way that benefited the Ark Park. (Both of these are open questions, IMO, for reasons others here have stated.) But I am saddened by calls to throw him under the bus and ad-hom style attacks on his motives.

      2. I think a few things here are off target.

        1) Bill Nye has not been engaged specifically in trying to persuade people to accept evolution, as Richard Dawkins has been for many years. His purview has been to foster interest and acceptance of science more generally, and not as a biologist. A comparison of who has convinced more people to accept evolution is not a reasonable or fair gauge of Nye’s effectiveness as a science advocate.

        Yes, you did mention you doubted his ability to persuade people to accept evolution, specifically, in the OP. Since he has had success in advocating for science more generally, as evidenced by many positive comments and a fan base, I think it is premature to claim he can’t competently advocate for evolution. There is no concrete evidence that Nye has changed anyone’s mind about evolution (not surprising since he hasn’t been engaged in that until very recently), but there is a lot of concrete evidence that Nye has been fairly successful at fostering interest in science in general.

        2) gluonspring, nor any other commentor, did not claim or imply that atheists can’t convince people of science.

        “Certainly many believers have been exposed to these guys (the Four Horseman), and many have have left religion as a result.”

        gluonspring merely stated that he thinks that Richard Dawkins and the other big guns can’t reach all believers and that Nye may be able to reach some of the ones that they can’t. I don’t see how that is controversial.

        1. “A comparison of who has convinced more people to accept evolution is not a reasonable…”

          Dawkins also has about a 40 year head start on Nye as a visible advocate for evolution, so it’s not really a sincere comparison.

          The reliance on the Convert’s Corner as evidence of relative effectiveness is also a bit embarrassing. If Tony Robbins put up a Robbins’ Success Stories webpage where people write in to say how much Tony Robbins has helped them, no one would take that as legitimate evidence of his effectiveness compared to other things you might do to help yourself. It’s evidence that some people think Tony Robbins helped them, and that Robbins solicited their stories. Maybe also evidence that he is well known. Dawkins’ converts corner is similarly evidence that Dawkins has converted a bunch of people. That’s about it. That’s great, mind you. I agree that Dawkins is very effective, quite possibly the most effective one out there. I am not one of those who think Dawkins is doing it wrong (I think Jerry maybe took me for one, though). But I would hesitate to cite his converts corner to establish the supremacy of the Dawkins’ pitch because tomorrow I’m going to be mocking someone else for using such obviously biased evidence.

          More importantly, though, science advocacy is not Highlander. There can be more than one. I really don’t understand what makes people think there is only one pitch that can reach everyone who is reachable.

      3. I think the point is that he was able to get an argument in front of 3 million viewers, that otherwise may not have been receptive to other science advocates. Additionally, the media responds to Bill Nye differently than it does Harris or Dawkins – everyone of a certain generation knows who he is. In the long term (see my other comment), the volume of press this got can only be good.

        I don’t know of any poll or study that shows “minds were changed”, so in the absence of any evidence the proper answer is “I don’t know”.

      4. “Everybody is asking to cite evidence for claims here, but where is yours?”

        You are putting a lot of words in my mouth here.

        I never asked you to cite evidence for your claims so take your bet to someone who did. I assumed Nye was an atheist, so I couldn’t be making Mooney’s point. I never claimed that atheists can’t convince people of science, nor do I believe that. I think Francis Collins, et. al. are a travesty, and very different from Nye. I haven’t heard Nye out there peddling theism, have you? Hell, I even believe that Dawkins, et. al. convince *more* people than people like Nye, so you’re asking me to bet against what I already believe. I was only suggesting that there exist people who may hear Nye who won’t hear the others. Maybe I made it sound like a competition between them, but I don’t see it that way. I don’t feel that any moment Nye spends talking about evolution is a moment denied to Dawkins or conversely. Do you?

        Unlike Collins, et. al., I feel that Nye is an ally. Do atheists really have so many allies in this country that we won’t miss a few thrown under the bus?

  32. It would be good if there was a talkorigins.org billboard right outside the Ark Park.

    Maybe some people could walk through the park wearing ” Why evolution is true ” T-shirts ?

    If I google Ken Ham then on my screen I also get Bill Nye & Neil Degrasse Tyson. If I do a search for Ken Ham on youtube then I get the Ken Ham Vs Bill Nye debate coming tops in the options.

    Also in google search was an article from Patheos by Peter Enns,” Ken Ham blasts God for not taking the Bible seriously.” I’ve seen quite a wide range of views on Patheos such as one by Mark Rutledge, ” “Non-believers” – Who Are They and What Will Become of Them? ” on the ‘ Rational doubt ‘ section.

  33. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I was hoping for evidence that Nye’s primary reason for debating Ham was to ham it up. It is a perfectly valid argument that debating the Ham types is a mistake because of the lucrative attention it affords them but it doesn’t seem right, at least to me, to say that Nye’s principle motive is the limelight unless such a claim can be substantiated. Incidentally, even if there is ample evidence, doesn’t that amount to an argument to the man?

  34. I did comment on the RD blog – I think the debate was a short term gain, but still a long term loss for AIG and creationism in general. Millions of people watched the debate, and I thought that Nye did a convincing job speaking to the online audience.

    Additionally, I think Nye is an excellent educator. I watched his Science Guy shows as a geologist in grad school, and I have my children watching them now. The man is an excellent speaker – and I think it is wrong to ask any pro-science advocate to step-back – we need more of people like him.

    The fact that you never watched his original show and generally don’t follow him, sounds a bit like people that dislike Dawkins, but never read his books.

    1. The last paragraph is rude and unnecessary. I’ve followed his stuff before and after the debate, including his writings, his public appearances, and, of course, his appearance on “Dancing on the Stars.” I have not been impressed with his schtick, and have the strong impression that he wants to remain in the public eye. That is my impression, and those who disagree, well, that is their impression, too.

      I never disagreed that he did a good job on the Science Guy, and in fact praised him for that when I posted about the debate.

      You will apologize for the last sentence, please. It’s unnecessary snark, and uncivil to the host.

  35. Yeah, I wonder if you could tell by just the sound. I’m not complaining…just got a chuckle out of all the brown and the turtle necks:-)I think Sagan speaks a bit more slowly than Neil deGT.

  36. Jerry’s prediction was spot on, but there’s still an underlying assumption here that Nye turning down the debate would’ve resulted in a better outcome.

    With regard to funding and PR, I think Ham was in a win-win scenario. Had Nye rejected the debate, it’s quite possible Ham would have successfully spun it as a victory and claimed added legitimacy for his views. I don’t see how Ham could have possibly convinced anyone not already in the Creationist camp, but Nye had the opportunity to reach many people who were perhaps hearing the scientific position for the first time, as opposed to the twisted distortions Ham offers.

    Maybe Nye lost the battle, but I think long term it’s still a step towards winning the war.

  37. Funny Lewis Black Religion, Creationism and the Old Testament – Youtube The Fun Channel

    At 5:14 ” There are people who believe that dinosaurs and men lived together, that they roamed the earth at the same time. There are museums that children go to in which they build dioramas to show them this, and what this is, purely & simply, is a clinical psychotic reaction, they are crazy, they are stone cold fuck nuts. I can’t be kind about this because these people are watching the flint stones as if it were a documentary ”

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