Now that the “debate” between science and creationism has concluded, I thought I would offer some suggestions, you know, just in case Bill Nye and Ken Ham meet again on another stage to have a similar discussion. My first four are below, but feel free to add your own in the comments section. So let’s get to it.
1. For Bill: Right out of the gate, ask Ken Ham if he believes humans and dinosaurs lived on the planet at the same time. As a Young Earth Creationist, Ken will be forced to answer “Yes,” thus exposing for the audience and the world, the depths of delusion his irrational ideas require. Now, normally there is a cost associated with being irrational. For example, exhibiting irrational behaviors, such as “watch me fly” or “check out my force field,” often result in bodily injury to the irrational person. No doubt jumping off a bridge or walking in front of a bus extracts a very high cost for the irrational individual, and it also serves as an incredibly potent if not macabre illustration to others of the dangers of being delusional. Irrational ideas on the other hand are a bit easier to get away with, particularly if they are shielded from ridicule by the veneer of religion. But this isn’t fair. All irrational ideas should come with a cost; at the very least, the cost of public humiliation. Let’s play this out. Take Ken Ham to any elementary school in almost any town in the United States, and ask him to admit that he believes humans and dinosaurs lived together, and the reaction of the schoolchildren will be one of two things: laughter or fear. Why? Because kids know dinosaurs. They know Tyrannosaurus rex, they know Triceratops, they know Stegosaurus, they even know that Brontosaurus is actually an incorrect term for Apatosaurus, and above all, they know that dinosaurs ruled the earth for hundreds of millions of years, millions of years ago. So when Ken Ham says that dinosaurs lived alongside humans some five to six thousand years ago, kids will laugh at him thinking he’s joking, or they will be afraid of him thinking he’s serious. Either way, the cost of public humiliation will have been collected.
2. For Ken: If you have to keep reminding people your scientists have PhDs, you are implicitly admitting you have a credibility problem. Ken needs to realize that having a PhD in something, doesn’t preclude you from being painfully obtuse in something else. We understand that Ken has managed to recruit a few real scientists who were willing to waste what might have otherwise been promising scientific careers, in order to feed the Answers in Genesis confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance machine. It’s sad actually. And also notice that when Bill was talking about his scientific sources, he didn’t say “PhD astrophysicist Carl Sagan,” he just said, “Carl Sagan.” Credibility is more than credentials.
3. For Bill: Remind Ken there are no such things as secular versus religious science journals. There are just journals. If Ken’s “PhD scientists” are finding their papers are being rejected from science journals, it isn’t because the journals are explicitly secular as opposed to religious, it’s because the papers reflect bad science. In fact, if a credible science journal were to stray from reality and publish a paper with poor or worse, fabricated evidence (religious or not), it would be forced to retract the paper or risk losing all credibility in the field. In effect, it would be finished.
4. For Ken: We all know you have a book, now give us the evidence that supports the book. This is a fundamental disconnect Ken will need to address in the next debate. We know this book means a tremendous amount to Ken and we aren’t denying that. But it’s a religious text and religious texts only have special meaning to those who practice that religion. For the billions of people who don’t practice that religion, it’s just another text. Offering the claims of an old, personally sacred book as evidence for the claims in the same old, personally sacred book does not make for compelling evidence. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hogwarts is a wizarding school in England; but no rational person thinks that Hogwarts is actually a wizarding school in England. Claims need evidence and to quote the late Christopher Hitchens, “that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” Ken will need to remember that no matter how badly he hopes the claims in his book are true, his hope alone doesn’t pass Bill’s, nor anyone’s “reasonable person” test.