The Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate happened, and by all accounts Nye wiped the floor with Ham. (I watched a few minutes of it, but I’ve been racing against deadlines all week and had to content myself with the post game write ups.) This doesn’t really come as too much of a surprise to me. Nye has a lot of experience in science communication, and had the luxury of being right. Ham had the liability of an insular anti-science position.
Unfortunately, from what I’m hearing, the debate didn’t really change anyone’s mind, at least not any in the direct audience. Again, that’s to be expected too. As I posted a while back, debates rarely change minds, except perhaps for people who were already teetering on the fence.
That said, the debate did make the ABC evening news on Thursday night, and that kind of coverage may be its best effect. Most creationists are not hard core fundamentalists. They’re just people who identify as Christians and feel that loyalty to that identification requires that they believe in young earth creationism. Few have given the matter that much thought. Seeing Bill Nye, the Science Guy, oppose creationism may make them ponder that belief.
I actually have to say that I feel sorry for Ken Ham. It’s not like he’s a con man or anything. He earnestly believes the message that he’s trying to sell. He thinks he’s fighting the good fight. At some point, he probably internalized that the Bible was the core guide to reality, and that Satan will use every trick to discredit it. With that mindset, any compelling evidence probably just looks like clever trickery to him.
It’s easy to pat ourselves on the back and consider ourselves superior to him. But we should remember that, there but for the whims of chance, go any of us. If we’d had Ham’s background and nature, we’d be in the same position.
Ham is, of course, unreachable by any logic. All anyone can do is try to counter his influence. I’m convinced that ridicule is the wrong response. Even if you tell yourself that you’re ridiculing Ham to convince others who may be watching, you’re ignoring the fact that humiliating rhetoric may simply cause people to rally to his side.
I like the tactic that Ethan Siegel used in his post responding to creationist questions, respectful but honest. That, and instilling the true wonder of the scientific view of the origins of the universe and the earth, are probably the best start to drawing people away from an anti-science worldview.