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Bill Nye the Science Guy debates creationist Ken Ham

Bill Nye 'the Science Guy' speaks at Jumpstart's Read for the Record at the LA Public Library on October 8, 2009 in Los Angeles, CA.
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Jumpstart

Yesterday, February 4, one of the biggest debates took place between science and creationism since the Scopes "Monkey Trial." The event featured Bill Nye "the Science Guy" debating Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum, at Ham’s museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, and was televised on CNN (see video here). The particular issue up for debate was whether creationism, i.e., the belief that God created the universe some 6,000 years ago per the Old Testament, is a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era. The debate proved quite entertaining for the audience inside and outside the room, and included plenty of disagreement.

Ham, who has a degree in applied science, gave the first presentation, in which he argued that creation is the only viable model of historical science confirmed by observational science today. Ham argued that “both creationists and evolutionists can be great scientists.” Ham played videos featuring Dr. Raymond Damadian, inventor of the MRI scanner, as well as other scientists, in which they state that they are “creation scientists” and that their religious beliefs that God created Earth and the Universe 6,000 years ago are not incompatible with their scientific work. Ham tried to draw a distinction between what we observe today and what we think happened in the past, and said that God and creationism fill that gap. For example, Ham showed pictures of the Grand Canyon, and said that “none of us saw the sandstone and shale being laid down.” According to Ham, we all see the same scientific evidence today (rock layers, astronomical data, etc.), but we disagree on how to interpret that evidence regarding the age of the universe.

Ham argued that having only a male and female of each kind of animal (dogs, cats, etc.) on Noah’s Ark to survive the Great Flood in the Bible could have led to the many types of animals today, because each animal has a great variety of genes inside it. However, Ham said that “dogs will always be dogs, finches will always be finches,” meaning that one type of animal cannot evolve into another. Ham stated that “evolution has been hijacked using a bait and switch to indoctrinate students” into believing that it is observational science.

Then it was Bill Nye’s turn. Nye, who hosts several scientific television programs and heads the Planetary Society, gave a slide show presentation in which he went over natural phenomena like the rock layers in Grand Canyon, analysis of ancient ice in the Antarctic, trees that are over 9,500 years old and Kentucky’s own fossil-filled limestone to explain that the Earth cannot possibly be merely 6,000 years old, as creationists such as Ham believe.

Nye also reviewed the creationists' belief that, as the Old Testament indicates, the Earth was covered by a Great Flood around 4,000 years ago, and Noah, an unskilled ship builder, saved the animals and humans by building his great Ark. According to Nye, if the Ark landed at a mountain in the Middle East, and there are kangaroos in Australia today, then that must mean that the kangaroos were on the Ark and somehow made it across the sea to Australia, presumably over a land bridge. Moreover, according to Nye, if this were the case, then kangaroo remains should also be present in the Middle East and Asia on the way to Australia, as well as evidence of this land bridge, yet no such evidence exists. Likewise, Nye said that there are at least 16 million animal species today, far more than the variety that Noah transported on the Ark according to the Bible.

Nye also mentioned the Ice Age, which he says occurred some 15,000 to 17,000 years ago, which deposited massive boulders in parts of the U.S., as well as the Big Bang Theory, and stars more than 6,000 light years away, to show that the Universe is much older than 6,000 years. Nye concluded by saying that we should all want to promote science and innovation to keep the United States competitive with other countries.

Creationism vs. Evolution in the political arena

The debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham is important in part because creationism vs. evolution is one area of disagreement among American voters. In particular, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to be creationists. This was evident in one famous moment in May 2007 at the Republican Presidential primary at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, when a number of Republican candidates raised their hand to indicate that they did not believe in evolution.

© 2014 Matthew Emmer -- All Rights Reserved

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