Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham: Should scientists bother debating creationists? (+video)

'Science Guy' Bill Nye and Ken Ham, founder of the biblically literalist Creation Museum, are set to debate evolution tomorrow. Is it a mistake for scientists to agree to share a stage with creationists?

By , Staff writer

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    In this Sept. 17, 2013, file photo, pro-science supporters rally prior to a State Board of Education public hearing on proposed new science textbooks in Austin, Texas. The Texas Board of Education is poised to tighten rules on who can serve on citizen review panels that scrutinize proposed textbooks for use statewide, hoping to tamp down future controversies over the teaching of evolution and other issues.
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Two rivals are all set to face off in an upcoming debate on evolution.

Bill Nye, known as the "Science Guy," and Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., will debate on the topic “Is creation a viable model of origins?” tomorrow night at the Creation Museum.

Mr. Nye, the former host of the "Bill Nye the Science Guy" TV program, describes himself as "a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society," according to his website. He has a degree in mechanical engineering and is currently the executive director of The Planetary Society, a space interest organization.  

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But a public debate with Mr. Ham may not be a very good idea, say some scientists.

There is nothing to debate, says Jerry A. Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago.

Debating about such issues lends credibility to Ham and his beliefs, Dr. Coyne says. "It is like debating with lawyers who are interested in making their case," he tells the Monitor. But tomorrow's debate will not be a cakewalk for Nye, because theories of creation can superficially sound right to people without a science background, he says.

Anthropologist and science blogger Greg Laden agrees.

 "I think Bill Nye is great, but I think he’s making a mistake," Dr. Laden writes in his blog. "First, Bill Nye is not really an expert on evolution and is actually not that experienced in debates. Being really really pro science and science education isn’t enough."

Also, it is very much possible for creationists to win the debate simply because "they are not talking about science," he wrote.

In spite of overwhelming evidence to support Earth's age (4.5 billion years) and Darwin's theory of natural selection, most young-Earth creationists believe that God created the universe in six days less than 10,000 years ago.

And almost 33 percent of Americans believe in this theory. According to a Pew Research Center analysis published in December last year, 6 in 10 Americans (60 percent) said that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while a third (33 percent) rejected the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”

Ham – president, chief executive officer, and founder of the ministry Answers in Genesis – wrote in his blog on the ministry's website about the choice of evolution as a topic: "Because our ministry theme for 2013 and for 2014 is 'Standing Our Ground, Rescuing Our Kids,' our staff thought that a debate on creation vs. evolution with a man who has influenced so many children to believe in evolution would be a good idea."

Ham, who will be pitted against "the bow-tied host of the popular children’s TV program," said this debate "will help highlight the fact that so many young people are dismissing the Bible because of evolution."

The tickets for the debate sold out in two minutes, stated the ministry's website.

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