For Ken Ham it’s a matter of publicity:
„Because the creationist view of origins is largely censored from our schools, museums, and the media, I look at this debate as an excellent opportunity for our voice to be better heard. The interest in the debate has far exceeded our expectations.“
This publicity then should, for Ham, highlight supposed weaknesses of evolutionary theory and the supposed dissent within the scientific community:
At the very least, our country needs to hear the problems with the evolutionary belief system and not have its challengers censored in our schools and museums.“
The debate will help point out that there is significant dissent in the scientific community about whether or not molecules-to-man evolution is a true explanation of origins. Yes, creationists are a minority in the scientific and engineering world. But the majority has been wrong about many matters over the centuries; a majority-held position shouldn’t be used as a judge of truth.“
He sees creationism as being censored by evolutionary theory, and also strongly associates evolution and atheism, as he does in „The Lie“. Thus, the question of evolution for Ham is not merely a scientific debate, but one of religion and morality. Without Genesis intact, Ham claims, there is no basis for morality:
„That whole creation-evolution issue we see as a very, very important issue particularly in regard to influencing children – what they believe about who they are, where they came from. I mean, if they are taught that they’re just animals, that has a great bearing on how they view themselves and how they view morality.”
(In his book he goes even further, stating what evolutionists actually want is to get rid of morality to be able to do as they please.)
This then is Ham’s position: setting Genesis against evolution, setting morality against atheism, and setting critical thinking against censorship. We must not believe him, obviously, but that’s how he positions himself. In a later article I hope to discuss how to confront and challenge this positioning.
Now, on to Nye. The reason this debate is happening at all is Nyes video „Creationism Is Not Appropriate For Children“. Nye sees creationism as anti-science. Teaching creationism in schools thus for Nye is detrimental to science education, the danger being that the USA will lose their status at the forefront of scientific innovation if a significant part of the population does not believe in science:
„Denial of evolution is unique to the United States. I mean, we’re the world’s most advanced technological—I mean, you could say Japan—but generally, the United States is where most of the innovations still happens. People still move to the United States. And that’s largely because of the intellectual capital we have, the general understanding of science. When you have a portion of the population that doesn’t believe in that, it holds everybody back, really.“
Nye goes on to state how belief in creationism makes the empirical world incomprehensible:
„Your world just becomes fantastically complicated when you don’t believe in evolution. I mean, here are these ancient dinosaur bones or fossils, here is radioactivity, here are distant stars that are just like our star but they’re at a different point in their lifecycle. The idea of deep time, of this billions of years, explains so much of the world around us. If you try to ignore that, your world view just becomes crazy, just untenable, itself inconsistent.“
While Nye sees it within everyone’s right to believe what they want, he sees a problem in teaching children creationism because it will make them unable to work scientifically, going on to state that they are needed:
„And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.“
In a video for the Huffington Post, Bill Nye explains his motivation for this debate specifically: it’s not about winning Ham over, but about calling attention to the creationist belief system, that it’s in schoolboards and that there is still an ongoing fight to keep creationism out of the textbooks (his example here is Texas):
“I want to show people that this belief is still among us. It finds its way onto school boards in the United States.”
Nye also reaffirms his previous remarks the loss of trust in science:
“It’s a deep concern,” Nye said. “If the United States produces a generation of science students who don’t believe in science, that’s troublesome.”
His concern is, all in all, with science as well as the importance of science for the US as a place of innovation.
I would like to end with some questions to possible look into later on:
- What are the advantages of framing a debate in the ways Ham and Nye have?
- Do we really need to accept this framing? How can we take up the challenge of creationism creatively?