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On Tuesday at 7 p.m., about 20 Hillsdale stu­dents con­gre­gated in the Simpson Res­i­dence lobby to watch prominent cre­ationist Ken Ham defend the via­bility of his worldview against Bill Nye, famous bow-tie- wearing “science guy.” Freshman Eli West orga­nized the event.

“It’s some­thing I really have been called to have a con­ver­sation about on this campus,” he said as the debate countdown clock approached zero

Available seating quickly filled up, and many stood. What fol­lowed was civil, pro­fes­sional, and occa­sionally edu­ca­tional, but ulti­mately unful­filling.

The debate streamed live — with some pauses frus­trating to the 500,000 people who watched online — from the Cre­ation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. It’s a young insti­tution, founded in 2007 by Ham and ded­i­cated to pro­mul­gating the young-Earth cre­ationist view — essen­tially, that cre­ation hap­pened exactly as described in the Book of Genesis — against the onslaught of evo­lu­tionist modernity. A key figure in this onslaught: Bill Nye, known from many child­hoods as the man who made science cool.

It began with opening state­ments from each. Nye argued that ascribing so much geo­logical history to a cat­a­strophic flood simply doesn’t make sense given, for example, dis­tinct fossil layers. He also said that there are “bil­lions of reli­gious people around the world who do not accept Ken Ham’s model” and suc­cess­fully rec­oncile religion and evo­lution.

Ham iden­tified “evo­lution” and “science” as words that “have been hijacked by sec­u­larists,” and cited accom­plished cre­ationist sci­en­tists, including one who called himself a “stellar astronomer,” elic­iting laughter from the Simpson audience.

But after this, a rebuttal period fol­lowed, beginning not a debate but a talking-around. Ken Ham rejected Bill Nye’s (and science’s) various methods of dating the world, claiming their variety and the vari­ation between them negates any accurate mea­suring of the Earth’s age. His position rested on a belief in God, the Bible, and a com­mitment to rejecting any data gleaned from a time without wit­nesses. “There is only one infal­lible dating method: from a witness who saw every­thing, who was there — and that’s God,” Ham said.

Nye, for all his science guy cre­den­tials, never truly overcame this reli­gious defense. He dwelt often on sci­en­tific minutiae: asexual vs. sexual repro­duction, aging of ice cores, and how, if the world were only 6,000 years old, nature would have spawned 11 new species every day. He did, however, thor­oughly dis­pense with the cre­ationist theory of the “Aus­tralian land bridge” by which kan­garoos were sup­posed to have hopped from the Middle East to Oceania without leaving any fossils along the way (and without the bridge being evident to any sub­se­quent exam­i­nation).

Yet each man looked foolish the further he strayed into the other’s ter­ritory. Ham never sat­is­fac­torily responded to Nye’s request to identify some­thing that the cre­ationist model could predict, as other sci­en­tific models can. And Nye betrayed his own reli­gious igno­rance (and brought boos from the Simpson audience), asking Ham: “As I under­stand it, you’re basing this on the Old Tes­tament. Isn’t bringing the New Tes­tament into this a little…out of the box?”

Thus, this debate showed not which side is correct, or whether cre­ationism is viable. We have learned, instead, that until or unless both sides either make actual encroach­ments upon the other’s turf, speak in the other’s lan­guage, or — Darwin forbid — yield ground, then this con­flict will never really evolve.