Creation Debate Update: Squeezing Out the Middle

Forget the Super Bowl.  Next Tuesday, February 4th, at 7 PM New York time, we’ll all be watching the debate between young-earth creationist Ken Ham and science popularizer Bill Nye.  It looks as if Nye and Ham agree on their goals: squeezing out the middle.  Both debaters want to draw attention to young-earth creationism, and their agreement threatens to exacerbate the divide between evolution and creationism.

The debate host, Answers In Genesis’ Creation Museum, will be streaming the action live for all of us to see.

Ken Ham has suggested that the debate might be a perfect learning opportunity for teachers and students in public school science classes.  From Ham’s point of view, this debate might be a chance to reach students who might not otherwise be aware that mainstream evolutionary science is full of holes.

Bill Nye, too, has explained his reasons for engaging in this debate.  In these pages and elsewhere, evolution-education mavens have wondered if this debate only legitimizes the dead science of the young-earth creationists.  As “The Science Guy” explained, “I don’t think I’m going to win Mr. Ham over.”

So why debate?  Nye says, “I want to show people that this belief is still among us. . . . It finds its way onto school boards in the United States. . . . I’m not going in as a scientist as such . . . I’m going in as a reasonable man.”

So it seems both debaters have the same goal.  Both men want to make people aware of the claims of young-earth creationism.  From Ham’s perspective, such awareness will help keep smart young Christians from leaving the faith.  From Nye’s point of view, if people know what creationism is, they will help fight against it politically.

With such agreement, it seems likely both debaters might succeed.  This debate might elevate the profile of young-earth creationism.  One casualty, it seems, will be other visions of creationism.  Ken Ham’s brand of young-earth creationism, after all, is only one extreme form.  Many religious people believe that humans and life were created at some point by God.  But they do not believe that they must discard the findings of modern science.  The folks at BioLogos, for example, insist that fervent Biblical Christianity can go hand-in-hand with mainstream evolutionary science.  And “old-earth” creationists such as Hugh Ross agree that God did it all, but they don’t insist that he did it only 6,000 years ago.

If this debate succeeds—at least according to the goals of both Ken Ham and Bill Nye—those “other” creationist belief systems will likely get squeezed even further out of the conversation.  That’s a shame.  Too many observers already equate “creationism” with young-earth creationism.  It may make for more lively debates, but it makes for less productive and civil conversations.


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  1. Meanwhile the cdesignproponists over at the Discovery Institute have also stated that they want this debate to raise the profile of Ham’s creationism, so they can demonstrate how different intelligent design theory is from it.

    • Excellent point, Adam. For those who haven’t seen it, David Klinghoffer, for instance, has suggested that the Ham/Nye debate will show the world that intelligent design is nothing like Ham’s brand of YEC. Klinghoffer’s optimism sounds to me like whistling past the graveyard. He hopes the debate will show people that Ham’s YEC is all about faith, while Klinghoffer’s ID is all about evidence. My hunch is that any attention Ham draws to “creationism” will encourage people who are generally ignorant about creationism to assume that ANY evolution-skeptic is a YEC believer.

      • I think it depends more on the tact Ham takes. There’s a lot of overlap between the arguments creationists and ID proponents advocate for their claims (e.g. irreducible complexity, argument from design etc.). If Ham focuses on them a lot then I can see this debate resulting in more people equating ID and creationism. Alternatively if he spends a lot of time talking about faith and the Bible then this might not be the case, given the efforts ID people have gone to distance themselves from such arguments.

  2. Tim

     /  January 31, 2014

    I hope Ken plans to refute most of Nye’s original creationism rant video. I wrote a refutation of it myself here: Nye’s main point was that we need children to learn “proper” education for scientific advancements to continue. Yet, that position is refuted by my most recent blog post about the Breakthrough Awards held last month. Not a single award for scientific advancement was awarded to someone who required a belief in evolution to do what they did. Nye’s main premise fails. You don’t need a proper evolution education to do good observational science and make good advancements.

  3. I hope the debate is put on YouTube. I have to teach a class at 7 pm on Tuesday! Dammit!

  1. Join ILYBYGTH for the Debate | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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