PETERSBURG, Ky.—Last night’s much anticipated debate between Creation Museum founder Ken Ham and evolution advocate Bill Nye likely disappointed spectators hoping to see a spirited exchange, with jabs and intellectual punches flying. Both men seemed more interested in offering academic explanations than lively repartee.
But more than 900 people braved a winter ice storm to attend the debate at the Creation Museum, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Ham represented the young-earth creationism perspective and Nye, popularly know as “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and the former host of a PBS children’s science show, argued for secular evolution in an attempt to answer a very academic-sounding question: Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?
Online tickets for the debate sold out within two minutes, an estimated 1 million or more people watched the event streaming online, and it was the top Twitter trend of the day. The packed auditorium included every age group, from silvered-haired seniors to flaming-cherry-and-electric-blue-haired college students.
Although entertaining, the debate probably didn’t change any minds. Both men said what students of the creation-evolution debate would have expected them to say.
Ham was unwavering in his declarations of the Bible’s authority and his arguments for a literal interpretation of Genesis. Though he referred to the Bible frequently, he used direct quotes from biblical texts only a handful of times. He continually focused on science’s weak spot: Science can deal only with what is observable and therefore can’t explain origins because the past can’t be observed.
Nye spent most of the evening offering up what he deems as scientific evidence that the earth is billions of years old: rings in tree trunks, carbon dating, layers in snow ice, layers of fossils and sediments. He asserted that if Noah’s ark came to rest on Mount Ararat in the Middle East, and animal life on the earth was repopulated exclusively from animals on the ark, then there should be some fossil evidence of kangaroos hopping their way from Mount Ararat to Australia.
Nye clearly was trying to cast himself as a “reasonable man,” using the term numerous times. When a member of the audience asked him if science had room for God, Nye replied that God and science are not connected. In regard to intelligent design, he asserted that such a model is a misunderstanding of evolution, which does not need a designer.
Nye peppered his statements with condescending remarks, such as repeatedly referring to six-day creationism as “Ken Ham’s creation model” or “Ken Ham’s interpretation,” or to the account of the flood as “Mr. Ham’s flood.” On several occasions, Nye referred to those who do not believe in creationism as “the world outside,” as though somehow creationists live inside a secluded world of their own. He dismissed the Bible as an ancient text that has been translated over 30 centuries, comparing it to a game of telephone in which a message is distorted by repeated transmissions.
But Ham repeatedly returned to the authority of Scripture. When a member of the audience asked Nye how consciousness came from matter, Nye said the nature of consciousness is a mystery—we don’t know. Ham replied, “There is a book out there that does tell us where consciousness comes from. God created us in His image.”
When Nye admitted that science can offer no guess as to what existed before the Big Bang, Ham responded there is a book out there that says God was in the beginning. When Nye admitted he doesn’t know where the laws of logic come from, Ham said there is a book out there that tells us.
After delivering familiar criticisms of creation, Nye issued a now-familiar warning: If children are not taught evolution, they will not become innovators, and future generations in the United States will not be able to stay ahead in the world.
Ham said that being a creationist does not preclude anyone from being a great scientist. He named and showed video clips of several well-known scientists who also believe in creation and affirmed his own love of technology.
“The battle is really about authority,” Ham concluded. “Who is the authority, man or God?”