Two months ago everybody's favorite "Science Guy," Bill Nye, debated Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Though the evangelical Christian Today poll showed that 92 percent of the more than 37,000 responders said that Nye won, many wondered why the well-known scientist even debated Ham in the first place? Why elevate the pseudo-science on such a public platform?
Bill Nye has taken the time to respond to critics in an essay published in Skeptical Inquirer. In the essay he explains how the debate arose from a video on BigThink.com, where Nye responded to a question about creationism. The video went viral; it had 6.3 million views at the time Nye wrote his essay. One of the viewers and subsequent responders was Ken Ham:
"He wrote to me and challenged me to a debate. For several months, I put the offer or proposal aside thinking the whole thing would blow over. After all, his challenge was based on a minute and a half of video that exists with little context. He was persistent. So, as the weeks went by and we corresponded, I acceded the challenge. More specifically, I was willing to come to his facility if the topic was: “Is creation a viable model of origins in the modern scientific era?” Note that this title does not include the word “evolution,” nor does it connote or imply that we would discuss evolution specifically."
He also addresses why he thought it was important to engage in this debate, whether it was right or not:
"Many of you, by that I mean many of my skeptic and humanist colleagues, expressed deep concern and anger that I would be so foolish as to accept a debate with a creationist, as this would promote him and them more than it would promote me and us. As I often say and sincerely believe, “You may be right.” But, I held strongly to the view that it was an opportunity to expose the well-intending Ken Ham and the support he receives from his followers as being bad for Kentucky, bad for science education, bad for the U.S., and thereby bad for humankind—I do not feel I’m exaggerating when I express it this strongly."
Nye jokes that he is not the sort of man to not ask for directions. In that vein he reached out for help in debate preparation. He consulted many experts on debating creationists:
"I flew to Oakland, California, and consulted with the famed, venerable, and formidable Genie Scott, along with Josh Roseneau, and the staff at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). They schooled me on what to do in great detail. Later that week, I managed to arrange a lunch with Don Prothero and Michael Shermer, two hardcore skeptics. Don even debated the notorious Duane Gish back in the 1980s. All of these people were wonderfully helpful. They were very patient with me and helped me figure out what to say and, especially, what not to say. They said to prefer the word “explanation” to the word “theory,” for example."
Nye also takes the time to describe the palpable feelings during the debate: sensing Ham's nerves, rolling with the punches with a messed-up slide, feeling the reaction from the audience when he discussed minnows having sex. He also discusses who he believes won the debate:
"Perhaps there was no winner, as this was not a scored debate. Nevertheless by all, or a strong majority of, accounts, I bested him."
Though some may still disagree with Nye's decision, the entire essay is worth a read. The biggest take-away, however, is from the first paragraph, where Nye describes the video that spurred the debate into fruition:
"While on camera, I remarked that if you, as an adult, want to hold on to a completely unreasonable explanation of the Earth’s natural history that is useless from a practical standpoint, that’s your business. But we don’t want our kids, our science students, to be indoctrinated into that weird worldview, because our kids are the scientists and engineers of the future. They need to be the innovators that drive the U.S. economy in the coming decades."