Bill Nye and Ken Ham prove theory of coexistence

Bill Nye and Ken Ham debated about the value of the creationist origin model in a modern scientific age, but more important, they proved the theory that civil coexistence is possible.

Dylan Lovan/AP
TV's "Science Guy" Bill Nye speaks during a debate on evolution with Creation Museum head Ken Ham at the Petersburg, Ky. museum on Tuesday, Feb. 4.

Bill Nye probably had a better chance of winning “Dancing with the Stars” than making headway in a debate Tuesday night with Ken Ham, creationist expert and director of the Creation Museum.

However, Mr. Nye and Mr. Ham offered a powerful example of how to respond, instead of react, when someone challenges your beliefs.

In kid terms, I suppose you could say to Nye that, “he started it” with the production of his video “Creationism is not appropriate for children.” The video went viral, prompting Ham, author and founder of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., to invite the scientist over for a debate Tuesday night.

The debated question was this: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?”

However, the questions on my mind were, “Should I let my ten-year-old watch this, and will these men behave like adults or ten-year-olds?”

Having been once burned by “The Bible” miniseries being inappropriate for children to watch, I was twice shy about Biblical tenants clashing with science on TV with the kids watching.

I opted not to let my son watch.

In retrospect, I wish I had, because both men handled themselves with dignity and restraint.

While my belief in the science of evolution remains unaltered, I came away from the event ready to proselytize to parents about the wisdom of not shouting down the opposition on such emotionally-tied issues as those discussed last night. 

Over the past 20 years of parenting, there have been times when my kids have witnessed me in heated debates with other parents over abortion, gay rights, and creationism.

I went ballistic when my sons, who were attending a Catholic high school at the time, were promised that science and religion classes would be kept entirely separate, only to find the religion teacher visiting science class to tell kids the other teacher was wrong.

That led to my husband re-enrolling my boys in public schools. We then learned the kids would have to repeat science classes because, despite receiving “A” grades, the parochial school’s courses didn’t match state standards. 

Perhaps some people will call me a bad Christian, but I believe in evolution. I also believe that global warming is real and that women should make their own choices about their bodies.

Here in Virginia, where same-sex marriage is currently under debate, I support the idea that the love, strength, and infuriation that comes with the marriage covenant should belong to anyone brave enough to seek it for themselves.

I am very passionate about my beliefs. Too many times I have reacted with anger or frustration when fellow parents brought up one of my hot-button issues. 

So, when I see my sons about to enter into an intellectual brawl with their friends or – heaven forbid – their friends’ parents, I am grateful to have examples like the Nye-Ham debate to point to as a civilized way to disagree with grace.

It has taken me a lifetime to make headway in getting past the intellectual arrogance that drove me to sneer and look down on those who disagreed with my views.

It’s hard to teach your kids not to call someone who disagrees with them “an idiot” when you yourself roll your eyes or cut ties with people who disagree with your views.

I realized I was being a bad role model after seeing my sons copying me and was ashamed.

Interestingly, the evolution of my personal ability to respond to an argument with sensible discussion – rather than react with superiority or anger – didn’t come from science. It came from going back to church.

Every good scientist loves having a mystery to unravel, and this one’s a doozie. For me, finding a church that provided fellowship and a positive community gave much-needed perspective to my life. 

I’ll be honest, I didn’t go for the religion, at least not at first. I went because I was lonely, having alienated too many people, and to find better role models for myself. My choice was faith-based, but the faith was in people.

Perhaps, my approach could be viewed as scientific. I went to a bunch of different places; visiting community centers, libraries, yoga classes, tai chi classes, writers’ enclaves, and churches. I was in search of my tribe.

I finally found mine at a local United Methodist Church, where it turned out most of the nicest people I’d met during my exploration were concentrated each Sunday.

My theory was that if I religiously attended the church filled with folks who were kind, friendly, helpful, passionate, and compassionate, I could learn from them and evolve into a better parent and person.

We can debate my religious beliefs, paradoxes, and how I found my church all day long. And, fortunately, that debate will look much more like the one between Nye and Ham.

There is common ground beneath all our feet in the form of the planet that, we can all agree, exists as our shared home.

No matter how the planet and its people came into existence, the real question before us is how we teach our children to coexist.

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