Tonight science advocate Bill Nye is going to argue with creationism’s top spokesman, Ken Ham. I won’t be tuning in to the CNN broadcast. There’s no point, and I can do without the headache the ballyhooed face-off would send stabbing into my frontal lobes.
The event is as much as debate as the Creation Museum is an actual museum. Which is to say, not at all. It can’t be because of what Ham believes about scripture and how science must bend to his narrow view of what his beliefs prescribe.
Ham’s creationist temple is the public face of Answers in Genesis, and one of the organization’s core values is to “proclaim the absolute truth and authority of the Bible with boldness.” And they have so much unwavering faith in their interpretation of the Bible that anything inconsistent with fundamentalist views must be totally wrong. As Ham wrote in a post about why he set up this publicity stunt for his business, “Ultimately, I have decided to accept an authority — our infallible creator and his word, the Bible — over the words of fallible humans.” How can anyone argue with a zealot whose answer to everything is “I don’t believe you because you’re not God”?
Consider the clumsy attempt of Answers in Genesis to explain why human remains are never, ever found with non-avian dinosaurs or other forms of prehistoric life as their beliefs predict. The organization preaches that all forms of life paleontologists find in the fossil record were specially created and that these various organisms co-existed with each other in the last 10,000 years. Later, according to their timeline, Noah gathered representatives of the various and sundry creatures. The majority that did not make it onto the boat perished in the Flood, the fundamentalists say, and so the remains of non-avian dinosaurs, archaic mammals, and other forms of life became preserved in the Deluge-created fossil record.
But remember that this myth says that people died in the Flood, too. That was the whole point, after all. If the fossil record is a testament to a single catastrophe that simultaneously killed and preserved everything from ammonites to Apatosaurus, why aren’t human remains found alongside such fossils? The best Answers in Genesis can do is shrug and say that God made sure sinful humans didn’t enter the fossil record. “In Genesis 6:7 we read that God said He would destroy man whom He had created from the face of the earth,” AiG contributor Andrew Snelling wrote of the conundrum, “So perhaps God deliberately made sure that the Flood waters did just that, destroying every trace of man and his artefacts from the pre-Flood world, if this is what He meant by what He had recorded in the Scriptures.”
The creationist fable is easily overturned by simple observations. While prospecting the ancient exposures of Dinosaur National Monument, for example, I’ve seen layers of mudcracks made by the heat of the Triassic sun overlain by strata created by braided streams systems where dinosaurs and phytosaurs left their tracks in the mucky sediment. Above those are sand dunes from an Early Jurassic desert that has since turned to stone. There’s no way to reconcile these petrified facts with the Flood story. Still, from their literal reading, creationists will still insist that such strata were laid down by the Flood and that God paid special attention to the process to magically remove any evidence of the evil people he supposedly destroyed. The Genesis account is easily contradicted, but fundamentalists such as Ham care more about the strength of their faith than evidence.
Nye is going to argue from the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence that evolution is a fact, while Ham will undoubtedly try to sow doubt in such explanations as quickly as he can. If Ham were facing a theologian who could articulate why the Bible wasn’t meant to be read literally, that would be a debate. Instead CNN is going to air two experts arguing past each other in a program that only serves to make the Creation Museum look more credible. And, as shown by a recent bit of depressing dinosaur news, that’s exactly what Answers in Genesis wants.
A few months ago Answers in Genesis announced that a lovely Allosaurus skeleton is going to go on display at the Creation Museum and they’d like scientists of all backgrounds to study it. Cue Admiral Ackbar – It’s a trap! If paleontologists go to the Creation Museum to study the skeleton, then Answers in Genesis can claim that it’s a research institution and make themselves look more legitimate. Not to mention that there’s no guarantee that the skeleton is going to be properly curated and made available for research in perpetuity, as such specimens should be, and so the skeleton is sadly lost to science.
By agreeing to the argument on Creation Museum turf, Nye is inadvertently creating the impression that there is a real debate to be had over whether or not evolution is real. No such debate exists. Evolution is a fact, and there are those who are made uncomfortable by that based on their religious beliefs. And contrary to Ham’s posturing, there are many people who maintain their faith but also understand and accept science. There are areas of tension between religion and science, of course, but it’s not as if people must always choose one to the exclusion of the other.
Who wins tonight’s showdown will be determined by style more than substance. At least Nye has that. But no one benefits from the delusion that there’s a debate about the reality of the evolutionary phenomena that brought us into existence and gave us the mental abilities to manufacture such nonsense for broadcast.