Should Scientists Debate Creationists?

English: A child riding the Triceratops statue...

The perpetually-bowtied science educator Bill Nye “The Science Guy” is slated to debate creationist Ken Ham, the founder of Kentucky’s Creation Museum, on Feb. 4.

Many scientists are uneasy about the debate — not because they are concerned that Ken Ham will provide new creationist evidence or arguments that will leave Nye cowering and apologizing for his hubris or Darwin’s error — but for other reasons.

via Should Scientists Debate Creationists? : Discovery News.

Bill Nye seems to be catching a lot of flack for his decision to debate creationist Ken Ham, with a lot of people saying that it simply gives Ham more credit than he deserves.  Greg Laden and Jerry Coyne, among others, have weighed in on this, bemoaning Nye’s decision to do it, and predicting a bad outcome.

My personal attitude toward debating events is that I can’t ever recall seeing one that changed my mind about anything.  I’m sure some attendees do change their minds, but from what I’ve read, most of the ones that do, tend to be influenced by the personalities of the debaters, how they looked under pressure, the rhetoric used, and other factors that had virtually nothing to do with the subject matter.

This doesn’t just apply to scientists debating creationists, but to any kind of religious, scientific, political, or philosophical debate.  Almost always, assuming reasonably competent debaters, the attendees come away convinced that their guy (or gal) had won.

So, in that sense, I do tend to think that Nye is making a mistake.  A debate will be unlikely to sway anyone.  I’m also not wild that Nye is debating Ham at the Creation Museum, at an event that will help fund that silly operation.  But that’s a side issue with the venue.

But, once you accept the idea of doing a debate, I personally don’t see the problem with debating a creationist.  The idea that Nye is raising Ham on a pedestal assumes that he’s not already on one for a certain segment of society.

Whether we like it or not, a third of the US population agrees with Ham.  His views, while utterly unscientific, are held by a lot of people.  If you’re willing to do a debate, refusing to debate Ham just because he is a creationist would simply be taken as elitist snobbery by his followers.  The slim chance of convincing people sympathetic to his views would be diminished even further.

So, I do think Nye is making a mistake, but not because debating creationists gives them too much credit, but because debating events rarely change anyone’s mind.

3 thoughts on “Should Scientists Debate Creationists?

  1. “Should … ?”

    No, for all the reasons in the article and yours too. It’s a waste of time that gives unjustified credibility to and, in this case, funds creationist ideas – good article, especially some of Eugenie Scott’s thoughts on the subject.


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