In the News: Bill Nye Defends Evolution in Kentucky Debate

February 14, 2014

Bill Nye giving a lecture, pointing to a screen.

Photo by Ed Schipul

Last week, Bill Nye took part in a public debate against Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. For those of you who didn’t grow up in the 90s, Bill Nye was the star of the hit PBS series “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” In this award-winning educational program, Nye—with his signature bow tie and blue lab coat—used humour and action to deliver science knowledge to kids.

The debate between Ham and Nye took place at the Creation Museum itself and lasted for two and a half hours. According to an article from, the event attracted dozens of national media outlets and sold 800 tickets in a matter of minutes. The idea for it came about after Nye created an online video “urging parents not to pass their religious-based doubts on to their children.” Ham countered the video by creating his own and the two later agreed to share the stage. Here is a brief snapshot of the two’s arguments:

Ham, in accordance with Young Earth Creationism (YEC), asserts that the earth is about 6,000 years old. He says he believes the Bible, being the word of God, is the ultimate source of knowledge and people need to look no further than it for questions they have about the universe. Nye argues that if we accept Ham’s claim that the Bible is the source of all knowledge, then what this means is “that Mr. Ham’s word is to be more respected than what you can observe in nature, what you can find in your backyard in Kentucky.”

Ham also argued that the term “science” has been hijacked by secularists and that “America’s textbooks have been indoctrinated by Darwin.” Using a slideshow, he lists several individuals who believe in the biblical creation story, despite being scientists. In an interesting comparison, Nye also points out that there are “billions” of people who are deeply religious, yet don’t subscribe to the belief that the earth is merely 6,000 years old.

Reactions to the debate have been mixed, with many being critical of Nye for agreeing to the debate in the first place when it was unlikely that he would convince Ham of anything. Others assert that what Nye was really trying to do was to spark curiosity in the audience.

Whether Nye achieved that is itself open for debate. For those who are curious about what other scholars have to say on this topic, UTP Journals has several fascinating articles you can check out:

In “Science and the World View” from Canadian Review of American Studies 13.3, W.A. Waiser analyses the Sacremento legal case in which the Director of the Creation Science Research Center sued the California Education Board for denying children the right to learn the biblical creation story.

In “An Unholy Alliance? The Creationists’ Quest for Scientific Legitimation” from Toronto Journal of Theology 4.2, Donald Wiebe argues that the existence of biological phenomena that cannot yet be explained through evolutionary theory, does automatically disprove it.

In “Taking off the Gloves: Dawkins and the Root of All Evil?” from Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 19.1, Curtis D. Carbonell discusses how Dawkins’s rhetoric was designed to achieve the cultural goal of reinvigorating aspects of the Enlightenment Project.

In “Some Philosophical Aspects of the Theory of Evolution” from University of Toronto Quarterly 23.4, T.A. Goudge discusses how Darwin’s theory of evolution influenced philosophical thinking and how such thinking needs to evolve as the theory of evolution has evolved.

Did you watch the Kentucky debate? Tell us what you thought on Twitter @utpjournals.

Source: All quotations in this piece were taken from “Bill Nye debates creation museum’s Ken Ham on evolution, Earth’s origin” (CBC News, Feb. 5, 2014).

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