Why I’m Not Tuning in to the Creation vs. Evolution “Debate”

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.”

Standing in the Triassic and looking back in time towards the Permian at Dinosaur National Monument, Utah. Photo by Brian Switek.
Standing in the Triassic and looking back in time towards the Permian at Dinosaur National Monument, Utah. Photo by Brian Switek.

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.

36 thoughts on “Why I’m Not Tuning in to the Creation vs. Evolution “Debate”

  1. I’m disappointed that Nye is lowering himself to this sideshow. As you say, whoever wins or loses the debate is irrelevant–the important point (for the Creationists) is that the debate happened at all, because it means there’s a debate to be had.

  2. Thanks for bring this to our attention, Brian. You’re quite right in every depressing argument you make. The real takeaway here is the need to help people question their assumptions and think for themselves.

  3. I agree with all of this, but I also worry, as a geologist with a paleontological educational background, if Bill Nye, “popular scientist,” is the person I would want to do this on national television.

  4. According to a book from Michael Cremo, entitled “Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race”, humans have been on this lively planet for millions if years. The facts are there, even though most scientists refuse to acknowledge it. Are they afraid to be ridiculed, as if we were still on the 19th century?

  5. The only way we can communicate science to the public is if we communicate science to the public. Shying away with our fingers in our ears going “lalalalala” does not help the people understand the facts and will not get scientists respect in an already scientifically distrustful public. The only way to teach truth is to be willing to put oneself on the line and be willing to answer even ludicrous questions humbly and non-judgmentally. Not many people have the cred or the backbone to do what Bill will do. Mad kudos.

  6. I’ll be tuning in, perhaps against my better judgment. I’m most concerned that Bill Nye simply won’t be able to do a good job – both because he does not have a really solid background in biology, and also because most scientists simply don’t have a background in tackling the sometimes impressively manipulative and sophisticated creationist arguments put forth by Answers in Genesis and other “intelligent” and educated creationists. Nye is armed with the “truth”, but winning over his opponent (obviously impossible) shouldn’t be the goal, nor should impressing/preaching to his own choir. Scientists and educators often underestimate the potential for creationist bystanders to question their beliefs when a really convincing, careful, airtight and sometimes empathetic argument can make a significant difference to creationists.

    It may be the case that Nye is giving the false impression of legitimacy to AiG by agreeing to such a debate on their turf. But so many people in this country are still creationists, and I don’t feel like we should just give up on them as lost causes. I think it might be time to learn from these farciful, often unsuccessful public debates and make some attempt at addressing the “controversy” from a different angle.

  7. Nye might as well debate Ham on whether the sky is blue. It would make as much sense. These circus shows merely lend superficial credibility to an untenable position – Ham’s. “Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.” Ham’s narrative is bald and unconvincing; why lend it artistic verisimilitude”?

  8. Emily, I think past a certain age, creationists ARE lost causes. They’re simply too set in their ways to consider that their lifelong belief system has been wrong. It’s scary, and it might cost you your family and friends (in that sort of community). We should be focusing on the younger generation, but these “debates” aren’t the way to do it.

    For every ounce of effort Bill is putting into getting stonewalled by Hamm and his ilk, he could be (and should be, in my opinion) educating children, teenagers, and young adults in college. Get people in the habit of questioning their religious upbringing early, save them from a lifetime of denialism and fear, and let everyone else die off.

  9. I think a better debate would be why teaching intelligent design and creationism in public schools is bad all around. For one thing, not every kid in class is going to be Christian, so unless they’re willing to teach EVERY creation myth, they can’t, in all fairness, teach Christian Creationism. For another, the very idea of intelligent design is inherently flawed from a Christian fundamentalist standpoint in that it calls into question the infallibility of god. A god that starts simple and gradually creates more and more complex creatures as he learns and grows as a god is NOT a perfect, all seeing, all knowing deity, but basically an artist honing his craft

  10. I completely agree with UL. If people don’t know there are other options out there, they will only believe in what they are given. The fact that Bill Nye took this on the Creationism ground means an effort to reach out to those “on the other side.” It is true having a geologist or biologist involved would be great. But it might not have the same effect – Bill Nye is at least an experienced science communicator, and has enough visibility that people know who he is.

    I know people who decided creationism does not make sense when they were in high school. Many, including teenagers, could be tuning in on this debate. I don’t think it is a lost cause (yet).

  11. Here’s what you sound like to a creationist: “Ah, yes, let’s not meet and debate THEM, it will only make those subhuman idiots look legitimate. Instead, we’ll bravely wave our favorite arguments against them while we’re safely over here where it is just US, the true, intelligent humans. That way we don’t have to here them say our arguments are straw men, show our ignorance of what THEY actually believe, or are matters of interpretation, sometimes similar to ones which have turned out have other possible explanations. Why, we can even safely cast aspersions on the RELIGIOUS aspect of what THEY believe, all the while huffing and puffing about how THEY dare to talk about SCIENCE, a field which WE alone are qualified to discuss. This also lets us keep our ears far from those horrible words of doubt (oh no! doubt has no place in science, right?) when it comes to their arguments using scientific data and things that must be true for evolution to be true, which current scientific data cannot support. People might begin to wonder how much the belief of the majority of scientists depends on faith, hope, philosophy, and trusting that OTHER scientists really do have scientific evidence amounting to proof. (As far as the religious aspect goes, while Ham does represent the strict Biblical Young Earth position, there is almost a spectrum of views from Old Earth Biblical creationists to Theistic Evolutionists, not to mention people who believe in evolution with religious fervor and/or for religious reasons.)
    Science used to be the field where all claims, seemingly extraordinary or not, needed to be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, through multiple independent (even hostile) witnesses, and/or experimental demonstrations with careful controls, again of a nature such that there was no dependence on who was doing the observing, and most especially not dependent on an underlying philosophical stance.
    Evolution became popular when science was puffed up to include the belief that not only did science study the current condition and ongoing processes of nature, but that science provided an explanation for everything, even the indefinite past, on the assumption that the processes of nature have always (colloquially speaking, at least) been the same (at the time, even as far as rate or extent).
    So it’s a bit disingenuous or ignorant to fault Ken Ham for interpreting the current conditions and data to fit a straightforward Biblical interpretation, when the current underlying scientific philosophy (given the limits of credulity) allows for only one general explanation, and that is evolution. Darwin’s ideas about evolution were quickly discarded, leaving only a general faith that somehow or other biological variations could produce all forms of life from a hypothetical barely-living microscopic Ur-organism, simply because the rigors of survival weeds out failures. It had to be believed, if “science” were to provide an explanation for everything, and that’s exactly what scientists wanted, and still want. That’s the real reason for avoiding debate in a country where a large percentage doubt something which is claimed to be so overwhelmingly and obviously true as “the sky is blue” — the fear that people will start wondering if inanimate processes of nature can really explain everything, and threaten SCIENCE’s throne as the Ultimate Source of All Knowledge.

  12. I agree with the comment that the debate should be whether creatyionism should be taught in school or not.

    I think Catholic schools are allowed to that, but for a public school, it really is tricky especially for communities with strong religious tradition.

    1. Spartacus, Richmond: Thanks to the ACLU, public school classes are required to be free from any content that might in any way suggest that any religious idea has any particular merit. Students are free to express themselves religiously (i.e. wearing traditional Muslim clothes) within limits, but there’s trouble if they even do that in a way that might imply official sanction. The Dover case outlawed even reading a short note about intelligent design. Oh, BTW, intelligent design theory is pretty broad, so it doesn’t necessarily imply a tinkering, learning God. For that matter, neither does theistic evolution — there are other reasons why God would start small and let nature take its course. Assuming, of course, that nature would / could / did take that course.

  13. I think it is seriously important, especially for a science communicator like Brian to pay attention to and keep up with new events and poles concerning science literacy. it seems like just mentioning creationism is taboo. Yes, the creationist position is dishonest and absurd, but just because something is wrong doesn’t make talking about it and sharing opinions and informing the public about it is futile. If scientists don’t even acknowledge the existence of the views that 49% of Americans hold, then the creationists will continue to spread their cancerous lies thinking that the real scientists are too scared to debate them and persuade the gullible masses. When taxpayers and voters believe absurdities, then America is not going in the right direction. By the way, Bill Nye was killer. Ham’s arguments were worse than expected.

  14. I thought Bill Nye did very well, considering that his background is not in biology or geology, and Ham came out as simply saying “but, I’ve got this book called the Bible.”

  15. I didn’t have a chance to watch. I’ve read the reviews and understand that Bill won the so-called debate. The thing to take away is that most people are pathetically uneducated in science. Bill has popularity on his side — he is a recognized “household word.” That gives him credibility automatically. When he speaks, it is in language that the majority of the viewers will understand. And, like it or not, those people WILL regard the “debate” as a real debate, not the side-show that the commenters on this board are pointing out. This means that the viewers will likely reflect on the discourse for some time after it concludes. At least some will realize that Ham had no argument. It cannot help but be beneficial for science and for real education in general.

  16. Catholicism teaches evolution, FYI Richmond. The Pope said we would be remiss not to acknowledge and accept the dearth of evidence favoring evolution as the most realistic theory on the origin of life. 🙂

  17. I see no need for this post, I actually like the idea of a debate. One must me willing to hear ALL ideas to at least truly understand humanity and have a wider perspective on the world( i.e all the heavy narrow-minded creationist). Also, I rather watch to men discuss their ideas in a civilized manner instead of knowing what the Kardashians are up to. As a broadcast production student it’s a relief to see some “decent” content on a screen.

  18. It further angers me that the creationists get seen as the “only” face of Christianity, as well. There’s a lot of Christians out there who are perfectly comfortable about evolution, deep time, paleontology, and accurate geology, who listen to the rocks as much as a guideline text. Nothing I can do but keep plugging away, though. I can only hope that some people, somewhere, were convinced of the absurdity of creationist doctrine, and will open their minds a bit.

    1. @Cody, Yes, and there are lots of Christians, including clergy and theologians, who support abortion for any reason and homosexuality, deny the inspiration of the Bible, deny the virgin birth and deity of Christ, believe in the salvation of people of all religions, and even consider “God” to be a metaphorical term for something like “the concept of good and order in the universe.” “Christianity” today apparently just means something about trying to be good and following what one thinks Jesus of Nazareth would do today.
      There’s also a great range of beliefs in Creation. In contrast, Nye kept talking as if Ken Ham had invented creationism and all creationists were just following him like a Pope.

  19. IMO Nye used the venue to speak to children that may be regularly denied access to science. Creationist households that never welcome the facts behind evolution may have allowed thier children to watch this debate, and Nye may have reached at least some of those children.

  20. I can’t stand the unwarranted hype, about one man’s Bible interpretation. The Catholic Church supports the Theory of Evolution, but does reject an atheistic approach. The Bible is not considered a science book either. The allegation that faith is against science is ridiculous since: universities developed in Christian Europe, many famous scientist were Catholic ( Big Bang Theory from a priest), and the Vatican has an observatory etc.

    1. @ John Rooney
      It’s hardly “one man’s Bible interpretation,” although Bill Nye kept referring to it as such, even after this error was pointed out. There are a number of historical documents that show belief in a six-day creation a matter of thousands of years ago was common in both Catholic and Protestant circles before Deism and more atheistic philosophies began assuming a past free from departures from the normal routine of nature. Ken Ham is hardly the inventor of creationism, even less than Darwin invented evolutionism. A number of religious groups simply never accepted evolution on Scriptural grounds, not because they regarded the Bible as a science book, but simply taking all of Genesis and many passages in the Bible at face value. “Creation science” started in the 1960s as scientists in these religious traditions recognized that evolution was being emphasized in new school curricula, was being championed as a major argument (validly or not) for modernist/liberal/atheistic movements, and yet had failed to be supported on several key points. Nobody had ever shown that life could arise naturally abiogenically, nobody had demonstrated that biological variations filtered by natural selection could produce all living things from sub-bacterial ancestors, and the fossil record doesn’t show the gradual evolution of major differences. There have been scientists who believed in God the creator all along, from Newton to G. W. Carver to many alive today, in different denominations. What I very much agree with you on is “that faith is against science is ridiculous.” Science (including biology, medicine, geology…) was established before modern evolutionism came along, and was doing fine without the “theory” of evolution, and of course it’s totally irrelevant to most other areas of science.

  21. AP,
    Which god are you referring to? The Islamic God Allah, a Norse god, the Christian god, one of the million East Indian and so on? It’s interesting that people who follow creation myths are completely convinced it was their god or gods who created all. And the god(s) they believe in usually depends on where and when they were born. An Egyptian living 4000 years ago would have scoffed at today’s Christian god, as today’s religious people scoff and totally disbelieve the idea of, for example, ancient Aztec Sun gods. As a devout Atheist, it kind of scares me that if I had been born in Saudi Arabia or America’s bible belt, I might have been indoctrinated against science and reason. I grew up going to church and believing in the Christian god, but after just like my childhood beliefs in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy, I started questioning these mythical beings, grew up and stopped wasting my time.

  22. It perplexes me how creationists/fundamentalists ‘pick and choose’ only those parts of the Bible they agree with, yet quietly ignore the parts they are uncomfortable with. I suspect none of them, for example, will acknowledge that the Yahweh deity they worship is an enormous creature with huge wings that spews fire from his mouth, smoke from his nostrils, has talons for hands, hoardes treasure, and consumes mass quantities of unblemished livestock, first born children, and captured Midianite Virgins……… yet the very same Bible which Ham & Company takes the Genesis story verbatim, says all of those things about Yahweh too! If we are to rely on exactly what the Bible says as fact, I believe the most scripturally-accurate depiction of Yahweh yet, would be Peter Jackson’s rendition of “Smaug” from The Hobbit.

    1. It’s easy to choose which ones to take literally and which are metaphorical when you see that the ones about wings, talons, etc., are in the poetic sections or are clearly figures of speech. If someone called you a blockhead, you wouldn’t think they actually thought your head was a cube of wood. You don’t have to be especially smart to do such literary analysis, but clearly it’s even easier to just be a smart aleck.

  23. Firstly, long as “I’m not tuning” isn’t pronounced too much like “you shouldn’t either”, it’s one person’s call, and no problem.

    ‘Silencing’ or ‘disappearing’ Creationists obviously can’t happen, and there’s no sense even glancing down the road that leads there.

    The best option is to appeal to the popular “diversity and tolerance” mantra, and remind oneself & his fellow travelers that tolerance of that which is attractive & agreeable (to oneself), is not the real deal.

    More pragmatically, perhaps, for some there is also the idea that ‘religious religion’, or a commitment to ‘old-fashioned belief-systems’, is an anachronism that “needs to go”. It & guns, are here to stay.

    And a final ‘heads-up’: Christianity has made excellent & impressive use of ‘persecution psychology’, for 2,000 years, and the more ‘heat’ & censure society focuses upon Creationism etc, the stronger it becomes. Christianity still contains the seed of that magic, and you don’t wanna fertilize it, bring it forth to flower anew. It’s hardcore.

    The Law is already on Secularists’ side. Creationism has been around quite awhile, and their depredations appear ‘contained’. Some folks are going to be religious, and nothing in Darwin or tomorrow is going to change that.

    You won. Your view is dominant. Relax … and assume the role of winner. 🙂

  24. I watched part of the “debate”. One guy is talking religious beliefs, the other guy is talking Science. They should have debated pizza instead. I walked out (figure of speech), and watched Donnie Brasco, for the third time, instead. Fugetaboutit!

  25. @ David Bump. Perhaps so, though it is a fact that cultures all over the world at the very same time worshipped ‘dragon’ and ‘serpent’ deities. A large portion of the early Christian population (Gnostics) identified Yahweh as a dragon, and this God’s highest assistants were clearly identified as fiery flying serpent dieties, both in the original Hebrew (Seraphim), and when the word was transated to Greek (Drakon). The Mespotamian God that built Eden and tricked Adam was also a dragon deity, which was corrupted to a talking serpent in the Hebrew version. Roman Historians also stated the Jews worshipped a Serpent-Dragon deity, and ‘Yaw’, where Yahweh probably came from, was the name of a Canannite dragon god. And to remove all doubt, the Bible itself says that for centuries, the Brazen Serpent built by Moses was worshipped like an idol of Yahweh in Solomon’s temple. Even in the Second Temple, the menorah base was decorated with dragons, and Jewish regligious laws of the time explained how ‘Holy’ dragons could be depicted , which was different from pagan/gentile ones!

  26. @ Dan Peterson: Interesting observations, but hardly relevant to your original point, since they are gathered from various more or less arcane extra-biblical sources, guilt by association, lean on the errors of cults, or depend on taking the Hebrew meaning of words (or suppositions about them) outside of the context in which they are used, e.g. the Seraphim are described and clearly are not serpentine. I think all these dragon/flying serpent references are very significant, but they have nothing to do with being selective about Biblical passages.

  27. Re picture text: “Standing in the Triassic and looking back in time towards the Permian at Dinosaur National Monument, Utah. Photo by Brian Switek.”

    You mean BOTH the place you are standing on AND the place you are looking at have fossils near surface, but from different time labels?

  28. No answer, but might come.

    What if photo was taken by a Brian Switek standing over Triassic fossils from Triassic biotope during the Flood and looking at a place hiding Permian fossils from a Permian biotope during the very same Flood?

    Wouldn’t that explain the continuity of the folds in the sediment?

  29. Citing your words with a kind of tags inserted:

    “While prospecting the ancient exposures of Dinosaur National Monument, for example, I’ve seen layers of mudcracks (level 1) made by the heat of the Triassic sun overlain by strata (level 2) created by braided streams systems where dinosaurs and phytosaurs left their tracks in the mucky sediment. Above those are (level 3) sand dunes from an Early Jurassic desert that has since turned to stone.”

    So, the mudcracks are two levels below surface … how did you come to see them?

    You dug? Had to be very careful while digging to see the earlier surfaces then! Or …

    Wait. One idea just strikes me as a bit obvious, though that may be my creationist ignorance.

    They are not two levels under land surface at all. All three “levels” are on the surface. There may be some overlap between them, but basically you saw level 1 on surface, level 2 on surface, and also level 3 on surface, side by side. Am I totally off the point?

    “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.”

    Now, in an area where you would find tracks of dinosaurs, maybe, just maybe, people might have avoided roaming so there were none there in the first place during the Flood.

  30. “If Ham were facing a theologian who could articulate why the Bible wasn’t meant to be read literally, that would be a debate.”

    Such a theologian would be a sham.

    You can get St Augustine to argue the Six Days are not literal, and St Thomas Aquinas to be impartial between him and the other Church Fathers. You get neither of them saying things like the account as such (saving this one aspect, thus) was not meant to be taken literally, or does not mean creation was a closed off event or does not mean man has been there since back then.

    Because it is meant to be taken literally, creation is a closed off event, and man has been here ever since.

    I have taken that kind of debate with a “theologian” who is a female Presbyterian “presbyter”, but not on six days, rather on Tower of Babel.


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