Why Bill Nye will win this debate

Written by: Bjørn Østman

Primary Source: Pleiotropy

In just two days Bill Nye and Ken Ham are having a public debate in Kentucky over evolution vs. creationism. The question to be debated is “Is creation a viable model of origins?”

Update: Sign up for free live streaming of the debate.

The meta-debate is whether it was clever or not of Bill Nye to accept the invitation to debate in the first place. Many people believe that Ken Ham has already won just because Bill Nye has agreed to debate. Debates are not the way science is done, and obviously both parties are going to stand their intellectual ground and not move an inch. What scientists seem to fear the most is that accepting to debate science with creationists lends them credence, that creationists looks like they are being taken seriously, and as a consequence that their theory, creationism, in the eyes of the public is afforded credibility.

Jerry Coyne, for example:

He thinks there are better ways for Bill Nye the Science Guy to make use of all the good will he’s earned from his science TV shows.

“I’d tell him, ‘Keep going around giving talks about evolution. Write about it. Give lectures.’ People love that,” Coyne said. “He’s greatly beloved by a large number of Americans. But don’t get into a one-on-one with a creationist. If you show up for a debate like that, you lose.”

“Poeple?” What people? Yes, people who watch science programs on the TV in the first place. But many of the creationists don’t let their children watch them at all! With a debate like this, it is possible that Bill Nye can reach some of those, and sow a few seeds of enlightenment, so to speak.

I don’t think there is anything to worry about for one simple reason: the facts are on our side. Evolution really is true, science really does work, and prayer really, really doesn’t. Therefore, the more this debate is made public, the more children and high schoolers are made aware of the opposing sides, the more people will understand and believe in evolution (i.e., accept the evidence) in the future.

All Bill Nye has to do is calmly (or not calmly) explain why evolution is true and why creationism is not, and sit back and let Ken Ham make a fool of himself. Ham can go ahead and sound as eloquent and wise as he wants – the bottom line is that his view of the world is the wrong one, and there is nothing he can do to stop the coming generations from learning that, save for stalling it by affecting the school boards across the country that determines what is taught in school.

I predict that whatever commentators will say in the days following the debate on February 4th about who won and why, the real test will be determined years ahead when we see that, indeed, more and more young people flee from creationism and realize that science is the only reliable way to learn about the natural world, and that creationism can teach us nothing about it. That will be the real victory, and Bill Nye will have been part of it.

Besides, it’s going to be a good old laugh, and you know it!

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Bjørn Østman
Bjørn Østman is an evolutionary biologist postdoc working in the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action.
I am interested in many aspects of evolution. I work in computational biology, using various approaches to learn about fundamental processes of evolution. Bioinformatics is good for learning about real genes (data generously supplied by other researchers), and simulations are good for testing the mechanisms of evolution. I am particularly interested in how populations and organisms adapt to changing environments, both at the genetic and phenotypic level. Lately my research has focused on the evolutionary dynamics of populations evolving in rugged fitness landscapes.
Bjørn Østman

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