Was Nye's Time Wasted?

Recently there was a debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on creationism. You can find a plethora of commentary out there in blogs, tweets, etc. without a lot of effort, so I won't add any links here. For what it's worth I stand firmly on the side of Nye and science in general. Ham is pushing a false model of the world to anyone who will listen to him. One would think in this day and age of incredible advances in scientific knowledge that it would be obvious that the universe is billions of years old. Unfortunately, there are more than a handful of people who believe that the earth is thousands of years old, and their voice hasn't gone away.

But that's not what I want to dive into with this post. My issue lies somewhere else. As I watched the debate and read other's opinions of the event, the point was raised that trying to debate or reason with creationists is a worthless endeavour. Those who have turned a blind eye to facts and evidence simply cannot be swayed. Spending any time trying to remove their confusion is like trying to push against the ground to make the earth move. It simply won't make any difference.

I beg to differ. You never know what may make a person start to see things differently.

When I was growing up, I developed a huge love for astronomy. I remember finding the book "Our Universe" from National Geographic in the local library, and I was hooked. I checked that book out so much because I loved the pictures, but I also started to discover just how huge the universe really is. Later on I found Asimov's "The Collapsing Universe" and I paged through that book countless times. Neutron stars, black holes ... our universe was a violent, crazy, amazing place to be in! And all through this time the notion that the universe was just created 6000 years ago never dawned on me.

That is, until I became a Christian at the age of 16.

I realize that a fair amount of people who confess to being believers in Christ have no issues with an old earth or evolution. That's not the route I ended up taking. The deeper I got into my faith, the more literal my interpretations became. In a nutshell, it came down to this: if the Bible was the "Word of God", and it was infallible, then one must take it as-is. That means, the world must be young. It embarrasses me now to state that I used to think the same way Ham did, but I did. I bought his book, "Evolution: The Lie" (amongst other creationist literature), and I soaked it all in. I rejected the beauty and wonder that I had as a kid and accepted Genesis as literal truth. And I made sure that people that I met knew that.

By the time I entered graduate school, the world wide web was starting to become a thing. One of the computers in an electrical lab that I had to oversee as a teaching assistant got a network connection with Netscape installed, and I was hooked. Suddenly there was a torrent of information available that didn't exist before, and I dived in. I also found newsgroups to subscribe to, and it wasn't long until I found groups that dealt with creationism and evolution. At some point, I made a post defending the creationism view. I stated things that people like Ham and others spew constantly: plutonium halos, lots of scientists believe in creationism, the speed of light is not a constant, etc. And someone responded. I don't remember who it was or what they specifically stated in response, but ... it stopped me in my tracks.

Not because he was rude.

Not because he called me stupid.

It's because he responded with kind, yet forceful, inquiries. He challenged me on every single one of my points. He cut to the chase and demanded hard evidence for my statements. And he did it in a way that was not demeaning or confrontational.

Truth be told ... I was stumped.

I couldn't back up my position beyond the tripe that I had let my mind be spoon-fed with from all the creationist material I had read before. I tried. I really tried to find more details around the evidence I stated. But I didn't have any.

Now, I didn't become a raving evolutionist at that moment in time. It took a little bit for me to start seeing the creationist argument for what it is: a bunch of words that have no weight. But I eventually came around. I started reading books like "Did the Devil Make Darwin Do It?", which I found at a book store within a huge evangelical church in a Chicago suburb. I started reading more on astronomy again. I rediscovered just how beautiful, how terrifying and how amazing our universe it. And, I realized that it was not thousands of years old, but billions.

My point is, we don't know what impact Nye had on some individuals. Maybe he's lightly pushed some people off of their fence to embrace science again. Maybe he's made some people jump off of their creationist turf and get on the fence. We don't really know. But we shouldn't assume his time was wasted. With his displayed passion to get the youth of America to embrace science, maybe he's turned the tide for an individual that will make wondrous contributions in the future.

It's hard to justify debating creationists. Some people, like Dawkins, simply refuse to do it for good reasons. However, there are time where we have to shine light in the darkness. Nye did a great job of not necessarily defending evolution, but rather putting the spotlight directly on Ham's views. I think that light was rather bright, and showed Ham for what he really is. I hope others who may not have seen that before, now have the shadows lifted off of creationism and embrace a better way based on thought and reason.

* Posted at 02.11.2014 10:55:57 AM CST | Link *

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