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Bill Nye, call off debate! - columnist

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Last Friday (3 January 2014), Bill Nye agreed to debate Ken Ham on creation v. evolution. Now a columnist for a popular TV channel devoted to science, wants Bill Nye to call it off.

Benjamin Radford to Bill Nye: call it off!

Benjamin Radford writes a column for the web site of The Discovery Channel. On his author page at the site, he describes his mission in life:

My background is in journalism and investigation, often trying to understand why people believe things for which there is little or no evidence. My specialty is applying critical thinking and scientific methodologies to unusual claims. I also – oops, gotta go: I found an error on the Internet!

Radford also serves as "deputy editor" of The Skeptical Inquirer. He says he investigates "paranormal" claims and answers them with science. From his tone, he thinks creation advocacy is no better than a claim of contact with an extraterrestrial scout or finding and killing a Sasquatch ("Bigfoot").

Yesterday, from the Discovery Channel website, he sent a clear message to Bill Nye: Call off this debate.

Radford did not address Bill Nye directly. Instead he said in general: "scientists should [not] debate creationists."

Radford's reasons should puzzle any neutral reader.

At first glance Bill Nye looks like the obvious winner, and not just because of his dapper appearance and dance floor moves. With overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution confirmed by nearly every scientific discipline, what could go wrong?

Plenty.

Why plenty? For answer, Radford cites Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. He cites what he calls "an interview with Discovery News." That raises the question of whether Benjamin Radford is giving the official opinion of the management of the Discovery Channel, not merely his own views.

And what does Dr. Scott complain about? She cites "The Gish Gallop." The late Duane T. Gish famously listed all the reasons why evolution is weak as a model of origins. Says Scott: a debate doesn't give an evolutionist enough time to answer them all. So people think evolution is weak.

Maybe Bill Nye has a Nye Gallop. Oddly, Dr. Scott never produced a Scott Gallop. (In fact, Dr. Scott will shortly retire as Director of the NCSE.) Nor Mr. Radford a Radford Gallop.

Radford's (and Scott's) real problem seems to be: evolution lacks emotional appeal. Radford quotes Scott again:

The people who do best in these debates are those who establish rapport with the audience, and who come across as trustworthy and believable. Affect is all; content is secondary.

In saying that, Scott seems to fear Bill Nye cannot "establish rapport with [an] audience," nor lead people to trust him and believe him. Perhaps she and Radford fear Bill Nye, in debating Ken Ham at his own venue (The Creation Museum), will only walk into a den of hungry wolves. Bill Nye hasn't yet expressed any such fear. More tellingly, The Discovery Channel has announced no plans to send a satellite van to The Creation Museum to deliver a live video feed, or even to apply for a press pass to sit in the audience.

Not the only debate proposal

Ken Ham is not the only creation advocate to challenge an evolutionist, or evolutionists in general, to a debate. Furthermore, at least one person has proposed a debate that would allow a Bill Nye or a Eugenie Scott all the time he or she might need.

Walter T. Brown heads (or maybe is) the Center for Scientific Creation. Years ago he challenged any evolutionist, or even any other creation advocate, to debate him on the merits of his Hydroplate Theory of creation and the Global Flood. He will debate anyone in one of two formats:

  • In writing, with enough writings literally to fill a book.
  • Over the telephone, with a veteran college debate coach moderating.

Such a format would address all the concerns that Eugenie Scott invoked. An opponent would have time enough to answer "The Gish Gallop," if anyone can answer it. More to the point, Dr. Brown has the most comprehensive model of creation and the Global Flood anyone has developed. So if Bill Nye wants to throw a Nye Gallop at anything, he could throw it at Walter T. Brown.

Instead, a columnist, who may or may not speak for a major TV channel, urges Bill Nye to call off the debate. The Discovery Channel could give Bill Nye a network feed anyone (especially a former TV star) would envy. Instead they let someone, seemingly in their name, try to throw in the towel before the referee can even say, "Let's get ready to rumble!"

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