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.