I think Bill Nye had a far better scientific argument, but he didn’t win because he failed to realize that the debate was never about science. It was about faith. His words “I’m not a theologian” were the precise reason why he couldn’t convince a single person who believed in young-earth creationism to accept his perspective. For them, Ken Ham won the debate.
Which of them is the true scientist was obvious from the question “What would it take to change your mind?”
Ken Ham hemmed and hawed and argued his point again and again, but in the end, it was obvious that there was nothing that could change his mind because he was right.
Bill Nye said “One piece of evidence.”
Assuming that Nye wasn’t lying, he was the better scientist in the debate because he was willing to admit that he could be wrong and, by his protestation, would be incredibly excited to be proved so!
It’s a matter of what’s at stake. If Bill Nye is wrong, then he gets to learn something new and exciting. If Ken Ham is wrong, his entire belief system falls apart. As Micah J. Murray points out, “Young Earth Creationism was the foundation upon which Christianity was built.” If that falls, everything falls.
For Bill Nye, what’s at stake in the debate is the power and prowess of a country and the minds of young children being taught lies.
For Ken Ham, what’s at stake is everything. Kids going to hell. Adults going to hell. The entire foundation of Christianity crumbling. His own deeply held religious beliefs being wrong. Ken Ham (and his followers) cannot psychologically allow themselves to believe that Bill Nye might be right. That’s why the fight is so weird: It’s not about figuring out the best science based on the evidence. it’s about defending beliefs.
Bill Nye was going after the symptom. He chopped off one of the hydra’s heads, and two more grew back. The heart of the debate is about how to read the first two chapters of Genesis.
When I took history classes, I disagreed with their points about how humans came into existence.
My transformation started with two conversations. The first was when one of my film professors told me that I needed to be willing to go wherever the evidence led – to actually believe in what I believed in, rather than protecting it by refusing to look at certain evidence. “It’s not like we’re going to one day look under a rock that will prove that God doesn’t exist,” he said. The second conversation was with my friend Rachel. She suggested that I listen to him. (I had no respect for this professor at the time, but I had a great deal of respect for Rachel.) So I took her advice. I held off judgment.
When I took theology classes, I learned that the point of Genesis was not to be a modern history or science textbook. It was a theological book. The key words that I learned were “Orienting Narrative.” The creation narratives were the words of men trying to explain the world, and the spirit of God got involved in this particular telling, and that means that these words are more than just words. Converting them into a literal telling of how the world came into existence is not to take those words too seriously, but to not take them seriously enough.
When I saw this, creationism fell away without a shot. I no longer had a psychological need to reject the mainstream understanding of how the world came into existence. If acting as a science textbook wasn’t the Bible’s purpose (and it wasn’t), then I was free to accept the evidence as it was presented to me. I was free, like Bill Nye, to go where the evidence led.
I have something in common with Ken Ham, though. I don’t think there is anything that could convince me not to believe in God. Right now I’m not sure who God is, though. For me, God starts and ends with Jesus on the cross dying to save the world.
You can’t disprove the resurrection. Even if one day someone could somehow find the physical body / bones of Jesus, I could just make the shift to believing in a spiritual resurrection. Nobody could ever disprove that. I do believe in the physical resurrection, and that would be hard, if not impossible, to disprove. Certainly there is the argument that that sort of thing doesn’t happen, but that is precisely the sort of thing that would make it a miracle.
“If you believe in the physical resurrection, why not believe in six literal 24-hour days and a young earth?” Because I don’t need to.
Belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus is essential to my understanding of Christianity and to my faith.
Belief in young earth creationism is not.
And this is why the Bill Nyes of the world will never defeat the Ken Hams on the creation vs evolution debate. They don’t realize that, for the Ken Hams, it’s not about science, and it never has been.
It’s about faith.
Of course, the Ken Hams don’t want to look stupid, so they build vast theories and arguments around their ignorance to protect their faith. Nobody wants to be a science denier, so they rewrite and redefine science to match their ends.
For Ken Ham, science is a tool to prove the Bible.
For Bill Nye, science is a means of wonderful discovery.
That’s why a professor who used to teach at my school wrote this after the debate:
What struck me most was that Ham came across as a hard-nosed empiricist (by which I don’t mean that his methodology is sound), while Nye radiated joy and wonder. His closing peroration would probably have convinced me to believe in God if I didn’t already 🙂
–Edwin Woodruff Tait
Bill Nye’s joy and wonder “would probably have convinced me to believe in God if I didn’t already.”
Further resources for what it is to be a Christian and believe in evolution are at biologos.org.