Bill Nye the 'Science Guy' Debates Evolution, But Should Scientists Be Debating Creationists At All?

On Tuesday at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, Science Guy Bill Nye debated evolution and the origins of life on Earth, squaring off against the museum's president Ken Ham. The debate had been hyped online for weeks after Nye accepted Ham's challenge to debate, issued in response to an anti-creationism YouTube video Nye made that criticized its influence on children. Nye agreed to the debate to draw attention to the importance of science education in the United States, a cause he considers threatened by young-earth creationists such as Ham.

A bit of background: Young-earth creationism means a literalist reading of the Bible's Genesis story as the explanation for the existence of life. As such, Ham believes that the true age of our planet is only about 6,000 years old. The scientific age of the earth, to the extent we've been able to discern, is somewhere just over 4.5 billion years. That's quite a gap.

So, what is Kentucky's Creation Museum? Well, it looks a lot like you'd expect, if you retold history based on an unprovable premise. This is best exemplified by their exhibits of humans co-existing with dinosaurs — because, for the young-earth timeline to be true, the two species must have roamed the earth in the same era. There's even a dinosaur with a saddle on it that kids can sit on, so they can see how awesome it must have been to ride one. Just like the old days!

Ham got the benefit of speaking to a crowd much more sympathetic to his views than he'd get at, say, a secular institution. But there's a thornier criticism of Nye's decision to engage in the debate, voiced by some scientists: that it's both pointless and counter-productive for a proponent of evolution to share a stage with a creationist speaker such as Ham.

That thinking goes like this: Ham is trying to assert the literal truth of the Bible, which he can't prove through scientific evidence. Consequently, his best strategy is to foster the idea as though it's one side of a debate, an argument to be had — basically, that his entirely faith-based reasoning belongs on the same platform as scientific discovery.

Therefore, the image of Ham engaged in that debate with a man of science (literally, the Science Guy) could create the impression that his view holds credibility. This is the same rationale that biologist and world-famous atheist Richard Dawkins uses to defend why he refuses to debate creationists.

But for Nye, a high-profile opportunity to state his views — not to mention, highlight the value of American scientific education — was enough to cast aside those concerns. And frankly, when you see the passion he brings to the topic — the almost unbridled love and excitement he has for the world of scientific discovery — it's easy to see why this was a chance he wouldn't want to pass up.